The Fantastic Four became the Fantastic Three on Tuesday when Marvel Comics snuffed out Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. Our Geoff Boucher caught up with Jonathan Hickman, the writer of the story that is making national headlines.
GB: “Fantastic Four” has 50 years of publishing history and the weight of names like Kirby, Lee, Buscema, Byrne and so many others. Did you find yourself hesitating between keystrokes?
JH: No. You can’t really think about it like that. In addition, this was my first big job at Marvel and I was pretty hungry, so I probably would have said yes to the adaptation of a sequel to “Apocalypse Now.” Thank goodness it was this, and that I had a pretty solid plan.
GB: As you listened to fan chatter over recent weeks it must have been even more interesting. Was there a funny moment you can recount? Did you go for silent mode or did you engage?
JH: Very occasionally, I’ll engage, but I’m of the belief that once someone pays their money they’re entitled to both their interpretation and opinion, so I veer away from interaction on the message boards and such. I did see where someone wrote that I had a contract with Marvel saying I had first refusal on anyone resurrecting or using the Human Torch for the next three years. That was pretty funny.
GB: There’s a well-earned cynicism among fans about major characters being snuffed — Superman died and came back, Captain America died and back, the Flash died and came back, etc. What do you say when confronted with that reaction?
JH: I think it’s fair. I think it’s both well-earned and well-deserved, but, ultimately, these things are judged by whether or not the story feels genuine. The question is: Are we trying to have an honest, resonating beat within the telling of a story, or are we trying to shock the reader and score cheap points? I think, in this instance, we did the former. We’ll see.
GB: The Human Torch name goes back to the very earliest days of Marvel Comics, but in the golden age it was an android hero. Random stab here: Any chance we might see Reed Richards or someone else try to replace their fallen friend with a synthetic version?
JH: Err, everyone will have to stick around to find out the answer to that one.
GB: The Fantastic Four brought an unprecedented thing to comics — a family with love, arguments, weddings, child-rearing issues, etc. That adds some wonderfully complicated layers to the sort of story you’re telling doesn’t it?
JH: Of course. And the plus is this: When it’s family, everyone can relate to it. We all have parents, or siblings, or children and, regardless of the situation, we know that there is no ‘easy out.’ You have to truly deal with things, which is where the gold is in characterization.
GB: A death scene is a profound challenge — it can easily veer into the clumsy or the maudlin. What did you see as the biggest challenge with the death of Johnny Storm? What did you need to be sure you avoided?
JH: I find that almost all problems in delivery in comics comes from pacing. We’ve got 22 pages every month, and, unless you have a special dispensation — extra pages in our case — it’s very difficult to deliver a prolonged, pregnant moment. So, again, fortunately, we had the pages this month.
GB: Be honest: Did you pick Johnny just so you could title a future issue “From the Ashes”?
JH: Ha! I would never do that.
— Geoff Boucher
RECENT AND RELATED