Fantastic Four #42
All good Fantastic Four fans (who have been around long enough) should recognize the title of this review as a callback to the classic Stan Lee title for FF #69, “By Ben Betrayed!” Now let’s have a look at our latest ish, in which a nightmare seems to come true!
When the Brotherhood of Badoon, led by a Reckoning member called Ruin, storms the Baxter Building, Franklin and Valeria have to move fast. They round up Jo-Venn, N’Kalla, and Alicia, and immediately call Reed. On the planet of the M’Kraan Crystal, Reed transports himself, the wounded Thing, She-Hulk, and the Jack of Hearts to someplace called Obscura Minor, where he receives the kids’ call and agrees that it is time to engage (ominous chord of music) Protocol Zero!
Meanwhile, She-Hulk reveals to the Jack of Hearts that Obscura Minor was once the home of the reclusive species of the Raj-Lek, who hated that the Watchers could watch them. Acting as a cosmic judge at the time, our lawyer heroine ruled that Obscura Minor become “a dark sector of space,” impenetrable by the gaze of the Watchers. That was all well and good—except then, the Reckoning moved in, slaughtered all of the Raj-Leks, and used Obscura Minor as a staging area for their current assault on the universe! And that is why She-Hulk holds herself responsible for all the cosmic mayhem we’ve been witnessing. More about that in a minute; meanwhile there’s some other mayhem we’ve been wondering about.
Reed breaks the dire news to Ben that to protect the Baxter Building and the Forever Gate from the Badoon, Franklin and Valeria have implemented Protocol Zero, a self-destruct in which they have all sacrificed their own lives to keep the Badoon from the gate! The Thing flies into what is probably the deadliest rage we’ve seen from him since Fantastic Four #40 and attacks Reed, giving him the worst beating that Mr. Fantastic has had since World War Hulk, meaning to kill him for destroying Ben’s family! It is the realization of the flash-forward to Reed’s possible death shown him and Ben by the Griever at the End of all Things. But is it really the end of Reed?
While Wrath, leader of the Reckoning, wails on She-Hulk and Jack (and we wonder why the universe has not imploded from Wrath’s apparent destruction of the M’Kraan Crystal), and the Thing tries to murder his best friend, Nick Fury, “The Unseen,” watches the Watchers convene “the Great Gathering” in which they will thus pool all of their knowledge in advance of the end of the universe (in which they refuse to intervene, even though it started with them.) When one Watcher, Emnu, defers the Great Gathering for some other unknown purpose, Nick smells a cosmic rat—but also sees a chance to liberate Earth’s Watcher from the punishment meted out to him in Reckoning War - Trial of the Watcher. Simultaneously, the attack of the Mekkans, Torgo’s people (you remember Torgo from Fantastic Four # 91-93) on Anelle-Vell, the Capital of the Kree-Skrull Empire, is bravely met by the Wiccan and the Hulkling, until reinforcements arrive: the Human Torch and the Unparallelled of planet Spyre! Beta Ray Bill, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Starjammers also join in. Johnny and his allies quickly put a rout to the Mekkans (just being near the Torch melts the mechanoids’ bodies), and the two Young Avengers agree to join Johnny against the Reckoning.
Meanwhile, as Ben continues his savagely homicidal beat-down of his best friend, Reed opens up a comm link to…Alicia! She and the kids aren’t really dead; Reed only allowed Ben to think they’d sacrificed themselves (we don’t know where they and the Baxter Building have really gone) because he saw Ben freeze up battling Rapture last issue. Reed knew that Ben would battle hardest if he thought he had nothing left to lose. Now Reed further knows that Ben will battle hardest, knowing his family still lives. This is a twisted motive on Reed’s part that further demonstrates how the knowledge of the Watchers has affected him and costs him Ben’s trust. Like the She-Hulk business, we’re going to have a word about this as well. The bottom line is, the Thing has not murdered Reed as foreshadowed by the Griever. Almost, but not quite.
Back on Earth, in the Florida Everglades, Dr. Doom summons the foe that he and the FF battled a few issues ago. Earth’s greatest villain has purloined, in his own words, “the one thing you prize most in all the universe”—and this time he is ready to take on this member of the Reckoning single-handedly. Next issue: Dr. Doom versus the Cormorant!
