The Fantastic Four is a series that never really gripped me, before 2014. This new arc, in which the team falls apart at the seams, has been a captivating read. FF pulls off a balancing act: keeping these characters that have been around for decades fresh, staying true to their roots, and still making it interesting after all these years. (Spoilers below.)
In the events of Original Sin, several of Marvel's biggest heroes were in a revelatory blast discharged from Uatu the Watcher's eye, thanks to manhandling from the Orb. (Well worth a read.) Ben Grimm's revelation— that Johnny Storm was responsible for failing to cure his rocky exterior, shakes him to his core.
We flash all the way back to events in Original FF #40 (lovingly recreated by Dean Haspiel and Nolan Woodard), to revisit one of Reed Richards' greatest failures. A one-time chance to restore Ben's humanity is a complete failure... because Johnny was sitting in Ben's chair, throwing off Reed's painstaking calibrations.
This is the result.
Ben's distraught, and storms off. Johnny apologizes to Reed, who gives him the chewing out of a lifetime. (Seeing an angry Reed Richards is both chilling and kind of silly, as he unconsciously stretches his features out to match his outburst.) He quickly calms down, and realizes that there's little point in telling Ben it was Johnny's fault.
This gesture may seem noble in sparing Johnny the brunt of Ben's well-placed anger, but it backfires... decades later, in the present. Ben knows the full truth now, and he's furious. Leonard Kirk's pencils seem perfectly suited to capture Grimm's outrage. This isn't a human person anymore. He's an exaggeration, a caricature made stony flesh. I don't know if he's ever looked better.
James Robinson's script captures Ben's anger, the longterm feelings of self-loathing and shame at not being to have the kind of life his partners take for granted. He's carried them in good spirits for ages, but a reminder like the one in this chapter bring them all back up to the surface.
He smashes up some stuff in a temper, giving Johnny the second half of a scolding he's had coming for years. Johnny offers to do anything to make it up, Grimm says he never wants to talk to Johnny again. (Bear in mind this is the third big loss Johnny's suffered in as many months: first his powers, then his home, now his best friend.)
Rightly depressed, The Thing does what anyone might do in his place: He goes for a drink. His sulking is interrupted by a call from his girlfriend, Alicia Masters. Off he goes to the rescue, smashing through walls on the way.
Cut to later: Alicia reaches out again, this time to Reed. He arrives at the lair of the Puppet Master, Alica's stepfather. The visuals tell us everything: hodgepodge super-puppets lie in pieces, smashed all over the place. This is elegant shorthand: we see the aftermath of a berserker rage, rather than the outburst itself. We've already seen Ben's temper once or twice this issue, showing it again would be redundant.
Instead, we're left with the carnage of a colossal temper tantrum. Ben's anger needed an outlet, something righteous to focus on. His beloved's kidnapper fit the bill. And so... Reed finds Grimm holding the Puppet Master's corpse, swearing up and down that he didn't kill him.
The imagery is certainly damning, and explains how Ben winds up behind bars (as seen in issue #1). I'm actually relieved it wasn't for attacking one his former teammates.
The Fantastic Four are falling apart. Hard. Whether it's the work of a criminal mastermind or not scarcely matters. Right now, it doesn't bear obvious fingerprints. I'm not sure it needs to. (I haven't forgotten about the Wizard's boast in #4 that the Frightful Four were serving some nefarious master.) Regardless, someone's using weapons more insidious than lasers or nullifiers to bring down the FF. And it's working. I can't wait to see what's next.
How about you?