With "FF" and "Fantastic Four" both coming to an end in October (with another "Fantastic Four" re-launch scheduled afterwards as part of the "Marvel NOW!" event), Jonathan Hickman's busy wrapping up all of his storylines involving the group of characters. Unfortunately, "FF" #20 by Hickman and Nick Dragotta has gotten pulled in a bit too much into the "Fantastic Four" orbit in that regard, losing the book's recently re-defined focus.
For those still reading "FF" because of the Future Foundation children, you might be a little disappointed with "FF" #20. The kids don't even really get a strong spotlight this month, with a lot of the issue instead devoted to the return of the Inhumans to Earth, a plot development that has been carefully unwinding most of the changes to the characters over the past decade. But then again, this issue in general seems determined to put everything back in their starting positions for the next "Fantastic Four" author. The reinstatement of Annihilus as ruler of the Negative Zone last month is concluded, Franklin Richards starts going to a normal school and outlying characters not yet back in more familiar territories are summed to return. It's a clean slate being manufactured by Hickman.
The problem is, a clean slate set-up is rarely satisfying. It reminds the reader that more often than not nothing ever truly changes in comics; an already-established reset point being returned to once again. Hickman's large, expansive ideas were part of what made "Fantastic Four" and "FF" so much fun, and in many ways this is the opposite of that. I understand that not all readers might want to jump into the larger, more complex set-up that Hickman provided, but doesn't make this contracting process any less frustrating.
Still, Hickman does get a few good moments in along the way. The confrontation between Valeria Richards and her visitor from the future is a genuinely funny moment (and also more than a little sinister when you stop and think about it), and the brief glimpses we get of the Future Foundation kids made me smile. And while Franklin Richards heading to a public school is hardly an exciting development in its own right, Hickman's on-the-way-to-school conversation in the car almost makes up for it. It's a charming and nicely written scene.
Dragotta taking over as artist on "FF" was a big change for the better, although this month there are a couple of odd moments. Black Bolt's bloated and puffy face makes it look like he's been downing entire galaxies made of Twinkies when no one was looking, and Valeria and her visitor both look oddly proportioned between their heads and the rest of their bodies. Still, the car scene is drawn as well as it's written, and I love the early images of Reed teaching the Future Foundation in an observatory that's to die for.
We still have three months left of "FF" (and "Fantastic Four," although at this point there's hardly a differentiation between the two) so things can still turn around. But for now, this title is feeling less like Hickman running wild with his crazy big ideas and more like following a road map to a position he's been asked to arrive at before leaving. Things can still change for the better, but right now my hopes are not high that Hickman's run will end at the strong level in which it began.