The Small Lebowski:
Fantastic Four #280-281
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #280, Fantastic Four #281
They don't have time to really deal with that problem, however, because the Psycho-Man's scheme, set in motion during the previous arc, reaches fruition.
Mr. Fantastic directs She-Hulk and Wyatt to accept arrest while he and Johnny head back to Avengers Mansion (where it seems they've been staying since the Baxter Building was destroyed).
Sue is charged with getting Alicia back to her apartment.
The entire city is going crazy with riots and protests (the Human Torch notes that there aren't even any mutants currently living at the Avengers Mansion, but he neglects Franklin in that count).
Jarvis hands Mr. Fantastic some hate pamphlets that Captain America had collected "in case there was more to them than there seemed". Reed inspects them and it turns out they are "alien" in origin. The Human Torch's reaction is funny.
Meanwhile, She-Hulk gets busted out of her police wagon only to be attacked by, as she puts it, someone "in the latest ensemble from Frederick's of Hollywood".
Malice does an impressive job of taking out She-Hulk.
Malice is, in fact, Susan Richards, under the influence of the Hate-Monger. Sue uses the name "Malice" while she's under the Hate-Monger's control, but it turns out that this isn't just an alternate nom de guerre. It is, as Wikipedia so simply puts it, "an evil psionic entity that resides in the mind of the Invisible Woman and sometimes possesses her". Surely that wasn't Byrne's intent here, but that's what's been established subsequently. The MCP lists FF #265, which was when Sue's had to be hospitalized due to complications with her second child, as Malice's first appearance.
After defeating She-Hulk, Malice faces off against her husband, Mr. Fantastic, who she's decided that she hates because of the lack of respect he shows her, and women generally.
Malice's complaint is actually really valid if you judge it based on the course of the entire FF run to date, but under Byrne's run Reed hasn't been quite so dismissive of Sue and Sue's character has also been getting development as well as a power boost. It's been said in the lettercol, and now in this issue by Reed (prior to facing off against Malice) that the Invisible Girl is actually the most powerful member of the FF, and that seems to be borne out in her one on one fights against She-Hulk and Mr. Fantastic, here.
Daredevil shows up during the fight and notes that his radar sense only detects Malice as an amorphous blob.
Ultimately, Malice reveals that she's Sue, and Reed takes an unusual tack to break her brainwashing (you'll sometimes see that last panel out of context on websites trying to make the point that Reed is sexist).
Even in context, it's a somewhat questionable resolution to this plotline. Reaching out to Sue and convincing her that she is loved would certainly be a bit cliche. Reaching out to her to convince her that the other members of the team respect her and think of her as an equal would have been logical and less... belittling. But the idea here is that Reed had to make Sue hate him for real at least for an instant in order to break the Hate-Monger's control. It's certainly an interesting idea. And all of this is leading to some growth for the Invisible Girl, so Byrne's heart was in the right place, in any event. And from a storytelling perspective, Byrne's approach is certainly the most surprising and least cliched.
A little earlier, the Human Torch runs into Alicia, and she lets him know that she and Sue ran into someone who had taken Reed's form. Johnny notes that shapeshifters aren't all that uncommon any more (although i think his examples are odd. Snowbird? And how do the FF even know about Warlock?) but notes that it could be Skrulls. Alicia's reaction is amusing in light of the fact that she will later be retconned to be a Skrull at this point.
In the lettercol for issue #278 touting this as an upcoming story, we were promised "very real, very contemporary themes". This was a great story - a nice battle issue pitting the Invisible Girl against the rest of the FF - but i don't think it really dealt at all with racism in any significant way.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: This issue starts with the FF at the Baxter Building grounds, but it's not necessary that the FF have traveled directly home from Latveria to return to their former home. Still, it's best to keep FF appearances between this arc and the last to a minimum. Takes place concurrently with Avengers #258. The FF's appearance in Secret Wars II #2 partially takes place concurrently with this arc (the scene where Sue is turned by the Hate-Monger is expanded upon), but also afterward (the FF don't actually deal with the Hate-Monger or the Psycho-Man in this issue and the first act of this plot is actually concluded in SWII #2. The MCP places Daredevil's appearance between Daredevil #221-222.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (6): show
Johnny's line about a shapeshifter "hanging around with the X-Men" didn't necessarily refer to Warlock. He could just as easily mean Wolfsbane. Of course, I don't know if he'd ever met Wolfsbane by ghat point either, but it seems possible that he would at least know about her, if you assume that Professor X and Reed compare notes from time to time (and I mean WITHOUT validating the horrible Illumination retcon).
Posted by: Jay Patrick | August 12, 2013 4:41 PM
"Sue uses the name "Malice" while she's under the Hate-Monger's control, but it turns out that this isn't just an alternate nom de guerre. It is, as Wikipedia so simply puts it, "an evil psionic entity that resides in the mind of the Invisible Woman and sometimes possesses her". Surely that wasn't Byrne's intent here, but that's what's been established subsequently."
