Mark Waid has been putting the Fantastic Four through a lot lately. In the wake of a traumatic and costly defeat of Doctor Doom, the FF take over Doom's land of Latveria, upsetting neighboring countries and the United Nations. While Reed Richards works to eliminate all of Doom's Weapons of Mass Destruction, UN troops led by Nick Fury amass at the border. In the ensuing melee, Doom's spirit returns, inhabits the body of the Thing and forces Reed to kill him. In the aftermath, the FF returns to New York where Reed is forced to give all his patents to the US government to escape prosecution. The American people regard the Fantastic Four as traitors. And, worst of all, Ben Grimm is still dead.
Using Doom's dimensional technology the three surviving FF members travel to Heaven and convince Ben to return to his Thing body, which still has a spark of life in it. They also get to meet God who is (appropriately in the FF's case) Jack Kirby. The group returns to earth, reunited and mostly healed. But the people of New York still hate them.
Johnny Storm is having a bad day. Everywhere he goes, he sees evidence of his newfound unpopularity. Howard Stern disses him on the radio, the only people wearing Human Torch t-shirts are street people who have pulled them out of dumpsters, and he is named "New York's Least Eligible Bachelor" of 2004 (after Spidey was chosen for the last five years). Worst of all, the web-slinger seems to have acquired the Torch's previous popularity. Spidey plush toys are in the stores and the Spidey t-shirt is referred to as "the good shirt". Johnny finally reaches his breaking point when his nephew Franklin wears a Spider-Man cap and tells him that "Second place is nothin' to be 'shamed of". (This stunt is all the Thing's idea. He happily pays Franklin for pulling it off.) Using his flame to skywrite, Johnny requests that Spider-Man meet him "at the usual place", atop the Statue of Liberty. When Spidey arrives, he discovers that the Torch has summoned him to ask for advice. "Tell me how to get through the day as a complete loser!"
Time for a little wall-crawler revenge. He sets up a meeting at a Water Park in Hoboken, then rats out the Human Torch to the crowd. Unfortunately, this also calls attention to himself, bringing on an attack from Hydro-Man who is currently employed at the park. During the battle, the Torch's luck continues on it's Spider-Man-like route: when he flames on, he melts all the Popsicles in a vendor's push cart and he finds himself stripped naked and sitting surrounded by roughhousing children in a kiddie pool. But while the Torch bellows out, "I have no pants", Spidey is drowning in Hydro-Man's attack.
In his run on the Fantastic Four, Mark Waid has done a marvelous job of bringing back the feel of the old Lee/Kirby days while keeping things fresh and up-to-date. He has come up with original riffs on the Yancy Street Gang's gift giving (revealing that the Human Torch was actually behind every gift) and Dr. Doom (making him truly scary again with Doom's murder of his old love Valeria) for example. Now he does the same thing to the Spider-Man/Human Torch relationship. In some ways, this issue feels like it sprang right out of Strange Tales Annual #2 but it also gives us the aforementioned plush toys, t-shirts, "Least Eligible Batchelor" riffs, the Department of Homeland Security kicking Spidey and the Torch off the Statue of Liberty, Spidey disguised in one of Ben Grimm's trenchcoats and hats, havoc at the water park, and the Human Torch losing his pants. Oh, and the Spidey/Torch dialogue is priceless. Outside of the Spidey stuff, there's a nice interlude of the Thing trying to adjust to being back in the world after going to Heaven and a four- page continued back-up feature with Reed and Sue that is amusing and seems promising. I've gotten completely fed up with these pin-up covers on all of the Marvel books but this one of Spidey and the Torch makes you want to dive right in. And isn't it funny how Mike Wieringo's artwork once looked too cartoony but now seems almost photo-realistic compared to what we're seeing in other books? Too bad we can't get him back to doing a regular Spider-Man book, too.
Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo were actually forced off the book a while back before fan outrage persuaded Marvel to reverse course. Good thing, too. Otherwise we never would have gotten this little gem. I can't wait for the conclusion. Here's hoping Waid and Wieringo work on the FF for a long time to come.