by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Steve Epting (art), Paul Mounts (colors), and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Ben takes the Future Foundation’s potion and, along with Johnny, enjoys the first day of his week as a normal guy.

What’s Good: Amidst all his huge ideas, it’s easy to forget that Jonathan Hickman is just as good at writing those heartfelt, “little” moments.  His best Fantastic Four issues usually feature a sprinkling of it here and there, but this month, Hickman reminds us of his capabilities in this arena by giving us not a sprinkling, but almost an entire issue’s worth.

If you’re a Ben Grimm fan, it’s hard not to be touched by the events of this month.  Seeing Ben enjoying his life is a genuine treat, as are his contentedness and habitual caution and self-awareness, so suddenly unnecessary.  There’s something deeply satisfying here, all the more if you love Ben and, really, what comics reader doesn’t have at least a small place in their heart for him?  This issue truly cuts to the emotional core of the character and actually gives him something of a small victory.

However, just as much as this issue is about Ben, it’s also about his unique friendship with Johnny, which has always been one of the funnest things about the Fantastic Four.  Hickman shows that he has a firm handle on this relationship, and never has it been clearer how much these two buds care about one another and that for all his bluster and arrogance, Johnny has a soft side for Ben and, for all the jokes, is perhaps more attuned and sympathetic to his friend than any other member of the family.  Johnny’s urging Ben forward and taking him out on the town was quite heart-warming to read and the last destination that Johnny brings Ben to leads to a truly feel-good moment.

All of this goes on to make the cliffhanger all the more startling and possibly the most effective cliffhanger of any book I’ve read this month.  It’s a total 180 in tone and substance and comes out of nowhere.  It’s so sudden, yet so massive, that you might get a chill when you see that last page.

I also adored Hickman’s new take on the Yancy Street Gang.  It’s so ridiculous that I couldn’t help but laugh, as Hickman combines contemporary politics with Silver Age cheese in a way that must be seen to be believed.

Steve Epting’s artwork, for the most part, continues to be a great choice for the series.  His dark, moody look lends a contemplative feel to the issue that works perfectly given its content.  He also draws a really brooding and generally impressive Thing.

What’s Not So Good: Yet, while he draws a great Thing, and Ben for that matter, Epting’s Johnny is a bit off.  Basically, Johnny just looks too damned old.  He looks, at times, like a skinny, middle aged man with a buzz-cut.  I’m not sure what’s going on there, but I hope it improves (though perhaps it would have to if my suspicions about Three’s casualty are confirmed).

Also, Sue’s going to Utopia and being reminded of Namor’s interest in her really didn’t do much for me.  It’s not that it was bad, per say, only that it wasn’t as strong as the rest of the issue.  It was a bit of silver in a pile of gold, essentially.

Conclusion: A nice break from Hickman’s usual insanity that is sweet (up until the epic cliffhanger) but never contrived.  Also, see if you can spot the rather funny Easter egg cameo by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby!

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans