Love Like Science
This issue is REALLY different than I expected, and while the approach was probably more original than the one the solicit suggested, the pacing just didn't capture it quite right. I get that it's February and that means Valentine's Day, but you don't HAVE to do a Valentine's Day story, especially when the series' action packed third issue was a welcome momentum after a slowly built up first two issues. This ISN'T the kind of series that can get by by being heavily dialogue driven. I mean, SOMETIMES it can, but not for 3/4 of the series thus far.
This issue just kind of rushes. All the flashbacks to the beginning of Reed and Sue's relationship are very touching, and they help to set the stage for the final scene well (which helps legitimize the rest of the issue in turn); but in the process of reading they break up the already dialogue driven main story and just eat up pages that were needed to smooth out the pacing of the main story. There is one really odd part where Susan's mad at Reed for suddenly reading, and suddenly forgives him and clings to him when he says he's leaving because his love for her is reducing his productivity... It seems very unromantic. I mean, it does have him saying he loves her strongly, but that he's choosing to remove himself from the romantic situation in order to pursue science. Doesn't it suggest that as much as he loves her, he's choosing science over her because she hurts his ability to do science? If he said he was leaving to finish one last big thing and then return I could see that, but he doesn't really discuss returning to her at all. Thus her overwhelmingly positive reaction to that response kind of baffled me.
I get that they're aliens, but the Aylethians' dialogue was really awkward and hard to sort out. Most of the time you could get the gist of what they were saying, but I found myself frequently rereading their lines to understand things.
And the aliens themselves weren't truly important to the story, just being on some kind of alien planet. But I'm getting a sense of monotony already; this is the second alien planet in a row, and this one's hardly that different from any other in any significant way; I thought the Fantastic Four were going to be pushing the boundaries of reality and time, for now it just feels like a road trip in space, which, for the Fantastic Four, is a pretty ordinary road trip.
After The Thing's awkward solitude in the previous issue, it's good to see he's actually feeling the effects. It's largely left to the side to make room for Reed's Valentines Day story, but with the promise of future exploration of The Thing's perceived sense of rejection as an outcast. I know that's a story a bit overused, but here it actually does kind of make sense.
The whole issue is narrated as a love letter Reed is writing to Susan. It leads into a final scene that explains the cave paintings, but just creates more confusion. He talks about reminding himself in the future, but he painted the picture AFTER he saw it. When is he reminding himself of what? And how is it a representation of deplorable ethicas that he should be ashamed of? What's so dark about what he's doing? We know and, keeping it from Sue is just stupid; so it's good to see he's finally ready to tell her, although in terms of pacing it's actually a bit too soon.
Valeria and Franklin, two of my favorite characters in Hickman's run, feel underused here. I'm still not seeing that beautiful spark of snarky superiority in Valeria as she undermines Reed's authority, and Franklin just seems to be a lot more of a scared crybaby then I remember. Does he even have his powers any more here? It doesn't feel like it. They just feel so much more normal than I've ever seen them before and it feels off.
In Conclusion: 3/5
This issue was just kind of disappointing. FF is knocking it out of the park consistently, but Fantastic Four is struggling to keep up. It just doesn't yet feel like their journey is that kind of 'pushing the boundaries of imagination and exploration' that it was promised to be yet. And the characters' spotlight isn't exactly well balanced. This issue was a step down from the previous one, a story that was more about the effects of the plot more than any actual plot, all centered by a love letter that deteriorates into a confusing conclusion. Fraction kind of forced the Valentine's Day story a bit here, so I'm thinking next issue will be better.