1981: Act 4: back to basics? (Reaganism)
A note on mind reading
When John Byrne saw this page he called it "mind reading". And so it is,
on a deep level. This web site attempts to go beyond what the writer
consciously intended. For details, see the discussion of authorial intent.
John Byrne's famous tenure on the FF almost exactly overlaps with
Reaganism, and so does the politics. (It's subtle, but it's there.)
America and the FF go "back to basics".
Reagan's America was an empire, proud of its strength on the world stage. So FF240-250 are about colonialism:
240 colonizes the moon
241 is about old ancient colonialism in Africa
242 is about stealing Manhattan
243 is about Galactus wanting to the natural resources of the whole world
Having established the old way (conquering new territory), we now move on to a new enlightenment
244 is the center point: anti-colonialist. Frankie has the old view: the pioneering spirit that did not care about destroying primitive
cultures along the way.
This was once America's view, of manifest destiny, even if it meant a
few savages might die: there were endless "savages" out there, and
America had to press westward!
Note the image of Columbia as the herald of a more powerful race flying through the air, just
like Frankie. (The word "Frank" means to speak plainly even if it is
offensive.) But that was the past. America has moved on, and readers are now shocked at Frankie's racist attitude.
245 "childhood's end" - Franklin represents America's future, its untapped power, and need for responsibility
246-247 are about nation building where we no longer see "good guys and
bad guys" but try to make life the best for ordinary people, even if it
means letting our enemy rule his own land.
248 is the absurdity of controlling a whole planet (or moon)
249 is ourselves as a colony: we are just a minor backwater to the Kree
and finally 250 is about understanding outsiders: hated minorities (mutants) and aliens
(Skrulls) are not what they seem, and we are often wrong.
Reaganism was built on "family values." These issues progress in scale
from the personal and intimate to the global, and finally the cosmic. We
start with the personal:
- 232: restarting as a family
- 233: Johnny's childhood and his inner spirit
- 234: even a nobody can have great untapped potential
- 235 is the center point: the symbolism of ego, and traveling inside oneself. Ben of course goes the deepest.
- 236: the individuals and their heart's desire
- 237: Sexual relationships: Sue and Reed
- 238: Sexual relationships: Johnny and Ben (not with each other!)
- 239: Extended families: Ben's family, Crystal's pregnancy, and the harm caused by abuse.
Reed the Skrull
WORK IN PROGRESS:
Back in issue 91 we discussed the evidence for Reed being a good Skrull,
who escaped in the 1930s. Byrne's run makes a lot more sense in this
Annuals give the big, defining stories (births, marriages, etc), Byrne's
run is the climax to the big story, and it's all about Skrulls
- Annual 17 reveals that a single Skrull, through becoming a milk cow, could produce unlimited numbers of other Skrulls
- Annual 18 shows the end of the galactic hatred between Kree and Skrulls. (The hatred was the focus of annual 15)
- Annual 19 shows the end of Skrull shape changing powers
- The 1930s
Byrne's run draws our attention to the 1930s, the decade when Reed first appeared:
- We learn that his "father" was active in the 1930s) then disappeared
- His "father" was obsessed with a time machine, the first step to the dimensional portal
- We see two reality warpers who appear in the 1930s: "the man with the power" who, by his age, would have been born then,
- and Licorice Calhoun who was an adult in 1936 (this may be his first use of power, but he was hit my a car and fell into a coma)
- Sue and the others return in a dream state to 1936 (and Sue recalls first meeting Reed)
- We learn that SHIELD had advanced technology in the 1930s
- We meet professor Horton who had Skrull-like technology in the 1930s, then disappeared
In these climax issues we see Skruill-Reed's nightmare come
true: he utterly fails and the Skrulls arrive for justice. (The Skrulls
know about Reed, and all their encounters are warnings not to go too
far: see notes to FF 2)
- 243-244: Things have got so bad that Reed even saved Galactus
- 245: Galactus is the herald of Franklin and Franklin knows something is very wrong.
- 246-7: Reed's descent into chaos is complete: Doom is back.
- 248: it's all a nightmare
- 249-250: the Skrulls and Shi-ar both send a warning.
- 251-256: Reed tries to escape, but he cannot
- 257: just as Reed must have foreseen (or planned for?) Galactus destroys the Skrull throne world
- 258-260: so the Surfer gets involved, to help Reed. He can't stop
Galactus or the galactic empires, but he can at least remove Doom from
- 261-262: but it's too late: Reed must pay for his crimes
John Byrne's run: "Back to basics"
John Byrne dominates FF history.
His run is generally popular with fans, and this is usually
attributed to turning back the clock to an earlier time. But if we
compare this with earlier acts it's totally different. What is
different is the more visible "down-to-earth-realism." There are
more ordinary street scenes, ordinary telephones, wrinkles in
clothing. etc. "Down-to-earth-realism" is half of the formula for success so naturally
these stories were more popular.
Actually, Moench and Sienkewicz included just as many
down-to-earth elements, but their stories were more intense,
faster moving, and had more creative camera angles. Byrne is
simpler, easier to follow, and his first few issues laid on the
"ordinary" very thick indeed, and kept the high tech to a minimum.
By the end of Byrne's run the ordinariness went down and so did
Byrne's run is a good example of depth in the FF; the story works
on at least three levels
- To a new young reader it's single issue stories, about danger,
featuring people and technology with no limits.
- To a typical fan it's several different arcs, about optimism
(Byrne, like Waid, was notable for his smiling characters), and
not about conflict but about family.
- To the reader who follows long term trends, it is about
avoiding the future. The run is an attempted reboot to the past,
the early 1960s. The team was once focused on the future and now
the future is such a terrifying place they want to get back to
the past. As this page hopes to show, the smiles hide the last
stages of a decades long crisis.
The decade of Ronald Reagan
Under Byrne the Great American Novel reflects Reaganism: the themes
and even the dates all match. For details see the commentary to FF246.
A bit of fun
This era is the darkest of all. So before we start here's some fun.
Reagan appeared in two Fantastic Four stories before this: in 1968 and
1976. Comic creators of the time tended to be politically left of
center, so both appearances are for comic relief. It's good stuff. :)
A personal note
Byrne's legendary run (FF232-294) is regarded by many fans as
second only to Lee and Kirby. My view is a little different,
though I still rate these issues highly. The first American comic
I ever subscribed to was the FF,and my first new issue was 251:
the image of Ben staring into the abyss is etched on my mind. But
I also remember being a tiny bit disappointed: I had impossibly
high expectations. My previous FF experience was dominated by
Kirby and Perez, and really nothing could beat those. The
other problems I have with Byrne's run are:
- He ignores the previous 20 yeas - he tried to destroy the big
story that had been building up.
- He changes the characters beyond recognition. Reed, Sue and
Johnny changes personality, Ben is left in limbo, development
wise (though to be fair he had played a supporting role in
- He does nothing of any lasting significance. It's all smoke
and mirrors. This is not just an observation, it was his
intention: he has always been an "illusion of change, not real
change, it's only comics" guy, and I am the opposite. For me the
FF is at its best when there is real change.
- Byrne's run is all small stories. Even the "big" stories (a
small loss, hero, etc.) are made small because they are designed
to have zero long term effect.
In short, Byrne set out to kill the big story.
And yet he put so much effort into it that he ended up moving the story
forwards despite himself. In his "comic creators on the
FF" interview he says how he had particular plans, but the team
seemed to have their own ideas and the story wrote itself in
directions he did not intend. His run does end up fitting
perfectly as a development of what went before, despite his
intention to reboot. I see Byrne's run as the proof that comics
can be high art of lasting significance: the method of production
can lead to something much greater than its parts. Comics at their
best write themselves against an author's intent. All we ask is
that the authors really care. And Byrne in his FF run really
Part 1: personal stories
232Issue 232: Stepford Wife Sue: her last desperate gamble
This is where Sue begins her desperate Stepford Wife gamble to
get through to Reed. See the comments to FF231 for how and why Sue
changed. Sue behaves absurdly out of character - Johnny too.
Reed has withdrawn emotionally
In the FF229-31 arc we saw that Reed's own mistakes caused their
problems. On top of all the other problems he is beginning to feel
defensive. Instead of his previously confident speech patterns he
now spends most of his time justifying himself, mechanically
reviewing the logic of his actions in his mind (to ensure that he
cannot be blamed for mistakes) and explaining them clinically to
others. It's like he's saying "you see, I know that I look like a
jerk, but you must understand the logic."
The easiest way to see Reed's emotional withdrawal is to compare
two very similar pages, in FF201 and FF232:
||jumps into the problem
||runs away (on the next pages)
||looks upward, Reed looks dominant
|| looks down, Reed looks small
||muscular and powerful
||muscular and handsome
||only his experiments
||lots of action
||takes a page to get started
||passive and lengthy
||just one word: "AND"
|| lengthy passive descriptions of static objects
The same emotional withdrawal is seen throughout the run.
Note that Reed's appearance
always reflects his underlying confidence.
Sue's policy: romantic dates
This continues the dating Reed policy begun in the previous landmark
story, the Ebon Seeker (see the start of FF229). Before that, Sue
had not dragged Reed out on a date since FF158, after the near
divorce. Sue is trying to make Reed feel comfortable, remind him of
the days when he won her love and felt invincible.
"A lot like murder"
This will be most clearly seen when Reed rescues Galactus in FF245.
Galactus is a being of incredible knowledge and technology, so Reed
wants to save him even if it means that billions of lesser creatures
(like humans) die. Ironically Galactus is the one being who does not
need saving: as a force of nature, he can only die in the way that a
hurricane can die, but will always come back. In short, Reed understands
technology but he does not understand life.
This first issue foreshadows Reed's decision to save Galactus, which
then leads to the death of whole planets. Ben is sympathetic to all
forms of life (especially "rock monsters like himself), but Reed is more limited in his view.
Reed's argument appears to be that the elemental creatures do not have
minds in the e way that humans do, so their deaths do not matter. This
same argument that Galactus used to defend killing humans in FF
50, saying that humans are such a simple life form (like ants) that they
do not count.
This illustrates the cold emptiness in Reed's heart as we near
the end of act 4 (he was not always this cold). Hence Sue's
desire to warm him up.
The REAL story: why Dr Strange?
It is fitting, almost inevitable, that Byrne's first issue had to end
with Dr Strange. Strange represents the end of the horror phase at the
heart of Act Four. Many times in this web site I have noted the hints of
a magical subtext. In short, there are two ways to view superhero
- If we only consider the FF. then other Marvel Comics are not real (see the discussion of realism).
- If we accept other comics are real then the only way to make sense
of the craziness is to focus on the magic: what we see on the surface
(the superhero battles) is just the tip of the iceberg, and the real
battles are cosmic in nature, as described in the pages of Dr Strange.
The magical subtext is hinted at many times, but most clearly in the horror stories at the heart of Act 4:
- The Devil
The battles with Nicholas Scratch ("Old Nick" and "Old Scratch" are
nicknames for the Devil): these are the background for Agatha Harkness
stories. She appeared just before Act 4 began,. Scratch was probably
behind the Overmind story, Scratch was maneuvering to get Franklin to
Salem to use his power (only Franklin is powerful enough to tip the
balance between higher beings), and finally Scratch possessed Franklin
- Horror characters
The darkest era, FF201-231, crosses over with Marvel's horror comics: Dr
Sun from Dracula, Gabriel from Haunt of Horror and Monsters Unleashed,
and the monsters from Marvel's original monster comics (e.g.Giganto and
Namor's monsters in Moench's first issue).
- Horror scenarios
Most (or all) of the stories in this era are horror staples:
- Possession (Franklin possessed, Herbie possessed, mutant creates doppelgangers, Franklin possesses others, etc.)
- Giants (Atlanteans, Shogun Warriors, Sphinx, Galactus, Ebon Seeker, etc.)
- Body horror (aging)
- Lost in darkness (the negative zone, outer space, etc.)
In each case vastly powerful beings are uncovered: beings or forces whose power dwarfs whole planets:
In short, FF 201-231 is where the thin barrier between the world we see
and the unseen world begins to rupture. So when Byrne's new era begins
we have to have Dr Strange here to put the lid back on. The story
presents itself as something very small; just Diablo stealing four
statues in order to summon four elemental beings. But where Dr Strange
is concerned things are never as they seem. A being who has faced
Dormammu, and Eternity himself, would not personally waste time on
something so trivial unless it helped other purposes. As he says at the
very end, he and the FF face a common foe. No doubt he means evil. But
evil is a grand, cosmic force. it is personified by the Devil: a name
reflected in the names "Nicholas Scratch" and "Diablo". There is more to
this than meets the eye.
- the combined living computers of Xandar, and the Sphinx with that power,
- Norse gods
- and some of the most powerful beings in the entire negative universe,
- and of course Franklin, again and again.
Alternatively, this is all wild speculation and there is no bigger
magical story. But if so, other comics (with their repeated rejection of
realism) make no sense. You choose.
Other points to note
- On Frankie Rae:
Byrne took the Fantastic Four Back to the Basics with
Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #232 (cover date July 1981) it was a
rather apt title considering his stance, in interviews at the
time (if recall correctly), that nothing that came after Jack
Kirby left the Fantastic Four with Vol. 1 #102 (cover date
September 1970) ‘counted’, essentially ignoring the previous
decade; or, to put it another way, the entirety of what we now
fondly refer to as the Bronze Age of Marvel Comics. Byrne had
sole responsibility for shaping the future of the Fantastic
Four as both artist and writer, so he had to trust in his
creative instincts; but it still seemed a tad disrespectful of
all the other creators that came before him. It was a
little odd, then, that in his first issue he used a character
created by Roy Thomas and George Perez in Fantastic Four Vol.
1 #164 " (source)
- Byrne's plans
"While Frankie/Nova is
apparently dead in current continuity, Byrne did originally
intend to have Nova become the next Galactus, after another
Big Bang at the culmination of his ‘ The Last Galactus Story’,
the ending of which remains unpublished today." (source)
The inker "Bjorn Heyn" is an anagram for John Byrne himself.
- Ben's eyebrows
For why Ben's eyebrows start to change: see notes to FF203. He
also has longer arms in most of Byrne's run. This is probably
related to the change in FF238.
