With the Fantastic Four separated and without access to their money, Johnny Storm, in his brand new secret identity of Jonathan Fairweather, has taken a job in a big box store.
Deciding to do something about the lousy pay and conditions, the Human Torch pays Merrill a visit, not realising they met years ago when the shop owner was a low-level Maggia thug.
It’s a dilemma – how do you defeat a guy who’s not scared of your power because he knows the Torch would never sear a regular human? Merrill is smart and believes his hotheaded employees is anything but. Johnny thinks that too, as we see at the start of the issue when he’s trying to save Wisconsin from a tornado.
Except Johnny is smart. What is ‘smart’ if it’s not listening to what Reed told him, remembering it and putting the information to good use (he’s also ‘tough’ and ‘powerful’, but that’s by the by).
So it’s no surprise, really, when Johnny finds a workaround for the matter of Merrill.
The new run of Fantastic Four delivers another cracking issue as writer Ryan North follows his focuses on Ben and Alicia, and Sue and Reed, with a spotlight on Johnny. ‘A shoptastic day’ is superhero vs Superstore as our hero tries and fails to spark a union into life, it’s great to see him have a go at the secret ID thing (if memory serves he’s done it at least once previously… but when?). While there’s no supervillain to fight, Merrill’s arrogance does motivate lots of flaming on, which is beautifully rendered by illustrator Iban Coello and colourist Jesus Aburtov – there’s a real sense of heat rising when Johnny’s flame is on. And a pair of panels showing the Torch melting through a wall are positively primal in their power, as if Johnny’s channelling his Golden Age inspiration.
I’m not so hot on our hero’s new look as the first time we see him he looks like the Wingless Wizard on Dress Down Friday, a leering loon. Still, we do get a few shots of de-flamed Johnny in his fireproof shorts, to compensate.
Speaking of bare flesh, which I kinda sorta was, the real threat from Merrill is Johnny being flashed to death after he uses the belt of his robe to cover his hand.
Blimey. The man really isn’t scared of being burned.
Add in delightfully precise lettering from Joe Caramagna and an unusually soft cover treatment from Alex Ross and you have a thoroughly satisfying opening to the new creative team’s debut arc. Next time we’re going to find out just why the Fabulous Fantastic Four are on the outs with New York, and I cannot wait.