Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Fantastic Four #587 review

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.

9 comments:

  1. "The gala 587th issue..." indeed. Mart, you really make me grin sometimes. This is the best review of yours I've seen yet. Very cogent and even-handed, with remarks that I'm sure are very well taken. Good for you.

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  2. I shall begin the mantra...Please let him stay dead...Please let him stay dead...Please let him stay dead...

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  3. I haven't followed the FF regularly in years, used to be a big fan but I think the team suffers by being inherantly very static, nothing changes because it can't!
    I'm not sure what I'm looking for from the Fantastic Four, as I said elsewhere there are quite a number of Marvel books I was fiercly loyal to back in the day but have found very difficult to either relate to or more importantly like.
    Still, I have no idea why 'killing' a member is remotely noteworthy, worse still it has to be Johnny Storm... not being harsh here but can I ask WHO actually likes him? Folks are likely relieved it wasn't Sue, Reed or Ben!

    It would be deeply ironic if readers sent the message they were incredibly happy to see Johnny gone for good!

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  4. Does this mean She-Hulk will fill the vacancy at the Fantastic Four again?

    Better yet, let Lyra fill in instead. You hardly see her in Incredible Hulks and she could learn how to be a team player. I'm sure there are funny stories about Jen that Ben could share with Lyra...

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  5. Joe, ta for the kind words. The more, shall we say, 'dashed-off' reviews (one hour for lunch to fit in a seven-minute walk to, then from, the comic shop, a read of the book and a write-up) always seem to go down best. There's probably a lesson there ... Honestly, check out the responses to 80pp giants reviews that I sweat over. Bloody crickets in tumbleweed! :)

    Aw, Christian, I've had a soft-spot for Johnny since he had that red uniform back in the Seventies ... he was at least trying to be his own man within the team. I think, more often than not, writers view him simply as the dumb blond, when there's far more to him than that.

    Dave, maybe Johnny's departure will bring fans out of the woodwork. It can't be just me, surely?

    Gene, I wonder if there'll even be a substitute. If the new FF book is the Future Foundation, there's a whole class of kids to take up the slack. If we are to have a strong gal, bring back Thundra (isn't she Lyra's mother?) or Jen herself.

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  6. I only recently started buying FF again. Now, this happens?
    Way to boost sales, dudes. Kill a main character (how original. wish I'd thought of that) and cancel the book.
    Are they through shooting themselves in the foot or should they just reload?
    I suppose if they only kill off a major hero ever four years and bring him back, it's okay.
    I'm just waiting for someone to off Spider-Girl.

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  7. I fail to see why they didn't plan this better and turf the book at issue 600. Seriously. That would have been much more poetic.

    That said - count me in as a fan of Johnny. I was rooting for them to kill ANYBODY but him. So, I'm the one other fan that cares.

    But, then again, Kyle Rayner is my favorite GL so my comment now becomes void. Darn it!

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  8. Which Spider-Girl, Claude, the new one or the real/original/future one?

    I wonder if Marvel would get a similar sales boost were they to shrink the FF by, say, having a major fall-out among members? Or were the Thing to leave to be a full-time Avenger. Marketing is marketing, right? I suppose these scenarios wouldn't generate the same angst Jonathan Hickman is planning, though.

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  9. J-Man, I suppose Marvel want a celebration for their big number issue, rather than a wake.

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