Writer: Mark Waid
Artists: Mike Wieringo (p), Karl Kesel (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Unable to save Ben's life, we see Reed seals himself away in his lab while the rest of the Fantastic Four struggle to deal with the realities of their situation. With their fortunes depleted and the public believing the worst about them, we see the Fantastic Four on the verge of falling apart. However, Reed comes up with a plan that brings them all back together, as they embark on a fantastic mission to bring Ben back to life.
I have to give this book full marks as it's not often that a writer is willing to take a book so far away from it's established status quo, and this in turn leaves readers like myself casting a wary eye at the next issue as one can never be sure what Mark Waid is going to spring on us next. I mean the heart of the team is dead, the group is penniless, and publicly ostracized. Heck, this issue suggests that the damage is far deeper, as Johnny blames Reed for Ben's death, while Sue has decided it would be best if she move in with Alicia because Reed has withdrawn into his work, and has effective cut her out of his life. Of course a fractured team is only interesting for so long, and after taking us right to the edge where we have come to believe there's no way the team will be able to get back together, Reed steps in with his cooler than heck statement, that not only reassembles the team, but in the grand tradition of the Fantastic Four we see the team is about to venture once again to a place where no one has gone before (at least not while they were living). One has to be overjoyed that Marvel and Mark Waid settled their differences, as the book truly looks to be on the verge of entering one of its creative high-points, and one shudders to think that we were almost cheated out of it by clashing egos. There's also a pretty solid little moment where Sue expresses her discomfort at Reed's willingness to treat this latest voyage as yet another adventure.
Mike Wieringo is for the most part a highly skilled artist who looks to be producing the best work of his entire career on this book. He's really come into his own as while this issue doesn't have a great deal of action, he does a wonderful job conveying the desperation on Reed's face as he works to save Ben's life in the opening pages, and there's also a wonderful little scene where the light bulb goes on over Reed's head as he comes up with a way to reach Ben. There's also some nice work on the scenes where we see Johnny's imagination is clashing with the reality of his situation, as his fantasies are bright and colorful, while the reality is rather bleak, and colorless. There's also a touching little moment where we look in on Alicia, with her grief over Ben's death, and there's a great reveal shot when we see Reed shows Johnny and Sue what's behind the big metal door. One also has to feel a genuine sense of excitement over the fact that next issue Mike Wieringo is going to be called upon to deliver the other side, and I do believe this will be his first opportunity to really cut loose, and deliver another dimensional plane.
I don't really have that much to fill up this column as I enjoyed the heck out of this issue, but in an effort to be fair I'll make the same effort that I extend to saying something good about a book that I despised, to saying something negative about this near perfect issue. I guess I'm a little surprised by how quickly this book shows the public turning against the Fantastic Four, as when one looks at the Fantastic Four's unsanctioned invasion of Latveria, one has to think that the reporters would've descended on Latveria in a bid to dig up some more dirt on the team, and they would've quickly discovered that the people had actually come to embrace the rule of the Fantastic Four. One also has to openly wonder why Reed or Sue hasn't attempted some measure of damage control, as if the motives for their activities was made know to the public, I seriously doubt most of them would be quite so quick to condemn the team. Now I realize that it's more dramatic to have the team treated with utter disdain by the public, but the simple fact of the matter is that most of this negative vibe is the direct result of the public not being treated to the whole story, and given the media would be falling all over themselves for a sit-down interview with the Fantastic Four, I am having a little difficulty understanding why they've allowed the situation to turn so ugly. Sure it works from a dramatic standpoint, but it does leave one a bit curious.
Knock, Knock, Knocking On Heaven's Door:
This is the type of issue that creates new fans and I actively encourage comic fans who have never picked up an issue of this series to make this issue your first kick at the can (though given this is a review of a Fantastic Four issue, I highly doubt this advice is going to reach these readers). In any event this is exactly the type of story that clearly defines the elements that separate the Fantastic Four from all the other team books on the stands, as they truly are a family, and as such when the team is on the skids, one is left truly concerned that this might very well be the end of the team. There's also the very real sense that the Fantastic Four are a group that finds their own adventures, and that while they will battle super-villains, more often that not the dangers they face are ones they encounter during their travels. Plus, one can't help but be impressed by the almost epic scope of the final pages of this issue, as the team prepares to travel to the other side to bring Ben back from the dead. One is also left to wonder if Ben would be willing to come back, as his life as a monster wasn't exactly peaches and cream.
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