Dale Eaglesham may draw Reed Richards and Sue Storm off-model (if you can even say there’s a model after so many different interpretations over the years), with their broad shoulders and hefty leg muscles that look like they belong on Olympic speed skaters, but when he shows the Fantastic Four in action, it’s quite a spectacular show. So it’s easy to forgive his strange depictions of the main characters (a depiction that will surely grow on us over time), when he puts the FF in high-tech scuba gear and sends them on an undersea exploration beneath Antarctica.
Very few artists working in mainstream comics can so convincingly, so romantically, depict an unfamiliar landscape the way Eaglesham does in this issue, and because his characters all have weight — both physically and dramatically — it seems as if they’re interacting with these strange worlds for real. Or comic book “real,” anyway. But it counts.
And Eaglecham also gets to carry the storytelling burden for the entire middle of the issue, with nary a word of dialogue spoken as Marvel’s first family finds a hidden city, an assault by A.I.M., and a gaggle of aquatic beings, like shark-men and creatures from the not-so-black lagoon. He does a phenomenal job telling the story visually.
But the wordless sequences offer a counterpoint to the dialogue-heavy opening scenes. Jonathan Hickman makes the dialogue so interesting, makes the exposition seem vital, that it doesn’t feel like page after page of speechifying, even if that’s what it is. To be honest, at one point I thought to myself, this is a dense issue for a modern Marvel comic, and I looked to see that I was only on page 14 when I said that. It’s a treat to find an issue as meaty as this, and to see someone as in-control as Hickman, who can take time for heavy dialogue when needed, and yet move aside to let Eaglesham do his thing when needed.
I’m not sure how I feel about this little text page or epilogue after the issue ends, which provides, like the goofy ending of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable,” a coda that explains what happens after the final freeze frame at the end. I think it’s unnecessary in an issue like this, and it detracts from the strength of the story and art that preceded it. But it’s got a funny gag in it, and that makes up for its otherwise graceless presence.
Overall, this is another very strong issue from Hickman and Eaglesham. They’re not only doing the Fantastic Four right, they’re doing superhero comics right. This is an issue full of spectacle and conflict, thoughtfulness and surprising moments. And it’s Susan Storm’s chance to shine, even in a story where her brother shows up wearing flaming cowboy boots to the coldest place on Earth.