No one ever really dies in comicbooks. It’s an overused but mostly accurate cliché. Yet it’s one that, if Marvel Comics is to be believed, won’t apply on the 26th January when a founding member of the Fantastic Four dies – and stays that way.
Marvel dropped the bombshell of the major shakeup to one of comics most long-running team books by announcing that Wednesday’s issue of Fantastic Four #587 will be the penultimate issue of the book, sparking speculation that from issue 589, the Fantastic Four will be reduced (and renamed) to the Fantastic Three. Speaking to the Associated Press, Marvel’s executive editor Tom Brevoort said “I think we’ve given plenty of hints as to who may die — perhaps too many, in that every one of our lead characters is left in a dire, life-threatening situation the month before. So, hopefully, that will help to heighten the suspense, while preserving the surprise as to which member doesn’t make it out alive.”
He added: “We’ve been building to this story and this moment since Jonathan (Hickman) began writing the series around a year and a half ago. It’s a story that will have a transformative effect on these characters — virtually nothing will be the same after the events of this story. And that was the reason to go this route — to bring about these seismic changes to the characters and to the series.”
Another figure with the lives of the cosmic-ray enhanced foursome in his hands is Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, who said the story is part of a wider effort to not only keep readers entertained, but engaged: “The beauty of the Marvel Universe is that it is in constant change. Things are always happening, very much like life itself,” he told the Associated Press. “For us, being stagnant just means that we’re not doing our job. At the end of the day, its about characters, soap opera, dramatic events and things that keep our readers coming back for that next instalment.”
It’s working. Pre-sales on the issue are up, and the mainstream media coverage of the story has caused a resurgence of interest in the team, originally created back in 1961. The title of the current story arc, “Three”, reinforces belief that a key member of the team is on their way out, and David Gabriel, senior vice president for sales and circulation at Marvel, believes readers don’t need to brace themselves for an anti-climactic ending. “The surprises in this issue – and what comes next – constitute one of the biggest events in Marvel history.” he said.
In a move that echoes the Death of Superman arc that DC ran back in 1992, readers will have to peel open a black polybag (above) to find out who actually dies when Fantastic Four #587 is released in a few days time. Sadly for Marvel readers, it looks unlikely that FF fans will get the same kind of commemorative merchandise Superman fans did – no sombre black armband bearing FF like the one you’d find in Superman #75.
So let’s ignore the fact that (deep breath) the entire FF seemingly died before when they faced off with psychic monster Onslaught in 1996, only to be bounced to a parallel world created by Reed and Susan’s super-powered mutant son Franklin and then returned back to Earth in a blaze of glory. So here’s a Must Read look at the FF, and which of them is most likely to be in the firing line on the 26th.
Reed Richards – Mr Fantastic
Why it might be him: Reed’s done the whole “death” thing before. Everyone’s favourite stretchy guy was apparently killed at the hands of Doctor Doom not so long ago, in a very dramatic “I might be dying, but I’m taking you with me” type ending that saw both characters disappear from the comicbook scene for two years. Eventually Marvel editor Tom DeFalco brought both of them back, revealing that the whole thing was part of a devious plot by supervillain Hyperstorm. So if Reed can’t dodge this particular bullet, his borrowed time might be about to run out. Also, Reed’s been the main focus of many of the storylines drafted by series writer Jonathan Hickman – maybe all that attention and time was spent on Reed to make his loss all the more dramatic.
Why it might not be him: For many of the same reasons outlined above. Killing off a character you’ve already killed off lacks a little bit of the punch of putting another hero in the spotlight. Comicbook readers are forgiving creatures, but it would feel a little cheap for Marvel to say “no no no, he’s really dead this time. Promise.” Also, you can’t really have the Fantastic Four / Three without Mr Fantastic, can you? Reed, however, isn’t the only member of the FF to have “died” recently. That honour also belongs to…
Susan Storm Richards – Invisible Woman
Why it might be her:What better way to rip the heart out of a team than to take out the mother figure? Sue has the most direct links to all of the FF – wife to Reed, sister to Johnny, confidante to Grimm and mother to Franklin. Plus, depending on how it’s handled, the Invisible Woman quietly slipping into invisibility as she dies while the rest of the team watch helplessly could be one heck of an ending. She’s also been dabbling in dangerous political waters – literally – by trying to broker peace under the sea between Namor and the Atlanteans. That issue could explode again, with tragic consequences. Also, with Reed getting increasingly tied up with work, his grief would be all the more difficult to take when tinged with guilt over not spending more time with his wife.
Why it might not be her: A recent Mark Millar FF story dealt with the subject of Sue Storm’s death, and the impact it would have on the team. While Marvel have used “what if…?” type storylines to test the water with readers in the past, it’s unlikely that they’ll recycle that angle again so soon.
Ben Grimm – The Thing
Why it might be him: Because everyone presumes it won’t be. He’s arguably the most popular and well-developed character in the FF, and the one that would leave (literally) the biggest hole in the team. Grimm pulls double duty in the Fantastic Four and New Avengers too, so if Marvel want to shake things up, a missing hero and not one but two sets of mourning team members could make for some powerful storytelling. Oh and Marvel are putting out some rather nice Thing collections in March, and everyone knows that sales go up when the star isn’t around anymore…
Why it might not be him: Ben Grimm can be found right in the middle of pretty much all of the marketing material and teaser images for the upcoming cross-title epic Fear Itself that Marvel is rolling out in April (see below).
Unless of course, it’s a clever trick to throw readers off the scent, lure them into a false sense of security and get them to believe it’ll still be clobberin’ time in the Spring…
Johnny Storm – the Human Torch
Why it might be him: Look ahead in the Marvel publication calendar and you’ll see that the backup story for issue 588 has Spidey consoling a distraught Franklin Richards. Spidey and Johnny Storm have a fair bit of history, and it would make sense for the webhead to step in and help his old friend’s nephew come to terms with Uncle Johnny’s death. Let’s not forget too, that Pete Parker knows a thing or two about grieving for a lost uncle. The cynic in us also says that with Chris Evans now suited up for the role of Captain America after previously playing Johnny Storm, it might make life easier if those two characters don’t have to meet up in a future Marvel movie. Presuming of course that this previously mentioned Marvel movie followed comicbook timelines. Which they don’t. OK, maybe that’s not such a big deciding factor after all.
Why it might not be him: Do people really care that much about Johnny Storm? Admittedly, the writers have done some good work with the character, but readers still remember that he was just a cocky, arrogant jock of a young man – not exactly plucking at the heartstrings material to see him go. After all, who better to go out in a blaze of glory than the Human Torch?
Must Read Verdict:
Now this is the tricky bit: money where mouth is, publish and be damned. If we’re wrong, we’re wrong, but if we’re right, we’ll be bragging about this for all time. The Must Read pick for who dies in the Fantastic Four is…
Yep, we think that Marvel’s lovable walking brick wall will be the one that falls in issue 587. OK, he’s been used in upcoming marketing materials, but Marvel have been known to leak deliberately misleading material before. At one point they even ran a preview of a book on Amazon.com showing an Iron Man suit in Captain America colours – complete with shield – during furious speculation about the impending death of the Cap. Tony Stark never did get that paintjob and Cap didn’t die. Well, not on that occasion anyway. So with regret, we’re getting ready to say goodbye to the Thing. Check back soon for our review, gloating or grovelling apology – and if you’re feelling brave, let us know who you think will go below.