Throughout the 1980s until 1985 the nuclear danger increased. For details see ArmsControl.org.
Ben's inner demons are not from his childhood, but from Reed.
The symbolic issue
This is the last happy issue of act 4. In it we stand back and see, symbolically, the climax to the Great American Novel. (Act 5 is of course the aftermath and new dawn). Symbolism is everywhere:
"The naked truth" is really about Alicia
This concludes the pivotal event begun in FF270. The naked truth applies superficially to the She-Hulk story, but more profoundly it refers to the family crisis: the naked truth of the crisis is that it cannot solved unless they do the unthinkable: Alicia must become Johnny's partner.This shocking act protects Alicia (no more being at the mercy of Annihilus or whoever), it forces Johnny to mature in his relationship to women, and it forces Ben to face his problems at last. That last step will allow Reed to finally hand over leadership, so he can focus on Alicia's fried Franklin. For full details see the commentary to FF270.
Franklin and the fourth wall
This single issue is the most sexual in the 28 year big story of the FF: both the main story (She-Hulk being photographed topless) and the sub-plot (Johnny's implied first night with Alicia) are the first and only time something like this was shown. (True, FF254 showed the married couple in bed, but they were married and nothing beyond sleeping was implied at the time, Crucially, Franklin was distracted by Annihilus at that point.) The title "Naked Truth" applies to both stories. But why put both events in the same issue?
The main story is based on a tongue in cheek swimsuit calendar that featured She-Hulk. The idea of a topless She Hulk was used again by Byrne in his She Hulk run in 1989, as part of her breaking the fourth wall: showing her awareness that an image like that would sell (but key parts were covered up, e.g. by movement lines while skipping). Today this story would be less likely because of awareness that such stories are just an excuse to show flesh. The point is that She-Hulk is being controlled, sometimes against her will. The photographer then represents the readers. She-Hulk was the first to become aware of this - see 1989 and the start of the Franklinverse for details.
She-Hulk is not the only one being controlled. In FF332 it is revealed that Franklin unconsciously nudged Johnny and Alicia to be together, so they would both be happy. it is still Alicia's act, she wanted it, and Franklin just reacted to their desires, but Franklin made it easier. So in the context of the story everything is unconsciously controlled by Franklin to some degree, and his real time development is paralleled by events in the comic. This maybe another example. This is February 1985 so Franklin (born summer 1968) would be 16 years old in real time, at or approaching the legal age for sexual intercourse. Here we have the two most sexual events events in the comic's history in the same issue. Immediately after (within three weeks) Franklin is in hell - his 16 year old self feeling guilty for his thoughts perhaps? Is this why She-Hulk first started to notice she was being guided by an outside force? Might the prurient photographer represent not just the typical male teenage reader of the time, but Franklin's suppressed desires?
Alicia is often assumed to be passive. But if we watch closely, she is simply non-violent: which is a very different thing. In this issue she finally becomes a item with Johnny. This sets in motion the events that will solve everyone's problems. Just as with the first visit of Galactus, when Alicia converted the silver surfer's heart, Alicia changes everything.
Johnny is not infatuated with Alicia, the girl who looks like his sister (see FF 8). Compare his first meeting with Crystal: Johnny said that Crystal made his previous girlfriend "look like a boy." Alicia in this scene has short boyish hair and wears what looks like a man's shirt. Coincidence? Johnny then apologizes and it's Alicia who takes the lead. A few pages after his first night together with Alicia (and three weeks later), Johnny is looking at naked pictures of She-Hulk. This is the rebound for both of them, not true love. But Johnny has had so few girlfriends, and they've all dumped him, so now hat somebody else is making the moves he finally decides he's in love. Dramatic flourishes like his giant heart in the sky in FF276 seem more designed to persuade himself than others: he didn't need this with Crystal.
This story comes at a particular time in history. The "morning after" scene would not have been deemed appropriate a few years earlier as children still read the comic. Meanwhile, critics have noted that the idea of a woman having topless photos taken against her will seemed an acceptable topic then, but would be considered in poor taste today. Times change and the Fantastic Four reflected the time it was written.
Other points to note
Hi and Lois, Joe Palooka and his wife Ann Palooka, Dick Tracy, Mr and Mrs Lockhorn, Skeezix (from Gasoline Alley, a real time comic), Jiggs (from Bringing Up Father), Henry Mitchell (from Dennis the Menace), Blondie, Dagwood, and Herb Woodley (from Blondie). The excellent "Comics Cube" site found these images:
Ben comes home and face Alicia. This is one of the major turning points in Ben's life:
Finally the sleeping giant awakes, and Ben begins the journey to personal strength. This will lead to Ben forcing Reed to wake up, then to act 5, where everyone is at peace and happy at last. Then Ben's old friend Ms Marvel will give him confidence in the same way that Alicia helped Johnny. It will finally lead to the next generation where everyone has their heart's desire and a new saga begins.
Ben spent the years since 1961 in avoiding moving forwards and now Alicia has ensured there is no other way. It will be the worst and most painful time in Ben's life, and will almost cost his life (In FF297). But at the end of it he will finally be free. For more about Ben and Alicia in this issue, see the notes by FF270.
Throughout all this time Reed is in denial: he feels that everything will be alright with Franklin. He still does not realize that he, Reed, has to change.
Reed was desperate for money. The FF, since FF9, had always been short of money. This theme was confirmed on FF160, when Reed had to sell the business. But the real crisis began in FF222 when they had to take the subway because of money problems: and then later in the same issue Johnny had to destroy some of Reed's most valuable work.
Then in FF242-244 the entire top half of the building is destroyed, which would surely eat up any remaining wealth. And unlike, say, Tony Stark, Reed is not good with money, as we see every time we have insights into their finances (e.g. FF9, FF160, FF222).
The official motive made no
sense. Reed was supposedly tired of dealing with
Collins. But Collins was only hot air, and Reed knew it.
Compared with their enemies, Collins was nobody.
Reed let the attack happen: The same attack happened before, in FF6. We just saw ("The House That Reed Built" in FF265) that the Baxter Building is far more advanced than anything they had in FF6. We also saw in FF270 (the defeat of Terminus) that Reed had mastered a very similar technology: attach a tiny object to accelerate a massive one. Why would Reed have detectors for this deadly technology?
This is not the first time Reed has done something like this (see his lack of basic defenses in FF251).
Reed must have expected this. In FF190 the building was bought from him. FF202 the building was hi-jacked and taken into the sky. In FF229 the building was taken into the Negative Zone and almost destroyed. In FF242 Terrax destroyed the top floors of the building. Clearly the building is an expensive financial liability. Yet in FF244, while standing in the wreckage, Reed decided to buy the whole thing! Why buy an accident waiting to happen? Why value it at millions more than it is worth? What was Reed thinking??? We get a clue in the last panel: Doom is back.
The smoking gun: Reed would have insured
the contents, which were worth many times more than the
building itself: just the time machine alone was priceless!
Even if he only ensured ten percent of their worth, that is a
huge fortune. All the contents were destroyed, so Reed could
claim the insurance, build a much larger building, and
have cash left over. But as soon as the new building was
complete (annual 22, in a flashback to the original team, set just after F299), all the most valuable possessions
miraculously reappeared. So Reed lost nothing from the
destruction of the building: it was pure profit.
The goods were kept safe by the Watcher. Sue concludes that the Watcher simply likes them. Yet the Watcher stands by and does nothing when their lives are in danger, so that explanation does not work. Notice how Reed was tense when he turned the corner and saw the goods were not there, almost like he expected to see them. Did he plan this? We know that the Watcher allows Reed to to use his equipment with the minimum of interference. Presumably Reed had a hand in preserving the goods.
Reed may have already tried a dry run at this
See the notes to FF 244 for how part of the building was destroyed, but the contents were miraculously preserved.
Objection 1: nobody would insure them?
