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For comic fans, there is basically no piece of trivia easier than naming the members of the Fantastic Four. You've got Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Ben Grimm (the Thing) and… Spider-Man. Right?!
Okay, not really. But that's who you get in FF volume 1, the first in a series of new stories starring Marvel Comics' smartest guy and his fantastic family. As this volume opens, Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) has just been killed (or so we all think), lost in a battle with invaders from another dimension. In his will, Johnny has requested that Spider-Man, his BFF, take his place on the team.
But that's not the only thing that's changing. In the wake of Johnny's death, the whole team's adapted in different ways, from different costumes to a different mission. Reed's whole goal now is proactive superheroics; that's why "FF" no longer stands for "Fantastic Four" but "Future Foundation"—he, his wife, and a group of gifted children they've picked up along the way are slowly cooking up ways to put their powers to good use and make the world a better place.
If only the bad guys were down with that idea. But this is comics, after all, and in the five chapters of this book Reed & co. have to deal with threats ranging from Dr. Doom to the Wizard to a group of evil Reed Richards from alternate dimensions who are stranded on our Earth and basically need to blow it up to get back home. Yep.
In case you couldn't tell, FF excels in the "this story is totally crazy" department, but when you're dealing with a super-scientist on the level of Reed Richards, that's kind of what you want to see him face, right? Writer Jonathan Hickman has an incredible imagination and has cooked up some seriously mind-bending plots here, and there's nothing like seeing one of the world's smartest dudes have to battle five less ethical versions of himself (BTW, the first thing that our Reed does to fight his evil counterparts —calls a conference of supervillains to talk about how they'd kill Reed if they had to. Hah!).
Also, despite the relatively dire stakes here (with the world exploding and all), Hickman has a lot of fun with this book. Obviously Spider-Man helps with that; his humor's in top form here, and he brings a really nice levity to the proceedings that's balanced out by everyone else being pretty morose about Johnny. The group of misfits who live with the FF is also an endless source of entertainment; among them is Bentley, a teenaged clone of the supervillain the Wizard who thinks evil is just cool, and Dragon Man, an android dragon programmed to kill who's decided he really doesn't like to fight.
Hickman gets some great artistic help in this book from Steve Epting and Barry Kitson, both of whom are excellent pencilers with a really powerful style. We've also got to single out colorist Paul Mounts, maybe the true star of this book, whose rich but subtle shades convey a sense of reality you don't usually see in superhero comics.
There are only two downsides that prevent us from recommending this book completely. First, it's not totally new-reader friendly; a lot of stuff here builds on previous events in Fantastic Four, and although a lot of the absolutely necessary backstory is filled in, newcomers may still feel like they're missing something (although that's not always bad; a little mystery keeps things interesting). Second, this book frustratingly ends on a cliffhanger. Obviously this is something monthly comics have to do to keep readers interested, but when they're collected into book form like this, you'd hope you're getting a complete story between the covers, not half of one. Everything leading up to the finale of this book's great, but when you get to the last page it just seems like "really, this is it?"
Despite those misgivings, FF volume 1 is really a great book. Hickman's a dude to watch at Marvel; his stories are not just really good but also quite important to shaping the future of these characters we know and love. So if you're looking for some crazy sci-fi superhero action (with Spider-Man!), FF volume 1 is worth your time. B
Are you going to read it?