1966-76 saw Chairman Mao's "Cultural Revolution", where China stopped being "the bad guys in the Korean War," and became "that giant nation that's changing rapidly." This led to Nixon building trade links, and the gradual rise of China as an economic powerhouse.
The Inhumans represent east Asians, once considered inhuman, but now becoming friends. (The Inhumans are from the Himalayas
bordering China, have strong traditions, loyalty to the state and family values, and even specialize in
This page begins when Crystal leaves Asia and ends when she is officially a member of the FF. From this point on the Inhumans will be instrumental in the future of the FF (see FF130-149, annual 12, etc.) Crystal represents the future, the expanding team, the one who needs to connect to other people. She is young, female, emotionally connected to people and nature, the antidote to Reed's insularity. The happiest times for the FF were when Crystal was present. This is because the four team members are like the four elements, and Crystal represents harmony between the elements. Of course, she may need to shake things up first, as in act 5!
What follows is the start of Reed Richards' long decline.
It may seem that this review is anti-Reed. Nothing could be
further from the truth! Reed is my favorite member of the FF, the
member of the FF I most identify with. He just wants to make the
world a better place, to explore, to make everything bigger,
better, more amazing! His heart is pure. He one of the world's
greatest heroes. He
saved the world more than a dozen times. He in entirely
motivated by selfless concern for others. This is what makes the
story so powerfully tragic, when he's brought low by his one
character flaw: trying to do it all himself.
Reed gives up easily, but Crystal is superb. She is a far better
tactical leader. This foreshadows how Reed and Sue will leave the
core team in act 5 and Crystal is more than able to replace them
(see FF307 and FF309). But we see now that it could have happened
in act 3, and avoided all the pain and suffering of act 4. Reed
needs to go, and Crystal is here to replace him. In FF72 Reed even
takes Sue away. But his believes that he must control everything
so he comes back at the first sign of danger (see
FF72 for details)
The previous issue was asked "is this the end of Mr Fantastic?"
and this issue it titled "and one shall save him."
Other points to note
Also compare this fighter jet: Kirby lines are deliberately added to the glass, presumably so the pilot can see exactly where items are in relation to the plane.
Other artists tend not to add these lines, unless they are homaging Kirby. But they are an example of Kirby realism. He fought in the war, and cared about real cutting edge technology. His technology, right down to the lines on the glass, feels real.
1. “'Then you too are a
criminal? I am in luck!' This unfortunate line is emblematic of
what is the chronic weakness of the early Marvel Age. Weak and
wet dialog like this is literally the only thing wrong with
this issue, but it is so persistent. It makes it almost
unreadable in the modern age, but I would challenge its
readability even in its own time." Hmm. have you ever
used Google translate? This is an alien from a different
dimension: what we hear is just a crude translation of something
that was no doubt sophisticated in his own language.
2. "The only thing that is slightly niggling is the idea that Reed is quite so helpless or un-resourceful, especially since there are plenty of things for him to grab hold of or swing around. He should have made at least one failed attempt at escape." This is why Reed is a bad leader. He cannot imagine a way out, so does not try. Someone like Ben or Johnny would try anyway.
These two issues are considered together because the comics code
authority (and common decency) will not let us pinpoint the exact time
Franklin was conceived, but it's pretty obvious that it has to be in
these two issues.
This is how we know this is the time:
WARNING: IF YOU SOMETIMES THINK I GO TOO FAR, YOU WILL WANT TO SKIP THIS SECTION.
SERIOUSLY, YOU WON'T LIKE IT.
OK, DON'T SAY I DIDN'T WARN YOU.
These issues show not just Reed and Sue but Johnny and Crystal in
love. But whereas Reed marries Sue, Johnny the hot headed youth, does
nothing. Crystal and Johnny date for four years, and act like they are
made for each other, yet they take it no further. Worse, Johnny
repeatedly lets Crystal go without following her: or rather, he only
follows later after much internal struggle. This behavior eventually
causes him to lose Crystal to Quicksilver. And it's part pf a pattern:
Johnny tries hard to be a ladies' man, but he's not good at it. His love
life is a disaster - see the notes to FF204 for a summary. Yet Johnny
is the world's most eligible bachelor! He's a superhero, handsome,
intelligent, rich, wants nothing more than to be in a relationship! Why
can't he settle down with a girl?
Then we have Ben: he loves Alicia, yet never settles down, with her.
He seems unable to commit. Why doesn't he just marry hr ad live with
her? After all, Sue and Johnny lived in Glendale in the early days and
commuted into work, and Sue and Reed tried commuting in the FF 260s.
There is no reason for Ben to live in the Baxter Building, so why does
The answer is of course alienation: being a superhero produces
problems and demands that other people cannot fathom. Only other
superheroes understand. Ben feels this worse than anyone: he does not
fit. Ben is a classic example of queer culture:
not sexually queer (at least, not necessarily), but "queer" in the
sense of "different", of feeling like you don't belong. You don't fit
Part of this being different is in being open to new experiences.
Superheroes see things regular people never do. They are less likely to
be traditional, though they may try hard to be traditional, as a way to
cope with the uncertainty of their life. Can you see where this is
Ben was feeling completely emotionally lost, without any anchor
except Johnny. If there was ever a time he would experiment, this is it.
Issue 65 we see Ben and Johnny tumble out of bed. The same bed. Then share the bathroom.
Let that image sink in for a moment.
This does not mean they are gay. In previous centuries where people
had less money it was common for families to share beds. And in cultures
where there is no taboo against homosexuality is was no big deal if
sometimes people cuddled. In the twentieth century it became this huge
taboo, something that was supposed to define your personality and cut
you off from other people. But ion other cultures being curious is
healthy: you get curious, try something, find it is not for you, and
that's the end of the matter. it does not matter, it's not important.
Why make a fuss?
Of course, the "Older man and younger man" theme fits right into the
history of sexuality: the ancient Greeks expected young men to
experiment that way before settling down and marrying a woman. And it
puts a new angle on Ben and Johnny's play fights: in the early days
Johnny was very immature and genuinely annoyed Ben, but as time went on
they both learned to see that the other was hurting and needed someone
to confide in. Who else can you talk to about Reed and Sue and what it's
like to see other worlds?
How does this fit with Ben's "old fashioned" values seen in FF236? it
is very common for somebody with a wild past to settle down and become
very conservative (Small c). Ben was once a star football player and
test pilot, remember: he didn't grow up in a monastery.
In conclusion, anybody who reads this who identified themselves as
strongly straight will probably hate this. How dare I suggest such a
stupid and crazy and offensive thing? But anybody who identifies as
LGBTQ, or reads LGBTQ literature, will probably say "sure, why not? It's
not a big deal." personally I believe that all the evidence points to
Ben finally marrying Alicia and Johnny finally marrying Crystal, and all
four being very happy. But before that, were they never curious?
Reed as a husband
Issue 64 continues the theme that Reed is not the best leader.
