We’ve got a lot of ground to cover and few words, so let’s get right into “Fantastic Four” issues #575 to #578, or what I’ve decided to call “The City Saga.”
As dutiful readers will no doubt note, I praised issue #573 for its tasteful blend of high-concept sci-fi and classic superheroics into a single issue that managed to establish a world in itself and thrill readers all at once. The four issues ahead of us accomplish all this and manage to set the stage for the prophecy that the future Franklin Richards delivered in issue #574.
The four cities are as follows: a city of mole people forced into early evolution by a long-abandoned device created by an established Marvel villain, The High Evolutionary; an offshoot of Atlantis hidden inside an underwater lake; a moon colony of alien-enhanced people known as the “Inhumans” and a nihilist cult based out of a trendy club in New York City that attempts to bring about the end times by unleashing the Annihilation Wave from the nightmare universe known as “The Negative Zone.” My editors hate me for having to check so many spellings and corrections for nonsense words, but I nonetheless persist.
This is where Hickman makes his bones, exposition-heavy deep dives into established lore (and sprinklings of hints of plots and stories to come) which would fall apart completely if not for the suite of amazing artists willing to work their magic to service Hickman’s insane visual spectacles.
The art by Dale Eaglesham and colors by Paul Mounts create expressive snapshots of each and every character, from the Fantastic Four themselves to the denizens of the gorgeously rendered details of each city. Mounts in particular uses warmth (or lack thereof) to give each city a distinct visual style. From the deep earth tones of the city of the High Evolutionary to the cool blues of the Arctic, the inky void of space or the sickly greens of the inhabitants of the Negative Zone, Mounts more than pulls his weight.
“The City Saga” really is a breath of fresh air for a superhero comic, allowing for moments of calm reflection and study. The climate feels less like our heroes are spoiling for a fight; rather they’re acting as anthropologists attempting to understand a unique pocket of their strange and wondrous world. This feels particularly true as each chapter ends with a page of stylized text explaining the events directly after each event, cataloging the adventures as part of the ever-expanding knowledge pool that Reed Richards gathers for humankind.
“The City Saga” will not appeal to everyone; it is a somewhat slow, hard sci-fi approach to comic books. However, Hickman’s endless creativity, charming prose and the collaboration of Eaglesham and Mounts make for a well-manicured little series of adventures that will light a fire in the hearts of all who have stared into the stars, towards the bottom of a lake or out across a field and wondered, “What could be out there?”