With "Fantastic Four" #6, readers are (presumably) halfway through the Fantastic Four's trip through time and space disguised as a way for Reed Richards to find a way for their bodies to stop breaking down. While I still find myself reading Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley's take on the self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Comic Magazine," once again it's hard to keep from feeling like this is a book that isn't quite coming together as well as it should.
Fraction's story jumps into the start of the universe courtesy the Big Bang, presented as a chance for Franklin and Valeria to see an important moment in science (and reality). When a mysterious figure is found chained and floating inside the eruption of energies, though, the Fantastic Four take it in and that's where the trouble begins. It's a very simple hook, and while it's not a bad one per se it's also hard to keep from shaking the feeling that this is a story that comes about because no one stops to ask the question that if someone is chained up and dumped in the Big Bang, maybe it's for a good reason. From the moment that the mystery figure is brought on board, it's an issue full of mayhem as member after member fights this face from the past and discovers just how bad shape they are in against this foe.
On the plus side, I like how the fight plays out, perhaps in part because it's far too easy to just give the heroes an easy win in a comic, and that's not at all what we end up with here. Fraction gives the foe in "Fantastic Four" #6 more than just an upper hand here, and it takes a creative solution (and one that dips back to the original set-up) rather than any sort of brute strength in order to stop him. That's what issues of "Fantastic Four" should be about, and it's nice to have that click into place.
Bagley's pencils are a bit erratic here, and I'm not entirely sure why. Look at Franklin Richards on pages 2 and 3, by way of example; not only does Franklin's face twist enough that you'd think he's now holding Mr. Fantastic's powers, but Bagley draws him in a way that makes him look to be as tall as his uncle Johnny Storm. Two pages later, in fact, Franklin's face is drawn near-identical to that of Johnny in the same panel. But then in pages 6-7, and everything comes together. The final panels of page 6 where Reed is forced to look outside are drawn beautifully (that last panel reminds me a lot of Alan Davis), and the splash on page 7 brings to mind Jack Kirby with the way that the prisoner is bolted to the rock. It's ultimately a little frustrating because I want to love every page, but for every one that I do, there's another one that isn't quite working.
"Fantastic Four" #6 feels like it's almost there, that the book is coalescing into what it needs to be. For now, though, Fraction and Bagley aren't quite hitting the mark. It's not bad, but once again, it feels like it could be so much better, too.