Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four #604 ended a massive arc three years in the making involving brain-breaking time travel, mad Celestials, Dr. Doom, alternate-reality Mr. Fantastics and Galactus being made into a human's herald. So how do you follow that up?
Well, how about a nice, moving little story about the friendship between the world-saving brainiac nerd named Reed Richards and his brother from another mother and lifelong protector Ben. Better known to youse mugs as Aunt Petunia's Favorite Nephew Benjamin Jacob Grimm, aka The Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Thing.
The entire epic they've just finished was Reed's father Nathaniel, having been time-traveling like a madman throughout most of Reed's childhood, finally succeeding in what he'd been struggling to accomplish for countless years – a way to juggle the events of the last few issues just enough to allow for the time and effort to save the Earth from complete destruction. With the help of his huge extended family, he's finally achieved that desired outcome, and for once in his life, he doesn't know what the future holds. So he and his son journey a thousand years into the future, to see how all their efforts paid off.
In the year 3012, New York looks like every sci-fi movie, with sleek curved buildings and all the flying cars you could want. There are Baxter Buildings, ensuring that the legacy of the Fantastic Four and the Future Foundation survives for millennia. While the threats have all changed shape, there have been two constants on the team for those thousand years. One is the adult Franklin Richards, whom we've learned is slated to stand alongside Galactus and witness the heat-death of the universe when it finally comes to pass, and thus, he's eternal. The other isn't the man made of elastic rubber, the most powerful woman in the 616 or the nova-flame kid. It's Aunt Petunia's Favorite Nephew Benjamin Jacob Grimm, aka The Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Thing. The rocks around his mouth may have frayed and decayed a bit to start looking like a beard, but a thousand years later, he's still clobberin' just as he ever was – which is kind of a sly "f-you" to Hawkeye over in Zeb Wells' Carnage USA, who was giving Thing crap for sticking to his tried-and-true catchphrases.
It seems that when the Future Foundation kids developed a serum Ben could take to revert to human form for one week per year, that week became the only week in which he ages. Thus, Grimm has 52 times the amount of years any average joe from Yancy Street would have on this Earth. And most of that time is gonna be stuck as a guy made of rocks. It's fun and cool at first to see our favorite pal survives and endures for that long, but as the millennia wear on, and those rocks on his chin get more frayed and his sciatica gets worse, it becomes more and more amazing that he manages to remain the same ever-lovin' guy he's always been.
4012, he gives a speech to the graduating class of the year at the Future Foundation, because Franklin's had to run off with the gods for some reason, and Reed's long gone. So Ben Grimm has to give the commencement speech to a bunch of super-geniuses, and he still manages to touch them by reminding them to enjoy their damn lives. "Don't get so busy savin' the universe that you forget why you're doin' it."
5012, he's sitting alone while Franklin's still running with space gods, mumbling to statues of his long-dead friends about how he hasn't had a hamburger in fifteen hundred years. There's no justice if Ben Grimm has to live fifteen hundred years post-hamburgers.
6012, he's finally passed on, and Franklin has finally returned to say his last goodbye to his wonderful Uncle Ben. This prompts Reed to return home to the present day immediately, so he can sit down and watch a boxing match and have a couple beers with his best friend. The guy who protected him from bullies out of the goodness of his heart. The guy who stuck by him when his recklessness cursed him to be made of unbreakable rocks for the vast majority of a four thousand year lifespan, when the rest of us would crumble after being stuck like that for a day. The guy who clobbers people what need clobberin' for thousands of years in the group they founded together. The guy who never lost sight of who he really was, never succumbed to cynicism and self-pity even though he never gets cured in all those centuries. Even in 5012, he starts to complain, and then shrugs it off to start lookin' on the bright side. "Well, no use cryin' about it."
Maybe not, Mr. Grimm, but you're the best friend anybody could ever ask for, and you might just be the best possible kinda guy there is. You're the heart and soul of Marvel Comics, you raucous yet humble bit of Kirby/Lee perfection, you. Watching you carry on and never buckle under the strain of the years you probably never wanted to live, keeping the faith when your eyes tell us you'd probably rather have checked out of this life long ago if you'd had your druthers, since there ain't all that much of a place for a Yancy Street palooka in egghead processed-jelly-goo food future… well, there may be no use in it, but I'm cryin' about it anyway.
The first read through Fantastic Four #605, it just seemed like a nice, sweet little respite of a story after the big saga. Ben Grimm gets to live a long damn time, a perennial throwback outlasting all the future-minded folks in the FF, and he gets to reconnect with his closest friend by the end of it when Reed takes time out to heed Ben's 4012 advice to enjoy the time he has and get his head out of the lab for a while. Reading it again, though, to write this review, the lovely sadness of agelessness really starts to hit home in Hickman's story. Every panel of Ron Garney's hauntingly soulful looks into Ben's burdened eyes – a burden he never shirks from, and never lets overtake him – really brings out the absolute hero that he is, heart and soul, body and mind. And I can't count the number of times I've had to stop writing to wipe my eyes every time I glance over at these pages.
Forget the stupid Sentry. Benjamin Jacob Grimm is the Superman of Marvel Comics, and Superman never had to live life made of ugly orange rocks. Captain America may inspire us to do the right thing, but Ben Grimm inspires us to be the right guy. He's an uglier-than-average joe from humble beginnings who nevertheless accomplishes unimaginably great things. He never loses sight of that humility, compassion and optimism, and he never gets any less ugly. He never seems to really accept it, but he deals with it. He's simply the best goddamned guy you could ever meet. For my money, you'll have a hard time finding a better character in the entire medium than the Ever-and-Ever-and-Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Thing, and Fantastic Four #605 captures that and distills it into a truly moving chapter that'll touch a little piece of most any comic fan's heart.
No wonder he's Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew.