By: James Robinson (Writer), Leonard Kirk (Artist), Karl Kesel (Inker), Jesus Aburtov (Colors), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer), John Romita Jr., Tom Palmer, Dean White (Cover Artists)

The Story:
If a Human Torch is de-powered and no one is really bothered, does it make a sound?

The Review:
Well, OK. That was… dense. By that, I mean there was a lot going on in this issue. But by that, I mean there was a lot of expository dialogue, usually between pairs of characters, and usually which served either to talk about things that have already happened or things that might happen later. So I have another riddle in addition to my one-sentence summary above– If everything is subplot, do you even have a story?

All the scenes in this issue are in essence the same– characters explain themselves to other characters in order to tick off a plot point. Valeria has left with Doom. Sue visits an underwater refuge with the FF school and Namor looks sad. The Puppet Master looks like he’s ready to start another plot he tried before in the 1960s. The Frightful Four show up, except that it’s pretty much the Wrecking Crew, here to cause some property damage.

The main through-line is the follow-up from last issue, and Reed explains that Johnny burned out his powers. However, to summarize Johnny’s response: “Oh. That sucks. Well, see ya later,” which allows him to continue through the issue like another subplot.

I’ll give credit that Robinson is expressly aiming for a new take on one of Reed’s classic dilemmas: how can a man that’s so smart not be able to solve the problem of his best friend trapped in the form of The Thing? Whereas the Thing cannot be de-powered, Johnny may not be able to be re-powered. What’s next? The exciting tale of “This Man– This Mortal?”

I hold hope that we are on track for an interesting character arc, if Robinson truly manages to invert the formula with this story while keeping all the heavy-handed, and frankly, more interesting angst of its predecessor. There are some hints towards this direction, but so far, there don’t seem to be any great impact on the characters or opportunities to build supon the FF mythos in general or, more largely, to explore what it means to be a hero.

The other follow-up from last issue is the big mystery surrounding the extradimensional infestation. In what’s meant to be a climactic moment of the exciting action of Reed looking through microscopes for several pages, Reed announces dramatically to stop all experimentation on these creatures, as they are, in fact, humans. I, however, was taken back not by the sudden drama but by the ethical considerations. So, all other forms of experimentation and genocidal attacks are ok, Reed, as long as they are not “human?” I thought the Marvel Universe was a bit more open than that.

All the other elements of the comicbook are perfectly serviceable. The art is nice, if a bit stilted/un-exaggerated. The colors are nice, if a bit washed-out/over-highlighted. The dialogue falters a bit, however, in some pretty clunky scripting. For example: “In fact, even though my role as humanity’s emissary to the old kingdom of Atlantis has me visiting under the sea more than I ever dreamed … this is ALL new to me, too.” and “Hey, Franklin, notice even out there swimming by– how Namor looks at your mom?”

The Bottom Line:
This book has been criticized for not doing anything new. I’ll take the opportunity here to praise it, instead– it’s doing new stuff that looks so much like the old stuff that it appears like it’s not new and that it won’t go anywhere anyway. That’s some Inception-level quality, right there.

The Grade: C

-Danny Wall

Other Tidbits:

— One sign of a good Fantastic Four artist is how able they are to draw children. Kirk misses this criteria, failing quite hard at depicting Valeria in particular, but hey, he’s in good company in that regard.

— Nice to see the Thing in classic trenchcoat and fedora trying to walk through Times Square. What’s funny is that people are still staring and rushing by him. Perhaps it would be less weird to just walk around in his FF bike shorts?

— Looks like we’ll have a new, female, Piledriver?

— Why is it that all the Wrecking Crew have vaguely porn-y codenames?