In the first two issues of Fantastic Four by Ryan North, Iban Coello, Jesus Aburtov, and Joe Caramagna, we caught up with Ben Grimm and Alica Masters and Reed Richards and Sue Storm as the two couples made separate journeys across America following a mysterious incident that led to the Fantastic Four losing their money, the trust of the people of New York, and most importantly, their bond with each other.
Fantastic Four #3 reintroduces the final member of the Fantastic Four, the Human Torch (AKA Johnny Storm), who is trying to make the best of things despite being the team member who was dealt the worst hand in the falling out. While everyone else left New York behind them, Johnny stayed behind. He’s painfully single, struggling to save the city that has outlawed superheroes (I believe this has something to do with a recent line-wide event), and suffering through the worst punishment imaginable: working retail.
However, because the Fantastic Four are reviled by the public, Johnny Storm works at ShopLand under an alias: Jonathan Fairweather. Characters being painfully bad at maintaining a secret identity is one of my favorite Ryan North-isms, so it’s genuinely funny that he has this loveable idiot who essentially calls himself “Johnny Weather-that-is-Fair-and-Definitely-Not-a-Storm”.
Things aren’t great at ShopLand, as the owner, Mr. Merrill, is a corner-cutting cheapskate who forces his employees to work in unsafe conditions. This leads to Johnny confronting Merrill as the Human Torch, where North explores an aspect of Johnny’s powers that aren’t frequently touched upon. Merrill knows that Johnny has remarkably precise control over his ability to control his flames, and can even instinctively turn the fire all the way down on certain parts of his body so that he doesn’t burn things (explaining how he can sometimes carry people and objects while ablaze). With this knowledge, Merrill deduces that Johnny, being the heroic figure that he is, won’t allow himself to burn an ordinary person, and he proceeds to beat Johnny up. Like in the last two issues, our hero is in a predicament that can’t be solved with brute force. In this situation, Johnny’s powers aren’t helpful, and he has to think outside the box to find a way to deal with Mr. Merrill’s cruelty while allowing his fellow employees to keep their jobs.
I admire how much North has allowed Johnny to mature. Like with the other members of the Fantastic Four in the previous issues, you really feel like he carries decades’ worth of lessons learned. He’s still a goofball, but he’s more comfortable accepting what he’s not (the smartest or most powerful member of the team) and embracing what he is (a “people person” who is good at connecting with others and bringing them together, and also hot). Johnny even remembers a science lesson that Reed taught him and uses it to save the day. He’s presented as someone who doesn’t have all of the answers, but he’s more willing to reach out and learn from other people than he used to be.
Coello’s art is, once again, astonishing. The way he draws flames is so majestic, and this Human Torch spotlight issue provides no shortage of opportunities for him to flex. There’s an excellent flashback sequence where Coello draws the Human Torch with a more defined fiery form that’s covered in lines, just like how Jack Kirby used to draw him in the Silver Age (which in turn is inspired by Carl Burgos’ original Jim Hammond version of the Human Torch). Coello also gets to have fun with the design of Johnny’s “Jonathan Fairweather” persona. If you thought “Johnny Storm” sounded like a 70’s adult film star, then this issue gives him the facial hair to look the part.
This is another great issue. Normally I find “we’ve got to get the band back together” stories to be a bit contrived, but I really like the way North is focusing on the different members of the Fantastic Four before he inevitably reassembles them. The issue ends on a cliffhanger promising answers regarding the cryptic incident that separated them in the first place, which should be interesting.
Oh, Ryan North also brings back an absolute banger from the 90’s Fantastic Four animated series in the form of Johnny’s ringtone, and if that doesn’t sell you on this issue, then I don’t know what will.
Fantastic Four #3 is available now wherever comics are sold.