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Returning to FF, Jonathan Hickman's forgotten great superhero work, ten years later

It's been ten years since FF finished, and it still reads beautifully

panel of franklin and artie exclaiming at something they're seeing off panel
Image credit: Marvel Comics

When people talk about Jonathan Hickman's superhero work, they tend to talk about the The Avengers, the Fantastic Four, or, now, the X-Men, but my favorite Hickman superhero series usually does not make it onto the list, though I think the series deserves it. FF was a 23-issue comic companion series to the Fantastic Four with artists Steve Epting, Barry Kitson, Greg Tocchini, Juan Bobillo, Nick Dragotta, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and André Lima Araújo. It centered on the Future Foundation (aka the FF), which consisted of members of the Fantastic Four, a gaggle of genius children, and, at one point, Doctor Doom.

The characters in Future Foundation are never really relatable, nor are the Fantastic Four, really. They're distinctly removed from regular life, just like the characters they go up against, their slate of bombastic supervillains, and even the Inhumans and the Kree, who also manage to make an appearance in the book. Because these characters impact the cosmic, the battle for the soul begins to feel cosmic too.

Now I have never been much of fan of the Fantastic Four, mostly because I can't stand Reed Richards, but Hickman has a take on Richards that really appeals to me. Reed Richards is, in many ways, a smug hypocrite, criticizing others for dabbling in the morally grey situations that he often also dabbles in, but Hickman pushes beyond that, or maybe deeper into that. Sure, Reed Richards is flawed, can behave poorly, but that isn't all he is. He struggles against that, and that struggle separates him from the worst versions of himself, who he actually ends up needing to face as antagonists in this series.

And to defeat himself, he needs to turn to his family and his enemies for help. He needs to trust other people and let go of his own controlling nature, or else that nature is going to doom everyone.

Multiple other universe Reed Richards
Image credit: Marvel Comics

The delicate balance between selfhood and a strong support system continues throughout the series. Most of the central emotional threads of FF have to do with facing a version of yourself with the support of others and changing, as with Bentley Wittman, who is a young clone of supervillain The Wizard. While The Wizard expects and attemppts to force Bentley to become an evil mastermind, Bentley resists. While Bentley does love evil in theory, to the point where Alex Power has to include "Mephisto, the devil, or some other evil incarnate being…" in pre-meal prayers on his behalf, Bentley is very much not a real evil mastermind, nor does he want to become one.

While Bentley is clearly distressed about facing his The Wizard, both Valeria and Reed are there to support him, which allows Bentley's rejection of who his maker wants him to be to be central to the argument of the book, that part of growing up is realizing that you can make your own decisions, and that you can be different from what people expect you to be, or even who you were yesterday. And that all of this is easier and made more possible by friends who are there to support you.

The Wizard speaking to young Bentley Wittman
Image credit: Marvel Comics

In a similarly symbolic way, Valeria and Franklin Richards (Reed and Sue's children) are growing up with the help, and not-always-gentle correction, of their older selves. As Franklin learns from future-Franklin how to use the power of his limitless imagination to create extraordinary worlds, future-Valeria berates child-Valeria for writing up a paper on conquering the Kree empire (Yes, in the world of time travel, self-regulation sometimes comes in the form of your future self). But even the tension between future and current Valeria is an interesting look into what happens when you don't like another version of yourself, or when you're faced with the bits of yourself that you just can't stand.

Valeria Richards glaring at her younger self
Image credit: Marvel Comics

There's no way to hide from yourself when you are literally looking at yourself. It can be painful and uncomfortable, but it shouldn't be paralysing. Because FF argues that identity is malleable, and self isn't something permanent, it's something that is made every day.

No matter how big the Big Problem gets (and it gets big enough for an appearance of both the Watcher and the Ultimate Nullifier), the central battle in FF isn't the fate of the universe but of the soul. And this allows for an interesting conversation about selfhood. How do we turn away from the darkest parts of ourselves and become who we want to be?

FF Panels featuring older Franklin following younger Franklin into a door
Image credit: Marvel Comics

Well, FF argues that we do that through friendship and adventure and growth and battles and pretending and learning. Because growth and personal challenges are interlinked, and having adventures means making decisions and learning from them. Sometimes, like Reed and Valeria, you have to have someone who is willing to tell you you're going too far. Sometimes, like Franklin, you have to imagine a cooler universe. Yeah it's complicated, and yeah you'll make mistakes, but FF argues that there may be no greater stakes (even the cosmic) than figuring out who you are.

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