With the secret of Johnny Storm's survival revealed, this issue finally sees the moment we've all been waiting for: the Fantastic Four reunited. Now all they have to do is stop the Kree from destroying Earth...
If that sounds like a huge task, it's because it is. Writers could (and in the past, have) built entire crossovers on a similar premise. It's a story with scale, both in terms of events and scope. Indeed, plot elements of this story go way, way back to Jonathan Hickman's earliest work on the Fantastic Four, and there's a lot more besides that stuffed in here. But don't expect to have the significance of certain references spelled out for you: it's wilfully dense, and takes few prisoners in that regard. Blink, and you'll be lost.
There's a distinctly cosmic vibe to the stories, with the use of Annihilus, the Annihilation Wave, the Kree, the Inhumans, and dueling space fleets. No doubt this is right up some people's alley, but as someone who jumped on board to see the return of Johnny Storm, it's not quite what I was hoping for. Doubtlessly, the introspective and emotional reunion will occur when the world-ending threat is over, but it's tough not to wonder whether Hickman has concentrated too hard on paying off his long-form plots than on entertaining the crop of new readers that arrived for the reunion of the Fantastic Four.
Although the emphasis is placed on the big moments and reveals, there are a few of the more personal beats I'd been hoping for, and they contrast well with the impending doom (not that one) around our heroes. The manner in which Johnny announces his return, in particular, uses a classic visual in a new way. It's both fan-pleasing and emotionally real, and far easier to smile at than the interplay between, say, Ronan and Supremor.
It helps Hickman's plot that Steve Epting is a gifted storyteller and professional. The real strength here lies in his ability to switch from showing the emotion on a single face to a fight with a planet-felling armada and keep both grounded within one world. It doesn't ever jar, as it easily could have done.
As a stand-alone issue, it's difficult to call "Fantastic Four" #601 a good read. It's entertaining in the way the final 20 minutes of an action movie might be if you haven't seen the start. There's clearly more going on, though, and there are moments of obvious pay-off that new readers will miss. Technically, it's brilliant; but if you've not been keeping up with the story since it began, you're simply less likely to feel it the way long-time readers will.