- Sue's age
When Sue has her hair styled the stylist says
she will look twenty years younger. Byrne originally had her
reply "I am sure my husband would love to be married to a nine
year old" indicating that Byrne intends her to be aged 29. The
editor, Jim Salicrup, changed it to "to a child" to keep things
vague. However, internal
evidence suggests that Sue should be 31 at this
point. This suggests that the Skrull de-aging ray took two
years off her age in FF214.
- Sue's power
Sue's increasing use of power should be seen in the context of
her power being increased in the Thunderhorn, increased again in
FF214-215, and her practicing new techniques in 171, 196, 219,
and so on. Her powers were not enough before that. For more
about her power, and how she was just as powerful before Byrne, see her own page.
233Issue 233: Johnny starts his recovery
The story begins with the team under great stress. Most readers
see the fighting between Ben and Johnny as a comedy, a sign that
all is comfortable and well. But this fails for two reasons:
- Read what they say: Ben is genuinely hurt, and Johnny is far
too quick to escalate this into a fight (if this was a joke the
sensible thing would be to leave).
- Johnny stopped these tricks when he was a teenager, back in
1964. The very rare
time he's gone back is when under extreme stress: e.g. FF119.
These fights are a sign of great stress. It's also possible that
this was staged to cheer up Reed.
Johnny starts his recovery: he's
After years of feeling trapped by the team, and his love life being
a disaster zone, Johnny's self esteem must be at an all time low, as
evidenced by his recent severe weight loss. FF233 is about how he
learns that, yes, he is worth something. Whatever else he may lack,
the last page confirms that he is a hero. But later the same year
(Marvel Time), in FF285, he will question even that. Finally Alicia
will rescue him, and let him feel good about himself again. being
with a mature and sensible woman who loves him will finally let him
put away the last of his childish insecurities. He in turn will let
Alicia know that she is worth committing to, after Ben has let her
down so many times.
Other points to note
Note the Hamlet reference when Johnny leaves the liquor store.
Here, Johnny plays the role of the innocent younger
generation in a tainted world. To a lesser extent Johnny is
also the most innocent of the Fantastic Force:
- Sue can be accused of not being forceful enough
- Reed can be accused of being over controlling
- Ben is letting fear of commitment rule his life (and self
pity and blaming of others)
- Johnny is the pure one, the one who, though he was immature,
always had the right relationship with others.
Note that when returning to the Baxter building he states
that the FF have never been crime fighters like Spider-man or
That always impressed me. They go after the bigger issues,
the science and safety issues that underpin the economy, which
in turn underpins crime.Compare this issue with FF302: this is
Johnny's turning point and he does what he does best: lone
detective work against mainly ordinary people. FF302 is his
honeymoon and he does the same. This is what Johnny does best,
a sign of his sound mental mental health. His lowest points
are when far from home on some cosmic quest: when the rest of
the team almost died of old age, and in the Ebon Seeker arc.
Remember also how he almost collapsed after visiting the
beginning of time to find the Ultimate Nullifier in FF50. Like
Sue he lacks a solid family base, and so prefers to stay near
home so he doesn't lose his roots.
234Issue 234: Reed's first experiment with the power cosmic
This issue is about powers in front of us but we just can't see it. One one level, Skip Collins is an obvious parallel to...
- Franklin: he controls the world without realizing it.He
particularly affects time.
- Reed: Reed cannot connect to his son, he cannot see the vast
power that is right in front of him. He cannot see how he causes
- In a small way he even parallels that other Mr Collins, the
Baxter building landlord: he sees life as frustrating and hard,
even though he has the most wonderful amazing super powers right
in front of his face.
- The reader? The Franklin parallel is right in front of our
faces, but do we see it?
On another level, Skip is more support for Reed being a Skrull who
arrived in the 1930s (see the notes to issue 91). The FF has four human
- Willie Evans (FF 203)
- Skip Collins (here)
- Licorice Calhoun (FF 291-2)
Note the sequence of events:
- Reed the Skrull arrives in the 1930s. His goal is to defend himself and he Earth from the Skrulls.
- Reed's "father" suddenly appears, and develops a time machine, a
device that relies on dimensional warpers such as would be used in a
Skrull faster than light machine
- Reed spends his life developing that technology until he has
unstable molecules (based on Skrulls) and a dimensional portal: see the page on the portal for how they are linked.
- Also in the 1930s professor Horton appears (then like Reed's father, disappears) and has advanced technology
- Also in the 1930s SHIELD suddenly has advanced technology
- Also in the 1930s Licorice Calhoun develops reality warping power:
Reed's first experiment? As we see from FF annual 17, all it takes to
change someone's cells is a glass of milk. Add the Skrulls' interest in
hypnosis (as used many times in FF 91-93) and the possibilities are endless.
- Also in the 1930s Skip Collins is born (judging by his age):
Reed's second experiment? One glass of milk and hypnosis for an adult,
one for a pregnant mother?
- By 1966 Reed has perfected the dimensional portal, and in 1967
Franklin was conceived, to be born in 1968: Reed's third experiment?
Note that Reed took years to decide on a name. As the Impossible Man
remarked, shape changers don't have much use for names. Reed would not
see life and death in the same way we do: Skrulls can multiply very
easily (see FF annual 17) and changing someone's nature would not be
seen as an ethical problem.
- In 1968 Willie Evans was conceived: perfect timing to use information Reed gained from Franklin's birth?
All of this might seem to suggest that Reed has an enormous ego. And
that is the background to this story: the approach of Ego, the living
planet. But where did Ego come from?
How was Ego created? "Ego once told Thor that he was the result of a
scientist merging with a planet when that planet's sun went nova"
(Wikipedia). We see in annual 17 that Skrull cells are uniquely adapted
to this: they can merge with humans, animals, plants, and any life form,
and expand in a rapid chain reaction. We also learn from Galactus that
entire planets have life energy. It is no stretch to see how a Skrull
scientist, in a moment of crisis, could conceive of merging with an
entire planet. That special unique scientist would be the closest thing
we have to Reed's colossal ambition.
Other points to note
- "Ben Grimm makes note to his
bartender and old friend Mick Clancy, 'Lotta things changed
since we wuz test pilot. Flyin' and drinkin' was all part of
life then...' Around this time (1979), impairment by alcohol
and alcohol awareness campaigns were in its early stages."
This is a good example of Ben lifting thousands of tons,
before the bridge grew lighter. For how strong he really is, see his own page.
- The Skipper and the Franks
"Skip" is of course short for "skipper" - the one who controls
the ship. Similarly "Franklin" is also a name that indicates
power. It comes from "Frank" and to "be frank" meant to be free
to say what you wanted without fear of reprisal. Because, as
every reader of Ivanhoe knows, in days of old the invading
Franks (French) had more power than the native Anglo-Saxons and
could do what they wanted. (see C.S.Lewis' excellent word
studies book: he wrote more than Narnia, you know).
Skip feels a buzzing in his head, indicating his power. When
Nicholas Scratch possessed Franklin at the end of FF222 he was
compared to the sound of the buzzing of a fly. Coincidence?
- The boy with the power
Note the parallels with the other Franklin-like reality
controller in FF203, who gained his powers in a similar way.
Like this one, that story was similarly four issues into a major new era for
the team (after FF200, the number four includes annual 13).
- Cover homage
Byrne appears to be homaging this famous Deadman cover. Thanks to "Farrar" of the Classic Comics board for pointing this out.
- Nostalgia: Marvel UK ends here
I grew up reading Marvel UK. They reprinted the FF every week (more or
less) from issue 1 right up to this issue (I think - possibly the next
one). It was the end of an era.
Thanks to the Starlogged blog for these scans: I think this is the last time the FF appeared on a cover (showing FF233)...
...and a few weeks later, one of the last times the FF appeared inside.
Marvel UK reprinted comics in a weekly format, and by this time they had
almost caught up with the American originals, so had to stop. But what a
run it was! As a Brit I felt privileged to have something the Americans
never did: the whole run in the space of one childhood. Marvel UK
published 20 years of stories, one after the other, in just ten years,
and I collected them (mostly second hand) over a period of five years. I
was able to watch the family grow up. The feeling of progress and
moving forward was palpable: this partly explains my passionate interest
in continuity. I experienced comics, as a single giant story
moving ever forwards, and I loved it.
Now that the reprints had run out of source material they went back to
reprinting some of the earlier issues. So I finally started ordering the
American comics to find out that happened next. The first one I read
was Fantastic Four 251, which begins with Ben staring into the pit that
leads to the Negative Zone, saying "I don't get it". That reflected my
feelings. I was hoping for an artist like George Perez, and for stories
that moved the characters forwards, but Byrne was trying to put the
clock back. I felt betrayed - I had followed the story for so many years
and now it had ended! Years later I was able to see how Byrne's run
did in fact move the story forwards, but in a darker, sadder way. But
either way, Marvel UK had hooked me on the FF and I was in too deep to
give up now.
235Issue 235: it's all about ego
Ego the rogue planet first appeared in Thor comic in the 1960s,
and in Fantastic Four in 1981. Once again, the stories are years
ahead of science. Real rogue planets (born in mid space, not
simply knocked off a star) were not discovered until 2013. It is
still not known whether any of those planets is alive. :)
As for the story...
Maybe I'm being too heavy handed with the symbolism, but both Doom
and Reed have giant egos and both finally fail, not because of a
direct attack, but because they are only firing on one engine. In
Reed's case he fires on just one engine because he neglects his
greatest asset, his son Franklin. In Doom's case he fires on just
one engine by creating too many enemies (and ultimately Kristoff) so
he has to spend his time fighting them instead of doing what he
On a simpler level, this issue represents Ben's unconquerable
spirit, and how all of Ben's suffering is for nothing (except to
give him empathy for others). Ben's problems will be solved in act
5, not by a colossal battle or by enduring infinite pain, but by
simply by changing his outlook, realizing that he is indeed lovable
so the rocks are not a problem at all. There is a religious angle to
this. Both Buddhism and evangelical protestantism teach that we get
what we want only when we stop struggling and accept life. Ben's
situation is probably closer to the evangelical Protestant view: his
life is actually pretty wonderful, life is waiting to shower him
with everything he wants if only he accepts it.
236Issue 236: what Ben really wants
This 'Tiny Town' story shows what Ben really wants, and it leads
to Alicia seeing that her relationship can go nowhere. This is one of those major defining moments in Ben's life.
A lot more
could be said, but it's just a great story. Go and find it, read
it, enjoy it!
Other points to note
- Triple sized
This is a triple sized twentieth anniversary issue of the
Fantastic Four. it was inspired by Byrne noting the times when
Doom is shown on a cover symbolically towering over the team. He
started thinking of a story where that really happens.
Marvel wanted Kirby's input for the celebration issue, or at
least to use his image, and he was drawn on the cover with Stan
Lee. But Marvel at the time was in dispute with Kirby over not
returning his artwork, and would not pay him for any input, so
he refused to have anything to do with it. So they erased Kirby
from the cover (see the white space between Lee and the Silver
Surfer). For similar reasons (Kirby would not work for them
until the dispute as resolved) they used one of his
cartoon story boards as the basis for the backup strip, without
paying him anything. After leaving Marvel in the 1970s Kirby had
gone to work on cartoons, where he got more respect, even though
they didn't know him from any other artist. See "Marvel Comics:
The Untold Story" by Sean Howe, p.236
- Doom unmasked
In this issue Sue sees Doom unmasked. Was his mini face the
same as his full size face? How badly is he scarred from the
explosion that he always blamed on Reed (see annual 2)? Kirby
always maintained the scar was tiny, and Doom's vanity did the
rest. Stan Lee maintained that he was horribly scarred. Byrne
compromised and said that the initial scar was tiny, but when
Doom first put on his mask he was impatient, the mask was still
hot, and that is what ruined his face (close ups usually show
scarring around his eyes). However, this may just be what Doom
wants us to think: Kirby once draw an image of Doom without his
mask, and Doom was handsome. No doubt Doom has the technology to
fix his face if he wants to, but it could ave been a symbolic
image. Basically nobody knows.
237Issue 237: Sue's charm offensive
Here we see Sue's Stepford Wife gambit in all its glory. She
looks like a doll, she takes Reed on dates (nobody seriously
thinks this was his idea, right?), she lets Franklin see Reed
being affectionate, and Franklin loves it. So far so good. But
time will show that it's not enough. Reed does not change. Note
his haggard face: Reed's face
reflects his confidence. He is in a desperately bad way, but
he refuses to see it.
Franklin uses his powers again to save his family. Reed can't
cope with this concept, it troubles him deeply But rather than get
to know his son and help to guide his marvelous gifts, Reed just
wants to shut them down. Unconsciously Franklin, like Ben, is a
rival. So all of Sue's plans come to nothing.
Other points to note
- Sue and the alien: parallels
Sue's desperate attempt to use passion to guide Reed is reflected in the
main story: a woman who towers over others, and makes others feel as
she does, drunk with oxygen. It reminds us that desperate attempt cannot
work, and that real power always lies with Franklin. Sue does not need
to focus on enhancing her cleavage, she needs to persuade Reed to
realize his son's abilities.
- Johnny's maturity
This is the issue where Johnny sees his girlfriend undress. On
the surface this is cheesecake for male comic fans (though we do
not actually see anything, and neither does Johnny). It may be
the first time Johnny has ever got intimate in any way past
kissing, but either way it serves to show that Frankie is just
as immature as he is: remember how she treated him before, and
how she will soon be happy to find planets for Galactus to
destroy, figuring that ugly aliens don't count.
- Byrne's cover cameo
For Byrne's cover cameo and many others, see the notes to FF216.
238Issue 238: sexual maturity
FF237 was about Sue and Reed's sexuality. FF238 is about Johnny's and Ben's.
