by Jonathan Hickman (writing), Steve Epting (pencils), Rick Magyar & Mark Pennington (inks), Paul Mounts (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: Johnny brings the cavalry.

The Review: This past summer, Marvel and DC both put out company-wide events that were pretty underwhelming.  Truth be told, however, I haven’t really, really enjoyed an event from Marvel or DC since Civil War.  Blackest Night was all right, while everything else since has ranged from “sucked” to “disappointing.”

This arc of Hickman’s Fantastic Four, and issues like this one, show that Hickman succeeds where these events have failed.  In this issue, for instance, he manages to tell a story with universe wide implications and a fairly large cast, but at all times, there is an emotional core to the story that makes it all meaningful and gives the story heart.  Hickman balances the large-scale events with personal emotions in his characters, and the result is what I’ve been waiting for: an event that actually has a soul.

Of course, that’s the irony, isn’t it?  This isn’t an event at all, it’s just a story-arc set within Fantastic Four and FF.  That alone shows how impressive this issue is.  Despite being highly centralized, it feels massive in scale and effect.  The battles are immense, the stakes are enormous, and there is a substantial number of moving parts in the story.  The result is something that feels downright epic and, moreover, it all feels like it has been built up accordingly.  A lot of events are promoted as having been built up to for years, but in the case of Hickman’s Fantastic Four, that’s actually true, and one can feel the narrative weight of that.

But really, while there are giant, Deep Space Nine battles between alien space fleets, this issue is all about the return of Johnny, and that’s that emotional core that I was talking about.  The way Johnny makes his return known, and the effect that it has on Ben in particular, is guaranteed to give you chills, if not give rise to a tear.  I imagine people’s skepticism regarding Johnny’s fast turnaround in comics’ revolving door of death, and yet, somehow, Hickman still manages to make it all feel meaningful and worthwhile.

This is  a new, more mature, and incredibly powerful Johnny.  He’s the intelligent and heroic figure he always had the potential to be.  This is Johnny Storm finally at his apex and it’s a sight to behold, as he shows maturity, leadership, and, of course, an Annihilation Wave at his back.

Really, the only downside to this arc is actually that build-up that I mentioned.  There really are a LOT of moving parts that went into the making of this story.  So much so, that unless you have a photographic memory and can recall most of the details from Hickman’s run on FF and the Fantastic Four, some of the epicness will be lost on you.  That said, there certainly is enough epicness to go around, so you won’t at all be left with a flat comic.  But honestly, there’s a constant, lingering sense that you don’t understand some things as much as you should or don’t feel the full on impact if only because certain back issues aren’t as familiar as might be optimal.

That said, Steve Epting’s artwork is brilliant and has a detailed, high-budget feel.  Of course, that only makes me mourn Juan Bobillo on FF a little bit more, but that’s a review for another day.

Conclusion: About as non-new reader friendly as possible, but an issue that shows that if Marvel had any sense, there really is only one correct choice for the writer of their next big event, and that’s Jonathan Hickman.

Grade: B+

-Alex Evans