“Intelligence without imagination is pretty much useless.” – Franklin Richards
The Fantastic Four franchise has always been more about family and adventure than superhero work. It’s about being imaginative more than about being epic. While Jonathan Hickman’s FF run has been one simply epic story made up of smaller stories, it still retains the core of who the Fantastic Four are. With FF 23, Hickman’s run has come to an end; it truly is the end of an era. This issue was the perfect way to finish his run.
This issue focuses primarily on adult Franklin Richards and his relationship to everyone else in the FF, including his younger self. A good chunk of this issue takes place in Franklin’s pocket universe, and it does a great job at exploring the boundless imagination of a child. The rest of the issue is about Franklin saying goodbye to everyone in the FF, and every single one of those scenes is expertly written.
There is not one panel (or series of panels) that doesn’t contain some sort of emotional impact in this issue. From adult Valeria’s encouraging words, to Franklin’s final goodbyes to his younger self and his parents – everything feels right. The art is simple yet perfectly effective.
Last weekend, I re-read Hickman’s entire Fantastic Four run, and that’s perhaps the best way to read it. It can easily be broken down into three acts. The first act ends with the death of the Human Torch. While the first act is build up toward the war of the four cities, every issue is entertaining in its own way.
The second act begins with FF 1, and is mostly about heroes and villains teaming up against all the multiverse dangers that Earth’s heroes face. The second act is simply epic, and ends with Fantastic Four 604 and FF 16. This is where Hickman’s run truly shines, and where all of his build up pays off better than I would have thought possible.
The third act feels more like a classic Fantastic Four run, with a number of creative smaller stories mixed with wrapping up various plotlines introduced in the first act of Hickman’s run. Even the least good issues in this part of the run are at least entertaining, while the best issues scream of brilliance.
If you haven’t read Hickman’s Fantastic Four run, you really should give it a shot. Before I read it, I didn’t care about the Fantastic Four at all. Now, they are second only to the X-Men as my favourite comic franchise. Every character in this run feels like a real person with strengths and weaknesses. Every plot thread that began in his run was concluded in a satisfying manner. Even the truly epic moments had room for character drama and humour. Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four run deserves all the praise it can get, and FF 23 is the perfect conclusion.
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It’s sad to see him leave the Fantastic Four. He really did do a fantastic job with it. I hope he carries that character focus over to the Avengers. I have a hunch we probably won’t get quite the level of intrigue Hickman usually does. I don’t see him having wheels within wheels within wheels, with four or five separate plot threads all gradually coming together. But I do hope it’ll be good.
Well, Hickman did say that he has the first few years of his Avengers run planned out. Considering how well his Fantastic Four run fits together, I’m inclined to believe him. I’m at least looking forward to seeing if it can be good. He’ll still be writing Mr. Fantastic with the Illuminati focused New Avengers at least.