Story 1: Johnny versus passion
The title is a reference to Christopher Fry's play "The Lady's Not For Burning". "It
reflects the world's 'exhaustion and despair' following World War II,
with a war-weary soldier who wants to die, and an accused witch who
wants to live." (- Wikipedia)
Fry's play is about the need for maturity: that fighting and passion
and quick judgment are not always the answer. FF238 is about the
opposite, a girl who represents immaturity:
- She has never learned to control her emotions, always going too far
- She was controlled by her father, and has never even see herself naked
- Her big reveal (dropping her clothes at the end of the previous issue) was designed to be as salacious as possible
- Finally she shows her immaturity in FF 244, where she is does not care if others get hurt as long as she gets what she wants
Johny has to learn maturity in his personal relationships. He already
learned maturity in his duty to the team years ago, but still has not
gained self knowledge. To do that, Johnny must see both extremes:
- the immature firebrand he thinks he wants (Frankie)
- and the extremely mature girl he never imagined he would want (Alicia) - Alicia is like the misunderstood woman in Fry's play.
Only then can Johnny be ready for his soul mate, Crystal, who combines both passion and wisdom: see their own page for details.
Other points to note
This issue and the next connect to some very long term themes.
- The Horton family:
this issue gives Frankie's origin,
and we see how the Hortons, through the original Human Torch and
now Frankie, are major players in the background. Professor
Horton is another mirror of Reed: controlling his children and
creating heroes, trying to do the best but emotionally flawed,
- Two Torches
The two torches foreshadow the
two Things in act 5. They serve the same purpose in the long term story:
previous failure at love, finding an obvious match frees them
from their fear of commitment. Their mirror is not their soul
mate, but the one who prepares them for their soul mate: their
real soul mate was the one they drove away, the one who truly
complements them, the one they need and who needs them. (You
cannot need someone who only offers what you already have.)
- Two stories and a pinup
The two story structure, pinup, and reverting Ben to his earlier form,
is a conscious node to the early days of the FF, part of Byrne's "back
to basics" strategy.
Story 2: Ben can't cope with what happened at Liddleville
The Liddleville experience effected Ben deeply. He finally got what he
wanted, and it was all a lie: and he wanted to live that lie rather than
face reality. Ever since "the poker era" (from Marvel Two in One 51, at
the time the team was broken up) Ben had persuaded himself he was happy
with his lot in life. He had friends, he didn't need intimacy. But
FF236 reminded him how wrong he was. And now, once again the intimacy he
craved was taken from him.
Ben's inability to change is related to his internal torment, and now he
is very tormented indeed. So when Reed was convinced he could cure Ben
instead Ben merely regressed to an earlier form: the form when he first
met Alicia. Ben hates his life, and wants to go back to hen he was
Again and again in act 4, Reed will see that he can be wrong. This
is the big one. He sees he is wrong, but as yet he cannot deal with
it and puts it to the back of his mind. As the self styled "Mr
Fantastic" and smartest man on earth, micromanaging everything, his
position relies on always being right, especially in matters of
science. But here he sees he is wrong. He can't process the fact. He
also cannot understand why Ben does not react as he expects (see
next issue). These mistakes and gaps in his understanding will play
on his mind. From FF241 he will start to occasionally admit
weakness, until finally at the end of act 4 we will learn humility
and see his true role in the drama.
239Issue 239: uncle Jake
Reed almost never
lets his feelings show. This is nothing compared to his other
major failures in Act 4. Ben doesn't even seem that bothered. The
fact that Reed can fall apart under such a small thing indicates
his tremendous internal stresses. Normally he bottles it up behind
a smile but his face looks haggard.
In this issue we also see that Crystal is
and genuine. This is important so that we can see that her later
affair is completely out of character, and Maximus told the truth,
that he made it happen through mind control.
But more than Reed of Crystal, this issue is about Uncle Jake,
Aunt Petunia, and how Jake learned
As the Great American Novel, we might expect the book to have
something to say about an earlier age when men were more violent.
Yes it does, and this is represented by Ben Grimm's upbringing
among gangs. It is particularly represented by the redemption of
his uncle Jake. This is not specifically stated, but it is sold
sensitively through the story of another person.
Since 1964, Ben Grimm (The Thing) has referred to his "old aunt
Petunia" as a source of wisdom. Note the word "old." He even jokes
about her aged appearance, as seen in issue 134.
But in FF 238-239 we finally see Petunia, and she is young.
How young? She looks to be in her 20s or 30s. O'Hoolihan
calls Petunia "a foin broth of a girl" and Johnny considers her
attractive. Assuming an upper age of 35, and with the stretching
time scale between 1961 and 1982, she was born after 1935. But for
Ben to have fought in WWII he left home in 1945 at the latest.
Petunia would have been 10 or younger when she was dishing out old
lady advice to a teenage Ben. More seriously, she was supposedly a
qualified nurse and possibly even married to uncle Jake at this
time. The numbers do not add up.
As an aside, Petunia has a highly dated name. Flower names (rose,
lily, iris, etc.) had an explosion in popularity around the year
1900, but the fashion soon ended. Babycenter.com now ranks Petunia
as number 12,986 in popularity (compared with the dated but still
possible Susan at 840 and relatively trendy Alicia at 185).
Everything points to Petunia being a generation older than Ben,
and not a married nine year old graduate.
However, the story suggests a solution. Petunia appears to ask
Ben's help with problems in the town. We learn that ancient earth
spirits are causing the bad people to face their inner demons and
die, and the solution is to get the bad people to leave. Only a
handful of good people are left, including Petunia and Jake, and a
girl called Wendy who spends time with the spirits. Perhaps
Petunia also spends time with them?
Wendy does not tell people what she knows about the spirits. At
the end of the book she is shown with the spirits, a fact not
revealed to anybody. But if it was not revealed, how was it in the
book? In the Fantastic Four we only see what the team tell Marvel:
if the team don't know about it then it can't go in the book (see
FF 10, FF 176). How, then, did they know Wendy's secret?
Presumably somebody else had experience with the spirits.. Who
else could it be but Petunia? Jake is not mobile, but Petunia is
feisty and curious: another Wendy. Petunia would have explored the
are as a small girl (face it, there was not much else to do) and,
like Wendy, would have discovered the spirits. Perhaps "Wendy's
friends" are not just the spirits, but also Jake and Petunia.
Jake is also another version of Wendy's father: he was once
angry, we are told.
Jake comes from a time when men were often violent, and Ben comes
from a culture of violent gang members. But now Jake is at peace.
Perhaps Wendy's tale is also Petunia's tale. Perhaps it is really
all about Jake, but like Wendy, Petunia and Ben are too loyal to
ever speak against him. Jake had to face his inner demons, the
demons of the violent earth that made his generation (the last
generation to sweep the native Americans away): he had to reap the
whirlwind. Notice that redemption comes from the land itself. The
American settlers lose their thirst to conquer the land and begin
to cooperate with it. The Grimm story is the story of the people
of the land.
Note that none of this contradicts "second wife" or "many
years younger" story. But the significance is not that a 50 year
old man married a 9 year old, the significance is that a 50 year
old man married a 30 year old who healed his anger.
This raises several questions.
First, did Petunia move to Arizona too late to be this young? She
said they moved to Arizona "shortly before" FF 1. But why would
two New Yorkers choose Arizona? Seems along way from new
York - where they trying to escape? Or did they already have
Second, Jake is portrayed as a nice middle class doctor who was
only angry because of his legs. He contrasts with Ben's alcoholic
father and gang leader brother. In The Thing issue 2 we see how
Ben idolized his brother, but then his brother was killed in a
gang fight, and Ben went to live with uncle Jake. Later Ben became
leader of the same Yancy Street Gang, And only THEN did Jake talk
to Ben about leaving the gang. Something does not add up. While it
is possible that a lower class alcoholic has a middle class doctor
for a brother, it is statistically unlikely. More seriously, Jake
knew that Ben's favorite brother was killed in a gang fight. Why
did Jake wait until Ben was gang leader before suggesting it was a
bad idea? It sounds like Jake was saw gang membership, including
stabbing, as perfectly acceptable.
Third, we are told that people disapproved of Jake marrying a
much younger woman. But the numbers suggest this was only a man in
his fifties marrying a woman in her thirties - unusual but hardly
a scandal. Which leads to our next curiosity, and another
explanation for the scandal:
Fourth, why did Petunia have such an influence on Ben? According
to The Thing issue 2, Ben was raised by his aunt Alyce, and
Petunia did not arrive on the scene until later. Ben was a gang
leader while Petunia was a student nurse who claims she never
questioned anything Jake did. Why would Ben be influenced by
Petunia more than Alyce? Petunia's story is all very neat - far
TOO neat. Jake was an idealized man? Jake needed the excuse of an
injury to explain why he met this nurse? But he was a doctor in a
busy hospital (FF238, 257): he worked with nurses all the time!
Then it took years for Petunia to be Jake's student and then
eventually his wife, and then become an influence on Ben? There
isn't enough time. And Petunia never questioned Jake? This doesn't
sound like a woman that the rebellious Ben would idolize.
A simpler explanation is that Jake was seeing Petunia before the
accident, and we are hearing the sanitized version of
events. I am not suggesting that Jake killed his wife
deliberately. But if Jake was seeing somebody then his marriage
may not have been a happy one: Jake's brother was an alcoholic.
It's easy to see how Jake might have been driving after drinking,
and having a lot on his mind. That would explain why he and
Petunia wanted to move from their home in New York and get as far
away as possible: accidentally killing your wife then marrying
your much younger mistress is quite a scandal, and they would want
to get away.
In short, Jake was not innocent. Though Petunia probably is.
Petunia must have a pure heart, to survive being friends with the
Fifth potential problem: if Petunia knew about the spirits, why
didn't she tell Ben? For the same reason that Wendy kept them
secret, right to the end. Some things are best not discussed. But
why would Petunia come to ask help from Ben if she could already
talk to the spirits? Because the evil in the town is causing
deaths, and she needs help to get the bad people out of there.
Wendy did not tell everything she knew, so why should Petunia?
Finally, why did Ben not notice that Petunia had not aged? Reed
notes that the spirits may still be around in ten thousand years.
Like the native American "ancient ones" found by the Miracle Man,
they appear to have slowed aging to an almost standstill. Being
around time-stretching superheroes keeps a person young (as noted
in the fourth-wall-breaking She-Hulk book), so perhaps being
around these earth spirits will slow aging to a crawl. This would
explain why Petunia had barely aged since Ben knew her when Ben
was a child (and 35 then seemed ancient). This also explains
why Ben does not notice that Petunia has not aged: time dilation
in comics is never noticed by those who experience it.
A16Annual 16: one of the most important FF stories ever
TO BE CONTINUED
For years I thought this story was not part of continuity. I have
never been more wrong. This story is the KEY to understanding the
continuity of the big FF story. It will take a long time to finish this
review - so much to say! But I will leave you with just two tasters:
(but perhaps not what you're used to)
I have a whole page on the topic of Ditko's art, and it includes some major themes from this annual.
This annual is the key that unlocks the secrets to Gregory Gideon,
"Aron the Watcher", Lockjaw, and more. Does this look familiar?
Dragon Man always represents relationships: he appears at engagements,
marriages, and separations. He represents the tension between raw
violence and empathetic alliance. He navigates subspace with ease, and
is thus central to the whole 28 year story.
Man is also the innocent link between science and magic (just as Dr Doom
is the non-innocent link). In short, while Sue links the visible
characters, Dragon man links the hidden ones (the abstract forces, and
higher powers who act behind the scenes). This annual is big.
To be continued!
Part 2: global stories
240Issue 240: China industrializes: i.e. Crystal has a child
Johnny still loves Crystal, deep down. She is his soul mate. One
day this child, Luna, will probably be a member of Johnny's
Fantastic Four. For how the baby leads to a revelation about
Lockjaw, click here.
(Quicksilver wants to force Luna into danger due to his own pride,
just as Reed always puts Franklin in danger, and Lockjaw
Note that Medusa was captured by the Enclave in FF207 and remains captured for
"many weeks", yet Lockjaw does not rescue her. We know from FF160 that
lockjaw can track somebody across dimensions just from a piece of their
clothing. yet he does not track Medusa. We later learn that the Enclave
are defeated when Maximus sacrifices his life. We are shown none of the
details. Something very strange is going on here. Maximus, Medusa and
Lockjaw are probably the three most secretive Inhumans. We know that
Medusa treats Lockjaw as an inferior: did he deliberately not try too
hard to find her? We know that Medusa can be very secretive (her early
years as a "villain", or arranging for reed and Sue to reunite), and
sometimes appears to go against Black Bolt's wishes (e.g. in not wanting
Crystal back). We also know that something prevented the royal family
family from ever seriously restraining Maximus. We only ever have hints,
but something very interesting is going on here.
This issue is important in relation to others
For more about the significance of Crystal and how
she an Johnny develop over the years, click
For Johnny's time line, see the notes to FF 192.
For the probable role of the Sphinx in this story, see the notes to annual 12.
China: The zeitgeist
This is where the Inhumans leave Earth, due to air pollution. In this
issue we are reminded that the Inhumans live in Tibet: with their
family values and martial arts, they represent east Asia.
But the world is becoming more industrialized, more polluted.
This period is where China began to expand beyond its own lands
economically, creating exactly the air pollution the Inhumans had to
FF240 was cover dated March 1982 (i.e. written around Sep 1981), and these are the events of the time:
- 1980: the first Chinese Special Economic Zones, where capitalism
was first embraced. These were planned in the 3rd Plenary Session of the
11th CPC Central Committee in 1978 (see issue 200 for why 1978 was so
important). Since 1980, the PRC has established special economic zones
Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shantou in Guangdong Province and Xiamen in Fujian
Province, and designated the entire province of Hainan a special
- 1982: not just China! In 1982 the Japanese car firm Honda opened
its first plant in the US. Like the Inhumans, the Japanese (demonized as
inhuman in World War II) was leaving Japan. Japanese technology, once
mocked as inferior, was being seen as the best in the world (a point
made in the movie back to the Future, comparing 1955 with 1985)
All about the Inhumans
or... is Johnny the real father of Luna?
Nathan Adler (of "How Would You Fix")
has given the Inhumans a great deal of thought, which leads him to
several interesting hypotheses. The whole thing is worth quoting. The
subtitles are my own:
1968 (year 8, Marvel Time)
Crystal moves in with Johnny and the team
Crystal came to live at the Baxter
building as a member of the Fantastic Four (although there was
absolutely NO indication that there were ever any nocturnal wanderings
on her or Johnny’s part – Crystal and Johnny seem to have had the sort
of chaste love that wouldn’t have been out of place in a 1960’s My Love
1970 (year 8-9)
Crystal has to leave
She and Johnny seemed to be happily
joined at the hip for a while until Crystal’s health deteriorated
because of the pollutants of modern civilization and she had to return
1971 (year 9)
It was whilst returning to Attilan that Crystal became enmeshed in a plot of Diablo’s...
