Fantastic Four #271-273
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #271, Fantastic Four #272, Fantastic Four #273
So after a fun little birthday sequence...
...Reed breaks off to confer with Sue privately. Under the tenuous connection of trying to remember things, Reed then recounts an adventure they had in the pre-Fantastic Four days, during what i would now call the Monster Age. The 8 page flashback is drawn in a deliberately simpler style, and details a close encounter with Gormuu, Warrior of Kraalo.
Reed was "Central City's leading scientist" at the time, so he's called in to help with the threat. Gormuu continues to expand in size during his visit on Earth, and the standard way to beat growing giant monsters is to feed them energy so that they'll continue to grow beyond their capacity and expand harmlessly into the universe. So that's what Reed does here, although he has to punch out Ben Grimm in order to do it.
And check out the villain-speak after he starts up his device.
Anyway, the plan works.
Unfortunately, this is pretty much the exact same way that Maelstrom will be defeated in an issue of the Avengers published two months later (and which actually takes place concurrently).
Explaining the giant monster flashback story, the lettercol has the following editorial note:
WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT?
The Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe adds:
Gormuu is obviously an homage to the classic Jack Kirby creations of pre-FF monster comics; the entire flashback is done in that style. In fact, he greatly resembles the Kirby creation Rommbu, and his home planet [Kraalo] appears to be derived from Kraa. --Also, the scenes depicting Reed and Sue sighting Gormuu's craft, and Reed investigating the craft were lifted almost directly from "I Challenged Groot" (Tales To Astonish I#13) --Prime Ed-ternal
Here's some scans that look very similar to some scenes in Tales To Astonish #13 (click on that entry link to compare, and here's Rommbu). Definitely a deliberate homage, although it's clear that Reed and Sue had a better relationship than the original scientist and his wife.
At the beginning of the flashback, Sue says to Reed, "It seems like only yesterday I was an impulsive little girl with a giant crush on a certain college senior I knew...". Reed responds "I must admit you were a terrific embarrassment back then. Ben used to..." before being cut off by the arrival of Gormuu. The dialogue is a nod to the fact that Sue was really way too young for Reed in the earliest depictions of their first meetings.
Recognizing that his little flashback had absolutely nothing to do with his memory loss, Reed decides to head back to his father's house in California to see if anything there will trigger his memory. The entire FF extended family, including Franklin, Alicia (or actually, as i'll have to continually point out, Lyja Lazerfist), and Wyatt Wingfoot go with them. There we meet Reed's father's butler, Peacock, and his wife.
The Peacocks casually mention that that they've been seeing cowboy ghosts ever since Reed's father disappeared three years before the formation of the Fantastic Four. The ghosts, who have been harmless, have been appearing in diminishing cycles of three (first six years ago, then three years ago, then 1 year ago, etc), which Reed says sounds almost like a Taft-DeMaibring sequence (which Google denies all knowledge of, so i guess it's a made-up thing) (also note: the first appearance was right after Reed's father disappeared, which was 6 years ago and 3 years before the Fantastic Four's first appearance. So as of 1984, Marvel's sliding timescale had everything from FF #1 to the present occurring within a span of 3 years?). Anyway, it's enough for Reed to realize that it must be something triggered by technology.
Investigating Reed's father's lab (which involves a neat break-in involving a nice use of the Invisible Girl and Human Torch's powers), they discover a time machine that looks identical to Dr. Doom's.
Regarding time travel, Mr. Fantastic notes:
My own experiments with Doom's machine have shown there is much, much more to what we think of as time travel than anyone has guessed. There are countless safety valves in the space-time continuum. If my father attempted to use this machine to journey into his future, my experiments have proven he would have, in actuality, been shunted sideways in a parallel time-stream.
We know the mechanics of the kind of time travel he built are very unpredictable. Time is not, after all, a conveyor belt which we can jump on and off at will.
Reed suspects that his father may not be aware of this aspect of time travel, so he uses the time machine to go to the same coordinates that his father last used, taking the FF and Wyatt along with him.
Click to embiggen that screenshot above, which is a pretty cool depiction of the time machine in action.
In what totally qualifies as an "imaginaut" storyline, the FF travel to an alternate timeline that includes high tech cowboys...
...H.G. Wells style tripods...
...and Valkyries on mechanical dragons.
Byrne continues to show Sue using her powers in new ways.
