The 587th issue of a comic should always be special, so here’s Marvel’s gala Death Issue of the Fantastic Four, complete with environment-be-damned plastic bag. The comic’s on sale a day early and Associated Press has already spoilt the surprise for many, but as an actual regular reader, a chap who’d be buying the book anyway, how was it for me?
Well, get past the polybag, and the cover by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer and Javier Rodriguez is a stunner, showing the candidates for death facing various dangers – Sue in an undersea battle, Reed being blasted by a peeved Galactus, Ben beset by Negative Zone Insectoids and Johnny, er, trapped by the same Insectoids. Really, he should share Ben’s pic, but look, look at the lovely quartered design!
Behind the cover, the three stories that have been running for the last few months conclude: Galactus destroys Nu-Earth, but not before Reed rescues its citizens in a way he never foresaw; Sue is named leader of the old Tribes of Atlantis and teaches Namor some respect; and the Future Foundation kids, Ben and Johnny venture into the Negative Zone and stave off an invasion. And one must stay behind.
But I’ll get to that in a moment (who says this isn’t the Martin Age of Deferred Pleasure?). Firstly, I’d like to commend writer Jonathan Hickman for the best Fantastic Four issue in years. Reed, Sue, Johnny, Ben, children Franklin and Valeria, all are on top form, defiant in the face of danger, ready to face any odds and do whatever it takes to win. And if they can’t win, by cracky, they’ll go down fighting.
It’s a shame that, just as the Negative Zone threatens to swallow the Earth, this issue has been overwhelmed by the Marvel hype machine. Of course it’s terrific that Marvel is getting behind a creative team it believes in, telling the story they’ve been building towards for awhile. But how many readers are going to race through that story to get to the final pages, and learn which member won’t be around after this issue? I certainly had to slow myself down, meaning I could enjoy the revelation about Leech’s role at the Baxter Building, admire Valeria’s take-charge attitude and gasp at the sudden importance of Nu-Earth’s Natalie X. Namor’s reaction to Sue’s show of power is priceless, and it’s marvellous to see how far Dragon Man has come since the earliest days of the FF.
Making slowing down even more of a pleasure is the beautiful artwork of penciller Steve Epting, inkers Rick Magyar & Mike Perkins, and colourist Paul Mounts. The layouts, the expressions, the imagery – this is a book that deserves to be on its high-class paper, a comic to be looked at again and again. Epting and the rest of the team really capture the sadness of the final pages as a member faces their fate. And Hickman’s dialogue is just perfect …
… as the Human Torch is extinguished.
Johnny breathes his last, saving the Earth, and a lot more besides, from the hordes of Annihilus.
And yes, of course he’ll be back. There are plenty of ways he could survive his last stand long enough to be rescued by the rest of the FF. It’s not as if the book even states explicitly that he’s dead. But for now, I’m happy to accept that Johnny has gone to a hero’s reward in an issue that truly deserves the FF’s old slugline, the World’s Greatest Comics Magazine.