by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Dale Eaglesham (art), Paul Mounts (colors), and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Johnny has a run-in with some Negative Zone badness while the undersea denizens revealed last month make for an unhappy Namor.

What’s Good: It’s great to see Johnny get some love this month.  As much as I like Reed and the kids, and Reed is probably among my top three comic characters, I’m glad that Hickman is trying his best to share the spotlight a bit.

What’s better still is that Hickman doesn’t write Johnny as the two-dimensional comic relief/jerk as it’s all too easy to do.  Sure there’s humour and arrogance, but there’s also heroism and even responsibility.  I’m glad Hickman decided to give Johnny a more serious look and when Johnny’s taking responsibility for his own mistake ends up being an even bigger mistake, there’s a tragic, bittersweet taste behind the irony, seemingly because he doesn’t know how to go about fixing his messes.

The self-reflection on Johnny’s part is outstanding.  It’s all the better due to how little Reed actually has to say; Johnny is already well aware of his shortcomings.  It’s always a strangely voyeuristic pleasure to see Johnny ashamed of himself, perhaps because the character is so defined by his douchebag persona.

Dale Eaglesham continues succeeds at the sci-fi insanity as usual, this month with a horror tinge, but it’s the more subtle stuff that caught my eye.   His work on his characters’ facial expressions is truly outstanding this month and absolutely spot on.  His work on Val and Johnny feel incredibly human, even adorable at times while the opening portrait is sure to catch the eyeballs.

I should also mention that Hickman has a lot of fun with the “recap page” he’s been ending the last few issues with.  It shows up midway through the book and is actually interrupted by the characters, revealed to be a screen on Val’s laptop.  It’s always fun to see a text be self-aware.

What’s Not So Good: Structurally speaking, this issue is a bit of a mess.  The plot with Johnny and the Negative Zone goes well enough, but when Hickman tries to transition to Sue Storm and her new undersea friends, there is no attempt at a segue.  It is disorienting and jarring, almost as though bits and pieces of another issue were jammed into this month’s book.

I think this is largely because Hickman has planted a lot of seeds, all of which are just a little too disparate.  The links between them just aren’t as solid as the writer hopes, or thinks, them to be.  Indeed, when Hickman attempts to bring the undersea plot and the Negative Zone plot together the result is just strange and confusing, even a little incomprehensible.  Worse, it lacks the significance that Hickman clearly expects it to have.

All told, I think that Hickman has mistakenly reversed his priorities over the past few issues.  His first arc was outstanding because of two things: first, the character work and second, the big-idea, sci-fi insanity.  Hickman seems to have had these two elements switch positions and the result isn’t up to the high standard he’s set himself.  Indeed, when put second, what character moments there are actually suffer; some of Reed’s words to Johnny ring hollow, despite their being dealt with a heavy hand.  Hickman has become so wrapped up in the big ideas that the quieter, interpersonal stuff doesn’t have as much meaning as it should.

Conclusion: Miles better than last month’s illustrated essay, but not up to Hickman’s usual A-grade.

Grade: B –

-Alex Evans