By Jeff Jensen
Updated February 26, 2011 at 11:29 PM EST

Image Credit: Marvel EntertainmentHow do you follow up a splashy superhero death? With a funeral, of course. Or at least an issue marked by a decidedly funereal tone. Comic book creators have produced some memorably moving stories exploring superhero grief. Chris Claremont and John Byrne staged one of the medium’s finest requiem tales in X-Men #138, which had Cyclops reflecting on the history of his super-team – and ultimately resigning from it — as he tried to come to grips with the death of his true love Jean Grey. Writer/artist Frank Miller wrote two powerfully offbeat mourning stories for Daredevil after having the psychopathic assassin Bullseye skewer the blind hero’s troubled lover Elektra with her own sais: Daredevil #182, in which The Man Without Fear became obsessed with the notion that Elektra was still alive, and What If…? # 35, in which The Watcher told Matt Murdock of an alternate world where Elektra still lived.

In the wake of The Human Torch’s highly publicized (and well executed) snuffing in Fantastic Four #587, acclaimed scribe Jonathan Hickman has penned an issue full of quietly observed grief, one that marks the end of the Fantastic Four’s flagship title and sets up a new book, FF, launching next month. (We’ll see how long that lasts. Let the countdown to a new or resumed Fantastic Four title — preceded by some Marvel-wide, multi-title “Resurrection of Johnny Storm” storytelling event — begin… NOW.) “Three, Epilogue: Month of Mourning” is all pictures, no words, drawn by old school stylist Nick Dragotta. It’s an unusual and effectively affecting story that makes some admirable demands on the reader. The story showcases how each surviving member of the FF deals with grief, but more heartbreaking is Hickman’s choice to have the surviving members of comic book’s First Family grieve alone in separate quarters (and storylines) instead of seeking solace in each other. Marvel’s inspiring nuclear family — now a truly unstable molecule. Returning from a crisis across the universe, not yet aware of the tragedy that has transpired, Reed Richards finds his wife Sue alone in the dark of their bedroom – and she shuts him out by shutting herself up in a force field bubble. It’s a cold, sad moment that portends trouble in the Richards marriage. The most cathartic of the subplots has The Thing traveling to the desert and exorcising his sorrow by brawling with Hulk and Thor. It ends with real bawling, and worth a tear of your own.

In the final moments of the story proper, we got Reed moping in his lab, looking like a real mad scientist, mulling and prioritizing threats and plans. Suddenly: His time traveling dad shows up. Cliffhanger! Usually elegy issues are full of backwards-looking thumbsucking; Hickman likes to keep moving into tomorrow. His story sets several things in motion and points toward epics to come. Like this one, which we can sum up in two words:


Shudder. Are the sunshine kids of The Future Foundation about get all Dark Knight grim and gritty on us?

In a coda, this one with words and drawn by Mark Brooks, Spider-Man shows up to take Franklin Richards out for lunch — and to offer his own experience of devastating loss tied to the murder of a dear uncle. (I loved the panel where Spidey has to bum a dollar from the kid to pay the hot dog vendor.) Hickman works the Marvel mythology to wring some genuine pathos — with the exception of the climactic “His name was Ben” panel, which struck me as narratively needless and hit-you-over-the-head sentimental. Nonetheless, Hickman’s characterization of Spider-Man does have me eager for next month’s FF, as the web-slinger will be taking Torch’s place on the team. The back pages of Fantastic Four #588 offer a more expansive sneak peek at the new uniforms that this rebooted FF will be sporting – sterile sci-fi white with black accents and design elements. They vibe futuristic — and cold. Fantastic — but no fire. I suspect the death of The Human Torch has ushered in a weird and wintry season for our heroes. I look forward to the hard and heady adventures that await them.