by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Neil Edwards (pencils), Andrew Currie (inks), Paul Mounts (colors), and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: It’s Franklin’s birthday, but who’s the mysterious visitor who invades the Baxter Building come nightfall?

What’s Good: If anything, every single one of Hickman’s issues of Fantastic Four have all felt very true to the core values of the series: good wholesome fun with a dash of sci-fi wackiness/action.  This month’s book continues that trend.

Franklin’s birthday forms the bulk of the issue, and for the most part, it’s fun.  The Spider-Man cameo was good for a laugh, and it’s hard not to enjoy seeing the character act as a birthday performer and child entertainer.  Hickman basically writes Spider-Man almost as a kid’s party magician….except for the fact that he’s Spider-Man.  Children’s birthdays in the Marvel Universe are just like ours, only far more awesome.

And of course, with Spider-Man’s presence comes the hilarity of his relationship with Johnny.  Torch’s seething jealousy for the character is as funny as ever under Hickman.  The present he gets for Spidey is bound to make you laugh, as well as the sight of Johnny accusing someone else of being a show-off.

Spidey’s not the only guest to bring the laughs though.  The child found in the Wizard’s lair back at the beginning of Hickman’s run is also a guest at the party (it’s good to see Hickman’s not forgotten him), and surprisingly, despite the dark nature of the character, his page of dialogue with Sue is a real laugh.  He’s morbid, apathetic, and depressed…but he loves cake.  Sue’s completely ignoring his macabre dialogue definitely helped.

The last bit of the issue hints at big things to come.  I loved what Neil Edwards did with the art here.  A mysterious visitor gives Val portents of the future, and Edwards renders said portents as child’s crayon drawings.  I got a real kick out of seeing a cackling Dr. Doom illustrated in crayon.  Also, I had to say, when Val revealed the visitor’s identity, my jaw literally dropped. How Hickman has Val address the visitor for who he really is was oddly touching.

What’s Not So Good: The art for this issue just wasn’t very good overall.  Edwards faces are just an absolute mess.  The number of botched faces is beyond count.  At times, the expressions are all wrong (kid’s yelling out look like photo-referenced crying babies), and more often, they just look inhuman.  Sue may suddenly have an enormous forehead or Franklin and Val may look deformed.  I have no idea what’s going on, but Edwards just cannot draw consistently human faces.

Also, while not a big deal for long-term readers, readers just jumping aboard now with Hickman’s run may be thrown for a bit of a whirl with respect to some of Franklin’s party guests.  One conversation will have new readers completely in the dark.  I’m also not sure how I feel about two of the children at the party now being Baxter Building residents.  I like the focus on Val and Franklin, and I fear that more children may dilute their presences.

The major shift in tone late in the issue  is also a bit disconcerting, structurally.  There’s very little segue or linkage and this ends up feeling like two different stories/issues slammed together with no lead-in.  The birthday party and the visitor are just so different in atmosphere, tone, and plot and there’s no effort to make the shift feel natural.

Conclusion: Good, clean fun.  Hickman’s FF is one of the best Marvel reads.

Grade: B

-Alex Evans