Fantastic Four #3
The Human Torch is alone in New York, trying to survive in a city that hates and fears-well, mostly him specifically. There's just one thing for Johnny to do: Adopt an all-new secret identity and take an all-new job nobody else wants! But when things at work heat up, Johnny discovers that while you can forget the past, that doesn't mean it'll stay buried...and has to decide if there're certain things that the Human Torch can't let himself do! Also! In this issue, Johnny Storm fights a tornado!
Ben and Alicia have each other. So do Reed and Sue. But when things have taken a turn for the worse and the Fantastic Four have gone their separate ways, who does Johnny Storm turn to? Fantastic Four #3’s initial answer to that question is Jonathan Fairweather, Johnny’s brand new secret identity that’s letting him live in New York and keep gainful employment at Shopland!
Fantastic Four #3 is Johnny’s issue (as the first two have been Ben’s or Reed and Sue’s). The FF’s combustible member stayed in New York after the mysterious events that turned the Baxter Building into a crater. But since superheroing isn’t allowed in New York and the Fantastic Four aren’t the most popular people at the moment, Johnny has adopted a “secret identity” (really just a fake name, horseshoe mustache, and hair dye) and found work with a big box retailer that pays some employees under the table in exchange for not running background checks. It doesn’t take him long to see how employees in this situation are being exploited, and he decides to take matters into his own fiery hands.
Johnny’s story in Fantastic Four #3, like those featuring Ben, Reed, and Sue in the first two issues, is a small-scale human drama. Indeed, Johnny’s is by far the most grounded–he only has to contend with a corrupt and exploitative store owner. What’s at stake in this issue is the ability of ordinary people to make a living and do right by their family. These thematic similarities in the first three issues are proving especially effective because the Fantastic Four isn’t just a team but a literal family. That’s always been what sets them apart. With that as a character defining backdrop for all of them, they’re a natural fit for stories about heroes helping ordinary people find a little ordinary happiness.
But Johnny’s story is distinct among these three issues because he is alone. When he decides to help the people at Shopland, he has no one to turn to for ideas. He tries the direct approach–flaming on and threatening the store’s owner, Mr. Merrill, in his high rise apartment. But Johnny doesn’t force people to cooperate by burning them, and Merrill knows it. So when this inevitably fails, Johnny needs a new plan.
This is when North gets in Johnny’s head and details how Johnny knows that he works best on a team precisely because he won’t indiscriminately use his powers to hurt others until he gets his way. This is an angle that I don’t recall being used for Johnny before. Certainly the concept of the Fantastic Four being better as a team isn’t a new one. But very often it centers on the characters’ deficiencies. Ben and Johnny need Reed’s brain, Reed needs Ben’s raw strength, and so forth. In this case, it’s not about what Johnny is missing. Johnny needs a team, not because he is necessarily incomplete on his own, but because what is good about him is made better with others. North very effectively makes a “more than the sum of their parts” argument for why the Fantastic Four works.
This might all make Fantastic Four #3 sound a little too serious. The dilemma here is even a real life one. But it’s still a Johnny Storm centered issue, so there’s plenty of humor. And a great deal of it comes from what Johnny looks like. You have not truly experienced Johnny Storm until you have seen him with a horseshoe mustache. And it works because Coello takes it seriously. Coello doesn’t put any kind of overagerated spin on it for comedic effect. It’s a perfectly normal look. But it’s also on Johnny of all characters. Every time Johnny was in a panel I wanted to laugh. Aburtov takes it even further with the black hair dye. But in every other way–expressions and body language–this is what I’d expect for Johnny. It’s a terribly effective visual gag that never overstays its welcome because it isn’t treated like a gag. And indeed, this look might stick around and after a while it won’t seem like a gag at all. But for now it’s wildly entertaining.
And still more impressive is what Johnny looks like in Human Torch mode. Coello and Aburtov’s Human Torch doesn’t look like he’s simply on fire like some kind of human shaped match. He’s not drawn with individual flames licking up along his arm and legs or on the top of his head. Rather he is a walking conflagration–the center of a fire rather than its leading edges–and it frames him like au aura. Aburtov’s colors prove critical here as his different shades of reds, oranges, and yellows imbue this Human Torch look with depth. When Johnny gets punched, it doesn’t look like something that is on fire is getting punched. It looks like someone is punching into a fire, extending almost elbow deep into it before connecting with its source.
Fantastic Four #3 delivers another very strong issue building up toward the reveal of what happened to split the team apart. And North adding in a little reminder of how these characters benefit by being together is a bonus. But what steals the show here is the art–specifically what Coello and Aburtov do with the Human Torch. And it makes me very excited for the kind of rich, creative visuals we could get down the line.
Fantastic Four #3: Flame On!
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 8.5/108.5/10
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