What if This was the FF (Mike Wieringo tribute)

Background

Artist Mike Wieringo passed away on August 12, 2007 due to sudden heart failure. The comic world was shocked by the sudden loss of this major talent. To honor him and his many accomplishments, his colleagues volunteered to finish this issue as a tribute to Mike as he was only able to complete 7 pages of this issue. Partnering with The Hero Initiative, a non-profit organization that provides financial aid and medical services for older comic creators, these artists worked at a greatly reduced rate to allow the proceeds to be donated to the organization.

As for the story itself, the source material was a Walt Simonson/Arthur Adams three parter starting in Fantastic Four #347. A Skrull rebel named De'Lila arrived on Earth to gather items that would help her to assassinate the Skrull emperor. However she had to contend with the army the Skrull emperor sent after her to stop her plans. Capturing the Fantastic Four and posing as the Invisible Woman, De'Lila contacted Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider to fight off her enemies. Her deception was ultimately discovered and she was brought back to the Skrull world.

When writing this story, Jeff Parker admits to incorrectly using the "Johnny Blaze" Ghost Rider instead of the "Danny Ketch" version (the correct one at the time) for this story. Parker explains that it was an honest mistake on his part. Mike intended to correct the mistake before this went to press. However out of respect for Mike, the decision was made to leave Blaze in rather than alter his artwork.

Our story takes place in another reality where, instead of simply capturing the Fantastic Four, De'Lila killed them. The only members that survived were Ben Grimm (who was de-powered at the time) and Franklin Richards.

Story 'All Possible Worlds'

At the funeral service for the Fantastic Four, many members of the superhero community arrive to pay their respects. Spidey, Hulk, Wolverine, and Johnny Blaze are talking to Captain America. Running true to form, Spidey admits feeling guilty that "they" (meaning he) took so long to realize they were being manipulated by the Skrull agent.

Cap suggests that they carry on as the new Fantastic Four. Wolverine and the Hulk instantly agree to disagree with Cap as they point out that allowing the one that killed the original FF to dictate the new group would be in bad taste. At this point Ben Grimm approaches them with Franklin asleep on his shoulder. He insists that they have what it takes to replace them. When asked why he doesn't want to continue, he informs them that he needs to take Franklin away from this type of environment. He reminds them that the world still needs a Fantastic Four. As they part ways, Grimm offers to transfer all the bank accounts over to them – if they want to continue – and one piece of advice: don't let history repeat itself.

After the service the guys return to the Baxter Building to think this over, as this would be a major change in their lives. No sooner do they arrive than an alarm goes off warning them that another Skrull has arrived on Earth three blocks from the building. Upon arrival they are informed that it's the Super Skrull as he simulates all the original FF's powers to terrorize Manhattan. He wants them to surrender and become part of the Skrull empire. Working together they are able to subdue the Super Skrull with rather aggressive methods.

Their efforts are published in the Daily Bugle on the front page with the headline "These Are Heroes?" much to the dismay of the Hulk. Spidey reminds them that it is the Bugle and that they love him. Wolverine realizes that in addition to their own enemies, they're going to inherit the FF's rogue's gallery as well. Blaze is uncertain that he should stay on as his enemies are very formidable.

Just as Spidey announces to the group that he's figured out how to operate the unstable molecule crafter, Blastaar comes through the suddenly active portal to the Negative Zone. Realizing that the "real" Fantastic Four are gone, Blastaar begins to attack Manhattan. The new FF are eventually able to stop him when Ghost Rider is able to administer his penance stare.

Watching from his Latverian castle, Dr. Doom rages at the victory of the new FF. He screams to his unidentified partner that he was cheated out of defeating the originals and is determined to destroy their legacy. Doom's partner convinces him that mere science will not assure victory. The new group represents a chaotic energy that cannot be defeated by conventional means. Doom's partner offers to help tip the balance; Doom agrees.

Back in Manhattan, Peter Parker and Johnny Blaze are taking a much needed break. As they sit in a restaurant, they overhear other patrons discussing the replacement Fantastic Four in not-so-friendly terms. Blaze is noticeably unhappy with the comments. Peter, who is used to being out of favor with the public, just rolls with it.

Suddenly the Sandman appears and calls out Spider-Man. Peter leaves to put on his new unstable molecule FF costume while Johnny transforms into Ghost Rider and sends a burst of hellfire into the sky, forming a familiar number 4 inside a circle. This is noticed by the Hulk and Wolverine who make their way to Central Park by way of a flying cycle.

When they arrive they are met by the newest incarnation of the Frightful Four: Sandman, Abomination, Venom, and Sabretooth. All of them are possessed – according to Ghost Rider - by demonic energies. As they stand ready to kill their archenemies, the new FF notice that each of them have glowing red eyes, devil horns, and a pentagram insignia.

The resulting battle is long and difficult. Made more so by the growing energy shield around the battle zone, trapping innocent bystanders inside. At a critical point when Sabretooth is poised to kill Wolverine, he begins to disintegrate as do the other villains. The villains' decomposition continues until nothing remains, which heralds the arrival of Dr. Doom. Doom explains that he simply accelerated the process as they would have succumbed to it soon.

Doom readily admits to the new FF that he is behind the recent attacks. Their association has forced him to turn to his knowledge of the occult to utterly destroy the Fantastic Four and their legacy.

Ghost Rider sees the situation as it truly is and calls out Doom's partner: Mephisto. The demon lord reveals that he has possessed Doom and explains that the chaotic nature of their alliance affects his realm, which he can't have. When Doom approached him, Mephisto jumped at the opportunity to ally himself with one of the few being capable of containing him on the Earthly plane. He then begins to tear their souls from them.

Ghost Rider realizes that this has been a revenge scheme aimed at him, as he had feared. Through the pain, Spider-Man asks Blaze if Mephisto is human. Blaze answers "yes". Spidey then fires a webline toward Mephisto that has the Skrull disruptor on the end. It makes contact with the demon lord, forcing him to relinquish control of Doom's body. Mephisto screams at his host to destroy the device but Doom does nothing. Moments before the device claims him, he offers a simple "Thank you" to Spider-Man.

After some time has passed Spider-Man asks Ghost Rider if this means Mephisto is dead as well. He is unsure but states that dying in corporeal form is difficult to overcome, even for a demon lord. Hulk asks why Spider-Man kept the neural disruptor. Spidey quips, "So history couldn't repeat itself".

The crowd that was trapped inside the energy field with them applaud and cheer their saviors. They move forward to congratulate the Fantastic Four on their latest victory.

The Watcher then makes a very poignant statement. "I have watched a million worlds where the best of humanity has fallen too soon. ... Except in the best of all possible worlds. The shining triumphs of those lost inspire others to take up their cause ... to be better than they were before." 'Nuff said.

The remainder of the issue consists primarily of short essays about Mike Wieringo from comic professionals Chuk Wojtkiewicz, Scott Hampton, Mark Waid, Jeff Parker, Richard Case, Todd DeZago, and his brother Matt Wieringo

General Comments

There were a few minor items that were left out, mostly due to space constraints.

Did the Hulk ever revert back to Bruce Banner? Between Banner and Peter Parker, they could have handled the scientific aspects of the FF. I would have liked a scene in which Banner and Parker essentially tried to out- geek each other with Reed's lab equipment.

Did they ever officially accept Grimm's offer to transfer the bank accounts over to them? There was no set timeline for the story, but I would assume it was a approximately one week. How would that work, anyway? Who would have the checkbook?

One aspect that was completely ignored was the fact that Spider-Man was married to Mary Jane. In the original material, there were subtle references to his marriage. Here, not so much. Did she move into the Baxter Building or move away? A one-line reference would have taken care of that.

Despite these points, I think that Jeff Parker and company did a great job taking the established elements from FF#347-349 and going in a new direction. Overall I was very impressed by the story. I'll go so far as to say I liked it more than the source material. While I do think that these guys adjusted to their new roles and each other with relative ease, it really doesn't detract from the story.

Overall Rating

5 webs. A fun story from beginning to end. It was interesting to see the new FF take on the Super Skrull, Blastaar, a demonic version of the Frightful Four, and even Dr. Doom / Mephisto in their own unique way. This story went from point to point effortlessly and all those involved should be proud of their efforts.

Jeff Parker points out in his tribute that Mike was a big fan of the original Simonson/Adams trilogy. Like most fans I wonder what the issue would have looked had Mike been able to finish it.

Footnote

While I am probably the least qualified to do this, as this is the tribute issue to Mike Wieringo, I feel that I should make a statement.

I have been a fan of his work for many years, collecting Fantastic Four, Flash (Vol. 2), Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, and Robin. I have to say that from the beginning I was impressed with his clean, simple-yet-detailed style. He had a knack for drawing backgrounds, mid-grounds and foregrounds that added depth instead of clutter. His layouts were incredibly fluid, easily transitioning from one page to the next. He was able to provide the readers with everything needed at once glance. All the while never compromising the story integrity. Simply put: the man knew how to compose a comic page. With dozens of penciled issues and hundreds of covers, there is sufficient evidence to back up that claim. As the saying goes "the great ones make it look easy".

Sadly I cannot speak with any authority on Mike Wieringo as I did not know him personally, though I wish I had. The scraps of data we can compile from interviews and other personal information we acquire 52nd hand provide little more than a grocery list description of the people we admire in this medium. From what I do know, he was a well-respected and very personable guy with a great love for comics. He was the type of guy that shared his time and immense talent with peers and fans alike. He was someone you would want to have as a friend.

I wish that I could have met him in person at some point. I would have liked to get his autograph, maybe a picture, shake his hand, and tell him "thanks" for his hard work. His efforts are appreciated not only by me, but also thousands of other fans. His work with Mark Waid on Fantastic Four rates very high on my personal recommendation list.

The comic industry is one in which fans feel a kinship with the creators through their characters and stories. In some cases we are able to catch a glimpse of the person behind the word processor or drawing board. This is usually hidden in plain sight when a character – new or old – practically leaps off the page and takes a permanent place in your mind. That is the way that we know these talented men and women best: by their imagination.

Nothing I say can provide any true insight into Mike's contributions to the comics medium (which are considerable) or what he meant to so many people. The highest compliment I can give him – or anyone for that matter – is that when 'Ringo was brought on a title, it was in very capable hands. I knew his art would be top-notch and bring out the best elements of the story.

My final thought is that, at a minimum, you should find a copy of this issue and read a few of the tributes by those that knew Mike best. They are very simple, eloquent, and heartfelt reflections that speak volumes about the type of man he was. The simple fact that they wanted to contribute to this memorial indicates the high degree of respect he earned and how much he will be missed.