52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.

Jonathan Hickman is seemingly the man who always has a plan.  A plan that is so massive in scope it hurts your head to even try and think about it.  Hickman burst onto the Marvel scene back in 2008 while working on the series Secret Warriors with Brian Michael Bendis and editor Tom Breevort.  It wouldn’t be until a year later that Hickman would get his crack at writing the Fantastic Four, taking over with issue #570.  The Fantastic Four would go back to their adventurous and exploration based roots under Hickman’s guidance as he crafted a long form story on the title that eventually spilled over to the creation of a sister title called FF, otherwise known as Future Foundation.

Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman Vol 1:  Solve Everything

Fantastic Four By Jonathan Hickman Vol 1 coverThe Fantastic Four take on bold, new challenges as they stretch out to broaden their horizons and encounter plenty of unique adventures.  Reed Richards immersive himself into his work like never before after having a talk with his son, Franklin, setting him on the path to “solve everything”.  In Reed’s restless attempt to solve everything he discovers a place where like minded alternate version of himself gather, forming “The Council”.  The Council is devoted entirely to trying to solve everything and offers a spot on The Council to Reed.  As his research begins to place a strain on his marriage and familial life, Reed must decide if trying to solve everything is worth sacrificing everything to do so.

Jonathan Hickman takes his highly conceptual mind and puts it to great use with his take on the Fantastic Four.  The comic is energetic and fun but still has a classic Fantastic Four feel as Hickman plays up each members importance to the group.  Hickman starts playing a “long game” from the word go, seeding in plenty of future plot lines that develop down the road and blossom into some truly great moments.  For a new reader looking for closure in just one volume you’ll be surely disappointed.  But the story is so immediately appealing that it’s hard to believe any reader could stop reading Hickman’s time with the Fantastic Four after just a single volume.

Reed Richards’ old man provides some sage advice during the “Solve Everything” storyline.

Reed Richards’ old man provides some sage advice during the “Solve Everything” storyline.

The story for this first volume can basically be broken down into three different story lines.  The first storyline is Reed Richards trying to “solve everything”.  The second follows Johnny and Ben on a vacation that goes awry, leading them to an Ultron infested Nu-Earth.  Lastly, the final story in this collection chronicles Franklin Richards’ birthday party and the unusual events that unfold after it.  Of the three story lines, the “Solve Everything” story is the most engaging since it eats up three of the five issues in the volume and focuses solely on Reed Richards.  You can tell Hickman connects with something in the character of Reed as his characterization for him is absolutely superb.  The storyline is packed with exciting moments that push the story forward and keep you anchored in for the full thing.  It’s here that you truly get a sense for the scope of the story Hickman is beginning to build as he begins to deal with a seemingly endless amount of Reeds in forming The Council.  Hickman’s high concept style continues into the Nu-Earth storyline but the overall product feels too rushed.  Ben and Johnny arrive on this Nu-Earth accidentally with Franklin and Valeria Richards in tow, having hidden themselves on the transport the two men used to travel to Nu-Earth in the first place.  The future Earth is ravaged by a war being waged between Ultron and Lightwave, trapping the heroes on this planet.  In having this entire story unfold in only a single issue, the pacing feels inconsistent since you aren’t given enough time to see the story truly flesh out.  The final storyline in the volume involving Franklin’s birthday does suffer from the same problem but not nearly to the same extent.  Franklin’s birthday ends up being an uplifting and heartwarming tale for nearly the entire comic.  There are a few sudden scene transitions and time jumps that make the storytelling feel a little rushed but ultimately it’s the scenes that are transitioned to that are the most rewarding from this issue.

Can we get a buddy cop comic starring Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm written by Hickman already please?

Can we get a buddy cop comic starring Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm written by Hickman already please?

