This week saw the release of Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting's Fantastic Four #600, celebrating not only six hundred issues of the seminal title but also more than fifty years since the book's debut. Hickman's run on Fantastic Four has been a definite highlight of the past few years of superhero comics, embracing the cosmic scope and incorporating elements of almost every era of Fantastic Four history: Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, John Byrne, Walt Simonson, Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo, even the extended Tom DeFalco run.

The 96-page anniversary issue not only progresses a large number of Hickman's ongoing storylines, it also adds a number of new wrinkles, catches the new or returning reader up on the saga so far, looks gorgeous, and is somehow still a bargain at the whopping retail price of eight dollars for a single issue of a comic book.The first story in the issue, the first part of the arc "Forever," is by the regular Fantastic Four team of Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting, and continues the story that's been building not since the very beginning of Hickman's run with enough recap to catch up new readers but not so much as to halt narrative momentum. The Earth is under attack by both the Kree and the Inhumans, both of whom seem to be being manipulated by a new Supreme Intelligence of the Kree race. Meanwhile Nathaniel Richards, Victor Von Doom and the one remaining Reed Richards of the Council petition Kristoff, Doom's adopted son and the current ruler of Latervia, for aid.

While all of these plot machinations move forward in the main story, the issue itself centers around a last-page reveal that sparks the story of the first "backup" tale -- actually the longest story in the issue. Beautifully drawn by Carmine di Giandomenico, it's a fairly classic and rote escaping-gladiator story, but Hickman infuses it with enough novelty and creepiness that it's incredibly entertaining while also enhancing the thematic underpinnings of his larger run. I'm tempted to say this story is, in fact, the highlight of Hickman's work on the book and characters so far.

The final three stories are also excellent. "Black Queen," drawn by Ming Doyle, expands on a sequence from earlier in the run, where Medusa joined up with her husband Black Bolt's prophecied universal wives without much of a complaint, which seemed somewhat out of character at the time; here, we see the psychic conversation between Medusa and Black Bolt that lead up to her decision Doyle's art is very well-suited for this sequence, combining Jae Lee's iconic take on the characters with a little bit of Ditkoesque weirdness.

The fourth story in the issue, "The Arc," features art by Leinil Francis Yu, and ties in with recent events in Matt Fraction's The Mighty Thor to reintroduce Galactus. It is, as one would expect, gorgeously drawn. Perhaps the most visually interesting sequence in the issue, though, is the final story "Remember," with art by Farel Dalrymple and Lovern Kindzierski. Hickman and editor Tom Brevoort go so far as to allow Dalrymple to letter the story himself, which combined with Dalrymple's rougher, less polished, more expressive "indie" style marks it in sharp contrast to the rest of the book, or the rest of Big Two superhero comics for that matter. It's a lighthearted but ominous Franklin and Leech story that, like all the other stories in this issue, picks up plot points from earlier in Hickman's run and points towards their futures in upcoming issues of Fantastic Four and FF.

There are 96 pages of story in this issue, and whether you're new to Hickman's run on the characters or have been reading since the very beginning, they're all satisfying. This is a textbook anniversary issue, chock full of brand-new content and all controlled by a single authorial intent that makes every page essential reading. All killer, no filler. The eight-dollar price tag might be a bit off-putting, but the math backs it up: $2.99 / 20 is way more than $7.99 / 96, and a digital version is available here. Both in quality and quantity, Fantastic Four #600 is the real deal.

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