By Tiffany Babb
Endings are hard, especially in long form serial storytelling. To be honest, the cards are kind of stacked against the creators. By Issue 23, a reader following along with a monthly book has dedicated two full years to the story. What on earth could satisfy that kind of reader? My simple answer? Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s FF Issue 23.
The emotional beats of the previous couple issues focused on Val and Bentley facing either the things they’d done or the things they were expected to do. Big Franklin along with Big Val (travelling back in time from the future) have given the requisite amount of advice and help to make sure that the world doesn’t end under the rule of a team of multi-universe Reed Richards. And in the final chapter of the book, it’s time for Big Franklin to say his goodbyes to his friends and family before returning to the time from whence he came.
Compared the vast landscape of the world of FF and the Fantastic Four, this last issue seems small, understated. FF covered a lot of ground, starring multiple Reed Richards and inter-universe wars. It featured an Ultimate Nullifier and an Infinity Gauntlet. There was time travel and portal destroying and the fixing of a sun. Even the Watcher showed up for a bit. But by the end of FF’s Issue 22, most of the story’s loose ends have been tied. The great adventure is over, and everyone is home and safe.
The final chapter of FF is a story of goodbyes, of closing the door behind you when the adventure is well and done. There is a sense of acceptance threaded throughout the quiet conversations of this issue. Echoing the reader’s thoughts, Future Franklin asks Future Val, “Who likes goodbyes?”
The issue begins with Future Franklin, young Franklin, and Leech heading off into the secret universe hidden in Franklin’s closet—an ideal place for Franklin to test his powers of universe building, to learn and to experiment. Franklin and Leech have collected all their ideas on little scraps of paper that they keep in a top hat. Cowboys and dinosaurs. Jell-o Knights!
Future Franklin has Leech and young Franklin recite a list of rules before they head in to begin their new adventure. These rules they have to follow? Only one adventure at a time, only practicing powers in the secret universe, and no cussing.
In a tender moment, Future Franklin asks the kids if he can choose the adventure they’ll go on this time. And once they’re through the doors, old Franklin throws the hat, scattering the scraps of paper into the air. He tells Franklin and Leech that he’s choosing all of them. “Because here’s the thing about rules – there aren’t any.”
There’s something magical about stories written about children and for children. These stories recognize the power they hold, they never underestimate what they can do with a captive audience. FF is one of these stories. It’s full of heart and earnestness, and it does its level best to pass that on to the reader. It reminds the reader to take risks, that anyone can roll up their sleeves and head out into the world.
Astutely, the storytellers don’t have Big Franklin going around and solving everyone’s problems. He only gives them a nudge in the right direction. Before he leaves, while little Franklin is asleep, Big Franklin asks Leech to spend the night alone instead of waiting outside of Little Franklin’s room. Leech replies that he’s scared, but Franklin responds that Leech is brave, not scared. And Leech sets on down the hallway alone.
That’s why this ending works. Because it isn’t an ending at all; it’s a beginning. It’s a promise of future change. It’s tough to say goodbye to characters we love. It’s tough to see a long story end. But endings that are also beginnings are different, they’re touched by the feeling of hope. When a story has named its own constraints and tears them down in the service of the future, anything can come next. Team FF has cleverly set the characters free to live their lives, to go on adventures, to learn and to grow, to try and fail and try again.
Before departing, adult Franklin urges Kid Franklin to question everything, to try everything. For a character like Franklin, who is so often treated like a convenient storytelling tool within the larger narrative of the Fantastic Four universe, this is a step towards freedom. In one of the best (and tear jerking) ending moments of all time try new things Franklin’s narrative boxes are laid over panels of Franklin and Leech leaping into the universe in Franklin’s closet.
“It [the door] separates who you are from who you can be. You do not have to walk through it. You can run.”
FF #23 – Run
Published by Marvel Comics in 2012
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Drawn by Nick Dragotta
Coloured by Cris Peter
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Tiffany Babb is a writer, poet and comics critic based in New York whose work has been featured in Panel x Panel as well as Women Write About Comics. You can find more from her on her website here, and follow her on Twitter here!
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