Regardless of your thoughts regarding the marketing aspect of this comic book, there's no denying the fact that this book is a hefty package, with a hefty story. Five stories actually, all interwoven, just as Jonathan Hickman has been doing all along.
None of the stories should surprise any comic book reader too much, regardless of their experience with the Fantastic Four. The delineation I make for a "story" is the change of a "chapter" and an artist. Jonathan Hickman is joined on this book by his regular art collaborators of Steve Epting, Rick Magyar and Paul Mounts for the lead story, which features the attack of the Kree, the impending Annihilation Wave, and a visit to Latveria. That segment is twenty-eight pages of just what you've come to expect from Hickman and Epting: imaginauts at their best.
The second segment - and the longest installment in this issue - - answers the question: Whatever happened to Johnny Storm? Keeping in mind that this is comics, my friends, use your imagination and I'm sure you can come up with a sliver of what happens in this chapter. Yes, only a sliver. There's some great moments in this part of the issue, with Carmine Di Giandomenico on art. Without a doubt, this story could have held its own as a standalone tale, but couched in the middle of this issue it gains more gravitas, delivers more amazing moments, and provides more than a couple wonderful surprises. Andy Troy's colors shade this tale in a dreamy haze that fits the vibe of a flashback tale perfectly.
Ming Doyle joins Hickman for an emotionally charged story that has Medusa of the Inhumans conversing with her husband, Back Bolt, as the duo prepare to join in the battle on Earth. Doyle and colorist Jordie Bellaire offer up solid storytelling that carries the tale without words. This wasn't my favorite segment of the issue, but it does serve the purpose of setting the stage.
From there we get a Leinil Francis Yu drawn tale that features a meeting of the minds between Galactus and Reed Richards. It's a talking heads segment that Yu gives some intergalactic flair. After all, what would an anniversary issue of "Fantastic Four" be without an appearance by Galactus?
The issue rounds out with an existential tale of Leech and Franklin Richards. Drawn by Farel Dalrymple, this story provides a nice recap from Franklin's point of view (sort of) of the past year's worth of stories. Hickman is definitely setting up a future story here, but he doesn't tip his hand as to what that story will become. At least not too much. It's a fun capper for this weighty issue, but it feels more like a distraction from the story I really want to see. That would be more of the middle installment.
As anniversary issues of comics go, this one is different from the norm (or perceived norm) in that it doesn't waste any time navel-gazing. This issue does very little to celebrate the stories leading to this anniversary point and blazes full speed ahead to what is going to happen or is currently happening. It breaks the mold of preconceived anniversary expectations, but that's pretty much the preconceived expectation for Fantastic Four stories from Jonathan Hickman. This issue is yet another entertaining, fun read from Hickman and company. It's burdened by a hefty price sticker, but that is easily justified away once you realize that you're getting ninety-six pages of new story. That makes this issue quite a deal by comparison. That is something to be thankful for.