Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blogathon 48: From Hell to Heaven Part Three

[Concluding my discussion of the Mark Waid/Howard Porter/Mike Wieringo Fantastic Four stories "Authoritative Action" and "Hereafter."]

With Ben dead and the Fantastic Four branded traitors to the US because of their actions in Latveria, things look pretty down when "Hereafter" begins. One of the most heartbreaking moments I've ever seen in a comic is a scene showing what happened after Ben died: Reed using a giant defibrillator to try and save him and, when he's pulled off, he talks about how they don't have much time only to be told that he's been trying for an hour. He has this look of disbelief of his face in a silent panel; in a repeat of the panel he simply says "What?" The effect of Ben's loss is profound on the group, but Reed sees only one solution: storm the gates of Heaven and get their friend back.

It's such an absurd idea and one that really only works in a comic like Fantastic Four. They've been everywhere else, why not Heaven, too? They push through every obstacle: angels, a broken path, even Ben and his big brother who are waiting for them, because Ben can't actually enter Heaven itself. Reed is keeping a tiny part of his body alive and that's stopping Ben from moving on. Now, that's probably for the best, because what are the odds that you're going to convince someone to come back to Earth once they've actually been to Heaven? There's something incredibly touching and selfish about them even going to get him. When Ben breaks through the door seemingly made by Reed's technology keeping him from crossing over, there's orange rock underneath and Ben realises that he's been keeping himself out. He's not ready to die, he's not ready to leave his family behind.

And, then, the Fantastic Four meet their creator... Jack Kirby.

That moment is why I consider this the high point of the Waid/Wieringo run on the book. You can't top the build of Doom's attack/Reed's response/Ben's death/the trip to Heaven/the team meeting Jack Kirby where he fixes Reed's face, turns Ben back into the Thing, and sends them all home with a drawing of their eventual happy ending as old people. Like I said, I enjoyed what came after, but this may just have been a 'get off the stage' moment. Waid and Wieringo delivered some nice adventures and funny moments, none of which matched the power of these issues. These comics we so steeped in emotion and character, so tied into who the Fantastic Four and what they mean to one another in such a big story that I'm not sure anything on the title could top it. For my money, these two stories (maybe with the actual encounter with Doom) comprise the best Fantastic Four story. The Lee/Kirby stuff was great, but even they could hit the emotional heights that are hit here.

Sure, it's a return to the status quo, but it's an earned return to the status quo. It's the logical end point of the story. And damned if it isn't fantastic (pun intended).

In 30 minutes, I take my bow and get off the stage.

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