He spends over a week securing the negative zone door. Yes,
it needed fixing, but over a week? it only took him a few minutes
to get a specialized part from the other side of the world to
defeat Klaw, so a week is excessive. This is classic behavior from
a bad manager. Instead of doing the hard tasks that are most
needed (in this case, listening to the others and identifying your
own weaknesses) a bad manager will spend most of his time on the
few things where he feels safe, even though they are far less
important or could be done by others.
Where Sue finally snaps
After the building tension of previous issues this was where Sue finally told Reed what she thought. He promised
to change, so she believed him, but next time she won't. We are
still in the golden age but cracks are there.
Why didn't Ronin just return with more power? Because, as Ronin
says when he first appears, it makes no sense to go to Earth to
accuse on the first place: clearly the supreme intelligence has
some other plan. But being a supreme intelligence it's unlikely
the rest of us would recognize it even if we saw it.
Other points to note:
In the first part of this two parter, we saw Ben's confidence increase. Here it takes a battering again. More than ever he relies on Reed. The strongest being in the galaxy is once again made to feel like a helpless baby. How then does this story move the big story forwards? Isn't it a step backwards? No. The real significance of this story is behind the scenes. This issue, as printed, is very different from what Jack Kirby intended. He planned for the scientists to be noble and good, and the point of the story was to explore what happens when good people create a god who then righteously judges mankind as unworthy? But Stan Lee added the dialog as usual, and he changed the story to make the scientists evil. This was the last straw for Kirby. After years of plotting the stories for no pay, and creating characters worth billions of dollars (e.g the Avengers) for no extra pay, and pouring his heart and soul into creating the greatest comics ever and yet being paid basic page rates, and being promised a cut by the publisher Martin Goodman and then getting nothing, and Stan Lee changing his plots while getting paid far more than him just for adding dialog (at this point Stan's instructions were very short). Kirby said "no more." After this story was changed Kirby stopped giving Marvel his best new ideas, and he put a little less effort into each issue. For details and context, see the page on 1968.
Most comic fans see this as a very bad thing. For example, Mark
Alexander, in "Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years" makes a big deal
of the decline in quality as he sees it., from this point. But
that is because he measures quality in terms of new ideas. I have
a different take. No ideas are really new: all can be traced to
somewhere. The skill is in choosing. Yes, from this point most of
Kirby's stories are based on whatever he saw on TV. But that just
means the ideas were pre-filtered for quality: only the best get
through. In terms of the Great American Novel this simply
increases the novel's value, because it sucks in even more of the
cultural zeitgeist. The down side is that the stories had less
detail, which made each comic worse value per twelve cents paid,
at the time but in hindsight this matters little, as we can just
read the next issue more quickly.
We don't actually need to know the background: all of this is
reflected is reflected in the novel itself. Up to this point it
seemed that the inner conflict was going to resolve itself. All
the family problems stem from Reed trying to control everything,
and for the past year fate seems to be pointing him toward
stepping aside: the others now recognize his limits, and are
willing to challenge him, and Crystal is here as a more capable
leader. But in this issue that change. A spanner is thrown into
the works. Ben suddenly loses confidence again, and Reed gets a
huge ego boost from doing what he does best: assembling incredible
technology and leading the team against other great scientists.
The forces will still push Reed to retire (in FF71) but he is self
belief has received such a boost that he will not be able to resit
returning to take charge. This will lead to the tragedy of act 4,
where the team lurches from crisis to crisis, and Reed won't face
the truth until act 5, after he has been to hell and back.
OK, and what about the story?
What is man?
"The story itself is something
special. A strong moral discussion lies at the center of the
story and the gravity of that keeps all the issues in a tight
orbit. It is revealed that there is no villain in this piece.
The motivation of the scientists may be questioned, but they
have actually, to all appearances, achieved their goal of
creating the perfect human being who is without evil or sin —
and they are very appropriately terrified of it. It is the
Frankenstein story taken one step further: instead of man
creating life that is imperfect yet beautiful, this story tells
of man creating life that is perfect and therefore horrifying.
They are fearful of the judgment of ‘Him’, and all of the
conflict revolves around their urgent desire to destroy this
perfect creation even before it is fully created. It’s an
incredibly nuanced and profound philosophical quandary."
"There are elements in the plot which echo what Kirby had in mind for The Surfer. While the Surfer “fell to Earth” as a blank emotional slate, ignorant of the ways of man, he began learning quickly, absorbing like a new born or a fresh hard drive. It’s very possible The Surfer might have become a danger, might have seen men as inferior, or felt he had to learn the ways of power to survive. This is hinted at in the savage Surfer glimpsed in the final issue [of his own book, the issue drawn by Kirby]. It’s also the theme in part of two classic works of science fiction Kirby was familiar with."
Driving people away
This issue is the key to what drove Jack Kirby away. it also drove away the Fantastic Four:
Other points to note
How could Reed perfectly create a circuit based on its outside appearance? Most of the circuit is hidden: the inner workings of specialized chips, or the exact values of a capacitor, battery, or resistor. So what was Reed doing? We know that this band probably had alien origins (the scientists could not duplicate it). Reed has access to far more alien technology than they do, including three space warpers (the three faster than light alien craft he obtained over the years). He also has access to a time machine (taken from Doom's castle after FF5). Reed could see the arrangement of the sealed units in the wrist-made space warper, so he could work out how to make another one from the components at hand.How did Reed know how to link the components perfectly? As technology advances it becomes easier and easier to link. For example, the first computers required skilled technicians to connect them, but now everything connects almost automatically and you don't need a degree in engineering to operate a mobile phone. You don't even need to call out an engineer to wire it: it connects instantly. Alien technology will have taken this to the highest degree possible. Once you position the pieces in the right way the inner circuitry will do the rest. it's still a highly complex task for a human, unused to alien methods, but Reed is a genius.
This is where the whole family drama crystallizes (when Crystal
arrives: no subtlety here!). From now on, the need to put the
family first will be embodied in a child: Franklin. From now on,
the inability to move forward will also be embodied in the same
child, as he distorts reality and
slows down time in an effort to prevent anything bad
happening. Yet this will of course course result in far worse things.
Everything pivots around Franklin.
This is the emotional heart of the story, and although these
reviews focus on Reed's failings, these are minor compared to his
strengths. He really does love his family, so there's no conflict
with Reed i this story. It's a celebration of love.
"The Psycho-Man showdown takes place on a tropical island, like a setting from the best adventure cartoon of the Sixties – Jonny Quest." (Robert Papetti, "Fantastic Four In The Silver Age Sixties: A Tribute")
Other points to note
All the most important events are in the annuals:
The annuals focus on the generations of the family:
Patrick Ford wrote:
"The story featuring the Inhumans has got to be one of the most butchered stories Kirby created for sale to Marvel. It's absolutely clear numerous pages were cut, probably to accommodate the Silver Surfer story which was orphaned when Marvel's plan to introduce several new titles was shelved. You can see here Crystal joined Ben and Johnny on the mission. In Lee's rewrite she stayed behind with Sue. This likely was simply so that her sequence with Johnny could be cut from the story. In an attempt to explain quickly why the Panther was in the story Lee introduced the ridiculous idea of a "Panther Island" in the Caribbean. I'm not sure, but I would guess Panther Island was never mentioned again in a Marvel comic book. Clearly there were more pages cut which explained why and how the Panther came to be on that Island."I replied:
"The butchering was badly timed by Stan. story wise, this takes place immediately after FF 67, "Him", which was the last straw for Kirby's decision to hold back his best ideas. To have Stan then wreck his next major story, and reject pages (presumably not paying for them after commissioning them) was just twisting the knife."
