Another semester draws to a close, and with it, this fantastic voyage must come to an end. With that in mind, I wanted to use my space for this week to ruminate a bit on the impact of Jonathan Hickman’s run from a more personal angle.
Hickman’s “Fantastic Four” run contains some of my favorite superhero fiction ever, with the last plot covered by this column, “Three” (2011), occupying a slot on my top five comic storylines of all time. This much can probably be gleaned from the fact that I chose to write five hundred words a week on the subject, but that’s neither here nor there.
This pandemic has made for grim times, to say the least, and from an entertainment standpoint, I found myself getting drawn into darker and darker corners. Summarily, I think it speaks volumes that the Netflix true-crime series “Tiger King” (2020) drew in so many of us. Personally, this summer I undertook the arduous task of rewatching “House of Cards” (2013-2018), in a year where the political fiction seemed a bit too close to reality for anyone’s liking.
I found myself escaping to darker and darker places in my media, perhaps a subconscious attempt to have ‘art imitate life,’ but that changed when I started reading Hickman’s run. Now, I’m not saying that this one comic series saved my summer, but it did provide a different escape, and it did remind me of something I had missed from my comics: fun.
Gone were the grim and grimy streets of Gotham or the gleeful malice of a Garth Ennis comic; instead I experienced a little bit of soaring, cosmic wish fulfillment in the old style of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Hickman didn’t add faux complexity with cheap shock or hokey cliffhangers, he took his time, eased readers in and only when the time was right would the bombs really drop. Hickman’s “Fantastic Four” didn’t throttle the reader with gratuitous violence or meaningless sexuality, it didn’t demand you accept its maturity nor did it beg to be counted amongst the great sci-fi stories of years past; it earned it all with tact and the even-keeled confidence of a battleship.
I have noticed a common notion that fantasy and science fiction are easy genres to write for, simply because it comes down to making things up as you go. I would argue, though, that it carries the unique challenge of not just rounding out a character, but finding them a place in the strange world you create. Hickman’s interpretation of the famous foursome delivers on this idea by taking his powerfully written characters and going to parts unknown, engrossing the readers in the ongoing mystery of “what’s out there?” and allowing us to discover the strange new world with him. What makes Hickman’s run so special is that he shows us how to make extraordinary characters feel staggeringly real, pulling the reader in and never letting go. Hickman’s run is pure, perfect escapism.