I use the word insurance loosely. Obviously no regular insurance company would touch such a high risk, though some parts of the business might be covered by specialized companies. But there are other stake holders: the real money is in the government and the businesses that license Reed's work. They rely on Reed being solvent. So between them they would need some way of bailing the FF out in an emergency. Probably the patents include an amount to build a trust fund to cover disasters, underwritten by the government. But to access this money Reed would need to show a large scale catastrophic loss, and not just the normal day to day destruction. Remember that this was the 1980s, a time when the banking industry specialized in large scale debt leverage and creative financial instruments.
Objection 2: this was the Franklinverse team and not the original Reed? Yes, but it featured the Watcher and Lockjaw at full wisdom and power. These are both dimension spanning beings, so when they are seen at their peak abilities we can assume they are the original. Since every Watcher and every Lockjaw can span dimensions, we can only judge who is who by their wisdom: the wisest no doubt work together, or are more likely the same being. Less powerful Watchers (e.g. in FF400) and less capable Lockjaws (e.g. in Pet Avengers) would be secondary manifestations.
Reed did not directly cause the
Reed is too smart to blow up his own building. But he left key parts unprotected in 251 (so then Annihilus could get in). And now he left the building unprepared for Kristoff's attack. Sure enough, sooner or later the building was destroyed and it was not technically Reed's fault. Reed also knew that this was unlikely to hurt civilians because of the building's construction (see FF234, it's the strongest building in New York): historically, most major attacks involve first removing the entire building (e.g. in FF6, FF19, FF202, FF229).
Is this morally wrong?
We may see this as a great moral crime, but Reed may see this as a moral good:
Why not just move away?
If the problem was so great that he would destroy the building, and he could raise enough capital to buy it, why not just leave and start somewhere else?
Reed would not act like this?
The suicide attempt was the act of a desperate man, under intolerable pressure. This is the same. Reed is not thinking clearly. It seemed like the only choice at the time.
Other points to note:
Magnus (published by Gold Key, Valiant, Dark Horse, etc.) is set in
the year 4000. Note the links between Doom and Kang, who originates just
before the year 3000, but travels in time. Practically all advanced
technology comes from outside sources, and Doombots are among the most advanced of all. Time travel is actually travel to other dimensions,
so it is plausible that Kang and Magnus could meet. Indeed, "magnus"
means "great", a suitable name for somebody called "conqueror" or
"victor". Note that Doom never completely trusts robots, preferring to
mix technology with magic, and always maintaining himself at the top of
any power structure.
After losing her home something must break inside. Sue is weakened enough for the malice persona to take over Sue's mind: later Sue says how it reached inside her deepest feelings,and she feels violated.
The big story us ultimately about Sue. This five issue epic )280-284) is her symbolic crucifixion, resurrection, and journey to the underworld of self discovery. See the cover to issue 280, 281, 282 for why this is not hyperbole. Only through Sue's sacrifice and suffering can Reed see her potential. Only then can he see the real danger in his conflict based life: hate is not the answer. And Sue must also learn: the danger to a child's mind if you don't act when he is young. She must make Reed put Franklin first. The final self discovery is through seeing Sue's past. Psycho man of course never existed and was always a symbol of their inner world: killing him means Sue will finally defeat her inner demons.
Why are these reviews so short?
Normally I devote several paragraphs to character development in each issue. But the significance of these issues is so obvious, especially when seen in the context of the previous years, that little more needs to be said.
Note the subtle real time reference:
The team moved into the building in issue 3, dated March 1962. This is issue 280, dated July 1984: 22 years later. The Baxter Building was built in 1961, as shown in FF249.
The shop keeper is aware that 22 years have passed, but Reed (under the influence of Franklin) is unable to form that idea in his mind. Possibly "we haven't been in the Baxter Building as long as you have" refers to March 1962 compared with 1961, but that difference is trivial.
Other points to note
This is the crucial issue. Sue is the hero of the Fantastic Four story, and these five issues are the climax to her story, her crucifixion and rebirth. This issue mirrors issue 1, where her career as a hero began. Note the cover: the giant green underground monster with the gaping mouth, holding up Sue while the others fly and stretch around him. The first year of the story was about alienation (see notes to issue 2) and this is where Sue's alienation ends. In the first issues Sue was the action figure, defeating Doom, being the most proactive against the Miracle Man, being the decisive figure against Namor, and so on. But she chose to follow Reed and become submissive. Here she "dies" and is reborn. Note the symbolism of falling into the earth in order to rise again and be reborn
So we come to the last of the five issues covering Sue's crucifixion and resurrection. Now we have the choice: do we choose heaven or hell? The cover warns us of he hell option: a reference to George Orwell's 1984.
The real year 1984 has just passed, with America ramping up its military power (issue 284, cover dated Nov 1985, would have been sold in August, drawn in May, and plotted in the spring of 1985). Orwell showed us where love of power leads:
"There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever."
This of course describes life under the Skrulls. Reed was probably a Skrull (see FF 91) and rebelled against Skrull culture. Skrull culture allows for no curiosity, no enjoyment ("we hate being Skrulls" - issue 2). All they have is the joy of crushing others. This is what is at stake. It is a symbol for where America is headed if it embraces power before compassion.
Ironically, Reed's attempt to resist the Skrulls led to him usingunlocking the hell to end all hells: Annihilus and the negative zone. Again we have the same imagery (but of course Kirby did it first): the giant boot crushing all beneath it.
The allusion to the book 1984 continues on the splash page (and the theme of loss of memory): the title is "revolution" - the constant background to Orwell's novel. It implies a warning: revolutions can be both good and bad.
In this issue Johnny gains a deep understanding into how others' feelings. This is the essential skill for leadership that Reed always lacked. This, together with Alicia, makes him into a fully mature adult and ready to lead the team when the time comes.
New readers: start here
In this web site I argue that every issue is like this: they all deal with deep real world issues. But in this issue it's more obvious.
A landmark issue
An academic comments on the subtext
This is from the review by "Ransom" on 'Chronological Snobbery': "In his 1999 book, Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers, author Matthew J. Pustz explores the portrayals of comic book fans in the medium. He notes:
'[the story is] a commentary on the role of superheroes in fans' lives. Comics do not make fans' lives one dimensional or lacking in human contact; rather, says Byrne, comics provide fans an escape, an outlet.'
[In an email Pustz added] 'when his parents lash out at the Torch, they blame him in the same kind of rhetoric that people have used to pin responsibility on comic books and other forms of popular culture. So the connection is clearly there.' In my book, I argue that his depiction is "sympathetic," but I'm not sure that I would go as easy on Byrne now as I did then. Tommy certainly seems to be a nice enough kid, and it's true that he's abused by his classmates, misunderstood by his teachers, and neglected by his parents. At the same time, though, he's not the brightest kid for 13. He falls for his classmates trick to get his lunch money for a magazine that Tommy should have been able to find anywhere, and then he gets himself in trouble by reading it in school. Maybe this is a sign of Tommy's obsessive tendencies, but it certainly doesn't reflect well on comic book fans. In fact, I'd argue now that Tommy is portrayed much like stereotypical fans: immature (his actions seem to be more like someone who's closer to 8 than 13), obsessive, less than smart, and potentially dangerous. Near the end of the story, Byrne (through the Beyonder) tells Johnny (and us) that he's not responsible for Tommy lighting himself on fire. Certainly his self-absorbed parents and irresponsible neighbor are more at fault. The Beyonder explains that superheroes (and comic books) don't make fans' lives one-dimensional and so empty that they light themselves on fire. Instead, comics and superheroes give fans an outlet, a way to live their lives vicariously through people they idolize. This may be a positive service that comic books provide, but that doesn't really say very much in support of the average comic book fan.'"
"What lies in [the Beyonder's] message? Does it not lessen the life of Hanson to imply that he was happy only because he would sublimate his own identity to live through the exploits of a hero celebrity? There is an element of dehumanization implicit in his remarks: Tommy Hanson may be less than a human being for not living his own life, but at least he could be distracted from his troubles by reading of a hero actively living his own life."
