Fantastic Four #24
It’s official: Ben and Alicia Masters Grimm are now the adoptive parents of N’Kalla the Skrull girl and Jo-Venn the Kree boy. (I would have loved to see the paperwork on that one.) A Fantastic Four family dinner is being given to celebrate at Four Yancy Street—and Franklin…is on Krakoa Island hanging out with the other mutants. When Sue calls Franklin home, Iceman takes him back through the mutants-only space portal (and disapproves strongly of Franklin having his earlobe pierced for an X-Men ear stud). No sooner are Franklin and Iceman through the door than The Human Torch reacts even worse to the presence of Bobby Drake than The Invisible Woman to Franklin’s earring. Johnny wants Iceman out; he doesn’t belong here. Iceman, he insists vehemently, is not a part of The Fantastic Four. Iceman insists just as strongly that he is. Which brings us back to that unexplained plot detail from way back in FF #2 and 3.
Years ago there came a day, a day unlike any other, when… Wait, sorry, wrong Marvel franchise. One day at the Baxter Building, long ago, The Human Torch gloated to the rest of The Fantastic Four that he was getting more fan mail than they were and that Strange Tales, starring him, was outselling The Fantastic Four. (You’ll have to show me the sales figures about that.) To which The Thing responded by ripping out the kitchen sink and dousing Johnny with the plumbing. The angry Torch accused bashful Ben of being jealous and quit The Fantastic Four. (Right, just like he “quit” at the end of FF #3.)
As the incensed Johnny flew off from the Baxter Building, a similar tableau was unfolding in Westchester at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. When Bobby Drake, Iceman, discovered that the Professor was keeping the safety protocols on for him because he was the youngest of them, Iceman demanded to go through his practice routine with the safeties off—and got clobbered. The other X-Men—even Cyclops and Marvel Girl—cracked up at Bobby’s self-inflicted humiliation, which sent Iceman tearing out of Xavier’s School the same way Johnny went “storming” from The FF.
It just so happened that there was an outbreak of Fantastic Four-type emergencies in New York that day, and when Iceman happened upon The FF—or three of them—battling the agents of AIM, he volunteered to help out. Iceman performed so well with Earth’s greatest heroes that they invited him to pinch-hit for the absent Torch—which did not sit well with Johnny. The Torch was basking in the adulation of other teenagers at a soda shop when news of Iceman taking his place with The FF was broadcast on TV. As ticked off as he was before, Johnny was twice as mad now at being replaced by the walking popsicle.
Iceman helped The FF against a series of threats until finally they found themselves up against an extra-dimensional invader called Khankwestaa (just the spelling of that is painful), who looked suspiciously like a Jack Kirby Celestial. The Torch came blazing in, right in the middle of the battle, and predictably he and Iceman started slugging it out over Iceman’s intrusion into Johnny’s team. After The Invisible Girl (not yet Woman) gave the boys a time-out, their combined thermal and cryogenic powers sent Khankwestaa packing, and Professor X telepathically summoned Iceman back to the school to join them on some other mission. Before Iceman departed, however, Reed gave young Drake an open invitation to drop in on The Fantastic Four anytime he liked—a tacit acceptance of the lad into The FF. Which would explain why, when Reed summoned all of The FF’s friends and allies to help them battle The Griever (FF #1-3 of the current series), Iceman was there over The Torch’s objections, even though this is the first time we’re hearing about any of this. More about that in a moment.
After all of this has been remembered—or newly presented to us readers—Johnny relents on the presence of Iceman at the FF family dinner (with a little prodding from his “soulmate,” Sky, who’s there as Johnny’s plus-one.) The Fantastic Four is not just a team but a family, and families have a way of extending and making room for one more, so Johnny and Bobby make their peace and Iceman gets a place at the table.
Franklin sits down to dinner wearing his Xavier’s School uniform and X-Men ear stud. An X-Man joins The FF for a family meal. For the moment, Sue is only expressing her disapproval of Franklin’s piercing by rendering it invisible. What would she do—what would The Fantastic Four do as a family—if they knew about something else that recently took place between Earth’s greatest heroes and the merry mutants? More about that in a moment too!
As Alicia helps her dress for dinner and suggests that “Uncle Reed” might make her some unstable-molecule Earth clothing that will morph along with her, N’Kalla murmurs, “ ‘The accursed leader of The Fantastic Four’…is now my ‘uncle’.” This harks back to the enmity between The Fantastic Four and the Skrulls that has been going on for as long as there have been Marvel Comics (FF #2, 1961). Having Skrull and Kree children under their roof is going to be a big adjustment for everyone. Dan Slott was smart to call out how much history there is in this. I’d like to be there when N’Kalla hears the story of what happened to Sue and Johnny’s father (FF #32, 1964.)
I wanted to figure out where this flashback fits, chronologically. The Human Torch once teamed up with The X-Men to help them battle the jugular-crushing Juggernaut in that villain’s intro story (The X-Men #13, 1965). At the end of that story, Professor X sent The Torch home—after wiping his memory of having helped The X-Men. I’d forgotten that detail, which plays into something we’re going to have to talk about. Next, I cross-referenced that with the other early encounters between The Torch and Iceman. Johnny Storm teamed up with Bobby Drake in Strange Tales #120 (1964), in which the fire-and-ice teens battled The Barracuda. This story preceded the X-Men/Juggernaut story, so in that yarn, The Torch and Iceman had already met. So, chronologically, they met in Strange Tales, then Johnny helped The X-Men in their book, and the next time The Torch and Iceman were in the same story would be Fantastic Four #28, in which The FF actually battled The X-Men (manipulated by The Puppet Master and The Mad Thinker). Okay, the X-Men story makes no reference to the earlier Strange Tales team-up, and the FF story mentions only the time when Johnny and Bobby battled The Barracuda. So, as a guess, I would say the flashback sequence in this issue must fall between Fantastic Four #36 and 38, because the X-Men story does make mention of Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s engagement. Right, now we know the time frame we’re talking about, we can see the progression of the Torch/Iceman relationship from temporary allies to a brief rivalry, giving us a historical context for this story.
