#600: Forever, Part 1 (***), #601: Forever, Part 2 (***), #602: Forever, Part 3 (***),
#603: Forever, Part 4 (***), #604: Forever, Part 5 (***), #605: End Of Line (****),
#605.1: The Fantastic Four - Origin Story (***), #606: Adventures In Red (***), #607: Inert (***),
#608: City Of The Dead (**), #609: The God Ship (**), #610: The Wizard (***),
#611: Foundation (***),
FF 12: Too Many Kids (***), FF 13: The Bridge (****), FF 14: 27 Minutes (***),
FF 15: The One Where Power Pack Shows Up (***), FF 16: One Step Beyond (***),
FF 17: The Roommate Experiment ( **),
FF 18: What Do You Call The Opposite Of A Field Trip? (**), FF 19: Safari (**),
FF 20: Deus Ex Inhuman (***), FF 21: Romance (***),
FF 22 : You Are Whatever You Want To Be (***), FF 23: A Fantastic Four Epilogue; Run (****)
2012 was where the book returned to the title The Fantastic Four; though the “FF” title continued for the remainder of the year as a separate comic book, containing separate plotlines focussing on the Future Foundation. Although Hickman writes both books, multiple artistic teams take over the titles, with he main title was split between Barry Kitson (who had taken over from Steve Epting with FF #10 the previous year), Steve Epting returning for more issues, Ron Garney and Giuseppe Camuncoli/Karl Kesel. The branched-off FF title was passed between Juan Bobilo, Nick Dragotta, Gabriel Hernandez Walta and André Araújo, to say nothing of all the various inkers working on both books.
The big event was Johnny returning for an extra-length 600th issue (calculated by Reed as having gone for just under 115 days). The climax to the story involved a cosmic scale, yet seemed to abandon the human elements Hickman had built up. Though massive in scale, the scope of the arc seemed to have been narrowed down into one single point; multiple locales, timelines and universes all converging on a Galactus vs. Celestials showdown. After two-and-a-half years, the payoff didn’t justify the reader investment, particularly as “Franklin uses his powers to bring back Galactus to defeat a multiverse-spanning menace” was a plot that had already been done before, back in 2001/2002. There are many Fantastic Four fans who sees Hickman’s run as a high point for the book. Certainly, it has generally beautiful art, and there’s an attention to detail, but it’s a work for long-term fans of the comic, the Fantastic Four reworking the elements of its own past rather than coming up with anything new. It’s also a book that abandons any last remaining child audience, and makes the core characters bystanders in their own title.
After the arc wrapped up, Hickman concluded his run on the title with eight issues that had a more emotional core. Although still relating back to events that had taken place, they could be read as standalone issues, such as a quite touching story where Reed travels to the future and witnesses Ben dying alone of old age, it transpiring that he’s almost ageless when in his Thing form.
A two-part visit to the Black Panther seemed to go nowhere, while a revisit of the Nu-Earth characters saw possibly Ben’s most humiliating defeat: an aged Banner Jr. takes his Sunday best with a “that it?” before knocking him unconscious with a single two-fisted blow. Banner Jr.’s presence in the book continues to be a serious problem, as the group are essentially associating with a murderer. Though as several members of the FF are seen slicing up alien bugs, it’s a book perhaps without a moral core. Yet the decline of Ben from one of Marvel’s strongest heroes to a walking punching bag was a distressing sight in the 2000s, one that saw him reduced in stature in the whole Marvel universe. Once he was a feared man who made jokes; by this stage, no one fears him, and he’s become the joke. That he can be written to be so unformidable even in his own title is a great shame.
The spin-off FF (“Future Foundation”) title supplemented the main story by showing the side of the action as led by Val, Franklin and the rest of the children. While having a girl of three or four be a successful scientist is silly, even despite her intelligence, some of the stories were worthwhile, even if they didn’t hang together successfully as individual tales. Yet the title begs the question as to why such a mammoth plot – one already overlong – requires a 12-part supplemental text to make it fully understandable. There’s also a preponderance of glib and perhaps inappropriate humour, not least Future Foundation member Bentley kicking villains in the genitals three times. (“Hey, did you see me kick that dude in his stones?”) As a child clone of The Wizard, this includes his own “father”, behaviour which is not admonished but even praised by Reed. The title seems to be there to appeal to a younger audience, which is odd, as not only are the plots almost incomprehensible to a child audience, but such behaviour is hardly fitting.
Perhaps the strangest moment comes with #5, which sees Reed rebuild a battered Baxter Building in seconds, then fly everyone into space for a geosynchnronous space station. Such things are so far-fetched, almost “magical”, and makes it difficult to take anything happening in the book seriously… not that the Fantastic Four was ever the most “grounded” title, but Reed would once at least have had to get the builders in.