Johnny grew up without a father, and learned everything from
Reed. So it is no surprise that he treats every event as a
conflict and has no idea how to treat women. In this issue we see
the first sign of trouble between Johnny and Crystal. Right now
this is a minor thing, but it will get
worse and worse until Crystal has to leave. Crystal was
supposed to be the replacement for Reed, the one who would lead
the team into ever greater glory, but instead Johnny's immaturity
will drive her away and the team will suffer years of misery (act
The tragedy, the irony, the contrast
This issue also reinforces and develops the central tragedy of
the series: that Reed loves his family, yet his mental limitations
are the cause of their problems.
Reed genuinely and deeply loves his old friend. This issue
emphasizes the point: he praises Ben's big heart, he tries to
cheer Ben up, and also tries to change him to normal. But Reed
lacks the sensitivity to see that his crime was not in changing
Ben into the Thing, but in destroying Ben's self esteem at every
opportunity. Reed never means to, but he lacks the emotional
insight to see how his words hurt. Sue doesn't see it either,
because she totally accepts Reed's statements that Ben's condition
is purely physical. Sue lacked a father when growing up, and
treats Reed's opinions and harsh words as if they were gospel
truth from her own father.
Ben settles down as a hero:
old blue eyes
"Bashful Benjamin was also
fondly known for his baby blues, though the pigment didn’t
premiere until the last page of FF #68. Before then his peepers
were just black dots, but a year later the splash page of FF #80
hung another nickname on the big lug when Johnny yelled, 'Hey,
Blue Eyes!' Of course, all four members were depicted with the
same color irises, since comic companies reserved blue hues for
heroes. But only the enduring endearing Thing got the moniker
reflecting those qualities." (Robert Papetti, "Fantastic
Four In The Silver Age Sixties: A Tribute")
Other points to note
These five issues, FF67-71, summarize the core strengths and
weaknesses of the team, ready for the major turning point of FF72.
FF67 is the team's greatest strength:they area loving family.
FF68 is Johnny's strength (youthful enthusiasm) and weakness
FF69 is Ben's strength (physical) and weakness (insecurity)
FF70 is Reed's strength (he can combine the Thinker's calculating power with Ben's spirit) and a warning of his weakness: he will rely too much on his machines. This foreshadows Reed's weakness at the end of act 4, when he hits his lowest point. In John Byrne's run (FF232-294): that portrays Reed at his lowest ebb, when he builds his house as a fortress against the outside world, starts to talk mechanically, almost like the Thinker, and is often shown very small, surrounded by towering machines. As he spirals toward self realization in that run he will fight less and less, and finally end up in FF290, hidden in a protective suit so he does not need to physically touch anybody, because he is trapped in his own personal negative zone. But here in FF70 we are still in the golden age, we can still see Reed at his best, willing to jump into real life and risk death for a principle of truth.FF71 is Sue's strength (her love of the family) and weakness (fear of challenging Reed)
As noted before, these issues take it in turns to highlight the
strengths and weaknesses of the team and its members, all building
up to the great turning point on the last page of FF71. We had to
finish with Sue because this is about her and the baby. Reed
finally does the right thing and focuses on his family.
"This issue shows a genuine
turning point in the FF dynamic, the first meaningful one since
Reed and Sue got married — and potentially more significant…
This story is entitled "and so it ends" - it should have been the end of the old team and the start of a new one, where Crystal and Johnny take over the Reed and Sue role, lovers who will soon get engaged. Note that there are four in the new team: where Crystal is, Lockjaw won't be far behind. Lockjaw will let Ben see himself from the outside,another misunderstood "thing" treated as an inferior because of his looks.
But instead we will see next issue that the team is not ready.
Reed comes back at the first sign of trouble. The problems will
grow until the team breaks apart and a long fourth act sees them
stumble from crisis to crisis. Finally in act 5 the team will be
ready. Johnny will be mature and Crystal will come back, Ben will
have a She-Thing in the Lockjaw role to help him see himself from
the outside, and Reed and Sue will leave to focus on Franklin. But
all of that is a long way away, and should have happened now, but
they team are tragically not ready.
Other points to note
This review focuses on Reed's failure. but it must be seen in context: hubris is the one small character flaw in perhaps the greatest human hero who ever lived. He saved the world more than a dozen times. This makes his story a Shakespearean tragedy: the great hero, the selfless man motivated only by love, who is brought low due to one tiny human weakness: proud. Yet he has more to be proud of than any other hero who ever lived.
In this issue Reed fails the test: at the first sign of trouble he turn back. To be fair, Johnny was not yet mature enough for Crystal and Ben had not yet worked through his ow problems: they were not ready. The same test will occur in act 5, but that time Reed will hold his nerve.
Some people think the Watcher was telling Reed that he had to go back and fight, but if we step back and look at the Watcher's long term behavior we see that this was a test. Will Reed do the right thing? Here is a perfect example of a problem where Sue's method of making alliances would have worked, just as it worked when Alicia calmed the surfer the first time. The surfer is an honorable being and all he needed was reasoning with. Reed could have done it. Alicia certainly could have done it. Sue could have done it, but instead she deferred too much to her husband. This would have been Reed and Sue's perfect role as emeritus members; they could act as advisers, solving problems from a distance without fighting. But instead Reed fails the test and sees this as a conflict situation, and rushes back to control the others.
The surfer's personality
The surfer's plan is a throwback to how he was before Alicia calmed him: it "is consistent with the Surfer’s violent past as herald to Galactus — why would he not try to solve this problem with violence? He’s run ahead to scout out planets to destroy for sustenance, which isn’t a job which affords a lot of experience with nuance and finesse. Additionally, he is almost driven to madness with desperation at being trapped on such a corrupted little planet." (source)
War and global politics
If the Fantastic Four is the Great American Novel, then it should
have something to say about war. After all, America is the most
powerful military force the world has ever known, with military
bases across the globe, and is constantly at war with at least one
other nation. So, what is the role of war in a civilized society?
The Great American Novel should have something to say on the
The zeitgeist: the Report From
Critics call the report a satire written by Leonard Lewin (as he
claimed in 1972), conspiracy theorists say it was genuine. Either
way, it represents the zeitgeist of the time: the most influential
satires, like this one, draw attention to real concerns through
using hyperbole. Jonathan Swift's "a modest proposal" is perhaps
the best known example of satire, where he draws attention to the
famine in Ireland and the callous extraction of wealth by foreign
landowners, and suggests in the most reasonable terms possible
that the Irish should eat their babies. The idea was horrifying
nonsense of the blackest kind, but highlighted real problems of
the most urgent kind, and also highlighted their likely cause (the
Irish people were treated as worthless by their foreign masters).
The Report from Iron Mountain, if satire, serves the same purpose:
it suggested ways that a single world government could be created
by uniting people behind an external threat: it suggested alien
invasion, war, climate change, etc. if genuine then of course the
report becomes even more prophetic.
FF72 presents the same idea in simple form: the alien Silver
Surfer tries to unite the planet through war. His aims are noble
and idealistic. The dramatic cover, "where soars the silver
surfer" and the appearance of the Watcher reflect the historical
importance of this story. Incidentally, this is a perfect
example, along with issue 80 (Tomazooma) of a Fantastic Four issue
that at first glance appears to be shallow or even silly, but
turns out to have the greatest depth. Where Jack Kirby is
concerned the sillier the concept appears to be the more it
deserves study. If we don't understand that is evidence of our
shallowness, not his.
The role of war in human history
The surfer's attitude, that war creates civilization, may seem crude, but it betrays a deep understanding of economics. This nature confirmed by human history. For details see the interview with economist Barry Weingast on the subject of global poverty. What follows is a poor summary. Basically the surfer was right.
Those of us in comfortable nations may deceive ourselves that we are enlightened: after all, we have a more or less free press, the rule of law, freedom to plan ahead, more or less reliable institutions, and so on. We see the results in networks of trade, an absence of wars between rich nations, and great wealth relative to our ancestors. We further deceive ourselves that if only poor countries could wake up and see, those countries would also have the rule of law and become much richer.
But in reality poor nations are trapped: undeveloped countries are full of desperate people. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain by fighting. So a leader can maintain control is one of two ways. First, through a network of terror. Or second, by paying off powerful groups through corrupt practices. Both of these weaken the economy. If a ruler decided to end corruption then the powerful groups would no longer get their corrupt payments and would topple the government.
This is the case throughout most of the world: in poor countries the average constitution only lasts for seven years. Violent overthrow is normal, people cannot afford to plan ahead even if they want to, and the cycle of misery continues. This was the case in all countries until a few hundred years ago: every country had a king and various lords, and only maintained order through corrupt and inefficient payment systems. For example, in England the king was afraid of the barons and the barons afraid of the king, and each allowed the other as much power as they had to. The system was corrupt from top to bottom and the regular people suffered.
How then can people escape this cycle of poverty? Any good king is just as trapped as the peasants at the bottom. The answer is usually war. At some point a neighboring country will attack, and the need to survive forces the nation to work together more efficiently: it either becomes more efficient or it is replaced. That efficiency might disappear after the war, but eventually somebody will find a way to create a pocket of efficiency that lasts: usually through a trading arrangement. Once there is one area where the rule of law applies and people are able to make an economic surplus then law and its benefits can expand. Once there is the rule of law then people find it advantageous to cooperate in order to make even more wealth, and thus we have a pressure for more cooperation and thus more moral behavior.
We might think that this only applies to poor countries and rich countries no longer need any threat to make them unite. However, the principle is a relative one, not an absolute one: it always applies. As long as there is sufficient inequality and corruption there will always be an economic incentive to be evil. For example, for centuries after European nations began to be wealthy they still had corrupt class system. It took World War I and World War II to force them to cooperate: those led to massive reforms that benefited everybody. Even America saw a great increase in living standards and reforms: ending child labor, Depression era poverty, racist segregation etc.
So the Silver Surfer is making a desperate but rational calculation: no matter how many people he kills in his war (and he will of course be able to minimize it, due to his total control of his massive power) , if it forces mankind to unite then it will save far more death than it causes.
But of course the logic is flawed, as the surfer sees at the end.
He realizes that a single war cannot cause this unity:
statistically most wars cause more destruction than they prevent.
A better way is to find just a small pocket of reason and law on
Earth. Then that pocket will be economically more efficient and
can expand without the need for war. The question is, can such a
pocket or sanity exist? The is persuaded at the end that it can:
because the Fantastic Four are an example of such a pocket of
sanity. But this is not a trite or simplistic decision: the role
of monopoly violence in the state is a major problem that
economists and philosophers have wrestled with, from Plato to
Hobbes and beyond.
Religion in the FF
This issue contains the clearest reference to formal religion.
But the hints are there right from the beginning, where Reed's first panel refers to him praying.
The Watcher's test
When the Watcher says the highest power of all is love, this
foreshadows the triumph of soft power: In act 5 Reed will finally
solve all his problems through focusing on his family, which
happens to include the most powerful hero of all, his son
The Watcher is far wiser than humans understand. This is all part of his test. To understand the Watcher's test, let us recall the Watcher's seven appearances.
1. FF13, the first appearance: the Watcher understands Reed's ego. Read the Watcher's final words - note the picture - he's talking to Reed: you will never be alone! That is, you do not have to do it all yourself"!
20, the molecule man: the Watcher does not interfere, but he acts
in such a way that the humans must decide. So we can infer that he
was not telling Reed what to do when he stopped the train in FF72,
he was just providing information.
3. FF 29, the red ghost again: we see that success hinges on realizing that the small things you ignore can be very powerful.
4. FF annual 3, the wedding machine: he lets Reed use a simple version of the ultimate nullifier (this one merely wipes out events for some people, not everyone). It illustrates that no matter how big the danger, we can sometimes solve it without any conflict.
5. FF 48-50, Galactus: the Watcher uses Johnny, not Reed. His explanation is that Johnny can avoid the dangers, yet Reed can stretch and shrink and control every inch of his body - he could navigate better than Johnny! However, Johnny can more easily take instruction. Humility is part of the intelligence that makes the Earth worth saving, and Reed lacks humility. So the next generation belongs to Johnny, not Reed.
6. FF 60, when Doom has the surfer's power. The Watcher clearly wanted to interfere but he did not. He must have known that Johnny could easily solve the problem by asking Lockjaw, but the Watcher kept quiet. Just as now, he simply points out the problem and watches to see what Reed will do.
7. FF 71-2: now. the Watcher warns against extremism in the team's response. And what does Johnny then do? He hurls a bolt of nitro flame at the Surfer! He fails the test. He could have solved the problem through dialog.
The Watcher says that he is forbidden to enter the fray. He is
going to say something else, but Reed says "say no more" and takes
it as a reason to fight. Reed has made his choice. But when he has
gone, the Watcher continues speaking. he says what Reed was too
impatient to hear, that the greatest power is love. This is why
Alicia could defeat the Surfer but the combined attack force of
the fantastic Four could not. Will they ever learn?
The Watcher's later appearances continue to highlight the historically most important issues:
This issue provides yet more proof that Reed is a better scientist than a leader. Today's bonehead mistake was in sending Sue away. Sue has defeated Doom in the past (their first meeting in FF5) and will thwart him again (in FF87). More to the point, and her intuition could have picked up the false body transfer claims much sooner: Sue could have solved this quickly! But Reed told her to stay away and once again we have the most pointless of pointless fights, keeping the team away from more important tasks.
Are other Marvel comics in continuity? Within the FF, FF
stories are based on what Reed tells Stan and Jack at story
conferences. Realism is the basis of the stories' power so we
must assume that they have the same comics we have. Spider-Man
sure as heck does not visit them and say "my secret identity
is Peter Parker" because that news might kill his Aunt May.
Only the events that we see in the FF are reported to Stan and
Jack, to the events in their own mags are guess work based on
whatever is in the news.
"This issue is the last of a five-part story that started in Daredevil issue thirty-five which were also written by Stan Lee, but illustrated by Gene Colan." (source) However, the story works perfectly well alone as well.
Sue can be sure that Doom is in Latveria because she sees him on TV. At this stage Doom's robots are not advanced enough to stand in for him. Doom develops more advanced robots in FF84.
The zeitgeist is of battles that may not need to be fought. The obvious one is Vietnam, but the issue refers to "Moishe Dayan" - a reference to the 1967 Six day war.
This is a major milestone in the bigger story. Not because Reed
lies to Sue, or because Galactus returns, but because Galactus is
summoned by the unborn Franklin. Sue wishes the baby can grow up in
safety - perhaps this is the trigger? The real story takes
place inside Sue Storm, and the irony is that the boys, as usual,
don't recognize this: they think they are protecting her. They
think she is safe in a quiet place of rest. They don't realize
that Sue is the eye of the storm, and they should be by her side.
This issue is the entire fourth act in miniature: Reed needs to make his family his top priority, and only then will the world be safe. But he has to be dragged kicking and screaming to that realization, and by then it may be too late. The following points refer to events from later in the story. It covers very big overarching concepts. You may want to bookmark it and come back after reading everything else.
Why is Galactus so different
Fantastic Four 48-50 (the Galactus trilogy, and more) is the gold standard for superhero comics. Utterly superb. Yet later appearances such as this one show serious differences. Here are some examples:
Now let's look at a solution to the problems. Our first exhibit
is the backup story in Fantastic Four Annual 23. It follows from a
similar backup story in Annual 22, and both could be considered
together. They give an overview of the highest powers in the
universe, and I would like to draw your attention to a comment
about the Celestials. A certain character in another comic was
shown defeating Celestials. But that is just because it suited the
Celestials for him to believe that. The stories also show that
scale is largely an illusion, and there is much we do not know
(the Beyonders, for example, are barely known at all). This is as
we should expect: advanced beings are not like us. They do not
look or think or act like us. We can draw some conclusions, but
those conclusions may be surprising. Let's go, shall we?
Advanced beings probably operate on higher dimensions. This means
one being might have multiple appearances in this world. Imagine
your 3D body appearing in a 2D world. Like putting your hand
slowly through the 2D surface of a bath of water. To that surface,
your hand appears as 5 separate shapes, then those shapes join,
change shape, get thicker... one being appears as multiple
slightly different beings! We can see this already in the real
world: as people we exist online as avatars. One person can have
many avatars at the same time. As Artificial Intelligence
improves, our avatars could even answer questions on our behalf.
We can exist as multiple beings!
Now recall the Watcher's comment that there are basically just two powerful beings: the Watcher and Galactus. It seems reasonable to suppose that the Beyonders, Celestials, etc., are merely aspects of Galactus. Galactus tests planets (eating those that cannot hide), the Celestials test planets (Arishem the judge), the Beyonders test planets (by providing rewards for those who reach a certain level), and so on. I further submit that each Galactus is a different aspect of the one Galactus, hence the different appearance, history, and behavior. The surfer may also have been raised to a higher dimension to gain his powers, explaining his different versions.
Our own Galactus
Our next exhibit is Fantastic Four 262, and follows from
the previous discussion: we are shown (in the Trial of Reed
Richards) that each civilization sees Galactus in its own image.
We have the Galactus that most suits us at a particular time.
Remember that the highest powers in the universe tend to
personify concepts, such as eternity, or the living tribunal. It
seems likely that the Watchers personify knowledge and Galactus
personifies testing or truth (the same thing). It is only
natural that these concepts change according to who interacts
The final exhibit is Fantastic Four 604, the climax to Jonathan Hickman's long arc.
My view is that after issue 321 we see different realities
slipping in and out of focus, so I take most later stories with
a pinch of salt (with the exception of Claremont's run: he
appears to use the original Fantastic Four). However, Franklin
exists across dimensions, so every Franklin appearance counts as
canon. But this is not an essay about Franklin, so I will cut to
the chase. I did warn you about spoilers, didn't I? OK, here is
the conclusion to Hickman's 50 issue arc: Galactus is the herald
of Franklin. Yes, you read that right. Don't act horrified. It
makes sense if we step back and look at the nature of Franklin's
Franklin and Galactus:
Franklin basically connects realities. I won't go into details, but he
is a doorkeeper. He lets the entire universe (or a part of it)
slip into an alternate universe. By letting people switch
universes he appears to be creating or changing entire
universes, but it's more subtle than that. It's more like
connecting doorways, except you do not physically walk through
any door, the normal passage of time does the walking for you.
It's all quite simple and subtle really. As annual 23 said,
scale is an illusion. But this is not an essay about Franklin.
If Franklin's power is to connect universes, and Galactus personifies testing, it follows naturally that Galactus is the herald of Franklin because every test leads to a new state of the universe (e.g. one where we have defeated Galactus or one where we are destroyed). All the rest of it, the explosions and battles and Kirby dots and such, is just how we experience this higher dimensional testing and connecting. Galactus only appears in his big G form when the test is of a particular type.
Put another way, Franklin represents the new, Galactus
represents the death of the old. It's the circle of life.
OK, with that understanding (Galactus adapts to us, and is
attracted to Franklin), let us examine the seven battles with
Galactus in the core Fantastic Four timeline. Note the Biblical
significance of six struggles leading to success on the seventh.
FF 48-50: this was the great test. Galactus finds the Earth, and he represents all the grandeur of the universe, as you would expect. One way to think of the ultimate nullifier is that it does what Franklin does: it jumps everything to a different reality. But in this case it resets everything to how it was, say, a billion years ago, so our conscious lives no longer exist. Compare the null bands that Johnny flies through to reach the start of the universe. This probably makes more sense if you consider how reality arises from mathematical logic. Why does Galactus find Earth? Galactus is a fundamental force of the universe (see FF262). When Reed triggered the Beyonders' powers (see FF319) Galactus would have been alerted. If Earth survived then it would be able to produce higher and greater powers, and that means Franklin. Earth passed the test, and soon Franklin was born.
The second appearance of Galactus, FF 74: One year later (1967) Sue learns she is pregnant with Franklin. She learns in annual 5, a Microverse story. Soon after, in another Microverse story, Galactus feels drawn back to Earth against his will ("Galactus did VOW to NEVER RETURN-- and yet, he is HERE!") and is inexplicably desperately hungry. Ironically the boys are rushing around like mad things (seriously this is probably the busiest arc ever) and they think they are letting Sue rest. But the real story is going on inside Sue's womb: Franklin's stress hormones are dragging Galactus to Earth.
The third appearance, FF 122: Franklin's life is relatively uneventful for a few years (except for the birth, but this was probably a Cesarean due to the complications, so Franklin probably didn't feel too stressed). But by the age of four Franklin is old enough to realize what is going on, and it coincides with the beginnings of the family problems that I call Act Four. (Although Franklin is four years old in 1972 he only lets himself appear as two years old.) The Over-mind debacle in particular was a time of enormous stress for the family. This must disturb Franklin at a deep level, and so Galactus is drawn back to the Earth. Galactus always adapts to the culture that attracts him (see FF262) so when around a four year old Franklin he looks and acts like a four year old would expect. In FF 122 Galactus looks like a toy soldier with bulging muscles, and acts very dumb (tripped over by Ben, and has an easy to access spacecraft with a gigantic self destruct button). He even plays with a roller coaster and giant train set. He is basically molded to Franklin's four year old brain. He is announced by Franklin's nanny, Agatha Harkness, Agatha watches throughout, and he (Galactus) ends up in Franklin's home turf, the negative zone.
The fourth appearance, FF 172:Though Franklin is brain zapped in the 140s he isn't really aware of this (he is far more concerned with what happens to his family). Franklin is next aware of major problems when his uncle Ben fights against the family, then loses his powers and is replaced and fights them again. Franklin's eight year old brain (appearing as three years old) has a typical eight year old solution: he unconsciously has a new, better Earth built, and summons Galactus there so his family can prove once again that they do the right thing. And how does his eight year old brain get rid of Galactus this time? By giving him indigestion!
The fifth appearance, FF 212:Franklin is getting older and better at controlling things: Galactus is becoming more of a friend. The family experiences a new crisis - Sue and Reed and Ben age and almost die, so Franklin unconsciously summons Galactus to help against the Sphinx. Obviously he doesn't just say "come here Galactus" - it is all unconscious through manipulating reality so that others do the job, but the result is the same. When he finally masters his powers in FF 604 then yes, he does say "to me, my Galactus." Of course Galactus still asks for his dinner, but that is just how the test always goes, and the family always passes the test.
The sixth appearance, FF 243-244: the defeat of Galactus, the herald of Franklin, leads immediately to FF244: Childhood's end. This leads to Reed telling Franklin to turn off his power, leading to him being hung upside down as fresh meat for Annihilus. This trauma not only drags his parents back from Reed's negative zone debacle, but also drags Galactus along for the seventh and final time..
Friendship with Galactus means the end of the universe. By 262 Galactus and
the team are friends. This causes the break down of
reality and end of the world (in the FF 340s), just as Galactus foretold
in FF 213. See the notes to FF213 for details.
Continuing the aftermath of Reed's disastrous decision to come
back, we see the team waste their time fighting duplicates of
themselves rather than saving the world or doing something useful
for others. When Reed came back what should have been an ever
growing and improving family suddenly got stuck in sand. Nothing
symbolizes lack of progress more than wasting time fighting
yourself. The key to this issue is that Reed should have devoted
his time to Franklin. This is why the Beyonders gave the team
their powers, to raise Franklin (see FF319). By rejecting his role
as a father, Reed has messed things up. It's reed's mistake that
brought Galactus and resulted in the clones. Reed is battling
The appearance of the doppelgangers, and all the other
stuff, foreshadows what happens after act 5. Let us compare
1968 (when Franklin was born and Marvel Time began) with 1988-89
(when continuity ended):
|Reed leaves to focus on
||Reed leaves to focus on Franklin|
|He gets cold feet and comes
||He gets cold feet and comes back|
|Franklin panics and summons
||Franklin panics and merges reality with Limbo|
|They waste time battling
doubles of themselves
||They waste time battling doubles of themselves|
|Soon after Ben realizes he
will be the Thing forever
||Soon after Ben returns to his old Thing look and stays that way forever|
|this reflects events behind the scenes|
|Stan replaces change with
"the illusion of change"
(see Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: the untold History"
|Marvel bans change
(see Steve Englehart's web site on FF322)
|The writer is angry with Marvel and leaves after a year||The writer is angry with Marvel and leaves after a year|
|this reflects uncertainty in the real world|
|the end of the sixties;
a year of assassinations and student riots;
|The end of the cold war;
the Berlin Wall fell; America lost the enemy that had defined its purpose
|and the style of comics
|Stan avoided taking sides for
fear of lost sales,
chose quantity over quality: more and more titles
|Comics no longer had clear
heroes or purpose,
chose Image over substance: "writers don't matter"
Note the irony in Reed
criticizing Ben. Reed tells Ben to think of others, and says that
he thinks of Sue. but Reed lies to Sue and prevents her from
reaching her potential, just as he criticizes Ben in order to stay
as the alpha male. But none of that is conscious. Reed;'s mind is
free of any malice, but his flaw, his ego, makes him fail and
makes him a tragic figure.
The key to the these crazy Galactus and Microverse issues is the
rhetorical question on the cover of FF75. It applies to the
surfer, but more than that it applies to Reed. Remember that as we
review the microverse issues
Galactus "rips an island up, tossing them into the water where they are quite helpless. Ben sinks instantly, Reed tries to save him, and Johnny is pretty powerless. This is a genuinely interesting situation for the FF to be in — defeated by a large body of water — and it is thrilling. It would have been nice to note that had Sue — or possibly Crystal — been with the team, they wouldn’t be in as much trouble as they are" This is the whole point! That is the plot! It's the whole 28 year story in miniature: if he treated his family with respect all his problems would be solved.
Galactus "gives them three doppelgangers to fight — evil versions of themselves. Why go to all that trouble when he already had them powerless in space?" and Galactus "sends a planet-sized asteroid hurtling towards Earth. This forces us to question exactly how weak and powerless Galactus actually is beyond all his insistences. Surely if he has the power to do all this, then he has the power to free himself from his stranded predicament?" Galactus is confused, but too proud to admit it, and he needs the FF to provide answers.
Why would Crystal go along with this? See above: her background is in a strict monarchy. In a strict monarchy you do not question the male boss.
This issue sums up Reed's avoidance of family duties, and his
desire to believe he is smarter than others: like somebody on drugs.
The comics code would not allow any hint of drugs, but it's
clear what this issue is about:
About androids and fake teams
Here we have yet another indestructible android. Why? Every issue has another (Thinker's android, his fake FF, Galactus' fake FF, this, Doom's android, finally issue 100) Why? Think: what is the opposite of an android? A real person. What is the opposite of the fake FF? The real FF. Real is growth. Real is learning from mistakes. Sue has just given birth. Reed has treated the adults like kids too long, he needs to focus on a real kid. He cannot win where he is: he cannot do it all himself. There will always be another pointless enemy until he wises up.
Cause and effect:
"Psycho-Man makes an appearance long enough to send an ‘Indestructible’ after the intruders and then the FF run into that. They fight, of course, and then the robot disappears. Then the Surfer comes back. Then he leaves again. It’s not just that there’s a lack of closure, there’s a lack of meaning. " All of these events are explained in the story itself. The surfer came to amuse himself by watching the team, heard what they said, and chose to save them from the robot then sacrifice his freedom to a nobler cause. Yes, it's a lot of crazy stuff happening, but there's a reason for that. Step back and see the long term story. Franklin is about to be born. The insane pace and vast scales, from cosmic to subatomic, reflect the unborn Franklin is becoming aware, but he does not understand: it's all a swirl of sensations and that is reflected in the outside world. The "closure" is that they escape this world and thus Franklin can be born.
