by KC Carlson.
This time around, my selection isn’t really a comic that time forgot. First of all, it’s not a single-issue story — it’s the last piece of a three-part story. Plus, the part I want to talk about isn’t the entire issue — it’s just the epilogue. And finally, anyone who has already read this issue will probably never forget it.
It may not be a Comic Book That Time Forgot, but it’s one I definitely want to remember.
The issue in question is Fantastic Four #511, part three of “Hereafter” by writer Mark Waid and artists Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel. It’s just a small part of their great run on Fantastic Four, circa 2002-2005. If you’ve never read it, you may want to seek it out before I spoil it all for you below. It’s a fantastic read, regardless of whether you know what happens or not.
BEFORE WE BEGIN
A little backstory is needed. A couple of ferocious battles with Dr. Doom have left Reed with a horrible facial scar and the Thing apparently dead. The Storms mourn Ben while Reed locks himself in the lab looking for a “cure”. He thinks that he can reach the afterlife, using one of Doom’s old inventions, and bring Ben back. But when Sue and Johnny hear “afterlife”, they think “Heaven”, and much (interesting) philosophical discussion ensues.
The team goes on the mission — with reservations. They apparently make it to the afterlife but are immediately attacked by… angels? Or at least, something with “You don’t belong here” burned into their faces. The attackers mysteriously withdraw, and the FF investigates this realm, where each team member encounters a different interpretation of heaven. Eventually, they discover the Thing (reverted to human Ben Grimm), traveling with his long-dead big brother, Daniel.
After much supercharged discussion, battling, and self-realization, Ben rejects going to heaven to stay with his “family”, the Fantastic Four. All conflict immediately stops, leaving the team and a locked door. Daniel offers them the option of being welcomed into heaven, which Reed respectably declines. The family isn’t done exploring yet.
KNOCKIN’ ON HEAVEN’S DOOR
Which leads us to exactly why this issue of FF is so memorable. Having accidentally passed the test that they didn’t even know about, the team is invited inside heaven, which initially looks like a 21th century version of one of Jack Kirby’s old “cosmic photo montages” from his run on the book. With the help of current technology, this one is so colorful and detailed, it makes you wonder what the King could have accomplished had he had access to such tech.
After that mind-blowing full page, the FF’s journey leads them to a door. A different door. An old-fashioned wooden door. Sitting all by itself on an itty-bitty asteroid. Do they go in? You already know the answer, with Marvel’s premiere Imaginaut, Reed Richards, being presented with an opportunity to actually meet God.
So they open the door.
There sits God.
Sitting at a drawing table. Working. Creating.
It’s literally the being who created the Fantastic Four and so much more of the Marvel Universe. It’s Jack Kirby.
Kirby is god. We all knew it.
Here, Marvel Comics acknowledges it as well. Maybe a little late, but…
REAL WORLD INTRUSION
Fantastic Four #511 went on sale March 17, 2004, marking the 10th anniversary of Jack Kirby’s passing (February 6, 1994). It’s easily one of the most fitting tributes ever to the King.
At the time of his death, Jack Kirby was locked in a battle with Marvel Comics over his rights to things that today, many artists take for granted. The return of original art. Acknowledgment that he created (or co-created) characters that brought great profit to his publishers. Health and other employee benefits. He died before all of these issues were resolved.
But that’s a long, sad story. Let’s finish talking about this comic book.
HEAVEN CAN WAIT
The FF wander around the Creator’s studio. Johnny asks, “Where’s the elves?”
“That’s Santa, butthead,” replies the still-human Ben Grimm.
Susan is concerned that she’s taller than the Almighty. He replies that what she sees is what he is to her. “It’s a compliment, not an insult.”
And then he says this:
He gets interrupted by a phone call. The conversation is obviously a plot conference.
“Who… who called?” asks Sue.
“My collaborator. ‘nuff said,” replies the Creator.
Then comes a full page that can barely be described. As the Creator discusses his work and the importance of ideas, he keeps drawing fantastic Kirbyesque cityscapes that incredibly come to life before the eyes of the FF.
Reed is skeptical that all this can be done with a mere pencil. “History’s greatest inventions were created using its simplest tools. You’re smart enough to know that,” replies the Creator.
He then takes the pencil from Reed and concludes: “Besides, the beauty of pencils is this: They have erasers.” He begins to “erase” Reed’s horrendous Doom-inflicted facial scars before “redrawing” Ben’s orange rock skin over his human form to prepare them for their return home. (The Creator helpfully mentions that he “condensed your subplot a little.” Best plot reset button ever.)
He has some final words for Reed. “I admire your imagination. Always have. You know never to stop asking ‘why.’ That was the test.”
Reed takes his hand. “I gathered. Thank you.”
As the creator’s studio begins to fade around them, Johnny, still oblivious, asks, “Wait. Do you have a gift shop?’
“You kids want a souvenir? Hang on. Let me whip something up,” says the Creator. He takes to his drawing board and quickly finishing, hands a large drawing to Reed. “There. You’ll earn it. Enjoy.”
One blink later, and the four are back in the Baxter Building, still stunned at what they’ve seen. Always the kid, Johnny asks, “What’d he give us? Huh? Huh?”
Reed holds out the drawing so that everybody can see. It’s a drawing of a much older Fantastic Four.
“A happy ending.” says Reed. The drawing is captioned “To Be Continued!”
Cue the waterworks.
They just don’t write (and draw) ‘em like that anymore! Such the pity. I love comics that make you think. Don’t you?
KC CARSON SAYS: During the Waid/’Ringo/Kesel run, some suit at Marvel decided that the the book needed a change in direction (probably to make it more similar to the upcoming 2005 FF film). Because of this, the creative team was fired in the the middle of their acclaimed run. Fan outcry was so loud and vocal that the team was promptly returned to the title in a matter of months.
Man, I miss ‘Ringo. He unexpectedly passed away two years after this run on FF. You can still view his website the way he left it, with so much great art, at mikewieringo.com.
This story has been reprinted in Book 3 of the Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo Ultimate Collection series.