This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Evan Narcisse, Graeme McMillan and Douglas Wolk talk about Fantastic Four #587 and Infestation #1.
DOUGLAS: There are a lot of things I enjoyed about FANTASTIC FOUR #587, the “death of the Human Torch” issue (I’d try to avoid spoilers, but it’s obvious Marvel didn’t care that much about making it a surprise in the first place, so I can’t bring myself to care either). I really like the scenes with Sue and Namor, as melodramatic as they are, and more broadly I thought the tone of crazy adventure that’s gone terribly wrong works nicely–it’s consistent with the whole history of the series, but it also feels like this is the story where a long run of luck runs out. But there are also a few major, systemic problems with this issue.
(More on TIME.com: A Brief History of Dead Members of the Fantastic Four)
One is that Jonathan Hickman basically just pitches us head-first into the story–there’s a bit of text on the recap page, but it’s not particularly clear why any of these characters are where they are, what the situations they’re facing are, and so on. (I’ve actually read bits and pieces of Hickman’s run, and there’s still a lot I wasn’t clear on.) That’s acceptable, if less than optimal, in the context of a typical part five of a six-issue serial. It’s a real problem for an issue like this that a whole lot of people (like me) who don’t normally buy Fantastic Four are going to be picking up: there’s a bunch of what looks like dramatic resolution in this issue, but if I don’t understand its context, all that drama is badly muffled.
The bigger difficulty with what Hickman’s doing here is that the “killing off the long-established superhero” trick stopped working in the ’90s (the last time anyone even sort of got away with it was Superman, whose “death” is explicitly recalled by the black polybag here). Hickman’s been talking in interviews about how of course everyone knows there’s a revolving door to the afterlife in superhero comics, he just hopes it’s an emotionally powerful beat. Well, no: it can’t be, because we already know how it’s going to resolve, and can take a very good guess at when. Fifty years of Fantastic Four + big round number due in just over a year = guess who’s coming back then.
There’s also the problem that the “someone has to stay behind” setup takes some severe plot contortions to establish–and Johnny grabbing Ben and throwing him through the portal is an uncharacteristically weak bit of visual storytelling from Steve Epting for one of the most crucial moments of the story. (It took me a little while to figure out that that was what was happening.)
(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: Iron Man #500, Supergirl and Wolverine/Jubilee)
GRAEME: Here’s my biggest problem with this issue: For all the hype, no one actually dies. It’s clear that Johnny isn’t dead, if only because – Hi! FF #600 is only a year away – but Hickman doesn’t even try and establish his death here. We’re told that the odds are against him and it’s his “Last Stand,” but what we’re actually given is him about to have a fight, and then the issue ends. More than anything, it reminds me of a plot beat from Syfy’s Stargate Universe series, where a character is similarly abandoned with aliens, only to come back later basically saying “Hey, they’re not such bad guys.” I fully expect the same thing to happen here. There’s a complete lack of… event, perhaps? importance? to the end of the issue. It’s underplayed and melodramatic all at once, and incredibly unsatisfying to me as a reader. It’s as if Hickman is so sure that his audience knows that Johnny will be back – although I’m fairly sure he’ll return as “Jonathan Storm” or “John Storm,” to denote a new maturity and ensure that this issue WAS the last stand of “Johnny” – that he didn’t really try to make it convincing in the slightest.
DOUGLAS: I suspect you’re right about the new name–Ben calling him “John” at the end was probably the tipoff for that. Hickman does love his foreshadowing.