Fantastic Four #37
Everyone knows Halloween is one of kids’ most beloved holidays. Everyone, that is, except for Jo-Venn and N’Kalla, who are new to Earth and thus experiencing Trick or Treat for the first time. The Kree boy and the Skrull girl have a plan to “conquer” Halloween on Yancy Street by using her shape-changing powers and Jo’s Kree warrior guile, and it works. They end up with a roomful of candy after going out on separate Trick or Treat runs with Franklin and Valeria and Reed and Sue. However, after everyone compares notes, the kids are found out, and Ben and Alicia make them retrace their steps through the neighborhood, giving back their ill-gotten treats and learning something about honesty.
Meanwhile, the depressed Human Torch, confined to a containment suit but still throwing off enough heat to roast anyone but the Thing who comes near him, sets up one of his meetings with Spider-Man at the Statue of Liberty. Having to stand on Liberty’s sleeve while the Webhead sits on her crown, the Torch explains to a sympathetic Spidey what Dr. Doom did to him and what happened to Sky as collateral damage. Spider-Man, who has been through some odd changes of his own (remember the whole “Spidey with six arms” thing from way back when?), tries to be encouraging, but even he is at a loss for anything really constructive to tell Johnny.
Back at the Baxter Building, Reed is sitting alone in a special “Void” room that he uses for contemplation. What he’s pondering is the parting message from the late Nathaniel, asking Reed to find his sister. Reed is as depressed as Johnny, remembering all the times that Nathaniel left him and Evelyn, Reed’s mother, and the time he finally disappeared into a time machine for good. Why, Reed wonders, did Nathaniel keep abandoning his family and creating other families across time and space? As Sue comes in and holds and comforts him, we see Mr. Fantastic as we’ve seldom seen him before, almost in tears, wondering why he and his mother were never “good enough” for his father.
Though Reed is depressed, this is his only significant scene this issue; thus we are mostly spared having to look at that miserable beard covering half of his face.
Isolated in the Void room, Reed and Sue never get Alicia’s distress call when the Grimm family suddenly finds itself in trouble. The Profiteer—remember her from Empyre?—is frustrated over her massive loss of revenues after Ben and Alicia adopted Jo-Venn and N’Kalla and took them away. The Profiteer, as you’ll recall, was using the two kids as fighting dogs and making money from interstellar wagers on simulations of the old Kree/Skrull Wars. Bereft of her biggest income stream, the cosmic capitalist wants the kids back and sends a squadron of warriors to collect them. When the alien mercenaries gas N’Kalla and start levitating her away, Jo-Venn snaps, grabs one of their weapons, and begins to slaughter the aliens left and right, totally shocking Ben!
When the Torch and Spider-Man arrive and help the Thing in sending their thoroughly whipped attackers running, the battle seems to be over. There is, however, another drama going on that Ben, Johnny, and Spidey don’t see. Inside the house, Alicia starts sculpting Jo-Venn in radioactive clay to control him and make him stop killing the aliens. Their neighbor, Hiram Sheckerberg, walks in and catches her—and the blind Alicia cannot actually see what happens to him when the Puppet Master takes him over from afar! With his neck bent and fingers mangled after the Hulk’s retaliation for what he did to Alicia’s honeymoon, the Puppet Master speaks through Hiram and makes her relent in her plan to control her children that way. (Which explains the woman in that scene from last issue.)
Fortunately, the end of the battle and the rescue of N’Kalla have already put an end to Jo-Venn’s killing spree. Straight away, Ben and Alicia impress on the boy that slaughtering their foes is not the Fantastic Four’s style. When Jo-Venn protests that he is Ben’s “soldier” and Ben corrects him, the boy is afraid he is going to be rotated out of the family. Instead, Ben tells Jo-Venn that it is time for him to stop thinking of himself as a soldier and start thinking of himself as a son. Jo-Venn hugs Ben and calls him “Father” for the first time in one of the most touching Fantastic Four moments we’ve yet seen.
All that remains this Halloween night, then, is a solution to the problem of the Torch, in his get-together with Spider-Man, having inadvertently almost melted the Statue of Liberty’s arm off! Dr. Doom’s revenge is obviously going to be an ongoing problem in a number of unexpected ways…
Dan Slott has been on a roll with his Fantastic Four scripts this year. The 60th Anniversary of the book seems to have been quite an inspiration for him. With this issue he brings in another winner that has good action but is most notable for its personal, character bits. The real standouts are Ben bonding with Jo-Venn as a father, as noted above—and Reed’s heartbreak and despair over his father, which has been a long time coming.
We should have gotten a real, serious talk between Reed and Nathaniel years ago. Nathaniel Richards, though his son has been the greatest force for good on Earth, has been the worst excuse for a father. For Reed’s whole life, he has given Reed everything but his presence and his love. Talk about your absentee Dads: Nathaniel has essentially always ignored Reed in favor of travels through time and space. This is an issue that might have been addressed back when John Byrne first introduced Nathaniel in FF #272 and 273, but according to Byrne, the editor of The FF at the time didn’t allow him to execute that story the way he’d plotted it. So the father/son moment that should have come then was pretty much glossed over and conspicuously wanting.
Since then there has continued to be no real examination by Reed and Nathaniel about their relationship, or lack of one. If anything, Nathaniel’s relationship with Reed and with the FF has mainly been one of deceit, manipulation, and lies, while the elder Richards has continued to muck about in time and space at will, without regard to his son’s feelings. (Remember that whole business about Huntara, Hyperstorm, and Franklin/Psi-Lord back in the Tom DeFalco/Paul Ryan issues?) Nathaniel’s reasons for abandoning Reed, his cavalier behavior across whole eras of history, and Reed’s feelings about all of it have been totally unexplored, and Dan Slott is to be commended for finally starting to give them the attention they deserve. Here is a storyline that needs to be continued, deepened, and expanded upon; if done with the skill that Slott has been demonstrating this year, it could give us lots of meaningful new insights into the leader of the Fantastic Four.
Also, considering that Nathaniel is a chronic liar and manipulator, how do we even know he’s really dead?
This issue is the second time recently that we’ve seen Alicia emulating her stepfather and using the radioactive clay on people. This is a most unexpected turn for her character, and I have a feeling that the Puppet Master may or may not have gotten through to her. I shouldn’t be surprised if this becomes an ongoing situation and another shock for the FF, especially Ben, to deal with.
With Johnny becoming the prisoner and victim of his own powers thanks to Dr. Doom, Ben embracing fatherhood, Reed mourning the “death” and absence of his father and wondering how many other families he has across time, and Alicia starting to show a dark side, we are certainly seeing the Fantastic Four in a new light lately. The changes in the FF’s lives are continuing to make this book more readable than it’s been in many a year—and “The Reckoning War” and whatever new crises and complications it may have in store are right around the corner.
What more can there be for the Fantastic Four to face? During the holidays we will see the return of both the Wizard and She-Hulk (restored to her best form, thank goodness) and some new developments for Franklin. And that isn’t even mentioning whatever may be awaiting Sue Richards. The Invisible Woman may have her hands full, getting her family through things yet to come!
Fantastic Four #37: The Kree/Skrull Trick-or-Treat
- Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
- Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
- Art - 9/109/10
- Color - 9.5/109.5/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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