One of the things I've liked about Jonathan Hickman's run on "Fantastic Four," up until now, is that it's felt like there's been a billion different ideas just bursting at the seams, ready to fly forth. It's been that momentum that has helped make the series feel particularly exciting and larger than life. With the latest issue of "Fantastic Four," though, the book is starting to feel like it's losing steam.
Maybe part of the problem is that with all of the different ideas on the table now (the different cities, the young characters who now live with the Fantastic Four, Ben Grimm's once-a-year cure, the corpse of Galactus, Doctor Doom being the one to potentially save them), Hickman isn't pulling any new surprises out from his sleeves to surprise us. Those shock moments aren't there, and without it the intensity level is dropping. This issue feels like there should be more than just setup happening, but instead we're seeing the same pieces all just slightly shuffling around and fine-tuning their positions.
It also doesn't help that Hickman hangs a lot of this issue on the idea that Ben Grimm has never been able to wander around as a human ever since his initial transformation, but to anyone who's read "Fantastic Four" for an extended period of time, you'll know that's not the case. The only other run I ever read with any consistency was when Walter Simonson wrote and drew the comic, and even then we had Ben Grimm having been turned back into human form for quite a while. And while I understand that for some readers, this will be the first time they've seen this happen, it doesn't step around the fact that Hickman is writing Ben's reaction as if this is all new to him, that it's never happened before. As soon as that extra fact enters the picture (and Simonson's run was hardly the first time this had happened), the story doesn't ring true anymore. It's too bad because it is well written, and I'm hardly a stickler for strict continuity, but Ben Grimm getting to turn human seems to happen at the same frequency of a February 29th leap year.
Steve Epting continues his run as the new "Fantastic Four" artist, and he's an interesting choice for the book. His realistic look helps emphasize the human nature of the characters, and when it comes to those moments he's a good choice. Ben looks great when drawn by Epting, and it does help with the scenes of Ben enjoying his humanity again. It's interesting, though, seeing how Epting draws the characters who are supposed to look superhuman. The Silver Surfer looks fairly demonic, while Namor seems to radiate power. If this was a book about four ordinary people who are in a powered world, I think Epting would be a perfect choice for the book, but his "larger than life" depiction of the other characters seems to quietly ignore that the Fantastic Four are supposed to be rather fantastic in their own right.
There are some nice little bits here, like the new Yancy Street Gang, something that makes you wonder just how long Hickman's been sitting on their new status quo, waiting for the right time to use it. But considering this book was wowing me when Hickman first came on board, watching it slow down is a bit disappointing. Hopefully the remaining two chapters of "Three" will have a bit more pep to it than this issue did.