Fantastic Four #17
It should come as no surprise that we weren’t getting all the facts about the history of the “masterpiece” planet Spyre last issue. We seldom do get the whole story about things like this the first time. And it should likewise come as no surprise that the Overseer who rules the planet is not as benevolent as he makes himself appear to be. We could glean that easily enough from the way we’ve seen him carry on so far. But the full extent of what he’s done shows him for the sneaky, shifty, morally fluid and self-serving character he really is. Dig this…
When the Overseer learned that Reed Richards—long before he grew that insufferable beard—and his friends were coming from Earth aboard the Marvel 1, he was “relieved” to learn that the cosmic rays in space had overcome them and sent them crashing back to their planet. Then from his long-range scans (tracing back along Reed’s scans of Spyre), he discovered that Reed and company had thus expressed the powers of The Fantastic Four. At that moment, the prophecy was born that The Fantastic Four would one day voyage to Spyre again, and when they came, they would destroy the “perfect” society and world of the Spyricans. The Overseer was determined to prevent this (and maintain his own power), and set about exposing his people to the same cosmic rays that created The FF. His purpose was to create a team of super-powered champions to defend Spyre against Earth’s cosmic quartet.
But it wasn’t that simple. As it happened with The FF themselves, the cosmic rays did not always endow their subjects with completely beneficial super-powers. Sometimes they caused an individual to mutate into a grotesque, monstrous, or otherwise misshapen form. This is what happened to many citizens of Spyre, including the Overseer’s own personal friend, Krumson. This hapless Spyrican became a hideous monster called Scrum, whom the Overseer banished—tearing him away from his shocked and terrified wife and child—and cast down into the squalid ruins of Hightown, along with all the others whom the cosmic rays mutilated. Remember, the Overseer and Scrum were friends before all this. See how the Overseer is capable of treating his friends. In this manner, an underclass of monsters came to exist far below the gleaming towers of Spyre.
Now while all the above was going on, there was a girl named Kaila living in Hightown. Kaila blamed herself for the “threat” of “The Four-Told” because the “soulmate” selection process of Spyre had matched her with the youngest of the four Earthers instead of her boyfriend, Dellig, who still wanted her in spite of her matching with an alien. For some reason, the “Great Eye” of Spyre had matched Dellig with Kaila but then matched Kaila with Johnny Storm. Kaila thought this mating anomaly was the reason Spyre was doomed.
The elite few to whom the cosmic-ray treatment gave the best and most potent super-powers became Spyre’s greatest heroes, the supreme team called The Unparalleled. That much we saw before. The cosmic-ray exposure gave Eylen, another friend of the Overseer, the power to summon and manipulate quantities of water, making him Elementa, one of the first members of The Unparalleled. Kaila and Dellig also underwent the process, gaining powers of their own and becoming Sky and Citadel. Remember all of this foregoing, because it’s going to figure into what comes next.
Rejoining our Fantastic Four story in progress, we find The Thing, Scrum, and the rest of the mutated “undesirables” of Spyre climbing their way up out of Lowtown to confront the people of Hightown and their leader, who rejected them and cast them down. Meanwhile, in Hightown, Mr. Fantastic (who desperately needs a shave) punches Sky—or Kaila—out of the air and The Human Torch reveals to him and The Invisible Woman that Sky is the one that Spyre’s “Great Eye” considers his soulmate. This brings us to a moment that made me laugh out loud, because Sue’s reaction to her brother’s new intended lover is exactly what mine has been for the last two issues: “Unbelievable. This is Crystal all over again!” What did I tell you in reviewing the previous chapters of this yarn? Even Sue Richards gets this! Meanwhile, in light of his “soul-mating” with Sky, the Overseer offers Johnny a place in The Unparalleled and in Spyre’s “perfect” society—with a place in Sky’s bed as the obvious fringe benefit.
Is Johnny tempted? There is little time to sort this out, because up from Lowtown come Ben, Scrum, and the horde of other outcasts, and suddenly Hightown becomes a melee between them and The Unparalleled. During this battle, Elementa addresses Scrum as Krumson, and the super-lesbian couple, Kaylo and Kor, hear them! As the battle rages, Reed and Sue break into the inner workings of Spyre’s “Hall of Heroes,” where Reed wants to analyze the cosmic-ray-inducing technology that the Overseer used on his people. In the process, Reed makes one of the most shocking discoveries of his life.
Outside, the Overseer uses Sky’s misplaced sense of guilt over Johnny—who is not as easily tempted as the Overseer expected—to manipulate her into turning against The Torch and helping The Unparalleled defeat The Fantastic Four. Unfortunately for the Overseer, Reed now has his number and calls him out in front of everyone. The Overseer, Reed announces to all of Spyre, has been having one over on his whole world for years. The radiation shielding on the Marvel 1, which was always believed to have been inadequate, was perfectly fine. What really happened on that long-ago Marvel 1 mission was that Reed’s ship encountered a cosmic-ray storm amplified into a weapon by the Overseer in his attempt to destroy the human astronauts. In other words, Reed was never to blame for the failure of the mission, and never responsible for the powers that he and his friends obtained, nor for the tragic transformation of his best friend Ben Grimm. It was the Overseer’s doing all along. By remotely using cosmic rays against Reed and company in an attempt to destroy them, he instead turned them into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It was the Overseer and his paranoia that CREATED THE FANTASTIC FOUR.
And with that biggie, we leave off until next issue!
Well, what are we to make of all this, then? How many different ways is the Overseer screwed here? Fearing the loss of his power and his authority, dreading any change to the perceived “perfection” of the society that he ruled, he tried to do away with visitors from another world. Failing that, he created a terrible “prophecy” that made all of Spyre fear The Fantastic Four, and used it to manipulate them into exposing themselves to cosmic rays. For some, it worked out fine, endowing them with super-powers but not changing their physical form. For others, it made them monsters and consigned them to a life in the shadows and the gutter—a fate to which the Overseer callously consigned his own friend, as well as hundreds of others. (Unlike Reed Richards, who has kept Ben Grimm as a member of his team and family and done everything to try to help him.) One of The Unparalleled—Elementa—knew all along what the Overseer did to his friend Krumson. Now Kor and Kaylo are starting to catch on. And finally, thanks to Reed, all of Spyre is now learning the truth about the so-called “Prophecy of the Four-Told” and what it has done to the “masterpiece” world and its people. Everything that happens next to Spyre and the Overseer, the alien ruler has brought on himself.
But the really important thing for this issue is what Reed calls out on the last page. The reveal that the Overseer is responsible not only for the fate of his own world but for the creation of The Fantastic Four has ramifications that reach far beyond this world and this story. I’m not completely sure how shocking it is, because the pieces of the puzzle were already in place in the last two issues; it’s just that in this issue we’re seeing exactly how they fit together. It’s unexpected, to be sure. What impresses me more than the attempt at “shock value” is the sheer creative audacity of what Dan Slott has done with this one twist. This is not a casual, trivial thing. Slott has dared to alter the origin of The Fantastic Four.
It’s no ordinary retcon here. This isn’t “Daredevil had a girlfriend we never knew about when he was in law school, and she’s now an assassin working for an order of evil mystics.” This is a change to the root story of all Marvel super-hero fiction. Slott has not rewritten the origin itself, and what he’s done will not substantially change Marvel history as we know it. However, he has added different facts about the reason for the origin. If this story remains in place, the way we think about how The Fantastic Four came to be—which was the beginning of Marvel storytelling as we knew it—will now have another wrinkle that was not previously there. Say what you will for neurotic Spider-people, persecuted mutants, and paramilitary armies of Avengers; the origin of The Fantastic Four is the origin of Marvel itself. Making us think differently about it is a daring thing to do. I don’t know whether to give Dan Slott a pat on the back for the chutzpah that he has shown, or to wave an admonishing finger at him and warn him, “You’d better be damn careful about this. You are tampering with the fundamental forces of the Marvel Universe.”
Well, this is not liable to cause any kind of real creative upheaval. The birth of The Fantastic Four, and the first decade of their stories, was a creative upheaval. But changing the way people think about Marvel’s most foundational material is not a risk to be taken lightly. Going forward, Slott will have to deal with all the ramifications of what this story has done. It’s going to be very interesting to watch.
Why is there a Fantastic Four? Why and how did The FF really happen? By visiting the planet that they were trying to reach in their origin story, The FF has shed a new light on its very existence. It’s “The Origin of the Origin of The Fantastic Four!”
Fantastic Four #17: Never Mind Denmark, There’s Something Rotten on Planet Spyre
- Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
- Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
- Art - 7.5/107.5/10
- Color - 9/109/10
- Cover Art - 7/107/10
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