This issue of Fantastic Four starts with the team fighting in the Neutral Zone, land 'between United States territory and that claimed by the Forever City of the High Evolutionary'. It's the first time in ages we've seen the whole team battling baddies, so what happens? A single page of that and we're with future 'Are You Smarter Than a 10-Year-Old?' star Valeria, as she snoops around the Baxter Building checking security. She stumbles upon dad Reed's plan to 'solve everything' and next thing we know, she's teleported over to Latveria to ask family foe Dr Doom to help her dad, as she reckons he's made a bad choice.
We then flash back to what happened in between her discovering Reed's interdimensional Bridge device, and popping across to Latveria. As captions are so old hat in today's comics, there's no signposting that we're in a flashback ... to me it seemed as if Val had wandered further into Castle Doom, alone, and encountered various members of the cross-time Council of Reeds. We're helped out of the flashback more elegantly than we were hurled into it, via a narrative caption from Doom.
Given that this little Val focus is agreeably diverting, I do wonder why writer Jonathan Hickman chooses an A C B structure when an A B C plot would have given us the same story, without the possibility of confusion (I don't doubt some readers comprehended the timescale quicker than I did). Unless there's a compelling reason to go non-linear, I'd say just stick to the facts, ma'am.
Other than this bit of business, this is a rather good issue of the FF; certainly my favourite since Hickman took over the book. Having spent months and months seeding story elements, he's now knitting them together. I relished the interaction between Doom and Val who is, we must remember, virtually his godchild. There's a sweet respect between them that makes for fine storytelling fodder (click to enlarge).
This issue sees the debut of Steve Epting as penciller and Lordy, does this book look good, from detail-filled backgrounds to old Doom henchman Boris, looming spookily off to one side as Victor raps with Val. His figures are realistic without seeming copied, imbued with life by his knack for body language. Epting's Val is a spunky little madam (don't ask me how old she's meant to be in any given month) and Epting has such a nice touch with her that it tempers the inevitable irritation caused by a child who can barely utter a sentence that doesn't begin, 'I'm way smarter than you'. Yes petal, and waaaaaay more annoying. Still, a deal she makes this issue is bound to come back and bite her on the bottom ... and likely cause the promised death of a team member in this Three storyline.
Regular colourist Paul Mounts provides perfect skin tones, background hues and electrifying effects, while letterer Rus Wooton turns on the sound with style. The issue is topped off with a cover by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer and Javier Rodriguez that's a masterpiece of mood, as our heroes anticipate the arrival of Death to claim one of them. And good on Marvel for the snazzy bonus gold and silver inks. The logo-side headshots are rather intrusive, mind - let's have a nice neat corner visual, wot?
I was on the verge of dropping FF, Hickman's dense, but slow, storytelling having not chimed with my sensibilities. But the shift in gears this issue has me interested again; I hope it keeps up.