32. The Death of a Hero

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Issue Thirty-Two

The spirited sparkle and spectacle of the previous issue is carried over to this one, and Kirby’s artwork seems to have taken another step forward. There was a distinct change in issue 11 as well, and it seems that another break was taken here and he’s come back stronger. What is most noticeable is Kirby’s use of 3-panel progressions to heighten dramatic impact. He uses them many times to such diverse effect as showing transformations and the death of a character.

From a story point of view, the plot offers one twists which I didn’t see coming (so stop reading if you don’t want me to spoil it), and that is the revelation that the Invincible Man is actually the Super-Skrull. That actually makes sense of a lot of what seemed to be some very contrived moments (why pick Franklin Storm? Why mimic the FF’s powers?) and gave it all a nice flow. It’s strange why this plot device isn’t used more, it’s such a logical notion. Surely the whole reason for wearing a mask is that some days you might be able to wear a different mask. That’s what I struggle with in comics like SPIDER-MAN, or in the movie THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS — if being Spidey or Batman is causing you grief, why not just dress up as someone else to fight crime?

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One of Kirby's cosmic collages, which he began integrating into his work at this time.

But back to this story. One rather profound touch is the opening scene which shows The Thing is still at conflict over his rocky state and his love for Alicia, but this time it is Reed’s character which is revealed. As the story opens, we see him conducting his most elaborate scheme to date in order to turn The Thing back into Ben for good. It succeeds, but they find that Ben has lost his memory and doesn’t remember Alicia at all. Making a quick decision, and acting before the transformation is permanent, Reed turns Ben back into The Thing, restoring his memory of all but the recent incident. Reed tells him that the experiment didn’t work, but he’ll keep trying.

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Previously, Kirby has shown the stages of Ben's transformation as a mid-human/thing hybrid in a paler orange colour, and with traced plates appearing/vanishing. This is the first time we get such an abstract and dramatic shift.

It’s an interesting moment, and a rather morally ambiguous one. Which state would have been better? Even the FF and Alicia don’t know for sure, and don’t know how much of their motivations were selfish in wanting to keep the team together. It’ s one of those compromised sacrifices where the people involved aren’t even sure of how much was compromised.Fantastic Four Issue Thirty-two 32This issue is also the death of Franklin Storm, who was introduced last issue. He has been held in stasis on the Skrull homeworld while the Super-Skrull took his identity. Reed forces his return, but not before the Skrulls attach a booby-trap energy device to him. Heroically, Franklin absorbs the blast and saves the Fantastic Four, earning him a hero’s death. It’s a moment that’s carried out fairly well, for it’s strange set-up, and it’s interesting that a character so important to two of the members of the FF would be introduced and then shipped-offed so quickly.

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A largely off-panel death in which we see two reactions to a character's death rather than the character himself - clutching his chest perhaps - and it's the stronger for this.

A great story. Uneven in parts, but containing all the elements that makes FANTASTIC FOUR fantastic.


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