Jonathan Hickman came on Fantastic Four
in late 2009 and, quite frankly, blew the socks off of the book. Since then, Hickman and later collaborators like Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards and Steve Epting have been weaving an intricate, thematically layered story of fathers and sons, the costs of inaction, scientific responsibility and punching things in the face. In other words, it's a perfect choice for the annotation treatment. So welcome to a new ongoing joint here at ComicsAlliance: The annotations of Jonathan Hickman's superb run on Fantastic Four
To follow along, I highly recommend grabbing the first trade
of the run - there will be slight spoilers of later stories for the purpose of drawing connections, but we'll try not to ruin anything too dramatic. However, unlike with the Bat-mythos, I'm not anywhere near as familiar with the extended history of this franchise, so I've brought in Funnybook Babylon
's inimitable Chris Eckert
as a co-annotator for the historical perspective while I'll continue to try to deconstruct Hickman's narrative.
Click down and enjoy the ride.
Hickman starts his run proper with a scene focusiing on the relationship between Reed Richards and his father Nathaniel, which will form the emotional core of his run, reverberating in several other father-son relationships. It's a vignette from Reed's childhood, of his father encouraging him to jump from a treehouse -- classic father-son "conquer your fears" stuff, with the implication of trust as well since presumably Nathaniel caught his son and didn't just let him fall to the ground.
I do like Eaglesham's detail here where Reed puts on the hat and it falls off five seconds later.
Nathaniel Richards is a relatively new addition to the Fantastic Four mythos, first mentioned in 1984's Fantastic Four
#271 by John Byrne. He raised Reed alone after the death of his wife Evelyn, and mysteriously vanished three years before Reed and the rest became the Fantastic Four. As revealed in FF #
271, he has developed and used "the world's first" time machine, and as a result of a series of byzantine retcons went on to become every time travelling villain ever: Kang, Rama Tut, Immortus, the Scarlet Centurion, probably others. Nathaniel-as-Nathaniel did not appear again until Fantastic Four
#375 by Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan, who made him a series regular for the rest of their run. DeFalco's run is not one that gets referenced often, and some might say it's been politely ignored like so many other experiments of the 1990s. But as we'll see, Hickman is drawing a lot from this time period.
After the emotional character beat for the opening, we're thrown right into the big superhero action, with the FF taking on the Wizard with the oldest trick in the book: switching up against enemies that have been matched to their individual powers.
: The Wizard is one of the Fantastic Four's oldest foes, and since Fantastic Four
#36 has taken to forming a series of teams dubbed the Frightful Four. This time out, he's doing everything himself -- or with clones of himself, in an echo of Reed's experiences later in the issue.
This is the first time I remember Johnny using his powers for thermal imaging, but the FF have a long history of power creep. In early adventures, Johnny could do little but fly and light himself on fire for a few minutes. Sue could turn herself invisible, but not other objects, never mind projecting force fields or anything else. And most relevant to "Solve Everything," Reed is a classic case of Comic Book Scientist. He was initially a well-intentioned but imperfect aeronautical engineer -- after all, if he knew how to properly shield a rocket, the Fantastic Four wouldn't even exist. In the Lee/Kirby FF, Reed would routinely need assistance from other scientists like T'Challa or Hank Pym. When the team needed to time travel in FF
#11, rather than whip up his own time machine, Reed sneaks everyone into Dr. Doom's castle to use Doom's time platform. 549 issues later, Reed can whip up his own teleportation, time travel and transdimensional bridges. If he can do all that, I say give Johnny thermal vision!
: We're back to the father/son motif, this time with Bentley "Wizard" Wittman and his here-introduced clone offspring who, unlike the others, is fully organic and ages in real time. Note his son perched right on the precipice of a small height, much like Reed in the opening sequence, too afraid, it seems, to leave even so small a height.
: The term "final solution" here as Johnny looks at a nuclear bomb, basically referring to a nuclear holocaust, is an ominous counterpoint to the optimism of Reed's "solve everything" credo that runs through this arc. Obviously the term's most historically famous use was regarding the Holocaust in Nazi Germany during World War II, but in this case I think the term might be unrelated.
: That "final solution" comment again finds itself in the Wizard's words, as he proposes burning reality down and starting again, for a purpose we'll see in a few pages that ties significantly into Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D.
series, which actually wasn't coming out at this point.
: Here we're introduced to two characters who aren't part of the archetypal Fantastic Four cast -- or at least, not the ones in the movies and TV shows. Franklin Richards is their son, who's a mutant with the power to modify reality (although those powers have been locked away for years). Valeria Richards is their daughter, with a particularly confusing and sketchy background story, who was revealed in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's run to be superintelligent, potentially far more so than her father.
CE: The Richards children both have ridiculously complex backstories, but here's what's relevant right now: Franklin Richards was born way back in 1968's Fantastic Four Annual
#6 by Lee and Kirby. He's a mutant with incredibly potent reality-warping powers, which for the safety of the universe have been repeatedly turned off and on several times over the years. At the outset of Hickman's run, Franklin's powers are currently switched off. Valeria Richards is Franklin's younger sister, and in the name of sanity I'm going to skip over the adventures of Valeria Von Doom circa 1998-2001, and simply state that Valeria Richards was born in 2002's Fantastic Four
v3 #54. Doctor Doom used his lesser-known OB-GYN doctorate to safely deliver Sue's second child, and thus was given naming rights, choosing Valeria after his first love. Doom declares the child to be under his "royal protection." In Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's run, it was established that Valeria is a super-genius, perhaps even smarter than her father.