1973 (year 10)
...and eventually was taken by Lockjaw
to the wounded Quicksilver who was trapped in the collapsing Australian
Sentinel base. Despite a ruling that outsiders were not allowed in
Attilan (which had kept Johnny away previously) Crystal brought Pietro
home with her and nursed him to health. [...]
1974 (year 11)
a more open Attilan
So Crystal breaks Johnny’s heart and
marries Quicksilver. The Inhumans get over their prejudices about
outsiders enough to allow this to happen, and apart from a guest
appearance by Ultron at the wedding everything goes OK for a while.
Quicksilver stays in Attilan, putting his Avengers training to good use
as leader of the defense militia, and inexplicably failing to call his
old comrades in when the city is attacked by a variety of menaces from
Shatterstar to Maelstrom to the Enclave. Eventually Crystal has a baby,
who is names Luna. Luna is extraordinarily human.
1978 (year 12)
Luna is conceived
See the discussion of annual 12, below
1983 (year 13)
[In this issue Luna is born. In "The Thing" issue 3] we
see Crystal resisting her family’s efforts to expose Luna to the
Terrigen Mists. Quicksilver is all for it. He doesn’t want to have a
homo sapiens daughter. This is the first major schism between the young
lovers, even though all appears to be restored to status quo afterwards.
The story ends when Lockjaw speaks for the first time, claiming to be
an Inhuman who was terribly changed by the Mists. Although this
revelation has since been retconned as a joke on Ben, the actual story does not support this.
Lockjaw’s speech is the pivotal point of a very dramatic and serious
storyline. Nobody was going to be pulling jokes. It was this sudden
interference by Lockjaw which convinces Pietro not to mutate Luna.
1987 (year 14)
Adultery: Crystal and Quicksilver split
The next major development is of
course Crystal’s adultery with the rather shallow real estate salesman
(Norm somebody?) over in the Vision & Scarlet Witch Limited Series.
Crystal’s motivations for this are depicted as being an increasing
schism between her and Pietro. Later retcons have attributed it (and
Quicksilver’s turning to the dark side of the force for a while) to
Maximus’ mental manipulations. Suffice to say that this was the trigger
for Crystal and Pietro to split up (though I was never that disappointed
by it since I didn’t like them getting together in the first place).
1987: Tension with Attilan
The Inhumans do not appear to have
been very sympathetic to Crystal about her troubles. When she decides to
rejoin the FF there is a lot of resistance from her family and she is
very closely monitored around Johnny Storm. Clearly there is much of the
old attraction still intact on both sides, but Crystal overcomes
temptation and eventually gets recalled to Attilan for a family-ordained
reunion with the apparently repentant Pietro.
1989 and later
The estranged couple remain together
in a rather uncomfortable no-man’s land until the Avengers Collection
Obsession storyline which leads to Crystal joining Earth’s Mightiest
Heroes (bad idea). Quicksilver joins X-Factor shortly afterwards (worse
idea). Two things happen during Crystal’s time with the Avengers. First
she has to cope with a growing mutual attraction to Dane Whitman, the
Black Knight (another bad idea). Secondly she has to deal with attempts
from Pietro to reconcile (even worse idea). And being Crystal she lets
both of these things go too far. The story never makes clear whether
Crystal and Dane consummate their affection (although there is an
implication that they certainly did something down in the Mansion’s
gardens, watched by Sersi and possibly the fake Vision – now that’s a
couple I could get into), but they are certainly more than friends. And
it is this last complicated triangle, or quadrilateral, or whatever,
that has branded Crystal a slut in the eyes of many Avengers readers.
When Tuc, Crystal’s alternate-future son, appeared in The Crossing, it
was unclear as to whether Pietro or Dane was his father (I’d prefer
Johnny as the one since I’m still convinced he is Luna’s pa too).
The nature of Inhuman society
The Inhumans limited series by Jae Lee
introduced a new concept which could force us all to re-evaluate little
Crystal’s behavior. Lee’s Inhumans are more than just a race of mutants
or some other super-powered variant species of humanity. The storyline
in the current series implies that the Inhumans are effectively a
designer organism, each gaining powers from the Terrigen mist which
enable them to fulfill some social function within the society as a
whole. In other words, each Inhuman is born to a place within Inhuman
culture, just as an ant has a fixed role within its live. What that role
is becomes clear at the time of Terrigen metamorphosis for an Inhuman.
Whether it is the destiny of that person to be a food-generator, a
guard, a drone, or a king, it is all regulated in some way by the
collective need of the race which we now know to be truly Inhuman.
Only Maximus understands?
Yet even amongst the Inhumans this is
understood only by Maximus the Mad, and perhaps Black Bolt. This
function is not just about power. An Inhumans’ special ability is only a
reflection of the core of their nature. Hence the mutation of the mists
only manifests the role which they have been genetically engineered to
play from birth.
Implications for Crystal
So what does this say about Crystal’s
function in Inhuman society? Is it only the whimsy of a silly girl that
led her to Johnny Storm and later to Pietro Maximoff and Dane Whitman?
Or does Crystal have some sort of cultural imperative which makes her
seek out the unknown and embrace it? Of all the Inhumans’ royal family
Crystal is the only one who has willingly sought out adventure beyond
Attilan. There is something almost mystical about the way the Mists
manifest skills within the Inhumans in anticipation of what they will
need. Just at the time that contact with other cultures was going to be
critical to the survival of the Inhumans, Crystal came along to seek out
liaison with the Human Torch, and through him others who had power to
achieve what the current Inhumans could not. Her instinct seemed to be
to bond, physically, emotionally, totally, with some gifted male from
outside her own culture. Denied access to Johnny Storm she was taken (by
Lockjaw!) to Pietro Maximoff.
Implications for Lockjaw
Lockjaw remains an enigma (although I
hear that Inhumans series addresses him but I don’t know how). Although
his sentience has been portrayed as a joke by Inhumans such as Karnak
and Gorgon ever since Byrne left the FF, I don’t entirely trust the
Inhuman royal family to always speak the truth to outsiders. Certainly a
culture which has created and enslaved the Alpha Primitives would have
few qualms in mutating one of its own and making them a dumb beast. But
whether dumb beast or not, his pivotal role at two vital moments of
Crystal’s life cannot be ignored.
Perhaps Lockjaw’s function was to do whatever was necessary to bring about the conception and preservation of Luna?
Implications for adultery
As to the estate agent, I can only
plead that Crystal’s instincts are clearly very strong. Still, the
Inhuman collective imperative does seem to require “fresh blood” for the
future. There has been more interaction between Inhumans and the
outside world in the few years since the FF first met Medusa than in all
the centuries before that. And Crystal’s urge to join with a
non-Inhuman man do not seem to have diminished. Even her very
personality – nurturing, gentle, loving, and kind – seems to suit her
for the role placed upon her.
Is there more to Crystal’s actions
than meets the eye? Is there an explanation for how a loving and caring
woman could break first Johnny’s then Pietro’s hearts? Is Crystal as
much victim as perpetrator? Has she any way to avoid her
Conclusion: Inhuman morality
There are a number of dark shadows at
the edge of the Inhumans stories. Apart from the Alpha Primitives, and
the later depicted genetic snobbery based upon the Terrigen Mist
mutations, there is also the mystery of Lockjaw, the only mutated
apparent animal we have ever seen in Attilan, and also the questions
around Medusa's child.
We have seen the Inhumans drag
Crystal home on a number of occasions when her behavior has been
considered inappropriate by Inhuman society. Conversely, we have seen
Quicksilver treated with contempt by them even as he has been struggling
for their lives. We have seen the very strict regimen under which
Inhuman culture is operated, by never-fully-depicted codes as complex
and impenetrable as many of the older cultures of our own world. All of
this seems to suggest that the Inhumans are not, as they often appear to
be, merely the Addams Family of the Marvel Universe, or another lost
tribe, but something very different... Inhuman in fact. It may even be
that the Inhuman organism is, on one level, the culture, not the
individual. And if so, judging any of the Inhumans' interactions by
human standards will always leave us somewhat puzzled.
On the other hand, the Inhuman
Royal family and some others have been shown as noble, compassionate,
and selfless. It may be that like many cultures the Inhumans maintain a
"public face" for outsiders and have a rich, complicated sub-strata
which is reserved for insiders only. Or there may be those things that
all Inhumans know, but never speak about (think about the Victorian
culture of our own history, and the taboos which it had, such as
homosexuality; things still went on, but were never acknowledged).
That said, one’s impression is that
even the Inhumans themselves do not understand how deep their genetic
imperatives go. Perhaps that is why Maximus, who seems to comprehend
them best, is mad, and why Black Bolt, who is the wisdom of his people,
can shatter worlds with his voice.
Johnny as Luna's father?
The evidence can be summed up as follows:
- Having a child was massively important:
"Crystal would have to be a damn
sight sluttier to make a significant difference to the Inhuman gene
pool. So there is clearly some other reason why she might need to
conceive a child by an outsider, and who turns out to be entirely
- Crystal was born to meet Johnny:
"There is evidence to argue that
the Inhumans bring forth the individuals that their society will need,
somehow unconsciously anticipating what is to come. If rebellious,
heart-led Crystal had not struck up her romance with Johnny Storm, the
entire Inhuman population might have been destroyed, or at least
subjugated by Maximus and later by the Kree."
[For why Crystal left for Quicksilver, see the page on Johnny and Crystal]
- Crystal was born to have Luna:
"If Crystal had not birthed Luna then
the Avengers would not have survived the Crossing. And who knows what
need the Inhumans might have for Luna in the days to come?"
- The supreme intelligence's priorities
"Remember that [the Inhumans] they
were an early, forgotten, genetic experiment by the Kree. This takes on
a new relevance in the light of the Supreme Intelligence’s sacrifice of
the entire Kree galaxy in order to promote the genetic advancement of
his race. We have never seen anything like an Inhumans experiment on
another planet, yet somehow this unique accomplishment, which has
significant military value and which had both a Sentinel and Shatterstar
set to watch over it was overlooked for millennia. Only the Supreme
Intelligence himself could bury data that well. And the Inhumans started
interacting with the outside world just as the Skrulls began their
major campaign on Earth, and shortly before the Kree/Skrull War (in
which they also played a role). Is there still Kree programming
somewhere in the genetic code of the Inhumans? Is the Supreme
Intelligence saving this experiment for something special, perhaps
something to do with his plans to revitalize the Kree genetic
inheritance? Has the Supreme Intelligence got a purpose for Luna? These
what-if games can get very deep, can’t they? Perhaps it’s safer to
assume that Crystal is a fallible, all-too human girl who has made good
judgments and bad in her time. Not the culmination of an ancient plot by
the Supreme Intelligence to exploit the genetic potential of humankind
and spread his power across the stars. But the latter sounds like
much more fun!!!"
In short, this was all planned, so it makes much more sense for
Johnny to be the father than for Quicksilver. I would add two more lines
- Johnny's ancestry
None of this is accidental (For details see the notes on magic, by FF 48.) If this is all carefully planned then Johnny is the obvious father: being probably one quarter Atlantean,
so mixing all the surface races. And note that Johnny as born as a
normal human, despite having cross-species genes, just as Luna was.
- Quicksilver's behavior
Are we being too prejudiced against Quicksilver? He turned against his
evil past (he began in "the brotherhood of evil mutants"), and Crystal
fell in love with him. This suggests a strong, noble heart. Yet
something happened to turn him almost mad with anger. His neglect of
Crystal began after Luna was born, and before Crystal's affair. What caused
him to change his feelings? What did he learn?
When was Luna conceived?
Looking back 9 months, Marvel Time, takes us to a very strange event in
FF annual 12. Annual 12 is announced as extremely important to FF
history: nothing less than the end of both the Inhumans and the FF, "possibly the most powerful story you'll read in this, the Marvel Renaissance of Comics."
I have argued on its page that this could refer to the actions of the
Sphinx. But if we look at the star of the issue, Crystal, we perhaps see
another cataclysmic event.
The "Marvel Renaissance"
The word Renaissance and the Crystal -Johnny love story reminds us of
Romeo and Juliet: how Romeo's (Johnny's) love for Juliet (Crystal)
brought two warring families together. And in this issue they consummate
their love. To see how and where, we need to start at the beginning.
FF Annual 12 overview
The story is build on a mystery: why did Crystal need Johnny at that
time? The official reason was that Quicksilver and the Inhumans were
trapped. But Lockjaw easily rescued Crystal and later easily rescued
Black Bolt, who then defeated the Sphinx.The other enemy, Thraxon, was a
man of puny intellect, so was not even a serious threat. So she could
easily rescue Quicksilver and the others any time she wanted. Remember that as you read on.
Also remember that Reed once called Crystal "an excellent strategist":
She may act like a damsel in distress, but she knows exactly what she is
Thraxon's attack is the perfect excuse to get close to Johnny, and she
seized it. Nobody would question what happened, because she seemed to be
in desperate need. And even if you watched her all the time, you would
not see anything inappropriate happen. Unless you knew what to look for.
Let's look closer at annual 12:
Crystal had given up on Quicksilver
Crystal said Quicksilver was lost to her, and
she would never see him again. But she could rescue him any time she
wanted, so she must mean lost in some other way. Ans she would of course
stand next to him again, so "never see him again" must refer to either
longer term plans, or perhaps she would never "see him" in an intimate
way. Why had she given up? We can only speculate. Had he failed her in
some way? Had she decided the marriage was a huge mistake? Something
Crystal said Johnny helped her "when I needed you most"
The whole story was about Crystal taking the opportunity to visit
Johnny, and at the end she says he helped her "when I needed her most."
Yet her family was never in serious danger, and during the climax to the
battle she and Johnny and the others were not involved: they were
peacefully floating in the silence of space. So let's see what exactly
happened in the climax to the story? (Notice how I keep using the world
Why were they out in space?
