1980: Act 4: family values? (from Carter to Reagan)
1980 saw the transition from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan. Carter
had a global focus and was well liked overseas (I am British and a big
fan of Carter). But at home his presidency was seen as one long malaise.
So Ronald Reagan
promised to refocus on America and family values.
This is reflected in the FF. The period is all about Franklin. Reed's
triumph came to nothing, and it seems like he will finally put Franklin
first, but will he?
A15Annual 15: the resurrection of Doom
Doom's "mind was destroyed" in FF200.
Issue 200 was not just another story. It was the conclusion to the greatest FF saga of all.
It was the last Kirby issue (he did the cover), the first ever double
sized monthly issue, the turning point between the bright Kirby-like
stories (pre 200) and what followed. This was the central climax of the 28 year story.
All of Doom's actions led to this point. All of Reed's actions led to
this point. After this Reed said (twice, in FF201 and annual 13) that there was no more need for the Fantastic
FF was clear: Doom was gone, he had failed. "His mind has been destroyed" His statue slowly
crumbled over the years. The letters pages made clear: this was real. This was final.
So how could Doom return? The answer is in the final panel: Doom became a thing less than clay.
To understand what this means we have to go back to the beginning, to the origin of Doom's powers.
The precursors of Doombots
Doom was always a genius, and he learned sorcery from his mother, and a
love of machines from the changing world around him (this was the 1930s,
when Eastern Europe was changing from an essentially medieval economy
to the modern world). Simple sorcery that enabled him to
possess and thereby animate inanimate objects, so he could make crude
mechanical men (see his origin in annual 2). But after his first contact
with the Fantastic Four (issue 5 and 6) he gained a major
boost in his abilities.
As we learned when Doom returned in FF 10, Doom met
an advanced race called Ovoids. They were experts at possessing
mechanical bodies. They were probably attracted to Doom by his existing
much cruder experience with the same principle. They taught him how to
refine his art. They showed him how a person could occupy any number of
mechanical bodies when needed. In effect, they showed him how to be "a
thing less than clay." They introduced the idea of artificial clones:
what would later be called Doombots.
Doom's history between FF10 and FF200
Doom began as a mystic, obsessed with trying to rescue his mother's
spirit from hell. But after meeting the Ovoids he focused more on
science. Why? Because here was a way to solve the spirit problem: he
could learn to control his own spirit regardless of its tabernacle of
clay: he could beat Mephisto at his own game! Magic is just science that
is so advanced that we cannot understand it, so we have to make deals
with more advanced beings. If Doom understood that science then he would
no longer need to make deals or admit that anybody was his superior (and he could avoid the risk of losing his soul as
his mother did). Doom could learn how souls work and do it himself! This
appealed to his need for control.
Since FF 10, Doom has concentrated on making better and better
automated beings. He was helped by what he knew of demonic possession, plus
whatever he obtained from the Ovoids, then using their shrinking ray,
what he obtained form Subatomica, plus whatever he could gain from Reed
and the Thinker. So he slowly improved each generation of robots:
Throughout this, Doom relied on the expertise of Hauptman. Hauptman
knew his darkest secrets of making things live.
- Generation one, as a teenager, were mechanical men, probably possessed
by demonic means.
- Generation 2, the Thing robot, must have made use of
- Generation 3 were the far more powerful robots that led
to the FF's first visit to Latveria.
- Generation 4 was Darkoth, the
first combined human-robot cyborg.
- Generation 5 was his Doomsman, a
completely artificial organic being.
- Generation 6 was his own clone,
primed for cosmic power.
- Generation 7 were the Doombots.
- Generation 8
was to have been the artificial duplication of the Power Cosmic (see FF
Doom was as good as dead
Hauptman referred to his work as "resurrection": that is, the patient was as
good as dead. His brain had gone, and his vital signs were very weak.
Yet within a moment of turning the switch, Doom was alert and acting at
full power. This is nothing like nursing a sick, insane person back to
health: this is more like rebooting a computer.
The first Doombots
The first actual Doombots appear very soon after annual 15. Annual 15 is
cover dated to October 1980. The first recorded Doombot (the one
singles out n FF158) was in X-men 145, dated May 1981, contemporary with
FF 130. These Doombots are presumably the first test run as they make
Proof that a Doombot IS Doom
Doombots are robots that:
So from a scientific and philosophical viewpoint, they are Doom himself.
- are indistinguishable from Doom: even a mind reader cannot tel the difference.
- believe themselves to be
Or from a religious viewpoint, they contain his spirit.
conceivable way, a Doombot is Doom: it has Doom's mind
transferred into it.
Every Doombot is Doom.
Proof that Doom's mind was overwritten, not repaired
This first Doombot used the very weak body of Doom, and the remains of
his mind. Rather than coax him back to health they re-wrote the software
and used the armor to give power to the body (probably as an
exoskeleton). We know this because:
Why this matters
- FF 200 mattered. It was "the greatest FF saga of all". if Doom can simply recover then it destroys the story.
- Doom's mind was rebooted far too quickly for it to be an organic repair. It was more like an Ovoid mind transfer
- After this point many Doombots suddenly appear. Doom had suddenly perfected the technology. This is too much of a coincidence.
The key here is that Doom's mind did not come back through normal
biological means. He did not slowly got better and fixed himself. A
single human life is defined by one person's mind continuing from moment
to moment: my brain in one second causes my brain in the nest second.
there is biological continuity. No machines or magic are needed. That
was how Doom lived until FF200, as a normal human. But in FF200 that
continuity ended. The normal biological Doom came to an end with issue
How can Doom be one person if there are many Doombots?
The message of the main story in annual 5 is that people are not who
you think they are, and people can appear in two places at once. This is
an everyday for anybody with a time machine, like Doom. In FF288 for
example we see one Doom leave and another Doom enters immediately. FF288
is a very interesting case for wondering who is a Doombot and who is
"real" - see the notes to that issue.
Having many Dooms is now normal. Doombots each believe themselves to
be the real Doom, and pass every test: when alone they are Doom. But
when they are together the "real" Doom is defined as whichever one has the strongest will.
All of this might seem weird to us, very hard to accept. But if you deal
with multiple parallel realities and time machines, you just have to
get used to it. When we get to the Franklinverse there will be parallel
realities everywhere, and the "real" one is wherever you happen to be.
Years later, Al Ewing explained it in "Loki, Agent of Asgard" issue 6.
Note the reference to being a trickster: Loki is a trickster god.
This particular Loki was a younger, less evil version of the original,
who was still around: multiple Lokis, multiple Dooms. Thanks to the "good comic" blog for finding this.
The bottom line is that from here on, Doom is not a being of clay. Doom
is a spirit, an ideal. He is literally the embodiment of ultimate will.
Like the Ovoids, he lives through multiple bodies, and the "true" Doom
is whichever Doom is the strongest. For more details, see FF 350, when
one of the Dooms gets an upgrade and subdues the rest.
Objection: if Doom can live through Doombots, why did he later need Kristoff?
Doom needed Kristoff for precisely the reason he needed his cloned son:
to fix previous mistakes. If Doom fails then this proves a flaw. Doom
cannot have flaws! Solution: create another Doom from an earlier
version. Like a computer program being repaired to an earlier version.
Doom could use any suitable body, but not the flawed Doombots. He had
seen enough of Kristof to decide that the child was suitable. Of course,
when Doom did in fact survive that proved that Kristoff was not needed.
But then there were two primary, top level Dooms, each convinced he was
Note the religious parallels: like Jesus in the tomb, Doom was wrapped
in bandages, then the tomb was empty and he was resurrected, and lives
on through any who share his spirit. Doom sees himself as the savior of
his kingdom, Latveria. His enemies of course see him as a kind of
Now for the rest of the issue.
Sue's reforms work. But Reed's triumph unravels
This pivotal annual has two stories, two contrasting historic
- Story 1: Reed's happiness on the surface: For most of Act 4
Reed has been in decline. We very seldom see him happy. But in
FF194 Sue planned to reform the team. We see in FF201-231 that
she and Reed play a more equal role: we often see them talk
about the family and take time away from work. Reed is often in
his civilian clothes and seems more relaxed. Sue's methods seem
to work: in this annual we see Reed at his best, happy at last.
- Story 2: then underlying problems have not been solved. You
cannot defeat Doom by direct attack,l and you cannot solve the
world's problems by being a superhero. This is where the
superficial triumph of FF200 unravels.
This is where Doom comes back. Reed's greatest triumph (FF200)
unravels. We see that you cannot have lasting peace through force.
And how does Doom come back? Because of his genius? Because of his
iron will? No. Because of the love of his people. This is the
message of the Great American Novel: that the people matter most.
The main story, though of secondary importance, shows that the
other three can function as a team without Reed. The time machine
motif hints that this may be normal in the future.
The Iranian revolution
- This annual is from 1980, an important time for the Great
American Novel: it's the aftermath of the Iranian revolution of
1979. The western imposed Shah was deposed and there was nothing
America could do. The return of Dr Doom reflects this.
- Reed's comment in the first story reflects the contemporary
energy crisis: "it's a godsend for an energy depleted future."
This also reflects fears over oil supplies from Iran.
- Einstein and peace are mentioned several times. In the 1960s,
nuclear power was seen as basically good, if full of unknown
dangers. Now it is 1980, and nuclear power is seen as an energy
source tainted by its ability to create bombs.
- The portals to distant galaxies are staples of science
fiction, and foreshadow the popular Stargate franchise (from
1994, though a novel called "Stargate" was published in the mid
- In the back up story, note the obvious Dracula imagery of the
Gypsy cart rescuing the comatose master.
This issue is the one that reveals the true extent of Reed's
scientific ability. He's been working on an energy
transmitter for months, as he measures time - i.e. since around
FF200? He finally duplicates the power ray, something the Skrulls
used in FF18. He accidentally creates a matter transporter, a
feature of the energy beam that he already used in FF37 (see the discussion of star
In the past he simply re-purposed
alien technology without improving it. But now, after
several months, he's managed a genuine improvement, and is
extremely proud of himself. This also attracts the interest of the
Skrulls. It is also implied that Reed has never won a Nobel prize,
and it's stated that he does not understand faster than light
travel, despite engineering a working hyperspace gateway (the
negative zone entrance) in FF51.
Other points to note
- Where this annual belongs:
The Marvel Chronology Project places this after FF213, and
Reed's behavior then suggest that the second story does belong
at around that time. However, this is the first of Doug Moench's
issues. That, and the lighter content of the main story,
indicate that it fits here.
- Doom and tax:
The main complaint against Zorba is his high taxes. Doom liked
his people to live as peasants, so he could not have gained much
from tax. Also, his technology was so advanced that he could
gain far more wealth from his business activities than from
collecting tax. Collecting tax would also suggest he was
dependent on his people, an intolerable thought for Doom. It is
highly likely then that Doom charged very few taxes: they were
probably token amounts to represent tribute, not any serious
attempt to raise revenue. It is ironic that the man who gives no
personal freedom is the only ruler to not steal from his people,
but rather earns his money himself. (Declaration of interest: I
speak as a committed Georgist. Land rent good, tax bad.)
- A personal note
This is George Perez' last FF issue. My all time favorite issues
are those drawn by George Perez. His attention to detail turns
every frame into a window onto a real world. Some artists seem
to be in a hurry to finish, but George will take as much time as
is needed on every frame, and he really cares. What a guy. As
for the back up story, normally Tom Sutton's art leaves me cold,
but he's perfect here. This is my all time favorite FF annual.
Doom's power rest on his ability to possess others: his superior will
controls theirs. This foreshadows the possession of Franklin Richards in
a few issues' time. After that Doom's spirit will possess another
Thoughts on Doug Moench's run
This issue begins Doug Moench's single year on the title (FF
annual 15, FF119 and FF122-131).
This is, in my opinion, the most under-rated run ever. It is
probably the most information-dense, hardest to follow run of all,
so it is usually dismissed without any effort to understand it. It
contrasts with John Byrne's run that follows: Byrne's is perhaps
the easiest to follow of all. So it is common for fans to treat
Byrne as the high point and Moench as the low point. But among
fans who study comics in depth, Moench's run is unsurpassed:
"I think Moench's run is one of
the high points of the series." So
says "Nood" (Jeff Christiansen), continuity nut, creator of the
Marvel Universe Appendix, and not just a fan: a paid writer on
various Marvel projects.
Even Moench himself was not satisfied with his run, perhaps
because of negative fan reaction. It follows his highly praised
Moon Knight run with the same artist, where they rejected simple
super villain battles in favor of complexity and subtlety. It
shows. Personally I also love Bill Sienkiewicz' work on the title.
As with the plots, it takes a little more effort to parse, but
it's worth it. If you follow the 28 year story then every Moench
issue is pure gold.
It's all about Franklin
Moench's run is all about Franklin, the core of the 28 year
story. Or rather, it's all about the Sue-Reed-Franklin triangle
that I see as the core of the FF. Every issue has a sequence with
Franklin. Every issue moves the Reed-Sue relationship forward:
- FF219: Reed is under great stress, and we are reminded that
Sue is absolutely committed to him (and, to illustrate this, she
shows that Namor is ancient history)
- (FF220-1 is by Byrne)
- FF222-3: Franklin's powers re-emerge and he is possessed. We
have never seen Sue more upset, even in Byrne's run, and that's
- FF224-4: while reading to Franklin we see Sue lose control of
her powers. We also see her sense of duty (in her relationship
with Johnny) and her despairing "why is it always like this?" We
see her say goodbye to Franklin, and later see him back at the
Baxter building. This foreshadows and contrasts the more
despairing version in 229-31.
- FF226: This is about how Reed ignores Franklin, but when he
remembers Franklin he wins. This for me is the core of the FF,
this is the first 30 years of the FF in a nutshell. (For the
first 7 years substitute "Sue" for "Franklin")
- FF227: the Brain Parasites - more about the Reed-Sue-Franklin
relationship. Reed observes that they have been protecting
Franklin while really Franklin was protecting them. YES, REED,
THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT!
- FF228: Ego-Spawn, the manifestation of Franklin’s
insecurities. This is the first acknowledgment that the kid has
serious psychological problems. Hardly surprising when his
family is always moments from death, and his Dad ignores him and
dumps him at every opportunity (which he sees as unavoidable,
but had he put Franklin first years before then everything would
- FF229-231: it all reaches a climax.
Moench's run is all about Reed, Sue and Franklin. He also has
some important stuff to say about Alicia, but that's another story
(see attached scan from FF 226). But it's all understated: these
are people who live with duty and the constant threat of death,
they control and suppress their emotions because they have to. So
it's easy to miss the importance of what happens.
Criticisms of the Moench run. (source)
"Doug Moench’s stagnant and
predictable plots featured the likes of the Ebon Seeker, the
Brain Parasites, Stygorr and the Samurai Destroyer. The team
seemed like card board cutouts playing over orchestrated parts.
Nothing new was happening; nothing really challenged who or what
the Fantastic Four was. [...] John Byrne, no stranger to the
Fantastic Four having penciled issues #208-218,220, and 221,
decided it was time for a change."
Nothing could be further from the truth. As show in these
reviews, every issue was a turning point. Moench's single year
is the turning point in the whole 28 year story, and Byrne's
memorable run is the result.
"Card board cutouts"?
Moench's run is the most layered of all. There are conflicting
dimensions and undercurrents of subtle and intense emotion,
seismic events beneath the surface, as I hope to show.