Posted by: Paul | August 12, 2013 5:27 PM
And I'm not sure who Johnny meant with the X-Men line. It might have been Wolfsbane but who really thinks of her as a shape shifter? It had to have been her or Warlock, cause Mystique had no friendly relations with the X-Men at that point - but she's what you think of when you say "shape changer". Wolfsbane's a werewolf and Warlock's a robot.
Posted by: Paul | August 12, 2013 5:30 PM
I'll check on whether the FF and the New Mutants had met at this of time - I don't think they had, altho the FF had fought Karma and had passed her along to Xavier, so maybe they knew about them that way (had checked up on her, etc). In general tho I just assume there's a super hero grapevine or maybe a newsletter they all get.
Posted by: Paul | August 12, 2013 5:34 PM
Not to be pedantic (ok, for exactly that reason), but Wolfsbane would be considered a "shape-shifter". That's what a werewolf is, a being shifts its shape from one form (human) to another (wolf-like).
Posted by: Chris Kafka | August 12, 2013 6:13 PM
She is considered a shapeshifter (ie technically is one), however she isn't someone you would think of as a shapeshifter. She's a werewolf. Shape-shifter tends to connote someone who can change into all kinds of forms - where the changing is the power, rather than the shape. Wolfsbane's power is the werewolf she becomes.
Mystique is the ideal of the shapeshifter, imo.
Pedantry is fine but not when you don't seem to have carefully read the comment you're being pedantic about.
Posted by: Paul | August 12, 2013 6:46 PM
Thanks Chris, but I get what Paul is saying. I guess it's possible to get too loose with the term. Pretty soon you could be calling Colossus and the Hulk shapeshifters too. Thinking about it that way, and looking at the context of Johnny's line (ie: talking about the Skrulls) I'll concede that Byrne probably meant Warlock. "Shapeshifter" here probably means being able to assume multiple forms, not just one.
Posted by: Jay Patrick | August 12, 2013 6:48 PM
The Fantastic Four didn't meet the New Mutants until Secret Wars II 9, which takes place after FF 288. Maybe Johnny heard about Warlock through the grapevine?
Posted by: Michael | August 12, 2013 7:56 PM
It sounds from the dialogue as if Johnny hasn't met, but only heard about ("I hear tell"), the shapeshifter in the X-Men's company.
I'd have to check circa FF 400 to sort out the Malice stuff, but from memory the DeFalco Malice was related to the Infinity War doppleganger stuff, and I don't think DeFalco meant that there had always been an independent Malice inhabiting Sue's skull.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | August 12, 2013 9:02 PM
I'm not familiar with whatever DeFalco added to the Malice concept later, but I would not be at all surprised if later writers confused Sue's Malice identity with the Malice from UNCANNY X-MEN, who was a disembodied entity that actually did possess people, typically female. This Malice even dressed in similar leather "bad girl" gear after possessing Polaris. This Malice's victims would come under "her" influence upon donning a mystical(?) necklace. I don't know what ultimately became of THAT Malice, but it's not a huge leap to think that writers other than Byrne or Claremont would see a vonnection between the two or try to create one.
Posted by: Jay Patrick | August 12, 2013 9:41 PM
DeFalco at least didn't confuse any version of Sue Malice with the Marauder. The "Infinity War" was about the Magus, himself Adam Warlock's evil twin, using a bunch of Cosmic Cubes to create evil twins for every Marvel hero. She's evil twin took on the Malice form and later possessed or merged with Sue. That, if I recall, is what led to her infamous "stripper" costume. Eventually the Malice persona was driven out of Sue and into Psi-Lord, who was a teen Franklin Richards and...I think I'll just stop now. This is the misery that awaits us when Fnord's project reaches 1993. (Though I kinda like DeFalco's FF and Brevoort's Fantastic Force. There clearly something wrong with me.)
Posted by: Walter Lawson | August 12, 2013 11:41 PM
"I'm not familiar with whatever DeFalco added to the Malice concept later, but I would not be at all surprised if later writers confused Sue's Malice identity with the Malice from UNCANNY X-MEN, who was a disembodied entity that actually did possess people, typically female. This Malice even dressed in similar leather "bad girl" gear after possessing Polaris. This Malice's victims would come under "her" influence upon donning a mystical(?) necklace. I don't know what ultimately became of THAT Malice, but it's not a huge leap to think that writers other than Byrne or Claremont would see a vonnection between the two or try to create one."
The psionic Marauder Malice (who possessed Dazzler & Polaris and briefly Rogue, Storm & Havok) was eventually recaptured and killed by Sinister in X-Factor 102-105. It looks like she was cloned by Sinister and brought back again (like the rest of the Marauders) after that though.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | August 19, 2013 4:54 AM
This issue is interesting because it's usually used as a point for readers who complain about Hank Pym being habitually characterize as simply a "wife-beater" while Mr Fantastic isn't despite both men hitting their wives the same number of times (and yes, let me clarify that it's still one too many times.) That's an argument I might have made too, before reading over some of the entries here on this site. As has been mentioned context is important in comparing the two situations.
And yeah for the longest time, I always thought that the two Malice's were the same and someone somewhere got their wires crossed (Sue's spiked collar even looks a little like the Malice choker). Now I wonder if Claremont "borrowed" the concept from Byrne.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | June 25, 2014 6:02 PM
The Torch is good friends with Spider-Man who could of told him about the shape shifter in The New Mutants.
It's not that big of a deal.
Posted by: A.Lloyd | October 9, 2014 2:25 AM
These issues part out one of the flaws of SW II - the art. Some of the same scenes are depicted here that are depicted there and they are just so, so, so much better here.
But of course this is Byrne. And I love what he does when Reed turns all spiky - a great panel.
Posted by: Erik Beck | May 29, 2015 9:27 AM
Reed probably learned about Warlock from Xavier and passed it along to Johnny because what is the Illuminati for if not to share secrets with everybody?
I would also assume 'what to do when a woman in your life turns evil' takes up a good chunk of the Illuminati's discussion time.
Posted by: ChrisW | April 12, 2016 9:27 PM
So…nobody recognizes that Malice is Sue, because of her voice? Not her husband or her brother? Okayyyyyy…
And nobody recognizes that Malice is Sue, even though you can see a good portion of her features through the mask. (Byrne would go on to do, or possibly had already done, the Star Brand issue where Ken goes to a comic convention and Byrne and Roger Stern, appearing in the issue as themselves, point out you can see quite a few distinguishing features through his mask [eye color, nose size, mouth, chin] and so it's not too great as an identity shield. And Malice's mask shows more than Ken's did.) Not to mention that Reed should probably be fairly familiar with other parts of Sue's anatomy that are visible in the Malice costume…but he still has no clue? Okayyyy.
So…Daredevil is called in to help figure out the "mystery woman" and can't recognize Sue's voice (despite his enhanced hearing) and can't recognize her by her heartbeat (the way he learned that Spider-Man and Peter Parker are the same person…which IMO is kind of silly, but it's canon) and he can't recognize the "blob" as the effect of Sue's force-field, which he's surely had on his radar a time or six? Okayyyyy.
Yeah, not exactly a brilliant arc, here.
And, in the space of roughly a year in Byrne's run, we go from Reed reaching out to Dr. Octopus in a psychotic state by using calm and reasoned psychiatric techniques…to his deciding that the way to cure *HIS WIFE* of her psychotic state is to…ugh.
Posted by: Dan Spector | March 17, 2017 4:05 AM
(Continued from above, due to space limitation.)
And, of course, for Reed and Sue it's been less than a year since he used techniques other than Smack That Bitch Up to deal with Doc Ock's pyschosis. During which Sue, y'know, had a miscarriage and all.
But it's a Dramatic Panel, so I guess it's okay.
(Poor Hank Pym. If he could have just convinced the Avengers that when he hit Jan it was For Her Own Good, he'd have been golden. No near-suicide redemption arc needed. [I see I haven't commented those WCA issues, probably because they strike a bit too close to home. But "It's interesting how long he's felt this way" when Hank is writing the Personalized Suicide Notes to Every Avenger always strikes home, hard. Pardon the pun.] I'd completely forgotten that while Hank takes years and years of shit for lashing out once, Byrne is having Reed be a HERO through spousal abuse. And get off without even so much as a slap on the wrist.
Not Okayyyyy, JB. Not even close.)
Posted by: Dan Spector | March 17, 2017 4:15 AM
Incidentally, does Reed ever, you know, apologize for slapping her? Or, you know for his prior treatment of her that apparently starts all of this? Or have Reed and Sue ever had a heart-to-heart about this incident or any of the issues she raises? Because right now it looks like Reed just smacked her one and that somehow Solves Everything, tbe end.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | March 17, 2017 5:40 PM
@Jon Dubya: Unfortunately I don't think Sue ever calls out Reed for the slap in the face. The closest we get is in the next storyline Psycho-Man has Reed completely on the ropes with his emotional manipulation, and Sue is the one who ends up saving the day, immediately after changing her alias to "Invisible Woman." The subtext of this seems to be that she's not going to let anyone push her around, not even Reed.
But, yeah, in hindsight the "smacking Sue to bring her back to reality" bit has aged poorly.
I don't agree with many of Dan Spector's critiques of Byrne's FF run. However I will say that, as good as Byrne was on FF, I do feel there are certain problematic aspects to his writing.
Posted by: Ben Herman | March 18, 2017 11:35 AM
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