Too common throughout the history of the medium to qualify as an artistic experiment, the “silent issue” rears its head as a change of pace here in the latest edition of Fantastic Four. Exchanging narrative captions and word balloons for solemnity and reflection, this is Jonathan Hickman’s tribute of choice to the fallen Johnny Storm (and, if the cover text is to be believed, the series itself). In this regard, it is certainly a successful effort, though it may leave a bit to be desired on the whole.
From the first scene, which picks up directly after last issue’s ubiquitously discussed character death, Hickman and Nick Dragotta drag us into a deep sea of mourning. Without an abundance of words to keep things moving along, we’re left to linger upon a succession of emotionally weighty images. Dragotta, a relative unknown, proves his ability to convey his characters’ hearts through their eyes, rendering the saddest looking Ben Grimm you’re ever bound to see.
But, while the sentiment is clearly there, the technical merits are, at times, lacking. In a couple of instances, Dragotta comes up with some pretty awkward poses, most notably in a scene that has a supposedly sympathetic Spider-Man looking ready to pounce upon a defenseless Franklin Richards. Later on, we get a moment during which it is nearly impossible to determine what the Thing is reacting to, casting confusion upon an entire five-page sequence.
In that last scenario, the conceit of this wordless issue is at its most strained. When characters are clearly seen speaking to each other in a scene, it begins to feel much more artificial that we cannot “hear” what they are saying. Using silence to set a mood is one thing, but insisting upon a single technique at the cost of readability is another.
A better overall effort comes in the form of the issue’s supplemental backup tale featuring an extended look at the aforementioned Spider-Man scene. Eschewing the main story’s gimmick in favor of a traditional format, this is a moving account of the healing power of shared experience. It’s a reminder of both Hickman’s great talent as a writer as well as the reason that comics typically include both pictures and words.
All in all, the “final” issue of Fantastic Four is an adequate farewell to the team as we knew it, though it’s nowhere near as powerful as was last month’s death scene. Much like an end-of-episode music montage on television, it surely gets its point across, while simultaneously trying your patience with its excessiveness.