"Predictable" and "nothing new" ?
The characters mentioned are all new. The events are new.
- Giant Japanese robots?
- Brain parasites?
- A villain who seeks his own death?
- The team admits defeat?
- A consistent focus on Franklin?
- Agatha Harkness leaves and Franklin takes up permanent
residence in the Baxter Building?
- We see an entire superhero team retire?
- We see Franklin's alter ego?
- Sue enters the negative zone for the first time - along
with the team and an entire city block?
- Reed saves not just the world but the entire universe?
- And all in a single year! Nothing like this had been done in
the book before. (with the possible exception of the last one,
but even that is arguable)
- "John Byrne... decided it was time for a change" ? This is the
most ironic claim of all. Byrne's "change" was to try to return
the FF back to where they were in the 1960s: with old
personalities, old villains and old events. But in the end the
team evolved on its own despite his intentions, and all because
Moench had made it so the FF could never go back again.
Byrne continued what Moench
If we look at what Byrne added as "new", he simply continues what
- Sue is powerful? Nothing she did in Byrne's run compares to
her toppling an entire city block in FF231
- Sue no longer takes any nonsense? This began in Jack Kirby's
run, but the final straw is FF229-231. While Byrne shows her as
assertive, he does not show the reason, that happened in
- Ben and Alicia's relationship moves forward? Alicia is still a
bit-player in the first half of Byrne's run: she began to make
regular appearances in Moench's run, and we can see the seeds
there of what is to follow. Byrne only shows the surface )(she
starts to like Johnny). Moench lets us infer the thinking behind
- Johnny acts more like a teenager again This started in FF224.
In each case, Byrne's new changes are simply the result of
changes that took place in Moench's run. The one exception is
adding a new team member. But that had been done several times in
the past (Crystal, Medusa, Power Man). Byrne liked to retread old
themes, Moench was about real change.
219Issue 219: The fall of Rome and the fall of Reed
This issue is the first of Doug Moench's monthly run, Right away
Moench focuses on the core issues: Reed's mental health and Sue's
strength. It starts with Reed literally falling over, covers his
mental fall, and compares it to the fall of Rome. In this issue:
- Reed continues his obsessive
Annual 15 revealed that Reed was working on his projects "for
months" - in other words, probably since FF200. At that point
Reed felt the FF were no longer needed, and began to spend more
time on his scientific hobbies.
- Reed is failing
Reed's confidence was badly dented by being unable to reverse
the Skrull aging ray. That event should have taught him that the
others should lead the fighting and his role is as scientist.
But he insists on being leader, and he can't handle the stress.
On the surface, Reed's over work is solved by the end of the
issue, but as Sue says "the problem's much deeper than that." As
we saw in FF annual 15, Reed has been obsessively working since
long before this.
- Sue holds it all together.
Sue defends Reed in front of the others, and her emphasis on
family (as in FF201) keeps the team together.
- Sue is developing her own
Sue is inventing new and ingenious ways to use her forcefield:
creating complex machines. All that Reed could ever think of was
using it as a protective shield or like bullets. In this regard
Sue is more creative than Reed.
- The Namor love triangle is
When the Great American novel ends, and the comic starts to
feature a different team, the
different Sue likes to flirt a tiny bit with Namor. But the
original Sue moved past that stage many years ago.
- Reed is not needed:
- When Reed tries to stop the monster he just gets in the way:
Ben has to tell him to unwrap himself so that he (Ben) can get
a good shot at it. Ben's attack then makes the monster do even
more damage, but that would not have happened if Ben was in
charge he was the one to raise the alarm about the monster, so
it's fair to assume that he wanted to attack it first. He
would have attacked it on the sea front before it got too far
into the city. But instead he followed Reed's lead and
attacked the lesser monsters, allowing the big guy to escape.
The bystanders are right: without the FF (specifically Reed),
the monster would not be so far into the city.
- Captain Barracuda is a foe of the Torch (from Strange Tales
120), and the Torch-Namor team is reminiscent of the golden
age Torch and Namor stories. Everything about this story is
saying that Ben and Johny could handle it alone: Ben would
have whumped the monster more decisively (he had to hold back
when in a built up area) and Johnny would have stopped the
lesser monsters. As for Sue, her specialism is in making
alliances with Namor. Then at the end it is Sue who retrieves
the horn. Reed is simply surplus to requirements. He should be
at home finding a way to understand his son.
The remainder of Moench's run will focus on where Reed's
attention should focus: Franklin.
A rare focus on Sue
Sue is well named: "the invisible girl." People don't notice her.
They don't realize her strengths or what she is doing. Probably
she doesn't realize either, at least not consciously. Most of her
work is intuitive and emotional: it's not not a conscious
calculation. For example: she spends time with Franklin, supports
Reed, and makes friendships. It's easy to dismiss these as weak,
but her methods achieve far more than the boys: Franklin is their
most powerful ally, Reed really needs her, and her friendships
with the Atlanteans, Inhumans, Poppupians. etc., have saved the
world more than once. But nobody recognizes what she does: she is
an alien even to her own people. Namor, being half human and half
Atlantean, is the only one who understands.
How Rome fell
The golden horn is the perfect name for a symbol of power over the seas.
Historically, he who controlled the Golden Horn controlled the
world. It is the name of the region at the end of the
controls access to Asia. It was chosen for the location of Byzantium,
the capital of the Roman Empire from AD325 to the final fall of the
Roman Empire (the fall of Constantinople) in 1492, which resulted in the
spread of fleeing scholars, that kick started the renaissance. Rome
declined and fell due to a petty love of money, as with pirates like
Captain Barracuda. In contrast, Namor is "Roman" backwards, and his
Atlantis with its monumental stone architecture is modeled after the golden age of Rome, before it declined.
- This issue has been criticized because Captain Barracuda is
such a weak threat. But that's the whole point!
- First, its a story about how Reed is often not needed. He
should be at home with Franklin instead. Of course, that is not
stated: Moench prefers to show, not tell. But this bigger story
is clear if you consider the long term character developments.
- Second, Barracuda is light relief: he's a pirate who speaks
like a movie Long John Silver! With giant monsters! It's fun!
It's to contrast with the relentlessly serious subplot.
Other points to note
- A deliberate contrast with FF4
This issue parallels FF4 (the Sub Mariner's giant monster
invades New York). That was the first time that Reed's
leadership style broke up the team; in FF3 Johnny was tired of
Reed bossing him around, and quit the team. Ben at that time was
still in his initial angry phase. In contrast, Ben and Johnny
are now mature. But under Reed their talents are wasted. They
sit around doing nothing: Ben watching TV, Johnny twirling idle
patterns in the air. Both of them have starred in successful
solo titles (Strange Tales and Marvel Two In One), unlike Reed.
hey should be leading the team to greater things.
- Johnny's frustration
Johnny is still frustrated with the team, hence his comment to
Namor, "don't think your sour attitude can spoil our teamwork --
as a member of the FF I'm definitely used to it."
- Male v female approaches
Note the running sexual theme: just as with Maximus, just as
with the Thunder Horn, so again the woman's stealthy approach
beats the loud mouthed man with the big horn.
- Ben's sadness
Ben does not like too much romance: like Reed he is in denial, trying to
pretend he likes not getting close to Alicia so it hurts him to see
others have the intimacy that he denies himself.
221Issue 220 and 221: the history of the world, 500,000 BC
For why this story and the year 500,000 BC matter to world history,
see the notes to FF 244. But beyond that, this story is so heavily
edited (see below for why) that there are very few things to say. So
this review is short. It does however confirm some existing themes:
Johnny's love life
Johnny's comment in issue 220, "there's still only one thing I love
more", is a reference to issue 1. His friend's response "what's her
name?" reminds us that his love life is still going nowhere: at the age
of 26 his love life is where it was at the age 15. Given his enormous
potential this is desperately sad. So much repressed unhappiness beneath
Ben loves Alicia
This may seem obvious, but is worth remembering, considering what happens in the FF270s.
