Why Fantastic Four’s [SPOILER] Had To Be the One to Die
As Marvel's made absolutely sure everyone within shouting distance knows, a member of the Fantastic Four is dying today in Fantastic Four #587. Who lives? Who dies? SPOILER ALERT: We'll tell you who's marked for death after the cut, and also catch you up on the recent adventures of the Fantastic Four up through issue #586.A quick catchup:
Earth: Ben Grimm a.k.a. The Thing has been given a formula, developed by the children of the Future Foundation (Reed's think tank of children), that will revert him, uncontrollably, to human for a week every year. It was during this week that the Anti-Priest of the Negative Zone attacked the Baxter Building, opening the portal to the Negative Zone and allowing the foot soldiers of Annihilus access to the First Family's most guarded secrets and treasures.
Wind: Susan Storm-Richards a.k.a. The Invisible Woman was chosen to speak for mankind when dealing with the Old Kings of Atlantis. When negotiating a treaty between them and King Namor of the current Atlantis, Namor basically loses his cool and stabs one of the Old Kings right through the chest, declaring "IMPERIUS REX!", seemingly because he is a dick. Susan is forced to spend all of her energy meditating while erecting a forcefield around the meeting chamber to prevent Namor's troops from killing every Old King of Atlantis; meanwhile, Namor warns Susan that the Old Kings mean to kill her, as they are the predators and bottom-feeders of Atlantean life, long ago shunned and spoken of only in legends.
Water: Reed Richards a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic is travelling with Galactus and the Silver Surfer, alongside Ted Castle and Alyssa Moy, the architects of Nu-World, to that artificial planet in order to show Galactus why his future self had to die (the Surfer discovered the corpse of future-Galactus buried under Old Earth). Nu-World is populated by the refugees of a future where the sun has gone out, so they all tempted Galactus to Earth, bum-rushed him with something like a thousand superheroes, and used him as a battery for a big-ass time machine. Galactus is super-pissed about this, and wants Reed to save the sun -- and the Earth -- so that its inhabitants will never have to take this extreme measure. Reed realizes the only way he can do this is with the help of the Council of Inter-Dimensional Reeds, but after pledging to go back and get their help, Galactus realizes he's hungry and starts eating Nu-World anyway, requiring Reed, Ted and Alyssa to evacuate as many citizens as quickly as possible.
Fire: Johnny Storm a.k.a. The Human Torch has been Ben's chauffeur for the entire week, showing him a good time now that he's human for once, backing him up in bar fights, having brews at football games, basically being a Total Bro. With Susan off preventing fish people from killing each other and Reed off preventing the people of the future from killing God and travelling back in time so they can eat, Johnny and Ben are holding down the fort when the Cult of the Negative Zone, led by the Anti-Priest, invade the Baxter Building and endanger the lives of the entire Future Foundation.
In today/tomorrow's #587, the Human Torch is doused, presumably by a bunch of bug people from the Negative Zone. And if you look back at Hickman's run, there was really no other way this could have gone, due to one major throughline: Franklin Richards.
Johnny's character development throughout the series has been largely restricted to his interactions with the reality-rearranging rugrat, specifically the fact that Franklin frequently needles him about preferring other superheroes -- especially his longtime professional rival and good friend Spider-Man. Yet, the behavior of the Franklin Richards of the future hints at an incident that deifies Johnny in his mind forever.
Additionally, when traveling back to the future after unlocking present-Franklin's powers, Franklin moves through the timestream on the first page of issue 581 and witnesses three discrete moments in time. The first is Valeria making a deal with Doctor Doom -- an incident that occurred three issues later at the beginning of "Three." The second is Doom declaring "here, I can build" -- likely referring to him joining the Future Foundation to build some kind of device (or rebuild himself after his brain damage) -- and the third is Johnny saying "you don't wish it any more than I do," while pressing his palm at the viewer, presumably about to flame on, or protecting Franklin. This could easily be a final, heroic rejoinder to the Anti-Priest and Annihilus -- the characters he was last seen fighting in issue #586 -- before his demise.
This isn't even counting the smaller hints and clues, for instance on the cover of #583, when Johnny is depicted right over the empty grave. In issue #580, while being needled by Franklin and Leech about their wanting the toy accoutrements of every superhero but him at the toy store, he sighs to himself and the camera, "I'm never going to have kids."
Additionally, he's the only character without a future mapped -- Reed has to join the Council to save the Earth and prevent Galactus from destroying the planet to save himself. Sue is warned by future Valeria in #582 that she needs to stay strong through the upcoming dark times, so she has to make it. And killing off Ben the one week he's human a year would be way too cheap for Jonathan Hickman, not to mention his presence in New Avengers and teasers for Fear Itself.
Of course, the fact is, as much as Hickman's teased Johnny's death, he's also started providing himself multiple outs for his return. While the exact circumstances of Johnny's demise aren't yet known, the entire mantra of the Cult of the Negative Zone is that the Negative Zone can transform death to life. That's not even considering the fact that the future Franklin and Valeria, as of the end of #582, were preparing a "new future" against a wave that seems to be rewriting history; when cosmic shenanigans of this level are occurring, death and life become less fundamental forces of nature and more simply malleable characters themselves.
No matter how it ends up, though, I do hope that next time Marvel kills off a character they would be kind enough to give their readership a hope in hell of finding it out by actually reading a comic book rather then blasting it from the mainstream media the morning of the issue's already preliminary release. I really do have to wonder what the point of all those black polybags was at this juncture.