The last four issues of “Fantastic Four” have formed the “Prime Elements” story, where we’ve met one-by-one the four cities that Valeria Richards was warned about by a time-traveling Franklin Richards. And for the most part, they’ve been love-it/hate-it kind kinds of stories. Serving as introduction and prologue, they’ve been differently paced than most super-hero books, showing us different cultures that were prophesized to clash with one another. And, up until now, I’ve been enjoying Jonathan Hickman’s different take on what would otherwise be standard storytelling. It’s been fun seeing these different civilizations, knowing that they were about to erupt into a direct conflict. But with this final trip, it’s the first time that it hasn’t quite firmed up for me.
I think part of the problem is that Hickman’s introduction of the Negative Zone city felt too simple, and strangely enough, too ordinary. People who’ve read books like “Nova” and “War of Kings” have already seen the setting for the final city, and it’s nothing new. A bigger problem is that despite being something pre-existing, Hickman barely shows the reader its setup. I would have been pleased if he’d given us a new take on Blastaar’s stronghold in the Negative Zone, or perhaps the culture of the people living in it. But it’s gone in the blink of an eye, not even getting a full six pages. The rest has to do more with the infiltrator gaining access to the Negative Zone (which felt too much of an easy way out, or rather in), and the conflict finally beginning to build between the cities.
It’s the latter that ends up being the saving grace for this issue. After five months of hints and warnings, we’re starting to get somewhere in the last few pages. Mind you, based on solicitations we aren’t coming back to this story for several months, which actually adds to the frustration. But it’s still a start, which is better than nothing, one supposes. After an issue needing Johnny Storm to act like a complete idiot to have the rest of the story take place, some sort of end result was desperately needed.
Dale Eaglesham’s art continues to have its plusses and minuses. There’s a certain level of power to his figures, from the alien warriors fighting their new enemies, to the Human Torch facing off against the Negative Zone insects. Eaglesham takes all characters to their extreme, both in action as well as in downtime. The down side, though, is that the hyper-realized versions of all these characters can get slightly distracting and at times feels downright out of place. When Eaglesham first started drawing “Fantastic Four” I had an acquaintance lecture me about how the initial storyline would end with the revelation that it was taking place in an alternate reality, and that’s why Reed Richards and Johnny Storm both had biceps the size of their heads. (Nope.) It’s great that Eaglesham isn’t afraid to draw beefcake as well as cheesecake, but it getting spread across the board so evenly ends up with a hard-bodied Mr. Fantastic, and all the wrongness that comes with that image. If some of the characters could get toned down a bit, it would make the more beefy and curvy members that much more impressive in comparison.
Hopefully we’ll come back to the war between the cities before too long; it’s a great idea, and now that all the cities are revealed and in motion the next steps seem fairly obvious. Until then, though, it feels like a slightly weak conclusion to the story. Considering the level of exploration and wonder and adventure the first three issues had, this final chapter felt a little flat in comparison. Maybe it will work better as part of a greater whole once we see the follow-up, but until then, not so much.