The Fantastic Four is now a trio. Marvel Comics this week killed off Johnny Storm, also known as The Human Torch, in a blaze of publicity. How did the beloved comic-book character meet his maker — and will he remain dead for long?
What happened to The Human Torch?
Johnny Storm sacrifices himself so that his fellow superhero, The Thing, can escape the Negative Zone, a parallel universe discovered by his Fantastic Four cohort Rex Reed. In issue #587, currently on newsstands, Storm is shown being overcome by monstrous bug people from the alternate world.
Jonathan Hickman, the current writer of the series, says it wasn't easy to extinguish a comic book legend.
"Johnny kind of represents a childlike idealism within the group," Hickman told the News. "And the story that we wanted to tell going forward from my first issue on the book and where I would like to end up, there came a point in the story where it served us to eliminate what was an eternal source of optimism in the world."
Fans can also be optimistic that The Human torch will eventually return. Comics have a long history of killing off heroes - victims of either a good story or a good sales ploy. Captain America came back two and a half years after his demise and Superman didn't slow down much after his much ballyhooed death in 1993.
But the Fantastic Four isn't just any old superheroes - they are an actual family that bickers with each other almost as much as they do with super-villains - and it remains to be seen if the team can stay together long as the Fantastic Three.
"It's a story about a family and we lose a family member and we've all experienced someone in our life who's died or we all will," said Hickman. "It becomes that much more powerful so it's a table missing a leg and of course it's unstable, it's rickety. That's kind of the point. Is it going to stay up or is it going to fall down?"
The night before the news broke, life-long Fantastic Four fan Patrick Edmund, an artist from Brooklyn, paced Jim Hanley's Universe, a comic book store in Midtown Manhattan, unsure of which member of the super team he could handle losing.
"It's hard, I'd be hurting no matter who dies," said Edmund, 43. "But I'd buy the book and see who would step up and [fill the void]. Whatever happens you have to see how they're going to roll with it."