Reed's hidden stress
This issue also reminds of Reed's decline, a theme we will continue throughout Doug Moench's run.
The Coca-Cola issues
"They're the two dullest
issues of the FF ever published." (John Byrne, "Comics
Creators on Fantastic Four" p.71)
This two part story was originally designed as a free give-away
for the Coca-Cola company. John Byrne wrote it to be as safe and
non-threatening as possible: it covers all the simple things: the
team' origin, their powers, their relationships, etc. Coca-Cola
finally rejected the story because they didn't like it when Ben
hit the aliens. So it was shoe-horned into the regular FF title.
The story may be interesting from the point of view of super-technology: why
was Reed uniquely worried about this particular threat? The last
frames also remind us that Reed routinely studies alien technology
to get his ideas, but we knew that anyway.
Other points to note
- The Day The Earth Stood Still
Ben's reference to "Klaatu barada nikto" is the phrase that was to activate the robot in The Day the Earth Stood Still.
- Publication order
Why did we get one Moench issue then two John Byrne issues
again? Those issues were intended for Coca-Cola, so were
presumably written earlier. But this story was "pushed forward in publication
time a bit to make room for a stretch of Marvel Two-In-Ones
where the Thing is not dating Alicia." (source)
222Issue 222: Sue has a nervous breakdown
This is where things get bad. Really, really bad.
This is the third time that Franklin was attacked in just a few
weeks, (the previous times were issue 216 and annual 14) and this
is the worst ever. Reed and Sue have failed a their most important
ask, repeatedly and totally. Sue panics and Reed despairs, because
they have no idea what to do.
At around the same time they hear rumors that Doom is back: Reed's
greatest triumph unraveled within a matter of months. This comes
after Reed's cosmic fiasco and being unable to stop his own death
- this is their lowest point.
This all happened because of
- Franklin has natural defensive powers, but Reed has done his
best to suppress them, and to persuade Sue that suppressing
those powers is a good thing.
- Reed chose to visit New Salem in FF annual 14, and that link
is probably what made Nicholas scratch sensitive to Franklin's
power, which led to him escaping his prison.
- The energy conduit came from the Negative Zone portal: the
portal that Reed created,
- Reed is Franklin's father, yet gives Franklin the minimum of
attention. By now Franklin should have been an expert in
controlling his power, but instead he is vulnerable and
- Having put Franklin in the care of a witch, Reed made no
effort to understand magic or the risks involved.
Note that Sue does her best to spend time with Franklin, but Reed
is always busy, this time at the library.
The 100 issue cycle
Compare FF222-3 issue with issues FF122-3:
|Gabriel announces Reed's failure (by calling on Galactus)
||Another Gabriel announces Reed's failure (by calling on Scratch)
|Franklin's controller arrives, angry
||Franklin's herald arrives, angry
|Reed fails dramatically
|Reed literally falls
|Agatha finally fails and gives up
|Agatha holds it all together
For more about the 100 issue cycle see the notes to FF
- Sue goes to pieces
Why does Sue go to pieces? Because she realizes there is nothing
she can do against magic. Worse, she must feel some guilt: she
repeatedly told reed to pay more attention to their son, but
when Reed did not, she let it slide. Now the chickens are coming
home to roost.
- Reed slaps Sue
This is proof that Reed has lost it. A cold calculating man does
not slap people! This is the first of two times that Reed slaps
Sue, and the other time is when Sue is more powerful than Reed
and Reed cannot handle it. Some critics say this is an example
of Reed's sexism, but he never did this in the 1960s, the period
when he was allegedly the most sexist of all. he only does it
with the modern writers, the ones who are supposed to show Sue
- Scratch goes soft?
"For a big, bad warlock intent
on wresting control of New Salem away from his mother,
Nicholas Scratch suddenly turned out to be unable to stomach
the idea of actually hurting his mother." Not exactly.
If you read his final words he is only trying to save his own
skin, and using his mother as an excuse.
Other points to note
- Real time continuity and patent law
In this issue Reed is worried about money. The cover date is 1980. But
surely Reed make a lot of money from patents, right? In the notes to
issue 9 I argued that Reed determined to make maximum use of alien
technology, so his major patents probably date from then: late 1962. We
can expect most of his early Skrull based patents to be taken out in
1963. US patents at the time (between 1836 and 1994) lasted for 17
years. So in 1980 Reed's first patents were beginning to expire, leading
to a drop in income.
- The stories evolve on their
Willemsen observes: "In
his interview for Comics Creators on Fantastic Four, writer
Doug Moench explained just why he wrote the Salem two parter. 'I don't think that was
my idea. I think Salicrup (the FF editor at the time - JW) asked
me to do that. He asked me to pick up the threads from some
previous storyline and resolve this mystery about Franklin that
had been left hanging by the previous writer. I think I called
Marv (Wolfman -JW) and he told me he was going to tie it to
Salem's Seven so I just followed his lead. It wasn't really to
my taste. I didn't particularly like Salem's Seven.' So, barely three issues in, Moench
was already being forced to incorporate and finish characters
and story lines he didn't have any particular interest in."
This illustrates how the stories naturally evolve themselves,
despite the intentions of the writer. When editorial
interference is light, this results in better stories. The most
obvious example is Stan Lee's influence on Jack Kirby's stories.
But when editorial influence ignores continuity (unlike this
example where it is to maintain continuity), the stories are destroyed, as we will see
in Steve Englehart's run.
- Lorrie and Dorrie.
Maybe the names are a coincidence,
but Lorrie does seem to be another Dorrie: she wants the fun of
having a lover (FF), but is not interested in real commitment
The final frame says that Scratch's voice is like the buzzing
of a fat fly. An odd choice of words? Flies have long been
associated with demons, all the way back to the Biblical
Beelzebub, where "lord of heaven" in Hebrew sounds like "lord of
223Issue 223: they finally take responsibility for Franklin
Reed says he will never let anybody hurt Franklin. But he just
did exactly that - three times! (FF216, FF222, FF annual 14, not
to mention all the times before that.) Letting people hurt Franklin
is what he does! He doesn't mean to, but he lacks the emotional
connection to see what he has in his son. Perhaps part of Sue's
unhappiness is knowing that she could have done more to make him
focus on Franklin, and she always let it slide. Reed maybe
couldn't help it, but Sue could. She failed her son and she feels
it more than anybody.
But this is the issue where they finally start taking steps in
the right direction. They say goodbye to Agatha. They accept their
son into their home at last. It's the first step toward recovery.
it's a huge step but they still have a long way to go yet, before
Reed can connect with his son.
Will Reed make Franklin his top priority? Will he follow Agatha's
example and put his family first? We shall see.
224Issue 224: the origin of man: cycles of cosmic renewal. Johnny cannot face it, and starts to de-mature
The late 1960s and 1970s Johnny rejected his role as a junior
partner in the team. The 1980s Johnny embraced it. This issue is
where he changed. Ever since issue 1 Johnny has been growing up,
gaining confidence, but recent events (starting with issue 214) have
caused him to doubt himself. He's becoming less confident, and it
manifests itself by him being more cocky, less mature. This is the
issue where Sue notices. This will continue until Alicia helps
Johnny to finally find peace at the end of act 4.
