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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 01/24/2011

'Fantastic Four'-Shadowing: How this week's much-heralded death will go down

By Michael Cavna

fantasticfinal.jpg (Image: courtesy of Marvel Entertainment)

It will happen this way:

You may be logging on early Tuesday and suddenly find it trending on Twitter or popping up as a texted news alert. There has been a death in the family, and some retailer or buyer -- perhaps in Europe, some lad in Leeds or London who rose at dawn to get the first Greenwich-time crack -- will rip open a "death-bagged" issue of "Fantastic Four No. 587" that shipped early, and trumpet the blaring news to the interwebs.


And before you've even brewed your morning coffee, the beans will have been spilled.

Comics and entertainment blogs the world over -- perhaps even one or two out of Washington, D.C. -- will leap with Galactus-like zeal on the much-anticipated announcement: Marvel has yet again pulled the RIP cord and killed off a superhero. The Fantastic Four will now number only Three, and thanks to writer Jonathan Hickman, the newly dead member will be...

Well, he or she will be a cosmic-radiated hero who surely retains the superpower of narrative reincarnation. The deceased may not be back today, maybe not tomorrow, but some year soon, and for the rest of our lives. It's a franchise necessity -- and that's the catch.

Because the rub is: Will you, the fan, deeply care that (at least) one of Reed Richards's brood has been offed, knowing full well it's not the big goodbye but rather just until next time?

A clean half-century after Stan Lee and Jack Kirby birthed the Fantastic Four in 1961, we have faith in certain unshakeable truths that -- in comic-book land -- we hold to be shelf-evident. One is that the flesh-and-blood members of this foursome -- Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing -- will squabble and bicker and, as Lee has famously said, be "heroes with hangups."

Another iron-clad expectation is that when ostensibly iced, they can't stay away forever. Both Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) and Sue Storm (Invisible Woman) have notably been thought to have kicked the cosmic bucket, and 2004 brought the "Death of Ben Grimm" arc. (Which is why, were we a betting comic fan, we'd guess that the gifted Hickman would extinguish Johnny Storm/Human Torch -- the fire-stander who's literally been busy "enjoying every sandwich," metaphorically or no. Not a spoiler -- just a harebrained wager.)


Ultimately, though, we'll do our best not to dwell on thoughts of eventual character resurrection. We are meant to enjoy Hickman and artist Steve Epting's "Three" storyline as a path to March's new "FF" beginning. (As Hickman has coyly said: After Issue No. 588, "there is no more Fantastic Four.")

So as with the Steve Rogers death, Marvel's long-announced "FF" death for "587" will likely draw a parade of hotly punctuated headlines and a sales spike -- and then the circus will move on. Then the real work begins. Marvel must begin delivering "Fantastic Three" stories (even if a surrogate superhero -- or three -- steps forward) that provide a narrative payoff for this highly heralded kill-off.

The talented Hickman's got his post-"event" work cut out for him: Soon down to three, can he continue to step fantastically to the fore?

By Michael Cavna  | January 24, 2011; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Superheroes, The Comic Book  | Tags:  Fantastic Four, Jonathan Hickman, Marvel Comics, Steve Epting  
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"Will you, the fan, deeply care that (at least) one of Reed Richards's brood has been offed, knowing full well it's not the big goodbye but rather just until next time?"


Posted by: Mrhode | January 24, 2011 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Because the death card is used only when sales falter and when writers have no experience with dealing with these characters. John Byrne's run of the FF was considered one of the best and while he replaced the Thing with the She-Hulk, he did not pull out the death card. The death card is an overused tool for writers who cannot handle the story. Its a crock. After nearly 60 years of the FF, now Marvel thinks its cool to reboot?
Shame on you Marvel..stop with the schlock and start with REAL STORY TELLING. Yuo acn do that and increase sales WITHOUT killing a member of the FF off.
Anything for the mighty dollar and their Disney Masters.

Posted by: telestrike | January 24, 2011 7:27 PM | Report abuse

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