The ultimate confrontation results in a stunning character death!
NOTE: These reviews contain SPOILERS. If you do not want to know who gets killed in this comic, do not read these reviews!
You're forgiven for thinking the latest issue of Fantastic Four is just your usual publicity stunt. All the signs were there, after all- Marvel leaking the name of the character who dies the day before the public can read the issue, major news outlets reporting on it in typically grandiose fashion, DC getting so worried about the impact the book would have on their own sales that they attempted an embargo. Yes, it did indeed all read like mindless cacophony.
But I'm betting you bought into it anyway, didn't you?
And that's okay. Maybe, like me, you gave up on the FF long back when they stopped being so fantastic and instead were just so frustrating, not quite living up to that "World's Greatest Comics Magazine" masthead for at least the entirety of the 90s. Maybe you too wondered where all the adventure and wonder went and whether Reed Richards was always such a pompous prick (the answer to that one might be yes, since the letters page of FF #583 even has a reader thanking Jonathan Hickman for making Reed Richards interesting and going on to claim "no one has ever, EVER, been able to do that before"). Honestly, I wouldn't have even thought of the book at all if a certain Mr. Djeljosevic hadn't been demanding I read it since Hickman took over and that really only means I have a slight head start on most of you.
See, it's okay because I'm willing to wager that your response to this latest issue wasn't when the dead would inevitably rise again or whether you picked up enough copies of whatever variant your local was pimping. No, I'm thinking your response was more like mine- Holy crap, Hickman just made a comics death scene that actually meant something.
I know that most of us have probably become so jaded to the seemingly perfunctory aspect of death in comics, particularly as it relates to iconic heroes and just little-loved, little-noticed new creations, that we can't even shed crocodile tears for the fallen anymore. But (spoiler) what happens to Johnny Storm at the end of the issue isn't even necessarily a death (even though it, unfortunately, is being billed as such). What it is is a hero making an ultimate sacrifice and leaping into the void without any concern to his own safety, thinking only of his loved ones and those he's promised to protect.
Storm's decision to hold back the tides of the Annihilation Wave so that Val and company can close down the Negative Zone gate is, in characteristic fashion, brash and cocky but it's also valiant and necessary. Val's promise that the Richards family will come back for Storm, as his sister Sue is in Atlantis and unaware of the incident and Reed is off gallivanting through somebody's cosmos like he always is, rings true rather than reading like a pitch for an arc that'll appear several months down the line. Even more heartbreaking is Epting's rendition of Ben Grimm's face, transforming back to his old pebbly self as the gate closes and his view of Johnny Storm's sacrifice grows smaller and smaller and his eyes get wider and wider.
This isn't a death scene, people, it's a climax, a sacrifice meant to draw in the strings in the final third and milk your tear ducts for all they're worth and if Ben fucking Grimm can shed a few, I imagine you can too.
It doesn't matter when or if Storm is coming back. It doesn't really matter whether you knew about the issue because you're a loyal FF fan or just saw it on MSNBC and remembered the comic still existed. If you love comics, and you certainly should, then this should be the type of moment you live for- a perfect meeting between the undeniably melodramatic origins of comics and the very real appeal it makes to the hero within all of us.
So ignore the polybag. Ignore the variants. Shut down the Twitter account for a minute and block out the clueless anchors blathering on your iPad's feed of your tv. Just savor the moment Hickman and Epting have created and remember why you love this medium in the first place. Once you've done that, then fine, go ahead and return to your normal cynical self but don't even pretend Hickman and Epting didn't get you like they got all the rest of us.
Death is a stupid thing in superhero comics. We want to kill off characters in order to raise the stakes and evoke a response from the readers, but we also want to keep all our toys so we just keep bringing them back. It's become inherent to the cycle, so we may as well embrace it as the trope it is instead of remark "Oh, they're just gonna bring him back five years later" as if we're so smart and jaded. We may as well say, "Oh, he's just going to save the day."
Death and resurrection are an extension of the superhero crisis, as the superhero -- the ultimate metaphor for dealing with seemingly insurmountable obstacles -- is down for the count only to rise once again and overcome the big bad of the story. You know a superhero is awesome when they can come back from the dead.
Let's be aware of what we're reading here, guys, and, as Superman says, pray for a resurrection.
In "Three," the Fantastic Four are divided, dealing with three parallel crises to deal with that involve classic FF villains. The Invisible Woman must arbitrate impending war in Atlantis with Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner at the forefront. Mr. Fantastic must save the denizens of Nu-Earth from -- who else? -- Galactus. Meanwhile, the Human Torch, Thing and the Future Foundation kids are facing invasion from Annihilus and the Negative Zone.
Johnny Storm dies, by the way.
First of all, it's great that a so-called "event" comic isn't resorting to big gimmicks. There's no Doomsday or Bane here to signal that this is the Fantastic Four's biggest enemy yet. No, this is an old-school kind of superhero comic where the big shocking death seems to come naturally from the story as opposed to being a big event clearly centered around the character's death. Remember, X-Men #95 didn't even proclaim on the cover that one of the X-Men were going to get killed off, much less concluded a multi-part story arc called "The Death of Thunderbird!" (um, spoilers?)
