By Jeff Jensen
January 25, 2011 at 06:41 PM EST

Image Credit: Marvel EntertainmentLast week, I posted my disdain for the comic book industry’s penchant for killing iconic superheroes for the sake of spurring sales and media attention, especially when those deaths don’t stick and are reversed by equally ballyhooed resurrection stories. The latest culprit: Marvel Comics, which not long ago murdered/revived Captain America, today publishes Fantastic Four #587, which will bump off a member of the crime-fighting quartet. Mr. Fantastic? Invisible Woman? The Thing? The Human Torch? The answer is for sale — sealed in plastic (no free peeks!) — at a comic book store near you…or available on the Web, via news outlets who’ve decided to spoil the news. If you wish to be spoiled, I direct you to the very cool Geoff Boucher of The Los Angeles Times, who has an interview with the comic’s writer, Jonathan Hickman.

In my previous post, I stated that I wouldn’t be buying Fantastic Four #587 because my history with meaningless superhero death tells me that this death, too, will be proven irrelevant when the inevitable “Return Of Dead Man/Woman In Tights Guy You Cried Over…” story hits. However, I acknowledged that I had not been reading the current run of Fantastic Four comics. I allowed for the possibility that I was being somewhat unfair in blasting this latest iteration of comic book superhero deathsploitation because I wasn’t considering said iteration within its creative context.

After posting those sentiments, I found myself thinking a lot about the whole “Am I being unfair?” thing, especially given my great admiration for Hickman’s previous works, including The Nightly News and Pax Romana. So, yesterday, I decided to do the following: Buy every single back issue of Hickman’s Fantastic Four run, read them in a single day, and then revisit my Fantastic Four #587 boycott. I regret to report that I have not yet finished reading everything I bought — Oscar duty got in my way. I must also report that it doesn’t really matter, because I’ve read enough to know I was wrong. Hickman’s Fantastic Four is really fun, far-out, deep-feeling stuff, marked by wild sci-fi ideas, intricate storytelling, and one of the best characterizations of elastic-limbed genius Reed Richards that I’ve ever read.

He had me at hello – which is to say, his first storyline, entitled “Solve Everything,” in which egghead Reed takes on the challenge of tackling the 100 biggest mysteries/concerns of the cosmos (and more), and finds the means and resources to do just that, but also learns the cost. It’s very Hickmanesque, albeit expressed in the argot of superhero comics; the writer, way smart about history, religion, science, and media, likes to explore the themes of change and stasis, progress and regression, idealism and folly.

The stories that follow range from solid to exceptional, the weaker moments the result of shaky art and page limitations. Like I said, I’m still playing catch-up, but I peeked ahead to the first couple issues of the current storyline, “Three,” and it’s clear that the new issue’s crassly touted character assassination is the work of a thoughtful vision.  Hickman’s Fantastic Four stories aren’t as political and subversive as Pax Romana and The Nightly News, but they’re entertaining and punchy and even possess a knowing humor/intelligence about the medium. In fact, I even find myself wondering if he’s going to somehow make the comic culture’s wariness/skepticism/cynicism about superhero deaths work for him and his story as he moves past “Three” and its event snuffing. This may actually prove to be the rare superhero death that means something, if even in a sly, ironic way. We’ll see. Regardless: While I remain cranky about death stunts in superhero comics, and will most likely remain knee-jerk cynical about the practice, count me as a new reader of the Fantastic Four (now Three) – one who is also burping up a few crow feathers today.

How about you, comic book fans? What do you think of Hickman’s Fantastic Four run and today’s big death?

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