As Jonathan Hickman wraps up his run on Fantastic Four, he’s been hunting down loose threads like a tailor with OCD. The Human Torch is back from the dead. Reed’s ex-girlfriend got blasted to the far side of the universe (cue 90’s stand-up comedian, “Am I right, guys?”). What about that super-villain clone that Reed invited into his house? Nothing could go wrong there, could it? We’ll begin to learn the answer to that question as we review Fantastic Four #610.
Previously in Fantastic Four: Back at the start of Hickman’s run as writer, classic FF villain the Wizard resurfaced, convinced that his world-domination was mandated by God. After foiling the Wizard’s latest scheme, the Fantastic Four wound up with custody of a preteen clone of the Wizard. Coincidentally, Mr. Fantastic was just opening his school for super-smart, multi-cultural/multi-species kids so the clone, aka Bentley, could become a microcosm of the Reed’s plan to improve the future by teaching the children well. Bentley developed into an arrogant young genius whose proto-supervillain bluster hides his desire to fit in with his classmates. Meanwhile, the Wizard is broken out of jail by an AIM splinter group. Which side will Bentley come down on?
LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
The issue starts with the news that the Wizard has bought the island nation of Barbuda. We’re obviously not meant to dwell on this as a) that’s not how international relations work and b) in a page and a half, the shadowy president of the United States assigns the world crisis to Reed Richards instead of any of the dozen Avengers teams who arguably work for the government and exist just for this kind of thing. No, instead we have a five-person (traditional FF with a side of Spider-Man) Bay of Pigs invasion of an island run by terrorist scientists. Yeah, I know it’s their book, but it still bugs me a little.
Anyway, the story just keeps picking up speed. The Wizard comes out to confront the Fantastic Four (plus one) with a swarm of AIM beekeepers as cannon fodder. A sudden but inevitable betrayal defeats the Wizard. Reed has to put on his diplomacy hat to deal with the “peaceful” mad scientists of AIM who just want to have an island to do science for the people who are still alive. Finally Bentley the clone gets to meet up with the Wizard, introducing Bentley’s crisis of loyalties which is the real point of this story.
Everything I’ve described is a cool idea, but none of them get the time they deserve because the plot mandates that Bentley has to meet his “father” before the last page. In the search for speed, some things get jettisoned. For example, the Wizard has generic energy blast powers, which look cool and Kirby-esque, but I hate them dramatically. We don’t have time to learn what kind of device he built, or what its capabilities/weaknesses are, and we’re left with a power that is exactly as strong and weak as the plot calls for. It’s a common shortcut that saves time but undermines the tension because the reader doesn’t feel they understand what the stakes are in the battle.
Similarly, there’s a cafeteria fight later on, which sounds cool (and makes me look forward to the inevitable toga party in a future issue) but I don’t understand why it happens or how it ends. Maybe we loop back to it next issue, but at present I don’t know if it matters or is just a throw-away joke.
What I liked most about this issue is the depiction of Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). I always like it when writer’s flesh out the organizations of faceless thugs that seem to be the major employer in the comic book universe. Hickman depicts a complex mix of mustache-twirling melodrama and pencil-pushing banality of evil behind AIM. This humanizes the enemy which makes them more interesting hopefully without taking away the satisfaction we will feel when they get their comeuppance at the end of the Thing’s’ fist.
LINES ON THE MIRROR, LINES ON HER FACE
This is Ryan Stegman’s second issue of Fantastic Four and his art is… different. His style is “sketchy”, by which I mean that looking at it you are aware of every single one of the millions of lines that make up the images. The lines are so pronounced that it reminds me at times of an engraving. Which isn’t to say it’s bad, but it certainly doesn’t look like the same title I was reading two issues ago and it’s nothing like the recent issues of FF. One effect is that this style makes everything look darker, even in scenes in full daylight. It may serve to accentuate the tone of the larger story, but I don’t see that so far. In the end, it communicates the story and the action is pretty well depicted so it may come down to personal taste whether you prefer this to the cleaner style that preceded it.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Eager for action and hot for the game
My first thought is that there’s not enough substance to this issue, but in context it’s not so much a story as an introduction up for the longer arc. The stage is set and I am interested in seeing where this is going. Hickman deserves credit for taking historically goofy villain, the Wizard, and giving him a threatening edge. I give Fantastic Four #610 two and a half stars. It’s like a restaurant with great food but in small portions, it’s a flaw but not a fatal one.