This is not the only time that modern comics have portrayed their
fans as losers. Are they perhaps projecting? It seldom happened in
the 1960s and early 1970s, when comic creators came from all walks
of life, and drew more than just superheroes. But today's comic
creators are usually hardcore superhero fans who never left the
"My theory on this phenomenon is that it stems from a socially reinforced self-hatred: comic book creators are themselves comic fans, themselves exhibit said negative stereotypes, and, finding themselves finally in a position of power, pass the stereotypical buck, as it were, on to their own fans. Dave Sim, admittedly a particularly bitter comic writer, was accused of this very crime by his own fans (wish I could remember a citation here, though it was probably online somewhere) when he lampooned the wimpiness of comic book fans in his Guys storyline. Obviously, there are exceptions to this trend, but it's surprisingly widespread." (horus kemwer)
Real depth: what this story is really about
While most fans see it as a heart-warming story, it has much darker undertones. The blog "When Will The Hurting Stop" has a lengthy and damning condemnation of the usually received message. The author argues that "Tommy" paints comic fans in the saddest possible light and says that hiding in comics is a the best thing these people can hope for. The review concludes:
"Nothing about this even vaguely resembles a happy ending. This is a shitty ending about how the world is a shitty place and even though shitty things happen, pretty people will always find ways to make themselves feel better about those shitty things, even when the shitty things are partially their fault. What's more, it's OK to be pretty and oblivious because it makes the peasants feel better about themselves to be able to look up and admire their betters. Or something? I am confident in asserting that this is one of the worst comics Marvel has ever published. It's stuck in the middle of one of Marvel's most celebrated runs by one of its most celebrated creators, so not only has it historically received a pass, it's been celebrated for its toxic "message" by successive generations of fanboys too stupid to tell when they're being insulted."
So this story is about the tragedy of a boy who has no power, and Johnny's moral weakness that he can just forget and move on. As the reviewer notes, the next story is about Phoenix. A phoenix burns to death then comes back. Heroes can come back and lesser people cannot. This is part of the much bigger theme of the Great American Novel: elitism versus equality: are negative things ever acceptable? Can we really do nothing about them?
So this story is a perfect example of what
this web site is about: depth that the writers did not intend. Yet it is
there, like it or not.
The zeitgeist: small scale
The zeitgeist: large scale
The whole point of the Beyonder as a character (as envisioned by Jim Shooter) was to look for purpose in his life. This was at a time when the cold war was weakening, and America's purpose (to survive the terrible communist threat) was no longer as clear. FF286 was cover dated Dec 1985, so was plotted August or September of 1985. The Beyonder first appeared in 1984, in Secret Wars I, but then he was in a distant galaxy, a simple macGuffin to allow the superheroes to fight. He did not influence earth events until 1985, in Secret Wars II. Issue 1 was cover dated July 1985, plotted around January, just after Reagen was re-elected with a landslide. Meanwhile Russia was weak and growing weaker. In March 1985 Mikail Gorbachef began to lead Russia, and people could see the tide of history change.
Byrne and the Beyonder
Byrne hugely resented having to use the Beyonder, as he wanted this to be a perfect small story. But as always the FF works on multiple levels. The boy who died in FF285 was not small to himself: he was the center of his universe. His life, like the Beyonder's, was a quest for meaning. There are no small stories: ultimate questions of philosophy and the bigger socio-economic backdrop are everywhere.
"Byrne has mentioned this issue as
particular reason he disliked [editor-in-chief] Jim Shooter's
editorial mandates. This was originally not a SW2 tie-in, but
Shooter mandated that the Beyonder be included. Byrne said he
begged Shooter to delay the SW2 tie-in, and he'd create an all
Beyonder issue, but Shooter had already pre-determined the FF
had to have a tie-in for #285, and Byrne had already written the
issue. It all sounds very weird, but clearly there was a major
that he did not want to have the Beyonder in this issue. It was
supposed to be the doctor who told Johnny everything, and we would
see it in flash back. Byrne says he offered to write a totally
different Beyonder story so as not to change this one, and when it
was published he offered to re-draw the Beyonder scenes for free
so it would be as he originally planned, but he says Marvel
refused the offer. Within a year Byrne left Marvel comics for DC.
It was not just the Beyonder that bugged Byrne, but the forced crossover events in general. "Events are always a pain-in-the-plot. Especially if, as I used to, a writer gets his story lines worked out well in advance. 'Oh, you know that plot you've had cooking for a year? Gotta dump it. The Boss wants to piss all over the books to make it seem like he earns his big salary.'" (Byrne) The concern for big "event" crossovers was one of the things that eventually killed the early FF.
Byrne and Jim Shooter
John Byrne hated Shooter's guts, and this issue is perhaps the best example of why. Artists like Byrne saw Shooter as micromanaging, ruining otherwise good stories, and taking credit he did not deserve. For example, Shooter wrote Secret Wars himself, which due to its multiple tie-ins was bound to be a big seller, so Shooter could then say "I created this hugely successful book". When Shooter was finally forced out, Byrne famously sang "ding dong the witch is dead."
Yet Jim Shooter took over Marvel at a time when the comics could not even come out on time, and presided over its most
successful period since Lee and Kirby created the whole thing. Shooter presided over rising sales
and fan favorite runs such as Byrne's Fantastic Four, Frank
Miller's Daredevil, Chris Claremont's X-Men, Bob Layton's Iron
Man, Walt Simonson's Thor. etc., etc.. When Shooter left the
writing quality of the comics collapsed. I consider Shooter to be
a great hero. But John Byrne is also a great hero: his legendary
run on the Fantastic Four is superb, and this issue is a good
example. Creators and bosses naturally clash, and Byrne and Shooter are high profile examples of that.
Shooter as Mr Fantastic
Jim Shooter was (is) like Mr Fantastic. He had (has) superb talent, and achieved amazing results. But he seemed unaware of how his leadership style affects others. I strongly sympathize: I am diagnosed with aspergers (who else would make a web site like this?) and I see a lot of myself in Reed and in Jim Shooter's weaknesses. But others saw Shooter as one giant ego, forcing his decisions on others even when his decisions are wrong. Secret Wars 1 and 2 are the classic examples: as stories they were OK, nothing special, but they forced all other books to change to suit Shooter's story. This made him more and more enemies. As far as I can see, this insensitivity was Shooter's only major vice. Shooter's other alleged crimes (the concept of the massive cross over, defending bad decisions from higher up, a lot of his art and writing decisions, etc.) are easier to defend.
The Kree and Skrull galactic empires have been at war since time immemorial. They are proof that conflict is not a permanent solution: neither side will accept defeat. The only solution is compromise, understanding and cooperation: a major theme of the Great American Novel. A galactic war of millennia cannot be solved n a single day, but this continues the work from FF annual 18.
The Great American Novel
Note the central role of Captain America: this is American action and diplomacy bringing peace to the world (or in this case the galaxy).
The Soviet Union and "The Great Destruction"
"The Great Destruction" is destroying Skrulls' ability to easily change: limiting their ability to deceive, forcing them to live with their decisions. It is a moral issue, and could be called a "responsibility bomb". The Skrulls represent the Soviet Union. Bu the 1980s is could no longer hide its economic weakness and had to face reality. Rulers could no longer change their story, Skrull like: it didn't work any more.
Prince Dezan as Gorbechev
Like Gorbechev, Dezan rose in the Skrull ranks, but did not see things the same way. This is made clear in the companion Avengers annual: "As the Avengers and Fantastic Four leaves the Skrullian empire, Captain America tells his teammates that the only reason why Prince Dezan was a prisoner of the empire was that unlike most skrulls, all he ever wanted was peace."
Cosmic balance and world history
FF annual 19 is an example of Galactus restoring cosmic balance. This is all a result of Galactus destroying the Skrull throne world. The chaos allowed rivals to compete, leading to the rise of the peace lover. Before this (e.g. in FF 48) Galactus could not get to the Skrull throne world. In this regard, when Frankie (Nova) led Galactus to the Skrull throne world it was like Lech Walesa changing Poland: thanks to Poland's opening up there was now a way into reaching Russia: Russia was losing its defenses and now the economic forces (Galactus) finally had a way in.
The Hyper wave bomb
Several times we are told that the entire universe is at risk. Why?
The hyper wave bomb was only intended to remove shape changing powers. Then why is it so dangerous? Because of elitism. It allows Zabyk, the one remaining powered Skrull to rule everyone else. The Great American Novel is about freedom, so Zabyk's elitism is central to the climax to the message. Elitism is always risky: we are told that if the machine goes wrong, the entire universe and another one destroy each other.
Negative zone links?
If the machine goes wrong, the entire universe and another one destroy each other. It sounds like the negative zone breach 4 issues later (annual 19 -> 286 -> 289). Other similarities are:
Johnny and Sue have terrible haircuts (for Johnny, see the notes by FF277). These reflect the stress
they are both under. "[Karen:] And speaking of ill-conceived, so is
Johnny's haircut. I know, it was the eighties, but even then
that looked dumb. [And] Sue, with her even-more horrific
mullet haircut [. Doug:] Is Johnny really that big of a
snake that he'd do that to Ben? And what are we to make of
Alicia? OK, maybe she got tired of Ben always holding back due
to his feelings of inadequacy, but I also could just never take
that whole storyline. [...] Haircuts = awful. I think this
aspect of Byrne's tenure is a misfire, as a tour through the
comics of the previous ~50 years shows a marked consistency in
hairstyles, with conservatism being the rule. Seriously --
should Superman have gone for a Beatles 'cut in and around 1964?
I don't think so. So why is it that all of a sudden Johnny (who
really should have been around 25 in these years) shows up like
he's been hanging out with Danny Terrio and the Solid Gold
Now that Johnny's chaos is ending, his hair will gradually calm down, until in FF 290 it's almost back to normal. Sue is still in a bad way, and her hair will get even worse (in FF297, when her behavior is a mess) before Reed finally accepts his duty then she can relax and her hair becomes normal again.
Johnny's self deception
Johnny claims his relationships are "legion" and lists Dorrie Evans, Crystal, Frankie Raye and Julie Angel. This contradicts his statement in FF204, and also the evidence of the comics. It may be his attempt at humor, or an immature effort to show off: as noted, his absurd haircut symbolizes his desperation.
Did Johnny ever date Julie Angel? In his mind, yes. in the comics, no. This is a summary of all her appearances:
It seems clear that while Johnny liked her, she never saw him as more
than a friend for the occasional group date. So FF annual 19 confirms
Johnny's sad love life since losing Crystal.
Other points to note
The new dominant Sue
After the events of FF261-264 Sue finally overrules Reed. This is a major turning point, but the real significance of this issue is its relationship with other comics.
A turning point in Marvel history
This is the first issue where the FF are pretty much a footnote to other comics, and a turning point in the history of marvel. It foreshadows the end of the Marvel Universe. There were three major events that led to **the death of the original Marvel Universe**:
The original planned story
"In Byrne’s original version of the story, Phoenix was intended to be a clearly selfish, evil being that trapped Jean to use her humanity as a pattern to gain a body. Jean fought back with the only weapon left to her, by telepathically dumping her entire personality onto Phoenix, making the creature believe it was truly Jean Grey and act accordingly." (source)
Claremont's Phoenix was more sympathetic towards Jean while Byrne's Phoenix was malicious.
"Since I own the [unpublished] art and the gallery those images were liberated from, I thought I would set you straight on exactly what happened. It was at this time that John announced to Marvel, through a letter to boss Mike Hobson, Shooter, and FF editor Mike Carlin -- ah, the days before E-mail!! -- that John had accepted the Superman assignment at DC. The two Mikes wished him luck, which is what you would expect from professionals. Shooter's response was to suddenly realize that the FF story he had approved at every step, from plot, to pencils, to script -- after all, he had to have all his fingers in this very important pie -- was horribly flawed, and that a good third of it had to be redrawn by Jackson Guice and rewritten by Chris Claremont. Without informing John of any of this, very unprofessional. To this day most people didn't another artists not John drew the flashback. That is why the credits say what it does. With the Phoenix force being evil (as in the original FF 286 story) and Phoenix was not Jean, but a precise duplicate created by the Phoenix Force as a "housing" for itself (not Jean imbues her self into it) into the Phoenix, and the REAL Jean was in suspended animation at the bottom of Jamaica Bay, where the shuttle crashed. I actually think the death of Phoenix (not Jean) was made even MORE poignant by the revelation that the thing that killed itself was a doppelganger. It was the duplicate mind and spirit of Jean that kept the evil Phoenix force in check initially but Mastermind's manipulation strengthened the phoenix force and gave it control to destroy a planet with a billion aliens. That duplicate regained control and caused the Phoenix to commit suicide and not continue to threaten the universe. The story was, after all, about the triumph of the human spirit. By saying Phoenix was not Jean and evil,it says the human spirit is so powerful that even a COPY will make the ultimate sacrifice when the circumstance demands. Changing the story to the Phoenix being nice didn't make as much sense since it ended up turning bad and becoming a mass murderer. Besides Chris always wanted Jean to be Phoenix and in turn be guilty of mass murder of an alien race. Shooter just wanted to have his hands in the story even though he originally OKed it all. He gave it to Chris because he knew he would change it but didn't care how. I always liked Kurt Busiek's original concept (which John used in the story) and John's idea the force was evil." (source: mtrambler)
This was not the end of the
Marvel Universe... yet
Although the changes were controversial, both sides just anted a better story, and the resulting story did have some advantages: "About the same time as FF #286 and X-Factor #1 came out, Rachel was becoming Phoenix in Uncanny X-Men. If they had let Byrne make the Phoenix evil, not only would it have ruined the Phoenix concept and Jean's role in her most defining and famous story but it would have messed up what Claremont had planned with Rachel as well." (source) Rachel and Franklin became partners, and this was a very big deal to the bigger story. On the other hand, the Rachel story is central to the chaos of the Franklinverse, so we could argue its merits either way. But the point is that there was a still a story, where events had long term consequences. The complete disregard of continuity did not come until FF322.
Other points to note
At the end of act 4 everyone is reborn. Doom like Ozymandias in the famous poem, thought he was unstoppable. But he was stopped by Reed in issue 200. He thought he the one being who could never share power. But his
mind was split between the robots and the child Kristof. he thought
that at least he was power incarnate, but he is reduced to skulking
through the shadows. he realises at last that he is nothing without his people. At least he has his mind, eve if it is shared... but no, he now realises that even that can be taken away. He will never admit it to others,
but Doom is finally humbled. He is reduced to begging (from the
Beyonder). being broken and humbled he is ready to be reborn next issue.
A tougher attitude comes at a great cost
In this issue the girls attack on their own without bothering to call the rest of the team. Fair enough, but Sue has become cold and hard. The atrocious hair style says it all. Sue is like a newborn child, emotionally lost at this point. This cripples her greatest power: her intuition. In the past her sensitivity was the team's greatest asset. It led her to notice dangers others overlooked, and it led to to friendships with Namor, the Inhumans, the Impossible Man, Gorr and others: it saved the world on numerous occasions. But here she is so lost that she is dead to the evidence around her.
Why FF287 follows from FF286
Ff286 and 287 form a double bill, a story about Sue's emotional development. FF286 is about a woman who was powerless. Sue is frustrated with the men's lack of empathy. But the irony is great: since her rebirth Sue had herself lost some empathy, becoming harder and more violent. So in FF287 Sue learns the hard way that she is not immune from adopting male stupidity. She is not emotionally superior simply because she is a woman, she has to work at it.
