Monday, January 12, 2009

Fantastic Four #562

Our planet's best days are behind it. Well behind it, in fact, if you believe Reed's old flame (and intellectual equal) Alyssa Castle. She and her husband have been tasked with building a replacement Earth to be employed when ours finally bites the bullet, which they're estimating should take place within, say… the next twenty years, give or take a week. Thing is, sometimes the best of intentions work out to have the worst consequences.

I've loved the premise and obvious social commentary behind this story arc, but I have to admit it hasn't been Mark Millar's most accessible work. It's perfectly in tune with everything the Fantastic Four has ever been about; brainy adventures into the unknown using Reed's mind, Sue's passion, Ben's fists and Johnny's impetuosity. Millar's Doom may go down as one of my all-time favorite interpretations of the character, a gorgeous blend of smarts and spite that's never uncertain about the assuredness of his ultimate victory. All of the pieces are there, but like the writings of Philip K. Dick, it's not something that's for everybody. Because the subject matter is so big, the tone is so verbose and there's so very much going on, this arc can be a real challenge to read. But the rewards of being enveloped in this world are so great that they're worth the effort it takes to get there.

This issue is little more than an epilogue, observations on what the team has learned during their latest adventure… yet, even as a brief respite before the next onslaught, it's overfilled with little developments and big ideas. The story never stops moving, even when the team's adventures are on hiatus, which is odd for a team of superheroes. Millar's run on Fantastic Four should be adored by any hardcore Sci-Fi fan, for many of the same reasons it will likely be avoided by more casual readers. If Mark has produced better work in his career I've never seen it, but it won't deliver the kind of accolades he's enjoyed on The Ultimates.

Millar's longtime collaborator, Bryan Hitch, isn't as sharp this month. His work feels more hurried and imprecise than I'm used to, and the story's heavy focus on details and mobs of characters hurts his compositions. There's a whole hell of a lot going on here, and Hitch is struggling to convey it all. If you'll remember his work on The Ultimates 2 #13, the end result here is very similar: same artist, same style, same strengths and weaknesses, but it's like he was working with an unsharpened pencil. That's not to say he doesn't still have his moments of brilliance, specifically during Doom's brief appearance this month, just that he's had better showings.

Millar and Hitch's Fantastic Four is adventurous, imaginative, genuinely surprising and all-around brilliant. That said, it's most certainly not for everybody. If you've been following this story since the beginning and like what you saw, you'll continue to do so this month. If you haven't, it's most certainly not the right place to try jumping on board. You'll be lost in six seconds flat. It's still great stuff if you're in the target demographic. Borrow it to make sure.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8

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