Red mist: Throughout
Moench's year we see the team gradually lose control, until
they admit it in the final arc. The red mist at the start
symbolizes this, by causing them to lose control of their
powers. "Red mist" means losing control, usually in anger. Its
first recorded usage is in 1857 in Harper's Mag. Dec. 63/2: "A
choking, dreadful feeling arrested my breath; the ground
rocked beneath my feet; a red mist swam before my eyes! I staggered I fell!" (source)
"Darkfield Illumination" refers to a technique used by
scientists using microscopes: objects are lit so as to stand
out against a black background. Korgon describes this on the
last page. In the same way, this "darkfield illumination"
makes Korgon learn the dark side of power: Korgon's power did
not make him happy, it just made him lonely. The FF are
finding the same thing. (Unlike the X-Men a thousand years
later, Korgon was the only one: this makes his story even more
tragic, and more interesting: he had no guidance, no
- Hunting for a civilization amid ice mountains, powered by a
magical light, and finding a tiger frozen in the ice, parallels
the then-recent 1977 movie "Sinbad
and the Eye of the Tiger": "Eventually they reach the
North Polar wastes [in their search for the legendary land of
Hyperborea] Kassim is hosted into the light source (magic
of Hyperborea), and is restored. As a last resort, Zenobia
transfers her spirit into a saber-toothed cat which had been
- It also parallels another famous movie: "The interior of the
shrine was very similar to the shrine set in the 1935 motion
picture She, complete with steep pyramidal steps, a vortex of
light coming from above, and a saber-toothed cat encased in
- The death of a god reflects the decline in respect for
religion in the American media of the time.
- The story also references greenhouse effect: this reflects a
change in culture: until the mid 1970s it was assumed that a new
ice age was a bigger threat (hence FF145-146).
- The story also references the Tungusta explosion in Siberia.
- The warriors dressed in skins riding quad bikes recalls
another then-recent movie, Mad Max.
The blind god who saves the world through his tears recalls the
story of the Norse god Baldr.
"Baldr is known primarily for
the story of his death. His death is seen as the first in the
chain of events which will ultimately lead to the destruction of
the gods at Ragnarök. Baldr will be reborn in the new world,
according to Völuspá. He had a dream of his own death and his
mother had the same dreams. Since dreams were usually prophetic,
this depressed him, so his mother Frigg made every object on
earth vow never to hurt Baldr. All objects made this vow except
mistletoe. [...] When Loki, the mischief-maker, heard of this,
he made a magical spear[or arrow] from this plant. He hurried to
the place where the gods were indulging in their new pastime of
hurling objects at Baldr, which would bounce off without harming
him. Loki gave the spear to Baldr's brother, the blind god Höđr,
who then inadvertently killed his brother with it. [...] Hel
promised to release Baldr from the underworld if all objects
alive and dead would weep for him. All did, except a giantess,
Ţökk often presumed to be the god Loki in disguise, who refused
to mourn the slain god. Thus Baldr had to remain in the
underworld, not to emerge until after Ragnarök, when he and his
brother Höđr would be reconciled and rule the new earth together
with Thor's sons."
In the next issue the mischief maker Wiglif is explicitly
compared to Loki. True, the parallels are not exact, but then the
original legends themselves were always fluid, with multiple
versions. This story may then be far more significant than it
appears: see next point.
"The most unusual FF saga of
The last page calls this "the most unusual FF saga of all" and so
it is. This Norse "god" suggests the legend of Baldr, but not the
Baldr of Marvel. It reminds us that other Marvel Comics do not
have the same status as the Fantastic Four: although characters
appear in the title (the next issue has Thor) those characters do
not report their stories to Marvel, so within the realism of the
main title their other comics are mostly made up. So the Thor we
will see in this story is not one hundred percent the same as the
Thor we read about in his comics. We see a similar process when
Marvel and DC comics combine: each comics universe has its own
different Thor, and so when they cross over things are not as they
Other unusual elements are that the enemy is a god, he never gets
off his bed, and simply wants to die. This is not like other
The crystal mountain at the North Pole causing worldwide disruption points us to FF 220-221.
Then the date 500,000BC points us back to Odin and the origin of Asgard (see Uatu's timeline:
Odin planted his trees beginning 500,000 BC).
I asked the author for more details, and he replied: "Sorry, I can't remember where I got 500,000 from, whether from Wikipedia or the JiM/Thor issues cited. This was years ago..."
I haven't been able to track down the source. But even if it's just his
guit feeling, if the world authority on Marvel dates has the feeling
that 500,000 BC is correct than I trust his gut feeling.
If Odin set the seeds for humankind in 500,000 BC, it is the same time as the magnetic poles switched
(according to FF 221) and the same time that some long-lived non-human
aliens became very curious about Earth, suggesting that something
important was happening. The FF 221 story is very similar to the Thor
story in FF 224. Both stories have numerous parallels with the south
pole Beyonder story in FF 315, which again links us Marvel's big cosmic
Asgard and Earth's magnetic fields
Odin's creation stories are obviously symbolic (e.g. in
another legend the ice giant's skull formed the heavens, and after that
the stars were made). But they feature something (called the World Tree) that surrounds the Earth to protect us:
It also keeps a great danger locked inside, and also connects with other
dimensions ("the nine worlds"). Te ony scientific clue we have is that
it involves electromagentism. (These images are from the first "Tales of
Asgard" that form the basis for all other Thor mythology.)
The obvious link is Earth's magnetic field. This field protects us from the worst of cosmic radiation.
This is the cosmic radiation that creates mutations. Humans are designed
by the Celestials to be able to mutate to become super beings, so by
controlling mutations (through the magnetic field) the higher beings are
able to ensure that humans evolve naturally until they first enter
space and meet cosmic rays. So when the norsemen look north and see the
northern lights in the sky, they are literally seeing Earth battle the
cosmic rays that threaten genetic chaos if uncontrolled.
When Thor crosses the rainbow bridge it is very similar to the comet men
in FF 315, when he just kicks a particular stone and begins a joruney
across the stars to another world (or in the previous issue where
walking through a particular cave take you thousands of miles away).
We can further speculate that the origins of Asgard in a frozen
wasteland, defeating the frost giant and banishing the fire giant to
under the earth, are related to the events in the arctic and antarctic,
perhaps related to the Deviants being banished underground, or a memory
of the great heaters that controlled the climate, or perhaps relating to
another teleportation event. It's all good.
Crystals of renewal
The Darkfield Rod is the focus of the blind god's power, and no doubt
helped him create the crystal fortress: the chosen one has a crustal rod
that enables him to create a crystal fortress from the previous
civilization. This idea was also seen in the
(then recent) Superman movie.
The crystal is how a dying civilization is reborn.
In this case it is
not Krypton, but Asgard: The Asgardian gods need to be worshiped in
order to exist, but the Norse religion was declining, so this crystal
fortress ensured it would continue. There always has to be a group of
Other uses of crystals in the FF
Like all crucial themes it begins in issue 1: the valley of diamonds in
FF1.The closest real world photo shows they are actually crystals,
looking like Superman's fortress fortress of solitude:
And in "Superman-The Movie":
The crystal theme appear again at the end, in the dimensions on the way to the Beyonder in FF319 (how symbolic!)
Here the crystals are cubes: cosmic cubes are the ultimate form of the creation-crystals.
Other references to crystals of power include:
- A certain form of crystal is the key to global mind control, as used in FF200, FF141, and Emperor Doom.
- A jewel (a form of crystal) gave the Sphinx his great power, particularly over minds.
- The Terrigen crystals are the basis of the Inhumans' power:
"The Terrigen Mist is a natural mutagen, arising as a vapor from the Terrigen Crystals" (Wikipedia)
The Inhumans were of course a Kree experiment to breathe new heath into
their gene pool: so these crystals are key to renewing the Kree empire.
- The Inhuman named Crystal is the one who is evolved to renew their own gene pool (see her own page for details)
Johnny's reaction (to this and the previous intense issue)
So we can see that there is a lot going on
below the surface! Note the contrast: Johnny's de-maturing with the
greater depth now being revealed in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps Johny
is beginning to realize
the scale of the demands on him, and does not want to go down that road.
He is overwhelmed.But in act 5, when he is finally mature, he is ready
for whatever the cosmos may throw at him and so returns to the beginning
place: the ice and snow and the Beyonders in FF315-6.
Other points to note:
- Moon Knight
Sue is reading Moon Knight to Franklin: Moon Night was Moench
and Sienkiewicz' magnum opus.
- FF3 cover
This published issue contained the first view of the original
unused cover to FF3. The issue had just 17 pages, like recent
issues, but the official page count just went up. So they had
some blank ages to fill, and included a number of reprinted
special feature pages, plus the new page on FF3.
This covers the origin and nature of super powers, and
our responsibility to be connected to others, and to allow people we do
not agree with. It reveals the role of higher beings, of nullifiers,
and much more. It stands with FF316 and 319 as one of those issues that
explains everything, if only we look. In the next issue the blind god
gives a parallel to to the FF's origins, but a thousand years earlier.
- The nullifier
In this and the next issue we see a "nullifier" being used: the connection with enhanced technology
and higher powers indicates this may be related to "the ultimate
nullifier". The blind god uses a nullifier to regulate or remove powers,
and the Darkfield Rod (looking suspiciously like the Molecule Man's
rod) does the same. By implication, the ultimate nullifier (FF50) would
regulate or remove all powers, everywhere.
- Links with FF13
The red mist energy affects super powers, and comes form the blind god,
who used energy he received from a meteor. They specifically reference
the Tunguska event, which links us to FF13.
- The Darkfield = the negative zone?
The Darkfield gives the blind god visions he cannot understand -
apparently links to alternate worlds, plus parts he cannot recoignise.
This all sounds like sub-space: the nexus of realities, the negative
zone, and the distortion zone.
The electronics show that this is more than just a superpower, this is
alien technology, as in FF220-221.
225Issue 225: Sue mentally rejects the team
Until now, Sue always saw the team as necessary. In FF201 for
example, Reed plans to disband the team, but Sue insists that the
team and family are the same. But in this issue the recent changes
cause her to change her view. Being in the team is no longer worth
the cost. Meanwhile, Sue has been developing her detective skills.
We saw in FF158 that she plans to be a detective, and in FF219 we
saw her practicing with developing her skills, without any input
from Reed. Now she's developed them to a point where she can use a
force field probe to pick locks: a useful tool for a private
detective. Also note how she amazes the vikings with "feats of
seeming impossibility." What could this be other than rising on
force field pillars? In FF232 she uses a force field pillar to
appear to fly, but it's a very small step from what she does here.
Finally, she rescues the team, again using her own initiative and
without any guidance from Reed. Sue is independent and planning a
life away from the team.
This issue is also significant for two other developments,
confirming what we always suspected.
First, the accident that gave the team their powers also increased
Reed's mental abilities. This explains why he is able to so
quickly understand and use alien technology.
Second, we see that Alicia's greater understanding is almost like
a super power itself. It is not technically a super power, but it
was enough for her to convert the silver surfer to our side and
thus defeat Galactus. It will also be enough for her to understand
the complex dynamics beneath Ben and Johnny's long term problems
and solve everything: the blind woman who defeated Galactus will
also be the catalyst to solve the team's long term problems and
complete the Great American Novel. In this issue Ben draws a
parallel between the blind god and blind Alicia.
In the above image note that Franklin plays with the ketchup,
making it look like the blind god's tears. This merely emphasizes
the obvious parallels between the blind god and the blind girl and
the boy who unconsciously guides the Marvel Universe universe,
just as the blind god guides his people. Franklin sees via his
dream self, and finds it mentally
disturbing, just as the blind god sees darkfield
illuminations and hates the experience. Both are reluctant gods.
The story is about a god who no longer wants to be a god. This is
deep stuff, a first in comics. The story also handles deep a
question that applies not just to religion, but to all live,
including American history and also to comic book continuity) -
must you continue the old ways forever? Odin says yes, that's all
he has. But the blind god sees men's hearts and knows that he must
Why does the blind god weep? because he sees their hearts and it
saddens him. In other words, he sees what holds them back. The
Viking dome that never progresses is a symbol of that eternal
stagnation. The cycle of rain and rebirth that seems so idyllic is
corrupt because it is artificial, cut off from the outside world,
and the occupants can never learn to survive on their own. This
theme is developed in the final tale of Moench;s run, the story of
the Ebon seeker: from a civilization that cannot progress, so it
must contact new life to survive. It's a universal rule of all
existence. It applies to comics too (without change they die: the
sealed off dome is like sealed off comic shops, always stuck with
the same group of fans from the past, repeating genres from the
Other points to note
- "There wasn't really a good
reason for Odin to be monitoring the team's affairs."
Yes there was: as the only surviving band of original
worshipers, they are the *only* people he is interested in.
- "I think the whole 'Korgon's
Alive!' party was really out of place" These are
vikings. Naturally they will celebrate a great event with a
- Sue dances on a table? No, the text says she is "demonstrating
feats of seeming impossibility" - e.g. standing on an invisible
platform, etc. As for dancing, Ben is the one who looks drunk
and silly. Why should we be sexist by singling out Sue?
Allow me to be an elitist snob for
- The blind god is not a villain
(and I hate the word villain). He says "If you refuse or fail you must die", yet he has shown himself to
be caring, not malicious. This is not a threat, but an
observation. He is broken, so his broken power has broken them. He does not want that: he wants to be healed so he can
heal his people, and help the FF, and
then move on.
- Unstable molecules
The red mist power is of course a form of unstable molecules
(Occam's razor: why assume anything else when we already have a
method?) As Korgon said, it only affects the FF because of their
unique make up.
- Shakespearian tragedy
Note the Shakespearean quality of the story. This is not some
conventional villain bent on world conquest, this is a
tragedy of the highest quality: an innocent man who becomes a
king and is driven mad by circumstances beyond his control, and
specifically by his ability to see the truth in its starkest
most horrible form. This is a powerful story, and seldom
- Lee and Kirby
This story has all the elements of an early Lee and Kirby
classic: the two part story starts with a dramatic and highly
visual event - the escape of all kinds of animal. They then meet
a character unlike any other they have ever seen, who faces
challenges that have never been seen before yet reflect big
philosophical themes and fundamental human needs. It ends with
permanence and a lesson learned. Moench speculated that it
needed Kirby style art to make it work. I think it works anyway
(I love the Sienkiewicz art), but yes, Kirby would have made it
- FF1 may have affected Reed's mind
If you will forgive me a personal rant, they say that youth is
wasted on the young. I would also say that the best comics are
wasted on comic readers. Here we have a story of Shakespearean
depth, and also the story where Sue decides on her independence. Yet
the typical review I read says it's unoriginal, that Sue is dancing
on tables, and that the only redeeming feature is that Thor hits
somebody. Call me an elitist snob if you like, but stories of this
quality are wasted on most comic readers.
226Issue 226: it's OK for a superhero team to move forwards
In this issue we see, by example, that it's OK for a fighting
team to move on. On the last page Ben envies them. The Fantastic
Four does not need to disband like the Shogun Warriors, but if
Agatha can spend more time with her family, then so can Reed.
Reed is slowly making progress. He finally spends some time with
Franklin. He is in the same room... but he ignores the child, he
always has his mind on other things. He finally remembers
something Franklin said at thee end: this is progress, but not
much. Note that four year old Franklin is a better strategist than
Other points to note
- Alicia is growing impatient with Ben. She is doing everything
to show him that he is accepted, but he just won't commit.
Eventually this low level neglect will reach a crisis, in FF251.
- See the zeitgeist: this is 1980, and Japanese giant robots are
established in American culture! But the first wave of their
popularity is over, hence the American robot pilots retire.
227Issue 227: Sue starts pressuring Reed to focus on the family
Here Sue finally starts to pressure Reed to give attention to
Franklin. But it's not in her nature. When Reed defends his point
of view (that everything is OK really) she backs down. But the
pressure in mounting.
Criticism of this issue
- Sue has been mocked for hiding her luggage, as if she's
shallow an afraid of confrontation. But she only does it to make
life easy for Reed. Reed has been extremely fragile lately, e.g.
his failures in FF204-214, and his visible stress in FF219. Now
Franklin is always around and it's a difficult time for him: he
always wanted Franklin to go away (e.g. to Agatha). Sue is
trying to minimize his stress in this difficult time. The
luggage incident is about Reed's weakness, not Sue's.
228Issue 228: Reed finally pays attention to Franklin.
Or does he?
At last! After all these years! Reed finally decides to pay
attention to Franklin. But how does he go about studying Franklin's
power? Does he collate all known examples and draw some conclusions?
Does he talk to Franklin at length? Does he take time to observe and
get to know his son? Does he even talk to Sue and to Agatha
Harkness, who have spent more time with Franklin than anyone? In
short, Reed is a scientist, so does he do science? No! He sends
Franklin to someone else, as he always does. Reed seems to have a
pathological fear of contact with his own son. Reed just does not
know how to be a father.
It's not physical, it's psychological
The crucial point here is that Reed wants to examine Franklin
physically, when the appearance of ego-spawn indicates that the
trigger is psychological: it's linked to Franklin's frustrations.
But Reed does not understand psychology, he does not understand
frustration in others. He will not let Sue (who has more empathy)
take the lead. So when the physical approach fails he just gives up.
So it could be said that "ego spawn" refers to Reed, not Franklin:
Franklin's problems are a result of Reed's ego that prevents him
from being close to his son. Franklin (as Ego-spawn) states it
plainly: they don't pay him any attention!
Other points to note
- Johnny says how he is older (he's now 26) and is so relieved
to have a date. See notes by FF204 for how rare this is.
- Note Johnny's reference to a hangup he thought he'd got over
(inferiority). In the early 1970s he thought he was acting like
a man, but he never addressed the root cause, his real failures
with women and his real position as junior in the team.
- The cover is one of my least favorites. The villain seems
designed to be as generic and uninteresting as possible, and
this reflects how this comic is not about heroes and villains.
The existence of a super powered villain is just a minor detail.
If you can get past the cover, it's a surprisingly good issue.
Well worth re-reading slowly and in depth.
229Issue 229: they realize it cannot work
Between FF201 and now, as the triumph of FF200 slowly unwound, Reed
and Sue were trying to muddle through. They tried to act like happy
families in the hope that everything would sort out right. This arc
(FF229-231) is where they realize it cannot work. Here are some of
the landmark events in this story, events that are easy to overlook.
Each of these elements expands on themes that have developed over
the previous 20 years, making this a crucial landmark issue. After
this, things could never be the same, and sure enough, everything
changed from the next arc (the start of John Byrne's run). If we
trace the development of Reed's goals and Sue's goals since 1961,
this is a final straw of seismic proportions. This story explains:
- This was the first time that Sue said Goodbye to Franklin, in
the sense that she really did not expect to come back.
- This is (I think) the first time she acknowledges that
sometimes major disasters are their fault.
- This was the first time that Sue went into the negative zone
(though technically she was inside a shielded bubble and in
subspace, so her later statement in Byrne's run that his family
trip was her first time, is still true). Its the first time she
is exposed to the full horror of where Reed might go, both
physically and mentally.
- This is the first time that the team is reported dead - we see
their obituary on TV
- This is the first time Sue must act against the wishes of
innocent people (when she pushed a man off heir floating island
- they cannot see her invisible cushion far below) - taken in
the context of knowing that this problem was their own causing
and she would probably never see her son again, you can imagine
what is going on in her head
- This provides unique insights into how those around them view
the FF (Franklin watching them on TV, Johnny's girlfriend's
thought processes). We also see valuable insights into their
normal lives - Ben with Alicia, Johnny dating, how Sue sees
things - though these insights are not new, they simply build on
the past. Johnny and Ben will not reach their "last straw"
moments for a couple more years.
In short, it explains the changes that Byrne will chronicle,
starting in the next arc.
- Why Byrne's Reed was more withdrawn (his physical appearance
has always reflected his mental state),
- Why Sue tried to change her entire outlook on life.
Reed has no hope
This is the arc where Reed finally admits defeat. Things have been bad
before, but not like this. He will not give up completely until in
FF231, but throughout the arc he knows it is hopeless. Although by a
miracle they survive, the psychological damage is done. See the
commentary to FF231 ad 232 for how this affects him.
Other points to note
- Hot air supports a building?
How can Johnny heat up the air enough to support an entire city block? Even if he could, it would kill the people inside!
This is probably an example of poor communication. Page 1 showed Jim
Shooter as a statue, a tribute to his recent new job as editor in chief.
it also showed Moon Knight, writer Doug Moench's previous (and
favorite) character. This was a busy time when Shooter turned round the
Marvel juggernaut, and Moench, a freelancer working from home, was not
happy with his work: at this moment john Byrne was being lined up as a
replacement. According to the comics themselves Marvel gets their
information direct from the fantastic Four. Obviously at this point
there was not perfect communication. Johnny has never created a balloon
before, but has often used hot air underneath something to lift
something very heavy - most notably at the end of FF4. So the full story
is probably that most weight was supported by the alien's decaying
power, some support was added by the updraft, a little by heating the
air inside, and a little from Sue's forcefield. the most novel part of
the mix was the balloon principle, so this was the one Moench mentioned.
- For why Reed and Sue are on a date (such a refreshing image!)
see comments to FF232.
- A lot of the writing in these three issues is refreshing, with
the full range of emotions from light humor to despair - from
the statue of Jim Shooter (FF231 splash page) to Lorrie's
dialog, and how the family back home worries. There's a lot to
like about this arc.
- For what Reed was learning about the negative zone, see comments to FF 244.
230Issue 230: all the biggest themes in one
This issue has all the biggest stories in one issue. If anything
is big, it's here:
This is where Reed Richards averts the end of the universe:
it's as big as "The Biggest One" in Walt Simonson's run.
It's repeats the common theme of Reed entering the negative
zone, but this time he takes the entire family, and the entire
building and part of the surrounding city there, and can't
find his way back!
This is where the team have reached absolute despair and
expected to die.
The issue is about the symbolic battle between Sue's
cooperation and Reed's conflict.
It's where the male figure is trapped by his own actions, and
does not realize he is the source of his own problems.
We have the cost of Sue's choice to be with Reed, and how
long it takes - for Sue it must feel like forever.
The story parallels the greatest of all FF stories, the
- It features a planet destroyer who is not evil, but it's
just what he does
- Reed creates a negative zone barrier around a city (remember
the Inhumans story that ran concurrently),
- the story involves going to the origin of all reality, just
as Johnny did in FF49-50
We also see the power of the four compared with other
comic book teams, as Johnny rejects the Avengers' well meaning
offer of help: the FF's power comes from their experience and
Reed's intelligence, not their raw muscle.
It's just mind expanding, it has that core that makes the
Fantastic Four what it is. In one issue we contemplate the
life cycle of the universe, existential angst, life
inside a black hole, violence versus non-violence, male versus
female, positive versus negative, and so much more, all
described with poetic imagery.
- The final solution is understanding, not violence. Then it
leaves Reed not knowing what to do next. Seeing Reed in the
negative zone is like seeing him gardening in FF annual 21: he
doesn't know what to do.
On the surface, the end of this three issue arc will be the
biggest change the Fantastic Four have ever seen: it leads to the
start of John Byrne's famous run on the story. Some treat it like
a complete soft reboot, going back to the early 1960s, the first
time this has happened, and the end of continuity. but if we look
deeper this is an illusion, and continuity is there, as we shall
see. But arc is the point where the team consciously realize
that everything must change. They will not actually make those
changes until the end of the act: John Byrne's run will stretch
the climax to their family crisis over 63 action packed issues.
