WARNING: this review contains critical spoilers to the finale of "Three." Do not read any further unless you wish to be spoiled, and if you do, please do not write me later asking why I gave away the ending. This is me, telling you what you are about to read.
So, I'm pretty sure I'm the first person on Earth who bought "Fantastic Four" #587. At 8 AM, Eastern Standard Time, I ended up the first person in line at Midtown Comics' downtown branch. This means I was maybe the first person ever to read the issue and, since I managed to avoid the early morning onslaught of spoilers (some of them from Marvel themselves, nice one), the first person to read the book, and experience it, as it was narratively intended.
I genuinely hope that if you're reading this, you've already read your copy, I'll just get that out of the way first. Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting have told this story remarkably well and its impact isn't just diluted by knowing what's about to happen -- I'd imagine it's completely demolished. So, if you still haven't heeded my initial warning, stop reading right now.
The most effective kind of tragedy is the kind that, in retrospect, seems the most inevitable. As much as Hickman set up every member of the Fantastic Four to be in the direst peril, it really could have only ever been Johnny Storm. He was the one with the strongest connections to all three of the rest of the team, dramatically. But what's so fitting about the execution here is that the focus isn't on the family he was given, a sister and a husband, but the one he made himself.
Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm are probably the prototypical Love To Hate Each Other duo, as far as comics go. Johnny's been picking on Ben for almost half a century, so it's more than fitting that Johnny sacrifices himself in Ben's place. It's even more fitting that, in the final moments, Ben reverts back to his original form, one that could have presumably protected him from what ends up killing the Human Torch. The way the pieces all fall together in the end make for a remarkable sequence, one that such a significant death deserves, and the final line of the issue, spoken by Ben Grimm, is one of the most memorable I've read in a very long time.
A lot has been and probably will be written about how impermanent death is in superhero comics. Indeed, it's been heavily implied by editorial and creative people involved with the book that Johnny will probably be back. But I find it a little hard to believe to that considering the stuff that comics usually get up to (even in this issue, with Galactus punching a planet to death and a woman storing the consciousness of every person on that planet in her brain) this is somehow the straw that breaks the plausibility camel's back. Sure, Johnny will eventually return from the grave, maybe even before next year, but that doesn't dilute the weight of what Hickman and Epting created in the closing scenes of this issue. Like so many other moments in "Fantastic Four," it's about the characters. Ben doesn't expect to ever see Johnny Storm again (even though Val has already promised Johnny they'll be back for him), and Johnny is certain this is the last thing he'll ever do. So what if the cynical parts of a readership know better? Stories aren't told in a vacuum, sure, but they can exist on their own. "Fantastic Four" #587 is a powerful story, today, now, no matter what ends up happening.
Steve Epting's art, it should be noted, does a marvelous job at retaining a human scale to all the absolute craziness throughout this issue, in the end of it, as well is the beginning and middle. There are a few moments where a time crunch is a bit visually apparent and the art isn't as strong as it might be, but overall, it's excellent work and delivers where it needs to, on a silent last page, with Epting's work carrying all the storytelling and emotional weight.
One thing I should note is, the polybag this issue comes in is cut-rate garbage. Remember that nice, easy to tear bag that the Death of Superman came in? Or "X-Force" #1? Or even "X-Cutioner's Song?" Yeah, you'll be pining for one of those bad boys while you're struggling to rip this thing open on the train. It's a shame, because the Alan Davis cover underneath is some of his best work ever.
It's kind of unfortunate that due to marketing or hype or just general bagged-ness, this issue will inevitably end up lumped together with editorially driven smash-and-grabs engineered just to sell a few more copies of a book that no one might have paid attention to otherwise. This issue has been built to since the beginning of Hickman's work on the series, its drama and significance is earned, and in no way cheap. At its core is not some ploy dreamed up simply to garner headlines, but rather a final moment between two friends that's bolstered by over fifty years of the stories that have come before it.
It's a story worthy of the attention it's getting, but for all the right reasons.