Early in the battle Ben is knocked out into space, bursting a hole in
the wall. Sue watches, and catches enough air for him to survive.
Crystal watches, and volunteers to seal the hole. Why? Isn't that
Johnny's specialty? Johnny is often seen melting holes, sealing holes,
etc., and he does a very good job too: his flame powers are greater than
Crystal's. So why does she volunteer before he has a chance to do it?
This is suspicious, and we find out why later, when the Sphinx attempts
to kill them. It is clear that he has enough power to do it, and he does
not hold back. Yet somehow they survive. How? They are thrown through
the wall. But this ship was designed to act as a fortress on Earth, so
its walls would be thick. Ben could survive that force, but the others
can't - unless the wall was weakened. This suggests that Crystal
deliberately sealed it weakly, and not with inches of steel as Johnny
would have done. But why were they not killed? Something threw them out
before they died. Only one person had the power to do that: Crystal,
with her power over the elements, including air and metals.
How long were they in space?
With two beings capable of controlling air (Sue and Crystal), and having
experienced the same problem earlier, they should have sucked out
plenty of air. The bubble looks big enough to last half an hour at
least. But by the end they were short of air, so they were there for
minutes at least.
They were dazed.
They had been mind-blasted, if Ben's earlier attack was any guide. They
can still think (both Ben and Sue were thinking as they fell into space)
but a mind blast must surely have some effect. Ben was still outside
from the last time, and Reed and Johnny seem to be holding their heads
or necks. And none of them made an effort to get back into the battle:
Reed could have directed them to release some air as a jet, as he did in
FF277. So they were dazed throughout.
The positions before and after
Look at the positions in the air bubble at the start and end. The second
image is very small and in silhouette,
but I think we can draw some safe conclusions. Ben is obviously in the
middle. Judging by the hair and the size, Sue ends up at the left,
closer to the ship: this is where she would want to be, to try to
maneuver them back. That leaves the smaller Crystal at the top (note the
lumpiness of the silhouette - her costume sticks out in places, unlike
the others). The other two would be Reed and Johnny: to minimize
movement that would be Johnny at the right and Reed at the bottom. In
short, they have rotated 45 degrees anticlockwise, and Crystal and
Johnny have swapped places.
A closer look at Crystal
When the blast hit, Crystal was behind the others, and shielding her
head, so probably received a smaller dose. Sue may have instinctively
created a forcefield, so that explains why the women look less dazed
than the men. And look at the poses: both Sue and Crystal are in action
poses before and after, while the men just look lost. Sue is
concentrating on maintaining her field, but what is Crystal doing? That
is the sixty four thousand dollar question. And this is the answer:
- She begins in an action pose, as if using her powers, with the upper half of her body near the lower half of Johnny's body.
- She ends having passed right over him, and Johnny's legs are now
apart (notice how one leg is drawn as if much closer to the camera).
- And all this time remember how Johnny was feeling: he adores
Crystal: losing her as the hardest thing ever, and this is the first
time they are alone together. Plus he just came from battle: the
adrenalin would be flowing. But now his brain is a little confused, as
- Throughout this time Crystal ensured that Sue, the only other alert
one, and the one most protective of Johnny, was always on the opposite
side of Ben so could not see clearly.
- This process took several minutes in the silence of space. It's extremely romantic when you visualize it.
So what am I actually saying?
What could have happened for the minute or so when these two star
crossed lovers were inches apart? Nothing obvious of course. But it
would not have to be obvious.
Crystal is an elemental. She can make make air rub past a person with
whatever force she wants, and can make fluids flow up, down, wherever
she wants them. "But they remained fully clothed" you say? Of course. but
unstable molecules adapt to the requirements of the user. Do you really
think Johnny need a zipper in those pants? As for Crystal, Inhuman
fabric technology is 20,000 years in advance of our own. Clothing is no barrier to fluids that want to move.
So we can piece together what happened:
- Crystal had rejected Quicksilver, and wanted Johnny.
- For the previous minutes or hours, Johnny's desire for Crystal was building
- Crystal arranged for the to be floating a few inches apart in the
silence of space for several minutes, while Johnny felt like he as in a
- She had plenty of opportunity to stimulate anything she wanted, and to move fluids from one place to another.
- Then they would slowly drift apart and nobody watching would know what happened.
- And nine months later Crystal had a baby, and Johnny was shaken up by the news.
And all with plausible deniability.
If Johnny and Luna are as important to the galaxy as I think they
are, then what more appropriate time to conceive? In a dream like state,
floating above the Earth, where the entire universe could see them yet
nobody would see anything. To update Johnny's comment on their first
meeting, Crystal makes Barbarella look like a boy.
This is all just speculation of course.
Other points to note:
- Byrne versus Claremont
"'We're not going to insult
your intelligence by placing a sound-effect in this panel.'
Now what the heck is that about? Well, let me tell you. [...]
Claremont had written into the script of X-Men #119 a sound
effect to compliment the explosion of a volcano in the
X-Men/Moses Magnum story set in Japan. This really ticked
Byrne off and he complained mightily about it and Claremont to
any trade magazine that would give him the space." (source)
241Issue 241: the empty armor. Reed as Lancelot: the empty hero
The Fantastic Four comic at its best
Before looking at the Lancelot motif, we need to appreciate this issue
for what it is: an example of the Fantastic Four at its best. A
rip-roaring science fiction adventure, accessible to anybody, and packed
with amazing ideas.
The thing I love most about the Fantastic Four is all these cultural
references and amazing ideas: so many ideas packed into such a small
space. In this issue we have:
- A Space station
- Ancient Rome
- Russia versus America (the Russians got there first)
- Deepest Africa
- Amazing concepts, like a gigantic screw based wooden elevator powered by slaves
- A reference to Krakatoa, and much more
The story is also full of references to eye opening movies and books:
The movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sue said it was unusual that
Reed agreed to see the movie, as he never normally watches films. Was it
perhaps because in this universe the film was based on a true story?
Reed meets Indiana Jones' grandson in FF annual 1998.
H. Rider Haggard's "She" (the story of a secret African kingdom
where time stands still and the the ruler is ancient but kept young by
A hollow mountain by a crashed spaceship, reminding us of Devil's Tower, the site used in the movie Close Encounters
- The whole approach comes straight from pulps like Doc Savage.
- The ruler sacrifices his soul in order to gain eternal life, as in Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray".
The Great American Novel
The Close Encounters reference shows why this web site exists. On his
Robotics web site, John Byrne was asked about the similarity between his
mountain and Close Encounters. Byrne denied any influence, and said he
had that idea since he was a child. Yet any outside observer can see the
parallels. This illustrates how our minds work: we take in ideas all
the time, and only focus on some, but every idea affects us. This web
site tries to trace those ideas, even when the writer denies any
knowledge of them.
Which brings us to the empty suit of armor idea.
The empty armor
FF241 was written in late 1981. April 1981 had seen the release of
Excalibur, what many fans consider to be the best of the Arthurian
movies. The greatest of all knights was Lancelot, and he failed in his
quest to find the Grail because he lusted after the queen, Guinevere. In
the movie this failure is foreshadowed by a nightmare in which Lancelot
battles a knight who turns out to be an empty suit of armor. Lancelot
awakes to find himself wounded.
In the 1979 story by Roger Zelazny's ("The Last Defender of Camelot") Lancelot has been kept alive over the centuries, just as
had the Roman ruler in FF241. At the end Lancelot must battles the knight who is an empty
suit of armor. Lancelot wins, but is mortally wounded and dies, but
he finally gets what he wants, a vision of the Grail. This has parallels with three very similar stories about Reed:
- This is the first,
- The second is when Reed is suicidal (FF 254)
- The third is the final triumph over himself at the end of act (FF 294-6)
Byrne and the empty golden armor
We can't be sure if Byrne saw the movie Camelot, but in a thread about
the movie somebody said the Arthurian legend was better than Tolkien,
and Byrne was shocked that someone would even need to say that. We can
safely conclude that Byrne is an Arthurian fan. We do know that Byrne
liked the empty gold armor motif a lot, as he re-used it more than once,
most notably with "Gilded Lily" Alpha Flight. As with the Roman
in F241, Lily crumbled to dust when her mast was removed.
Act 4 and the empty armor
The second half of act 4 is dominated by the motif of the empty (or nearly empty) suit of armor:
- FF202, just after the climax in 200, is about Iron Man with nobody
inside. (Iron Man is the closest parallel to Reed among mainstream
- Annual 15, the return of Doom, has the Doom in the mental asylum turn out to be just a robot.
- FF246 and all the later Doombot stories are about Doom turning out to be a metaphorical empty shall (just a robot).
- FF254-5, where Sue declared Reed to be dead because his body has become an empty shell.
- FF259-260, in the death of Doom, the armor is emptied at the end.
But as a result (see FF288) he does not know who he is (Doom is a symbol
- FF269-270 is about Terminus, a largely empty suit of armor (see the notes for how this is really about Reed).
This is part of the theme of doppelgangers and identity that runs
throughout the 28 year story. Even the stories that are not about empty
armor are usually about something similar, e.g.
- FF235, the triple sized celebration issue is a town that turns out to be fake, like the Stepford Wives
- FF263-264, where the people are all robot versions of people who died long before
- FF268: Doom's empty mask
- FF271: a monster whose form become emptier the more power he has (a metaphor for the corruption of power, and the cold war)
- FF272-3: the warlord's armor does not contain what they expected
- FF278-90: Kristof's armor is half empty
- FF282-3: the hate monger's armor is almost empty
- FF286: the Omega level Phoenix turns out to be just a shell: the real Jean Grey was never there
- FF287-8: Doom is not Doom inside the armor, or if he is then he is missing something
It's all about identity.
FF241 and Arthurian Britain
FF241 is set in ancient Rome, not Arthurian times, though the two are
very close: the Arthurian cycle is set in the sixth century, in the
power vacuum when Rome left Britain. So it is about the colonists
leaving and the land returning to its natural magical state. So it is
with FF241, when the Roman rule ends and T'Challa is once again
Reed and Lancelot
It is highly unlikely that Byrne was consciously thinking of
Lancelot in FF241, but both Lancelot and Reed are examples of the same
trope: the great and noble hero with the feet of clay. It is the same
hero with different faces, as Joseph Campbell would put it. let us now
look at this particular part of the "hero's journey", and the three
similar stories, this one, FF 254 (his Negative Zone Folly) and
FF294-295, the end of act 5.
The three stories
Each story follows the same outline:
It begins with Reed in his element: smiling, apparently happy, because
he's studying physics. In 241 he's exploring an energy burst, in
254 the negative zone, and 294 a subspace barrier.
- The city
In a hidden ancient city (FF 254 is hidden in the Negative zone)
- The climb
Reached by a long internal climb (oh the symbolism!)
- Stuck in the past
Each city adores the past yet has high technology
- Fake leader
The city's leader is a master of illusion (in 294-5 the leader is a frail old sleeping man but appears as a giant)
In the first two the bad guy is surrounded by bones, in
the third one the team choose to see inside themselves (more
- Reed powerless
In the first two Reed is chained and rendered powerless by his own
carelessness. in the final one he at last comes to self knowledge.
- Stripped nakedness
In 241 Sue is naked at the end. In 254 Sue and Reed are in Bed. In
294: Sue strips them down layer by layer until nothing is left.
- Empty armor
The first two are ruled by a hollow golden suit of armor. The
third is a high tech helmet that Reed is finally able to remove himself.
- Illusion to reality
The first two are largely an illusion. The third is real but should not exist, and Reed makes it right.
- Reed humility
In each, Reed must finally learn humility.
In FF241, a soldier gains access to captured alien technology, just as Reed did.
He realizes that this technology plus his own intelligence mean he can
became the natural ruler, just like Reed. This leads to Ben and Johnny
fighting, as with Reed. And of course he falls for Sue, as everyone
does: they do it all for Sue. Here is a taste of FF254. See the parallels with FF241: the tower,
the empty golden armor, the technology, the bones, the great staircase,
all maintained by illusion, etc.
And here is FF294-5: again the great staircase, the helmet, the bones, etc.
The answer in each case is to removing the helmet of the leader: to end his authority. In the final story Reed realizes
that he is like that leader, he has been holding his people back. And
at that moment the darkness of act 4 ends and the recovery, act 5, can
begin, where Reed decides to step aside.
Reed begins to see his weakness in this issue (241), but his brief
understanding while chained is not enough: this issue is followed by
Reed's biggest act of blind arrogance ever, where he misses he clues
that his son is ready to grow up (and therefore Galactus will be bound),
and instead he saves the world killer, Galactus.See the notes to the
next two issues,
Other points to note
In Act 1, Russia was the great threat. But by this point it really isn't: the only Russians we see are skeletons who failed.
Reed and T'Challa
Note the contrast between Reed and T'Challa. T'Challa has self
knowledge. He also uses empty metal suits (his robots), but uses them to
carry his costume. And when Reed is powerless, T'Challa still has full
power because his power comes from inside, from who he is, not from some
The name Excalibur
In the Franklinverse, Excalibur was the name of the comic in which Chris
Claremont explored the cosmic and mystic issues that explain Franklin
and how the realities fit together.
This story covers the three eras of colonialism:
- It reads like a nineteenth century story of the white man
conquering Africa (but being modern it shows that Africa, in the form of
T'Challa, is perfectly able to look after itself)
- It reminds us that colonialism goes right back to Roman times, if not before
- It begins with westerners looking down on Africa: today we do not
directly control the continent with weapon, we use superior technology:
the Americans monitor Africa from above, not the other way round.
This adventure reads like a return to the earliest days of the FF,
complete with separate chapter headings! Apart from the triple sized
issue 136 I think this is the only Byrne issue to have chapters
This is the first of Byrne's "torture the woman but leave the men alone"
issues (see also FF 255, FF280, FF283, FF284), an an example of "woman
loses her clothes but the men never do" (see also FF272, FF275, FF276,
etc.). Some have accused Byrne of being misogynistic, but most readers
say that this issue is a good example of Sue being empowered: she is the
one who defeats the bad guy. But then she was always
the one most likely to defeat the bad guy, right from the first battle
with Dr Doom, and before. I will let the reader decide what this all
means. No torture or nudity is shown explicitly, a fact that is
applauded by a reader in the letters page about this issue (published in
- Ben peeked
Many people say (at least on the Byrne Robotics forum) that their
favorite part is when Sue was briefly visible and naked, and Ben peeked.
