Fantastic Four #5
Back in the early 2000s when he was writing a monthly Thing series, Dan Slott wanted to marry the Thing and Alicia Masters. Marvel’s editorship at the time nixed the idea, arguing that the wedding of Ben and Alicia should happen only in the main Fantastic Four book. So it is that in what would have been Fantastic Four #650 under the original issue numbering, Ben Grimm and his sculptress sweetheart finally tie the knot and stomp on the wine glass—as they can be tied and stomped on only by the world’s greatest hero team!
After a black-page tribute to the late Stan Lee and a Stan portrait by Phil Noto, we join our Fantastic Four with friends and family on moving day at 4 Yancy Street, the interior of which Mr. Fantastic and Brainstorm have tricked out by folding up extra dimensions inside it, TARDIS-like, to make more living space. (We were told 4 Yancy Street would be unlike anything else we’ve ever seen, but seriously, any fan of Doctor Who is well familiar with this trick. And by the way, I’m sure I’ve said this before, but that beard on Reed is really insufferable and they need to lose it. Throughout this issue, Reed looks as if he’d rather give the wedding a miss and go hunting Rocket Raccoon—who does show up later, but we’ll get to that. In the meantime, for the love of humanity, SHAVE REED’S FACE!) As Sue, Johnny, and Wyatt Wingfoot arrive laden with boxes, Ben Grimm is elsewhere, having trouble with which only the Invisible Woman can help him, which is what brings Sue Richards to—and I truly love this—the Sinnott School of Dance!
Helping the Thing learn to dance for his reception (with her feet protected by invisible force fields), Sue travels back in her memory to some Fantastic Four biographical information that we did not previously know. Back in the days of the Richards Rocket Group, before the cosmic-ray accident and the super-powers, Reed was too busy working on his star drive to take Sue dancing—so Ben took her instead. It seems he was a better dancer in his human form back then than he is in his Thing form now. While Ben would never have tried anything with his best friend’s girl, he always admired Sue, and when he took her out dancing one night before the fateful space launch, he told her so. Sue, very flattered, pointed out that Ben was “out with a different girl every night,” his test-pilot career making him popular with the ladies. Their friendship stayed intact, and then, that one fateful day in Reed’s office when he announced that his spaceship was ready to be tested, Sue was speaking from the admiration that she and Ben shared that night when she said to him, “I never thought that you would be a coward!”
How different would things have been if Reed had paid better attention to Sue back then? Sue might not have laid down that gauntlet to Ben, and Ben, shouting that no one calls him a coward, might not have slammed his hand on the desk and said he’d pilot the ship “no matter what happens!” You shouldn’t need me to tell you what happened next. After the cosmic-ray bombardment and the crash, Sue said something else to Ben that she’s always regretted when she called him out after his transformation as “some sort of Thing!”—thus giving the only member of the new Fantastic Four who could not turn his powers off a name that would stick with him the way his monstrous superhuman form did. However, though Sue had her own role to play in making Ben Grimm the Thing, she also had a part in the later courtship of Ben and Alicia Masters.
After Ben and the blind Alicia were brought together by the manipulations of her super-villain stepfather, the Puppet Master, Sue saw the spark between Ben and Alicia, encouraged the relationship, and helped it along. She arranged for Ben to visit Alicia’s studio and sent them on outings together. Soon enough, Ben got to know Alicia well enough to turn down Sue’s tickets for them to attend a big band concert, as Alicia prefers the opera. With the help of his best friend’s girl, the Thing thus found a love of his own to help him feel human. And now he becomes a graceful dancer too, those invisible force fields on Sue’s feet having done the job.
Back at home, Johnny calls out Reed for shirking his responsibility of arranging the bachelor party. Reed, still seeming neglectful of his “Best Man” duties, takes blood samples from Johnny, Ben, and Alicia to check and make sure they’re all human, bringing up the “Lyja” debacle of Fantastic Four #357-358. Yes, it’s another “emotionally tone-deaf Reed Richards moment”; he completely misses their squirming and awkward reactions. Meanwhile, since Reed apparently isn’t going to throw the bachelor party, Johnny takes it upon himself.
Attending Ben’s sendoff are Johnny, Wyatt Wingfoot, Starlord, Rocket Raccoon, D-Man, Justice, and the long-unseen Aquarian, who’s gone back to calling himself Wundaar (for no apparent reason) and is handing out leaflets like a Jehovah’s Witness about the impending return of Galactus. Spider-Man shows up and Ben tries to send him packing, claiming that too many supers at either the bachelor party or the wedding is an invitation to what Ben calls “shenanigans,” which we recognize as the kind of mayhem that has been going on at super-weddings since Reed and Sue took their vows (Fantastic Four Annual #3, 1965). This seems a little ungrateful and less than familial on Ben’s part. We’ve been given to understand that Spider-Man, with his friendship with the Torch, is considered “extended family” to the FF these days. And if Spider-Man is counted out, why does Thor get to be there? Well, okay, it appears Thor is bringing the ale. Meanwhile, one member of the bachelorette party has no interest in a “girls’ night out” doing “girlie” type things and insists on joining the men: none other than Thundra, who as you’ll recall first came to this world to beat up the Thing! (Fantastic Four #129.)
A visit to a theatrical wrestling match at Madison Square Garden to have Ben join the performers in the ring gets Ben a pulled muscle in the groin (diagnosed by Dr. Strange)—which is the last thing a groom facing his wedding night wants. I’m not even going to go into the subject of the Thing’s wedding night; it’s as distasteful as all those tired old jokes people like to tell about Reed and Sue behind closed doors. The festivities adjourn to a brewpub where Luke Cage, Tony Stark, and the Black Panther join in, and Spider-Man crashes the event. And here is where we come to the unwanted but inevitable shenanigans. When the cakes are brought in, it seems Johnny did not thoroughly check the identities of the women hired to jump out of them. Leaping from beneath the frosting come the Black Mamba, the Anaconda, Princess Python, the Asp, Fer de Lance, and the Black Racer—or, as we may know them better, the female members of the Serpent Society! Can you say, “Super brawl at the brewpub,” boys and girls?
Once the serpentine señoritas have been mopped up and hauled off to jail, what ensues is the first super-hero game of strip poker, in which Adam Hughes proves he can draw men as beautifully as he does women by his portrayal of the stripped-down Thor (who has unfortunately been given a haircut to conform to the way he now looks in the movies—I hate it when the “dog” of the comic books gets wagged by the “tail” of the films, but at least Hughes draws a very nice, nearly nude Thor.) By pretending to be a complete poker novice, Thundra has cleaned up and is wearing everything the guys had to take off. Which brings me to another point. The game has left Johnny in just his boxer shorts, and while Hughes draws a great Thor out of his costume, he seems to be one of those artists who can’t draw a mature Human Torch. Johnny Storm is a heartthrob in his twenties and should have grown into his body much better than the way Hughes has drawn him here. Hughes is not the only one with this problem. When Johnny asks Thundra to be his “plus one” at the wedding and Ben nixes the idea, Thundra protests and starts hurling her voice and her fists, leading to more of what the Thing doesn’t want: another brawl!
(And by the way, Hughes has committed one of the most persistent and vexing comic book artist mistakes by drawing fangs in the mouth of Princess Python’s snake. Pythons are constricting snakes; they are non-venomous and thus have no fangs. They have about a hundred needle-sharp teeth that hook backward into the mouth and are used for grabbing and holding prey for the reptile to throw coils around it, not for injecting venom. Comic book artists who draw snakes always draw them as venomous, no matter what they are; it’s inaccurate and reinforces misinformation about these creatures.)
After these latest unwelcome “shenanigans,” Ben and Johnny have a nice moment sitting on the curb outside. Johnny unburdens himself about how depressed he sometimes feels over all of his failed relationships (and not to speak ill of the dead, but I still blame the late Stan Lee about Crystal), and Ben encourages him to be brave enough to continue looking for someone to love.
And all of that leaves just the main event!
It’s off to Benson, Arizona, which we first visited in Fantastic Four #239, for a reunion with Uncle Jacob Grimm and…Aunt Petunia? Here’s where I get confused, and I actually had to ask people about this. In one of my favorite twists of character in the John Byrne issues (the aforementioned #239), Aunt Petunia, whom Stan Lee had always led us to believe was a Jewish version of Spider-Man’s Aunt May, turned out instead to be a tall, leggy cross between Suzanne Pleshette from The Bob Newhart Show and Geena Davis as she appeared in Tootsie. The woman who comes effusively greeting the Fantastic Four, Alicia, the Richards kids, and Wyatt Wingfoot is at least physically not that same lady. She’s middle-aged, white-haired, and looks much more like what people generally think of as an “Aunt.” The people that I asked about this brought up Fantastic Four #568 (which fell during a time when I was only thumbing through the book and putting it back on the rack every month), in which Aunt Petunia was killed off! So what is she doing back and what is she doing looking like that? Dan Slott, like Lucy Ricardo, has got some ‘splainin’ to do.
And so does Reed, when he shows up in the Fantasticar after the others have arrived. Why is he seeming to be so cavalier about his responsibilities as best man at his best friend’s wedding? Wait for it; with Reed, there is always a reason.
Uncle Jacob walks Alicia down the aisle. The rabbi officiates. And when the rabbi asks who shall be the first to speak after him, an answer comes—from above! Interrupting the wedding, filling up the sky overhead, are the actual voice and image of Doom—as in DOCTOR Doom! The Monarch of Evil announces to the world that Galactus has returned (remember that earlier scene with Wundaar/The Aquarian?), and for some reason, he has descended not on Manhattan as he usually does, but on Latveria! Doom calls out that he alone will battle the mighty planet-slayer, and the super-heroes of the world—especially the ones at this wedding—are not to cross the borders of his country. So naturally, you know what the Fantastic Four are going to do next.
And here is where we find out what Reed has been up to when he seemed to have been blowing off “best man” detail. Being Mr. Fantastic, Reed knew that Ben and Alicia were not about to get hitched without a hitch, and has come prepared. No sooner has Doom finished his proclamation than Reed whips out what looks like a standard 4 insignia, but is really a portable time warp device that Reed built, which freezes time around the wedding party until Ben and Alicia can say their vows. Because, you see, that’s how Reed Richards rolls. Time waits for no man—except the leader of the Fantastic Four. The vows are exchanged, the kiss is planted (with a full-page splash), the traditional Jewish breaking of the wine glass under Ben’s foot is done, and the Fantastic Four fly off to deal with the conflagration of Dr. Doom battling Galactus. But first Ben promises Alicia an epic honeymoon, and Alicia, knowing after all these years what she’s marrying into, tells her new husband to “clobber ‘em.” And that is just perfect.
For the next two issues: It’s up to our Fantastic Four to hold everything together when their greatest foe and their greatest nightmare go at it!
Wait a minute! They’re not even going to dance around in a circle to “Hava Nagila”? I feel robbed!
Seriously, though, was this a Thing-sized issue or what? And none of the material in it was just filler; it has a lot of good character stuff going on. The best of it comes at the very beginning and the very end. Retelling the origin of the Fantastic Four through the eyes of the Invisible Girl/Woman was a novel idea and Slott’s script shows great insight. For years it’s been understood that Reed bears a burden of guilt for what his haste to prove his warp engine design did to his best friend; he holds himself responsible for the condition of the Thing. But as we learn in this story, Sue also holds herself responsible for goading Ben into piloting the ship against his own warnings and better judgment about the cosmic rays. For years Sue has carried the guilt of using the trigger word “coward” to talk Ben into doing something he knew he should not have done, and she apparently tried to atone for it by facilitating the romance of Ben and Alicia. That is as skillful a bit of characterization as what Mark Waid did in Fantastic Four vol 3 #60, which revealed that Reed created the FF to make it up to the others for taking their “normal” lives away from them, and created the machinery of celebrity around the FF to protect them from ordinary people treating them as freaks and monsters. (Reed thus anticipated, however indirectly, what would happen to the X-Men.) It takes a very canny storyteller to bring out such details about the inner lives and motives of characters who have been around as long as the Fantastic Four, but Dan Slott has pulled it off.
Finally: the wedding. Just about everything except the mystery of Aunt Petunia was pitch-perfect, though I could have done without the bit about what Franklin did with his hair. Nevertheless, the vows were beautiful and the ending reminded me in a way of the movie Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. (Except I liked this ending better, and I’m sure Dan Slott for the next couple of issues will give us a better Galactus story than we got from that film.)
Now, as for the art: This is another basically good-looking issue, though I look forward to future issues not being gang-drawn and to having artists do a better job with the Torch and the Thing than we’ve been seeing. The art of Aaron Kuder and his versions of the blazing Torch and the many splendored Thing show some promise. It looks as if Kuder will be around for FF #6, so we’ll get to see if he makes good on that promise. Fingers crossed.
And so, Ben and Alicia are at last wed, and we are promised that it’s for real. This being Marvel Comics, of course, in a couple of years we are bound to learn that Ben did not so much tie the knot with “our” Alicia as he did with the Alicia of some alternate timeline, who somehow… Hey, what are you doing? OW! OWW, ALREADY! STOP HITTING ME! GET AWAY…!
Tallying up Fantastic Four #5: These first five issues have been about getting Marvel’s founding heroes back on their feet after three years on hiatus. We now have the team back together and in a new headquarters, the “Future Foundation” gone, the Thing and Alicia married, and Dr. Doom and Galactus back in play. I for one look forward to Reed and Doom having a chance to catch up with each other in the wake of the last Secret Wars. With everything and everyone now in place, my wish for 2019 is to see this book truly become THE FANTASTIC FOUR again.
Fantastic Four #5: Not a Dream, Not a Hoax–Not a Skrull!
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 8.5/108.5/10
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