Or – “I Just Can’t Decide On This Book…”

FF has been a very strange reading experience for me thus far.  The first four issues were must-reads, but for some reason the return of Black Bolt left me cold.  Will this issue fall on the side of “VIP” or “WTF?” 

(You’ll only know if you click the jump…)

FF #8
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Steve Epting
Cover Artist: Daniel Acuna
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, on FF:  The end of the Fantastic Four wasn’t really much of an ending at all, more like a pause button.  The loss of the Human Torch caused Reed Richards to rethink the concept of heroics, forming his Future Foundation with the remaining members of the old team, Spider-Man and a thinktank of genius children.  Though things never really got quiet, the return of Black Bolt (with five new queens at his side) made things extra noisy, especially when four extradimensional versions of Reed himself showed up and joined forced to blow some stuff up.  How do you stop FOUR Reed Richards? 

Simple:  Assemble the people who fight Reed Richards for a living.

Uncharacteristically Grim…

I think the thing that has been throwing me over the last few issues (which I have to stress weren’t BAD, just strangely off-putting for me) is that general tone of FF.  Each successive issue has introduced another wrinkle in the plot, and while there are villains galore, each has his own agenda and keeps his own council, and the plot keeps thickening as we go.  Reed’s crazy time-traveling father has returned, Valeria has unlocked the door for evil Reeds to enter our world, the High Evolutionary’s city is aflame, and the Future Foundation are turning to the Mad Thinker and Diablo for support.  It’s a very dark sort of world, not really super-heroey at all, filled with compromise and secrets, a more adult sort of superhero tale.  Of course, that has it’s upside as well, as when Reed, Nathaniel and a coterie of the FF’s worst enemies set off to save the High Evolutionary’s city from the evil Reeds.

…But He Really Shoulda Seen It Comin’.

The second half of this issue is all-out three-sided battle, as the Inhumans fight against the Reeds fight against the FF, and everybody is tense throughout.  Spider-Man and Mr. Fantastic shift to their primarily black costumes to reflect the seriousness of it all, and even THEY recognize that they probably can’t really trust their current allies in this whole mess.  Reed realizes something strange about the leader of his doppel-gang, but before he can change tactics, Medusa and Lockjaw arrive and teleport him away for an audience with Black Bolt.  The issue ends with a betrayal, a blast, some blood and somebody gets backstabbed hard (but as the great sage Barry Manilow would memorably ask, just WHO SHOT WHO?)  The art is first-rate throughout the issue, as Steve Epting delivers the goods on both mutated monstrosities and battle action, but still making an argument betwee Sue and Nathaniel Richards tense and meaningful.

The Verdict:  Where’s Dothen?

This is a good issue, but it’s clear that one of the goals is to put the experienced comics reading public (i.e. you and me, Faithful Spoilerites) off their game and keep us guessing.  From the question of which villain revealed that he was a scorpion on the frog’s back to the question of what the Reeds are doing to the question of whether this is actually OUR Black Bolt, nothing is simple or clear here.  I can even look back to issue #7 and see that the very frustrations that I felt in reading it are intentional, which helps to ameliorate the problems I’ve been having with FF.  That said, I still feel adrift in the wilderness, and certain story beats confuse me (Why would Doom work with Reed?  Why, after decades of silence, is Black Bolt suddenly cutting loose with screams and whoops?  Where in the world is Ben Grimm during all this?  Where does the issue occur, vis a vis Fear Itself?), but all in all, it’s an impressive issue that doesn’t force one to read a big crossover to get the full tale.  FF #8 makes the grade but still leaves some confusion in my mind, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s a good issue, and the more adult take on the conflict is well-handled, but I want more than I’m getting…

Rating: ★★★½☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Do you think this is the same Black Bolt we’ve known, or are we dealing with a duplicate/alternate universe/clone thingy?