Leonard Kirk returns to the artist's chair for "Fantastic Four" #11, as James Robinson guides readers through the tumult surrounding the Fantastic Four. Robinson and Kirk jam so much into the twenty pages of this comic that readers barely have time to notice anyone's absence in favor of the appearances of characters.
Robinson has made it quite clear that the Fantastic Four are firmly embedded in -- if not the actual hub of -- the Marvel Universe. The writer has teased out evidence throughout his work on the series, but in "Fantastic Four" #11, it's more evident than ever with appearances from a handful of foes not normally associated with the Fantastic Four, a visit from Scarlet Witch, a conversation between She-Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot and a surprise visit from yet another character Robinson has written in his current stint at Marvel.
Additionally, Robinson pays dividends on seeds planted early on and even mines the history of Marvel's first family and their supporting cast. Sue Richards' turbulent history with Malice percolates, She-Hulk points to the expediency of the hearing that tore down the Fantastic Four and Sharon Ventura plays a significant role in all of the prison shenanigans the Thing suffers through. Even Scarlet Witch's appearance makes complete sense once Robinson closes that scene. Some readers have voiced concern over Robinson's pace for "Fantastic Four," but "Fantastic Four" #11, like Robinson's work on "Starman" #29 shows readers there was a plan in place all along. Granted, Robinson may not have the pure latitude to work within here, but he is certainly maximizing his time in the Marvel sandbox, touching all the toys and giving them all-purpose.
Marc Laming did a stellar job with the pair of issues he handled in Kirk's absence, and makes a very strong case to be on call in future situations of similar regard. In returning, Kirk uses grid theory to construct the story of his charges, which proves especially effective in transitioning to and from the bistro scene between Wingfoot and She-Hulk. Based on a nine-panel grid, Kirk expands the entrance and exodus as necessary, making full use of the width of the page to tell the story beyond the dialog. Employing the grid allows Kirk the opportunity to space panels out with traditional white gutters, giving each piece its own frame to add a minute pause to the story flow. Kirk packs every panel full of detail and design, whether it is the deliberate decision to have the shaft of the arrow sticking out of Wingfoot continue the grid line or the thingamabobs and whatsits floating throughout Richards' New Eden laboratory.
Inker Karl Kesel stays true to Kirk's lines and adds a classic sheen to the characters with Jesus Aburtov's colors proving once more to be a fine match for the series. The colorist envelops Scarlet Witch's departure in fiery energy, leaving no doubt of the mystical powers in effect and he makes the rainwater of the New York City streets gray and dingy, but fluid. Clayton Cowles proves every bit as effective with his lettering, from tightly balanced conversations snuggly couched in packed panels to the sound effects dished out with rocky fists as the Thing holds his own in a shower sneak attack.
In light of the recent announcement that the series will be ending, "Fantastic Four" #11 serves up a wonderful example of how a comic can be so very good despite all of the negative events that occur in it. If Robinson truly is ushering out this era of Marvel's first family, he is doing so in a most remarkably memorable fashion. These are challenges that the Fantastic Four has never faced before, but Robinson makes it all work so well. This is the most I've been invested in the Fantastic Four since the days of Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo.