Among the sites I visit the alleged death of the Human Torch a.k.a. Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four #587 has been met with a collective yawn. I’m not sure if that response to the issue is comic book snobbery or not. I’m a fan and I’m not not one of those bored with the issue. It gave me the entertainment I expected. I generally liked the story (with the exception of the Super-Genius Babysitter’s Club) but let’s face it, is there any comic book fan who thinks Johnny being eaten to death by giant alien bugs is permanent? No one probably. As example, Bully highlights the many deaths of the Fantastic Four.
Like many fans I’m burnt out on the drama of character death because it hasn’t been shown to have that much impact. It seems to occurs primarily in the run-up to a movie and the dead character will return just in time for the cinema release of the film.
In the past Reed, Ben and Sue all died and after a fashion all have returned. It was Johnny Storm’s turn is all. The last time any comic book character’s death had any real gravity for fans was Marvel’s Phoenix and Captain Marvel and DC’s CoIE Flash. I was excited to read those stories. Not because of the drama but because they gave a reader such as myself that there is a greater illusion of change than really existed in the format.
When last seen Johnny Storm was overwhelmed by the Annihilation Wave, an army of giant bugs bent on swarming into new territory. Readers see him get pulled under but don’t really witness him killed. Who we kidding? The most obvious way out for the Torch is that he goes nova and wins the fight or at least maintains a stand off. If he survived, in all probability he is injured and is now trapped in the Negative Zone. Being who he is, he would either go off in search of a way home or remain defending the portal if it was still a threat to Earth.
I expect him to come back but maybe not as the Johnny we are all familiar with. Story-wise it would not do to have Reed open a portal and have Johnny step through, grin and ask where the babes are. Years spent killing monsters in between cat naps would change a person. Decades ago an alternate-earth Johnny Storm performed a similar function in Fantastic Four #162 (Sept 1975). Amnesiac and supplied with esoteric armor and tools alternate-Johnny Storm was posted in an other-dimensional realm guarding a nexus to various earths as the hockey-themed soldier, Gaard. Something similar on his eventual return could happen but it may be too obvious an attempt in mining the past. Johnny Storm’s journey back home could provide the basic plot for a mini-series though.
How permanent is death supposed to be in comic books? Personally, if a character dies I’d expect a period of at least 5 years before they return without feeling ripped off emotionally. That gets a fan through the requisite few months of reminiscing, back-stories, drama with the replacement member of the affected group and even a period where the deceased character is not referenced at all. Then the triumphant return and a return to the status quo. Such a time line allows a whole new group of readers to discover the character and hopefully get hooked on reading the book and by extension, the entire line published by the company.