Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]
Comixology had a recent "buy one, get one free" sale on all Marvel issues and trades. With Secret Wars delayed and expanded by an issue, it was worthwhile to pick up the rest of Hickman's runs on both Fantastic Four and Secret Warriors to tide me over. The third Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman trade, like its direct predecessor, has only four issues, but this time there are three separate stories. It starts off with what I've decided to call a "Hickman Summary Issue" because he tends to include these types of stories about every six to ten issues (even Secret Wars has one). This can feel redundant in the trades, but considering the number of subplots, it was definitely appreciated by readers of the monthly versions. The summary issues are also a quick way to figure out if you've missed a previous story.
Issue #579 has a purpose beyond just recapping the story beats: it's also where the Future Foundation is officially formed and named. In context, it's part of Reed's strategy to reinvigorate both himself and the world by working past scientific limitations. At this point, the organization is just the name of the think-tank formed by the children in the Four's care; it won't become a true team name until FF begins. This issue and the next felt like a bit of filler the first time around, but as with many books by Hickman, they contain details that will become important later on. In this case, it's the constant presence of Leech at Franklin Richards' side. I assumed it was just because of their friendship but the actual reason becomes a dramatic plot point in the next trade.
Johnny Storm takes the two boys to a toy store run by the X-Men villain Arcade. This was a few years before Avengers Arena made him thoroughly irredeemable, so he's able to put up a plausible turn to the side of good at this point. When it turns out that he's gone into business with the Impossible Man, it suddenly took on the feel of a Silver Age Superman story, where Toyman and Mr. Mxyzptlk were always up to schemes like this. This was likely the point since when he first appears, the Impossible Man has taken on Superman's appearance. The issue closes out with the reveal of what Valeria and the other kids have been working on as their first project ... which unfortunately, once again, only pays off in the next trade. These two issues do a lot to correct the lack of Human Torch and Thing material in the previous collections.
For the final two issues, it's time to bring the time travel elements back in, revisiting and expanding upon some of the plot points started by the Council of Reeds. Groups of multiple versions of the same individual are a key theme throughout Hickman's stories: this time around, it's Nathaniel Richards, Reed's father, who left for multiversal adventures in Reed's youth. It's unclear whether this story takes place on Earth-616 or in a parallel timeline created by Nathaniel's actions, especially since he assembles a Fantastic Four of his own. But this group consists of Reed, Ben Grimm, and Victor Von Doom before they gained their powers, helping Nathaniel defeat the last of his alternate universe doppelgangers. (The cover of the trade is technically about this story but is deliberately misleading in how the characters are portrayed.)
The entire situation with Nathaniel having to kill his alternate selves was brought on by Immortus, the future version of Kang, two Fantastic Four villains that Hickman has not used much so far. They do show up, joined by their younger incarnation Iron Lad, in "Time Runs Out," but even then it felt like there's a Chekov's gun that hasn't been triggered yet. Kang did show up in the Siege title from Secret Wars but it's unclear which one he was; he was the originator of the "council of cross-time selves" concept after all.
From here, there are a lot of Secret Wars spoilers and speculation.
This story also brings back the future versions of Franklin and Valeria, the latter of which gets to meet her mother in the present. It feels like the end of the story is rushed and missing pages; in retrospect, however, it looks like we might have gotten the climax of Secret Wars five years earlier than the rest of it. This is what Valeria says to her mother:
"After the Last War, when all reality has collapsed into a single timestream and the heat death of everything is imminent ... there is a white space where your son sits waiting for the new future we have created for him. There -- post-collapse -- he acts as an anchor for the changes he has made, and when I return to him I will serve that very same function regarding [my changes]."
We've seen Molecule Man in that white space, doing exactly that type of anchoring work for Battleworld to preserve Doom's changes. I've suspected for a while that Franklin and Valeria were either responsible for some of Doom's success and/or will be the catalyst for the restoration of the Marvel multiverse.
Just when you think you've figured out how deep the well goes with Hickman's third Fantastic Four collection, more hints and references and future stories keep piling up. Every issue is essential. Even the out-of-place pages summarizing what's happening on Nu-Earth and the seemingly pointless introduction and sacrifice of the Light Brigade all lead somewhere. In next week's review, things truly escalate. So far, two characters have been absent: the Silver Surfer and Galactus; that absence is about to end ...