#551: Epilogue Chapter One "The Beginning of the End" (***),
#552: Epilogue Chapter Two "The Middle of the End" (***),
#553: Epilogue Chapter Three "The End" (****), #554: World's Greatest Part One (***),
#555: World's Greatest Part Two (***), #556: World's Greatest Part Three (***),
#557: World's Greatest Part Four (***),
#558: Death of the Invisible Woman Part 1: The New Defenders (***),
#559: Death of the Invisible Woman Part 2: The Hooded Man (***),
#560: Death of the Invisible Woman Part 3: Futureshock (***)
After Dwayne McDuffie said goodbye with three of his best issues, then 2008 saw the much-hyped debut of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch on the title. Scottish writer Millar had achieved huge success in Marvel with work on The Ultimate range of comics, as well as 2006's huge-selling hit Civil War. Hitch, the English half of the duo, had worked with Millar before on The Ultimates and was the concept artist for the 2005 revival of BBC Television's Doctor Who. Completing the line-up was a third British talent, Paul Neary on inks.
Technically the team were fairly solid. Paul Neary was always a better penciller than he was an inker, and Hitch's photo-realism sometimes didn't lend itself to dynamism, or could have odd distortions (From the very first issue, 554, look at Johnny's heavily elongated body on the sixth page) but generally these were well made comics. Millar's writing was also of a decent standard, if perhaps not giving a massive indication as to why the pairing was so vaunted.Yet... as with Civil War, any appreciation of comics is purely subjective, and on this note the entire run fails. Although the earlier issues aren't bad, idealogically this is the worst run on the Fantastic Four this side of the DeFalco era, as a series of logic-defying, inexplicable plots coincide with the most out-of-character representations of the FF we've ever seen. It's as if the title is having to constantly paper over the cracks at this point, and after the amazing fixes that Dwayne McDuffie did on the title, we're back to square one with a succession of head-scratching scenarios.
As an example of this, I've chosen the cover to represent the run as the one that's the worst cover the book ever did. It's not the most iconographic of the Hitch-Millar run, it's not even the most important, like their first issue together... what it is, is a cover with Ben begging for mercy. Such a cover displays a fundamental misunderstanding of character, along with Johnny's "I'm terrified of that thing" (in fairness, said a little tongue-in-cheek), or a Johnny now so obnoxious he talks about 'fat chicks' with derision and lies about helping cancer patients.
In all this, Johnny is transformed back into the idiot version of his character, not only forming his own reality TV rock band, but even sleeping with a supervillain just because she's hot. (The sexual content of the book is so ramped up that said supervillain is apparently topless in one scene, her modesty covered by shadows, but with what appears to be an editorial t-shirt painted over the top. The end result of this confusing clash of expectations is that we get to see her putting on a t-shirt in the next panel after she'd had it on in the first place). Yes, 2008 had many head-scratching moments for the title, but just when it seemed it couldn't get any worse, it was effortlessly trumped by 2009's offerings...
In terms of trivia then #557 claims that the FF in the 2008 run are just 13 years older than they originally appeared. With a high level of detail given to the art then the book also added to Hitch's reputation as a man who misses deadlines. While nine issues were completed before their first issue even went on sale, the team eventually had personal problems that led to just 15 issues being produced in 18 months, and their final two being completed by external writers and artists. Sales-wise then the book continued to fall during the end of the McDuffie run, his final issue earning estimated sales of just over 48,000, a loss in readership of over 36,000 since his first, Civil War-bolstered outing. However, expectations for the book to become a best-seller once more under the much-touted Hitch-Millar team never took off: a top ten placing and sales figures of over 92,000 for their first book proved to be just a one-off sales spike that didn't translate to their follow up issues. While their following seven issues credited with a 2008 cover date did respectable figures averaging 63,084, the book also averaged 25 in the chart. While it wasn't the massive hit that the Hitch-Millar team would have expected, the FF was selling more comics than it had since Chris Claremont's run.
Doctor Doom's return to the book in the Hitch-Millar run followed on from his incarceration in Mighty Avengers #11 (***), while that year's multi-crossover Skrull title Secret Invasion was referenced in the McDuffie issues.