Monday, March 14, 2011

Plot Twists That Didn't Work - Fantastic Four #587

Last time we talked about a bad plot twist, it was a comic book from the 70's. This time we're going to look at one that's just a couple of months old, but it telegraphed the "twist" just the same.

When Marvel announced the imminent death of one of the members of the Fantastic Four, they put a lot into the marketing. They even went so far as to put the issues in a black poly-bag (not done since the "Death of Superman" issue) and told retailers they would not be publishing any extra copies of the issue. In other words, what didn't get ordered for a specific person wouldn't be coming out. It was a brave move meant to draw attention and sales to the comic series that had at one time been Marvel's flagship title and their first foray into a team book.

The stage seemed perfectly set to allow them the chance to really keep the reader guessing. All four members of the team were purposefully put in dire straits and there seemed no easy way out for any of them. Reed was facing Galactus alone, Sue was facing a sacrificial moment with Namor, while Johnny and a powerless Ben Grimm were facing hordes of enemies from the Negative Zone. Any of the four team members could have died and it would have made sense.

The problem came when Marvel decided to make this a big news event and invite the non-comics-related news sources into the party. The cat would be let out of the poly-bag too soon.

Unlike Marvel's decision to kill Captain America a few years back and get all the mileage out of it they could, this particular death was meant to be a surprise to the reader. They knew someone was going down, but not exactly who. Unfortunately for Marvel, some guy who probably never reads comics gets this story across his desk on a slow news day and decides to publish it. "Some guy named the Human Torch is getting killed in a comic book somewhere. Ok, whatever, print it."

The problem? The news broke the story the day before the comic book hit the retail stores! Suddenly all the secrecy and hush-hush marketing tactics were thrown out just 24 hours before the big reveal. Granted, in the age of the internet it's just about impossible to keep anything secret for long, but to have gone that long and have it spoiled was a bummer.

In a poll we ran here in the days leading up to the issue, our wise Comics in Crisis readers voted Johnny as most likely to be killed. It turns out you guys were right, but it was all just speculation until the issue itself came out...but then the news media got it.

In a desperate attempt at damage control, Marvel gave the unprecedented okay for retailers to sell the issue on Tuesday if they had it instead of waiting until Wednesday. Of course, the only way to find that out was to go into the comic shop on Tuesday instead of Wednesday (and who does that?), or to see it in the the same news story that told you who died in the book in the first place. Marvel got crushed by its own marketing machine.

So in the end, even though the Human Torch went out in a blaze of glory (Ha! Couldn't resist...sorry), the big moment itself fizzled out. Of course, his death was a useless act anyhow. The door was closing behind him already. All he had to do was fly up there, shoot a few fireballs to throw them off, and then just fly away and stay alive for a few days until Reed got back and got him out! Instead, he pulls this macho "me against the millions" routine and gets killed. Like a dog staring down a truck and saying, "I think I can take him", Storm got smashed like roadkill for no reason.

And in all honesty, who really believes Johnny Storm will stay dead? No comic book character ever stays dead, right?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who says he could run away? The wave that came against him included plenty of fliers too.

I'd also bet that he's not really dead, just held captive.

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