Fantastic Four #16
Another one of those obnoxious covers with the logo on the bottom fronts another very revealing and entertaining episode of the potentially history-making “Spyre” storyline.
If you know anything about theoretical physics and quantum mechanics, you will have heard the theory that the act of observation affects the thing being observed. People like Reed Richards, Victor Von Doom, and Henry Pym know all about this. But our present adventure of The Fantastic Four demonstrates the principle in a most startling and unexpected manner.
Here’s what happened. Years ago, as he was preparing for the space voyage that was meant to take his Rocket Group to a planet 44 light years away, Reed Richards sent a faster-than-light scanning beam out to that planet to have a look at the conditions there. What Reed didn’t suspect was that the planet in question, Spyre, was a self-contained world, similar in concept to the colony in the Star Trek episode “The Masterpiece Society,” in which everything and everyone was carefully selected and sorted out for its perfect place, role, and function. Further, the people of Spyre, like the colonists in the Trek episode, were extremely wary of any random elements from outside getting in and contaminating their perfectly selected and ordered world. When the Spyricans realized they were being scanned…they reacted badly.
A prophecy of “The Four-Told” was created, warning the Spyrican people of four super-powered intruders who would one day come to destroy them. And their Overseer, desperate to prepare his world, did deliberately to all of Spyre what happened accidentally to The Fantastic Four. He systematically shot up everyone with cosmic rays, creating a fighting force of superhumans who would live in the beautiful cities of Spyre—and an underclass of grotesque mutations à la Jack Kirby’s Deviants in The Eternals, who were cast out into the squalid places beneath the cities! And so, with their super-powered champions, The Unparalleled, at the ready, the planet Spyre waited for the day when The Fantastic Four would finally come.
Got that so far? That accounts for everything we saw last issue—except for one little twist.
One Spyrican girl discovered that her world’s process of “soulmate” selection that pairs up everyone on the planet with his or her ideal partner did not match her with a Spyrican. Her soulmate was a boy on the planet that sent the probing beam. At the same time, when Reed Richards let his young future brother-in-law look at the info coming back through the beam, Johnny Storm had a feeling of spiritual and emotional kinship with someone on that distant planet, which gave him a sense of destiny awaiting him in space and motivated him to be a member of Reed’s space crew. The deliberate cosmic irradiation of the Spyrican people made that young girl the heroine called Sky. The accidental irradiation of Reed and his crew empowered Johnny as The Human Torch. Now The Fantastic Four have actually made it to Spyre, Sky has claimed Johnny as her destined mate—and Johnny isn’t exactly resisting. Meanwhile, Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Woman confront the Overseer for what he’s done to his world in the name of a prophecy, and Reed doesn’t like it. Because of Reed’s defiance, the Overseer thus orders The Fantastic Four destroyed—but of course Reed and Sue don’t “destroy” that easily and they are soon sending up the “4” symbol to bring The Torch and The Thing to their side.
Meanwhile, The Thing is in “Lowtown,” battling a horde of five hundred monstrous mutations and clobbering them left and right, including their leader, Scrum, who may be intimidating to everyone else but is hardly a threat to someone who a couple of issues ago punched out The Hulk. Having whipped every mutation in sight, Bashful Ben is now ready to lead an uprising of the deformed and the grotesque against the Spyricans of “Hightown” above. And up in Hightown, things are starting to get romantic between Johnny and Sky. Just then, both Johnny and Ben see Reed and Sue’s signal, setting the stage for what is seeming very much like the impending fulfillment of a prophecy: for while the world of Spyre may think of itself as a “masterpiece”, they don’t know what they’ve done to their “canvas” by making enemies of The Fantastic Four. They are, however, about to find out…
I’m going to call out one little thing about the script for this issue. When Reed learns from the Overseer that the “soul binding” armbands can be worn only by people who are genuine and destined soulmates, he gets a little too enthused about the fact that Sue is found to be compatible only with him and not with any “undersea monarchs” whose names we will not mention. This is hardly the time for anything so frivolous, and Reed’s reaction is too comedic, too out of character, and not at all appropriate to the moment. It’s as annoying as that damn fool beard that they won’t shave off him.
The rest of this issue’s story—and the art of Sean Izaaske, who continues to draw The Thing beautifully—gets generally high marks. I’m raising my eyebrows a bit also at Sue’s characterization of Unparalleled members Elementa, Kor and Kaylo, and Sidearm as “a Hydro-Man, two Thors, and a Captain America.” How does Dan Slott associate two solar-powered lesbians with Thor? That doesn’t work. Captain Marvel, perhaps, but Thor? No. Sorry.
I’d also like to commend Sean Izaaske for the way he’s drawing The Torch. I know that most comic book artists are healthy heterosexual men and they are more likely to find and portray beauty in female characters than males, but I’ve always thought that was to the detriment of Johnny Storm. Artists working on The Fantastic Four have not consistently made Johnny the kind of heartthrob that he ought to be. Johnny is not a spindly, gawky teenager any more; that’s long behind him. He is a young lad in his twenties who should have thoroughly grown into his leading-man body and looks. Izaakse has gotten Johnny the way he really should always appear in this story, and I hope this kind of portrayal of The Torch becomes the standard going forward. As for what kind of couple The Human Torch and Sky will really make…the next couple of issues should be illuminating.
The blurb for next issue promises that “one of the biggest FF secrets of all time” will be “finally revealed.” After the reveals of this issue and the previous, I’m really interested in what kind of Christmas present Dan Slott has prepared for our Fantastic Four tree next month. What could this be? Is it just more mighty Marvel hype and puffery? Or how might it change the game for the greatest heroes of all time? Hmmm…
The senses-shattering saga of Spyre plays a number of familiar Fantastic Four riffs and comes up with some new and entertaining things to do with them. This is stuff we’ve seen before in ways that we haven’t seen it. Coming up with material that is true to the FF tradition but isn’t a mere retread of old stories isn’t easy, but Dan Slott seems to be on top of things. I look forward to seeing the full effects of the visit of The Fantastic Four to planet Spyre, and what it will mean to the future.
Fantastic Four #16: The Masterpiece World of Spyre
- Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
- Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
- Art - 9/109/10
- Color - 9/109/10
- Cover Art - 7/107/10
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