Fantastic Four #21
It is now mid-summer and we haven’t seen our Fantastic Four since late spring. I’d say it’s time to get clobberin’ again, so let’s see what’s going on.
We begin with flashbacks to the births of two fateful infants in two galaxies: in the Greater Magellanic Cloud, Jo-Venn, “the Kree Chronicle of Blood,” and in the Andromeda Galaxy, N’Kalla, the Skrull “Requiem of the Shapeless Soul.” These babies will grow up to be the living embodiment of the conflict between their two species.
Returning to the present, we find them where we left off at the end of Fantastic Four Empyre #0, aboard The FF’s spaceship with Marvel’s First and Finest, ready to come to blows with each other even as The FF and the Richards kids stare down a combined Skrull and Kree armada that’s making a beeline for Earth. Reed and Sue convince a somewhat resentful Franklin and Valeria to take the alien kids aboard the escape ship and skirt around the armada to return to Earth with them. As they pass through the skies of Earth, somewhere in Vietnam, the Priests of Pama sense a disturbance in The Force—or something like that—and decide that it’s time to roll out what they call “The Dark Harvest.” That can mean nothing good.
(By the way, as an African-American, I was a little uncomfortable reading Johnny’s argument with the Skrull and Kree kids that The FF now “own” them because they “won” them at the casino in FF Empyre #0. I’m glad The Thing called him out on that.)
Longtime Marvelites will remember the Priests of Pama from Steve Englehart’s Avengers. They are the descendants of pacifist Kree who settled on Earth and set about cultivating the plant intelligence of the Cotati, which the Kree tried to wipe out. As is the way of plant life, the Cotati grew back. (It never occurred to the Kree to use salt in the soil of their home planet when they were slaughtering the Cotati, I guess.) But wait, weren’t the Priests of Pama and the Cotati supposed to be peaceful and non-hostile? So we thought; but something else seems to be going on with the Cotati, as a look at the cliffhanger in Empyre #0 reveals. Meanwhile, back to The Fantastic Four.
Arriving—okay, crashing—back on Yancy Street with N’Kalla and Jo-Venn fit to kill each other, Franklin and Valeria realize they’re going to need some serious help as sitters for these two. First they call Alicia and Sky, The Human Torch’s girlfriend. Then they put out a summons for other backup. Who should arrive but two characters who have been either substitutes or pinch-hitters for The Fantastic Four in the past—Spider-Man and (give me strength) Wolverine. After an absolutely precious splash page in which the Webhead carries Wolverine to Yancy Street in a reenactment of the cover of Amazing Fantasy #15, the two of them arrive at the scene of the action, where something strange happens.
Alicia and Sky are already there, and Sky is amazed that there are two other sentient species in the universe besides her own people (on the isolationist “masterpiece” planet Spyre) and humans. Johnny’s girl really has not gotten out, has she? Wait ’til she finds out about the Watchers, the Celestials, the Shi’Ars, the Brotherhood of Badoon, and the endless number of other aliens that The FF and their fellow heroes have dealt with. Meanwhile, N’Kalla, who has morphed into a tigress, has a peculiar reaction to Alicia. Just as she is bounding towards Ms. Masters in what looks like an attack (and Spider-Man’s spider-sense reacts to shadowy figures lurking nearby), Wolverine throws himself into the path of the charging Skrull/tigress and runs her through. As the stabbed N’Kalla falls bleeding and loses consciousness, she transforms into what looks like Johnny Storm’s “ex-wife,” Lyja, and calls out to Alicia for help. Just what is going on here?
Spider-Man and Wolverine… “Oh, joy and rapture,” as the Scarecrow said. Spider-Man, okay, I don’t mind him so much. In my affections as a Marvel reader, Spider-Man has been second only to The FF, and over the years he has become somewhat a part of the extended FF family. But my general reaction to Wolverine is the same as that of Indiana Jones to Nazis. “Does it have to be this guy? I hate this guy.” Wolverine and characters like him are the antithesis of all the values and ideals that attracted me to comics, and I have long resented their influence on the medium and its fans. I have never made it a secret that I don’t like this character. And judging by the cover of next issue, we’re about to see a reiteration of that crass marketing stunt—I’m sorry, that brilliantly creative idea (choke)—of throwing Spider-Man, The Ghost Rider, The Hulk, and Edward Talon Hands into an ersatz “Fantastic Four.” It’s going to take every bit of forbearance I have to get through this business. But this is meant to be about The FF, so I’ll try to be good.
But really, the cliffhanger of this issue illustrates exactly what I mean. Old Insubordinate Claws hasn’t been there a minute, when what does he do? Kills first and asks questions later. See, this is what I’m talking about. And for the length of Empyre we’re going to have to put up with this vulgar, homicidal character in hero’s clothing and his feral mayhem. This, in The Fantastic Four, for crying out loud. As I said earlier, give me strength.
Outside of the opening scenes we didn’t see much of the actual FF in this issue. They are otherwise engaged in the main Empyre storyline in the miniseries of the same name, where they and The Avengers will be facing the Skrulls and Kree head-on.
The art by Paco Medina and Sean Izaakse is up to the current FF standard. These are two of the better pencilers in the current Round Robin of Fantastic Four artists, and together they have whipped up an attractive-looking issue. Izaakse is actually someone I wouldn’t mind seeing as the official Fantastic Four artist, though as I understand it, when the book does settle down with one penciler it will be someone else.
Reed, of course, needs a shave.
As Empyre moves into full swing, Marvel does one of the things that it loves to do best and throws Spider-Man and Wolverine out to get people to pay attention. With the Cotati, the Priests of Pama, and this so-called “Dark Harvest” we seem to be seeing a new spin on an old story. These cross-continuity “events” are mostly a marketing stunt to be endured, but at least The FF are taking a central role in this one instead of being treated as secondary characters in their own universe. And what is it with N’Kalla…?
Fantastic Four #21: Along Came a Spider and an X-Man
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 8/108/10
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