Fantastic Four #642 does some things very well, like depicting action scenes, actually doing something with the much maligned Heroes Reborn Universe, or having a couple third act plot twists. However, most of the story is rooted in superhero cliches ranging from heroes fighting then teaming up to villainous monologues and even a weak riff on Watchmen. Leonard Kirk and Karl Kesel’s art fares well in the heroes vs. heroes (and villains) fighting areas, but not so much in the emotional department as Kesel’s inks don’t give his characters much definition in their faces and body movements. For most of the story, the art comes off as fairly loose and by the numbers, and Aburtov’s colors match it as the various superhero costumes lack any visual pop. (The Hulk is barely green.)
In the hands of a creator any less of an long term plotter than James Robinson, Fantastic Four would be a disaster. This volume of the series has thrown together hordes of villains, SHIELD members, superheroes, and other not so savory types at Marvel’s First Family and the Future Foundation kids, and Robinson has been using the last few issues to show the real reasons for the events. Unfortunately, he resorts to a recent genre trope a la Batman: Hush and makes the mystery baddie one of Reed Richards’ old schoolmates, who has unrequited love for Sue and hasn’t been on the Marvel Universe radar until this series. This is slightly anti-climactic, and Robinson characterizes the awkwardly named Quiet Man as a Frankenstein’s hybrid of Ozymandias and the Riddler with a dash of Reed’s own ego and scientific acumen, but with no real personality. He does a little better with the FF themselves showing the restored friendship between the Thing and Human Torch in a heartwarming panel as well as showing some fearful symmetry between Reed and Franklin Richards and the supervillain Wizard and his son Bentley. These small moments (and some of the plot twists) are the best parts of a grab bag of parts from superior superhero sagas, like Watchmen, Civil War, or even Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four.
Leonard Kirk, Karl Kesel, and Jesus Aburtov’s art is below average at its worst and decently dynamic at its best. Even if the hero vs. hero fight has become formulaic, they spice it up with pop out punches that would make Jack Kirby smile. (Thing vs. Namor Round 999 is sadly cut short.) The characters have no reason to fight, but Kirk and Kesel show off the creative side of Invisible Woman and Jim Hammond (the original Human Torch’s) powers while commenting on relationship as Spidey gives his old buddy Johnny Storm a helping hand. But when it comes to character faces, their art falls flat which hurts the possible emotional payoff of these early pages. (There is also the fact that SHIELD has tried to arrest basically every Marvel hero over the past year in comics.) Kirk and Kesel also struggle with clearly depicting characters in crowd shots, which is a problem as the comic brings together almost every character who has appeared in Robinson’s run with Cap and Hulk to boot. And Fantastic Four #642 has its share of problems, which even an zero grav fight scene and last page twists can’t fix, as James Robinson relies too heavily on superhero genre cliches to conclude his uneven, basically truncated run on Marvel’s former flagship title.