Getting back to the characterization of the characters, Hickman has an incredible deft handle on the Fantastic Four, with big plans in mind for all of the characters.  As I mentioned above, it is his use of Reed Richards that shines the most as Hickman clearly has something to say with the character based on how he uses his intelligence.  The hyper focused Reed, who can do just as much harm as he can good, comes off as both a sincere and naive character, encountering obstacles that are far larger than he is prepared to handle but his scientific mind can’t help but try to solve them.  When it comes to the character of Ben Grimm, Hickman does a delightful job of getting across that New York accent and making him feel like he’s smart than just a pile of rocks.  Yes, you get your smash up moments from him but that doesn’t stop Hickman from sprinkling in a few nice character moments, using the relationship he has with Johnny Storm to create more than just a few entertaining scenes.  With Johnny, Hickman keeps him consistent with the superstar persona he’s always had, making him cocky and loveable in all the right ways.  Some of the best moments Hickman writes with Johnny have to be involving his “hatred” of Spider-Man and how much he apparently distastes his longtime “friend”.  The one character who truly gets the short end of the stick here has to be Susan Storm, who Hickman seems to have trouble navigating in this packed field of characters and story.  Her one truly memorable moment is one where she ultimately comes off as weak, caving to the ways of other characters instead of taking action herself.  The honest truth is, there’s so much Hickman is doing here that it isn’t a surprise one or two characters got neglected in this volume only so that they have time to shine later on down the road.

Seemingly everyone gets a chance to shine under the penmanship of Hickman.

Seemingly everyone gets a chance to shine under the penmanship of Hickman.

Collects:  Fantastic Four #570-575.

Best Character:  Reed Richards.

Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption:  “Math is the language of God Richards.  We’ve both done the calculations–this world is going to tear itself apart and there’s nothing either of us can do to stop it.  We’ve been judged.”  –  The Wizard.

Best Scene/Moment:  The Celestials versus The Council – Issue 572.

Best Issue:  Issue 572.  This issue is the climax and resolution of Hickman’s first arc, “Solve Everything”.  It all kicks off with the epic battle between The Celestials and The Council, with hundreds of Reeds left scrambling to find a way to fix this particular situation.  It’s a strong, character driven narrative where the main Reed Richards shines brilliantly and ultimately makes a decision at the end of the issue that makes his character come off even stronger than he did in all the previous pages before it.

Why You Should Read It:  This is a great Fantastic Four story for anyone looking to find a jumping on point to read about Marvel’s royal family.  Highly conceptual, action packed and thick with great character moments, the first volume of Hickman’s Fantastic Four run is thoroughly enjoyable.  There’s something for everyone here, whether you want an intelligent and exciting Reed Richards story, a fun buddy cop tale from Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm or just a warm tale about the kindness or love that comes with being young, you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy in this volume.

East Of West Volume 1

East Of West Vol 1 coverJonathan Hickman has found plenty of success in his creator owned titles like Pax Romana, Nightly News and Manhattan Projects.  Teaming with Nick Dragotta, Hickman brought the world East Of West, a Sci-Fi Western about the End Times.  The pairing originally collaborated on Hickman’s Marvel Comics book FF before deciding to work on the series.  Together, the two men have found tremendous success and critical acclaim for a series that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Set in a time period where an alternate take on the Civil War resulted in massive changes to the world’s social, economic, and political structures, East Of West follows Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as he tries to do right by the people he’s wronged, seek revenge against those who’ve wronged him and prevent the End Times from occurring.  The other three remaining Horsemen, War, Famine, and Conquest, all seek to bring about the End Times through The Chosen, a group of people who believe deeply in a prophetic passage known as The Message.  Death, with his compatriots Wolf and Raven, travel all across the dystopian future-scape that is America as they try to stop the other Horsemen and The Chosen while also fulfilling their personal agendas.

There’s a lot of doom and gloom talk in this one. Oh and they talk about the End Times quite a bit too.

There’s a lot of doom and gloom talk in this one. Oh and they talk about the End Times quite a bit too.

East Of West is an usual style of story.  To put it bluntly, if you’re not paying attention you will get left behind completely.  It’s a story that takes no liberties in trying to explain every excruciating detail to you, choosing instead to inform you in bits and pieces and hope you pick up on the rest of it laid out through subtext.  It’s a bit of a cruel way to write the story for someone who isn’t willing to invest themselves fully into the narrative.  With that said, even without picking up on all of what Hickman is laying down, East Of West is still a stellar comic book that everyone should be reading.  At worst it’s a Sci-Fi Western and at best it’s an immersive tale that strives to tell a story unlike anything before it.