Lack of conviction:
"The FF need to get the Surfer to join up as Galactus’ herald in order to save the human race, but they go about it ham-stiltedly, with a total lack of conviction." Yes, that is the bigger story here: as long as Reed ignores Sue he will fail. This issue foreshadows act 4, and contains the 28 year story in a nutshell: Reed is not really in control and he knows it but will not face it. He tries to believe he can solve everything, while ignoring his duty, the people who can solve his problems - his wife and unborn son.
Franklin is destined to control the Marvel Universe: the Beyonders designed mankind for this moment (see the notes to FF 319) it makes sense that higher beings would take a keen interest in the birth. So where are they? Take the Stranger for example. His purpose is to travel the planets looking for mutants. Why doesn't he notice Franklin?
Franklin is the most powerful mutant of all, so where is the Stranger
when Franklin is born? This page in FF 76 appears to have the
answer. Sue's doctor seems to know more than he is admits. Why is the
doctor so keen that Reed gets back before the birth? Men were not
allowed to be present at the birth (see annual 6), but Reed had to be
back in order to save the baby's life. If that is what the doctor means,
how could he know that? Let's look closer at this doctor. Where have we
seen him before?
Other points to note
The key to understanding this wild and crazy issue it is to focus
on the biggest extreme: Sue's quiet peaceful life, and the the
boys' chaos. The link is obvious, even if we don't understand its
"And good lord, how long are we going to tolerate this treatment of Susan Richards? She is now completely bed-ridden, able to do no more than swoon. It would have made sense to give her some sort of mysterious illness or mundane complication to warrant her complete debilitation after what can only be a couple of months worth of pregnancy. It’s as if not only had Stan or Jack not witnessed a pregnancy before, but they had only heard strange, disturbing, second-hand tales told to them by dark travelers from distant lands. The effects of Sue’s pregnancy to her own body and mind are as otherworldly – not to say less believable — as a journey into a mysterious pocket dimension." (source)
So the link is obvious, the contrast is so great we can hardly miss it. It's Sue and calm versus Reed and chaos. But what does it mean? We have seen in the past 76 issues that the FF is largely the struggles of Susan Storm: her peaceful methods are generally better than than Reed's confrontational methods. This is the big picture, that if only Reed would focus on his family then everything would be resolved. Here his world is turning inside out because he went against his fate in FF72. Remember the
Pregnancy as literary metaphor
If we see this as a comic then we miss the depth. but if we see
this as a chapter in a much larger literary epic then we cannot
escape the metaphor of pregnancy. Something big (Franklin) is about to happen,
danger, unknown, new life, etc. all suddenly makes sense.
Criticism: about the energy Galactus needs (source)
"He resolves Galactus’ hunger
plight so maddeningly easily (he watched a comet hit a planet!
He found enough energy practically in the first place he looked!
What use are Galactus’ machines and powers if he can’t even
smash a planet with a big rock when he needs to? *Head slap*)."
Note that the surfer followed the meteor "half-way across the
galaxy." Clearly this is not an ordinary meteor. In half a galaxy
there will be countless billions of meteors, and billions of suns
each with the energy to bathe a solar system (that's the whole
point of a star!). Clearly the "energy" the surfer refers to is
the life energy that Galactus needs, and not simple kinetic or
thermal energy. There is something about this meteor that sets it
apart from others. The key is to understand what the surfer
means when he talks about energy.
"The question 'what is energy?'
is difficult to answer in a simple, intuitive way, although
energy can be rigorously defined in theoretical physics. In the
words of Richard Feynman, 'It is important to realize that in
physics today, we have no knowledge what energy is. We do not
have a picture that energy comes in little blobs of a definite
amount.' [...] Because energy is defined as the ability to do
work on objects, there is no absolute measure of energy. Only
the transition of a system from one state into another can be
defined and thus energy is measured in relative terms." (source)
Life is therefore the greatest source of energy because it can do more useful work. Useful work is a physics term. It refers to work that is worth measuring: work directed to a purpose, as opposed to atoms randomly hitting each other, which also involves work, but cancels itself out. Useful implies purpose and that implies intelligence. The key to the surfer's action is that the planet is "long dead" and may contain some history of when it was alive. Something about this highly unusual meteor is able to unlock that potential.
Other points to note
Even if we look at the short term events we see that each issue
leads to the next:
"As far as which super villain not named Victor fought the FF in the most issues, look no further than the Mad Thinker. ... he kept teaming up with the Puppet Master (FF #28, 100, Strange Tales #126). Maybe the Thinker, like the Mole Man, craved affirmation from peers. Why else would anyone hang out with lowlifes who played with cosmic apes and radioactive clay?" - (Robert Papetti, "Fantastic Four In The Silver Age Sixties: A Tribute")
The Thinker reflects the typical readers' life. This comic,
remember, is the Great American Novel: Whereas in previous
centuries the typical reader was a kid who played outdoors (hence
Tom Sawyer) or an adult who yearned to travel (hence Moby Dick or
any Jack London story), but the 1960s the American reader was
trapped in a city. Loneliness became the problem. Hence the two
most common enemies (after Doctor Doom) were the Mole Man (see
here for his loneliness ** link**) and the Mad Thinker. The Mad
Thinker felt unappreciated and was always trying to make friends.
To literally make friends: androids. Whereas the Mole Man had an
army of the ugly or small and simple minded (the unpopular kids)
to play with.
And beyond that, the Mad Thinker represents computers: he represents
one of the biggest changes in the world in the late twentieth century,
so he must dominate the Great American Novel.
Reed thinks he has "cured" Ben but in fact he makes the situation
worse. Ben's problem his low self esteem and fear of being weak.
By telling him he has to choose to be weak forever or ugly
forever, Ben chooses what he is told as ugliness. In the past this
condition was forced on him (as he saw it): e.g. in FF40 where
Reed turned him back int the Thing against his will. But now his
will is broken and he does it to himself. The key fact to remember
is that, as revealed in FF245 and hinted at many other times, Ben
could have always changed back and forth at will if only he didn't
feel so insecure. He could have defeated this android without
having to feel despair.
When Ben finally chooses to make himself the Thing then his
spirit is truly broken. He is like Winston Smith on the last page
of George Orwell's "1984". Yet more powerful, because he knows
exactly what he is doing and cannot see any way out. And the Big
Brother character, Reed, is not a two dimensional villain (in
"1984" the Party knows it is hurting people and does not care).
Reed is tormented over his inability o save his friend, yet Reed
is causing it. This is deep psychology, folks. It's powerful
Another drug metaphor
The process of powering up involves the wrist, just like
The Family portraits
When Kirby decided to leave, he began to include affectionate family portraits. Splash pages of happy family scenes, often leading to playful moments before the main action began. This heightens the contrast with when Kirby went and the family broke apart in Act 4 (in the 1970s).
