The comic book industry has three defining publicity-grabbing gimmicks: the New Costume, the Retcon Reboot, and the Beloved Character Death. In January, Fantastic Four packaged two of those gimmicks together, killing off the Human Torch and rebranding the team with skintight-stormtrooper costumes. My colleague Jeff Jensen was initially skeptical about the death of the Torch, but later noted that writer Jonathan Hickman justified the death in the narrative. And hey, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with publicity-grabbing gimmicks. Still, one can’t help but feel a combination of déjà vu and vertigo upon hearing that, in the just-released Fantastic Four #600, the Human Torch will make his triumphant return to life after less than a year of being dead.
Now, no one ever seriously thought that the Torch was going to stay dead for very long, but the quick turnaround is still a little shocking. The last time Marvel killed off a founding member of the Fantastic Four, it was the Human Torch’s brother-in-law Mr. Fantastic, who stayed dead for almost three years before his teammates figured out that he was actually just trapped in the past. In 2007, Captain America was assassinated, and a full two years passed before it turned out that he was actually just trapped in the past. In 2008, DC killed off Batman, and it wasn’t until 2010 that he turned up again, still alive and perhaps somewhat predictably trapped in the past.
Then again, Superman was dead for nearly a full year in the early ’90s (although in those fat and sassy days there were four monthly Superman titles.) The gold standard for actual meaningful-character death – as opposed to “annoying supporting-character pruning,” like Gwen Stacy or Jason Todd – is probably Jean Grey, who was dead for six years in the ’80s and is currently in her seventh year of being dead again.
Comic books! So the point is: Welcome back, Human Torch, we barely had time to miss you.
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