Editor's Note: Fantastic Four #577 arrives in stores tomorrow, March 31.
"Prime Elements 3: Universal Inhumans"
Whilst I've been quite enjoying Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four, the last few issues have been a bit of an odd bunch. Each chapter of the "Prime Elements" story seems intent on setting up a large number of story ideas but not actually doing anything with them -- and each one seems to end on an inconclusive cliffhanger that's supplemented by a text page of facts about the story, all of which is promptly abandoned when the next issue starts.
This issue follows the same formula, sending the FF into yet another fantastical sector of the Marvel Universe, and developing plenty of new ideas that build on established MU concepts that have been around since the days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It's the abandoned moonbase of the Inhumans that provides the setting for the action (such as it is) in this issue, allowing Hickman to make all sorts of additions to the mythology of a group of characters that has been around ever since the early days of the Fantastic Four title.
As with the last couple of issues, there's plenty of exposition that sets out all of Hickman's imaginative ideas in detail, and it's pretty interesting stuff. Without giving too much away, it takes the basic concept of the Inhumans and widens it considerably, offering up all sorts of new possibilities for the group. However, we don't really see much exploration of those possibilities, because (again, like the last couple of issues) just as something interesting seems to be happening, the story ends -- and on recent experience, I can't be sure that it'll be picked up again in the next issue.
I understand that Hickman is probably setting up all of these individual issues to play into a final chapter of the "Prime Elements" arc that ties them all together, but it doesn't make for a satisfying reading experience in monthly instalments. Far from being the "done in one" stories that some readers have described them as, they all feel like the first chapters of multi-part storylines -- so it's becoming a little frustrating to see each of them abandoned in favour of another issue of completely separate setup a month later.
Dale Eaglesham's art helps to redeem the book to some extent, offering a beautifully-rendered take on several staples of the MU whilst putting his own stamp on some of Hickman's own alien creations. I'm also starting to get used to his distinctive take on the FF themselves -- particularly Reed Richards and Johnny Storm, whose excessive musculature no longer bothers me nearly as much as it did in Eaglesham's first issue.
However, no matter how pretty the book is, it's difficult to give it much of a recommendation when the new elements that are being added to the book don't actually progress past their initial introduction. I'm quite prepared for the fact that they'll all make a lot more sense once we know what Hickman's endgame is, and I'm sure that, once complete, the "Prime Elements" story may well hang together far better than it currently seems to -- but that's an argument for waiting to read the story in TPB form, not for buying the monthly issues.
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