The “New Defenders” arc ended with a spectacular finish, and though this issue seems, at first, to indicate that the Fantastic Four will get to take a breather between epic events, this is a Mark Millar comic. Bad stuff is bound to happen before long.
And that’s exactly what “Fantastic Four” #563 sets up: bad, bad stuff — coming soon.
Ironically, it sets it up by establishing that the Thing is happy. He has just proposed to his schoolteacher girlfriend, and though a catapulted-from-the-future version of his best friend’s wife was just brutally murdered in the last arc, the Thing is living the dream: in love, happy, celebratory.
We know that can’t possibly last. Ben Grimm has a track record with heartbreak and misery. And his fiancee seems so lovely and innocent that we can only imagine the horrors Mark Millar has in store for her. She doesn’t even seem to understand how much her life will change — has changed — alongside the Thing. She doesn’t realize how soon she’ll be playing the role of the typical comic book love interest: eternal victim.
But the reader knows. And Sue Storm knows, too, and tells her as much when they’re visiting the playground with the children.
A more direct kind of darkness looms in this issue as well, building from what Dr. Doom said in the previous issue — something about his “Masters,” the ones he learned everything from. Doom apparently wasn’t messing with Reed Richard’s head when he warned him about the mysterious Masters, because we see a bit of them in this comic, and the destruction they’ve caused already is practically unimaginable. Millar has been escalating the level of the conflict as his run on this title has progressed, from the challenge of Nu-Earth through the battle with the New Defenders and Doom himself. To take it to the next level, he needs to bring forth a near-“Crisis” event, and that’s what seems to be set up here.
Worlds will live. Worlds will die.
And it will all be drawn by Bryan Hitch.
The danger here is that Millar is pushing things too far — his Johnny Storm is already far too sleazy for his own good, and the engagement of Ben Grimm has happened too quickly — and the excessive march of spectacle will just become so much noise and not enough meaning. But Millar is at his best with spectacle, and though the small moments, and even individual issues, may not always work, he has a habit of creating a sense of genuine astonishment by the time he’s done.
This comic promises something major. Now we have to see if Millar can make it work.