: Again with the father/son motif, although this time Franklin unknowingly quotes Reed's own father as they discuss the young Wittman clone, basically placing him in a pincer attack of guilt that'll get Reed to adopt the young boy.
: First off, Johnny Storm is a dick. I know, news flash. We'll see the trip to Nu-World in #574.
Secondly, the second-to-last panel contains a ton of meaning. The apocalypse Wittman is referring to is almost definitely the same one Newton discovers in Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D.
miniseries -- the Silent Truth, the mathematically-provable apocalypse of 2060, a Marvelized version of Newton's actual original 2060 doomsday prophecy
, which used the very arcane Quiet Math of adding up a bunch of random numbers in the Bible. Obviously, artistic license is being taken.
Wittman's last comment is really telling too, though: "We've been JUDGED." While it's as-yet unclear, it certainly seems that the 2060 apocalypse Newton discovered is in some way related to the Celestials -- godlike beings created by Jack Kirby that screw with the evolutionary pathways of life on a planet, let it evolve as an experiment, and then come back and judge it. Hickman would later, in S.H.I.E.L.D.,
canonize the concept (previously only from Alex Ross and Jim Krueger's out-of-continuity Earth X
series) that the Earth is a gigantic Celestial egg, and the superheroes on it are simply its protectors, like bacteria. Perhaps 2060 is when it hatches.
: This reintroduces the Bridge, previously created by Hickman just a few months before for the Dark Reign: Fantastic Four
miniseries that served as a sort of prelude to this run. For reference, the miniseries was left out from these annotations largely because it's a fun romp through alternate universes that introduces the Bridge machine rather than a thematically resonant part of Hickman's FF superstructure. In any case, the Bridge basically looks at the multiverse and lets Reed see how versions of him did things and didn't screw them up.
Idea #101 references the 100 ideas Reed, Hank Pym and Tony Stark came up with during the initial stages of Civil War
-- for instance, the Negative Zone prison was idea number 42. The room itself that he's in, the gigantic Room of Ideas, was first kind of glimpsed in a panel in Civil War #2 but really introduced in Fantastic Four
#542 as Reed's intellectual sanctuary, a room of all whiteboards -- floors, ceilings, walls -- where he can surround himself in conceptualization.
Unfortunately, all of Eaglesham's mathematical conceptualization here is, like, tenth-grade geometry.
: These pages introduce the Council, and there's less to explicitly comment on here since almost all of these Reeds are concepts made out of whole cloth -- page 21, the big tableau page, has, for example, Fat Reed, Captain Marvel/Quasar Reed, Medieval King Reed and what looks a lot like one of the evolved forms from the High Evolutionary's city introduced later on in #576. The gauntlets on the last page, for relative Marvel newbies, are the Infinity Gauntlets - there's only one from each universe, and it's a collection of six gems, each controlling a different aspect of reality. It's essentially a one-way ticket to godhood, or should be, since whoever holds it usually ends up getting punked five seconds after they start wearing it.
Also of considerable note is the Council's symbol -- the A with the pointed bridge. Chris theorized it could stand for delta, or change; I thought it might be a compass point "up"ward for progress. Either way, it's a symbol that repeats itself both in the design of the chairs for the heads of the Council and quite possibly the future Valeria Richards's outfit from #581 and 582, which features what could be a stylized version of the symbol, lining up with her present self meeting the Council in #583.
: The Fantastic Four are no stranger to alternate universe versions of themselves, though all of these Reeds seem to be new, and it's a little surprising there are so many of them still alive. After all, Millar and Hitch's run ended with the "Marquis of Death" bragging about traversing millions of realities and murdering "their" Reeds and subsequently the entire universe. He also had a legion of Fantastic Fours in his thrall. Good thing Marvel has an infinite number of alternate universes!
On top of that, back in DeFalco's run, yet another alternate-Reed appears in Fantastic Four
#387, calling himself the Dark Raider. His universe diverged from "ours" during the events of Fantastic Four
#49: in the original story Uatu teleports Johnny to Taa II, Galactus's "Worldship" to fetch the Ultimate Nullifier, the only weapon capable of stopping Galactus. In the Dark Raider's universe, Uatu sends Reed, who dallies too long examining every cosmic wonder on the ship. By the time he returns to Earth, Galactus has siphoned it of life. As the Dark Raider, this Reed declares that "Innumerable lives lost as a direct result of one man's insatiable curiosity! I will never rest until I have successfully eradicated every Reed Richards in creation!" After successfully assasinating an indeterminate number of Reeds, the Dark Raider is apparently killed when he's sucked into the barrier between the Negative Zone and our positive matter universe. Still, given that the Raider's motives are the absolute reverse of the Council of Reeds, and Hickman's willingness to dig deep into arcana, one wonders if the Dark Raider might pop up again.
The Infinity Gems are a set of six gems first introduced across several titles and years in Jim Starlin's sprawling cosmic stories. They were brought back by Starlin when Thanos gather the six into the omnipotence-granting Infinity Gauntlet in the event of the same name. They were subsequently dispersed, but as of 2007 the gems returned in Brian Michael Bendis's New Avengers: Illuminati
#2. "Our" Reed briefly wielded the Gauntlet and attempted to wish it out of existence, believing that it, like his son's powers, was too powerful to be. Failing to eliminate them, the Illuminati split the gems amongst themselves, with Reed holding the Power Gem. Thus far none of this has played into Hickman's FF
run, but the Gems are back in Bendis's current Avengers