Other points to note
Doom's character development
For an overview of Doom's development in his twenty appearances see his own page.
Sue and Reed learn that violence is not the answer
Doom's rebirth was discussed in the notes to the previous issue. So let's focus on Reed and Sue. In this issue Reed and Sue learn a lesson in desires from one of the most powerful beings of all: the Beyonder. The Beyonder's whole purpose was to understand unfulfilled desires.
In this issue we see the final proof that no matter how often Reed defeats Doom by force, Doom will always come back. Here Doom was literally annihilated: his atoms separated, reduced to simple energy, and dissipated into the cold of outer space. There was literally nothing that science could do to bring him back. And yet still he returned!!! This is one of the messages of the 28 year story. This is ultimately a family drama, and one message is that force is not the answer.
Doom can never be defeated, but there is a way to neutralize him:
stop fighting him, and instead turn him against himself. We see
that here, when Doom's arrogance draws in a being stronger than
himself to defeat him. Doom will eventually recover from that as
well, so the only way to truly neutralize Doom is with another
Doom. This is foreshadowed in this issue, in the flashback of how
Doom, with the power of the Beyonder, was defeated by fighting
himself. Doom will finally be neutralized in FF annual 20, when
Kristof, a being with Doom's mind but more youthful flexibility,
gains enough experience to fight Doom on equal terms and repel
him. Reed seems to begin to understand this. the last words of
this issue are "when next we face Victor on Doom it will be on our
terms, not his."
The past year has seen Sue go to hell and back (literally!) resulting
in her becoming more dominant (FF286) and losing her sensitivity
(FF287). Here she has a wake-up call: intuition is more important than
force, because appearances are always deceptive.
We saw in the notes to FF277 that hairstyles at this point reflect inner turmoil. In FF287 Sue lost her intuition, and her hair became harsh and angular, not soft. (The in-story explanation is she was caught in the middle of a haircut: simply having her hair change on its own would be unrealistic. But the fact remains that when she loses her intuition she also loses her soft hair; when she regains it, she regains her soft hair.) Note the Biblical parallel: Sue is like Samson: his long soft hair represented his heritage (his Nazarite vows to always see beyond mere violence). When Samson allowed himself to be tricked he lost his hair and lost his power.
Sue learns the lesson, and steps back from the brink of despair. She is visibly happier. Her hair returns to normal.
This web site is about realism: that's why there are pages about Marvel Time, and why events must have consequences. Now, at the end of act 4, the appearance of the Beyonder reminds us why this matters: without continuity, if events do not have consequences, then nothing matters. Characters must have history! Without history their present means nothing. History, continuity, is the most powerful force in the universe, it is what defines reality, without it nothing can exist.
"What is man that thou art mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:4)
In this issue Doom is restored from the past... or is he? It
raises the philosophical question of what makes us real? (A
question also raised by Herbie's sacrifice in FF117, but here take
a step further.) In FF350, Doom reveals that the character who
fought and lost against Kristoff was a robot. But this means that
the Doom in FF288 was a Doombot. Reverend Meteor writes, on
the FF message board:
"My personal belief about Doom is that the Doom who was killed in the fight between Terrax and Silver Surfer in Byrne's run and later transferred his mind into Norman McArthur and whose mind was later put into a past version of Victor's body was originally a Doombot. He was a Doombot but Beyonder pulled a fairy godmother on him and turned him into a real boy (er...man). This was the guy who lost the kingdom to Kristoff but he isn't the guy who was outed as a Doombot in issue 350 and destroyed when the real Doom returned. The real Doom killed a Doombot...but the guy he killed shouldn't have been a Doombot anymore after Beyonder made him real. So obviously this Pinocchio Doombot substituted a Doombot to take his place in fighting Kristoff (who also thought he was Doom) when the real Doom came back and killed the Doombot."
The Doombots are able to fool even telepaths and Reed's sophisticated scanners. Which raises another possibility: perhaps they are biological, clones of Doom? Intelligent Doombots first appeared in a serious way after Doom cloned his "son" (see FF199). Doom would of course have placed limits on them, so the don't rebel as his son did. However, FF358 indicates that Doombots are less intelligent than they want us to believe. So this raises another possibility, my own view: that shiny Doom who returned in FF350 was himself a Doombot, who had upgraded to be superior to his master. It's easier for a robot to upgrade than for a human. Also, Doombots judge the real Doom by his power: the Doom who wins must be the real one (See annual 20). Either way, this issue raises the more important question: what makes a person human:
All of this assumes that people are separate from their
environment: for most of human history (and all of prehistory, and
our networked future) people might disagree. It also assumes that
we need more than the present moment to justify our value. Deep
FF289-290 is the climactic battle climax to the entire Great American
Novel: the climax to the crisis of Act 4 (there is one more story,
where Reed comes to a realization, then the resolution in Act 5). An
armada of highly advanced ships is heading from the Negative
Zone to attack the Earth, and only Reed can save everything.
The symbolism of the Negative Zone
The Negative Zone is so full of symbolism that it's hard to know
where to begin. It is the place of negativity: of death and despair,
where people go to kill themselves. It is sub-space, where all possible
realities are linked, thus it is a place of ultimate creation. It is
Reed's greatest triumph and the greatest danger to our reality: simply
touching without being changed first will blow everything up (matter
meets antimatter). It is where Franklin and Valeria gained their
dimension-joining powers. As the place where dimensions meet it
represents the dream world, the unconscious. (Note that Franklin's power
was manifested as a dream self.) The armada of alien ships heading to
earth is a fitting end: the dramatic result of Reed's one tiny ship in
1961, which launched into the unknown
without proper shielding. This wide open negative zone portal is in
roughly the same place as the band of cosmic rays in FF1. The invasion
also reflects issue 2. The action climax to the 28 year story cannot
end in any other way: all these elements must come together and the
Negative Zone must be sealed forever, through the sacrifice of Reed.
In FF290 Reed says he will try to seal the Negative Zone forever. In a normal comic this would be empty words, as the entire comic would be empty words. But in the Fantastic Four realism matters, words have meaning, and actions have consequences. The event that allows Reed to survive would also ensure he gets his wish and the Negative Zone is sealed forever. Note that after FF321 we will follow a different team, and in that storyline events everything looks backwards, so the Negative Zone will be once again still open. But nothing will ever have any consequences either, so it will never be more than a temporary illusion of danger. The real Negative Zone, the place heavy with symbolism and danger, ends here.
Reed must learn his lesson
Reed has to go to the negative zone one last time: it's the symbol of his own negativity, and of a danger of his own making. Franklin got much of his power from the negative zone, and if Reed had properly raised him then Franklin would now be a teenager who could help him, Instead he's alone and trapped. The Annihilus problem is caused because of the explosion that destroyed the Baxter Building: it also tore open the entrance to the negative zone. If Reed's deliberate lack of defenses allowed the explosion then he is responsible for the attacks that follow. Reed must learn that he cannot continue this way. His cold scientist persona must die so that the warm father persona can be born. In doing so we will go back to his childhood, and then look at the distant future, in the final two stories of Byrne's run, the final two stories of Act 4.
The Great American Novel works on many levels. To the casual reader,
with no interest in the past, this is a simple story Sue thinks Reed is
dead, but luckily he survives. The end. But to long time readers this
explanation makes no sense. Something much bigger is going on, involving Reed's metal despair and his rescue by Joseph Calhoun.
Adult themes in the Fantastic Four
This is another controversial claim, that Reed really died. It must be remembered that this is an all-ages comic, so adult themes are never explicitly stated. It is never directly stated that Alicia slept with Johnny. Nor is it directly stated that Valeria was conceived in the Negative Zone. Nor does Reed ever admit that he suicidal. But all of these things are strongly implied. They create the framework that defines the 28 year story.