In the current relationship of The Fantastic Four and The X-Men, where Franklin is wearing an X-Men uniform and shuttling back and forth between Manhattan and Krakoa, there is lately a very ugly secret that could make the two groups much less friendly than they are in this story.
At the end of this year’s X-Men/Fantastic Four Miniseries (of course The FF would have to get second billing), Professor X and Magneto have discovered that the “ genetic masking” technology that Reed invented to conceal Franklin’s powers from threats like the Sentinels could also be used to switch off a mutant’s powers completely. So what did the two mutant mentors do? They came to 4 Yancy Street on the pretext of a friendly visit with Reed in his lab. Then, while Magneto destroyed the “masking” tech—effectively, unlawfully destroying The FF’s property on their premises—Xavier did something far worse. He entered Reed’s mind and redacted his memory of how to build the technology. He did this forcibly, giving Reed no choice. In other words, and I have no better way to put this nor any desire to use any euphemism about it…
CHARLES XAVIER TELEPATHICALLY RAPED THE LEADER OF THE FANTASTIC FOUR.
If you’re an X-Men fan and you’re on the mutants’ side, I’m sorry, but that’s what he did. When you take someone’s body against their will, it’s called rape. It’s the same principle if you do it with their mind. Forcing your way into someone’s thoughts and taking something constitutes RAPE. I put it in caps, italics, and bold to show it for the monstrous and hideous thing that it is. There is no defense for this. None. X and Magneto assumed that the fact of Reed’s creation and invention of this technology meant that Reed was capable of using it as a weapon against mutants, as would any of the most heinous anti-mutant bigots that The X-Men have ever faced. They didn’t come to discuss the technology with him. They didn’t come to talk about how to control it, or how to keep it out of the wrong hands. They simply assumed that Reed was potentially the next Bolivar Trask or William Stryker, and they came into his home, destroyed his property, and raped his mind.
From the fact that Sue, Johnny, and Ben don’t know this, I can only assume that while forcibly entering Reed’s mind and removing information, Xavier also created some inhibition against Reed telling anyone what he did, perhaps even going to far as to tamper with his memory the way he did with The Torch in The X-Men #13. A rapist, like any criminal, always wants to conceal any knowledge of what he did or prevent anyone finding out. So while The Fantastic Four and The X-Men are all friends right now and Iceman is invited to a family dinner, they are all unwittingly sitting on a secret that could turn them into bitter foes. Because I can guarantee you that Susan Richards, who has very traumatic first-hand experience with being mentally violated (Fantastic Four #280-284), would not take kindly to knowing what X did to her husband.
What would The Invisible Woman do—for that matter, what would The Thing and The Human Torch do—if they ever found out what Xavier did? Would they ever allow Franklin to return to Krakoa again? And for that matter, what would Franklin think if he were to learn what his trusted new “mentor,” Professor X, did to Franklin’s father? Would Iceman continue to be so welcome in The FF’s home? Would any of The FF ever trust or befriend another X-member? There would have to be some kind of reckoning.
There needs to be some consequences for what X and Magneto did. Coming from Magneto, this act of pure evil is no surprise. He started out only a notch below Dr. Doom on the villain scale anyway, and while he has been made a more ambiguous figure since then, he has always been capable of reverting to type. Xavier, though, has crossed a very dire and serious line. By his assault on Mr. Fantastic’s mind, the founder of The X-Men has made himself no longer a hero. Heroes don’t commit rape, physically or otherwise. Xavier, no matter what else he may do and no matter his motives, is now a villain. He and Magneto both need to be punished for what they’ve done—harshly, severely, painfully, gravely, dreadfully punished. I hope it happens and I look forward to seeing it.
On a more pleasant note, this is artistically a very nice-looking issue. FF #24 does something very clever with the flashback sequence, shifting into a very vintage-looking art style and even changing the coloring so that it’s reminiscent of the four-color printing process used in Silver Age comics, where all secondary colors and tones were in screens of dots. It’s a very effective and charming visual device that makes the whole look of the story “pop” in an entertaining way, a callback to a more conceptually pure time for Marvel and for super-hero comics in general. It harks back to when Marvel Comics first discovered that there was a market for young-adult and older comic book readers who had not lost the sense of wonder that they had as kids, and began to play to that audience. It reminds us of when Marvel stories were simpler, but never childishly simplistic. And it also gives us a story in which we don’t have to see Reed’s face wreathed in that scuzzy-looking beard, which is another “win.”
Whatever may occur between The Fantastic Four and The X-Men in the future, this issue gives us a pleasing break from all the cosmic goings-on that have embroiled our heroes for the last few months. And it shows The FF doing what families always do—growing and changing. It took a couple of years to get to the explanation, finally, of Iceman’s presence in the battle against The Griever, but it proved to be worth the wait. Next issue: Dr. Doom, Victorious, more surprising fallout from Empyre, and a new cosmic villain!
Fantastic Four #24: If the Fire Be Gone, Let There Be Ice
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9.5/109.5/10
Cover Art - 8.75/108.8/10
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