Graced with a cover featuring yet another slugfest between the Thing and (a) Hulk, "Fantastic Four" #609 marks Ryan Stegman's long-awaited debut on "Fantastic Four." Announced sometime around this year's C2E2, Stegman's work on Fantastic Four has been teased both by the artist himself and Marvel.
Bringing a more animated and lively style to the series than most other artists who have handled any portion of Jonathan Hickman's run on "Fantastic Four," Stegman immediately gives this series a visual shock. There are spots where his artwork appears rough and scratchy, adding energy and uneasiness to the characters that are already on edge. The combination of animation and scratchy uneasiness transforms this book into a collection of manga-tinged images that are refreshingly light despite the heavy shadows and dark color scheme employed by Paul Mounts. Stegman's art brings a great deal of the better aspects of 1990s comic book art into the present while depicting characters from the future.
In true Jonathan Hickman fashion, this issue delivers an adventure filled with wild comic-book science, incredible characters and long-game stories that come back around when least expected. Readers just now finding their way to "Fantastic Four" will be surprised by the events of this issue, while more seasoned readers may find themselves reaping dividends from stories Hickman has seeded throughout his tenure on "Fantastic Four" and "FF." Hickman chooses not to adhere to the concept of every issue being new-reader friendly and plows straight ahead with his narrative, trusting his readers to be intelligent or patient enough to comprehend what they're reading. In doing so, Hickman tells the story of how the Future Defenders came to the present and where they are headed through a less than typical series of recaps told over a tight set of pages.
Following a series of fill-in artists and apparent fill-in type stories -- including jaunts to a further future and a tour of Wakanda -- Hickman has seemingly returned to his grander tale, this time with an artist committed to the long haul. It's simply too bad that this run seems short-circuited by Marvel NOW! As a matter of fact, in the letters page of this issue, the imminent departure of Hickman is mentioned, rather than hyping what is yet to come during Hickman and Stegman's remaining issues. With the Future Defenders departing the pages of this series, I'm keen to see what awaits us in a newly re-energized the pages of "Fantastic Four."