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Fantastic Four #512
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Mark Wieringo

How do you follow up the death of a main character?

Well, you bring him back, naturally. These are comics, people; get a clue.

Okay, okay; that said, how do you follow up taking your entire cast to Heaven, having them pass through the pearly gates just for the fun of it and find out that God (at least in their universe) is Jack Kirby, before returning them to Earth like nothing ever happened?

Why, you just act like it's just another page in the big book of the Fantastic Four.

Newly returned to New York, Johnny Storm can't help but notice a disturbing trend that's arisen: he and Spider-man have swapped places in the public eye. Even the bums don't want to wear the Human Torch t-shirts they find in the dumpster. Desperate, Johnny meets with Spidey for advice on how to deal with being a complete loser. In a supreme act of willpower, Spidey refrains from ripping Johnny's head off and agrees to meet him the next morning at a "park."

That same morning, Ben Grimm delivers a slab of rock to former girlfriend Alicia's studio and finally sees all the statues she crafted of him when he died. Of course, the only thing Ben hates more than seeing his own ugly mug is being surrounded by copies of it, and his delivery doesn't exactly survive his reaction. Alicia pushes him to tell her what else is wrong, and, naturally, Ben's upset that Reed got his face fixed when they were up in Heaven, but Ben had to come back looking like the same old monster.

He's got a point, but at least he can take comfort in being more popular than Johnny (especially after what happens at the "park").

It may be unfair to draw comparisons between this and, say, Chuck Austen's pickup on New X-Men (since Waid was immediately re-hired for Fantastic Four after finishing his last run) but this is exactly the way new series writers should follow up a big plotline. First, establish that, yes, this is still the comic we all know and love. Second, you kick off some new conflict that dovetails into the situations of the last few arcs. Third, take a moment to acknowledge that recent climactic events DID happen and you're not going to pretend they didn't. After that, just keep the damn thing going, and you're set to start telling your own story.

Too often a new writer will come onboard and try to launch things in "a bold new direction!" or completely ignore the recent events of the comic and then expect us to love them for their ingenuity (*cough* John Byrne *cough*). The trick of the long series isn't to completely reinvent it every time you switch creative teams but to tap into that core appeal of the franchise and figure out new ways to work it.

Waid dug himself (and any writer who would've followed him) a bit of a hole when he killed Ben Grimm, but he was able to work through it cleverly. However, he dug himself an even bigger hole when he wrote the most unapologetic deus ex machina in the history of superhero comics. His solution of returning to the tone he started the last run with is both refreshing and reassuring.

More than anything else, though, this stuff is freakin' hilarious! Waid's sense of humor is at full force here, tapping into the comedic potential of both Human Torch and Spidey without pulling any punches. I'm not sure when the last time I laughed so hard at Spidey was (probably not too long ago with Straczynski and Bendis writing his more popular books) but the sheer number of times I had to stop myself from laughing out loud so as not to freak out the people around me is a testament to Waid's knack with dialogue.

Of course, Wieringo isn't just along for the ride and he keeps up with Waid every step of the way. The art doesn't go overboard for a laugh (with a couple possible exceptions), but portrays the characters honestly and realistically. When the story requires absolute quiet, he gives us absolute quiet. When it's time for a wall of water to sweep over the scene, he gives us that, too. You want Spider-man going "incognito" in The Thing's hat and trenchcoat? He can do that for ya' wholesale.

Lee and Kirby aside, Waid and Wieringo have probably become my favorite creative team to helm Fantastic Four, but that doesn't hinder the four page story Paul Smith does at the end of the issue. The look of it's very retro, yet it's surprisingly enjoyable for a G-rated short about Sue trying to "get Reed's attention." Why it's going to have a second chapter is a bit beyond me, but, hey, if any Marvel book should try wedging two continuing stories into one series, this is probably it.

After all, they've done right by us so far, haven't they?


Jason Schachat

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