SPOILER WARNING: The following interview discusses, in detail, the death in “Fantastic Four” #587, in stores now.
In November of 1961, the legendary Marvel Comics creative team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced readers to a special breed of super heroes in the pages of “Fantastic Four” #1. The titular characters: Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic), Sue Storm (the Invisible Girl — who would go onto marry Reed and become the Invisible Woman), her brother Johnny Storm (the Human Torch), and Ben Grimm(the Thing) had super powers and fought villains, but they weren’t your typical super team. The four characters were more of a family, and for almost fifty years, they’ve been strengthening the familial bonds between themselves by exploring and protecting the Marvel Universe. With today’s release of “Fantastic Four” #587 by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Steve Epting, tragedy struck and one of the Fantastic Four was cut down. Now, the First Family of the Marvel Universe face their toughest challenge yet — dealing with the death of a loved one. CBR News spoke with Hickman about the passing of the Human Torch, the impact it will have on Johnny Storm’s family and what it means for the remaining members of the Fantastic Four going forward.
Several months ago, readers learned that one of the “Fantastic Four” was destined to meet their untimely fate at the end of the series current arc, “Three.” While the announcement certainly caused many readers to pay closer attention than normal to the title, Hickman and his editors didn’t extinguish the Human Torch’s flame simply to bump up sales. Instead, they saw Johnny Storm’s death as an important part of the larger story they’re telling.
“When I came on the book, I had a three year plan. This was always in that plan. This gets us where I want the book to be. It’s an aggressive plot element. It’s not one that I considered lightly, but if my goal is a really engaging long-term story for the reader here at the end of what is essentially act one, I feel like this was the right move to make. I love writing Johnny, though, so I’ll miss him,” Hickman told CBR News. “One of the things I think we needed to do with “Fantastic Four” was inject some nostalgia into a setting of modernity, and one of the themes I’ve been playing with in the book is, Reed wants to make the world into what it can be. Johnny has always represented the childlike innocence of the book and all of the wonderful nostalgic qualities of childhood. Removing him elevates the conflict in the book in a way that serves the theme.”
In the early chapters of “Three,” Reed Richards and his wife Sue had duties that took them away from their headquarters and home. Reed set out with the planet devouring Galactus to investigate events that would lead to the celestial being’s death in the future, while Sue traveled to New Atlantis to help broker a peace deal between the continent’s ruler Namor and several independent undersea tribes. Due to those responsibilities, neither was there when Johnny was killed, and that’s something that will haunt them in the months to come. “They all could have been there,” Hickman said. “That’s one of the things that will be asked. What could I have done to prevent this?”
Ben Grimm may have been present when Johnny died, but he too will be tormented by the question of what he could have done to prevent Johnny’s death. Earlier in “Three” Grimm lost the super strength and rocky hide of his Thing form when he drank a serum that transformed back into a normal human for a week, so when the forces of the villainous Anti-Priest attacked the Baxter Building, Johnny was the only FF member on site with super powers.
While certainly the most experienced, Ben wasn’t the only family member present at Johnny’s death. Reed and Sue’s young children, Johnny’s niece and nephew Franklin and Valeria, were present as well and their reactions to their uncle’s death will be a large part of future “Fantastic Four” stories. “I think I’ve probably written Franklin and Val more in the book than anybody has as far as [portraying them as] main characters. I don’t see that stopping going forward. They’ve got big roles in next month’s final issue. I just think they’re two great characters and they’re a lot of fun. If I have an opportunity to do a whole lot more with them, I would love to,” Hickman said. “Val has, hands down, my favorite scene in the next issue. Her little bit in #588 is awesome. Franklin’s reaction to Johnny’s death is slightly predictable. Val’s is definitely less so. She kind of steals the spotlight next issue.”
“Fantastic Four” #588, the series’ final issue hitting stores February 23, is meant to serve as a good bye to the Human Torch as well as the idea of the Fantastic Four. “In this issue, everyone is struggling with Johnny’s death. They’re family. That’s one of the reasons [we killed Johnny]. It creates even more tension within the family dynamic,” Hickman said. “Regardless of the situations that the group has found themselves in my run so far, they’ve remained a happy, loving family for the most part. Regardless of the external circumstances, they’ve had solidarity, but this is the kind of thing that can cause a schism within that.
“Issue 588 is extra-sized, so there’s a main story and a back-up, both written by me,” Hickman continued. “Mark Brooks is drawing the back-up and did a fantastic job with it. The main story is by Nick Dragotta. It’s primarily a silent issue and it covers the next month in the lives of the Fantastic Four and all the ancillary characters surrounding them. He did a phenomenal job. It’s a very beautiful book. He should be extremely proud of it. I’m proud of him for the work he did!”
In issue #588, the Fantastic Four will be joined in their grief over Johnny’s death by a hero who was one of his best friends and, in many ways, an extended member of their family: Spider-Man. Readers will also see more of Spidey’s reaction to his friend’s death in March’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #657 by writer Dan Slott and artists Marcos Martin and Humberto Ramos, which ties into the aftermath of “Three.”
“One of the pluses of what we’re doing right now with the FF and Spider-Man is that we’re getting to work with the Spider-Man office, and I’m getting to work with Dan, who is super energetic and always bringing 150% to something,” Hickman stated. “I don’t even know how he generates that kind of internal energy. Working with Dan on stuff is always really, really cool. He’s got great ideas, so it’s a lot of fun.”
And it won’t just be heroes that play an active role in the aftermath of the Human Torch’s death. In “Fantastic Four” #583, the opening chapter of “Three,” Hickman hinted that the team’s arch enemy, Doctor Doom, would have a part of his own to play in coming events. “We’ve intentionally not written a whole lot of Doom in the book so far. While the next issue is the last issue of ‘Fantastic Four,’ Doom is in a good chunk of it,” Hickman revealed. “I’m sure wherever these characters end up going forward and whatever form that takes, Doom is going to be a huge part of that.”
With “Fantastic Four” #588 being the final issue of the long-lived series, many fans are wondering what’s next for the surviving characters. The new “FF” series by Hickman and Epting which launches in March might offer clues, but neither Hickman or Marvel could comment about the mysterious series at this time.
Hickman could confirm, however, that he is happy to be collaborating with Steve Epting again, saying that Epting’s art is a major reason why the “Three” story as a whole turned out the way it did. “‘Three’ was part of my original plan for ‘Fantastic Four.’ The storyline changed a bit when Steve was brought on board. I think the book has a kind of scope and scale that the story I was telling maybe wasn’t missing, but wasn’t being delivered in the stunningly awesome way that Steve is bringing it every month. I think he and [colorist] Paul [Mounts] together are producing one of the best looking books out there,” Hickman remarked. “That’s our business. It doesn’t matter how well I write it if the book isn’t visually stunning and eye catching. What I’m doing isn’t pointless, but it is less relevant and I’m just so incredibly thankful that those guys are the ones telling the story because this thing felt epic and it certainly looked that way as well. I’m extremely proud of the work that everybody put in on this thing.”
With his penultimate “Fantastic Four” issue finally in stores, Hickman has become reflective about his run on the series which began in 2009. “I’m really, really, thankful that I’m getting to write the book. It wasn’t a book that I dreamed about writing whenever I was trying to break into the business, but my editor Tom Brevoort thought that I would be a good fit,” the writer said. “Man was he right, because this is easily the most personal stuff that I’ve ever done. I’m very excited about the future of this franchise and the future of these characters.”