- Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #511 contains one of the most famous (notorious?) scenes in FF history, as the characters meet… the creator.
After more than a year’s worth of drama that included Reed’s face being permanently scarred and Ben dying, are heroes have traveled to Heaven – yes, the Heaven – to bring Ben back to life. This issue picks up with everyone reunited with a human Ben and Ben’s brother Daniel. But this is only the “outskirts” of Heaven. They find themselves before an impassable door that appears to be based on Reed’s designs. Everyone wonders how Reed’s tech got into Heaven, and Ben concludes that Reed is the one responsible for locking Daniel out of Heaven. Ben says that the spark of life Reed sensed in Ben’s body is not what’s keeping him alive, but instead it’s what’s preventing Ben from entering Heaven proper.
Ben says it’s time to say goodbye, permanently this time. Johnny becomes enraged. He attacks Ben, accusing him of being a quitter. Reed and Johnny then fight. Reed accused Johnny of leaving the team because he’s afraid Reed will be responsible for his death like with Ben. As the FF continue to fight among themselves, an earthquake (heavenquake?) occurs all around them. Daniel says everyone’s rage and pain are infecting the place, and Ben insists they have to get through the door.
Ben tries the door again. It opens, to reveal the Thing’s rocky skin on the other side. Ben goes to Reed as Heaven falls apart all around them, saying that Ben put the door there, not Reed. Reed wasn’t holding Ben back, but instead Ben was holding himself back. Ben says he’s not ready to let go. “I’m not leavin’ ya, Reed,” he says. “I’m never leavin’ ya.” With that, the quake stops, and our heroes are reunited with hugs and smiles. Ben says he’s ready to go home.
Only they don’t go home, because Reed remains fixated on the door. Daniel says they can’t blame Reed for being curious, and that he has a message from “the man upstairs,” which is simply to stay. He invites to the FF, and their kids, to remain in Heaven forever, where Reed will have instant access to the answers to every scientific mystery in creation. Reed gives the old it’s-not-the-destination-it’s-the-journey speech. Daniel says “Good answer,” and the door opens. Daniel tells the FF to enjoy their visit, establishing that this is not a one-way trip. Ben and Daniel say their goodbyes, and the FF jump, not walk, into the light.
The FF fly through some cosmic grandeur, made of both space stuff and mechanical gears, before arriving at another door. The open it to meet God himself, and… it’s Jack Kirby!
Kirby (I feel weird calling him “God”) explains “What you see is what I am to you.” He adds that his creations “find the humanity in God.” Kirby takes a phone call from his unnamed collaborator about a storyline involving Black Panther and Silver Surfer. The FF watch him draw a futuristic cityscape, which he calls his contribution a grand tapestry. He says creation is part of a process, describing words and pictures setting the stage for both the ordinary and cosmic. Kirby says his creations are his window into the future, and that the mystery of what is to come intrigues him.
Reed doubts that a pencil is the key to the universe, but Kirby tells him all of history’s greatest inventions began with simple tools. He adds that pencils also have erasers, and he uses his to erase the scars from Reed’s face. He tells Johnny that the FF are nobody’s puppets, but that “We’re all our own storytellers, and there are plenty of stories still left in you.” He then returns Ben to his rocky form, matter-of-factly saying everybody knows that how Ben will come back. He also matter-of-factly adds that Reed’s machine that brought them there will never work a second time. “I admire your imagination,” he says to Reed. “I always have.”
As the FF are transported away from Heaven, Johnny asks for a souvenir, and Kirby says he’ll whip something up. The FF reappear back in the new Baxter Building, safe and sound. The souvenir is a pencil drawing of an older Fantastic Four with the words “To be continued!” on it. Reed describes the drawing as “a happy ending.”
Unstable molecule: What to make of healing Reed’s scars with a near-literal deus ex machina? The scars were a symbol of Dr. Doom, and how Doom’s menace is always lurking about Reed, even when it seems Doom is defeated. Dr. Doom isn’t mentioned in this issue, suggesting that all the darkness and intensity Reed has gone through during this arc has finally been lifted. We’ll see if that’s true moving forward.
Fade out: Sue doesn’t fight with her teammates in the first half, and she has the least one-on-one interactions with Kirby in the second half. This suggests that reuniting her family is more important to her than all this cosmic grandeur.
Clobberin’ time: Ben’s big moment in this issue isn’t him turning back into the Thing and coming back to life, it’s his goodbye to his brother. Daniel asks if the old neighborhood is still the same, and Ben says, “Not without you there, Danny boy.”
Flame on: The conflict between Johnny and Reed begins and ends quickly. I wonder if there was more written than what we got in this issue.
Trivia time: Jack Kirby previously appeared as a character in Fantastic Four as a human when he and Stan Lee were kicked out of Reed and Sue’s wedding (this is canon) and when Dr. Doom burst into the Marvel Comics offices to demand into on the FF (this is also canon). The Marvel Wiki reconciles this by saying what we see in this issue is God taking the appearance of Jack Kirby. Further, it states that this is one of several deities who are alleged to be the lone creator of all life on Earth and the universe, and the exact nature of God in the Marvel Universe has never been officially confirmed.
The hardcover trade paperback includes a lot of behind-the-scenes material about this story. There’s a bunch of saved e-mails between writer Mark Waid and editor Tom Brevoort. Breevort’s advice included ensuring that the technology that brought the FF to Heaven is a one-use-only machine, and making sure the political situation in Latveria was resolved before the FF left for Heaven.
Also in the hardcover, Mark Waid writes about the Kirby character was written just general enough so that young readers not familiar with comics history would still get the point that the character is a comic book artist. Additionally, Waid says Marvel had instituted its policy of not depicting smoking in comics, but he wanted Kirby to appear with his trademark cigar. The compromise was to include an ashtray with cigar on Kirby’s desk.
Fantastic or frightful? How do you write a story of someone meeting God and/or their own creator, and how do not make that story all hackneyed and schmaltzy? I don’t have the answer, but Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo do a good job of it… mostly. The big scene plays out like Waid had list of points he wanted to make and fixes he wanted done, and it’s just him going down the list. But the intent comes from a good place, and the final result is, dare I say, cute. What bugs me, though, is how this is used to heal Reed. Did Reed earn this, emotionally? Does this have any transformative elements for Reed and Ben as characters? It happens so quick that there’s no way to know. Still, this storyline started in a dark place way, way back in Vol. 3 #67 ends in a light place at its conclusion, which is nice.
Next: Does whatever a spider can.
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