"Fantastic Four" #645 is a quick recap and power-check away from being a totally perfect issue of this series. With the pieces present in this issue, including a thirty-five-page lead story by James Robinson and Leonard Kirk, this near-perfect comic book provides a wonderfully organic, most satisfying conclusion for the adventures of Marvel's First Family.
Whether the conclusion of this series is the result of an alleged feud for film rights or a just a part of the mega-epic "Secret Wars" saga, Robinson finishes the story in the most organic manner possible, giving each of the Fantastic Four and almost every single ally of theirs a chance to shine, a line to say or a panel to swing through. Naturally, Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and Thing get the majority of the spotlight, but it's the moments where Robinson gives Sleepwalker a chance to save Franklin's bacon or Namor the opportunity to rush to Sue Richards' aid that help stress the importance of the Marvel Universe to the Fantastic Four and vice versa.
Leonard Kirk does his part to bring the entirety of the Marvel Universe to bear as well. Cut-tos and cameos of Captain Britain and MI13, Alpha Flight and even Agents of Atlas are treated with just as much loving care and consideration as Ben, Johnny, Reed and Sue. Kirk fills the backgrounds with details and completes Robinson's story, each creator feeding the other and maximizing the strengths of the whole. While there are many dynamic moments in Robinson's script that some artists would have transformed into moneyshot splash pages, Kirk manages to make every panel a rich, deep piece of art, holding splash pages in reserve for the truly powerful, pivotal story beats. Karl Kesel and Scott Hanna team up to ink Kirk's work, with Hanna's inks having a heavier line that makes a nice visual throwback to Kirby's tenure with the Four.
Jesus Aburtov's rich, vibrant colors open the lead story powerfully and provide a nice template for Israel Silva to follow. Silva adds more texture to his colors, but only just enough. Ben Grimm's rocky hide is a subtle shade compared to Aburtov's work but, quite honestly, the pair meld nicely to round out the art in this comic. Letterer Clayton Cowles has his work cut out for him, as this comic is packed with intellectuals who have rationale to explain and theories to debunk. There's also plenty of clobberin' and a healthy range of other voices to provide visual diversity in the dialogue.
Right up to the final page of the burning four flaming in the sky over Manhattan, Robinson, Kirk, Kesel, Hanna, Aburtov, Silva and Cowles collaborate in a model for every comic book team. There is not a single weak panel or concept in this lead story, and the pieces that follow to fill out the giant-sized issue only add more emotional resonance and invite the reader to further reflect on the end of an era.
Karl Kesel writes a tale of Johnny Storm rekindling his Human Torch abilities, providing a fun (albeit quick) fight with Boomerang and a soul-searching conversation with an old flame (no pun intended). The five pages, drawn by Joe Bennett and inked by Marcio Loerzer, are tightly gridded and present a fun throwback appearance with Joe Sinnott-like art. Nolan Woodard runs a smart range of color, filled with fiery reds and yellows, but balanced as the story proceeds to the final panel.
Louise Simonson writes a heartwarming four-page story to follow that as Sue Richards finds herself comforting Franklin in the wake of recent events. Simonson fills these four pages with the love of a parent and the uncertainty of a child, connecting the two as David Marquez illustrates how giving comfort can provide comfort. Justin Ponsor keeps the emotions tight and the mood cool with rich blue tones in this story and Cowles is finally given a set of easy pages.
Tom DeFalco checks in with Ben Grimm, the idol a' millions, as the rocky strongman is tasked with cleaning up the residue from the lead story's epic battle. Drawn by Tom Grummett, this five-page tale gives readers a nice epilogue for the Thing. It also serves as a fine sample that, should Ben Grimm find his way into another solo series, shows how Grummett, inker Tom Palmer and colorist Frank D'Armata should be on the short list for the creative team. Cowles racks up some classic sound effects and gives readers the best parting line they could hope for from Benjamin J. Grimm.
A four-page tale, drawn in Pascal Campion's whimsical style that would be as well-suited for a Golden Book as it is for this comic, gives Reed Richards a rare opportunity to bond with his baby girl. Jeff Parker writes this tale that takes the oldest and youngest members of the Richards' family out of the city and puts them on the shore, where they can share the beauty and wonder of nature. This makes an amazingly fitting finale for "Fantastic Four" #645 and leaves the reader with the First Family enjoying life for a change.
"Fantastic Four" #645 is a beautiful conclusion to a remarkable run, both for the series and for Robinson and Kirk. The four solo tales, the editorial farewell, the two-page check-in from Willie Lumpkin and cover gallery featuring some of the most memorable creators of the series are well-conceived and strongly executed additions to a story that almost singlehandedly carries the full burden of the cover price. I'm going to miss the Fantastic Four but, thanks to the creative team of this landmark issue, I'll be able to come back to this story until the staples fall out. Truly, this is "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine."