The Great American
                Novel Act 1:
                the danger Act 2: rising action Act 3: the ball Act 4: crisis Act 5: triumph the Franklinverse part 2, act 1:
                the new danger

1967: Act 3: Human v Inhuman (America and Mao)


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Summary
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 martial arts.)

Crystal
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!


61
Issue 61: We see that Reed should not be in charge


What follows is the start of Reed Richards' long decline.

Reed graph

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.

Fantastic Four 61

In this issue we begin to see that Reed really should not be in charge. As the cover states: "IN THIS EPOCHAL ISSUE: THE END OF MISTER FANTASTIC?"

the end
Mr Fantastic is no longer fantastic. Reed makes one of his biggest bonehead decisions ever. He is the world's greatest scientist: he belongs in the lab! Or if he wants to work with the team they should at least rotate leaders. Massaging Reed's ego by making him the boss is putting everyone at risk. 

What does Reed do that's a sackable offense here? To get rid of deadly fumes, Reed opens the door to the negative zone!!! Did Reed have no choice? Look how the Sandman escapes: there is a window nearby! Maybe Reed couldn't reach it in time? Er, folks, Reed can stretch!

Even Johnny warns Reed not to do it. Things are pretty bad when Johnny is smarter than Reed. Johnny is not as good a scientist of course, but he's an excellent engineer: remember how he built the new Fantasti-car back in FF12? And Johnny did great on his own in Strange Tales and in act 1 of the FF. But Johnny shares Reed's huge ego. Next issue we will see an eve better potential replacement.


Other points to note:

Criticisms (source)



62
Issue 62: Crystal is smarter than Reed (regarding leadership decisions)

Fantastic Four 62

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

camera

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.

cockpit lines

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.

Criticisms (source)

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.



63
Issue 63: Sue's emotions when trying for a baby

Fantastic Four 63


"Sexism is back again with Sue’s final comment 'Forgive me — for — suddenly turning… feminine…!' That’s just inexcusable." (source)

Really? Married women throughout history have pandered to their husbands' prejudices. This is a particular stage of trying hard, and continues to FF68, where Sue creates a mini skirt. Why does she try especially hard to please Reed right now? Look at the big event between FF67 and FF68: Sue learns she is pregnant (making it all the more dramatic when the team fail her in issue 69) She tries hard to please Reed just one other time: in FF232-256, when trying for their second baby (and that time is even more extreme because she's trying to pull Reed out of his depression).

Note that Sue never had a proper childhood (she had to raise her younger brother) and all she wants is her imaginary perfect family. But she never saw how it was supposed to work, and she saw her family break up, so can be forgiven for trying too hard to please Reed.

Realism

When we step back from the single issues we see how they are all linked together. For example, it may sound unlikely that Reed was working on an energy dampening device that comes in handy right now. But Reed says it was the last project he was working on before he got involved with the negative zone: the great refuge barrier was a neg zone, and that understanding helped him to devise a neg zone portal in 51. The last project he was working on (before the Inhumans kept him constantly busy) was a way to control Dragon Man. Some kind of general purpose power dampening device would be perfect. The short term method of controlling him is the tranquilizer. So presumably he means to sedate the brain somehow. The form (head gear) is similar to the mind reading head set used FF27.



64
65
Issues 64-65: Franklin is conceived

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.

conception

This is how we know this is the time:

  1. This is the only time possible
    In this period events took place more or less in real time. Issues 59-63 happen almost without a break, and the only gap is between 64 and 65 (between the destruction of the sentry and the Kree response: given that the sentry observes over thens of thousands of years we do not have to expect the Kree to respond instantly). Then we have no gaps before annual 5 where the pregnancy is announced.
  2. The theme is love
    The team has been working almost non stop since the wedding, with tension between the two. These two issues are about Reed promising to pay more attention to Sue: they go on vacation, they shop for clothes, they hug and kiss, etc.
  3. The only time that we hear of them in bed
    When the Sentry wakes them everyone talks about their sleep. We see Ben and Johnny in bed, and Reed says Sue was shaken up when in bed. This is the closest the comics code would allow to seeing the two in bed together.
  4. The sexual imagery
    The cover and first page to issue 64 is packed with subliminal sexual imagery. I almost blush to point it out. Where do we see Sue and Reed on the cover (what frames them)? What is the shape of Reed's "power core" (and what is the core of a person's power). Note the symbolism of putting up barriers (the splash page) and how procreation allows our lives to continue for countless millennia, like the Kree watching over the earth for thousands of years. Then the next story is about a cocoon where the ultimate human if forming: a symbol of Franklin's pregnancy.
  5. Introducing the Kree
    The Kree are mainly interested in humans due to our genetic potential. (This is what caused them to experiment and create the Inhumans.) So when the first superheroes arise and have a mutant child with unlimited power, of course they take an interest! It was a simple matter to guide them to  "accidentally" choose that island for a holiday. Perhaps the plan was to stop the intended procreation: attract the team to the perfect spot for love making, then kill them. The sentry knew nothing of this, but the Supreme Intelligence is called the Supreme Intelligence for good reason.
  6. The name "the sentry"
    The sentry is the name later chosen by Franklin during his mid life crisis. Or at least, that's where the evidence points. See Franklin's own page for details.

Johnny's sexuality

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 he?

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 in.

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 going?

Look at this period from Ben's point of view:

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.
the same bed

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.

We are reminded of Reed's inefficiency back in 58, because in this issue Lockjaw saves the day, by making Johnny notice the urgent message on the video phone. Lockjaw could have saved the team from the cosmic powered Dr Doom as well (by transporting him to another dimension) if they had paid attention.

Criticisms:

Real time

These issues appear to run into each other (apart from this one where at least a week has passed). How does real time work at this stage, when there are no obvious gaps? There are gaps, but we don't notice them unless we look carefully. For example, "Page 5's last two panels flow very naturally into each other, the FF load up their ship, and then leave — so long as you don’t read them. Read the panels, and you find out that Ben is not already in the plane, he’s off writing a letter, and there is a significant gap between the two panels." (source)

Where Sue finally snaps

Fantastic Four 65

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.


Criticisms:

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:

"When other artists picked up what Kirby created they interpreted this as a giant floating disembodied alien head. But looking at Kirby’s original drawing, it looks to me that within all that crackling energy, there’s the suggestion of a slug-like, worm-like body. Something akin to God Emperor of Dune.[and pre-dating it by many years ... ] Just like Captain Marvel was a Kree version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, I wonder if The Supreme Intelligence was a Kirby-ized version of the Shazam villain, Mr. Mind. It would seem natural for Kirby to introduce an imposing character like this, who the heroes later discover is a tiny tyrant, similar to what Kirby did later on with Overlord in Mister Miracle #2."


66
Issue 66: the idol of millions

Fantastic Four 66

Ben is showing signs of recovery. With Reed showing signs of weakness, we see signs of Ben the alpha male again. For the first time since act 1 (ignoring times he was influenced by mind control) he lashes out at Reed. Not because of hatred but to put Reed in his place. He gets a reminded that he is not a monster, he is not ugly, he is idolized by women everywhere. But after all these years of being put down, will his ego recover so quickly? With Crystal here, everything is moving toward a re-balancing of the team. The climax will come in FF72 when Reed and Sue finally concentrate on the family and leave the others on charge. But will they have the courage?


The heat tracer

How does the heat image tracer work? We know that unstable molecules adapt to whoever is close by (see the technology page). How do they know? The obvious way is by the collisions between molecules, that is: heat. Presumably unstable molecules are able to glean information from this. This is why Johnny finds it easy to detect a person's "aura": he specializes in sensitivity to and control of heat. Detecting the presence of other molecules could be called heat tracing.

We can infer that unstable molecules react to other unstable molecules, allowing them to adapt on a large scale. This is how the team;'s clothing adapts. We know that if a person was in a room, they would leave some kind of trace: a fingerprint, dirt from a shoe, a fiber of clothing, etc. By taking a long time to sweep the room, Reed's device could use unstable molecules to detect every trace of a particular kind of molecule (particularly unstable molecules), and extract every possible piece of information.

It is likely that Alicia wears clothing specifically for this purpose: she is the weak link in the Fantastic Four, the one an enemy would take as a hostage, so this situation was foreseen long ago. It is unlikely that an enemy would harm Alicia, because then Ben would find them and kill them. So kidnap is the expected danger. It is almost certain that Alicia wears something that is designed to leave a trace wherever she goes. It's probably in her underwear, as a kidnapper may want her to change clothing in order to avoid being noticed. Why does the comic not mention this? Because the story we read is the one that Reed tells Stan and Jack at their story conferences. The details of Alicia's security measures would be a closely guarded secret. Imagine what would happen if an enemy knew that the easy way to blackmail the Fantastic Four was to force Alicia to remove all her clothes... imagine how Ben would feel. If Marvel ever breathed a word of that fact then the comics code would not have to worry: Ben would have destroyed the Marvel Offices and the printing presses before the ink was dry.

How is that information then reassembled into a simple picture? This simply requires massive processing power. The Mad Thinker specializes in this: it's how he plans, and how he turned Reed's DNA experiment into a functioning adaptive Awesome Android. It's a similar technical problem to Reed's brainwave scanner, something that takes the fabulously complex activity of a brain and creates a simple picture. No doubt Reed makes good use of anything he captures when the Thinker is defeated.


Other points to note


67
Issue 67: the end of an era

Fantastic Four 67


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." (source)

Cultural Zeitgeist:

Patrick ford wrote:
"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


A5
Annual 5: Sue is pregnant

Fantastic Four annual
      5

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.

  1. Symbolically, the enemy is negative emotions.
  2. Reed is for once dominated by emotion (as elsewhere, but never more than now).
  3. Since Reed is happy, Ben can takes charge.

The zeitgeist

"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")

The annuals

Other points to note

All the most important events are in the annuals:

  • Annual 1: War between Atlantis and the human race
  • Annual 2: The origin of Doom
  • Annual 3: the Wedding of Sue and Reed
  • Annual 4: the Golden age returns (foreshadowing the next generation when Johnny will be in charge).
  • Annual 5: Franklin announced
  • Annual 6: Franklin born
  • Franklin begins to hold back time. So annuals 7-10 are just reprints.
  • Annual 11: America's bicentennial
  • Annual 12: the end of the FF and Inhumans (set in motion)
  • Annual 13: the underground races are finally friends; unhappy people finally have a happy home
  • Annual 14: Franklin is no longer a child
  • Annual 15: the Kree-Skrull war; return of Doom
  • Annual 16: big theme: marriage (Dragon Man always represents marriage. more research on this issue is needed)
  • Annual 17: big theme: American militarism
  • Annual 18: end of the Kree-Skrull war
  • Annual 19: end of Skrulls
  • Annual 20: neutralization of Doom (by having an equal and opposite force applied: Kristof).
  • Annual 21: the final annual of the 28 year story is about Crystal. The next generation must inevitably center on Asia and Crystal, but continuity ends in 1989. So Crystal must leave and the story stays in limbo until she returns.

The annuals focus on the generations of the family:

  • Annual 1. Namor's relationship with Sue, and being rejected by all people. he has no tribe.
  • Annual 2. The origin story shows Reed and Ben as young adults.
  • Annual 3. The marriage
  • Annual 4. Three generations together: the old torch, the current team, and hints of the next generation when the Torch will lead the team (what else can a torch do but light the way?).
  • Annual 5-6. The new baby
  • [7-10 are reprints]
  • Annual 11: Namor first meets Sue (for why this matters to the family, see the notes to FF 291)
  • Annual 12: Luna is conceived (?) (see notes to annual 12)
  • Annual 13: the family of man, above and below the Earth, is finally at peace
  • Annual 14: Franklin is no longer a child
  • Annual 15: Doom is reborn
  • Annual 16: on love and marriage
  • Annual 17: on Johnny's female friends and the milk of the next generation
  • Annual 18: the wedding of Black Bolt and Medusa
  • Annual 19: the next generation of Skrulls
  • Annual 21: Doom's child
  • Annual 22: Almost the last thing we see in the last annual as continuity ends is Black Bolt spelling out the theme of the whole 28 year story: Family.
family

The second story: Quasimodo

I love the Quasimodo story: the surfer's view of humanity, his love of life and justice, his hatred of killing. And I love how it fits with wider themes of computing and the Internet (see notes to FF202).

