by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Steve Epting (pencils), Rick Magyar (inks), Paul Mounts (colors), and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Sue tries to stave off war as she learns a starting secret, Reed journeys with Galactus, and Ben, Johnny, and the kids attempt to hold back the Negative Zone.

What’s Good: I’ve found the “Countdown to Casualty” on the front cover to be cheesy from the get-go, and yet that’s exactly the message that Jonathan Hickman so skillfully crafts this month.  In the last issue before the death occurs, the tension has reached a fever pitch.  In that sense, “Three” has been a beautiful arc; each issue was more tense than the last, as each month, the members of the FF find themselves in increasingly bad situations.

As far as that tension and anxiousness goes, this issue is by far the tightest and, at times, most breathless.  It’ll have you hankering for the next issue and truly at wit’s end over who it is that will meet their end next month.  In this sense, Hickman’s announcing the casualty early works great, as this month ends up being a “what if” guessing game.  This is a riveting, edge of your seat read where everything stands incredibly precariously. Nowhere is this tension clearer than in the running dialogue Reed and Galactus.  I’ve always loved mortal/god conversations because of uncomfortable dynamic, and that serves Three’s purposes well here and leads to a truly heroic splash page and resolution on Reed’s part.

Despite all the darkness and nervousness though, Hickman still finds time for his wacky humor.  He writes the kids brilliantly this month, who function as a kind of almost surreal comic relief amidst all of the darkness.  Seeing them gleefully building rifles and grenades is pretty damned hilarious, particularly given the circumstances.

Other than that though, there’s a reveal regarding the Atlantean conference and Namor’s intentions that is very well played and will have you re-evaluating and possibly re-reading previous issues.  It’s a wonderful twist by Hickman and one that I certainly didn’t see coming after last month’s issue.    Ultimately, big, big things are on the horizon for the Fantastic Four.  Those who have complained about the lack of narrative progression in Hickman’s Fantastic Four should love this issue, as a lot happens, or at least is revealed.

Once again, Steve Epting’s artwork serves this arc well.  It’s moody and dark, but still distinctly FF and his Galactus and Negative Zone monsters all look great.  I could ask for much more.

What’s Not So Good: At times, I have mixed feelings over how far apart Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben are.  Their three respective stories are totally unrelated, which can feel a little weird.  Then again, I see why Hickman’s doing it; he’s clearly hammering home the fact that the FF are at their most vulnerable when separated and certainly, the reader’s sense of security does respond to that.  The FF do feel weaker when isolated, so perhaps this isn’t much of a complaint at all.  Move along.

Conclusion: Another really, really good issue of Hickman’s Fantastic Four that’s guaranteed to leave you wanting more.

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans