***Haven’t had the ending of Fantastic Four #587 spoiled for you yet? It will be if you keep reading this article! Proceed with caution!******Another extra layer of spoiler space for errant clickers... Yep, some big things regarding Fantastic Four #587 are spoiled in this issue.*** ***Final warning!*** After months of speculation, one detail of this week’s Fantastic Four #587 is clear: Johnny Storm, the fan-favorite Human Torch introduced in 1961's Fantastic Four #1, is the team member that meets his demise in the issue.
Newsarama talked with series writer Jonathan Hickman about the final chapter of the “Three” storyline, the decision behind killing off the character, the mainstream media attention surrounding the issue, and what this might mean for the future of the long-running comic, which is scheduled to relaunch as simply FF in March.
[Additionally, Marvel hinted while declining further comment that the issue, which ships sealed in a polybag, contains an additional surprise that hasn’t been guessed by fans yet, that will “blow their minds” and “really is a thank you to the fans.”]
Newsarama: Let’s get right to it — what led to the decision of killing the Human Torch, and how long has it been part of your plans?
Jonathan Hickman: It was all part of my initial pitch to [Marvel senior vice president of publishing] Tom [Brevoort]. After I turned that in and then gave him the issue-by-issue, beat-by-beat run through, this was always in there. It’s not generated by anything other than the longer story that I wanted to tell. This is the end of Act One of that.
Johnny was the choice because, thematically, all the stuff I’m trying to do — the world as it is, and Reed always saying how the world should be — this elevates the conflict in that. Johnny represents childlike idealism, and he’s always been that guy on the team. Removing him from that, I guess it makes the world of the FF more like our own, a little darker. It’s a story about overcoming that.
Nrama: Did you encounter any opposition at all when you first came to Marvel with the idea of killing the Human Torch, or were they pretty much on board from day one?
Hickman: Tom has always been an FF fan. He loves the property. When I explained to him why I was doing what I was doing, and the reasons behind it, and where we’re headed, and where I think the book needs to end up to be relevant again in the Marvel Universe, and not almost an afterthought in many ways, he was perfectly fine with it. I got no resistance from Tom. Additionally, I remember my first Marvel creative retreat that I went to, where I pitched all of my Fantastic Four stuff to the room, I laid out in specific almost two years of story. And I could have gone on from there for a full three years. Everybody really saw the vision I had for the book, and that I had a good grasp for what I wanted to do. [Marvel publisher] Dan Buckley was writing the stuff up on the board, which you don’t see very often. Everybody was really energetic. You could tell that not only did it mean something to me, the idea of what I wanted to do, but everybody got it. I feel like some of that is resonating with the people that read the book. The guys who are reading FF right now, for the most part, people are really digging what we’re doing.
The wonderful thing about today’s book, even though it’s a sad issue — we sold a bunch of copies of this. So hopefully, people will try out the book who haven’t been reading it, and hopefully we’ll get more people on board with where we’re headed.
Nrama: You mentioned that the Human Torch’s death was a necessary step in making the book “relevant” again. Do you think that in recent years, the book has lost some of its luster?
Hickman: I think the FF had a systematic problem in that some of the ideals the book represented, and the way they are portrayed by many, many writers and even in society, feel outdated and maybe overly simplistic. Our readers are smarter than they’ve ever been, they’ve read more pop culture and we consume so much entertainment. They’re just so much more sophisticated than they used to be, than any of us were when we were kids reading the book. Back in the day, you read “Days of Future Past” or something like that, it was so Earth-shattering that somebody wrote that story. Now if you do a time-travel story, people know all the intricacies of all the time–travel stories. It has to be so much more sophisticated. So the thematic stuff of the FF, it’s not outdated, but the presentation of it was. What we’re doing is inverting what they do on Mad Men, where they take a show about nostalgia and they inject modernity into it. We’re doing the opposite. We’re taking modernity and we’re injecting nostalgia into it, and then we’re going to stick all of that back inside the Marvel Universe, and therefore make it relevant.
It’s a bit of an experiment. I feel like it’s working, and we’ll see where we go from here.
Nrama: In terms of the actual death of the Human Torch, what was your approach in making sure that it was a fitting note for the character to go out on?
Hickman: The way that I wrote the story was built specifically for an artist like Steve Epting. I think that, more than anything else, has to do with the appropriateness of the story. It’s epic, and it’s huge, and the scale of it is massive. When you write a word like “billions” in a script, you give that to a lot of artists and get back five guys in a room. Not with Steve. Steve and Paul Mounts, the colorist, both factored as heavily into the way I chose to present the story as anything else. I would say the art is what came first in the presentation of it, and then secondary off of that was all the character, emotive stuff that kind of rotated around the axis of beautiful, gorgeous, epic art.
Nrama: Obviously, a lot of people have speculated a great deal in recent weeks about who was going to die in this issue. There were a lot of people who guessed the Human Torch, sort of simply because of the reason that he had never died before in the comics, or was ever away from the Fantastic Four for an extended period of time. Did that play at all into your motivations, the novelty of it that it was something that hadn’t been done before?
Hickman: No, that portion of it just worked out that way. People that guessed that it was Johnny’s turn were erroneous, but correct in what they chose. It was purely thematic and purely, purely character driven in what he represents.
I think people that had been reading the book, if you read this issue and you go back and read everything, it now makes sense why Johnny — where I eventually end up is all there in the book. It’s not based on reveals, it’s based on the story unfolding. It’s not easy to guess, only in retrospect does it make total sense.
Nrama: And I think a lot of the foreshadowing, from what I can tell, had to do with Johnny’s relationship with Franklin.