We're first led to believe that Reed's father Nathaniel Richards is the evil Warlord who rules this post-apocalyptic world...
...but it turns out that the real Warlord is his wife, a rogue Valkyrie. Nathaniel is naive and just happy to have what seems to be a loving wife and a child (Reed's half-brother!).
One thing about this story is that it is wrapped up extremely quickly. All of a sudden there's a two page montage describing a great battle that we barely get to see.
And then there's a big explosion (Wyatt saved the day) and then a one page wrap-up. We don't get to see much of the father/son reunion, Reed's memory issues aren't resolved, and Nathaniel Richards quickly decides he's going to stay in the alternate dimension (at Reed's encouragement, actually). Between the truncated fight and the quick wrap-up, it's almost like this was originally planned to be another issue in length but it got cut short.
Despite that, this was a fun set of issues, with the Monster Age tribute and then the time-travel/alternate dimension romp.
In the lettercol for issue #272, there's a note from John Byrne indicating that "over the next few months you're likely to be seeing some changes in the pages of the books I illustrate. Some will be so minor you might not even notice, while others will be more obvious, and I thought I'd just warn you in advance." He doesn't say exactly what he'll be doing differently, only that his pencil work specifically needs to "mutate into something else, hopefully for the better".
I don't notice any differences, yet, but i'll observe that this is the most manly Valkyrie i've ever seen.
Generally, though, the art is still very very nice.
The story ends with an epilogue that implies that Kang is actually a descendant of Nathaniel Richards (and therefore a descendant of Reed's half-brother).
A note says:
Long-time readers are bound to be surprised by this revelation, though new-comers maybe confused. But worry not, for all will be made clear in an upcoming Avengers saga.
That Avengers story won't be published until Avengers #267-269, about a year and a half later than these issues.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: Takes place concurrently with Avengers #250; the Vision tries to contact Mr. Fantastic during that issue but finds they are away, with a footnote indicating that they are traveling in time.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (8): show
When did Wyatt Wingfoot start getting tomato-colored? It seems strange considering all the hubbub over Asians being lemon-colored in Master of Kung-Fu several years before this. Wyatt appears to have normal coloration back in, say, Fantastic Four 80.
Posted by: James Nostack | September 16, 2011 8:13 AM
It seems to happen in the late 70s/early 80s. In 1975, Thunderbird has the same coloration as the white X-Men, but when Sara Wolfe is introduced in Doctor Strange #38, she's very tomato-hued. Dani Moonstar also winds up getting the tomato treatment a lot, too. On the other hand, while Shaman is redder than his Alphan teammates, it's more subtle than Sara, or Wyatt in these issues. Seems to be hit or miss, maybe based on the colorist, which unfortunately i don't track here.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 16, 2011 12:11 PM
Neat, Kang keeps his Gilligan hat in the epilogue. Got to love Byrne's note for Silver Age details.
Posted by: Ataru320 | October 30, 2013 7:05 PM
He does do a great Kirby in those last panels!
Posted by: Berend | March 2, 2014 3:29 PM
It's worth noting that the Nathaniel Richards in these stories is a different person than the one in Hickman's recent FF run, and that this Nathaniel Richards was killed during the "Great Hunt". Either Reed made a mistake and this version is not Reed's "real" father, or (as I prefer to read it) the Nathaniel Richards from the SHIELD universe (where Galactus first visited Earth during the Renaissance) has "adopted" our Reed and his family, and he and Reed have just chosen never to discuss it openly.
By the way, Byrne's contention that anyone trying to time-travel to the future will end up shunted "sideways" into another timeline is a weird time travel rule that I've never heard of before or since this story.
Posted by: Andrew | January 6, 2015 12:58 PM
FNORD - FYI, when you do a search for "Taft-DeMaibring sequence" using Norton safe search, your site comes up with a link to this entry.
Posted by: clyde | March 20, 2015 1:08 PM
SEO-ing my way to fame and fortune!
Posted by: fnord12 | March 20, 2015 1:38 PM
The tripod is identified as "...like one of those Martian fighting machines from the movie "War of the Worlds"! (Emphasis mine). I'd just like to point out that at the time this was published the WotW movie being referred to would have to be George Pal's 1953 version...in which the Martians used "manta ray" ships and NOT tripods. (This is a case where Marvel's sliding time scale works in the story's favor, as the comment can now be interpreted to referring to Steven speilberg's 2005 remake of "War of the Worlds" in which the invaders DID use tripods that [superficially] resembled this one.)