At least, that is how almost everyone interprets this image (and
apparently it is clearer in the pencils, but is still intended to be
It might not look like Ben's eyes, but in the early issues his eyes were often seen as tiny white circles.
Is peaking at Sue a little immature? We need to go back to the start: In
issues 1-7 before Ben met Alicia (who looked exactly like
Sue), he always loved Sue: Ben's initial hatred for Reed was partly
because Reed made Ben ugly, and claimed Sue for himself.
This issue has the last of the 74 "hostess Twinkies" ads that began with FF158. A nostalgic favorite!
Cover text box
I think this may be the only cover (in the period 1961-89) to use
printed text instead of hand lettering. This suggests a last minute
change, but I don't know why.
242Issue 242: Franklin decides to take over
This issue is can be considered a prologue to the prologue in FF244, which
itself a prologue to FF245, where Franklin begins to take charge.
Symbolically, Franklin is playing with a toy rocket ship, just like the
one that started it all. But this time Franklin is in charge: Franklin
See the joy on his face! Ever since Sue's efforts to make everything
right in FF232, Franklin has seen optimistic signs. On the surface his
family seems happier. The child is daring to hope.
This will lead to the next highly symbolic act: Franklin and the cube, in FF244.
Life will find a way
Reed has always tried to be in control, but he can't stop Franklin. This is the
message of the family (you can't control your kids forever) and of
life itself: as Jeff Goldblum memorably put it in Jurassic Park a
few years later, "life will find a way." Reed's efforts to
suppress and control his son are doomed. As long as he maintains
this strategy of holding his son back, he will fail.
The rocket ship and Frankie
Franklin adds flame to the rocket ship, allowing it to fly. This
symbolizes how Frankie will gain the power to follow Galactus in FF244.
Was Franklin involved in that? Well Franklin is involved in
everything, unconsciously, but Galactus is his herald, and uncle Johnny
is his good friend, so he would be particularly aware of their needs.
Franklin would know that Frankie is emotionally suited to Galactus, not
Johnny. Frankie also knows that Johnny needs somebody who will stick
around, and Frankie is not that (she left once, she is too hotheaded,
and she just wants whoever is powerful). So it is no coincidence that
the next few issues show Frankie attracted to the most powerful being
around, leaving Johnny free to find somebody better.
Who can Johnny find instead of Frankie? Somebody loyal, like
Franklin's good friend Alicia. Of course, Alicia isn't single, but
whoever Johnny finds needs to have her level of devotion. Franklin
On the end of continuity
is the issue where the Franklin's powers begin to take over, eventually
(FF322-333) leading to the full Franklinverse, where time no longer
moves forwards. So this issue has several nods to the passage of time:
- The most obvious indicator of time passing is Christmases: when
discussing Marvel Time it is common to refer to the large number of
Christmases in what is supposed to be 10-14 years.
- The end of the issue is firmly anchored to contemporary New York:
Terrax stands on the World Trade Center. As the years pass after
September 11th 2001, Marvel Time must say that never happened.
- Another sign of the later death of continuity is that Byrne needed
to feature Spider-Man and Daredevil. They didn't do anything, just
commented that this is out of their league. This was necessary
because readers still expected a connection between books: if a
major event happened in New York city in one book, readers would
expect it to be noticed by other New York heroes. But in later years
nobody really cared: the universe was only shared when a writer felt
- The issue contains numerous references to stories still years in
the future. With Marvel Time that can no longer happen: anything longer
than a single trade paperback (around 6 issues) is seldom
refers to this when speaking of Franklin's returning powers: "The one thing I've always loved about Byrne's writing,
although admittedly it can become a fault, is his seeding of
subplots. We don't get that sort of writing today, as all stories
are mandated to be six issues long. Gotta sell those trade
All of these signs of continuity, as well as the free use of
cultural references (see below) will be squashed once the
Franklinverse takes over, and nobody ever grows up.
Galactus comes to Earth to die
Franklin's awakening leads to the events of next issue: Galactus is no
longer needed, so comes to Earth to die (see notes to the nest issue)
The cultural zeitgeist
noted: "Julie and her fellow
actor are spouting lines out of Elf quest, an independent
comic some of you might remember.[...] I was an Elf
quest fan back in the day, and that's a pretty famous scene."
- Frankie's friend Julie dresses in leg warmers and extra short
shorts ("Daisy Dukes").
243Issue 243: Reed's worst decision ever?
Reed's stress causes his worst decision ever: he defends cosmic
genocide. His logic is that one living thing must not die. Does he
then defend every deadly bacteria? He did not have to save
Galactus. As a force of nature, and one with the most advanced
technology possible, Galactus could have recovered. Remember how
when he attacked Poppup Galactus was dissipated into pure energy
and his world ship gathered him and rebuilt him? This can hardly
be worse than that. But Reed, true to form, believes that only he
can be right. Notice the insulting way he says it - "if you'll
think for a moment" - as if anybody who disagrees with him must
clearly not be thinking at all.
More evidence that Reed is
In his head Reed is saving everything, but he caused the problem i
the first place by releasing Galactus from his pledge in FF211.
Reed here is powerless against Galactus: all he can do is beg.
Others (the Avengers) defeat Galactus, and the women ultimately
solve the problem through cooperation (Frankie becomes his
Despite this being arguably Reed's worst ever decision, Reed is
still blind to his own arrogance:
Galactus and Franklin
Galactus as mirror
Galactus is also Franklin's herald: see the discussion by FF74
and FF600. Galactus' awakening to real world suffering mirrors
Franklin's in the previous issue. This is 1982, and Franklin would be
14, He would be discovering other points of view. Galactus
realizes because Franklin realizes.
Galactus' view has changed
Galactus said "Do not speak to me of four billion lives.
Galactus has seen the end of forty times four billion worlds!
Must we know grief for each of these? Had he but tears to cry
Galactus would weep oceans in their memory, and in the end they
would still be dead, and madness would at last have claimed me."
But FF50 we learn that previous worlds were uninhabited. This
was from his point of view: he did not consider "ants" worthy of
consideration. After FF50 Galactus accepted that humans are not
like ants. Presumably he then changed his view of previous
Galactus comes to earth to die
For the background to this story see Gladiator's comment in X-Men 167:
Galactus came to earth to die: that was his purpose. Of course, being
Galactus, he had to fulfill his role, and go through the motions of
eat the plant, he was unable to simply give in. But as he stated, he is
"power which is beyond power, knowledge which is beyond thought". He
operates on higher levels. Nobody can defeat Galactus simply by piling
on raw force, or the Skrulls would have done it long ago. No, once
Franklin was ready to grow up then Galactus was no longer needed. So he
came to Earth to die. But Reed messed up.
The real answer
Other points to note
How could the problem have been solved without saving Galactus?
Galactus is a test for planets (see FF262). If Reed had paid attention
to his son then the test would be passed and Galactus would be theirs to
This is the Early 1980s, Star Trek is becoming popular again
due to its movies. Byrne has Reed use a line from an
episode of the original Star Trek ('The Day of the Dove'): "Only
a fool fights in a burning house."
- Plausible deniability
Why do New Yorkers not remember all this destruction (after
all, these stories are set in the real world)? Galactus said he
wiped these event from their minds.
- John Byrne is finally happy with his art
"The first time I was comfortable with the inks was my first major Galactus story [#243],” (- John Byrne, in "Wizard" issue 47).
244Issue 244: Johnny is ready to grow up.
As Franklin is ready to grow up, so is Johnny.
All of Johnny's four girlfriends have dumped him, but this is the
worst. He's had enough of shallow relationships. He's finally ready
to grow up, relationship wise. Unlike Ben, he's ready for Alicia.
Johnny's relationships and
When we recall that Johnny actually has very little experience with
girls (see FF204), we can appreciate how losing Crystal affected
him. The next girl he chased was her opposite. Crystal is sensitive
and caring, and Frankie is cold hearted (because of her hypnotized
childhood and disturbed father):
"Frankie Raye pops up, and
brushing aside Reed and Johnny, offers herself as a new herald for
Galactus! Reed tells her that she might be required to lead
Galactus to inhabited planets, and she responds callously, 'So? A
few less bug-eyed monsters? What's that compared to my being able
to go...out there?' Wow! Who knew that little old Frankie was so
cold-hearted and self-centered? [Doug replies]Frankie Raye
absolutely was a cold-hearted, self-centered you-know-what. Wow,
Johnny -- great choice! Another in a long line. Dorrie Evans must
have been looking pretty good after Crystal and Frankie, huh?"
The cultural Zeitgeist
Introducing the final scenes of Act 4
- Note the The Flash Dance / Dirty Dancing leg warmers. The New
York dance scene here is based on the the hit TV show Fame.
- Johnny's previous dating was in the Disco era (when he met
Frankie and Lorrie). The new music represents a new era for
Johnny as well.
- Note the Garfield toy on the sofa: in the 1980s those things
- And of course, note the Rubik's Cube at the end!
This entire issue is called "BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS". It serves as an
introduction to the final scenes of Act 4, where everything is wrapped
up. Due to Marvel Time these events are stretched out into four years of
comics, but like the best of Shakespeare's plays, most of the action is
compressed into a very short time. The rest of Act 4 takes just over a
year, their time, and much of that is skipped over during a couple of
gaps (e.g. during Sue's pregnancy). Most issues run into each other, all
happening at a rapid pace.
The final pages of this issue are two prologs that represent the rest of Act 4:
"Prolog one" deals with Reed buying the Baxter Building. This is a
symbol that he has finally given up: in the next few issues Doom (or
probably more accurately, "Domos", meaning "home") regains his home,
while Reed (a reed shaking in the wind?) abandons his. See the notes to
"Prolog two" deals with Franklin stepping in to fix everything:.
Franklin and the cosmic cube
FF242 had Franklin symbolically controlling the rocket ship from FF1.
In this issue the symbolism goes further and he controls a cube: a cube that is too
complex to understand, so he just forces his will upon it. This leads
directly to the events of next issue.
The cube represents the power that caused the Fantastic Four in the first
place: see FF319 for details.
Note that Franklin spent the day at home, and the evening with Ben.
He would be aware of Johnny's despair and Ben's frustration with his
life (symbolized by Ben's inability to solve the puzzle of the cube). In
the next issue Frankie tries to solve Ben's problem, and in his simple
way he thinks he solves Johnny's problem as well.
The big story: why does Franklin act out of character?
Franklin is normally in control of himself, and the one thing he wants
is to not grow up. Yet something as simple as frustration with a puzzle,
and a remark on a TV show, is supposedly enough to make him lose
control and suddenly grow up. Why? I'm glad you asked. The big 28 year
story is about Reed's obsession with the negative zone, so let's look at
what Reed was doing at that exact moment.
The big story: the negative zone portal
The two two floors of the Baxter Building were destroyed in FF242,
and here they are replaced, These floors contained the negative
zone portal, hangar deck, and storage: all the most valuable technology.
How could Reed so quickly replace the portal that took him years (and
the help of the Watcher) to create? If such the portal could be
replaced then it would change the world.
Enemies would get one, friends would get one, Annihilus and Blastaar
would have one (they have plenty of advanced tech), and so on. But they
don't. Not even other Marvel comics show one (with their more relaxed
attitude to realism). Everything we know about the portal shows it was
incredibly hard to produce, and there is only one. Even time machines
get duplicated, but never the negative zone portal. So how could Reed
just order the parts for another one? Come to that, a lot of his other
technology must be irreplaceable as well. So how did he replace it so
easily? The answer: he probably didn't. If we follow Reed's development
of the portal we see that at this point he was experimenting with hiding
most of it away in the negative zone itself.
Reed and hiding the portal
This story featured the return of Terrax, so let is go back to his first appearance to see some context.
- The Terrax story was a result of the team were teleported to
Xandar. Following that, in annual 15, Reed then experimented with
teleportation (which may have involved jumping forward in time, a
related technology). At the end he had to give up that method of
teleporting: it was too easy for the Skrulls to steal the
technology. But in the story he was saved by Captain Marvel, who could
swap places with a counterpart in the Negative Zone in a blinding flash,
just by striking his gauntlets together. Now that was a technology
worth looking at.
- The next negative zone story begins in 229. In that issue. Reed
learns more about transferring energy between the positive and negative
universes, and about black holes and how objects can be attracted and
merge and be reborn.
- In 230, he is able to send an entire city block into the negative zone.
- In 231, he manages to transfer it out again.
- The present story (242-244) is just a couple of months later, their time.
- After this story, the next good look we have at the Negative Zone is
in FF 251, where Reed has built most of his portal within the zone
itself, with only the key on this side. That is clearly his thinking at
this point: hide
stuff in the zone, but in such a way that you control it from this end.
- That story arc ends in FF 256, where Reed shows that you can swap
objects between the zone and here simply by creating the right kind of
ghostly counterpart on the other side.
- Then the final appearance
of the negative zone is in the climax to the 28 year story, in FF 289.
There Reed is exploring the permanent negative zone hole created in
space, with an interest that suggests he is not
- As a postscript, in FF annual 232 we learn that when the building
was destroyed, the Watcher removed the equipment and looked after it.
Where would he hide it? Back when the portal was created in FF51 we were
told that the Watcher, like Galactus and the Surfer, can travel in
subspace very easily. So that would be the natural hiding place.
So we see that, at this time, Reed would be studying how to move
large objects into the negative zone for easy retrieval later. This
would include storing the portal itself there, all except for some kind
A closer look at when the portal disappeared
Now look again at when the top two floors disappeared. Instead of
focusing on Terrax and his great axe, the story focuses on Reed and his
machines. This would be the obvious time to trigger any safety hiding
Now look again at FF 244-245. Why did something as simple as a minor
use of his powers trigger Franklin to grow up?
This was supposedly triggered by a line on a TV show, but Franklin never
reacted that way before. In fact, Franklin's whole purpose was to not
grow up at all. But that moment was when Reed was rebuilding the Baxter
Building upper floors, so he would be returning the equipment from
wherever it was stored.