"Consider the many family portraits:
My favorite family full-pager is on page 6 of issue #88. The FF and Crystal stand outside in the woods, wearing fashionable coats and looking like a rock band posing for an album cover. [...] The respite snapshots and Kodak moments felt real, and gave fans from deteriorating nuclear families the elusive sense of unity and belonging we craved and needed to depend on. The Fantastic Four was together, and we were a part of them." (Robert Papetti, "Fantastic Four In The Silver Age Sixties: A Tribute")
Many topics could be explored concerning this classic issue, particularly concerning land rights (a foundational theme of American history and culture), but this review will focus on Tomazooma and the Keewazi tribe, and what it says about American religion.
The previous issues addressed death (via Galactus), birth
(Franklin's) and marriage (Reed and Sue, and the hope of Ben and
Alicia). It's time to consider abstract morality. It's time to
talk religion, just as previous issues dealt with the existential
questions of survival and personal identity. The Great American
Novel addresses religion through a kind of parable featuring the
How this follows from previous
Reed Richards thinks that he, personally, is needed in the FF. He
does not realize that the
principle of leadership is more important then him as a
leader: the fact is that Crystal is a better decision maker, and
he holds them all back. This issue illustrates that: the principle of following a
righteous deity is good: but saying that you should follow a particular physical being is not good,
because that being, whether it is Reed of Tomazooma, will have its
own needs and might fail you.
Mockery from ignorance
This is one of the most widely mocked issues of the FF, yet it is
one of the most profound. Sadly, most readers miss almost all the
cultural references. Even Stan Lee missed them: the original plan
was for a different story entirely, and Stan did not know what to
make of this when it arrived. Hence the cover that simply says
"the return of Wyatt Wingfoot" - the only element that Stan could
latch onto. But let us look a little deeper.
(Please remember that most references in the FF are not consciously planned, but emerge naturally because the title absorbs the culture around it. The influences are real, even if Jack Kirby did not add them consciously.)
The key to this issue is its title: the living totem. Not "totem pole," as is widely assumed, but totem. "A totem is a being, object, or symbol representing an animal or plant that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, group, lineage, or tribe, reminding them of their ancestry (or mythic past)." - Wikipedia
Our next clue is when Reed says this is "the most dangerous legend of all" and that this is "the death that walks." Most readers assume this is a variation on Annihilus, who's purpose is to kill. But Comanche culture (see below) is different: death is not a bad thing, a death in battle is noble and leads to happiness and peace. This is a religious thing: the significance is not that Tomazooma kills people, but that Tomazooma represents an abstract principle made physical. Yes, he has power over life and death, but that is secondary: any true warrior would welcome death is the god willed it. To understand why a physical god is the most dangerous legend of all we need to understand Wyatt's culture.
The Keewazi tribe
Wyatt Wingfoot is from near Tulsa (see FF50) and is of the
Keewazi tribe. The location, and his unusual toughness, suggests a
link to the Comanche, and this is later confirmed in other comics.
The Comanche were known for their state of constant war, and
unusually for first nation peoples this meant they had less
respect for the older members of the tribe, to the extent that
suicide was culturally acceptable. This would explain why the
tribal leader is so willing to face Johnny's flame: to back down
would be worse than death.
The name Keewazi is probably a combination of the Kiowa and Wazhazhe people of this area, the southern plains. The name Wazhazhe (or Wažaže) was written by French explorers as "Ouasage" and was later mis-named the Osage. Osaage means "mother", presumably as in "mother earth." In their legends their ancestors were called the "war people" (as contrasted with their neighbors the peace people, the vegetarian Tsishus). Another group from the Oklahoma region was the Kiowa. "The ideal personality of the Kiowas was that of the young fearless warrior. The entire tribe was structured around this individual. The warrior was the ideal to which young men aspired. Because of these factors, the Kiowa was of utmost importance in the history of the Southern Plains." (- Wikipedia.) According to sources cited by Wikipedia, the southern Kiowa ('Gwa-kelega’) were allies of the Comanche.
Perhaps the Keewazi are a small group descended from both the Kiowa and Wazhazhe peoples, within the broader Comanche group. Regarding Stan and Jack this is unconscious of course. To them the name would have just "sounded right" without realizing why it sounded right. The name was probably influenced by Kewanis, a group dedicated to making the world a better place. The Kewanis name is referenced in the FF29 letters page. "Kiwanis International (kih-WAH-niss) is an international, coeducational service club founded in 1915. [...] The name 'Kiwanis' was coined from an Otchipew American Indian expression" (Wikipedia)
The most important fact for the purpose of this story is that the Keewazi are in Oklahoma, part of the Comanche. Comanche gods and spirits do not have physical form. It appears then that the Keewazi is a break off group that does have a physical god, Tomazooma. This is what Reed called "the most dangerous legend of all." Gods, in the sense of true abstract principles, cannot fail, but physical individuals often disappoint us and can be used to hijack religion for personal profit.
The significance of this issue
The theme of this issue is highly controversial: the story is
walking on eggshells: it deals with the most sensitive topic of
all, religion. The themes are clearly implied but cannot be stated
explicitly for fear of causing offense. Specifically, a religion
based on principles is good, even when those principles are
embodied in a distant figure. But if the religion becomes focused
on a particular living figure then religion becomes corrupted:
people no longer focus on the principle, but prefer the easier
option, magical thinking and "I am better than you." This theme is
of special interest to me - see my other web site, AnswersAnswers.com, for how
I believe that Christianity betrayed its true principles (respect
for reality) for a love of the supernatural. As I said, this is
controversial, and perhaps it's a message that can only be told
through another culture, in this case the native American
On a simpler level, the mixing of ball games and religion is
itself a comment on American culture, and the two cultures are
incompatible. It's deep stuff: better for this issue to be
rejected as nonsense than for Marvel's offices to be lynched by
The name Tomazooma - and that mouth
The name Tomazooma makes sense in the Nahuatl languages of
Mexico: toma means "to swell" as in tomana, or tomatle (swelling
fruit, hence the word "tomato") and "zuma" means "to frown in anger"
- hence his most notable feature, that gigantic angry mouth. So
"tomazooma" means "big angry mouth" The Comanche can extend as far
south as northern Mexico. Their language is in the Shoshoni group,
which is itself in the large Uto-Aztecan group, so the meaning is
The ancient ball game
Tomazooma is defeated by throwing a ball into his round mouth.
This reflects the
ball game that was played throughout ancient Mexico and central
America, where being on the losing team sometimes meant
death. The mouth has that distinctive round shape because it
reminds us of the goal mouth (or possibly the goal mouth was
modeled after the gods, such as the gods who provide the winds or
who swallow people, and would have distinctive mouths.
Apart from a misunderstanding of the purpose of the story, and an ignorance of ancient Mexican culture, this issue is also criticized due to ignorance of the FF and of how stories are compressed.
Finally, and on a lighter topic, the shapes used by Kirby in his exotic machines (not just for this issue) were the inspiration for a font: "Ottomat" - originally called Tomazooma, but the name was changed for legal reasons. The Kirby influence is most obvious in the lower case "a"