Fantastic Four #20
When The Fantastic Four return from their adventure on planet Spyre, Valeria and Franklin want to know if they’ve brought the kids anything. In fact, Earth’s greatest heroes have come back with a souvenir of their 44-light-year journey, but it’s not for the kids. It’s The Human Torch’s new girlfriend, Sky, especially selected for him by the interplanetary Grindr of her home planet. (You can dig the past five issues for the details about that.) While Reed calls out the kids for having five parties while The FF were gone (the molecular cleaning of 4 Yancy Street is a dead giveaway), Johnny is feeling a little awkward at bringing home the winged girl he’s only just met, and Ben is anxious to see Alicia again. That leaves Sky to entertain herself for a while—which she does by getting acquainted with the pigeons of New York City, to whom she can talk. Her power to communicate with avian life turns out to be as good with terrestrial birds as the ones on her home planet.
Franklin and Valeria, left to their own devices, throwing parties in a house full of Reed’s esoteric science and super-tech while The FF were in space? It’s a wonder our team didn’t come home to a smoking crater where Yancy Street used to be.
Now he’s home again, The Torch finally hears all the messages that Wyatt Wingfoot left him last issue and prepares to head off to Oklahoma to help his friend. Sue sees an opportunity in Johnny’s trip. By sending Sky along with him, she thinks the two of them having to spend time alone together will “put an end to all of this ‘soulmate’ nonsense.” Meanwhile, The Thing catches up with Alicia and tells her all about what’s been going on for the last five issues. Alicia as well wonders just how long this thing with Johnny and Sky is going to last. Which brings us to the main event of this issue…
On the Keewazi Reservation in Oklahoma, Wyatt meets Sky and recalls Johnny’s past relationships with Crystal, Princess Pearla of the Microverse, and Zsaji of the Secret Wars Planet (I forgot about her). Mercifully he doesn’t get round to mentioning Lyja the Skrull. Sky, who’s had only one other guy (Citadel back on Spyre), wonders just “how many soulmates” Johnny has had. Wyatt, in the meantime, wonders why Johnny brought only his girlfriend and not the entire Fantastic Four, considering that the Reservation is under threat from their very first villain, the malfeasant Mole Man. It seems that the Roxxon Oil drilling on Keewazi land destroyed a community of The Mole Man’s Subterraneans, and when Wyatt’s tribe reached an understanding with the underground dwellers, some of them decided to come topside and join the Keewazis. The Mole Man wants his former minions back and is prepared to go to war with Wyatt’s people to get them—definitely a situation for which you want to have all of the Four present.
No sooner has all this been explained, of course, than The Mole Man attacks, bursting from the Earth with three Tyrannosauri that he probably pilfered from the Savage Land. (I wonder if Ka-Zar knows.) As the battle is joined, Sky notices that she can understand the “language” of the roaring reptiles, and thus learns from Dr. Sara Heart—the Keewazi geologist who tipped off Wyatt to what Roxxon was doing—that terrestrial birds evolved from dinosaurs. This makes all the difference in the outcome of the battle, as Sky immediately does a “Dr. Dolittle” on the Tyrannosauri and persuades them not to help The Mole Man hurt Wyatt’s people or try to coerce the Subterraneans now living with them. Wyatt is suitably impressed—and after this, Johnny himself is feeling a good deal less awkward about having brought her home with him.
Back home, Sue confides in Alicia her misgivings about Johnny living with Sky “far too soon.” (Neither she nor the rest of us have forgotten that our Torch fell in love with Crystal in the time from FF #45 to 48, nor how that finally went.) When Sue sees Johnny and Sky returning home from Oklahoma and Johnny letting Sky fly the Fantasticar, she knows things have escalated and her plan has backfired! The FF are duly impressed with the deal that Sky brokered to let the Subterraneans stay with Wyatt’s tribe in exchange for no one ever knowing how the melancholy Mole Man was so easily defeated. Meanwhile, to what must be Sue’s partial relief, Sky decides she doesn’t want to move in with The Fantastic Four. Instead she accepts Alicia’s offer to move into her apartment, which Alicia is no longer using since moving in with Ben. And speaking of Ben…
The final scene is one that I’d been especially wanting to see. Reed and Ben take a moment to themselves for a private toast with a bottle of champagne that Ben had meant to use to christen the Marvel 1 spaceship so many years ago. Ben, in the wake of the reveal of what The Overseer did, has let go of his resentment of Reed over being The Thing. Reed, however, has not forgiven himself. Though he did “get the science right” with the shielding of the Marvel 1, he completely reckoned without the possibility of hostile beings in the universe and what they might try to do to him and his friends. Longtime FF fans who didn’t like the reveal about The Overseer, take note: Reed still holds himself responsible! The Thing may be cool with it, but Reed is not. And as we take leave of our Fantastic Four for this month, Mr. Fantastic has made himself a private vow that he will learn to anticipate all the variables in everything they do from now on, and keep his loved ones safe! And you just know there’s a story coming out of that.
After the drama and shocking reveals of issues #15-19, this “take a break and catch a breath” issue is just what we—and, to be sure, our heroes—needed. The accent for this ish was entirely on character, and it didn’t come at the expense of action. Slott’s script struck a very fine balance.
Not that it was perfect, mind you. This issue reiterates something that I wish Slott had not started and that I wish could be snuffed out: Reed telling Valeria that she is smarter than he is. This is an absolutely wrong-headed notion. We’re talking about Reed Richards, leader of The Fantastic Four and most brilliant human mind in comic books—and his barely pubescent daughter. Valeria may have a preternatural intelligence that she first expressed as a toddler, but that in itself does not make her the intellectual equal of her over-40-year-old Dad who was building portals to antimatter universes before her big brother was even conceived. There is a lifetime of learning that Reed has acquired and Valeria has not, which makes this idea of her being “smarter than her father” dubious in the extreme. This is another bit of pandering revisionism aimed at making people feel “included,” making things “contemporary,” and trying to let different demographic groups “see themselves” in the characters, and it comes at the expense of something that has been understood to be true about the hierarchy of scientific genius in the Marvel Universe for as long as there has been a Marvel. Having a child, a little girl, be smarter than her brilliant father who we know can out-think, out-reason, and out-invent every other mortal, human character in the Marvel and DC universes with one brain lobe tied behind his back—literally—is a disservice to the greatest fictional mind in comics, and I wish the editorship of Marvel had not allowed this notion to get into print.
What this issue gets right, however, is Johnny and his pal Wyatt Wingfoot. Writers often portray Johnny and Ben as being “best friends” when they are in fact a surrogate “big brother” and “little brother.” The correct BFFs are Johnny and Wyatt, who are of the same age and closer to being peers. Wyatt is one of Marvel’s very best supporting characters, who has not always been put to the kind of use that he ought to be. According to the book The Wonder Years, an in-depth coverage of the Lee/Kirby FF issues published as a special issue of The Jack Kirby Collector, the inspiration for Wyatt was Jim Thorpe, a Native American football, track, baseball, and basketball star who won a gold medal in the Olympic Decathlon. While having no super-powers of his own and being more interested in academics than athletics when he and Johnny were in school together, Wyatt was cut from the cloth of a super-hero and is a natural fit in the world of The Fantastic Four.
When Sue sends Sky along with Johnny to Oklahoma, she tells the alien girl that she should know Wyatt because he is The Torch’s very best friend. And there is a moment when Sky sees Johnny and Wyatt together and wonders aloud whether she or Wyatt is Johnny’s true soulmate. Wyatt was Johnny’s companion on his quest to find a way to reach Crystal behind the Negative Barrier (FF #54-58 and FF Annual #4). He helped The FF defeat The Black Panther when The Panther hunted them to test his powers in preparation for the attack of Klaw (FF #52). And he was part of the battle with the cosmic-powered Dr. Doom, in which he witnessed the actual defeat of The Fantastic Four (FF #58.) The friendship of The Torch and his college pal is one that FF writers have seldom fully exploited, and it’s very pleasing to see it highlighted here.
Art-wise, this issue is the second one in a row that has gratifyingly been drawn by one artist. Paco Medina has done a generally good job with the characters here, except his version of Wyatt could be a bit handsomer, a la John Byrne’s rendition; and his version of The Torch needs about twenty pounds more muscle and also a handsomer face. The Torch should frankly look like the lead actor in a series on The CW Network, but we seldom if ever see him drawn that way. My artistic wish list for The FF would include a better build and leading-man features on Johnny—and, of course, no more of that damn beard on Reed.
Reed’s resolution at the end is a very interesting development, but after the flash of insight that he had last issue about the cosmic rays and The Overseer, I wonder how he’s going to be able to follow through on it. Last issue he as much as admitted that he couldn’t possibly have accounted for the unpredictable effects of the cosmic rays, and now he thinks he can work around all the variables in every situation that The FF might encounter. I mentioned before that Mr. Fantastic is the most brilliant mind in comics, and he is. But thinking he can anticipate and be prepared for everything? I don’t see how that’s going to work. Reed is at his best when he’s creating or inventing something that will take him “where no one has gone before,” and when he’s dealing with the unknown as he finds it. Trying to anticipate the unknown and unexpected even before it happens sounds like a rather unlikely idea. I think it’s liable to get him and his family into trouble—and I’ll be interested in seeing what it is and what he does about it. Though Ben has forgiven him, I can see Reed’s inability to forgive himself becoming a problem.
This issue was a welcome opportunity to catch our collective breath after the epic space adventure of the previous five issues. It was mostly smartly written, with just the right mix of characterization, humor, and action. And Wyatt Wingfoot is welcome around these parts any time. Starting next issue, though, the Richards kids and a couple of guest stars take center stage while The FF go back to space for the latest cross-continuity event, Empyre!
Fantastic Four #20: Don’t Know Why Johnny’s Hooking Up With Sky, Stormy Soulmate…
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
- Art - 8/108/10
- Color - 9/109/10
- Cover Art - 8/108/10
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