Franklin's power came from the negative zone, and he controls dimensions
(note the symbolism of the world's most famous three dimensional
puzzle, the Rubik's Cube). Imagine the dimensional craziness of pulling
objects back from the negative zone without using the conventional
portal. Imagine how this would affect Franklin, who was sensitive to
such things, and was unconsciously trying to stop all change. He was
growing up and was already only barely coping, This was enough to make
him temporarily lose control.
The Great American Novel
More than any other issue, FF245 encapsulates the 1980s: the
fashions, the pop culture, the open obsession with money, and looking
back to a ythical golden age, represented by the iconic TV show "Leave
it to Beaver". For more about the return to mythical family values, see
the commentary to the next two issues.
- Sue panicked?
"I really hate the way Sue
is portrayed here. When she sees the team returning with
Galactus, she freaks out, saying, 'It's Galactus! He's pursued
you here! Oh Reed, no! We can't fight him again! I can't
bear...' This is the woman who has traveled across the
universe, faced all manner of threats, and she's reduced to a
quivering jelly. Please." I disagree. Sue shows that she understands the bigger
picture: the only way to end the threat is not to fight him,
but to find another way. She is just tired with Reed playing his
- Alternative fuels
"Did it occur to you that
if Reed could jump-start Galactus with artificial energy, then
why couldn't Galactus' own technology create a similar
operation? Talk about the USA relying on foreign oil... Maybe
Galactus should have been researching alternative fuels."
The energy Reed provided was not artificial: it needed Thor's
power. Gods gain their energy from connection with believers:
same kind of life energy (see discussion of how the surfer found
a suitable planet on FF77).
Other points to note:
- The new Galactus Trilogy
"Many have likened Byrne's
run to the Lee/Kirby run, and I'd say that in regard to him
ending the third part of this trilogy and then launching into
the next story lines halfway through the book feels an awful
lot like FF #50." - Doug.
America is about "all men are created equal." So Reed's great strength
in one area (science) is balanced by his weakness in other areas (like,
- How could Reed afford to buy the building?
Se the notes by FF 279.
245Issue 245: Sue's facade breaks, and Reed
breaks the "worst decision ever" record again
Sue's Stepford Wife phase falls apart. She gives coy childlike
looks to the TV cameras and tells the world what a great mother
she is, and at that exact moment the son she neglects is
destroying their home. Sue is in denial.
Galactus and Franklin
This issue follows immediately after Reed saves Galactus. This is
probably not a coincidence. We see in FF600 that Galactus is
Franklin's herald (see notes to FF74). Galactus is a force of
nature, so he did not need rescuing, any more than a hurricane
needs rescuing (or any more than Mephisto needs rescuing: we later
see that when Mephisto is destroyed he is simply re-created from
people's evil. When Reed saved Galactus he upset the balance of
nature. It is not clear what should have happened here, but
Franklin's development was immediately and seriously messed up by
Reed decides that Franklin should lose his powers. Over the next
few months Reed will be guilty of some astonishingly bad decisions
(a holiday in the Negative Zone and saving Galactus come to mind),
but this may even beat those. Franklin has shown himself perfectly
capable of controlling his powers throughout his life until this
date. Franklin has also saved his family on several occasions. So
what does Reed suggest? Become powerless!
Franklin has been repeatedly attacked in the past (notably by
Annihilus and Nicholas Scratch), and Reed has always failed to
protect him. So now he says Franklin should lose his powers. Does
Reed feel threatened by a superior being with a greater claim to
Sue's love? Or is he just being staggeringly stupid? We shall see
the predictable result of this inspired decision in FF252. What
Franklin really needs is his father's time, as Reed promised in
FF229, but Reed will not give in until Act 5.
So it is confirmed: Ben's inability to change was due to Alicia.
Then how do we explain the months before FF8? Back in those
earliest days he often changed, but Ben was angry at Reed. He
wanted to blame somebody, to make Reed look bad (because Reed was
stealing Sue), and it unconsciously suited him to be a martyr.
This tendency to blame others is Ben's great weakness, and is not
finally overcome until Act 5, in issue 303. See, it is not a case
of "bad Reed, good Ben:" these are all three dimensional
The title "Childhood's end" comes from the classic Arthur C
Clarke story where mankind meets advanced aliens for the first
Clarke's story foreshadows the Fantastic Four: when mankind first
entered space this was a sign to higher beings that we were ready, and
they had powers waiting for us. See FF319 and the page on
cosmic beings for details.
Franklin, the child, embodies the big story: will Reed, scientist,
look forward (to his son) or be focused only on himself? In FF245
Franklin is tired of waiting and takes charge. He sees what is wrong
with Ben and so he acts to return Ben's rocky skin, his emotional
barrier between him and Alicia. In the next issue This leads to Alicia
begins a train of events that
Franklin is the catalyst for moving forward
This is the issue where Frankie tries to solve Ben's problem: Ben is
afraid of being hurt, so Franklin gives him back his thick skin. Johnny
needs somebody like Alicia, so, with Ben's barriers up he will soon be
single again, leaving Johnny and Alicia to get together. See the notes
to FF269 for why this makes sense to a child. On the surface, Franklin's efforts are crude and cause more problems
than they solve. But on a deeper level they are what the team needs: by
forcing change he forces them to face their problems and solve them. See
the notes to FF270 for how this works.
Other points to note
- "Barbara Walker"
Barbara Walker is of course the real world Barbara Walters, the woman
credited with making news programs more personality driven. Critics saw
it as dumbing down the news: replacing facts with celebrities.
In the comics, Walker's feminism is not presented in a good light: this
all fits with Byrne's other politics, as will be discussed in the next
246Issue 246: the role of government
Reed's certainties crumble
Reed has always been sure he was right. Now that surety is
questioned: he was wrong about Ben, and now goes through the
motions, living a lie. And could it be that he was wrong about
Doom? Not only does his greatest triumph fall apart, but perhaps
he supported the wrong guy? This mental turmoil will make manifest
itself in Reed's nightmares in FF248.
Note the great depth of the Great American Novel: this issue
is not a case of good guys versus bad guys, it's about people
who behave as real people do. Doom is not a two dimensional villain: he
is motivated by a belief in making the world better (his way), and
genuinely cares for his people's welfare. And Zorba's dark side is not
invented just for this story: while he professes a belief in democracy
he is from the old royal family: wants the old life "once again" - but
was that really democratic?
Zorba meant well, but in annual 15 we saw that being a freedom fighter
does not mean you are a good democrat. Most of the world's dictators
their power by being freedom fighters first: see Soviet Russia, Cuba,
Other points to note
- Ben's ability
When Reed is not in the Room Ben is very smart and capable.
Ben knows this, and will soon choose to leave the team
Byrne and Reagan: The Great American Novel and the 1980s
FF247 is perhaps the most startling example of what made the Fantastic
Four different in John Byrne's run. It exactly captures the new
zeitgeist of the nation: Reaganism.
Controversial decisions in Byrne's run
In this issue the FF decide to help Dr Doom regain control of Latveria.
Yes, Dr Doom, the man who literally rules with an iron fist, treats his
people as slaves and punishes the slightest disobedience with death.
This is possibly the most controversial issue in Byrne's run, but it is
not the only one to raise eyebrows. Other controversies include:
- FF243-244: Saving Galactus, who then went on (in FF257) to cause billions of deaths.
- (And as a footnote, Frankie chose the job as his herald and loved it.)
- After those deaths, Reed argued that he was right because of a higher cause (FF262).
- In FF291: Sue remembers herself as very young when she met Reed.
(For whether this memory is accurate, see the notes for that issue).
This inevitably placed Reed as a patriarchal leader and Sue as
submissive. Granted, Byrne's most famous act was to make Sue no longer
submissive in any way, but the age thing raised a lot of eyebrows.
Added to that are changes that most would not call controversial, but they arguably change the nature of the team:
- The team is shown to be wealthy (at least on the surface), with
enough money to buy the building. Whereas under all previous writers
they struggles financially.
- Reed is shown to have a multi billionaire family, removing him from any connection with ordinary people.
- His father is shown to be a warlord. True, at the end it was
blamed on his new wife, but later years showed him to be unreliable.
- Put this together with helping Doom and saving Galactus, and the
consensus that Byrne is at his best when writing and drawing Galactus
and Doom, and it is many would say that Byrne is more positive toward
authority figures than previous writers.
The bigger picture: family
This is not an attack on conservatives. The positive message was far
more prominent. This is what fans most remember when they think of
- Family. Previously the family nature was just an element of the story, now it became the central defining fact.
- Back to basics: the style overtly harks back to an earlier,
simpler time. While all previous writers paid homage to the later
Lee-Kirby era while moving forwards, Byrne harked back to the earlier
stories and consciously tried to move the clock backwards. (It is a
testament to his integrity as a writer of the FF that he let the stories
take over and they ended up going forwards anyway.)
- And as an often looked footnote, a focus on property ownership.
Every member of the team left the Baxter building. Even Johnny stopped
freeloading and found his own property. Eventually the team built a new, bigger headquarters.
It all add up to...
Let us review these defining features:
- A focus on the family.
- Respect for authority.
- Willingness to support hard line military power in the cause of stability.
- Property ownership
Yes, Byrne was in tune with the Reaganism of the 1980s.
Byrne was a good writer of the FF, and was never overtly
political. But he is on record as supporting right winger like Ayn Rand
and condemning liberals like Bill Clinton. This is Byrne on the topic
of comic employees not delivering what was agreed but doing their own
thing: "This is exactly what Ayn Rand often goes on about, the “looters”—her
word—who expect to be rewarded for not doing the job they have been
hired to do. Tell me if you hired someone to build you a house you would
be happy if he left off the back wall, as long as he did a good job on
the rest of it." (source) And Byrne on Bill Clinton: "If I can go all Republican for a moment, in Quesada we have the comic
industry equivalent of Bill Clinton. Everyone kept saying Clinton would
“grow into the office.” As his last days so clearly demonstrate, this
never happened—he remained a small-time politico, who never escaped his
bumpkin background. Likewise, Quesada—he is now EIC of Marvel Comics!!!,
yet he continues to act like the small-press publisher he 'used' to be." (source)
The dates match exactly
Byrne's run coincided exactly with Reagan's term of office:
- Jan. 20, 1981: Reagan is sworn in.
Comics on sale were dated April (FF229), so the comic being planned was
July 1981: FF232, Byrne's first solo issue. Reagan's style was "back to
basics." This was also the new theme of the Great American Novel.
- June 8, 1982: Reagan predicts "the march of freedom and democracy...will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history ..."
At this time Byrne was writing FF247 (this land is mine) or FF248
(nightmares - hallucinating on the moon). These represent two alternate
societies: backward Europe or future science; harsh realism versus empty
- Fall 1982: The nation sinks into its worst recession since the
Great Depression (this info is from the NPR web site). "Reagan fears
budget deficits as high as $200 billion. On Nov. 1, more than 9 million
Americans are officially unemployed."
At this time Byrne is writing FF251-6: negative zone, which I argue
reflects depression, but at the end there is hope for the future: the
promise of a new baby. A usual I must emphasize that none of this is
planned. John Byrne did not listen to the radio and say "how can I weave
this into a story?" And But it just happens that the story reflects the
spirit of the times when it was written.
- March 8, 1983: the "evil empire" speech (the U.S.S.R.). March 23,
1983: Reagan unveils his Strategic Defense Initiative, where he plans to
create weapons the Russians cannot afford.
At this time Byrne is writing FF257, where Galactus defeats the evil
empire due to his superior technology: he destroys the Skrull throne
world. The skrulls were a threat since the start of the FF, representing
the soviets (see FF2). Reed supported Galactus in 246(?), just as
Reagan supported advanced weapons. Galactus represents ultimate weapons,
the highest stakes, bargaining with death itself: note the cover,
showing Galactus and death as two halves of the same face. (In FF262 it
is revealed that Galactus exists to weed out the weak.)
- 1985-1987: the rise of Gorbachev. Americans are aware of great changes in the cold war status quo.
See the comparison of the Beyonder and Gorbachev in the notes to FF285.
- Jan. 28, 1986: the U.S. space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after lift off, killing all on board
At the time Byrne would be writing FF293-95: his swan song. Marvel's
loss of enthusiasm for the title, following Byrne's loss of enthusiasm,
coincides with the end of the space race. After the Challenger disaster,
enthusiasm and funding for space exploration dwindled. Over the next
few years the shuttles are first grounded and then not upgraded or
replaced. A few years later America sometimes had to rely on Russia for
247Issue 247: who is Kristoff? Doom's first and greatest secret.
This issue raises a whole heap of questions that leads to a single
shocking answer: the truth about Doom. Here are the questions. Thanks to
Nathan of the Fanfix blog for suggesting this and suggesting a lot of the evidence.
- The mother
Why is Kristoff's "mother" more important than Doom? Zorba's guards at
first ignore Doom.
the Fantastic Four, and the boy they were following: when he leads them
to his mothers house they shoot HER, killing her instantly. Only THEN do
they issue warnings to the others
(who of course can fight back and win). Why was this woman such a
threat? Perhaps the robots thought that this new Doom was one of Zorba's
reprogrammed doombots? Then why kill the woman he had
in his charge? Nothing makes sense unless she was the greatest threat of
- The delay
Why did Doom wait before deactivating the robots?
He waited to hear what they had to say after killing the woman. (Though
as it happened they did not explain their actions.) Why was that so
important to Doom?
- The child
Then we have the whole Kristoff problem, the one that Walt Simonson and
others hate so much: how can a mere child be the equal of Doom?
Apparently he was plucked at random and given just a quick education.
Five minutes of brain washing cannot make a child into the equal of the
world's greatest strategist and master of the mystic arts! It is absurd!
What is the real story here?
- Doom sharing his power?
And why would Doom ever consider sharing his power. "in case he dies"? He
can switch minds - even to robots (As the Ovoids did in FF 10) so he
has no danger of ever dying. Doom does not share power!
Doom's extreme reaction to this woman's death reminds us of his love for
his mother, Cynthia, trapped in hell. And that other great mystery:
what exactly did Cynthia do to be in hell? What deal with the Devil did
she do? Later comics suggest the obvious: she must have made some kind of deal
to save her beloved people. Well, that deal came true: thanks to Doom,
Latveria became a world power and was no longer trampled by other nations.
