“There is no problem that can’t be solved” – The road to SECRET WARS begins here

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“Everything dies.”

It’s a mantra that’s popped up for the last two years, spoken by Reed Richards to the Illuminati in Jonathan Hickman’s “New Avengers.” The slow dissolution of multiverse has been the impetus for widespread destruction and the desperation that seems to be the crux of the ongoing “Time Runs Out” storyline which seems to form the basis for this summer’s “Secret Wars” event. Marvel has been pushing Secret Wars as the event where everything changes for months now, first with an impressive array of alternate universe one-pagers and with a barrage of information on creator and editor’s social media pages.

Executive Editor Tom Brevoort has said the genesis for Secret Wars is in Hickman’s much vaunted Fantastic Four run and within the series’ large scale cosmic focus lies a series of hidden clues and hints about the direction of the Marvel Universe and the seeds of this summer’s upcoming event.

With that in mInd, it’s time to go back where it all started with a look back at Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four, what it has set up, the occasional hints in SHIELD and Secret Warriors, his Avengers and New Avengers run, the beginnings of creation in Infinity and how everything could lead to Battleworld. In this installment, it’s time to take a look at Hickman’s first major Marvel work, the “Fantastic Four: Dark Reign” miniseries.

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Let’s go back to the end of 2008. In the wake of Brian Michael Bendis’ less than stellar Secret Invasion, the seemingly reformed Norman Osborne had won the respect of New York and the president by fending off the invasion of the Skrull Queen and been crowned head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Unable to resist the man he has always been, Osborne assembles The Cabal, a group of villains who will aid him in controlling national policy. While he attempts to keep his new peacekeeping agency, H.A.M.M.E.R., on the straight and narrow, Osborne secretly harbors a hit-list of heroes he wants dead and buried and with the backing of the world, he’s ready to do it.

Osborne’s motivations and actions will change throughout Dark Reign and will eventually bring him to disaster in Siege but for now, he’s unbeatable. In the beginning of Fantastic Four: Dark Reign, he’s moving on the Baxter Building, ready to preemptively take Reed Richards out of the picture. Unfortunately, Reed has already started on a path of self-obsession and discovery which will change the Marvel Universe and define his character moving forward. And it all starts with the Bridge.

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The Bridge, like the Flash’s Cosmic Treadmill before it, becomes the defining artifact of Reed Richards as Hickman’s run carries on but for now, it’s almost solely a plot device. It’s worth noting that Reed’s newest invention is little more than a manifestation of his own guilt at this point. After tampering with the world for so long, Reed wants to know if the machinations of the Illuminati, their meddling with the Beyonder and the group’s dealings with the Skrulls which lead to Secret Invasion could have been prevented and if so, were they handled differently on another Earth.

Hickman’s focus in this five-issue miniseries is somewhat split. He’s writing Valeria and Franklin as something of comic relief characters. While the First Family is away, the siblings dress up and goof off, initially oblivious to the arrival of H.A.M.M.E.R. before stepping up later. In the series B-Plot, Sue, Ben and Johnny hop through alternate realities and pick up members of the family from across dimensions as they’re dragged along by The Bridge. It’s all fun and funnier than it has any right to be.

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The real meat of Dark Reign: Fantastic Four, and really the only characterization important going forward is Reed’s actions. Becoming more and more exasperated as he sees the commonalities across dimensions, Reed becomes obsessed with his own place in the dimensional order. Across the surveyed realities, he sees that he alone is the common denominator when searching for peace and he’s ready to discover how and why. By series end, when Osborne has been sent packing after taking a bullet from a trigger happy Franklin, Reed refuses to break down The Bridge and rebuilds it in a secret room of his lab. It’s a defining moment moving forward and certainly one open for debate. How much does Sue know about Reed’s obsession with what he has been across dimensions and what he can do? Reed’s narcissism and focus on himself is a recurring trope in the series and one that will appear time and time again, particularly in the form of those soon to be revealed glowing figures just on the other side of the screen.

Next Up: Who exactly are those people appearing in the Bridge? What do they want and what are they doing? It’s time to jump into Fantastic Four #570.