James Robinson and Leonard Kirk continue to weave one of the most well-planned and masterfully executed Fantastic Four stories in recent memory with "Fantastic Four" #643. The issue, Robinson's seventeenth chapter in his saga scripting the World's Greatest Comic Magazine, continues to play out the effects of Quiet Man's devious plans. With the ability to tap into the "Heroes Reborn" dimension that Franklin Richards created, the Quiet Man attacks the Marvel Universe on many fronts and gives the Fantastic Four more than they can handle alone.
In doing so, Robinson continues to describe to readers just how inseparable Marvel's first family is from the Marvel Universe itself. Serving as the hub around which the rest of the universe revolves, the Fantastic Four are able to rely on allies like Captain American, Doc (Hulk) Green, Spider-Man, Captain Britain's Excalibur, Alpha Flight and the Winter Guard (formerly known as the Soviet Super Soldiers). The last three groups get one-panel appearances, but those appearances could each serve as a magnificent springboard for individual series masterminded by Robinson.
Leonard Kirk's art gives life to Robinson's grand notions. The panels featuring Captain Britain, Alpha Flight, the Winter Guard and a host of heroes in Tokyo are drawn at one-quarter of the page height but span the full width of the spread, making the term "widescreen" an official understatement due to the panoramic breadth of these strips. For every beat that Robinson marches out, Kirk hits it bang-on.
That carries throughout the issue, which is chock full of amazing concepts executed to artistic brilliance. Mister Fantastic countering the Quiet Man's machinations on New Eden is one of the most heroic panels Reed Richards has ever -- or will ever -- star in. Kirk takes it all a step farther, encouraging Robinson to trust him with humorous moments and emotional silence, like when Bentley informs the Wizard of his displeasure with marzipan. Kirk serves up a smooth flashback to bring readers up to speed on Sleepwalker, draws a dynamic reunion, unleashes the Thing's trademark battle cry and even sets up the final image of this comic with amazing consistency and polish.
Sure, some of the final imagery is courtesy of inker Karl Kesel's sturdy hand and strong inking. Kesel knows when to pitch in and give Kirk's work a goose and when to back off and amplify the art. Through it all, colorist Jesus Aburtov augments everything well and propels so very much of it to another level entirely. He adds atmosphere and controls the temperature. Several points in the issue are impactful because of the finish Aburtov delivers, like Alex Power blasting an alien or Dragon Man unleashing his breath. Other panels are filled with such gorgeous subtlety that most readers may miss the effects the colorist pours out, like the mist and clouds of debris hovering over the battlefields or the particles disintegrating as the Quiet Man and his crew teleport.
Letterer Cowles is just as involved in the story, from the ultimate delivery of red block letters for "IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!" to Spidey's hesitation in reaction to his tingling spider-sense. Cowles' choice of placement, dictated by Kirk's layouts, maximizes the story and guides the readers, adding to the subtlety. He doesn't have to use a wide range of font treatments, but Cowles does manage to make everyone sound their very best.
I hit the last page of "Fantastic Four" #643 and shouted out, "Aw Yeah!" Robinson continues to make everything feel new and has found the perfect hook for this team, making them truly feel like a family -- not just any family, mind you, but that one family that everyone looks up to and respects. Sure, sometimes you might look at that family with jealousy, but that's only because you know that family is fantastic, just like this comic book.