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

The Story: Franklin, Leech, and Johnny head to Arcade Toys for “the most impossibly awesome toy event ever.”

What’s Good: With wacky characters like Arcade and Impossible Man and most of the action taking place in a madcap toystore, the book reads like a really fun kids movie or cartoon of the sort that adults can also find enjoyment in.  As a result, there’s a lot of energy and gleeful abandon to the book, making it basically impossible to dislike.  It’s the kind of action that just makes the reader happy and that’s never a bad thing.

Certainly, Arcade and Impossible Man’s larger-than-life presences are more than welcome and make the comic a livelier and more welcoming experience.  Both characters suit the kids movie tone perfectly and give the book a sense of familiarity.  They’re two Saturday morning type characters and as such, they offer a bit of a reprieve from the big ideas that Hickman usually layers his books with.  I do love Hickman for those ideas, but giving us a little break now and then can be refreshing and liberating.  That and Impossible Man, when written well, is always a barrel of fun.

Amidst all the wackiness, there is solid character work as well.  I was pleasantly surprised by Hickman’s writing of Johnny this month, who came across as uncharacteristically paternal, loving, and even, dare I say it, responsible.  His relating to Franklin’s situation and the advice he gives his nephew hit home and provided something of a tender moment between the two.  Basically, Johnny acted like the perfect uncle this month.  All of this was still distinctly Johnny, however, with his characteristic narcissistic remarks peppered throughout.

The final scene, which involves the Future Foundation seeking a cure for Ben’s condition, was intriguing as well.  I found it particularly effective due to bittersweet note it ended on.  What the Future Foundation does for Ben is so limited, yet for Ben, that’s already a miracle.  It’s heartwarming to see something done for Ben, but also sad that it took this long and is so deteriorated in effectiveness as a result.  Hickman struck this balance perfectly.

What’s Not So Good: Neil Edwards does a great many things right:  his Impossible Man and Arcade look great and the toystore is wonderful.  Unfortunately, his work on his characters’ faces is still a mixed bag.  Some faces are fine, even enjoyable in their occasional exaggeration.  At other times though, the exaggeration becomes too much or a face comes across as artificial, if not downright goofy-looking.  I suspect that Edwards is relying on photo references for his characters’ faces and that this may be at the root of these difficulties.   Whatever the case, there are too many awkward facial expressions and it detracts from the art, which is otherwise pretty good.

I’m also still not a fan of Hickman’s “Nu-World interlude.”  It’s incredibly random and it comes out of nowhere.  Worse still, it suffers from that “I-sort-of-get-it-but-not-really-when-I-think-about-it” feeling that I occasionally get with Hickman’s writing.

There’s also the fact that Arcade’s motivations behind his plot are, well, fairly unknown, or at least really weak.  It’s a major hole but, the weird thing is, I was having so much fun with what was going on that I actually didn’t realize it, let alone care, until I’d finished the whole issue and really thought about it.

Conclusion: Lots of fun, Hickman’s FF is back in shape.  If you’ve got kids interested in comics, I imagine they’d love this.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans