Fantastic Four #18
Ever since the dramatic reveal of what Reed Richards discovered about the Overseer and what he did to try to stop the Marvel 1 spaceship reaching planet Spyre, which now affects the way we see the origin of The Fantastic Four and every subsequent story for the last 59 years (!), I’ve been watching people’s reactions to this story on social media. Some fans seem to be very much against this whole thing. (My boyfriend is even more of a Fantastic Four superfan than I am, and he, for one, doesn’t like it!) As for me, I’m not angry about it—just concerned. And as we look at what follows Reed’s shocking announcement, there’s plenty to be concerned about.
No one on Spyre, not even the mutations of Lowtown, wants to believe what the Overseer did, trying to prevent the crew of the Marvel 1 coming to their planet and “contaminating” their hermetically sealed “perfect” society with “four random elements,” and thus creating “The Four-Told” whom the world of Spyre fears. (Well, Elementa knew, but he’s blindly loyal.) But once the genie has been let out, you can’t cork the bottle again. Sky confronts the Overseer with the guilt that she’s lived with all these years for the Great Eye pairing her and Johnny Storm as destined “soulmates,” and The Torch backs her up. Kaylo and Kor defend the Overseer, even after hearing Elementa’s slip of the lip about Scrum last issue. Meanwhile, The Thing has Scrum take him to the Tower of Over-Site for a little face-to-face with the Overseer. And Sue calls Reed out for the gross miscalculation that he’s made. Reed thought that by revealing to Spyre what their ruler did, he would simply show them the fallacy of their prophecy about how The Fantastic Four would destroy their world. What Reed has actually done has been to set The Thing on a personal mission of retribution, which Sue fears will end with Ben murdering the ruler of Spyre!
(The irony of all this should not be lost on us, by the way. Remember, for all these years we thought Reed’s supposed miscalculation about the shielding on the Marvel 1 against cosmic rays was what created The FF and doomed Ben Grimm to a life as a monster, a guilt with which Reed has lived for the entire history of our series! Now we learn that was never the case—but a real miscalculation on Reed’s part may yield equally tragic consequences. Nice one, Dan Slott.)
So, The Fantastic Four is split up. The Invisible Woman takes off to try to stop The Thing from murdering the Overseer, while Mr. Fantastic remains in Hightown to try to defuse the confrontation between The Human Torch and Sky and the rest of The Unparalleled. And as you can guess, things get really ugly, really fast.
After Elementa’s waves of water knock Sky out of the air, nothing can save him from the wrath of The Torch. He can extinguish Johnny’s flames, but he can’t stop Johnny’s angry fists pummeling the daylights out of him. The Overseer’s battle armor is equally futile against the rage of The Thing, who has been blaming his best friend for his condition all these years. Remember when Ben was forced to become The Thing again to battle Dr. Doom, and he tore into Doom with his unrestrained anguish and fury? Remember what happened to Doom then? (Fantastic Four #40.) Yes, it’s like that. Sue is barely able to stop Ben reducing the Overseer to a pulp, but Ben’s rage—we sometimes forget how strong The Thing really is—is such that the whole Tower comes crashing down, and Reed, Johnny, and The Unparalleled end up working together to save lives in the city below.
So where does it all leave us? With the Tower of Over-Site and the Great Eye reduced to rubble, and The Fantastic Four and The Unparalleled standing amidst the ruins. Sue’s force field has saved her lives and those of Ben, Scrum, and the Overseer. But as the ruler of Spyre lies beaten and unconscious in the debris, The Unparalleled face The FF with the fulfillment of the prophecy. Whatever their intent, the coming of The FF has effectively destroyed the world of Spyre.
Or has it? There’s still one last act of this drama to be played out—but we’ll see that next issue, True Believers!
Back to my initial point. There are members of the Fantastic Four community, among them my own Karl who’s reading this over in England, in whose mouths this whole thing leaves a very bad taste. And you know…I sort of don’t blame them.
Those of us who love The Fantastic Four have invested ourselves with our whole hearts in the story as Stan “The Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby gave it to us. We have taken certain things as gospel, at the risk of sounding religious. And really, if you think about it, taking things “religiously” has been at the heart of this whole conflict. We readers bought into the gospel of the origin of The Fantastic Four. Meanwhile, in this story, the people of Spyre have invested their whole faith and belief in the prophecy of The Fantastic Four coming to destroy them—a prophecy, we learn, that the Overseer created to maintain his control over his world! But with the reveal of what this self-serving ruler of an alien planet did, we readers are now being told what Sportin’ Life admonished the people about (referring to the Bible) in Porgy and Bess! Namely, “It Ain’t Necessarily So!”
To some fans who have invested their “faith,” so to speak, in what Stan and Jack told us, this thing that Dan Slott has done must feel a bit like a betrayal. And I don’t say that lightly, because I’m not someone you want to come to with the argument that “It’s just a story” or “It’s just a comic book.” There are two things about which you don’t say that to me. One of them is Star Trek; it is not “just a TV show.” The other one is The Fantastic Four; it is not “just a comic book.” Other comic books may be “just comic books,” but not this one. I was just telling people on Facebook the other week that The Fantastic Four are not characters in comics to me; they are friends that I’ve been getting together with for my whole life. So when fans start up about not liking this shocking change to the facts of their origin, I feel an inevitable sympathy. And yet…
I’m not as angry about this as some people are. You’d think I would be, but I’m not. I’ve seen things that made me a lot angrier than this does. You know what really ticked me off? It was when Marvel observed the 50th Anniversary of The Fantastic Four—which, mind you, was the 50th Anniversary of Marvel itself—by creating the illusion of The Human Torch’s death, shutting down the original Marvel comic book for a year, and replacing it with Future Foundation, in which Reed, Sue, The Thing, and Spider-Man ran around in white costumes with a lot of other, younger characters that effectively turned the book into an X-Men wannabe with Spider-Man thrown in as a cash cow. 2011 should have been “the year of The Fantastic Four,” a year to celebrate across the entire Marvel Universe where Marvel came from. Instead we got almost a whole year when there was no bloody Fantastic Four at all! If you want to talk about something that made me want to clobber some comic book editors, writers, and artists, that was it. If you want to talk about something that made me feel insulted, look there. This thing Dan Slott has done? This is nothing. Well, it’s a hell of a ripping story, but it’s nothing.
The origin of The Fantastic Four as we knew it is still there. They still went into space. They still got shot up with cosmic rays. They still crashed and survived with super-powers. But now there is this other story that has been inserted behind it, and the facts of that other story have effectively vindicated Reed Richards. For years it has bothered me that the smartest man in the world would deliberately take an inadequately shielded craft into space. People have done things to “mitigate” Reed’s mistake, most notably (and ingeniously) Mark Waid with his reveal that Reed created the machinery of celebrity around The FF to atone for his gross error and protect the team from being treated the way people treat The X-Men. But it has still always troubled me that the smartest man in the world would do something so stupid. What Slott has done, ultimately, has been to show us that Reed didn’t do something that stupid. The shields of the Marvel 1 were good; it was the Overseer and his fears for his own power that burdened Reed with needless guilt and made Ben a monster.
This, to be sure, is a game-changing story. It will change the relationship of Reed and Ben. It will at least subtly change Reed’s relationship with his family. It will bring a complicated new love into Johnny’s life. It will make The Unparalleled and their world a part of The FF’s lives for at least as long as Slott is writing this mag. It will do all that and perhaps more.
You know what it will not change? It will not change who the greatest heroes in the history of heroism really are. It will not change the things they do and it will not change what they mean. Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben will still stand head and shoulders above most other super-powered characters who put on costumes and go adventuring and battling evil.
They will still, and always, be The Fantastic Four. And that will always mean they are the best. We have lost nothing. What we have gained is some opportunities for new stories. And I am curious to see just what those stories will be.
Believe me, I’m more upset about that idiotic-looking beard that they won’t shave off Reed than I am about the story of Spyre.
You know my real criticism of this book lately? It’s the art. Why can’t we have The Fantastic Four drawn by ONE artist every issue? Why does every issue have to be illustrated by at least three different people with three different styles? Why can’t we have visual consistency in Marvel’s best book? Seriously! Look at the way the appearance of The Thing changes throughout this issue. In some panels he actually has three toes on his feet. Is this what The Fantastic Four deserves? Really? Is there not one artist in the entire Marvel stable who a) knows how to draw these characters and b) understands what an important and prestigious job it is to be the regular penciler of the first, best Marvel comic book, and can be there for every page, every issue? Come on, Bullpen, get your act together and get the visual side of this book together. If you can do it for other comics that are not the original reason you all have jobs and careers, you can do it for this one. In the words of another famous interplanetary adventurer, “Make it so!”
This saga has been an exploration of what happens when a prophecy fulfills itself. It will have lasting repercussions for the world’s greatest heroes; for one of them, look ahead at the cover of FF #20 and see who has been drawn with Johnny and Wyatt Wingfoot. And judging by the cover of our next issue, now we’ve seen The Thing lash out—next time it will be Reed’s turn. We don’t see the rational Mr. Fantastic get really angry that often, but when he does—look out!
Fantastic Four #18: And Spyre Came Tumbling Down
- Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
- Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
- Art - 7/107/10
- Color - 8/108/10
- Cover Art - 7/107/10
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