This is it. Since he began his run on Fantastic Four back in 2009, writer Jonathan Hickman has been building up to the events of Fantastic Four #604. In that time, their name has changed, their outfits have changed, and the Human Torch has died and come back to life. It's been refreshing at times, confusing at times, entertaining most of the time and high-minded all the time. It's been a massive epic about time travel, alternate realities, rogue gods, unexpected sacrifices and, in the end, a stirring paean to the best of relationships between fathers and sons.
The cards are all finally laid on the table in this issue, and truth be told, it's still a bit confusing, since it involves time travel. Reed Richards' father Nathaniel, with whom he's had a somewhat rocky relationship with in the past, has been devoting much of his life to chronal tampering, trying to figure out a way for his son, and the Earth itself, to survive the moment that is upon them now – a group of Mad Celestials out to kill the world. Much of this seems to have been trial and error, bouncing back and forth and constantly seeing his efforts to manipulate events to a favorable outcome. It seems there are certain 'universal constants' that are unalterable, although that's always a confusing and seemingly arbitrary concept – especially when these constants look to be simple decisions a man makes and not some cosmic law.
Being a latecomer to Hickman's run, I haven't seen every bit of plot development leading up to this issue, so there are times where you just have to go with the explanation and try to push past your confusion – such as what "at the age you are now, we can't be trusted" means. But it seems Reed was destined to indulge his scientific curiosity and enter a reality nexus to meet a Council of Reeds from alternate realities, all of whom had sacrificed all their personal lives and loves for the sake of scientifically bettering their universes by building new suns to save billions of souls. Our Reed eventually turns away from the Council because he refuses to make that same sacrifice, and the work of the Council continues – until it awakens the Mad Celestials and finds itself destroyed by them. Then they are destined to hunt down and destroy our Reed as well, even though he did not join that Council. And these are things that Nathaniel has had to try and work his way around to find ways to prevent those rogue gods from killing his son.
This time around, he's had help from his grandchildren – both as kids and adults in the future. His granddaughter is a super-genius, and his grandson is a reality-shaper, and still, this has been an extremely difficult task. However, as we saw at the end of last issue, the adult versions of Franklin and Valeria RIchards have finally arrived in our time, in our space, and they are both here to save the day. Hickman has spent three years crafting a story to properly utilize the immensely powerful but perennially sidelined son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, and this is the payoff.
It's a wonderful thing, seeing Franklin and Valeria as benevolent heroes in the future striving to save their family and the world, rather than the too-often-used schtick where one of them has to be evil or something. Valeria loves and admires her brother despite being smarter than him – and her compassion extends even to her "Uncle Doom," the egomaniacal man who delivered her, named her, and was convinced by her to actually sacrifice himself to the Celestials in order to buy them more time to execute their plans. And it's the adult Franklin's dogged determination not to let this be the day his father dies that pits him against the three Celestials, and its the young Franklin's benevolent heart and sense of responsibility that grants his older counterpart the added power to make Galactus himself into his herald.
Yes, you read that right. And it's an epic moment that made me shout out loud with glee.
What it comes down to is that Reed's choice not to sacrifice family for the logical 'needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few' maxim that the other Reeds followed was perhaps not the rational choice, but it turns out that the emotional choice was the one that saved them all, because this Reed, our Reed, has created life – the life of a very good boy who grows up to become a very good man, one who will lay his life on the line to save the world. Hickman ends the story with some beautifully simple optimistic narration about how as long as there is life, there is hope, underscoring the entire Future Foundation mission statement, as well as an epilogue which shows us that, despite the gulf between Nathaniel and Reed, there are elements of fatherhood that are also universal constants.
It's a touching but not trite story about love and family with moving moments from artist Steve Epting, plus it's a giant god-fight with Franklin Richards cutting loose with his mind-bending power. It's a very satisfying conclusion to a huge saga that's beyond the comic book norm, and those don't come along very often. Enjoy it while you can.