Writer: Mark Waid
Artists: Mike Wieringo (p), Karl Kesel (i)
As Reed is confronted by the knowledge that his efforts to save Ben are keeping his friend from entering Heaven, we see this knowledge acts to further drive the team apart, but when Ben uncovers the truth about why he can't get past the barrier locking his entry into Heaven, we see he's able to pull the fractured team back together. We then see the reunited team embark on a journey through the Gates of Heaven itself, where they make a fantastic discovery about what waits for them on the other side.
The big surprise in the final pages of this issue is sure to leave most readers quite pleased as it's about as perfect a solution to the question of what would the Fantastic Four encounter as one could ever hope for. The encounter itself is also a well crafted exercise that manages to resolve one problem that I must admit I never quite warmed to, and by the end of this issue everything in the Fantastic Four's life seems somewhat brighter as we see the damage that was done to the team by Doctor Doom's recent attacks has been effectively repaired. Now there is still the issue of the team having lost the trust of the general public, but this issue certainly has the team back on an upward swing as they are back together, and the damage that was done to their relationships with each other seems to be on the mend, which was far more worrisome than any of elements that were playing out outside the group. In fact the removal of the one element that I was having difficulty embracing is almost symbolic of the entire experience and the last panel of the issue was more powerful than I expected it to be as there is something rather comforting about the knowledge that no atter what happens to the team in the future they are guaranteed the one thing that all heroes hope for. This issue also delivers some wonderful character moments, like the scene where Ben makes his choice and in doing so he brings Reed back from the brink. There's also a perfect Reed Richards moment where everything looks like it's been resolves and we see Reed's attention is instantly drawn to the mystery door and the answers that might lie on its other side.
Mike Wieringo has a style that at times is a bit too cartoonish, that some of the more powerful emotional moments don't pack as much punch as they should (e.g. the scene where Johnny lashes out at Ben for giving up). However, there are also moments where I couldn't be happier with the art, as it perfectly reflects the sense of joy when Ben decides to come back with the others, and Reed's look of curiosity as he considers the door also manages to instantly captured the character's inability to pass by an opportunity to expand his knowledge. The more impressive visual moments are also well presented, like the page where the gates of heaven open, and the fantastic Four leap into the unknown. In fact while the heavenly journey looks to be largely computer generated effects, I have to say it's a wonderfully visual presentation of the fantastic quality of the voyage. The art also manages to capture the sense of wonder of that final destination in spite of the rather mundane quality of the environment where this encounter is taking place.
I know this is going to sound like I don't appreciate the nod of the head that Mark Waid delivers with the big surprise that the Fantastic Four encounter behind that final door, but I do have to mention that at least one member of the Fantastic Four should have acknowledged that they recognized this element of the story, as it's made numerous appearance in the pages of their title, and was shown to be interacting with members of the Fantastic Four numerous times. Now it's a nice touch and I'm sure join most readers in applauding Mark Waid for delivering the most effective presentation of what the team found behind that final door that one could really have hoped for, and one of the reasons that I'm trying to be so evasive in my delivery of this compliant is that it's a very clever surprise that I'm certain will catch most readers off guard, but I rather enjoyed the element of the Marvel Universe that this issue ignores, and as such I was a bit disappointed to see it wasn't even acknowledged. Still, I guess doing so would've lessened the role that this element played in the bigger picture of the Fantastic Four's life, so perhaps it's for the best that that Mark Waid played it straight. I also have to say I was a bit disappointed that Ben's brother didn't make more of an issue when it became clear that Ben had decided to go back, as the character's role in the story before Ben made his decision to go back was to act as the argument for why he should stay, but after Ben makes his choice the character makes no effort to convince him it's a mistake, or even express regret over the choice.
The King Of Kings:
My only quibble with the issue is regarding a minor bit of continuity that I can understand why Mark Waid ignored it, so I have to say I couldn't be more pleased by the big ending Mark Waid offered up to this arc. The Fantastic Four traveled to Heaven, and they managed to have a pretty exciting time of it, as the discover the place isn't all angels floating around on clouds playing harps, and what's more there's not a single elf to be found. The issue also manages to repair the damage that was done to the team, as the strength of the relationships between these four characters are perfectly spelled out, and the last panel of this issue acts a the perfect final note to put on the fact that of all the teams in the Marvel Universe, this is the one that deserves a moment like this. The issue is all about rewarding the longtime readers like myself as Mark Waid demonstrates in this issue that he understands the idea that these four characters belong together, and nothing, not even death itself can keep them from arriving at that happy ending. Plus, I have to say Reed's answer to God's offer to stay in Heaven is a great summation of why the Fantastic Four exist.
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