PHILADELPHIA - The Fantastic Four - superheroes whose creation nearly 50 years ago helped usher in the Silver Age of comics for Marvel - is about to become a trio.
Marvel Comics said Wednesday that a member of the foursome - Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing - will die in issue No. 587 next month, a change that the company said will ripple across the Marvel Universe like never before.
But who will die? That's a secret protected with more might than the Incredible Hulk and Sentry possess, but executive editor Tom Brevoort, who oversees the comic book, says plenty of clues have been offered during the course of writer Jonathan Hickman's run, including the current "Three" story line.
"I think we've given plenty of hints as to who may die - perhaps too many, in that every one of our lead characters is left in a dire, life-threatening situation the month before," Brevoort told the Associated Press. "So, hopefully, that will help to heighten the suspense, while preserving the surprise as to which member doesn't make it out alive."
Marvel is taking no chances in trying to contain that secret like it were the wish-granting Cosmic Cube itself.
Readers will find out for themselves when "Fantastic Four" No. 587 is released in January, though it'll be wrapped in a black polybag designed to keep snoops from finding out and spilling the news.
It won't appear on newsstands, either.
"The surprises in this issues - and what comes next - constitute one of the biggest events in Marvel history," said David Gabriel, senior vice president for sales and circulation at Marvel.
But is death really the end and, more so, will it be permanent? After all, death has visited the Fantastic Four, which was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and first appeared in 1961, before.
Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, supposedly died, but that was just a ruse. Similarly, her husband, Reed Richards, a/k/a Mr. Fantastic, was thought dead after being caught in a blast with his archenemy, Dr. Doom. Instead of death, however, Richards and his nemesis were snatched away to another dimension.
This time, however, Marvel is adamant, noting that once the current story ends in No. 588, the Fantastic Four will cease to exist.
"We've been building to this story and this moment since Jonathan began writing the series around a year and a half ago," Brevoort said. "It's a story that will have a transformative effect on these characters - virtually nothing will be the same after the events of this story. And that was the reason to go this route - to bring about these seismic changes to the characters and to the series."
Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada said the story is part of a wider effort to not only keep readers entertained, but engaged.
"The beauty of the Marvel Universe is that it is in constant change. Things are always happening, very much like life itself," he told AP. "For us, being stagnant just means that we're not doing our job. At the end of the day, its about characters, soap opera, dramatic events and things that keep our readers coming back for that next installment."