But what was Cynthia's role in Doom's power? And how would the Devil twist it?
Deals with the devil seldom end well.
- The armor
Then we come to Kristoff's (later) armor: an adult form, hiding a child's
body. It reminds us of Doom's armor, and raises the question: why does
Doom wear it all the time? No other armored character wears armor all the
time, because armor is uncomfortable.
- Doom's privacy
This raises Doom's insane need for privacy. Every other dictator has his
inner circle of people he confides in (even if he betrays
them later). But apart from Boris, Doom has nobody. And even Boris has a
strange relationship, like an adult looking after a child, but at arm's length. Why?
- Doom's face
Come to that, why was Doom so obsessed with his face? And why was his
face covered in the initial experiment with the nether world (FF annual
2)? Why must nobody ever come close? Except for blind Alicia, and why
did she feel that Doom was "sensitive" and "good" (FF 197)?
- Doom's other "son"
While on the topic of Doom in FF 197, why did he want a human clone when
he had plenty of superb robots to use? And why why it important for his son to be a grown man? Why a human at all,
when humans are so likely to betray him?
- Doom and children
And come to that, why does Doom not have any natural children? Even
though, as we saw in Supervillain Team Up, he could have whatever woman
he wanted, whether by force or (more usually) by charm? Not even one
accidental offspring? Seems very odd, right?
- The name Kristoff
The name Kristoff (Christopher) comes from the story of the giant
"Opher" who carried the anointed king (the "christ"). What a
coincidence that this child would end up being carried by a much larger
mechanical suit. Coincidence? Or was he named that way deliberately?
- The name Vernard (Kristoff's surname)
Vernard comes from the word for vineyard, which comes from an older word
meaning enclosure. In the Bible, God calls his land and people his vineyard. This
fits perfectly with Doom's name (the name "Doom" is probably from "domos", domicile or home: see notes to FF 5),
and with Dr Doom's role as protector and nurturer of his people.
On the subject of doombots and Kristoff's armor, why was Doom so
obsessed with robots from the very beginning? And how did he become so
skilled? Perhaps the early machines were controlled magically, but still,
why the obsession with robots that looked like himself (FF annual 2)?
- His face?
How could Doom be driven mad by the sight of his own scarred face in FF
200? Yes, he hated imperfection (why?) but to be driven mad by it? And
why did he willingly scar it himself when the hot mask was first placed
on it? What was so unspeakably horrible about his face that he would
happily lose it all? And why were Stan and Jack so horrified by it in FF
10 - surely they were not so rude that they would insult someone who
was the victim of an accident? There must have been something else,
something worse, about that face. And yet it cannot have been so bad, as
Alicia was able to feel enough to sculpt a good handsome likeness in FF
197. What is really going on?
- And so on
(I may add to this list if I ever get time)
There is a very simple explanation for all of this: Kristoff is Doom. Let us see how it all fits together:
The simple answer is that Cynthia sold her soul so that her young son
would be strong. But the devil is still the devil, so he made it that
the son would always stay a child! He grew to have a natural talent for
magic yet hated using it. He did what he had to in order to create a
robotic outer shell, and would never let anybody grow close. When
finally forced to face himself he was driven mad. His mind lived on in
doombots, and his mindless child-like body was rescued and given to a
new "mother" to raise and nurture. Eventually, fro years of training,
his his mind was returned, but by this time the doombots were so
sophisticated - and they had his genuine mind - that the struggle
between Doom the man-child and Doom the perfect machine became an epic
- Cynthia wanted her people to be safe, and her son provided that.
As payment, Cynthia went to hell. So, Doom is the demonic gift. But how?
- Doom was obsessed with providing magical or robotic replacements
for himself, he would not let anybody get close, and as soon as he could
he encased his own body in armor. So there is something about him that
- When Doom saw himself in FF 200 it destroyed his mind. The robots
took over (See notes to annual15), but what happened to the physical
- We finally see a child who has the mind of Doom, but of course its
potential must be slowly nurtured, as if starting from a blank slate,
as if the potential was always there but somehow deeply hidden.
This creates added depth to the relationship between Reed and Franklin.
Reed is like the robot. Franklin is the child who cannot grow up. Only
when they are finally at peace, by accepting their need for others, can
the world be right.
The power of love
Doom is a mirror for Reed. He shows Reed at his worst, but also
shows Reed the way out of his dilemma: to care for his family.
Doom's family is Latveria. Doom is always at his strongest when he
puts his country first. For an overview of Doom's development in his twenty appearances see his own page.
This is also an example of one of the many complex subplots in
the Great American Novel. Doom is maturing. He has a 28 year
character development just as the others do. At this point he has
given up his "conquer the world" plan (unless a convenient
opportunity arises of course) in favor of caring for his people.
If this trend continues he will eventually become a benign ruler,
because forbidding people to leave is a sign of needing them and
Doom needs nobody (see FF258). For more details see Doom's five act character development.
This theme continues in FF258 (the image shows scenes from both
248Issue 248: Reed's nightmare
This issue foreshadows the nightmare to come, and follows from
Reed's mental turmoil in the previous two issues. For the
psychological symbolism of the underground river in this issue, see the
notes to FF314
Here is a quick reminder of the big story:
This issue begins underwater, a symbol of the deepest psychology. it
shows Reed's dream of doing huge, gigantic things, but somehow they
don't follow the rules he expects. He is only rescued from his
madness when he remembers Sue.
- Remember that this story has multiple layers. Look below the surface to see what is really going on.
- Reed is probably a good Skrull, wanting to prove himself in the human world (see notes to FF 91)
- The Skrulls know, and all their encounters are warnings not to go too far (see notes to FF 2)
- At first he seemed to perform miracles (using alien technology) but pushed himself too far: Act Four showed his life unravel.
- Things have got so bad that Reed even saved Galactus. Did he do
this deliberately in the expectation that Galactus would destroy the
Skrull Throne World (FF 257)? Around this time we see annual 17, where
we see that Skrulls are innately warlike, and easily replaced. So
destroying their world might make sense to Reed.
- Now he is having nightmares of alien forces far bigger than he can cope with.
- Next issue the Skrulls and the Shi'ar will both send a subtle warning: they are watching him!
- After that (FF251) Reed will try to escape to the Negative Zone. But he will have nowhere to hide.
What I love best about the Fantastic Four is how it pulls so many
ideas into such a small space: it's a cultural digest. This issue
"I have to say, 'This Land is
Mine!' didn't hit me nearly as hard as this story did. I
dog-eared this issue. Read it over and over. Memorized it. (I
still have it. It's beat all to hell.) I loved the science
driving the story - the distances, gravities, velocities - just
the sheer scope of it. The Thing falling, taking most of a day
to hit...(an amazing moment). Yet there was a great riot of
Twilight Zone-like story thrown in the pot, too. This is my
favorite Fantastic Four story. Hands down. Sorry, Galactus. It
is what it is." (Jeremiah
"Now this is one of favorite
issues of any comic! The giant spaceship eating
the moon, the moon collapsing in the hangar, the Treen-inspired
alien, Reed pointing out that the giant alien shouldn't even be
able to support its own weight, Ben falling for a day... aaaah
so much good stuff." (Dave
Minor trivia (source)
- The look of the alien is inspired by the Treens from Dan Dare
(from the influential British comic the Eagle).
- "This was based on an idea
JB had for a 'Space: 1999' comic."
- "Due to an inking error, the
Human Torch is shown flying with the team on the full-page
revealing the alien. It should be Black Bolt with the rest of
249Issue 249: man and superman
In this issue we see how Reed has de-powered the most powerful
character, Franklin. Franklin should have solved this problem in a
matter of seconds, but thanks to Reed he cannot. Note that Franklin
is only young because he has stretched time since his birth: he was
born in 1968, and this is 1982, so he should really be 14 years old.
In many countries (e.g. Britain until the early par of the 20th
century) 14 was when a boy would leave school and take up a man's
job: there was no concept of a teenage period in between childhood
and being an adult. Age 14 is also when someone hits puberty. This
should have been the moment when Franklin became a man, the ultimate
super-man. But instead he is a child cowering in a corner.
The Fantastic Four has always referenced other classic literature,
but the references are increasing as we approach the second half of
The title "Man and Superman" comes from George Bernard Shaw's
play. Shaw draws the idea from Nietzsche, about mankind evolving into a
higher race. Shaw's play is about an old, sensible man and a young
revolutionary man competing for a woman's love. Shaw's argument is that,
yes, mankind is changing, but women, not men, will decide the
future. This is also the message of the FF: Sue and Alicia are the real
decision makers. Also in this issue the Shi'ar empire has its empress,
and the "superman" (Gladiator) lives to serve her.
In the play, the woman chooses the young revolutionary against the
older, apparently wiser man. In the next issue's subplot we see that
Alicia plays the role of the woman in the play: her older suitor Ben
Grimm has failed to propose, and only puts her in danger (just how much
danger we will see in the next issue after that), and so she chooses the
more hot headed Johnny Storm. The future belongs to Johnny Storm.
Other points to note
- Reed is the one trying to be both a man and a super-man. If
only he would listen to Sue he would see that he does not have to do
- When Byrne left to draw Superman he paid homage to this own
"Man and Superman" cover. He was not the only one.
The 100 issue cycle: how Ben's point of view progresses
Look at this issue from Ben's point of view. In FF245 we learned how deep
his insecurities go. Then in FF246 he was unable to hit the real Doom
due to an inhibitor ray, then in FF247 Ben had to help Doom regain his
power - Doom, the one Ben had once humiliated. Then in FF248 when we see
what each person fears, Ben fears being weak. In FF250 we will see
Alicia weep because of Ben's lack of inner peace.
But what about this issue? Something very familiar happens: An alien
arrives from nowhere. He defeats Ben easily: not only is he far
stronger, he has other powers as well. And he's a hit with the ladies
(specially the empress). Ben can't hate him because he's so noble.
Remind you of anybody? Yes, the silver surfer in FF48-50. That led
directly to Ben's depression in the classic FF51 ("This Man This
Monster"). Similarly, FF250 leads directly to Ben joining Reed in his
suicidal Negative Zone adventure.
It was exactly 200 issues earlier. Coincidence? Just look at 100
issue earlier: another handsome non-human, prince Namor. Another guy
who's as strong as (or stronger than) Ben, plus has extra powers.
Another guy who's a hit with the ladies - especially with Sue, the one
Ben loved from the beginning, and lost to the nerd.
Or look 100 issues later: this time the entire team is facing more
capable replacements (the new Fantastic Four: Spider-Man, Wolverine,
Ghost Rider and the intelligent Hulk), with Sue this time facing a
competitor for Reed's affection.
Note the gradual evolution: in 48-50 it's just Ben suffering. In
148-149 it's Reed's lowest point, as Ben is recovering. In 248-250 it's
both, as neither has resolved their underlying issues. In 348-349 it's
all of them, because character development has ended and they have
nowhere to go. And by 448-449? Any complex structure has long since
The 100 issue cycle may be coincidence, or it may be the result of
writers assuming that after 8 years it's safe to recycle themes, but
either way, there are patters and there is long term progression. It's a
useful memory device. The Great American Novel has a large scale
structure that makes long term trends easier to see,
250Issue 250: the final warning to Reed: RUN!!!!
Reed is probably a Skrull who hates their warlike nature (see notes to
FF 91). Every appearance of the Skrulls is a warning to Reed, "don't go
too far" (see notes to FF 2). But Reed has just unleashed Galactus (FF
244-245), who will repay him by solving the problem at its root:
destroying the Skrull Throne world (FF 257). The Skrulls and other
Galactic powers know this is a possibility, so this is their final
warning: a show of strength to Reed. The story begins with Reed utterly
defeated. As usual the Skrulls are just sending a message: smart ones
will. be controlling the dumb Skrulls that we see, and the dumb Skrulls
are just cannon fodder. The real message they are sending is on the very
- You cannot win
Gladiator says that he is equipped to deal with any insurgents (the subtext being "including you, Reed").
- I hope we don't have to be enemies
Then Reed says he hopes they can be friends. And Gladiator says he hopes so, too - an ominous thing to say.
- Who is going to pay for the mess?
The last line is left to Ben, "who's going to pay for this mess?" The
destruction in Manhattan reminds us of the destruction caused by
Galactus, and how Reed then saved him. Who's going to pay for that big,
cosmic mess? The answer of course is Reed. Next issue he will try to
run, but he can't hide.
The human element
The issue is called the X-Factor. It refers to the human element
that always undermines The Thinker's plans. The Thinker is of course
a mirror for Reed, the one who can calculate everything but has
trouble with human relationships. The title applies to this issue on
In this issue we see that what seems to be the greatest power is
really an illusion. The noble warrior (Gladiator, like Reed
throughout act 4) finally loses confidence at the end when he pounds
and pounds at a problem but to no effect, because he does not see
the whole picture.
- Gladiator, the most powerful being around, mistakenly thinks
his friends are his enemies.
- Reed, the smartest one around, is literally over-stretched. He
failed because he mistakenly saw Franklin's power as a threat
(in the previous issue Franklin could have solved the problem if
Reed had not de-powered him). He did this because he could not
connect to Franklin's X-factor, his human needs. Reed could
stick probes around Franklin's head, but could not get to know
his son as a loving father.
- Alicia, the one everyone ignores, will soon put in motion
events that will change everything (leaving Ben, marrying
Other points to note
- Alicia foreshadows the pain that is to follow: Ben abandons
her to her fate, and then abandons her again on Battleworld
(when the others leave for Secret Wars and soon return, he does
not come back).
- The image of Spider-Man carrying Reed is a homage to the cover
to Spider-man's first appearance, Amazing Fantasy 15. The cover
to this issue has been homaged many times.
- Gladiator's power is one of the keys to understanding superhero science.
- "#250 was originally
supposed to be FF Annual #17 (source)
- "FF#250 should be a textbook
or something. This is Marvel Comics at the top of its game. A
Big Battle issue that still has big ideas. Great guests used
well. Uses continuity but isn't mired in it. Plenty of
'awesome' moments and splashy shots, but still tells big story
fantastic story-telling and art. I read this until it fell