I haven't followed the behind-the-scenes stuff surrounding "Fantastic Four" very closely, but I know that Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch originally planned to do a one-year run, then they had so much fun they extended it for another half-year or so, and then Jonathan Hickman is supposed to come in and do his take on the characters.
So what caused Millar and Hitch to bail out early and give Joe Ahearne and Neil Edwards the controls? I don't really care what the reason is -- it's irrelevant to this review -- but reading this comic gives one the feeling that Millar and Hitch dove out of the plane just as it was about to land and said, "okay guys, just put 'er down safely." It doesn't seem that Ahearne and Edwards are going to stick the landing.
This is the penultimate issue of the "Doom's Master" storyline, in which we find the Marquis of Death smacking around the Fantastic Four both physically and psychologically. Millar and Hitch aren't completely gone yet, but they have their parachutes on and one foot out the door, with Ahearne seeming to take on a large chunk of the dialogue duty while Edwards pencils a few pages and maybe provides some finishes on the Hitch pages -- some of the Hitch panels look far more awkward and poorly rendered than usual, but that may just be Hitch getting sloppy with one eye his pages here and the other eye on kicking off "Captain America: Reborn." He apparently won't be around at all for the finale of this arc, with Stuart Immonen coming in to finish it up next issue.
It's too bad Millar and Hitch couldn't hold it together long enough to finish their run on this series, because there's been a lot to like in their work here. Sure, it seemed to over-rely on catastrophic events (you can only turn the knob to 11 so many times in a row), and it had its share of off-putting moments (particularly with any of the male/female relationships, none of which worked well at all), but it has been a zany, over-the-top super-sci-fi ride with Marvel's first family. It certainly hasn't been dull for the past year and a half.
But this issue not only suffers from inconsistent art and sometimes nonsensical dialogue (at one point the Thing refers to toe Marquis of Death as "Doomsie," even though as a naked skinny guy with a black and purple cape, he looks nothing like Dr. Doom), it also suffers from anticlimax. The whole Millar/Hitch run has been building to this massive confrontation between the FF and Doom's Magical Master of Evil, and it's really just another maniac in a mask and cape who makes bold pronouncements. He's a multiversal maniac, sure, but his great power doesn't make him more interesting than Dr. Doom. It would be like having Doomsday kill Lex Luthor and replace him as Superman's greatest foe. Greater strength does not a more threatening villain make.
There are a few good moments here -- the kinds of things Millar and Hitch have done particularly well in the past -- like posing some hasty moral dilemmas amidst brief scenes of team-ups only dreamed about by pre-teen Marvel Super Heroes RPG enthusiasts (imagine if Klaw and Terrax and the Mad Thinker and Terminus all joined forces!), but anything done well is undercut by the feeling that Millar and Hitch have already jumped out of this plane before it put its landing gear down.
Could Stuart Immonen come along next issue and help put an exclamation point on the Millar run? Sure. But as the climax of a multi-arc storyline, this issue is merely a half-hearted ellipsis.