Personal note: one of my favorite issues
This is where I put on my literary snob hat. Many fans consider
this a very bad story, and see John Byrne's run as a huge breath
of fresh air. It is true that Byrne's work is far more accessible,
but appearances are deceiving. in my opinion this issue is hugely
underrated because people do not take it slow and consider the
massive themes packed into each page. Read quickly, it's just a
rapid fire chaos of old cliches. But read slowly, when we see the
symbolism of each element and its connections with the wider
story, it's inspiring, mind expanding, profound.
The cultural zeitgeist
Apart from all the universal themes, this issue is rich in
cultural links. The square-ish red space craft being sucked into a
black hole is from the 1979 Disney movie "The Black Hole." The
plot twist at the end is from the 1979 movie "Star Trek: The
Motion Picture." This illustrates the power of the Great American
Novel and why it is seldom recognized: it sucks in the biggest
themes of the time, and so casual readers reject as "not
original." But those who study literature enough know that nothing
is original. Certainly not Shakespeare or Chaucer or Homer. If
something seems original it's only because we haven't yet found
influences. All great art is derivative. But for those who want
the most ideas in the smallest space, presented in the funnest
way, you can't beat Shakespeare, or the Fantastic Four.
The name Stygorr: where dark roads converge
Other points to note
"Steig" is Germanic for narrow steep path, and "Stygian" refers to the
river Styx in hell. "The rivers Styx, Phlegethon, Acheron, and Cocytus
all converge at the
center of the underworld on a great marsh, which is also sometimes
called the Styx." (Wikipedia) "Gore" means to stab, from the old English
for dirt or clotted blood. It's also the triangular piece of land where
roads meet: all these meanings are ideal for a deadly being who lives
where dimensions converge. Compare Gorr the golden gorilla: another
dimensional being (counter earth is a parallel world), this time created
from emergency genetic engineering (a form of clotted blood); and Gorr
was extremely strong (he broke Hulk restraints) and dangerous when he
- Why Stygorr was not more popular
My personal opinion is that Stygorr failed because he looked silly.
Which is unfortunate: a rare case where two superb artists do not mesh.
As the Comic Geek Speak review noted, Stygorr was designed by Bill
Sienkiewicz in his classic style, with wild angular pencils that... well
if you know Sienkiewicz in the 1980s you know how powerful and
beautiful that could be. But it was inked by Joe Sinnott, who's style is
highly polished and rounded. Both are absolute first rate artists, but
complete opposites and in this case it did not work. Which is highly
symbolic: the last enemy faced by the FF in their meltdown phase was a
conflict that could not work.
231Issue 231: the final alienation. Big direction change for Reed, Sue and Johnny
Show, don't tell
The golden rule of story telling, according to many people, is
show, don't tell. Characters do not need to state what is
happening if we can see for ourselves. This issue is the perfect
example: it's where the team realize that they cannot go on as
The team hit rock bottom and decide to change
The story is not just in the unprecedented danger to the family
(the only time Sue has said goodbye to Franklin, etc. See notes to
FF229) but it's in their faces. It's in the team
just standing on the street at the end, away from all their
technology, contemplating. This is where John Byrne's "Back To
Basics" era began, in the last page of Doug Moench's run.
The biggest change in the 28 year story
After this issue, between FF231 and FF232, the FF undergo their
biggest change ever. Superficially it looks like the entire story
is rebooted to the mid 1960s (that was John Byrne's intention,
except it didn't out that way: the characters had their own
momentum). What we actually see is Reed, Sue and Johnny accepting
that things have to change forever, and trying desperate measures.
Ben does not react so badly because he already went through
ultimate despair years ago: he has lost the ability to change his
life and must wait for Alicia to change it for him, at the end of
this act. Incidentally, Alicia is the unsung hero of this 28 year
story: the one who defeated Galactus (by converting the surfer),
the one who triggered the final redemption of the Fantastic Four,
the one who stays with Franklin (as in this issue) when nobody
Franklin's power is manifest
The black hole being (the Ebon Seeker) symbolizes Reed's despair:
sucking all light in, turning it black. Reed, as a scientist, is a
seeker, but lacks the connection h needs to his cautious,
big-picture-seeing feminine side (symbolized by Firefrost). The danger
of unbalanced science, threatening the universe, was foreshadowed in the
Watcher's warning about the Overmind at the start of act 4. Like
science, the Overmind draws on countless previous minds.
Franklin is watching reports of their end on TV, he repeatedly
says that everyone is wrong, they will survive. And so they do.
Sue's desperate gamble
In the next issue Sue will adopt a "back to basics"
strategy, sexually: to get through to Reed she will become a
Stepford Wife. Her phrase (in FF232) "Reed will love being married
to a child" is on surface a throw-away comment, but indicates last
minute second thoughts. Remember that this was her decision, not
he hair stylist. This is Sue's "to be or not to be" moment - is
she doing the right thing?
Note that Sue's bust is enlarged (this is not true for all female
characters, it's specific to Sue). In FF232 she will mention that
she keeps her uniform permanently hidden under her uniform. Is
this a hint that she is now using her other power, her force
field, in a permanent and unconscious way as well? That is, she
never needs a Wonderbra or corset.
Sue's mid life crisis
The radical makeover may also be related to her age. Sue is 32, and her
family ages more quickly than most (see FF212). She missed her
childhood (she was raising her brother) and so has always been
interested in beauty, and she's known for her good looks. The
crisis of FF229-231 coincided with her feeling old, hence the
desire for a radical transformation.
The second honeymoon: parallels with the first
Sue's decision to be more sexy and to go on dates with Reed can be seen
as a second honeymoon. It has many parallels with the first honeymoon
- The first honeymoon began with the Seeker (FF44), the second was triggered by the Ebon Seeker.
- The first had the Inhumans soon trapped behind a matter-antimatter barrier. In the second it was the humans who were trapped.
- The first barrier was finally destroyed by a carefully controlled explosion. So was the second.
- The first honeymoon was dominated by Galactus (FF44-48): the second was dominated by the Ebon Seeker, a Galactus-like being.
- The first Galactus problem was solved by the female side (Alicia). So was the second (Firefrost)
The Ebon Seeker crisis hits Johnny hard as well: it comes at a
time when his love life has hit rock bottom. He's 28 years old,
seeing 30 approaching, and is still treated like a kid. In the
past he matured and saw himself as an adult but it didn't help his
life: he still feels duty bound to play the junior role, things
still go wrong, and with Reed as his only male role model his love
life stumbles from crisis to crisis. Johnny is not a happy man.
Johnny pretends to be a ladies' man but has only seriously dated
four girls (Dorrie, Crystal Frankie and Lorrie) and they've all
dumped him. The last page of FF229 shows how desperate he is:
Lorrie says they've only been together a few weeks, and already
Johnny is professing deep love to a girl who does not care for
We don't know how much time passes between FF231 and FF232 but
Johnny, like Reed, loses a lot of weight. Some put this down to
artistic license, but the same artist, John Byrne, showed Johny
and Reed with bulging muscles as recently as FF221. It's
likely that i the gap between FF231 and FF232 they don't eat much
at all. They are miserable. The next time we see Johnny he's
tracking down Frankie again, a girl who lacks emotional empathy
(she finally decides to be the herald to Galactus) and previously
lost interest in Johnny. Clearly Johnny is desperate.
Of all the team, Johnny has suffered the least and is the first
to bounce back. First he regains his self esteem in F233, and
then.... well, wait and see.
How much time passes
When Lorrie dumps Johnny she says they've been dating for "weeks"
- but they started dating in FF222. The entire year of Doug
Moench's run was only experienced as "weeks" to the characters.
See Marvel Time for more details.