But wait, she was wrong in FF287! But that was a one-off, about a
much less important topic, and FF288 showed her correcting her views
again (see the notes to those issues). The loss of her husband is far
more serious than a snap judgment about the Invincible Man. She would
never give up unless there was absolutely no possibility of hope. That
is made clear in FF289, where Sue does not actually see the explosion,
so she rushes in to find Reed.
Sue jumped to the wrong conclusion?
How can we be sure Reed wanted to die? Apart from all the evidence in
FF251? Because he knew it was "just as likely" he would survive, but
did not want Sue to have "false hope."
How did Reed survive?
Reed's survival solves another problem: the unlikely coincidence that
Joseph Calhoun would suddenly emerge from a fifty year coma at just
that time (see the end of FF292: he woke up "about a day ago"). Calhoun
was a parallel to Franklin: a mind that could distort realities, in
effect opening up other dimensions: that is, he is a living conduit to
subspace (the space between realities), like Franklin. So when Reed
caused a great explosion at the interface between subspace and our
dimension, of course Calhoun woke up!
When Calhoun woke up, "his mind reached out to re-shape the world in
the image of the last thing he remembered" - the world of 1936. That
world included all the people alive then. As Reed was born in 1926, he
would be alive then. So Reed was suddenly alive again.
Other points to note
This is the most controversial review of the whole web site. You
thought Reed's attempted suicide was bad? You ain't seen nothing yet.
After so many trials, going literally to hell and back, and finally alone (Reed is dead), we at last
see Sue's inner feelings. So the great 28 year story approaches its
climax. We look back at Sue's childhood to finally understand who she
is, just as we did 20 issues earlier for Reed, in FF271.
Sue is the real star of the show, the most powerful member of the
team, but we seldom see her inner world. Why? What is she hiding? Here
we find out.
On the surface
Let us look at the surface story:
The idea that Sue was so young has troubled a lot of readers. It
makes Reed (in FF11) into almost a pedophile. But look deeper and we see a
different story: as with all the greatest novels, the Fantastic Four
employs "the unreliable narrator". Until now, Sue has been a mystery, but she has said nothing that is obviously wrong. Now she pushes us over the edge with an impossible claim (that she is so young). Now we are forced to ask: what is the real story?
Looking below the surface, things are not what they appear:
Yet in FF291 she wants to believe she was far too young for that. Why?
Let's take a closer look, and see what's really happening:
FF291 is a dream
The 1936 sequences in FF291 are a dream. For example, She-Hulk
believed she saved a man's life by lifting a car, but in reality she did not. What we see is what the characters want to believe, not the truth.
But back to this dream. Why does Sue want to believe she is much younger than she is?
Sue has always hidden her past
In the first pages of FF1 we see that Sue naturally turns invisible
when unsure of something: her inclination is to be private, to keep
herself secret. We see the same in FF7. It
has long been noted that the team's powers reflect their personalities.
So Sue has things to hide, and wants a barrier between herself and
others. FF11 Sue said it was "painful" to think of the past. She cannot
have been talking just about the dangers of World War II, because the
team are always in danger. She is clearly hinting at her romantic interests, but why would 1945 be especially painful?
All we know about Sue's past is that she raised Johnny Storm, and
does not speak about her parents. She raised Johnny Storm to do the
She doesn't even open up to Johnny. In FF 21, where the Hate Monger brings out their worst feelings, Johnny says something interesting to Sue: he accuses her of being a big phony.
The mystery of Sue's age
Sue always hid her age: this early letters page said she was somewhere in her 20s. Note
that according to FF10, Stan and Jack get their information direct from
If Sue was Reed's sweetheart in 1945 she must have been at least 15,
probably more, making her 33 in 1963, and 31 in 1961. But she wants to believe she is much younger. A
22 year old would have no reason to hide her age. But a 32 year old
would have every reason.
Sue acts old
All the early indications are that Sue is closer in age to Reed and Ben than to Johnny. She was Reed's fiancée when he was in his late 30s. The first time we see her she is "having tea with society friends" and she later criticizes Ben, the war hero. She looks after the men, and refers to a messenger boy as "son". When discussing teenagers she treats them as a very different species (e.g. in FF3 and FF4).
The Torch's own magazine, Strange Tales, makes it even clearer: Sue acts like Johnny's mother. In Strange Tales annual 2 for example Sue looks after Johnny, trains him, keeps a beautiful house, and acts like the adult while Johnny acts like an immature kid.
But she looks young?
Sue is strikingly beautiful, takes great care over her appearance, and has the money to do so. So at 32 she can still have perfect skin and can easily pass for a 22 year old, as long as she avoids too much partying where people would see her in a teenage setting up close. Sue loves her privacy.
But Crystal said..?
In FF81 Crystal said she was not younger than Sue when the team formed. But Reed calls here a child (and in 82 calls her "still a minor") which in human terms means under 19, and perhaps under 16. Yet we know that Sue was in her 20s. Clearly Inhumans age slowly: Crystal was at least in her mid 20s, perhaps older. This explains why in the same issue (FF81) Crystal refers to facing "perils without number" at the side of Black Bolt: this suggests a long career. It also explains why Crystal is so experienced and mature, even though her upbringing was relatively sheltered. Inhumans age slowly.
The smoking gun
FF212 suggests that Sue was hiding her real age:
The smoking gun is that Sue raised Johnny on her own. According to
the flashback in FF32 - her version of events - she was not yet in
puberty when her father had the car accident that led to his decline and
imprisonment. Are we really to believe that a young girl, not yet in
puberty, would be allowed to run the house and be guardian for her
younger brother? Again this argues for her being older than she claimed.
And being Johnny's guardian raises an obvious explanation.
The FF and the dark side of America
The picture in FF291, of a young girl and innocent simple love, was
part of the 1980s emphasis on the FF as family. It reflects Reaganism:
family and old fashioned values. It was a nostalgic view, but not how
people experienced life at the time. The FF book was originally about alienation:
The first year was full of conflict and the darker side of America. If Sue had a dark secret it would be completely in context,
Sue's "painful" past
In FF11 Sue said the war years were painful. We don't know when her father
was in jail, other than it was less than 20 years before 1964. Before
that he had a period of decline. It is likely that when Reed fought in
1944-45, Sue's home life was falling apart. Her mother had just died and
her father said it was his fault, and was sinking into drink and
gambling. She was a very beautiful yet attracted to powerful men. Her
longtime sweetheart, Reed Richards, was suddenly away at war. And what
else happened in 1944-45? Remember the team's ages? Johnny Storm was
born in 1945.
In the flashback in FF32 we are told that Johnny was not much younger
than Sue, and that he was there before Mary died. But the picture also
shows a pre-puberty Sue. Which would place her before she was Reeds'
sweetheart in 1944, before Johnny was born.
Both stories cannot be correct. Reed had no reason to lie: he was
open about his age, and did not find the topic troubling. But Sue found
it painful, even though it was not about her father.
The simplest way to reconcile the facts is with a suggestion that is
so shocking to modern readers that I will let Colin Smith say it:
"Even in Reed and Sue’s
relationship, there’s no sign of laughter and physical tenderness, let
alone intimacy. Instead, these are intimidatingly repressed and
apparently joyless individuals. (No wonder Susan Storm found the
Sub-Mariner's unbridled personality and up-front desires so hard to
resist.) Coming across the strip in the Seventies in reprint form, and
being a fan of the BBC’s Dad’s Army, I found it hard not to suspect that
Johnny was actually Sue’s own child, even as Pike was so obviously
Sergeant Wilson’s. With Kirby’s art suggesting that the elder Storm’s
age could be anywhere between 20 and 45, it was an intriguing
World War II was a time when loved ones could be sent off at any time
and never come back, when the future was uncertain and very hard for
those left at home, and handsome young soldiers, desperate for female
company, would appear at any time. It was a time when many young women
took emotional risks. If a teenager became pregnant it was normal to
keep it quiet and pretend the child was her sibling. Many an adult in
later years was blissfully unaware of his or her real parents.
