by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Nick Dragotta (art), Chris Sotomayor (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)

The Story: Johnny takes the class on a field trip to the Negative Zone.

The Review: For the second straight month, FF proves that Jonathan Hickman has a really solid grasp on comedy.  Unlike the last issue of FF, however, the comedy in this issue isn’t always the direct focus, nor is reliant on big gags with set-up.  Instead, Hickman lets the dialogue bring the laughs, mostly courtesy of Johnny, whose voice Hickman has an excellent handle of.  From his trademark arrogance to his wonderful dynamic with the students, Johnny is really great this month.  I loved the simultaneously affectionate and dismissive stance he takes to the kids and his treating them like the ordinary kids they aren’t leads to some great laughs.

I also really liked the fun spin Hickman put on the insect denizens of the Negative Zone.  They’ve long been seen as the faceless, single-minded swarm, so seeing them rebel for….democracy and self-government (?!) was a brilliant, brilliant twist by Hickman that led to an amusing, but also quite smart issue.  It also leads to a wonderful conclusion however that balances things very well – while the bugs of the Negative Zone may want democracy and self-government, they’re ultimately still bugs from the Negative Zone.  It’s almost a quasi-historical/political statement by Hickman; if you interfere with another culture’s politics and that interference leads to them taking after your own political practices, that may not necessarily mean the erosion of that culture’s inherent beliefs and values.  Despite all the fun and comedy, it’s a nice turn by Hickman and made me wonder if he was at all inspired by the current situation in Egypt, where after rebelling and gaining democracy, they look to be on their way to electing either an Islamist regime or electing to bring back the military-authoritarian regime they just got out of.  Who knew that cosmic insects and the Marvel’s first family could be so relevant?

There’s a lot else to like about this isssue; once again, we get to see Franklin flex his cosmic muscles, which is always a treat.  The final page is also an excellent cliffhanger.  While the twist could perhaps be easily predicted, Hickman does it in a way that at least is guaranteed to get a laugh.

Overall, I’ve been pretty lukewarm about Nick Dragotta’s art, but as was the case last month, Hickman lets Dragotta draw more of what he’s good at, thus minimizing his faults.  Though his work on character’s faces still leaves something to be desired, I can’t deny that his illustrations of the Negative Zone, the bugs, and their technology is pretty damned good.  Honestly, even when they’re on the same page, it’s at times hard to believe that it’s the same guy drawing the faces and the Negative Zone ships.

Conclusion: A smart read with great characters that nonetheless brings the laughs.  In other words, it’s Hickman’s Fantastic Four/FF doing its thing.

Grade: A-

-Alex Evans