In the most shocking death to hit the comic book industry since – well, the publisher knocked off Captain America four years ago – the fiery Johnny Storm goes out in a blaze of glory saving his young niece and nephew from an army of insect creatures in Fantastic Four #587, in stores Wednesday.
It’s the end of an era dating back to November 1961 when writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby first launched the Fantastic Four and changed the medium as the first real superheroes to have the same character flaws as their readers.
The fiery and immature Johnny — played by Chris Evans in two movies and voiced by Bill Murray in a ’70s radio series — always seemed to leap before he looked. Fans have nervously awaited this issue for several months as Marvel publicized that one of the team — which includes The Torch’s sister, the aptly-named Invisible Woman, her husband, the elastic scientist Mr. Fantastic and the human rock-pile, The Thing — wouldn’t make it past this issue.
Jonathan Hickman, the current writer of the series, says it wasn’t easy to extinguish a comic book legend. “Johnny kind of represents a childlike idealism within the group,” Hickman told the News. “And the story that we wanted to tell going forward from my first issue on the book and where I would like to end up, there came a point in the story where it served us to eliminate what was an eternal source of optimism in the world.”
Fans can also be optimistic that The Human torch will eventually return. Comics have a long history of killing off heroes – victims of either a good story or a good sales ploy. Captain America came back two and a half years after his demise and Superman didn’t slow down much after his much ballyhooed death in 1993.
Robert Branch, 33, videographer from the Bronx and a Fantastic Four fan was just relieved that it wasn’t The Thing. (Branch keeps a statue of his favorite hero on his office desk.) He wasn’t particularly surprised that The Human Torch was the one to go.
“You’re surprised it hasn’t happened yet, because he’s a hot head – literally,” said Branch. “He’s the least interesting to me. But sometimes you don’t miss them until they’re gone. “It’s great that they take away the toys for a while and it makes you appreciate them.”
But the Fantastic Four isn’t just any old superheroes – they are an actual family that bickers with each other almost as much as they do with super-villains – and it remains to be seen if the team can stay together long as the Fantastic Three.