If this was Sue's great secret it would help explain her attraction
to Namor: not only was he powerful and charismatic and could take her
away to be a princess, but he himself was the son of an illicit affair. Namor would never be judgmental.
Sue after FF214
Sue was de-aged in FF214, and the de-aging gun probably set Sue to the age Johnny thought she was.
After FF332 we are probably dealing with a different team, so the new
Sue does not seem to have any dark secrets. All of this refers to the
original Sue, the one who was Reed's sweetheart in World War II.
When calculating ages
I generally accept Sue's claim, that she is very young. But that means
Reed lied in FF11, and that he was attracted to young girls.
When we accept FF11 as reliable, and all the other evidence, there is
only one conclusion: Sue is lying about her age probably because Johnny
is not actually her brother but the baby she had as a teenager.
If this theory is correct then it gives new intensity to Sue's
nightmare in FF283: it reveals Sue's deepest, darkest fears. FF283
works on different levels. On the surface, Sue feels inadequate next to
Reed, Reed is insensitive, he dies, Sue makes many mistakes, and then
Sue goes back to her childhood. But there are numerous problems with
But if we consider that Sue had a baby in 1945, then suddenly everything makes sense. Consider the order of events:
1. Reeds arrogance
Reed is very confident: this places the story at the earliest possible date. Reed is portrayed as much older: the age difference is greatest when they were youngest. Reed had not yet learned any humility. All of this suggests that Sue is remembering a time when they first met, when she was just a teenager and Reed was a genius millionaire about to go to war,
The main event is the death of Johnny:
Obviously Johnny did not die in real life, but the nightmare may recall something equally traumatic. It begins with a military machine, like a city in a foreign place: this is consistent with placing the event at World War II. See what happened next: a shot is fired and burns through Sue's defenses. It homes in on Johnny, who needs Sue's help: she then calls him a baby then cradles him like a baby. If we accept that Johnny's birth is Sue's great secret, then this sequence can be interpreted in a Freudian way. I leave the details to the reader's imagination, but think about the gun, the color pink, how the pink bullet passes through a hole that might look like... well, perhaps this was Sue remembering not the death of Johnny but the death of Sue's childhood: the birth of Johnny. That could make a teenager feel guilty for not trying hard enough to prevent it.
3. Ben and corrosion
The next event is Ben being eaten by acid. This would be corrosive to
Sue's friendship with Ben, who also loved her. If Reed was the father
it would be even worse. Again, Sue could see this as her fault. Reed at
the time was very old fashioned, so probably blamed Sue.
4. Reed and the war machine
Next, Reed is removed from the picture by a war machine: a reference
to him going off to his last tour of duty at war? Or to him being too
busy working for the military? Either way, Sue is left alone.
5. Sue and her parents
Without Reed to help her, the young Sue must face her parents. How
can she go on? This is exactly how she would feel if she was a pregnant
teenager in 1945. She would want to give up the child for adoption. But
her upper middle class parents, true to their culture, refuse to give
up. They expect Sue to be brave and strong, even after they die.
The last phrase before Sue wakes up is "we love you and we want to keep you with us forever". Why would Sue be afraid of her own parents? She would not be! But she would be afraid of family ties. Why fear family ties? Because after her parents died she had to keep her baby forever. She felt like a child herself, but could never escape her bonds of duty. Note that her later powers were first to be invisible, and then to have a protective barrier around herself and her loved ones. This is exactly what a teenage mother would want.
FF283 on its own is not enough to indicate that teenage Sue had a baby. Though if not then we are left with a story that is full of serious problems. But if we accept the baby hypothesis then everything falls into place.
The only remaining question is, who is the real father? Reed? Ben?
Some random soldier? We cannot be sure, but one name stands out: Prince
"Too many years"
When Sue and Namor have their heart-to-heart in FF195 he referred to loving her for "too many painful years". This cannot refer to the period 1962 to 1964 because it was only two years, and the first year was not even painful, as Namor had a real chance of claiming Sue. When were these "many painful years"?
Let's look back to Namor's first modern appearance. The first time we hear his name we learn that Sue talked about him. Why?
Sue told Johnny that Namor was "the world's most unusual character".
Why? He was often seen with the human torch, an android who bursts into
flames: surely the torch was more unusual? There may have been other
unusual characters as well. Why did Sue single out Namor? Then we have
Johnny's obsession with Namor. His room contained undersea maps. While
star charts make sense for multiple reasons - he visited space in FF1,
FF8, FF13, etc., and fought aliens in FF2 and elsewhere, and many young
people were obsessed with space in the early 1960s. But undersea
charts? Johnny had no reason to visit there: only one person they knew
lived there and he was no danger as long as he stayed there. But for
some reason Johnny was fascinated by Namor's home
When Namor sees Sue in issue 4 he proposes marriage within seconds. This makes no sense if they have only just met. But it makes perfect sense if he already knew her years before.
Then we have how she immediately had strong feelings for him. Again this makes no sense if they have only just met, but makes perfect sense if Namor was her first love.
John Byrne certainly intended it to be Reed. The in-comic reason is that the FF report their adventures to Marvel. So Sue told John Byrne something that made it sound like this was Reed: But this web site is not about what the authors intended or understood, it is about what was written down, and what the FF actually said and did. What is written down is far bigger than was intended. These characters were not invented by just one man, and are bigger than anything one man wrote. Each writer adds to them, but does not limit them.So is that man Reed? Well it sure looks like him.
Or does it?
Hey, wait a minute, it looks nothing like Reed! Not like the young Reed, anyway:
Namor routinely uses disguises
Namor was the master of disguise: see issues 2, 6 and 11 of his 1940s comic. Or FF annual 1.
Why did Namor use disguises? Because he was "the world's most unusual character", and began as the enemy of the west. He then became perhaps the single most vital person to western armies: they desperately needed him in Europe. He was constantly in demand. Yet he wanted to live peacefully in New York. So he has to become an expert at disguise.
What would be the best disguise so he would never be spotted? Clearly the opposite from his proud, passionate nature: what better disguise than as a "shy bookish college freshman"? Since the shy bookish person cannot be Reed, it has to be Namor.
Eight reasons why the "shy, bookish college freshman" cannot be Reed
One reason why, yes the "shy, bookish college freshman" WAS Reed
In FF 91 we got the clue that unlocks the secret to everything: Reed
must be a Skrull (see those notes for details). So he could appear as
anything he wanted. It explains everything. It also explains why Reed
can never reveal the full truth. There is an even more explosive secret
about Namor, but that is too big to discus here, and will have to be
discussed on another page.
The flashback page in detail
Now let us look at what that page actually says:
What was going through Johnny's mind?
Nathan Adler raises an intriguing possibility: "Did you ever think Johnny might have developed Human Torch powers due to his subconscious belief that Jim Hammond was his father?" In FF132 Johnny suggests that he got his powers because of his obsession with the golden age Torch. This is highly plausible, as the others' powers also reflected their interests: Sue was intensely private, Ben was unstoppable but having an identity crisis (due to losing to a nerd with no social skills), and Reed felt there was nothing beyond his reach (and probably identified with the "Thin Man" comic when younger). But why then was Johnny obsessed with a character who was declining in interest when he was young and had ceased publication before bis eighth birthday (early 1954)?
Why might he suspect the original Torch?
Perhaps "he gets a hint at some point that Sue’s his mother and his father was one of the Golden Age heroes and when she initially gleaned her mention to him of Namor he thought it couldn’t be possible because of his being an Atlantean, so thought his close ally. [...] Also interesting is his being the first to discover Namor. Was he perhaps searching for his father at the time of the encounter, but still didn't twig until he saw him with Sue?" (-Nathan) This plays very well into my theory that many of Johnny's early Strange Tales adventures happened between FF 2 and 3 (e.g. the Wizard did not know his real identity). He became quite independent, and developed his skills, and grew very frustrated at being held back. I'm sure this was an exciting time: his and Sue's worlds were turning upside down. She looked after him, and must have said some unguarded things that made him wonder.
