The much hyped, oft-speculated Fantastic Four issue that had generated so much buzz with the promise of a major character death has finally arrived in stores. But for me, what is much more interesting than the death of Johnny Storm is the comic’s availability to consumers a day early.
Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting do a fine job crafting a dramatic and eventful story, but frankly, the death of the Human Torch just feels more like a sales tactic. What superhero hasn’t died and come back by now? Granted these issues still sell out, commanding high prices for a few weeks, and then become a novelty item in back bins, ultimately worth little more than any other issue. And while I enjoyed the death of Captain America, feeling that the story served to push the comic title in new and interesting directions, it didn’t make his death any less of a publicity stunt.
Examining Fantastic Four #587 on its own creative merits and flaws, I found the plot to be confusing and scattered. The build-up in the story wanted to create the sense that any one of the team could be the character to perish – hence their division and the four separate plotlines being handled in this issue. I enjoyed Epting’s pencils though, and even more than that, I loved his panel layouts, and how it built the drama and suspense. Overall, definitely an above average comic, but certainly not worth what I’m sure a CGC 9.8 will be commanding on eBay in three weeks.
Still, this issue is going to have a lasting impact for retailers. When Diamond, the almost monopolistic distributor of comics, announced that books would be available for retailers on Tuesday instead of Wednesday, there was a wealth of discussion. Yet Diamond assured, almost threateningly, that no books would or could be sold before Wednesday morning. There were several, and very understandable concerns regarding this policy shift, with one of them being this very type of sales tactic, and what it will mean for retailers.
In many cases Fantastic Four #587 went on sale Tuesday, January 25th, despite the warnings from Diamond. Think of it like a movie studio releasing a summer blockbuster on a Wednesday instead of a Friday, in order to drum up buzz for the weekend. This comic could very well be the start of an all-new sales and marketing initiative, and everyone — from publishers, to retailers, to consumers — is in for some changes.
And that, it seems, will be the real legacy of the Human Torch.