Marvel's First Family finally made a return to their original series this week in the pages of Fantastic Four #1, the first comic book to bear that name in more than three years, and while all eyes going in to the book were on the reformation of the title team, the story also gave us another big development.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Fantastic Four #1 below**
As the new series by writer Dan Slott and artist Sara Pichelli begins, things are still much the same in the Marvel Universe when it comes to the Fantastic Four. Ever since the Secret Wars event ended and restored the universe to its rightful place, the world has presumed Reed Richards, Sue Storm Richards, and their children Franklin and Valeria (along with the rest of the Future Foundation kids) to be dead. In reality, the Richards family has been off on a cosmic adventure in the Marvel multiverse ever since defeating Victor Von Doom during Secret Wars, but that remains a secret to virtually everyone.
Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm have continued adventures of their own throughout the absence of their friends, but while Johnny — with a little help in the past from Peter Parker — holds out hope that Reed and Sue will be coming back, Ben is convinced that they're gone for good, and he's struggling to find a way to move on. The new issue opens with what turns out to be a test for both Johnny and Ben: A flare in the skies over Manhattan that appears to be the original Fantastic Four signal.
Johnny, of course, races off to find out find the source of the flare, believing he'll discover Reed and Sue. Instead, he finds a couple of kids from Yancy Street, who stole the signal flare from Ben's home and used it to pull a prank. Ben, who's spending his day with on-again, off-again girlfriend Alicia Masters, doesn't even try to find the source of the signal. He knows it's not Ben and Sue even as everyone around him is momentarily excited.
Still, the incident motivates Ben to take a proactive step in getting on with the next phase of his life, and after the excitement dies down he goes back home to collect another artifact he'd kept from the Fantastic Four's adventures: A fragment of Stellarex stone given to him by Astronomica after she helped guide the team home when they were lost in space. The gem is special to Ben not just because of memories of the team, but because Alicia — who is blind — was with them at the time, and when the stone (activated by Johnny's angelic singing voice) opened a portal back to Earth, Alicia said she could actually see its glow.
Amused by this development, Astronomica told Ben and Alicia that there was likely a scientific explanation for why the stone penetrated Alicia's blindness, but she preferred something simpler.
"But the truth is, some things you see with your eyes. The way home is something you see with your heart."
Astronomica gave the stone fragment to Ben in case he ever got lost again, and in the midst of accepting that his friends are never coming back, Ben is lost, but not when he's with Alicia. So, with a ring fashioned from the Stellarex stone, he goes to her apartment, and...
Alicia is one of the Marvel Universe's oldest supporting characters, having been introduced in the pages of Fantastic Four #8 way back in 1962 as the stepdaughter of the villain Puppet Master. A blind sculptress with an extraordinary talent for shaping images based on touch or description alone, she befriended the Fantastic Four after they defeated Puppet Master, and developed a relationship with Ben, seeing the beauty in his Thing form that he was still struggling to accept. The two began a romance, which eventually came to an end around the time of the original Secret Wars event, and at one point Alicia was even apparently married to Johnny, though it was actually the Skrull spy Lyja posing as Alicia while the real Alicia was in stasis.
Though their romance did not turn out to be permanent, Ben and Alicia have always maintained a closeness, sometimes blossoming back into what felt like more than a friendship, and sometimes not. Through it all, Alicia has been a key ally to the Fantastic Four, sometimes babysitting Franklin and Valeria and sometimes doing things as consequential as talking the Silver Surfer into turning on Galactus. Now, Ben seems to have realized something longtime readers have been hoping he'd grasp for years: That Alicia is the love of his life.
Of course, because this is a superhero adventure, we don't get to see the wedding bells right away. After their engagement, Ben and Alicia met with Johnny, and Ben asked him to be his best man. This sent Johnny into a rage, and he claimed that no one should be Ben's best man except Reed Richards, though when he attempted to fly away in anger, he instead returned in tears, finally accepting for himself that his brother-in-law and sister were gone.
Then, from somewhere deep in the cosmos, Reed activated a machine that set off some kind of transdimensional "4" emblem above Earth, signaling to everyone that they really are still out there.
Sadly, that's where we have to leave our heroes for now, with Ben and Alicia's engagement interrupted first by Johnny's grief, and then by the realization that the team really is getting back together. Still, this is a major, and beautiful, development in one of the longest-running love stories in the Marvel Universe, and hopefully it won't be long before we get to see the wedding of Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters, which hopefully won't end like other recent superhero weddings.
The story continues in Fantastic Four #2 on September 12.