In Defense of Jerks: Fantastic Four 579
Society has agreed to attach a stigma to interrupting polite discourse between otherwise amicable individuals by saying things like “Your ideas are entirely wrong and you are stupid to have them” and then going on to add “Also the fact that you openly profess to believe in those ideas indicates to me that you are a bad person.” Of course, the fact that you’re reading this on the internet suggests that, first, you’re entirely aware of what it’s like to deal with a person who acts like this and, second, you may very well agree that we should shun that sort of behavior.
If you’ve ever openly expressed an opinion on the web on topics ranging from the quality of “Blackest Night” to the baseball skills of players on the New York Yankees to even something as generally agreed upon as the flaws of the German government from the mid-30s to the mid-40s, odds are someone else has gotten angry and gone off on your viewpoint, your worth as a human being, and the ultimate fate of your immortal soul as it relates to places of eternal punishment and rotting therein. And you’ve shrugged it off and said, “Well, that’s just not how civilized people behave. When they’ve learned how to end an argument by agreeing to disagree, I’ll respect their opinion.”
Indeed, sometimes otherwise intelligent people come along with ideas that really are terrible if you hold them up to any kind of scrutiny. And sometimes they really do put forward those ideas for the wrong reasons, because they’re selfish and manipulative or too frightened by the truth. And because it’s considered impolite or egotistical to call them out, sometimes these terrible ideas go unchallenged because no one steps up to defy social conventions and be a hero. In the Marvel Universe when such a hero is called for you can be sure Reed Richards will be there.Jonathan Hickman has managed to write Reed in such a way that he comes off as the intellectual version of the action hero who unapologetically fights dirty because it’s the best way, sometimes the only way, to get results. Early in Hickman’s run on the series Reed refused to apologize to his wife for believing the things he did, and justified said beliefs with the fact that he was the smartest man on Earth. That moment solidified my newly discovered fascination with Hickman’s interpretation of Reed as a man driven by his convictions of making the world better for his children and willing to take risks and try unorthodox approaches to achieve his goals.
“Fantastic Four” #579 returns to exactly that kind of engaging, thought-provoking storytelling I enjoyed in Hickman’s first arc on the book. The past few issues have been spent putting characters and groups into place, establishing the players for the larger narrative Hickman seems to have planned. And while it had its moments, I began to wonder when the series was going to recapture the initial thrill it gave me. This week it was back and in full force as the issue opened with Reed addressing the closing ceremony of a scientific conference. Speaking to an auditorium full of some of the greatest minds in the world, Reed proceeds to mercilessly rip apart the presentations they’d given, calling them cowards who’d grown old and become afraid of the future. It’s a wonderful speech written by Hickman, accompanied by artwork by Neil Edwards that captures both a sense of cold rage and also a glimmer of hope for a future that Reed still has faith in.
The rest of the book sees Reed starting to assemble the group he believes must lead a new generation toward the future of humanity, including many characters who’d appeared in the past few issues. And towards the end there’s a confrontation between Reed and The Wizard, the first villain the team fought in Hickman’s run, that further drives home how determined Reed is to see his vision of the future realized.
I’ve enjoyed Hickman’s Marvel books, “Fantastic Four” in particular, because at the core of each story there’s a driving idea that moves the plot along rather than a sense of inevitable momentum pushing toward an awesome fight scene or a major reveal that’s frequently employed in other superhero books. These are stories that are about something, often some idea that Hickman challenges the reader to think about. And this latest direction, Reed’s push to pass on his desire for a better future to his children and their generation, has me excited to see where this arc is going next.