Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fantasic Four's Prime Elements Landscape

Jonathan Hickman has been writing the Fantastic Four for 9 issues now and he only seems to be gaining steam with the ideas and truly fantastic that he brings to the title. He debuted with the Reed Richards-centric ‘Solve Everything’ a storyline that garnered many positive reviews, and was the main reason I picked up the FF for the first time in my buying history. He’s just wrapped up a series of one-shots that loosely make an arc titled Prime Elements. It’s a set of issues that have divided some reviewers but I have found them to be extremely well done and, more to the point, important. Hit the jump to find out why Prime Elements is one of the most significant FF stories to lead us into the new era of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.

Mole Men and High Evolutionaries

The Abandoned City of the High Evolutionary is the opening story that kicks us off with Mole Man, and his Moloids, coming to the surface to enlist the aid of the Fantastic Four. What a fitting way to launch Hickman’s new ideas for the future of the FF by going back and using the adversary featured in the very first FF adventure in their first issue way back in 1961. However, this isn’t an attack, it is a plea for aid and succour. The FF acquiesce and head into the Earth. They are off on an adventure of sights and sounds. This is where Hickman and, almost more importantly, Dale Eaglesham lay out the world of the FF for the future.

This issue does hold a story, Mole Man wants the FF to go into the eponymous city and rescue the Moloids he’s lost to the strange and new place. When there, these Moloids become evolved, they become more than Mole Man would ever want, or need, them to become. The FF are keen, as any family of imaginauts should be, to check out the city and its effects on those living there. The Thing, who has been struggling with the idea that Mole Man could ever be up to anything but bad and that he keeps Moloids as his monster servants, jumps ship and heads out to save the few Moloids who have managed to be blessed with more abilities through their exposure to the High Evolutionary's city. He doesn’t think anything should remain a monster if it doesn’t want to. It’s very sweet motivation for our gruff character and in the end the city rises from the ground and situates itself on the surface, in the light, with every other living creature that gets to roam free.

It’s a simple tale, some have said too simple, and yet the journey there is so densely complex and wondrous. They pass the corpse of the Galactus from the future that Reed buried down as far as he could go. It’s a macabre signal that we’re entering a new sector, in the story, in the underworld, and in the history of the FF. A multicoloured and varied subterranea unfolds in front of the team as colourist Paul Mounts brings Eaglesham’s world to vivid life as if we’re suddenly privy to secretive NASA tapes of what is truly around us. We are served up crystalline cities, Moloids on scaffolding, a cavern city that looks like some sort of vertical underground counterpart to Venice, an underwater trip, to finally end up at the gate to the famed abandoned city. It’s an issue of pure spectacle and you should only immerse yourself deeper in what you are being shown, even if you don’t see it at first.

The issue is book ended by an informative screen that seems like some sort of iPad-type page of summation, the sort of design in story element that Hickman excels at. We are left with many loose hanging threads from the story, but nothing that needs immediate attention. In whole, the world is now a different place for this story and we’ll surely see the true ramifications of this later on. Any other writer would have padded this out to a full traded arc but Hickman sells you on it in 22 pages and only promises more to come. It’s a treat to get a different style of writing from the House of Ideas.

Atlanteans, Old and New

The next trip takes our foursome to The Old Kings of Atlantis. This issue is possibly my favourite, and one that revels in repeat readings (or viewings) as the FF go to the Russian Vostok Station in Antarctica to foil an AIM plan. Vostok Station, for those who want to know, is a base that sits over a suspended body of water that has been isolated from the rest of the world’s supply for many years. Any living organisms there have followed a divergent path from the rest of us. The game is afoot, and after much set up the issue really gets a chance to shine.

Eaglesham serves up 12 whole pages of dialogue free action within the waters under Vostok Station. Our intrepid explorers dive in and sound becomes an item of luxury they don’t have. Instead, we are given swirling molten vortexes, strange seahorse-type creatures, a great facial reaction from the Thing, another crystalline structure, creepy sea snail creatures, AIM goons interfering and getting what’s theirs from humanistic shark, dolphin, fish, and lobster men. It’s a superb sequence and one that I took my fine sweet time with. It’s hard enough to get a comic to go the distance while reading it but to think you could do so without dialogue is an amazing feat. There is still story occurring, not simple cornball posturing, so this is one of those moments where both writer and artist work for the good of the team.

This issue ends by giving us a glimpse into the throne room of the old kings of Atlantis and their new liaison, Susan Richards. This is a great challenge to the Atlantis that we already know, and it’s king, Namor, who is not going to like this one bit. It’s another interesting piece of set up, while still being a satisfying done-in-one issue, and the info screen at the end gives us an idea of what is to come, as well as clarifying what we have just seen.


The next destination is the Blue Area of the Moon to meet with the Universal Inhumans. We’ve already had underground majesty and underwater opulence, it was definitely time for some outer space splendour. As usual, Hickman and Eaglesham have a plan in their stay at this city, they are going to redefine and expand the FF universe for a new age. We see how the Inhumans came about but are then also shown how other species of Inhumans have been created. There are four main branches, created from four different forms of exposure to cosmic ingredients.