The zeitgeist: environmental awareness
Here the surfer learns about humanity's cruelty to his fallow creatures. Environmental awareness was growing in the 1960s, and the Great American Novel reflects this.
 "One young reader even paused to contemplate his upbringing after perusing the Surfer’s first solo story in FF King Size Annual #5. My father’s picture was in the newspaper for bagging a 10-point buck with a bow and arrow, around the same time the Silver Surfer condemned a panel of duck hunters: 'In all the universe, only here do wanton beings slay innocent creatures in the name of sport!' I could never look that head mount in the glass eyes again." (Robert Papetti, "Fantastic Four In The Silver Age Sixties: A Tribute")

Other points of note
    1. he was probably already controlled by his clay (see notes to FF20)
    2. he was using planet X technology (see notes to FF8) which probably alerted Psycho man's similar technology to its presence.


68
Issue 68: Johnny's immaturity... the first warning signs

Crystal

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 4).

Fantastic Four 68

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.

In this issue Reed continues his run of bad judgment. Sue;s intuition is never wrong, an it tells her that this doctor is a fraud. But she knows that Reed won't listen to her, so keeps quiet. The suffering of the next three issues could have been avoided if not for Reed's ego.

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")


69
Issue 69: King Kong

King Kong

In this issue the cover of the Great American Novel homages that great American creation, King Kong. Ben stands on the top of a building being buzzed by planes. The message is clear: the monster is not a monster, just misunderstood. And as the movie reminds us, it is beauty that killed the beast (Ben's inability to change can be traced to his insecurity, which led to his desperate need to be loved by Sue and then Alicia). Whenever you scratch the surface of his self control you find a raging monster. Incidentally, there are more parallels between the Hulk and Thing than most people realize: the only real difference is that Ben normally suppresses his rage, unconsciously pulling his punches, leading him to wrongly assume he is weaker.

These ideas are not new. Ben has had his psychological restraints lifted before, in FF41, and will again, in FF106-111. But this is such an important reminder that it comes up again and again. Without it we cannot understand the psychological truth underpinning the story.

Racism

As the Great American Novel this of course reflects deeper currents in society. America is an immigrant nation, and Ben, with his different skin, does not fit in. Reed's father was a billionaire, Sue and Johnny's father was a nationally renowned surgeon, but Ben came from the streets. His accent is different, his sensibilities are different, he looks different. The other think he has a bad attitude and that the difference is physical, but really it's all in the mind. If Reed treated him as an equal, and if he came to accept himself (this is 1967, the era of black power, remember) then it would be clear that he is not ugly, he is not a problem, he just has different colored skin that's all.

Ben is perhaps a better example of racism than the Black Panther. The Panther is obviously black, but also he is handsome and intelligent and wealthy. The message there is very simple. But with Ben the message is subtle: he does not ant pity. His skin is not a problem! The condescending attitude of the well meaning elite (symbolized by Reed) is the problem. Treating a proud man like a silly child, that is the problem.

For greater subtlety, contrast the attitude to the real immigrant, the Asian, Crystal, Like many Asians she is naturally pretty by Western standards, and she is hard working and deferential to authority and above all white, so she is treated with instant respect. But in the long term she represents the rise of China as the next superpower, and she will dominate the next generation. We could also discuss how they all treat Lockjaw as inferior, and the differences between Triton (the non-mammal, who often acts like an outsider) and Medusa (such mammalian... hair!) but you get the general idea. There is more depth here than most people see.
Fantastic Four 69

Other points to note



70
Issue 70: Reed's strength, and weakness.

Fantastic Four 70

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 (immaturity).

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)

Criticisms

Mark Alexander, in "Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years", hates this issue. "Surely a battle between two towering intellects should [not] end like this — the good guy hitting the bad guy in the head so much that he loses consciousness?" (source) But that is the whole point: it shows the limits of their intellect. They cannot predict everything, and at some point it comes down to who is stronger. It reveals the ultimate weakness in conflict as a principle, as the good guys can be destroyed. it shows why Sue's methods, to listen to intuition and build alliances, is the right one. Remember that Sue's intuition spotted "Santini" and all of this could have been avoided. It had to end in a shameful fist fight because we have to see that Reed's method (conflict and being better than the other guy) fundamentally cannot work if you think it through to its logical conclusion. Only by pitting the two greatest thinkers against each other can we see this.




71
Issue 71: "and so it ends": the turning point

Fantastic Four 71

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… potentially." (source)

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

Criticisms:



72
Issue 72: global politics

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.

Fantastic Four
        72

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 subject.

The zeitgeist: the Report From Iron Mountain

FF72 was probably inspired by the Outer Limits episode "the Architects of Fear" about the threat of an alien invasion being used to unite mankind. Several other stories used this theme: it was in the zeitgeist. Ronald Reagan even mentioned the idea in a summit with Gorbachev.

FF72 was published in 1967 (cover dated March 1968, therefore on sale around December 1967 and created some time around August 1967). This was when "The Report from Iron Mountain" first surfaced. It claims to be a government report, suggesting how the threat of an alien invasion could unite the world behind a single ruling body.

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.
love

But the hints are there right from the beginning, where Reed's first panel refers to him praying.

religion

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 Franklin.

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.

The Watcher: from FF13 to FF72

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"!

the Watcher

2. FF 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.
the Watcher

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

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: after FF72

The Watcher's later appearances continue to highlight the historically most important issues:


73
Issue 73: you are not the only superhero, Reed

Fantastic Four 73


Reed just gave up his chance to let the others mature, because he felt the world could not survive without him. But this issue gives the lie to that. Reed's earlier worries that they were the only super heroes are no longer true. Here we have Daredevil, Spider-man and Thor to take the slack. (Plus the Inhumans of course.) Sure, the new team would make mistakes, but all new families do. As long as they love each other then it's OK, they will learn. In this issue we see that the only thing holding the others back is Reed's ego.

Identity
This story is about the theme of identity and also arrogance. It features our friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. For more on this theme and the old wall crawler, see the notes to FF 218.

Other points to note



74
Issue 74: Franklin summons Galactus

Fantastic Four 74

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 here?

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:

  1. A once only event?
    The original Galactus visit was a one off event. The Watcher said of these forces "you shall never see their like again!" Yet we allegedly "see their like again" regularly in later years.
  2. Why Earth again?
    Galactus seems unaware of where the Skrull throne world should be. So either he travels so widely that he would not expect to visit the same galaxy twice within a few thousand years, or he travels at random and avoids maps. Either way, why does he keep coming back to Earth?
  3. How can he be beaten?
    "Of all who inhabit the known universe, only GALACTUS has powers enough to match my own!" - so said the Watcher. We can quibble over the exact meaning of this phrase, but at the very least we cannot expect any Earth bound power or collection of powers to defeat him. Yet in later appearances he is routinely defeated.
  4. The surfer is different?
    The original surfer features in Skrull history books, books that less informed skrulls have not read, suggesting that he's been a round a long time.  But there is no indication in the origin that the surfer is any younger than Galactus. Galactus seems unaware of the surfer's full power: "Your power is far greater than I suspected, herald." The surfer does not understand beauty or self sacrifice: "there is a word some races use... a word I have never understood... until now! At last I know... BEAUTY!" and "I have learned from the HUMANS how glorious it can be to have a cause worth dying for!" Yet in later appearances we are told that Norrin Rad became the surfer in order to save his home world, and his beloved Shalla Bal, who can still pass for a young woman (see FF153-155). Granted, perhaps the surfer's race lives a long time, but this really sounds like a different person.
  5. Why so hungry?
    The original Galactus does not get hungry quickly: "All ETERNITY awaits me! I can afford to be patient!" Yet the later Galactus is always hungry: "You must be swift! My hunger grows UNENDURABLE!" (FF76)
  6. He broke a promise?
    The original Galactus can never lie. "The promise of GALACTUS is living TRUTH itself! His word can never be questioned!"  Yet when he came back he said he promised never to return, but was considering breaking the promise. (Actually he never promised not to return, he simply promised not to tarry, so this is another change.)
  7. Part of a race?
    The original Galactus is part of an advanced race. As the Watcher said, "Did not YOUR race... and MINE... evolve from such humble beginnings?" Yet the later Galactus was a lone survivor of a world that, while more advanced than ours, was more like "gnats" than "gods." (Note that advanced races probably achieve some kind of shared unity - this will be relevant to the solution to the puzzle.)
  8. His changed appearance:
    The original Galactus has a symbol of an eternal arrow on his chest (often mistaken for a letter G). Later Galactuses do not. They also alternate with sleeves or not, visible eyes or not, highly muscular arms or not. The ship changes completely as well: from a sphere to a wing to a cube.

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

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 with them.

The final exhibit is Fantastic Four 604, the climax to Jonathan Hickman's long arc.

my Galactus

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 power.

Franklin and Galactus: complementary power

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.

The seven battles with Galactus

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.. 

  7. The seventh and final battle is FF257 - Galactus battles with himself. Now that he is a friend, he does not even consider attacking Earth. Instead he questions his existence: this is the great existential question between the twin realities of opposition (personified by Galactus) and its alternative, nothingness (personified by Death). He concludes by setting in motion the end game, by destroying the Skrull Throne World. This will end all the cosmic themes: see notes to annuals 18 and 19.

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.
 

Criticisms (source)

Other points to note

75
Issue 75: symbolic in-fighting

Fantastic Four 75

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 against fate.

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):

1968
1989
Reed leaves to focus on Franklin
Reed leaves to focus on Franklin
He gets cold feet and comes back
He gets cold feet and comes back
Franklin panics and summons Galactus
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 changed
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

worlds within
      worlds
The more that Reed avoids his duty to his family, the busier he becomes and yet goes nowhere.

Incidentally, this is possibly my favorite cover ever. This arc symbolizes the entire 28 year story. It shows that every life is connected: they cannot do it all alone. Everyone is looking at Galactus, the herald of Franklin. Galactus is looking at the surfer, the savior figure, the one who sacrificed his career and freedom to do what is right, and thus saved a world. Reed needs to be like the surfer. Galactus may seem to be angry, but he is simply Galactus: he brings an end to things so that new things can appear. The old team needs to end so that the new, bigger, healthier team can be born. Reed, at the center of the molecule, needs to follow the surfer's example.  The best families grow. The best molecules are... unstable.

cover


Criticisms (source)


76
Issue 76: Drugs

Fantastic Four 76
The Great American Novel cannot avoid 1960s psychedelic drugs,

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.

Criticisms (source)

Fan Theory
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?

the Stranger's purpose

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?

The Stranger
Thanks to "Kirk G" on the Daily Kirby for pointing out the similarity. He wrote: "I almost thought that the white haired doctor, who's patient care included letting the cat out of the bag, might have been the Stranger or Odin in disguise. Perhaps he wanted to be present at the birth to witness the arrival of whatever being was about to come in existence!"

Other points to note


77
Issue 77: the most intense issue ever

Fantastic Four 77

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 significance:

"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




78
Issue 78: Reed's religion; and Ben is about to propose

Fantastic Four 78
Reed's religion
As the above image reminds us, Reed prays. Franklinverse Reed is almost certainly an atheist, but the original Reed was a believer. Back in the 1960s was before fundamentalism took over mainstream Christianity: it was perfectly normal for a scientist to have a quiet faith based on metaphor, reason, and the need for community. This issue is the one time he admits humility before a higher power. Lack of humility was his one weakness, and so this issue is when Reed succeeds.

Why this issue matters

At first glance this issue does not follow from the previous one, but when we look at the long term themes it does:

Even if we look at the short term events we see that each issue leads to the next:


Why does the Thinker appear so often?

"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.


Criticisms (source)

"One of the first things that we learn in this issue is that the last issue is of no consequence in relation to this story."  Not so, as demonstrated above. This entire issue is a result of hat Reed learned in the Microverse.





79
Issue 79: Ben's spirit is finally broken

Fantastic Four 79


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 stuff.

Another drug metaphor

The process of powering up involves the wrist, just like injecting drugs.

drugs

The previous drug issues involved crazy ideas and colors and elation, but this one shows another side of the drug culture: these are a huge downer. The brief high is followed by long term depression.

This is 1968. In 1967 Jefferson Airplane released their classic song "Ask Alice":

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall

We could sing it for Ben:

One glove makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that Richards gives you
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alicia
When you're ten feet tall (i.e. when you feel invincible as the Thing: Alicia likes you no matter how you are, but you can't see it)

The intense, mesmerizing tempo of the song reflects Reed and Ben being trapped by his own beliefs for issue after issue, year after year. They know things are wrong and getting forever worse, but they don't know how to escape.

Criticisms
(source)



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")



80
Issue 80: principles and gods

Fantastic Four 80
Non-comic images: Wikipedia

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 first nations.

How this follows from previous issues

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 living totem

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 religion.

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 angry mobs.

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 plausible.

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.


Criticisms
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.


Cultural influence
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"





Next: Franklin


The Great American Novel