Posted by: Gary Himes | March 20, 2015 6:44 PM
The story in Fantastic Four Annual #11 revealed that Reed Richards was forced to return Doom's time machine to him (due to Doom's diplomatic immunity) but that Reed had been able to duplicate the device before returning it. This return presumably took place after Fantastic Four #19 and before Avengers #56. So that explains why there's one of "Doom's time machine" in both the Baxter Building and Doom's castle in upstate New York. And, of course, other versions in Doom's castle(s) in Latveria as well.
Posted by: Don Campbell | May 18, 2016 3:06 AM
Gary, you're correct that the 1953 War of the Worlds movie didn't show the Martian tripod fighting machine design. That design, however, has been shown on several War of the Worlds paperback book reprint covers, published both before and after the 1953 movie version. The tall tripod design is from the original book by H. G. Wells, but the '53 movie's special effects department presumably didn't feel up to the job of showing it.
Posted by: jayzonely | July 3, 2016 9:03 PM
Reread this arc recently and found it somewhat unsatisfying, as back in the day. The artwork and characterizations are vintage Byrne (i.e., great), and sure, the proliferation of concepts and motifs is diverting, with an off-the-cuff wackiness that anticipates some of Simonson's later work on this title. But in the end, it all seems like a hastily constructed Rube Goldberg-esque mish-mash, rather than really satisfying well-developed graphic storytelling (which Byrne, needless to say, is one of the great masters of--said in part to balance against these critical comments).
A plot that hinges on time travel, a crazy-quilt alternate reality, and then a jammed anti-matter canon that oh-so-conveniently resets everything to the benefit of Our Heroes isn't likely to win a critical reader's unqualified approval. Time travel does figure importantly in some of my all-time fave comic arcs like Starlin's Warlock and Days of Future Past, but my feeling is that it's best reserved for such exalted occasions and not something that should become ho-hum or routine (even if that's of course the case). And the use of all the proto-comics motifs from, as Byrne himself summarizes it here, "the worlds of H.G. Wells and J.R.R. Tolkien" as well as "Richard Wagner and Zane Grey" takes us into the realm of pastiche effects achieved by other "sophisticated" comics writers like Alan Moore and Warren Ellis in later projects such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Planetary. (And the latter has some dark-hearted fun with the FF itself as motif, too, and benefits from a luxury of development that makes what Byrne does here seem very cursory indeed.)
Still more problematic for me is the really hasty blame-the-evil-female wrap-up. Without much dramatization to back him up (except, e.g., glimpses on p. 5 of #273), Reed's dad blames a whole era of planetary conflict and domination on his ambitious wife, whom he likens to Lady Macbeth, as well as Messalina and Cassandra--more proliferating archetypes! Okay, this is also sophisticated in its way for comics, but we can't help but reflect, too, that Macbeth himself didn't get off so easily.
There are, as fnord notes, some notable innovative applications of Sue's and Johnny's powers here. And She-Hulk, whom Byrne had seem intent on de-powering somewhat in previous issues, really rocks it. Doom's mask alone had given her (and the Torch) quite the hard time, but here she effortlessly trashes a Wellsian walker about the size of Terminus.
The whole "Gormuu" Kirby/Monster Age homage that dominates #271 is neat in its way, particularly with the retro art style (anticipating effects achieved later by artists such as Tom Raney of "Stormwatch" fame), but this story does feel rather naive and out of place in a 1984 mag and also features a pat resolution that only reinforces the disappointing effect of the arc's overall conclusion. When I first read this, I erroneously assumed that Byrne was simply retelling a Lee/Kirby story. And such Star Trek-style (or simply comic-book style) endings are, I would argue, a weakness that Byrne indulged in too frequently, including in the previous Terminus tale. Like most readers beyond a certain age, I much prefer more "realistic"-seeming and hard-won victories (which Byrne does deliver in his best work, such as FF 258-260, 2112, etc.).
Posted by: Instantiation | August 6, 2016 2:30 PM
@Andrew: Are you sure that there are two different Nathaniel Richards that the Fantastic Four have met?
Posted by: D09 | August 18, 2016 10:40 PM
The Wikipedia entry on Nathaniel seems to imply that they're the same person.
