by Jonathan Hickman (writer) & Steve Epting (artist)

The Story: Reed Richards attempts to save a planet’s worth of people, Sue finds herself thrust into an ancient war, and Ben, Johnny, and the kids make their stand against the Annihilation wave.

What’s Good: So let’s talk about the character death first.  Despite all the publicity, polybags, countdowns to casualty, and general hype, Jonathan Hickman actually gives us a character death that is heartfelt, tragic, and close to tear-inducing.  Given all the hype, that’s no small feat; all the marketing may have tried its best to cheapen the event itself, but Hickman plays it brilliantly.  The character finds him/herself against impossible odds and it’s, ironically, a defining moment for him/her.  It is truly, well, heroic, which only makes it all the more heart-rending.  It also exposed the true heart of the character, beneath all the fluff and pretensions.  More than that though, Hickman also does a great job by balancing the character’s sacrifice with his/her relationship with one of the other members of the FF.  It makes it all the more touching and gives a tragic “those left behind” feel for that latter character and the sheer emotion is violent in its intensity.  Indeed, the final page will haunt you.  It’s just such a damned sad image and it’s one of those situations where you feel as bad, maybe even worse, for those left behind as you for the deceased.

So the death is handled extremely well, hits all the right notes, and is about as tastefully and sincerely written as can be hoped for.  However, what really distinguishes this issue is that Hickman doesn’t let it standalone.  The plot with Reed on Nu-World ends is resolved through ploy that’s guaranteed to make you go “whoa.”  It’s one of those massive ideas that defies any sense of limitation, the sort of thing that has defined Hickman’s Fantastic Four.  The plot with Sue, meanwhile, happens upon yet another massive twist, leaving things in a very interesting state going forward while also providing a great Namor/Sue moment.

Despite the imminent death, Hickman even finds a way to cram some humour in.  Bentley and Leech were both absolute riots this month.  Leech was adorable while Bentley was hilarious due to his downright creepiness.

I also appreciated how Hickman structured this issue, intent on building tension throughout as the reader tries to guess who’s going to bite the bullet.  He slowly resolves each plotline one at a time, eliminating each member of the Fantastic Four until only two are remaining.  It’s a great ploy that made for a gripping read.

Steve Epting was also absolutely on the ball tonight.  He pulls a double-page spread when depicting the death itself that is both gorgeous and horrifying, particularly in scale.  Hell, it’s downright messianic.  Epting does big and small equally well this month; depictions of the Annihilation wave are awesome, including a great splash of Franklin, Ben, and Johnny fending off the hordes that would look great on any FF fan’s wall while he also does fantastic work on his characters’ faces.  From the emotion on Ben’s face, to Sue’s rolling her eyes at Namor, to Bentley’s…being Bentley….there’s plenty to like.

What’s Not So Good: Come back in a few months.  I might have something for you then.

Conclusion: A truly great send-off for a character that never feels tacky.  That said, there’s also plenty more to like this month.  It’s a big comic book that’s well worth your four bucks.

Grade: A

-Alex Evans