7 Years Ago Today: The Greatest Moment in Comics History
In a few short days, Project-Nerd will be celebrating our seventh anniversary. There’s another seven-year anniversary to celebrate first, however: the seventh anniversary of the single greatest moment in the history of comics. On March 14, 2012, Marvel dropped Fantastic Four #604, the climax of Jonathan Hickman’s rightfully acclaimed masterpiece run.
In Fantastic Four #604, at the darkest hour, on the day Reed Richards is supposed to die, his son Franklin arrives from the future and summons his herald, Galactus.
Let’s start with the simplest reason this is the single greatest moment in the history of comics: it’s BAD-ASS. The idea of anyone commanding Galactus is a jaw-dropping, “Are you kidding me?!!” moment of pure, distilled awesome.
From the moment he was introduced back in 1966, Galactus has been the biggest of the big and the baddest of the bad. I mean, sure, technically Marvel has introduced plenty of characters “more powerful” than Galactus, but none of them struck the same cord with readers. From a narrative perspective, there isn’t another character that you can drop into a story and have readers immediately know “this is big.” His arrival in Fantastic Four #48 is by it’s own right a strong contender for “greatest moment ever.”
Galactus is a cosmic force of nature, existing to keep the universal ecosystem in balance by eating planets. That’s pretty epic. He’s such a big deal that Jack Kirby decided to introduce an insanely powerful guy whose only job is to fly ahead and announce Galactus’ impending arrival, and thus the Silver Surfer was born.
The point being, Galactus has a herald. Heralds, to be more precise, as there’s been a bunch of them over the years. Galactus serving as someone else’s herald though? Galactus answering to someone else’s call? That’s something unexpected and awesome.
The rest of why it’s such an amazing moment in comic book history is a lot more complicated to explain. It’s the climactic moment of Hickman’s epic 59-issue run on Fantastic Four (and sister book FF), at the end of a prolonged battle that has no less than fifteen different parties working at cross-purposes. It’s the tail end of a domino effect of exploding, epic plot lines, skillfully woven together. Hickman himself needed diagrams to keep the whole thing straight. Even a surface-level outline is a weighty task that doesn’t do proper justice to this master-class in intricate plotting, so I won’t even attempt it.
To hit on only the most relevant points though, Reed Richards created a device that connected him with a council of alternate reality versions of himself, who joined together to “solve everything.” At a critical juncture, Reed is told he will have to make a choice: leave his family behind and commit himself to the greater good of the universe, or leave the council. He chooses his family, but not before the work of the other Reed Richards-es awakens Mad Celestials (i.e. extremely powerful cosmic space gods), who attempt to destroy them.
Reed helps the alternate reality versions of himself fend off the attack, returns with renewed commitment to his family, and all is well. For now.
Let’s talk a bit about Franklin Richards (but not too much, because there is waaaaay too much comic book crazy involved). Franklin is the son of superheros Reed Richards (aka “Mr. Fantastic”) and Sue Storm (aka “The Invisible Woman”), members of the Fantastic Four. Debuting way back in 1968 should make him 51 years old, but in a world where Spider-Man is permanently 28, he’s maybe… 10? It’s been discovered that young Franklin is not only a mutant, but will grow up to be beyond “Omega Level,” capable of shaping reality itself. At the time of Dark Reign, however (due to some comic book housekeeping gymnastics), he’s a just kid with no powers. Well… no powers until…
Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #5. Franklin shoots Norman Osborn. With a toy gun. You’ll notice the orange cap on the gun. You’ll also notice the gun-smoke. Master of the long-game, Hickman began his slow build towards the climactic moment of his story years in advance.
The Fantastic Four would later be visited by Franklin and his sister Valeria from the future, who were eventually revealed (to readers) to be working with their grandfather to re-write history. The reason? Their father was going to die.
You see, four Mad Celestials had set out to kill every alternate reality version of Reed Richards who had been involved in the Council. The Celestials arrive on the tail end of a string of cascading battles that make Tolkien’s “Battle of Five Armies” look quaint. Galactus is on hand because the destruction of the Earth at this time would cause a premature ending to the universe.
Galactus takes out one Celestial, but is killed by the combined force of the other three. The Celestials turn their attention to the Fantastic Four, and it looks like all hope is lost. And then… Franklin and Valeria from the future arrive. With a little help from young Franklin’s re-awakened powers, future Franklin sets to work resurrecting Galactus to help him fight the Celestials, to save his father’s life.
Steve Epting might be better known for his amazing work co-creating the Winter Soldier with Ed Brubaker in the pages of Captain America, but his art on the Fantastic Four is truly next-level. Also, lettering doesn’t always get a lot of love in the world of comics, but Clayton Cowles makes a huge contribution to the build of this scene.
The combined might of Franklin and Galactus is enough to turn the tide and stop the Celestials. Something like this could easily feel like cheap Deus Ex Machina, but due to the care Hickman took in setting this moment up literally for years in advance, it feels earned.
There are a lot of themes that run through Hickman’s Fantastic Four (and even themes that run all the way through his entire run at Marvel), but foremost among them is the impact a father can have on his children.
Reed Richards chooses his family over “the greater good” because of the impact his father made on his life. Franklin and Valeria Richards come from the future on the day that Reed is supposed to die because of the impact their father had on them. (Also, *spoiler alert* Franklin and Val saving their father on this day means Reed Richards is alive to save all of existence years later in Secret Wars. Hickman’s eight years of work at Marvel is really one big story.)
If there’s one word you can boil the Fantastic Four down to, it’s “family.” And what says “family” more than a child returning from the future to summon a Devourer of Worlds to save his father from mad space gods?
And that’s the single greatest moment in the history of comics.