It’s the final issue of the Fantastic Four and there’s not a great deal to say. You’d think there would be, as this issue covers the month following the loss of the Human Torch in the Negative Zone. But writer Jonathan Hickman goes the gimmick route, presenting a silent story.
Want to hear how Susan Storm Richards reacts to the death of her brother, Johnny? Wondering what Reed could possibly say about his brother-in-law’s demise? Interested in how Ben Grimm might see the loss of his best friend?
Forget it. While a couple of words written on a blackboard do elicit a chill, there’s no speech until the final panel. We get the gist of how people are feeling: we see Sue fend off Reed’s attempts to comfort her with a force field; we watch Reed approach the situation in typical fashion, via scientific investigation; and it’s obvious Ben is filled with rage at his helplessness.
But dang it, this is a comic book. I want words to go with the pictures. Nick Dragotta, on pencils and inks and lending a marvellous Jack Kirby/Joe Sinnott look to the characters, does a superb job of carrying the dramatic weight of ‘A Month of Mourning’. He draws page after page of quietly powerful moments, and amps up the mood when action is called for.
As well as the moments I’ve mentioned, Dragotta draws the return from the Negative Zone, with the Avengers arriving at the Baxter Building just too late. A Mini-Me Annihilus presenting Reed with ‘evidence’ of Johnny’s death. A wake which reminds me of Reed and Sue’s wedding by its splash gathering of heroes. A new leader for Latveria. Dr Doom keeping a respectful distance at Johnny’s funeral. Spidey arriving to see Franklin. The resolve of the Future Foundation. Reed facing the utter failure of his Solve Everything programme. A final page appearance that has me yawning, ‘Him again?’ Lots of good stuff going on, there’s no denying that.
But the art, coloured with more muted, softer tones than usual by the excellent Paul Mounts, can carry only so much meaning. There’s one scene in which, puzzlingly, Don Blake and Bruce Banner try to present Ben with a smaller version of a memorial statue to Johnny. For some reason, Ben gets angry and we have a fight between the Thing, Thor and the Hulk. Maybe he’s lashing out at two of the only people who can physically take it, but it would be good to be sure of these things – I’m guessing at this after closing the comic.
This is an important issue of the Fantastic Four, I want to know precisely what’s going on in their world, not have to infer things from the art. Assume I’m a complete idiot – show and tell.
There’s a second story in this issue, a short expanding on the Spidey-Franklin page from the lead. Spidey knows a thing or two about losing an uncle, but doesn’t put it as crassly as that; he listens to Franklin, shares his experience, swaps secrets, offers advice … and it’s wonderful. Mark Brook’s illustrations are impressively expressive, capturing Franklin’s emotions, as well as those of Spider-Man – and given that he keeps his mask down for the most part, that’s quite a feat. And Hickman, having turned the volume up, works with Brooks brilliantly.
I’d love Hickman to have brought this approach to the lead strip, applying it to the title characters of the book.
The issue closes with an advertorial on the coming FF title, which replaces Fantastic Four until it returns, likely in a year. Spidey signs up and everyone gets terrible costumes. It’ll likely be a decent read, but may we have The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine back soon please? Words and all.