Hickman: True, some of that. There’s a scene with Reed. When you work as far out as I do, as far as planning-wise, it’s easy to make every scene revolve around a future scene if you know what those future scenes are going to be.
Nrama: There’s also the observation that Johnny hadn’t factored into the comic as much as some of the others — the first arc focused heavily on Reed, and Ben and Sue both have had a lot to do in “Three.” In light of the character’s death, was that an intentional choice, or just sort of how it worked out?
Hickman: I think Johnny has spent his entire comic book career being a supporting character. So I don’t think it’s shocking or surprising that he has been used as a supporting character in this instance. What we’ve done is taken away the supporting character — the guy that always laughs, or tells a joke, or adds brevity — we’re taking that guy away. So while he may seem to be the most minor character in the group, I think what we’ll find is that really wasn’t the case at all. We just don’t notice.
Nrama: One thing that was cool is that even though a lot of people did guess Human Torch for whatever reason, it was still pretty divided among fans as to who the death would be, with pretty strong arguments for each character — which has to be a difficult thing to pull off. Did you monitor that kind of speculation at all?
Hickman: Sure, I looked at some of it. I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time trolling the boards. One of the reasons why I do look at that stuff is because occasionally people do have really, really good ideas. The collective intelligence of an online community is pretty staggering. It’s why they always figure out all the reveals, which is why I don’t think we should tell stories that way anymore, but that’s a completely different conversation.
I’ll look at it sometimes, and I’m generally pleased with the Fantastic Four conversation that goes on. I’m sure today is going to be a lot of, “Yeah, I guessed it,” or “That was so obvious,” or “I hate pointless deaths,” the typical kind of immediate reaction. Especially since people haven’t gotten to read the book yet. That’s one of the real bummers about how early these stories break. But I think we will be perfectly fine down the road, and I’m OK with people talking about it.
Nrama: Speaking of fan chatter, from your perspective as the writer of something like this, what’s your reaction when you hear skepticism like, “Oh, this is just going to get changed back in two years,” or “I’m so tired of these pointless deaths.” I’m sure you expect it to a certain degree, but does it frustrate you at all?
Hickman: No, it doesn’t frustrate me at all. I think that type of cynicism is well-earned and well-deserved. I think killing a character just for shock, or just to cause conversation, or some of the lazy, lazy writing that we do sometimes, I think that deserves derision, and I’m perfectly OK with people that get upset about it. I don’t think it’s out of line at all.
But, in this instance, it was always part of the story. I think that these things are always judged on their merits. I think regardless of what people say today, if they read this story, and where it came from and where it’s headed, it either is or is not an organic part of the story. And if it’s not, it’s fraudulent; if it is, people respect it. Nobody’s upset at Grant Morrison today, for Batman. He had a story he was telling, and it made perfect sense. I don’t have a problem with the readers and their reactions.
Nrama: Given that the comic has gotten so much attention and a big media reaction already, I just wanted to know from your own personal perspective, as somebody who’s only been working in the comic book industry for a few years now, what’s that experience like, being in the middle of something that’s becoming a huge story?
Hickman: I’m very, very appreciative of the success that I’ve had in the short-term that I’ve been working. I’m grateful to Marvel for giving me the opportunity, and putting me on these books. Saying that, I feel like I am very sincere in the effort and the thought that goes behind the stories that I write. I’m fairly aggressive in executing my plan in every property that I get attached to. I think Marvel hired me for a reason — to write stories like myself. So I try and make every book I write a “Jonathan Hickman book,” and not just a story about the Fantastic Four that I’ve always wanted to read. I guess I’m fairly aggressive about my career — I’m certainly not playing around. This isn’t a hobby. [Laughs.] I’d like to think I handle myself professionally, and as a result, I have a professional’s results. But I’m really grateful and really thankful that I’m working with people who appreciate that, and the people who read my books get what I’m trying to do for the most part.
Nrama: Given the way things have turned out, with details of your story making national news — for a writer, it has to be flattering, but is it also a bit disappointing that many people are going to learn the events of the issue through a news article instead of reading the comic?
Hickman: Well, my mom called me this morning, that’s a new thing.
With everything, you have to have a balanced perspective. It’s very, very cool that a lot of people are checking out the book. It’s very, very cool that we sold a bunch of copies of this. It’s cool that I’m getting to talk to a bunch of people about what I do, and what I love doing. Is it a bummer that people won’t get to read this raw, and not know that there’s a certain ending coming, and that there’s not surprise working in my favor? Of course it is. Was it ever a plan for us to make this a big marketing thing when I was coming up with the idea of how the story would be structured? Of course not. But, inevitably, as a writer, you want people to read your work. More people will read this issue than any other issue I’ve written of the Fantastic Four, and there’s no way I can’t consider that a win. Kudos to the marketing department at Marvel. They for me more people looking at my book, overall that’s a win, no matter how I square it.
Nrama: At this point, what can you say — if anything — about what’s coming next in the book, and where this event leads? There’s only one issue left of Fantastic Four as we know it, and the new book starts in March.
Hickman: The next issue — the last issue — of the Fantastic Four is drawn by Nick Dragotta, with a back-up by Mark Brooks, and it’s a beautiful book. It’s one of my favorite kind of issues, where I get to resolve a lot of things, and then I get to lay out a bunch of hits of where these characters might be going. And that is always a lot of fun to do. I think that #588 is a really interesting book. I think that if people dug this issue, they’ll like that, too.
Nrama: You probably can’t comment, but I need to do my due diligence — can you say anything about the new FF series starting in March?
Hickman: I cannot. We’re not really talking about that.