This was a most eventful issue, and the “meat” of it, was, of course, the murderous attack of the Thing on Mr. Fantastic. As horrible as it was, and as much of a relief that Ben did not really murder Reed, the behavior on Reed’s part that triggered the Thing is not without precedent. Remember what happened back in the John Byrne issues when Reed learned the truth about why Ben has remained the Thing?
Back in FF #245, the then-omnipotent Franklin clued in Reed that the reason Ben rejected Reed’s attempt to cure him was his fear of losing Alicia if he were no longer the Thing. Reed kept this fact from Ben for fear of traumatizing him, and later allowed Ben to remain on the Secret Wars Planet when he spontaneously began to change back to human form. He let Ben think it was some property of that planet that gave him control over his shape. Later, when Ben returned to Earth and found the Torch sleeping with Alicia (really Lyja the Skrull, but that’s another story), and Reed finally told Ben the truth, Ben felt betrayed and was furious, which caused Ben and Reed to fall out. In this story, Reed’s manipulation of Ben sent the Thing on a dangerous and deadly rampage, and one that Reed brought on himself by essentially taking his friend’s responsibility for his own life out of his hands—again.
Even when he is not under the influence of the power and omnipotence of the Watchers (which is killing him slowly where Ben wanted to do it on the spot), Reed has this habit of making unilateral decisions that affect other people’s lives. He did it with Ben during the John Byrne issues, years before any of this, and he did it just a couple of issues ago by not reversing the Torch’s condition and arguing that Johnny is a more effective weapon the way he presently is. Reed always means well, and his intelligence and acumen always justify his actions, but still, he does these things, and the human consequences always get him into trouble. Not trusting his best friend with the truth nearly brought about the violent death that the Griever revealed a few months ago.
And speaking of the deadly revelations of the Griever, this is the second time that one of them has gone off the beam. The first time was the one about Dr. Doom destroying the FF with their own powers by using “the Armagedron” on them. Doom did use that malignant mechanism, but only on Johnny, and you know how that one shook out. Now the riotous reveal of Ben’s “murder” of Reed has come to a completely different outcome, which casts considerable doubt on the Griever’s supposed power to spool out future events. All I want to say here is that if I were playing the Lottery, I wouldn’t want the Griever picking my numbers for me, if you know what I mean.
Next, we have She-Hulk and her supposed responsibility for starting “the Reckoning War” and endangering the universe in the first place. Being a heroine and having a conscience, Jennifer would blame herself for causing all this death and destruction, but it’s needless. When she ruled to conceal the Raj-Leks from the Watchers, she had no way of knowing what would happen next. Did she tell Wrath to move in, wipe out an entire civilization, and declare war on the universe, or did he do that on his own behalf? She-Hulk should put her actions in their proper perspective. Like Billy Joel, she didn’t start the fire.
Finally, a note on this issue’s art. Rachael Stott’s rendition of She-Hulk remains an eyesore. Stott really does not seem to have gotten the memo that She-Hulk is no longer a “Hulking” figure. She continues to draw the character with an overly pumped-up and massive muscularity when she (thankfully) isn’t like that any more. She has returned to her powerful but sleek look, like this:
Not only that, but Stott’s version of the Thing is the worst since Sara Pichelli, and that was truly awful. Again, I reiterate my question of why The Fantastic Four can’t have a regular artist who draws the book in a more traditional style and gets the characters looking the way they ought to look? The FF needs a Jim Cheung or a Rom Lim on board full time. The aesthetic of the whole book is as frustrating as that bloody beard that I hope Reed never grows back. Please, Marvel, do something about the art in your best book!
Sue Richards is still incognito this issue, though she will be on board for the grand finale of this yarn in FF #44. What role will our ineluctable Invisible Woman play in saving the universe from “the Reckoning?” And will anyone be happy with Reed when this is all over? Two more issues of this to go…
Fantastic Four #42: By Ben Brutalized!
- Writing - 9/109/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 7/107/10
- Color - 8/108/10
- Cover Art - 8/108/10