After the "Dark Reign" mini-series and his initial story arc on the book proper, "Fantastic Four" #573 is a change of pace for Jonathan Hickman as he delivers a done-in-one story that quite easily could have been a four-issue arc. The compression of a lot of big ideas is effective and acts as a reminder that just because a story can be told over several issues doesn't mean it should be, particularly since producing one very good comic is better than producing four average ones.
Johnny, Ben, Franklin, and Valeria take a trip to Nu-Earth for a vacation only to discover it's become a wasteland and eight years have passed thanks to the nearby sun becoming a black hole and distorting time. During that time, things have gone poorly for the planet as its former protectors have become dictators and Ted Castle, along with his wife Alyssa Moy, who is now a brain in a small robot, is one of the few heroes left fighting against Lightwave's forces. And, when Ben gets captured, they need to rescue him and find a way to repair the portal back to the regular Earth.
While dystopian futures are nothing new in comics, this one has a different feel to it because it's not the planet we're used to seeing. By using Nu-Earth, Hickman transforms the concept from this other planet similar to the one we know with its very own heroes to something more alien and disturbing, something that's again a threat and something to be feared -- a new Negative Zone or Savage Land if you will.
Also, by choosing the characters to visit Nu-Earth that he has, Hickman gets a chance to give them a chance to shine. The Richards children in particular each receive their own special moment as Valeria shows off her brains and Franklin shows off how well he can share with each child allowing us to see how much Ted has changed over the years. Hickman's alteration of the Fantastic Force/New Defenders makes sense and isn't uniform across the group.
"Fantastic Force" artist Neil Edwards provides the art and does an able job. His style is very much in an Alan Davis/Bryan Hitch vein, no doubt assisted by Andrew Currie's inks. While more workmanlike than those other artists, the opening pages show that he can also deliver some fantastic action scenes as Ted and Alyssa race to save the visitors before the Ultrons can get them. Edwards shows a lot of promise in this issue and, hopefully, will continue to be given chances to prove himself.
With this done-in-one issue of "Fantastic Four," Jonathan Hickman blends big ideas and smart character work to deliver a great read that takes a somewhat boring concept like Nu-Earth and adds a twist to it that sets it up as another unique and alien location in the Marvel universe.