Editor's Note: Fantastic Four #575 arrives in stores tomorrow, January 27.
"Prime Elements 1: The Abandoned City of the High Evolutionary"
I've been following Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four since his first issue, and I've been enjoying his take on the Marvel Universe's "first family". His ability to move between high-concept fantastical stories like the opening "Solve Everything" arc and more grounded, small-scale stuff like last issue's birthday party for Franklin Richards makes him a good fit for a book that has always been as much about character relationships as it has about monsters, space travel, and cosmic beings of immense power.
However, this latest issue feels like it's neither one thing nor the other: it's not quite out-of-this-world enough to feel like a thrilling fantasy adventure, but there's not quite enough depth to the characterisation to make it truly compelling from a human point of view.
It's not a bad story by any means. The concept of the Mole Man and his moloids coming to the FF for help regarding a possible threat that's posed by an underground city is an interesting one, but in the end very little time is spent on that story. Far more time is devoted to a guided tour of various underground locales (which are interesting, I guess, but don't have much bearing on the story at hand), after which the matter of the High Evolutionary's underground city is briefly addressed, only for the end of the issue to imply that there was no real threat posed by the city in the first place.
To give Hickman his dues, the title of this story indicates that this may be the first part of a larger saga, and I certainly get the sense that a lot of the information that's included here is being given to us in order to set up future plot points. This seems especially true given the nature of the prophecy that Franklin received from his future self at the end of the previous issue--but having said that, any references to that scene are conspicuously absent here, making me wonder whether there really is a connection, or whether the apparent window dressing that fills the first half of this issue is just that.
On top of that, the sudden ending to the issue feels abrupt and unnatural, with the sense that we haven't really been given the chance to see many of the story's ideas play out in full. And I can't work out whether the text piece at the end of the issue is meant to be funny, or whether the plot developments that it describes are really meant to have happened, and are simply not going to be actually shown in the pages of the comic itself.
Dale Eaglesham returns to provide the book's artwork this issue, and whilst I can't say that I particularly prefer his work over the more than adequate visuals of fill-in artist Neil Edwards, his lovingly rendered and detailed illustrations certainly raise the level of the story to some extent. Reed's tour through the various underground environments is given texture and atmosphere by Eaglesham's pencils, and there are plenty of interesting details hiding in the corners of the panels that add a little extra flavour to proceedings.
That said, the pretty artwork can't overcome the impression that this is a fairly unremarkable Fantastic Four story, and possibly the weakest of Hickman's run so far. Having said that, I have to give credit to the writer for the possibility that he might be laying the groundwork for bigger and better things. I appreciate little touches like his respectful nods to the previous creators' work on the book (such as the reappearance of the dead Galactus from Millar and Hitch's run), and I wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be one of those stories that's retrospectively improved by what comes later in the title.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!