By: Jonathan Hickman (Writer), Nick Dragotta (Artist), Cris Peter (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)
The Review: It’s true, sometimes you really don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. As excited as I am for the Marvel Now relaunch,it’s sad that its arrival has heralded the end of some truly fantastic runs on a number of comics. Ed Brubaker on Captain America, Kieron Gillen on Journey into Mystery, Bendis on various Avengers titles; for the most part they’ve all been excellent throughout, even if there’s been the odd dip in quality here and there. As the final issues make their way into our hands, the reality of the loss truly makes itself felt. These creators have been entertaining us for years and to finally realise that they’re leaving us…well, it’s a sign of a great writer or artist that these goodbyes can sometimes move us to tears. This is definitely the case with Hickman’s swan song on FF #23.
The first thing to note is that this issue is a beautifully constructed literal and figurative farewell. While Fantastic Four #611 saw Nathaniel and Future-Valeria Richards depart for dimensions unknown, this issue is devoted to Future-Franklin’s decision that he too should return from whence he came. This allows for a whistle-stop tour of the Baxter Building and its inhabitants, who Franklin says goodbye to in turn. There’s drinks with Johnny and Ben, he checks in with Val (who’s caught up trying to teach a mind-bending maths lesson) and, most importantly, he has some touching last words to share with his younger self and his parents.
Of these interactions, the most emotive is arguably the last moment between Franklin, Reed and Sue. It riffs off one of the great worries faced by most parents, but particularly those of the Fantastic Four: “Did we do a good job, son?” asks Reed, just before Franklin leaves. He fixes them a bemused look, evidently taken aback (this is wonderfully captured by Dragotta) and his response is honest and simple: “A perfect one.”
His last day with young Franklin and Leech is a much more hallucinogenic affair – a kaleidoscope of “Super-spies. Vegetarian werewolves. Video Games. Non-Pacificist Dragons,” – as he guides the pair through a series of madcap adventures within the pocket universe stored in their bedroom closet. It’s a testament to what makes the FF and the Fantastic Four so special; that boundless sense of curiosity and exploration that takes these heroes to the corners of the Marvel Universe most others fear to tread.
And there’s the rub. Throughout this issue, it’s apparent that it’s not just Franklin who’s saying his goodbyes, it’s Hickman himself. Reed and Sue did a great job of presiding over Marvel’s first family, a canvas upon which the author was able to weave the high concept sci-fi stories that he writes so well; not just a great job, “A perfect one.” And that closet, a universe of adventure, is the limitless space in which those stories can be told, the unbound imagination that gives any writer who takes their turn with these characters the opportunity to tell tales they couldn’t do anywhere else; “It separates who you are from who you can be. You do not have to walk through it…you can run.” It’s not so much a challenge to future creators on the book (we’re looking at you Matt Fraction!) as it is a message of encouragement and of reassurance. This is the world’s greatest comic magazine, and Hickman has proved that all you need to do is unleash your imagination to keep it that way.
Blessed with a faultless script, the art team really finds the perfect opportunity to shine. Nick Dragotta manages to depict Elder-Franklin with a heavy heart that is plain to see on near every panel, and this sombre feeling permeates much of the book in a plethora of emotive frowns and moody shadows. The scenes set in the Pocket Universe are almost the polar opposite, mixing Technicolor fantasy (check out that Moloid philharmonic!) and ethereal weirdness with such confidence that nothing feels out of place or incongruous with its surroundings; stellar colouring on this segment too, like Saga-level good. I can’t complain that the art duties following this book will be taken up by the Allreds, but I do hope Marvel finds a suitable outlet for Dagotta and Cris Peter in the future.
Conclusion: As perfect an epilogue as you’re likely to find in modern comics, FF #23 sees Jonathan Hickman neatly wrap up the final elements of his long-gestating storylines and also pen a lovelorn ‘thank you’ note to the cast, crew and readership of Marvel’s longest running franchise. With a keen eye for what made the book work so well in its previous incarnations (taking his cues from the likes of Lee/Kirby, John Byrne and Waid/Weiringo) he’s dared to dream on an epic scale to show the world why every comic book fan should still hold a place in their hearts – and their pull lists – for the Fantastic Four.
Filed under: Marvel Comics