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And why wouldn’t any reader of the series expect them to do any differently? They didn’t tell everyone the day before Captain America died that he was going to be taking a lethal bullet. They didn’t tell everyone the day before Spider-man revealed his identity to the public forever changing the course of the character (only to have the reset button hit any ways). So why did Marvel feel that after a hugely successfully run on Fantastic Four, did they need to spill the beans on Johnny Storm's death?
Let me speak from a personal stand point on how upsetting this was for me to find out the day before the issue was released. Most comic readers go through phases. After all it’s a very expensive hobby if you’re going to read more than a few core titles every month. I was going through a phase where I simply wasn’t buying comics. Event after, event had burned me out to the point that I didn’t care what the status quo was for the “Big Two” and Indie’s were offering nothing but superhero knock offs.
Then Hickman took over on Fantastic Four and everything changed. Previously Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch had been on the book and like most people I had given up on their run by the sixth issue. It was the issue that had four to five two page spreads of art because the writer and artist were clearly stretching their script to pad the page count. A lot of writers will say that the Fantastic Four is one of the hardest books to write for because they’ve done everything and been everywhere. Also there’s the challenge of changing the family dynamic which is a powder-key waiting to explode.
Hickman stepped in and basically said, “Screw what just happened, none of it matters.” And frankly none of it did matter. I could tell you that Johnny slept with a super-villain during Millar’s run and that’s about it and he’s a “top-tier” writer. With Hickman I could fill pages of moments that were either heart-felt, amazing or simply put… Fantastic. If you can read the issue of Ben Grimm transferring back into his human form with out getting teary eyed then you are some sort of robot here to destroy us. That issue has literally dozes of moments that make it amazing and beautiful to read.
Let’s again go back to the fact that I wasn’t buying comics, but then Hickman took over on Fantastic Four. I can’t say that I was there for the first issue of his run or even the third, but finally I did make it into a comic shop and picked up an issue. Not only was it completely accessible for someone that hadn’t read the previous issues, but it was addictive. I quickly bought all of the back issues of his run until I was caught up on the series. It became the book that brought me once more into the world of comics.
The monthly taglines alone became my favorite thing to look forward to with highlights such as, “The cost of solving everything… is everything!” and “All hope lies in Doom!” These weren’t just loglines for the issue, they were in the issue. They were bits of dialog taken out of context and given to the audience to entice them into finding out what was going to unfold. Hickman not only returned Marvel’s first family back to stardom, but made them relevant where all others had failed since Mark Waid’s departure from the title.
The brilliance of Hickman’s story was that it was mostly comprised of one-shots that could be read alone and didn’t rely on the reader having knowledge of the previous issue. But it was just that they were accessible one-shots… they were all feeding into a larger story that was slowly pulling back the veil to reveal the true story. Hickman doesn’t write in six issue story arc’s that have become the standard in comics today. Instead he writes as many issues as it takes to tell a story and builds upon each story until a much larger story is presented before the readers eyes.
Simply put he has been building towards the death of Johnny Storm for seventeen issues, only to have Marvel pull the rug out from underneath him and the readers. Which puts me in a very difficult position: Part of me still can’t wait to read the issue because I was already looking forward to it for reasons that should be obvious by now. But on the other hand I hate what Marvel did and want to boycott the issue, because otherwise I’m saying it’s okay for Marvel to ruin a year and a half worth of stories leading up to a major event.
Today Johnny Storm dies and it’s sure to be great and worthwhile because of the creative team handling it. But today Marvel also killed the fans anticipation for a series they were following in favor of national coverage, bloated sales figures and hype. After all, it’s worked in the past why not again? So today you have to make the decision to either buy a great issue and say, “I don’t care” or take a stand and say, “It’s not cool that you did this Marvel.” Regardless of your choice still ask yourself why in an age when every form of entertainment is so easily spoiled, why is a company beating everyone else to the punch?