By: James Robinson (Writer), Leonard Kirk (Penciller), Karl Kessel (Inker), Jesus Aburtov and Veronica Gandini (Color Artists), Dean Haspiel & Nolan Woodard (Flashback Artists), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Story:
Susan yells at the Avengers, the kids yell at Hammond, and Ben yells at Johnny.

The Review:
This issue is broken down into four distinct and linear chapters. The first is the Fantastic Four facing the Avengers (six pages), the Future Foundation facing Hammond (one page), the Thing facing against the Human Torch (three pages), and a flashback that details the memory of why Ben is confronting Johnny (six pages.) (Yes, this is counting double-page spreads as one page, which is kind of how things read nowadays on a tablet reader.)

Unfortunately, this kind of compartmentalization, exasperated by having the last compartment in an entirely different artistic style, fragments any kind of momentum for the story. This issue marks six months since the new relaunch, and it seems like the characters are still merely being pushed around, a long-form positioning so they can fit the kind of story Robinson wants to tell, which I hope will be soon. But let’s forgo a meta-textual critique and leave Robinson’s name out of it. Looking at the in-text narrative, it’s still apparent that all the forces coming down on the characters are coming from outside themselves. The FF’s troubles are coming from the courtroom (which is still not clear if that was a government action or civil suit, which nonetheless results in government action in-between panels), the Avengers are representing said courtroom’s interest, the Camp Hammond kids are complaining about things they overhear other people talking about as well as what other people will be doing to Dragon Man, and the Thing is reacting to a new memory given to him from the Original Sin crossover plot point, in which Reed and Johnny did something to him that we will have to wait until next issue to see.

Yes, there are some moments of clear characterization as these people react to what’s put upon them, most notably Invisible Woman with her cry of “won’t somebody think of the children” in a double-page spread of impressive display of power. But the ultimately what’s happening is that, for at least the second issue in a row, the Four are completely without agency in their own comic with no hint that this will be resolved soon.

This results in a very conversation-heavy issue directly after the conversation-heavy courtroom drama last issue. Kirk and Kessel have to work hard to make that visually interesting which sometimes works (Iron Man leaning in ominously in his close-up, then having Reed’s face reflected in his armor) and sometimes doesn’t work (where exactly, is Spider-Woman hanging from, when the panel directly above that is an establishing layout that makes her position impossible?) and is sometimes downright cliché (the Thing is standing in the rain completely blacked out for his dire delivery of “I know what ya did.”)

Haspiel and Woodard provide us a completely different artistic style for the flashback sequence, which is nice enough on its own but contributes to the bumpy narrative as I’ve said already. What’s really good is that there are couple of neat comicbookery layouts, such as having a panel split with a gutter when Reed places his hands on Ben’s shoulders and the overlapping Thing/Ben faces during his transformation. The last panel is downright creepy, but it’s almost completely illustrative and so it ignores some other things like perspective. I almost wish that, if they were going for a retro feel, that the coloring would have also chosen that aesthetic, and gave us paper-grain or dot matrices patterns instead of the blocks of color gradients we expect in 2014.

The Bottom Line: The Fantastic Four continues its narrative of “everything is falling apart!”, which is usually the kind of story I’m a sucker for. But for some reason, this particular example of it fails to grab me, in part because it feels entirely arbitrary and not allowed to develop with a more natural momentum. The Four seem complete victims of some meta-narrative that has yet to offer readers any buy-in to care for what happens, which in turn leaves the art scrambling to appear visually interesting.

The Grade: C

-Danny Wall

One Other Tidbit:
— I really really hoped that the characters would acknowledge what happened during Marvel’s Civil War event, in which I don’t think the FF ever acted true to their character. However, I really really hate when characters use verbatim whatever the marketing brand was for the event, so when Johnny says “Where was [Cap] during the civil war?” I had to laugh. Do people in the Marvel Universe really talk to each other like that?