Even though I had nothing in my box this week, I was lured in by the black polybag first printing of FF#587, dropping by the comic store before a moderate snow (thunder) storm. As I was leaving I asked about the four composite covers spelling THREE: CASUALTY and wouldn't you know it, I ended up heading back to the register, getting the four previous issues in all their multiple-variant printing glory. It was a pretty cool idea to make them all go together like that, successfully overcoming my loathing for anything that isn't a first print.
I had glanced at a few of the issues earlier in the arc and I remember Greg's positive review about #584. However, it wasn't enough to get me back on the book, since I had dropped it several months prior, because of changing artists (before Steve Epting came on board) and the annoying Valeria. Of course, I knew someone was going to "die" this issue and personally, I was guessing it would be Sue. Still, I was intrigued and to be honest, I didn't want to be left out of "the buzz". I also really wanted to experience the story in it's purist form for the most emotional impact without the clutter of internet chatter or reviews. (Kinda like the one I'm composing right now!)
WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!
I'm going to forgo my usual detailed play-by-play of each particular issue and mainly focus on my overall impressions of the story. Boy, were there a lot of subplots going on -- maybe too many! We've got demented Doom and Valeria, dead Galactus/Reed and Nu-World, Sue and Namor with ancient Atlanteans, the human Ben Grimm, and KIDS in the Baxter Building! I think it might have been difficult to follow, if I had been reading the monthlies. There are also a ton of wordless panels, so you've really got to pay attention or it's going to read a lot quicker than it should.
Each of the first four issues ended with a very effective "Oh, WOW" moment. I especially liked it when the living Galactus showed up. And despite having seen Namor's attack on the ancient Atlantis king months ago, I was surprised when it actually came about in the context of the story. I thought Sue's invisible arm armor was really cool, especially the way she back-handed Namor.
Val was not nearly as annoying as she was in the last issues I had read. Although, I'm still having a hard time with everyone just accepting what a genius she is now. Like Ben foreshadowed, "Just 'cause you're super-smart, it don't mean you've thought of everythin'". Her deal with Doom is going to go VERY badly. She's just too confident in her intelligence (just like Peter is in ASM these days -- hasn't any one heard of humility?). Why does she seem like she's the same age as Franklin anyway?
By far the best part of the series is the Ben/Johnny relationship. It was a beautiful moment when Johnny dropped Ben off at Alicia's apartment. All this was good foundation to the Star Trek: TWOK moment at the negative zone portal. Not having read any of the Annihilation books and being unfamiliar with an annihilation wave, I suppose that didn't really resonate as much of a threat to me and needing someone "to stay behind" was cliche. Still, it was executed well, especially Ben's reaction to Johnny's sacrifice. Seeing him turn into the Thing right when it was too late was moving and Epting's art in that sequence was superb. The shot of him holding Val and Franklin in front of the closed portal made it seem like this was the real deal.
Unfortunately, that's the problem -- it's NOT the "real" deal. I mean, you know Johnny's going to be back -- issue #600 is around the corner and it's the FF's 50th anniversary this year. Yes, he was being overrun by millions of insect creatures, but he was still in one piece when we last saw him. "Billion to one shot" in a comic book is a sure thing that he'll survive (he might be a pawn of Annihilus, but he'll be back). I found the Death of Captain America to be more shocking (again I had no knowledge of what was going to happen until I read the issue).
While it may not have lived up to all the hype (an impossible task), it was a good, entertaining story and I actually want to see what's going to happen next. Putting people through the emotional wringer is a good way to bring about deeper characterization and THEY think it's the real deal. Hickman has a slew of ideas running around and he really knows where he wants to go with all this. It should be a interesting ride.
GRADE B+: Johnny Storm's sacrificial "death" was effective, if not a little cliched. Epting's art is splendid as usual and Hickman keeps the momentum of the story going with lots of "WOW" moments. However, it's the more normal scenes that really shine -- It's worth it for the Ben Grimm portions alone.