But when did he find out, if he did?
As for when he found out, if he ever did, I wonder if his secret identity in Strange Tales is a clue? Johnny's friends knew his secret identity, but said nothing out of respect. I wonder if Johnny was the same with his secret? Johnny might think it was very cool, and feel sorry for Sue, and never mention it, just as his friends never mentioned his secret identity. She had always treated him as her brother so he was happy for that role. He probably came to see her as his sister anyway, just as an adopted mother becomes a real mother. After seeing s many alternate societies he would probably feel that the relationship that works is the real relationship.
But wouldn't he say something?
We might expect Johnny to blow up in rage, or to storm out... or perhaps he did, and that's why he ran off at the end of issue 3 and found Namor. But I'm not so sure. For one thing, and I think this is key, Johnny and Sue faced death every day,a nd their life was a roller coaster. Nothing would shock them, and their idea of "normal" was in chaos. Finding you had a different father would be a minor thing in comparison. Johnny hardly knew Franklin Storm, except as a distant memory, yet he saw Namor several times, and would understand his teenage-like outrage and passion. In the great scheme of things this would be just one more weird thing to add to the list.
At least, that's how I see it.
Sue says she was has known Manhattan all her life, but does not
recognise the landmarks in 1936. Does this prove she was not born in
1936? No, it proves she is upset and confused. Sue was "in her twenties"
in 1963, about to marry a man in his late 30s, so she must have been
born before 1942. Even if we take the most extreme sliding time scale -
with FF 1 being seven years before the story was published in early 1986
- Sue would be around 30, so should be able to remember 1961. But even
as late as 1961 the landmarks were not radically different to 1936. The
real boom in skyscraper building was between the 1960s and 1980s. Sue
makes her comment while in Greenwich Village, which has remained
particularly unchanged, thanks to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The Commission was set up in 1965, in response to the outrage at
demolishing Pennsylvania Station in 1964 to make way for Madison Square
Gardens. Whichever timeline we use, Sue should have remembered the
station as a landmark. When Sue makes the landmark comment she is
standing in front of the Lyric Theater, a building that was refurbished
in 1934 and was largely unchanged until 1998. So the reference to
"all my life" is evidence of Sue's distressed mental state: she is not
FF291: other points to note
The cover is a homage to Action Comics 1, the first appearance of Superman, also in the 1930s: the start of the golden age of comics.
The four reality warpersThe Fantastic Four features four reality warpers:
All of this points to the 1930s. The oldest of these is Licorice Calhoun. According to the "Reed is a SKrull" theory - the theory that explains everything in by far its simplest form - all normal superheroes are a result of Reed's experiments with Skrull milk and alien technology. Reed's single obsessive focus was to create a subspace portal, by warping dimensions. So the simplest explanation of the four reality warpers is that they are related to Reed's experiments in the 1930s. Licorice then would be the first, and his erratic behavior led to him being hit by a car and lying in a coma for the rest of his life. This would be Reed's first and greatest failure (greatest because of the scale of his ambition, to warp reality itself in order to rid the universe of Skrulls). Licorice is the symbol of Reed's crimes.
Yet ultimately (as hinted in FF 286) Reed cannot be blamed: all he ever did was try to save the universe. So it is most fitting that, when all of Reed's efforts lead to ultimate disaster and the destruction of the universe, swallowed by the negative zone, Licorice would return from the dead (almost) and save him. Reed did good after all.
Throughout act 4 Reed and Sue lost everything, until they were born and must start again. Now they are exploring where they started as a team, to see what went wrong.
What went wrong? Reed refused to change. He wanted to be the great superhero forever. He refused to accept that, as a father, he should now focus on his son and help the next generation. To symbolize this they find that their original city was ruled by somebody like Reed Richards. This other Reed never gave up power. He kept things always how he wanted it, convinced that he was right. Hundreds of years have gone by, in a bubble, and they worship the original Fantastic Four, exactly as it was at the start. It's not healthy!
This is the real world in comic form. It's Marvel Time in a nutshell. Comic publishers are afraid of change.They want their favorite teams to stay the same forever, sacred and inviolate. They will not allow real time to pass.
The solution? To let real time move forward again. To let the natural cycle of biortha nd death continue, because it is the family that matters, not the individual. Reed must learn to believe in the next generation.
At last the breakthrough. Finally Reed sees what he has done. Though this admission of guilt refers just to Ben, Reed's brain will quickly see the implications:
He was treating Ben like a child.
He has treated everybody like children.
If they are adults then Reed is no longer indispensable.
This is it. The turning point.
Reed will see the context:
This follows directly from the same message in the previous arc:
Harvey Jessup, like Reed, tried to do everything, and what
happened was the opposite of what he wanted. The arc before
that had a man who was like Franklin. The arc before that involved
two other control freaks: Dr Doom and the
Beyonder. Everything points to the same message: absolute
control is a Bad Thing. All of Reed's failures in Act 4 are
concluded by three arcs that tell him to stop controlling others.
Accepting blame for Ben shows that he has finally learned his
Reed's decision in FF205 may not seem earth shattering. Is this really such a
momentous change? After all, the clues are subtle: a word here, a look
there. Is this really a fundamental change of heart and change of
direction that changes everything? The answer is yes. For evidence,
read the highly acclaimed 1987 limited series by Chris Claremont: the
Fantastic Four versus the X-Men.
In that series Sue discovers a book indicating that Reed planned the space flight deliberately to give the team powers, even though it might hurt them (as it did with Ben). Of course, Reed's early memory had been wiped in key areas in issue 255 (see FF272) so all he could go on was the evidence, and the evidence appeared to be damning.
In the end it is suggested that Doom forged the document. Perhaps he did. But the point of the story was it was sufficiently believable that Reed thought it might be genuine.
A footnote: did Doom really alter the diary?
Reed says that every word was his, and only the order of events is wrong. So anything Doom did was very subtle. But did he do anything? Here is the evidence:
On the surface, of course he did... except he never said so. Usually
Sue's intuition is reliable, but we saw at the end of act 4 that even
that was in question. Perhaps the strongest evidence for Doom being
innocent is his intense relaxed pleasure. That is the closest to a smile
we have ever seen: he is almost laughing. Yet if he changed the diary
then he has just been defeated, which would hurt his ego. Why is he so
relaxed and intensely happy?
If Doom tells the truth then he has the infinite satisfaction of
knowing that he has the moral high ground over his greatest enemy.
Nothing gives him greater pleasure. This is all part of Doom's growth as
a character. being right is more satisfying than humiliating others
(who then inevitably come back to defeat him). Doom has grown since
issue 200 and before.
Then why not simply say "you are wrong, Susan?" Because his ego does not
need anybody's approval. Simply knowing that he is right is enough. Having
Susan get it wrong merely adds to his self satisfaction: these people
are wrong and cannot face the truth: he, Doom, is vindicated. Plus,
having your enemies confused is always useful for later.
That is all just speculation of course. The story also works if Doom
changed the order of events: the significance of the story is simply
that Reed could believe it now. Reed is finally able to see that he is
not always right.
The purpose of the X-Men limited series is to make act 5 explicit: Reed finally admits weakness and learns humility, just as Doom did in FF annual 20.
Other titles expand on FF themes
The Fantastic Four is often subtle. But whenever a major theme is only hinted out you can be sure it is explored more clearly in another Marvel book. For example:
The zeitgeist of FF295
A footnote: Marvel Time...
This final story of the most stretched our Act of all is about stretching time to preserve the past: Marvel Time inside of Marvel Time (Inception!). It shows why Marvel Time does not work.