Marvel, of course, has to market the thing as "The One Where Somebody Dies" because that's how you pander to the fans, but I'd have loved Fantastic Four #587 coming out without that anticipation and then shocking the hell out of everybody. But, Marvel's gotta sell comics and you can't blame em for that.
Month in and month out, Hickman proves he's the perfect fit for the Fantastic Four, which should be the superhero team that does as much thinking as they do hitting. And not only does Hickman in general write as much thinking as he does hitting in his comics, but he also gives the burden of hatching a scheme to the Future Foundation, the think-tank of hyper-intelligent kids that Reed's gathered to help change the world. Smartly, Hickman's teamed them up with the less scientific characters, Torch and Thing, and REALLY given them a chance to prove their worth.
A different writer would have ended the story with the other two threads concluding and the Fantastic Four uniting to help thwart Annihilus and save the kids. And it wouldn't be a terrible story, just an expected "united we stand" sort of thing. Hickman's run so far has been about looking forward, thinking big and progressing things, and putting the fate of the world in the hands of the children is definitely a case of looking forward if I ever heard one.
The art is, of course, gangbusters. Crackerjack. Gangbusters and crackerjack. Steve Epting is Steve Epting, and handles three distinct scenarios swimmingly, rendering undersea chatting as exciting as he does a two-page battle spread. I can't for the life of me tell the divide amongst the three inkers (including Epting himself), so I'm going to be an optimist and assume that each one inked a different plot thread.
Colorist Paul Mount is the unsung hero of Fantastic Four #587, by the way, and the secret of the issue's success. He employs a different color palette in each scene, which works beautifully in giving each narrative thread a distinct look. When the scene changes, it actually FEELS like we're elsewhere even though we're looking at a page drawn by the same guy as the previous one.
I'm excited to see where Hickman takes the surviving characters. This story alone has them drifting apart, and it's only appropriate that this carries on as the band's broken up and everyone's pursuing solo projects. Except, unlike their 60s musical quartet counterparts, their solo efforts won't totally suck, assuming Hickman stays on board for the next phase of the book.
Also, did I just compare Johnny Storm to John Lennon?
Allright guys, this is the review where I really gush. I mean, I've been reading Fantastic Four most of my life and have loved most of it, even the cheesy John Byrne period. And I've spent most of the time they've baited us with temptation of this big reveal of which FF member was going to die, and supposedly stay dead, with my fingers trembling in anticipation. And I'm the type that every time a comic says this character is going to die, I usually don't care. I mean, we all knew Superman wasn't going to stay dead, nor would Captain America or Batman. But if Marvel holds true to their word, that makes whatever the outcome of this issue is one of the greatest moments in comic history as a character that, as of November this year, we'll have spent 50 years growing with finally passes.
Certain elements of the storyline building up to this point I haven't been entirely pleased with. I didn't really get behind the Nu-World storyline, as I never really liked most of the characters it introduced. So honestly, when Galactus and Silver Surfer showed up to clean house, the first words in my head were "Yes! Reed's going to die FOR REAL THIS TIME!" I would up a little disappointed, but not surprised when Reed and Nu-World survivors made their getaway as Galactus descended, not to consume but merely to destroy. I guess it makes sense though that one of the characters who has supposedly died on multiple occasions wouldn't make it to the chopping block.
The next key storyline took us to the murky depths in the Gulf of Thailand and to Susan Richards, the "ul-oyt", or high-representative of a recently resurfaced species / sect of ancient Atlanteans and as a result of Namor's rash actions during the negotiations. During every step of this storyline we got to see an emphasis on how strong and independent a woman Susan had become over the years - especially after her time as Malice - and we feel a stronger connection built with her. We expect to feel shattered in light of what we know to be coming. But no, with a left-handed bitch-slap reinforced with her force-field, she reminded Namor just who she is now, and that is "a queen that bows to no king"! Even the "first among mutants" and Marvel's resident finned douche-bag has to acknowledge just how powerful she is and orders his forces to stay their hands.
And that leaves us with two members and one storyline: Ben and Johnny, and the impending new Annihilation Wave that threatens to come through the Baxter Building's Negative Zone portal. Over the years, these two characters have been the heart and soul of the team, and with their borderline antagonistic rivalry would be two of the most missed characters if they were to be killed . Either loss would be hard to bear almost impossible. And as Ben and Johnny fight back-to-back not only to save the kids but also the world from something that half a universe away most of Marvel's other cosmic characters had trouble with together, I felt my stomach tightening as I knew the moment of truth was drawing closer because it was going to be one of them.
The super-smart kids devise the plan.
The human Ben Grimm decides he's going to execute it.
And Johnny throws Ben through the portal with the kids and starts to seal everything behind them with the forces of Annihilus bearing down upon him. Ben becomes enraged to the point a transformation back into The Thing is triggered as he tries to beat his way back in. And at this point I start to cry like I have before every time I've lost a close family member. And each beautiful and painful panel as the seal closes and Johnny flames on serves as a reminder of just what the human spirit truly is and that it's that which defines a hero, not powers or costume. That brilliant, blazing spark of nobility and self-sacrifice that Hickman, Epting, and the entire top-notch team fanned into a nova-flame-fueled inferno is what has made this book, to me at least, the absolute greatest super-hero and science adventurer comic of all time, as well as the most touching and heart-rending comic book death of all time.
You don't wish this any more than I do."
No, Johnny. We don't.
We'll miss you.
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