Between "Kick-Ass," "Marvel 1985," "Wolverine: Old Man Logan," and this "Fantastic Four" series, Mark Millar is producing some of the best work of his career. Critics have complained that his recent stuff is too-high concept, too pandering, or too much flash and not enough substance. But I think that's when Millar is at his best. He's not going to be the one to write the subtle, touching story full of thematic ambiguity. He's going to give you the summer blockbuster in the pages of a comic book, but with his own slightly-skewed twist. And though his "Fantastic Four" run started off with some rocky, tonally uneven moments, this "New Defenders" (Or "Nu Defenders") arc has been quite good, and this issue is probably the best yet.
This issue contains none of the lascivious panels of Johnny Storm getting his hormones on, and though it's full of double-page widescreen-style layouts, it's less gaudy-looking than some of Bryan Hitch's previous issues. Here, in a story short on dialogue, Hitch provides some spectacular establishing shots and wide-angle fight scenes, and spends less time showing the characters posing for the "camera." This is knock-down drag-out Fantastic Four action of...if not the Jack Kirby kind, then at least the John Byrne days. It's blunt, effective, hard-edged superhero spectacle, and who better to do that sort of thing than Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch?
The basic scenario here, as established in the past couple of issues, is that a strange band of "New" Defenders have shown up -- turns out, they're from the future -- and they're using Galactus's body (which they've somehow kidnapped and tapped into like a gigantic battery) to power some kind of temporal transport. The world of the future completely sucks, it turns out, and the only way to save it is by sending its population back to the present.
It's the kind of plan that only makes sense via superhero comic book logic, but that's exactly what we're reading, so it makes perfect sense. And issue #561 deals with the ramifications of the current Fantastic Four finding out that Sue Storm -- Sue Storm of the Future! -- is the leader of this time-displaced Defenders gang. And we get some fighting, of course, as the New Defenders aren't going to just kick back and let Ben Grimm and company bust up their plans to save every single person from their future. We even find out that one of the New Defenders is a familiar face after all, and that raises some interesting questions about how Millar's current work ties together into his own version of continuity. But it's really the spectacle that matters, and that's what we get, in double-page layouts galore.
The resolution to the "New Defenders" plan -- which I won't spoil -- may be almost laughably convenient, but it works within the story Millar has set out to tell. It's no more ridiculous than a dozen other Fantastic Four moments (stopping a Skrull invasion with comic books, the "trial" of Galactus, She-Thing, Fantastic Force), and it may yet lead to other conflicts in the future. Millar certainly doesn't let the team rest easy at the end of it all, giving us another shocking image on the final page to keep us coming back for more.
In an era when spectacle is usually tied into some soul-crushing mega-crossover event, it's nice to see that an old war horse like "Fantastic Four" can still bring the thrills all by itself. It can. It does.