Posted by: clyde | August 19, 2016 11:53 AM
@clyde: That explanation certainly makes more sense than Andrew's idea of there being two Nathaniel Richards that the team encounters, in fact, if you were to take that scenario to a logical conclusion, then that would imply that everytime the F4 encounters Reed's dad, he's actually a different one everytime.
Posted by: D09 | September 30, 2016 1:37 AM
@D09: I'm a little late responding to your comment, but... Am I sure that Hickman intended there to be two different Nathanials? Yes. In SHIELD 2, page 18, we see Hickman's Nathanial next to Byrne's, among others. This scene is shown again in Fantastic Four 581, when it is explained that all alternate version of Nathanial Richards have been pulled into the 616 universe. And in Fantastic Four 582, on the first page we see the "Beast" Nathanial murder Byrne's Nathanial (it's clearly him, right down to the prosthetic eye he had when DeFalco was writing him), leaving only Hickman's Nathanial and the "Beast", who is killed by Doom in that same issue. The idea isn't that it's a different Nathanial each time the FF sees him; it's that the quantum event in SHIELD 2 brought Hickman's Nathanial into the 616 universe. Now, am I sure that Marvel writers and editors (or fandom) in general recognize there were two different Nathanials? Not at all. Hickman was fairly subtle about it, and in interviews he didn't distinguish between his Nathanial and the preexisting one. But I'm sure that's his intent, and it gives added poignancy to Franklin's words at the end of that issue: "Every boy deserves a father."
Posted by: Andrew | November 26, 2016 8:31 AM
A slight correction to the end of the entry, Fnord: the implication in this issue seems to be that Kant is descended from Nathaniel's young son in this timeline, which means Kant is not descended from Reed. Kang's future, per Byrne anyway, is actually the future of this "cowboys and tripods" world.
I have mixed feelings about Byrne's making Reed's father a super-scientist who invents a time machine before Dr. Doom. This is the same Byrne, after all, who hated the fact that Claremont added superhuman or near-superhuman backstory elements to X-Men characters who should otherwise be "ordinary." Maybe it stands to reason that Nathaniel would be a conventional genius, but making him a super-genius diminishes Reed and needlessly complicates the backstory. Nevertheless, I like Nathaniel's armor design and the story possibilities he opens up.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | November 26, 2016 12:12 PM
Dammit: "Kang" not "Kant." Sorry for the autocorrect problem, Fnord.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | November 26, 2016 12:14 PM
Immanuel Kant is a descendant of Mr. Fantastic's half-brother? Time travel is so weird! Thanks Walter.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 28, 2016 8:21 AM
Sure. Didn't you read the "Conquest of Pure Reason" in college?
Posted by: Andrew | November 28, 2016 5:43 PM
Not to mention The Metatemporal Physics of Morlaity and the classic Universal Natural History and Theory of Limbo.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | November 28, 2016 7:28 PM
@Andrew: I don't know, that explanation still seems a little "off" to me, but I'm willing to let it go until we get to Hickman's run.
Posted by: D09 | December 7, 2016 7:38 PM
'In the lettercol for issue #272, there's a note from John Byrne indicating that "over the next few months you're likely to be seeing some changes in the pages of the books I illustrate. Some will be so minor you might not even notice, while others will be more obvious, and I thought I'd just warn you in advance." He doesn't say exactly what he'll be doing differently, only that his pencil work specifically needs to "mutate into something else, hopefully for the better".'
I think he was alluding to the fact that he stopped doing his own inks, starting with #274. Said he wanted to focus more on pencils, I think he was also getting more concerned with page counts. Part of what distinguished his early run up to this point was he had been doing almost everything, plotting, scripting, pencils, and inks, almost like a real, so-called, cartoonist. At one time he was designing computer fonts to use for the lettering too.
Re: Nathaniel Richards: NR in the SHIELD series has a completely different yarn about what happens to him after the "quantum event" than the story that NR in the FF series tells to young Pre-Mr. Fantastic Reed, Ben, and Victor, about the "Great Hunt." Are they the same guy? Is the NR with the monocle who gets killed the same NR as the one in the Warlord story? Is the NR from the Warlord story the same guy who becomes "the Beast?" They both have similar fortress building styles, but who knows? A lot has been implied without really being definitively stated.
Posted by: Holt | December 5, 2017 11:15 PM
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