Now this, this is more like it.
Dark Reign: Fantastic Four was a five-issue miniseries of the sort Marvel started doing during Secret Invasion, and DC has since followed suit with during Blackest Night: Short miniseries tied in to the events of the big event series in order to leave the franchises’ main titles free to keep doing whatever it was they were doing.
During this series, what Fantastic Four was doing was hosting the end of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s short run, which was fairly divorced from the month-to-month continuity of the greater Marvel universe line of books.
Dark Reign: Fantastic Four was also written by Jonathan Hickman, who would go on to take over the main FF title after Millar departed, so this is essentially the start of Hickman’s run.
I was honestly a little surprised to see the collection at the library, as I must have missed its announcement (or forgotten all about it), in the deluge of Dark Reign titles. The premise of the Dark Reign branding, that villain Norman Osborn and his cronies have taken over the U.S. government’s management and policing of Marvel’s superheroes, doesn’t seem to have obvious implications for the FF, which have been rather divorced from the storyline (and Marvel Universe politics) in general thus far…perhaps in large part because Millar’s writing of the title has been off doing its own thing for so long, and FF has never really fallen into Dark Reign mastermind Brian Michael Bendis’ portfolio.
Hickman didn’t even go with the most obvious FF tie-in, the presence of archenemy Doctor Doom and on-again-off-again frenemy Namor among Osborn’s “Cabal.”
He did find an interesting, even natural way to tie the FF into Dark Reign, through Reed Richards. Since the superhero “civil war” in Civil War which (somehow not entirely clear to me) lead to the villains-in-charge status quo was in large part Reed’s fault, Hickman has Reed decide to figure out where exactly his grand plans went wrong. How could the smartest super-genius in the universe have been that wrong about something, after all? Reed does so in a very Fantastic Four kind of way, by building a machine that processes alternate realities, so he can see how the Reeds in parallel dimensions addressed the challenges, isolate the problem, and then fix everything.
Something goes slightly wrong though, when Osborn and his army bust in to schedule a meeting with the FF, and Johnny, Thing and Sue find themselves living and fighting through multiple realities. What this means is we see get to see different versions of the trio and other Marvel heroes in different genres—war, western, pirate, medieval, space-faring sci-fi and so on.
Much of this is of the good-crazy sort of comics insanity, like “Black Susan” Storm in a high noon showdown with The Beyonder, or “The Man In White.” Or like the monocle-wearing Chamberlain Grimm declaring, “Milday, ‘tis the clobbering hour.” Or Venom-possessed Skrulls on a rampage.
Pencil artist Sean Chen and inker Lorenzo Gurriero provide the visuals, and they’re incredibly deft juggling the rather wild shifts in genre. No matter the setting, the characters look consistent, and the costuming, props and geography look right. It’s really handsome-looking work, and very refreshing after the strained realism of Hitch’s work on the same characters.
Hickman does a pretty great job of juggling conflicts, with the Thing and company’s wild adventures essentially providing action and comedy relief to Reed’s oblivious pondering, and the children left alone to face the invading Osborn and HAMMER agents. It all comes together quite effectively at the climax, although it is perhaps the twelfth time or so I’ve seen Osborn do something so ridiculously, comically evil in a fairly public setting that one has to work really hard to continue to suspend disbelief hard enough to take Marvel’s event cycle seriously. (Here, he personally shoots his gun at a couple of little kids in the headquarters of the world’s most famous and trustworthy superheroes…Reed Richards built an alternate-reality viewer, but there’s no security cameras in The Baxter Building?)
Another Hickman-written, Dark Reign-related story is included in this volume, an Adi Granov-illustrated eight-page short story that is little more than a tour of Dr. Doom’s day-dreaming about dealing with the rest of the cabal. I’m not a big fan of Granov’s slick, painted-looking style, but this is an awfully small dose of it. It’s fine as a short, grim joke character sketch of a story, the biggest revelation being that Dr. Doom totally wants to fuck Loki-in-a-lady-body. Weird.