This issue doesn’t so much set up the new geography of the moon as it does the new sociology. These Universal Inhumans have an agenda and they are very ready to go step by step in meeting it. Their end game is finding and ruling a new land. A land that is visible from the moon, and really not that far away. Also a land that 6 and a half billion, give or take, humans are currently using. This issue shows us that the four cities that have been prophesied truly will come to war at some stage and now we get a glimpse of what that war may be over.

The Negative Zone

There’s only one FF topography left to traverse, and so we usher in The Cult of the Negative Zone. The introduction of this issue is pure brilliance and one of my favourite sequences, of any comic, in a long time. Johnny Storm has been out at a club, a weird place called The Other Side Of Zero, and he’s brought some sultry looking thing home with him to the Baxter Building. It’s all looking good for our hot-headed stud until his date runs to the gate to the Negative Zone and suddenly blood running from the face doesn’t look so delectable. She drops to all fours and her back bursts open with crazy bug creatures. It’s quite a horrific thing to see occur, and one that really takes you out of the usual FF scene and take notice that things are different and the prices involved with playing this game may have gone up slightly.

Hickman really offers me a Johnny Storm I can understand. He’s a bit of an idiot, he spends his nights at strange clubs, and he usually only thinks about actions afterwards. This scene is brilliantly lit and creepy as all hell; it’s like a Roman Polanski scene if he ever got his hands on this franchise. I would love to own any one of the pages from this scene, especially the opening splash by Eaglesham that is only of the woman’s face. He draws one damn fine and pretty lady.

The bugs are emissaries of Annihilus, and Johnny follows them through the gates but to no avail. The prison within the Negative Zone has been expanded into a city. We find this out as Johnny tells it to Valeria, and we discover that it is she who is assembling all of the information on those screens at the end of issues. She’s the one taking it all down and putting it together.

The issue ends with the old kings of Atlantis rising, Reed asking Johnny a very important character question, and soldiers of the Universal Inhumans charging into the Negative Zone and thus beginning the war of the four cities. It’s a climax that only offers more. It’s a culmination of a lot of work to show us that the world of the FF is changing, cogs in the great machine are in motion.

This arc, of one-shots, is an impressive feat in that Hickman and Eaglesham completely hold the reader for each issue as they try to introduce and modify aspects of the coming FF universe to better expand and enrich the tales to be told. It doesn’t feel like Hickman has elected to retcon ideas and concepts purely for the fun of it. He’s evolving the tale, the characters, and the title in an organic way and it only seems that great things will come of it.

Each issue is a beauty to slowly look through as Eaglesham truly does the work of his career. He will surely have to go down as a man who revolutionised and brought the FF back into the public view of awesome. If you were going to rewrite the maps of the FF universe you could do a lot worse than Eaglesham’s excellent Silver Age-esque lines.

When you consider the amount of new ideas and tangential lines of subject matter being brought to the reader over four issues you’d be hard pressed to find another title on the stands that offers that much thought over only four months. Hickman has been knocked for giving four stand-alone issues when in fact he’s given us more than we usually expect from a comic these days. He’s given us a scope that is truly universal and the promise that the tale to be told across this wide platform will be majestic, fantastic, and possibly horrific in nature.


These issues serve as the platform for the future of the FF. I guarantee that there will be aspects that you will want, or need, to go back and read in the coming months, or possibly even years as Hickman says he has a plan leading up to issue 600. This is only the beginning, and if you can enjoy the ride when it’s compartmentalised you’re surely going to love it when it all comes together. If you haven’t been reading the FF yet you’re going to be missing out. If you manage to get your hands on the last four issues do so, you won’t regret it. If you’ve been along the whole time, how much are you enjoying it right now? Let us know in the comments.

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Space Jawa said...

I don't suppose we know yet where in the big scheme of things Blastarr's Negative Zone city fits with Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: The Initiative/Dark Reign yet, do we?

Chris said...

Great post, this is the most enjoyable FF comics have been in quite some time and I always find myself wishing it came out more than once a month. Hickman really seems to love doing this. I was lucky enough to chat with him for a bit at C2E2 and not only did he seem like a super cool guy, but he really seems to enjoy being on the FF books and really seemed to appreciate his fans.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Space Jawa - I know I have no idea in that department, sadly.

@Chris - you lucky bastard, I'd love to have a face-to-face chat with Hickman, interviewing him was fun, but having an idle chat would be the knees, man.

Daryll B. said...

Maybe SpaceJawa, Hickman is setting up the foundation for a joint cosmic event with DnA just in case Marvel is stupid and cancels the cosmic books after Thanos Imperative?

Either way these stories mark the first true return to the cosmic for Fantastic Family since the McDuffie run...and who isn't pleased with that?

Great Job JH!

R.P. said...

Your review adds a great dimension to the comics themselves. I picked up FF solely to see what Hickman would do with this arc. While initially impressed, I have found it the story too short and static. If Hickman could have added a few more pages to each story it would have worked better. It wasn't as "fluid" as I would have liked. The 1st and 2nd installments I found to be the strongest and the fourth installment,"The Cult of The Negative Zone", I believe, has been the weakest. Regardless of how "cute" it is to have Johnny screw up (didn't we just see this in the most recent cartoon incarnation of the FF) I found it to be too random and haphazard. Let's hope when the story climaxes a truly "fantastic" story evolves.

By the way the art is awesome!

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