Empyre: Fantastic Four #0
Longtime Marvelites will remember that there are Elders of the Universe—beings who have for some reason derived immortality from the single-minded pursuit of one thing. Among them are The Runner, who wants to see the whole cosmos; The Obliterator, who destroys and murders everything; The Collector, who collects things (and sometimes other beings); The Champion, who lives for hand-to hand combat and once put The Thing in the hospital; The Grandmaster, who plays games—and, making her first appearance in this story, his sister, The Profiteer, who makes money. Lots and lots of money. It is The Profiteer who concerns us in this part of the preamble to Empyre—she and her cosmic casino which she took over from her brother.
Just like a good capitalist, The Profiteer has turned a problem into a commercial opportunity—the problem being the sudden and unexpected peace between the Skrulls and the Kree after millennia of war and hostility, which has upset the economy of multiple galaxies. In her grand Casino Cosmico, The Profiteer has set a Skrull girl, N’Kalla, against a Kree boy, Jo-Venn, in an unending series of battles on which the Casino’s guests from all over space put their wagers—and like all good casinos, it’s the house that really cleans up. All this, from orchestrated gladiatorial violence between children! Of course, this cannot be allowed to stand. And that’s where Earth’s greatest heroes come in.
The Fantastic Four, and the Richards kids Franklin and Valeria, have been jaunting across space when their ship runs out of fuel. They try to pay a passing alien space Captain for a tow to a spaceport when the Captain tells them the intergalactic currency system has broken down and everything has turned to bartering. So The Human Torch—another opportunist—offers the alien a front-row seat to the All Challengers Welcome fight at the Casino Cosmico, for which Johnny puts up The Thing as a contestant! Bashful Ben, who has been in a situation like this before (the classic “The Skrull Takes a Slave!” in Fantastic Four #90-93) is none too pleased, but The FF have to refuel and get home somehow.
At the Casino, The FF leave the kids in charge of the ship while they go off to the arena. So naturally Valeria can’t resist putting her preternatural intelligence to work out on the gambling floor, using their ship as the stakes. Meanwhile, Johnny puts up Ben’s vibranium arm brace to buy The Thing’s way into a fight. At the same time Reed and Sue discover—from the “reenactments” of battles in the Kree/Skrull War that N’Kalla and Jo-Venn are fighting—that for some reason the Skrulls and the Kree are no longer in a state of war, hot or cold! How did that happen? Evidently Dr. and Mrs. Richards didn’t have a chance to read Empyre Avengers #0 before leaving Earth, or they’d have a clue as to what’s going on. Mr. Fantastic decides to snoop around the casino, using The Invisible Woman’s powers for cover.
When The Thing discovers that the Casino is using children as gladiators, he hurls himself into the bout between the Skrull and Kree kids instead of the one that he came for, and of course The Torch follows him. Immediately The Profiteer has her patrons making bets on Ben and Johnny, and just then Reed catches her and demands an explanation of everything. The Profiteer tells him that because the Kree/Skrull War is good for intergalactic business, it must continue in some form, even if it’s only what she’s doing with these two children from opposite sides. (Don’t you love it when comic books sneak in a little allegory about the real world? “War is good for business!”)
So Reed battles The Profiteer and sends Sue to get the kids off the gambling floor where they have no business. Because of Reed’s intervention, N’Kalla and Jo-Venn end up reenacting the battle between the Kree and Skrull warriors from The X-Men #137, which Johnny and Ben manipulate so that it comes out as a tie (by allowing the kids to “defeat” them)! When The Profiteer orders the kids back to their holding pens as her “acquisitions,” it creates a deadly standoff between her and The Fantastic Four—until Sue shows up with Franklin and Valeria, who have broken the Casino’s bank with “the most incredible streak of luck” (thanks to their invisible mother’s meddling) and now own the Casino themselves! The Fantastic Four offer to return the Casino rights to The Profiteer in exchange for fueling their ship—and releasing the Skrull and Kree kids into their custody! Defeated, The Profiteer relents.
That leaves The FF, Franklin, Valeria, and their new alien charges to head back to Earth, thinking this adventure is over—but they are all destined to learn it’s only getting started. On their way home, they find themselves staring into an alien armada that is also on its way to our planet. And wait ’til they find out who is on board one of those ships! That is the story awaiting them and us in the official first issue of the Empyre miniseries!
This second part of the warmup for Empyre is not as heavily laden with Marvel Universe history as the previous Avengers part. It gives us as much background on the Kree/Skrull War as we need to know, but is more about the unique family dynamic of The Fantastic Four and how it plays into the looming conflict that will be Marvel’s “Big Event” of the summer and fall. It also brings another major power player into the Marvel cast. I don’t know whether this is intentional or not, but “dangerous, cosmically powerful women” seems to be becoming almost a running theme in the current FF series. We started with The Griever in issues #1-3, and Victorious in issue #6-9; then there was that minor skirmish with Gargantua, the villainess from the Microverse in issue #11. Of these, The Griever and Victorious are the most interesting. Now we have this hitherto-unknown Elder of the Universe, The Profiteer, whom our heroes have defeated as handily as they did The Griever. Will The Profiteer return as a threat to Marvel’s first and finest in the future? Is she not only powerful enough, but interesting enough, to become a recurring adversary for our Foursome? Well, at least she is original. Our FF has never had to deal with a villain quite like her before.
Our Fantastic Four is heading into Empyre with two new kids in tow—alien children belonging to two contentious rival species that were introduced in FF adventures. We didn’t know at the time that The FF discovered them that the Skrulls and the Kree were ancient enemies; that fact came out in later stories in other comics. But now that little N’Kalla and Jo-Venn are here, what are our heroes going to do with them? Reed and Sue have their hands full with their own two kids. Are they really prepared to take on two wards belonging to alien species that the Richards family has a long history of meeting as foes? The Fantastic Four being surrounded by a large supporting cast is nothing new. At the height of Stan and Jack, there were The Inhumans, The Silver Surfer, and The Black Panther hanging around. But we’ve only just recently cleared out the crowded supporting cast by sending The Future Foundation on their way. Some FF fans were relieved to have the book return to being about just The FF. (And some fans even wish there were some way to write out Franklin and Valeria!) If N’Kalla and Jo-Venn stick around, it will be them, The FF and the Richards kids, Alicia, and The Torch’s new girlfriend Sky. We’ll have to watch and see how permanent an addition the Skrull and Kree kids are, what their future will be, and how they will fit into the “big picture” of the adventures of The Fantastic Four.
Now, about the artwork…
Generally speaking, this is a well-drawn book, even considering that half of Reed Richards’s face is still wreathed in that unsightly, insufferable beard. Sean Izaaske in the regular FF book has proven himself to be quite a worthy artist for the stories of Marvel’s original and best heroes (even though in one panel he has drawn The Thing with three toes on his foot). And R.B. Silva is good too, except once again we have an artist who doesn’t know how to draw The Thing! Look at some of the panels in this mag where we see Ben. In some scenes The Thing looks about eight feet tall and seven feet wide. It’s ridiculous! The Thing is massive; we understand that. But we keep getting artists who insist on making him as big as Sasquatch in Alpha Flight! If there isn’t a Marvel artists’ style book that shows the relative sizes of the characters in The Fantastic Four, I really wish people drawing this book would look back at the work of Kirby, Perez, and Byrne. The Thing should be no taller than six feet; in fact Reed is just slightly taller than The Thing! I know comic book artists like to exaggerate for dramatic effect, but with Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew they’re always going way too far.
This second prelude to Empyre brings The Fantastic Four handily into the action and sets up the opening sequence for the first issue of the main miniseries. You may question the propriety of The Invisible Woman helping her kids cheat at gambling, but it gets them out of immediate trouble and helps The FF win the day in the end, and we must assume this sort of thing will not get to be a habit. The alien kids now in The FF’s custody are a wait-and- see. And with that, on to the main story.
Empyre Fantastic Four #0: For All the Cosmic Marbles
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 8/108/10
Color - 8.5/108.5/10
Cover Art - 9.5/109.5/10
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