Johnny Storm. Franklin Richards. Leech. Arcade. The Impossible Man. And last but not least, a toy store. If you're thinking, "This has the potential for greatness," then you're right. Jonathan Hickman is nearing the end of his first year on "Fantastic Four" and in many ways, I think this issue sums up everything that's worked so far.
There's an A-plot about Johnny taking Franklin and Leech to a new toy store (since Reed is once again too busy), where Arcade claims to have gone straight and is teaming up with the Impossible Man to sell a new line of toys. I'm sure you can all see the disaster just looming on the horizon, needless to say. It's funny and silly, and it's a lot of fun to read. But at the same time, Hickman puts great character moments embedded throughout the A-plot. Johnny explaining how his own father got along better with Sue than him was a great bonding moment for him and Franklin, even as it never felt out of character for Johnny. And as for Franklin, not only does he get a lot of cute moments, there's that point in the story where we see what it takes for him to get angry, and it's great in part because no one else seems to really notice just what's starting to brew in Franklins head.
Meanwhile, there's not only a B-plot but even a C-plot going on in this issue. Reed's new Future Foundation of brilliant students provide not only a fun group of personalities in their own right, but also provide an elegant way of looking at a problem that's plagued another character for quite a long time. It's a neat solution, and I'm curious to see where Hickman is going to take it. As for the C-plot on Nu-Earth, it's suitably ominous that it's hard to not know that it's going to end with disaster for our characters. It's the one bit of this issue that I suspect will read better in a collected edition than month-by-month, but still it's nice to see a plot line slowly build instead of just appearing out of nowhere.
Neil Edwards provides fill-in art before new regular artist Steve Epting arrives in a few months, but I have to say that I'd be fine if Edwards stuck around longer. I love Epting's art, but Edwards has proven to be good for "Fantastic Four." When Johnny whirls around, flame powers igniting his fingers to point at Arcade and Impossible Man, it's suitably dramatic and you can actually almost feel the motion on the page. And when Franklin Richards gets angry, well, Edwards draws that scrunched up nose and steely blue eyes perfectly. Edwards isn't perfect -- I still can't figure out just what that initial death trap was -- but he's an artist whose fill-ins have gotten stronger with each issue. I think in a year or two he's going to take most of the comics world by surprise as he continues to strengthen his craft.
"Fantastic Four" under Hickman has proven to capture my attention month after month, no small feat. The best thing about the series is that I feel like it's still wonderfully unpredictable with each new issue; there's always something new and strange and, well, fantastic just waiting for us as a reader. If you aren't reading "Fantastic Four" these days, now's a great time to check it out and see just what you've been missing.