“Hereafter” part 3 of 3
The Fantastic Four meet their maker.
Mark Waid is a terrific comics writer. Okay, so this is no flash of insight, no thought you’ve not had yourself. But Waid understands comics as a fan does. He understands that he stands on the shoulders of giants, that it’s important in a comic like the Fantastic Four to be innovative while also being true to the hearts and souls of the characters. It’s a very tough balancing act, but Waid pulled has pulled it off wonderfully thus far in his run on FF. In his “Unthinkable” and “Authoritative Action” storylines, Waid has done a magnificent job of synthesizing past and present into a coherent, exciting whole. Having the Fantastic Four occupy Latveria after Dr. Doom’s death in issue 500 was an intelligent step, in keeping with the history of the FF while providing a commentary on current events and flowing organically out of the previous storyline.
I was a little concerned at the beginning of the current “Hereafter” arc that Waid had gone too far afield. The Fantastic Four have gone to the Negative Zone, deep space, and Latveria, but it seemed a reach to send them to Heaven. I should have known to trust Waid. Instead of delivering the cosmological slug-fest that he seemed to be leading up to, the concluding issue of this arc moves his run on the title into something truly special.
(WARNING: From here to the end of the review will be spoilers)
Let me back up a moment and set up the comic so I can tell you how cool the payoff is. Ben Grimm, the Thing, is on the doorstep to Heaven, not quite dead, so his family, the FF, decide to go save him. There, Ben is waiting for them with his brother. He can’t get into Heaven because the gate is barred by a gate very much like something Reed would create. But of course, the gate to Heaven isn’t barred by technology, instead, it’s barred by the human heart. Once the four open their hearts, the gate opens and they pass through a bizarre collage and find…
…oh man, this is so cool! They meet their maker. And their maker is a humble grey-haired man sitting at a drawing board in a California mansion. A certain man who is beloved by all who read his work, by those who loved the humanity and passion of his vision. Yes, they meet the King. And he does not disappoint.
Other creators have done similar storylines. Alan Moore, for instance, did a brilliant story in Supreme exploring similar ground. But the resonance of having the Fantastic Four, in a Marvel Comic, acknowledge the brilliance of the king of comics, is tremendously moving. After all the years of tension between the two parties, of Marvel not returning Jack’s original art and all the endless slams against Marvel on message boards for their treatment of Kirby, finally they acknowledge the essential importance of the man. If you ever wanted to see a sign that Marvel has really changed in the last few years, here is indelible proof.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Mike Wieringo’s art. I’ve always thought of him as being diametrically opposed to Jack Kirby’s work. Wieringo’s art is much more manga-influenced than Kirby-influenced, and therefore I always thought he was an awkward fit for the book. How wrong I was. ‘Ringo shows here that an artist doesn’t have to ape Kirby to be able to be true to the spirit of his work. He’s his own man, but still is true to what came before him.
If you’re a big-time fan of old Marvels, if you’ve enjoyed any of Stan & Jack’s original FF comics, or if you just love Kirby, his legend and his art, you owe it to yourself to check out this comic. Fantastic Four #511 contains one of the most outrageous and wonderful plot twists you’ll ever find. It manages to be true to the heart and soul of the FF while also having a modern edge.