With Jonathan Hickman slated to take over the writing chores on "Fantastic Four," "Dark Reign: Fantastic Four" is a good place for readers to see how Hickman handles Marvel's first family. Not only that, but with the main title occupied with Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's run, this mini-series also follows up on "Secret Invasion," firmly placing the Fantastic Four within contemporary continuity.
After the events of "Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four," the team works to rebuild their former lives and put things back to normal. Ben harasses the Doombots that handle the moving chores, Johnny laments the loss of his little black book, Sue oversees everything, wanting it perfect for when the kids arrive and Reed... well, Reed wants to fix everything.
Hickman has Reed work on finding the answer to a question that fans have been asking for months online: if Reed is so smart, how come things in the Marvel universe have turned out so poorly? He was one of the brains behind the Illuminati and the Initiative, and the result has been Norman Osborn put in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s replacement organization. How did this all happen and how can Reed fix it?
The relationship to "Dark Reign" comes via a H.A.M.M.E.R. squad sent to shut down the Fantastic Four "pending a directorate review." So, while Reed tries to fix the world, the other three have to deal with H.A.M.M.E.R.
This is an interesting premise, but Hickman doesn't quite pull it all together here. Aside from Reed's quest, everything else in this issue is very mediocre and pretty much what you would expect in this issue. H.A.M.M.E.R. is taking down everyone, so obviously the Fantastic Four is next. Ben and Johnny obsess over their own problems, while Sue tries to keep it together. It's all so predictable, which makes it consistent with the Fantastic Four, but not very exciting.
Sean Chen's visuals are equally as boring much of the time. Each character apparently only has two facial expressions -- and, in Johnny's case, there's only a constant eye-rolling! Since this is a quiet issue with little inherent visual excitement, Chen is a little lost. He can knock big action sequences out of the park, but his handling of characters simply talking needs work. Also, looking at his depictions of Franklin and Valeria, I have no idea which is supposed to be the elder sibling. I know that it's Franklin, but Valeria usually looks older.
Hickman is a relative newcomer to comic writing with past works that focus more on concepts than characters, so his playing-it-safe characterization of the Fantastic Four makes sense, but is lacking. Only Reed's desire to fix the world makes this issue stand above mediocrity. There's promise here and, hopefully, this series acts as a way for Hickman to work out the kinks before taking over the main title.
(Go see Sean Chen's preview pages to judge his work for yourself! I mean, I could be wrong, right?)