I guess now is as good as any time to fess up about how bias this review might be on my behalf.  I’m basically the world’s biggest East Of West fan.  Like “signed copies of East Of West #1, multiple copies and printing of East Of West #1 and buy the single issues and the trade paperbacks” type of fan.  So, obviously, going forward I’m going to absolutely gush about how much I adore the world, character and story.  Although I already highlighted what’s wrong with the plot for people who don’t stick with the series, now feels as good a time as any to talk about why the plot works well in this manner.  Hickman basically drops readers into what I’d like to believe is the second act of the story, never shying away from the fact that plenty happened before this story began.  In doing so, Hickman does leave an incredibly rich history to be discovered and mined for future plot developments.  As you progress through Volume 1, there are allusions to the past as well as incredibly brief glimpses of it.  You’re teased with what happened before and given just enough to piece it all together without actually having to be shown it.  It’s the type of writing that makes you think and also gives Hickman some breathing room to potential tell these stories in full down the road if he so chooses.  You’re lead to believe East Of West is simply a tale of revenge but the further you get into the story the more you realize it’s actually a love story.  The story of East Of West snaked and turns in so many unexpected ways that it’s impossible to predict where the story will go next.

War, Famine, and Conquest are basically the “Jerry Seinfeld”s of the future.

War, Famine, and Conquest are basically the “Jerry Seinfeld”s of the future.

Characters and their development is a huge part of East Of West.  The cast is simply huge and seemingly never stops expanding.  Death is the primary protagonist with his two allies, Wolf and Crow, who travel along with him in his quest for revenge.  Clint Eastwood-esque is the perfect way to describe Death with his hardened exterior and show no mercy style of attitude.  Even still, the man can be stirred but only by one person, the one woman who tamed Death.  For antagonists, there’s a rather large pool to draw from.  One could argue that the primary antagonists in this one are War, Famine, and Conquest, the other three Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  In this volume it certainly feels that way although they seemingly only take minimal steps to prevent the goals of Death.  Upon further examination one can see that the cast of antagonists is much larger as it encompasses the members of The Chosen, agents of the end times who believe in The Message.  The Chosen is a core group of seven different people, all vastly different and represent one of the Seven Nations.  There isn’t much development on the behalves of many of these members but certain ones, like Archibald Chamberlain or Antonia LeVay, get a few scenes to shine.  Archibald is a truly fascinating member of The Chosen as he has an air of indifference towards The Chosen’s common goal and only seems out for himself.  Something something something about each character having an agenda of their own.  As the tagline of the series states “The things that divide us are strong than those that unite us”.

East Of West does an exquisite job of world building.  In the opening stretch of the first issue, Hickman hurls some exposition your way to form a kind of walkway, guiding the reader along to inform them what happened to make the world change is such a drastic way.  In doing an alternate take on the Civil War, everything changes and Hickman formulates a distinct world with so many different aspects to it.  The Seven Nations are a result of this alternate timeline and are what make up new territorial borders for America.  These nations are all wildly different from each other, whether you look at a place like the techno-elite Endless Nation or somewhere imperialistic like the PRA or even a place built on justice like the Republic of Texas, there are plenty examples of excellent world building that make East Of West one of the most entertaining comics on the stands right now.

Death is equal parts Clint Eastwood and badass…so he’s Clint Eastwood.

Death is equal parts Clint Eastwood and badass…so he’s Clint Eastwood.

Collects:  East Of West #1-5.

Best Character:  Death.

Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption:  “If you find Hell lonely…WAIT!  Company is comin’ soon” – Death.

Best Scene/Moment:  Death pays a visit to The President – Issue 1.

Best Issue:  Issue 4.  Issue 4 serves as the climax to this first arc of East Of West.  It’s basically one long running sequence of “balls-to-the-walls” action.  You see Death and his compatriots storm New Shanghai to take on the Emperor and watch as turmoil that has been bubbling since the first issue pays off huge here.  This issue is hands down the most action packed issue of East Of West but it still tells a strong story that builds up other narrative threads.

Why You Should Read It:  In my mind, East Of West is one of the finest comics I’ve ever read when it comes to two elements; character development and world building.  It’s an incredible, slow burning story that takes its time to build an environment that’s incredibly immersive as well as giving you characters you can truly invest yourself in.  East Of West is the Breaking Bad of comics.