Jonathan Hickman’s run on “Fantastic Four” has done for the franchise, in many ways, what Grant Morrison did for the X-Men in 2001. He has simultaneously modernized the book and distilled it to its essence. He has infused it with imagination but also built off the book’s decades of continuity (all of them, from Kirby to Millar). It’s been a spectacular accomplishment, all coming together in this storyline: “Three.”
I suppose there’s kind of an advantage when you publicize a character’s death months in advance but don’t give any clues as to who it will be. Hickman takes full advantage of this arrangement by putting every character in the direst straits possible. It’s not fully apparent who will die next issue, but Hickman has gone to great pains to make it anyone’s guess. He also does a great job of making each character be in a position where, if they were to die, it would be a noble and completely non-arbitrary death. Johnny and Ben are fighting off Annihilus, Reed is trying to save billions of people, and Sue has been tricked into risking her life for a peace accord that was a flim flam to begin with. Whoever ends up croaking, it’s actually going to mean something.
Hickman’s run has gone through its fair share of artists. It started with Dale Eaglesham, who has a very distinctive style of his own and pretty much put his stamp on the book. After that the book went through a few stop gap artists until new regular artist Steve Epting took over. Epting is completely different stylistically, but still has no problem handling everything from Galactus to several Atlantaen races without losing any sense of consistency. Having a more grounded style also helps add a sense of poignancy to the impending doom.
Overall, this is a fantastically tense issue, a prologue if you will, for the inevitably bad stuff that’s scheduled to happen next issue. It’s an artfully rendered example of how to extend and execute a set up to something that everyone knows is coming, and continue to add remarkable sense of mystery to who exactly will end up dead. “Three” has been touted as the end of the first large block of the story Hickman’s been telling on this book. If this issue is any indication, it’s going to finish as strongly as it began.