Jonathan Hickman has split his Future Foundation in twain, giving us classic slam-bang superhero action over in Fantastic Four, while focusing on his super-genius braintrust here in FF. There's a definite difference in tone between the two series as well, as FF #13 proves itself to be a lot more cerebral and low-key - at least in this build-up to some seriously hectic science fiction madness.
As evidenced with The Red Wing, it seems like Hickman is the kind of guy whose work will read much better when it's finished and you can take it all in one sitting, because when he goes sci-fi, he goes hard with it (or at least as hard for a guy like me). This issue centers around a conversation with Reed Richards' time-displaced father Nathaniel discussing the ins and outs of catastrophe theory and the things that are and are not immutable in the unfolding of particular metaphysical events as they relate to the time stream with Reed Richards' unbridled super-genius toddler-sized daughter Valeria. Meanwhile, a pseudo-evil alternate reality version of Reed Richards has the former dictator of Latveria on a high-tech leash while the current dictator of Latveria leads a robot army against a quartet of incomprehensible deity-esque figures known as Mad Celestials who have deposed an entire pan-dimensional council of alternate-reality Reed Richardses and now want to destroy the entire universe. Plus, there's a hyper-intelligent worry-wart dragon-man android and a Moloid head in a floating jar.
Yeah, no matter how you try to shake it out, FF isn't an easy series to jump onto, especially now that it's been distilled into this cerebral plottery. However, there's enough fascinating and weird stuff happening here that it should be able to catch your interest anyway. This is an adventure comic book that will challenge your intellect, whereas they usually just challenge your tolerance for violence, the limits of your sense of humor or your budget while striving to do little more than entertain you. That's to be commended. And thus, as confusing as it can get, I have every intention of sticking with it. Because if it involves Dr. Doom, I am on board. Especially if it also involves a Moloid head in a floating jar.
Nathaniel Richards and his granddaughter Valeria have been very cagey so far about what exactly they've been trying to accomplish, but a good chunk of it is finally laid out in FF #13 - basically, they're attempting to forestall the end of the Earth by stalling the events that lead up to it... and so far, they're all coming to pass anyway. The resurrection of Black Bolt has been termed "the rebirth of the Celestial Redeemer," and Ronan The Accuser's recreation of the Kree Supreme Intelligence is referred to as the universal response to the Celestial Redeemer. These are apparently inevitable constants who go to war with each other in every time stream. This puts an entirely new spin on the whole relationship between the Kree and the Inhumans and their combined relationship to the rest of existence, and how that shakes out remains to be seen. That's already happened in very short order, and that means Galactus is likely on his way as well, to prevent the end of the Earth... coinciding with the Mad Celestials trying to kill the whole universe - and those guys are really powerful, and they outnumber the Devourer of Worlds.
Lucky for him, Doom gets unleashed this issue, and he refers to himself as the Destroyer of Worlds. So with any luck, a Galactus/Doom team-up is in the works. Hot damn.
What I'm liking about this stuff is that it doesn't focus on the things that annoy me about stories centering around kids. It's not trying too hard to be cute and spunky, it's not cloying, and the hyper-intelligent kids are actually good guys with understated emotions rather than bratty evil monsters like Jason Aaron's Hellfire Club Kidz. There's a really weirdly sweet moment between Valeria and Doom as the latter makes a seemingly heroic gesture to work with the last "Evil Reed" (who actually, at this point, seems to just be a Misguided Reed Without A Family) to stall the Mad Celestials while Valeria, Nathaniel and the rest of the gang do their thing. Val is simply worried that her "Uncle Doom" might die in the process, and Doom quietly reassures her that no gods would dare stand against him.
This is why Doom is awesome. And it's part of how Hickman has made the notion of Doom on some kind of superhero team somehow palatable.
Another cool thing about this book is that it's solving the conundrum of how to handle the godlike reality-manipulating powers of Franklin Richards by actually writing high-minded stories that allow him to actually use them instead of having to just shove him off-panel and pretend he doesn't exist in order to make a threat credible. Have him fight Celestials. Along those lines, Val even trots out the Ultimate Nullifier in this issue, so props go to Hickman for making these 'ultimate weapons' into viable storytelling elements again. Plus, the small smile with which Valeria watches her brother in action and quietly says "he's a pretty special boy" again touches on sentimentality enough to warm the heart a little without being obnoxious about it.
The one thing that stuck me about these last two issues of FF is the art from Juan Bobillo. At first, it clashed so much with what the prior FF art had been, and really what most comic art tends to be, that it felt like some serious eyesore action. Like 'oh god, can I continue to read this book' bad. However, sitting down and going through FF #13 a few times in order to get a grasp of the story being told here has warmed me up to it. It's certainly different, and as with anything, if you can get over that initial jarring response, you can open your mind and get behind it. Just as Hickman's tone here is different from most comics, so is Bobillo's art. At first, his people may look creepy and alien-like, but allow yourself some time to adjust. Eventually, the kids will look kind of adorable. It's not perfect, but it's surely not the worst you'll see.
Overall, it's going to take some effort to get up to speed with FF. It's intellectual and only very subtly emotional. But if you're tired of the same-old same-old, this should be worth that effort for you.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 8.3/10