Fantastic Four #335-336
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #335, Fantastic Four #336
These issues have an almost bipolar approach in tone, on the one hand addressing the serious topic of the Superhero Registration Act while on the other hand continuing to send wave after wave of (supposedly) lame villains after the Fantastic Four.
I'll start with Reed Richards quoting James Madison:
It's not an inherent contradiction, but it feels like a very different attitude than the guy who once said "We've never bucked the government before, and we can't start now." while deferring to Henry Kissinger. There is an interesting component to Mr. Fantastic, and to a lesser degree, all of the FF. They have always been public superheroes with no secret identities, and they've very rarely run afoul of the government, even compared to the Avengers. And Henry Gyrich (who appears in this arc) never tried to micromanage them. And Reed himself is very much a traditional patriarchal authority figure. So if he came down in favor of the Superhero Registration Act, as indeed he does when this comes up again during Civil War, i wouldn't have a problem with it. But in this case, while his testimony to Congress is nominally even-handed, he does stack the deck against the Registration Act this time.
But before Reed begins testifying, we hear from a few other people, starting with an army general, who clearly has the military applications of the Act in mind.
We then hear from someone from the National Rifle Association, who as we heard last issue are against the Act due to the "if powers are outlawed, only outlaws will have powers" argument.
It's then noted that neither the Avengers nor X-Factor are available for testimony.
Despite the fact that they're called "mysterious", i like the fact that X-Factor is considered for testimony here. I know it's really just because Walt Simonson was involved in that book, but X-Factor had just become public super-heroes themselves. The role they played prior to that, as mutant hunters, would also be relevant, and it's also worth noting that the Mutant Registration Act, which had been already passed at this point, would be applicable to them.
Anyway, they're out in space, so we can't hear from them. But their main villain, Apocalypse, is around, and he gives everyone a scare by flying through the capitol.
But he doesn't actually land or do anything, so the hearing continues. But then the hearing is disrupted again by the obscure villain Ramrod, who defeats himself.
I think in real life even a clumsy attempt like that would result in the hearing getting shut down and the Congresspeople getting ushered out while a security sweep was run. But in this comic, anyway, the hearing continues and Henry Gyrich is called to the stand. He's got some opinions.
For a second there i thought he was going to make the case that the Mutant Registration Act was ok but the Superhero Registration Act would not be, on the grounds that non-mutant super-heroes are humans that have rights. But in the end he comes around to supporting the Superhero Act as well, making the case that if it's constitutional now to require men but not women to register for the draft, a similar law could be constructed for super-heroes that would pass Supreme Court muster.
Finally, it's time for the Fantastic Four to testify, but they are interrupted by more villains. This time it's Plantman and Quill, and they wind up accidentally defeating each other.
Mr. Fantastic assures the panel that the FF's villains are usually more "cosmic" although he does know the names of these guys because "we try to keep up.".
Reed also starts his testimony citing a difference between mutants and other super-heroes. He's also got a Miracle on 34th Street stunt prepared for when one of the Congressmen challenges the idea that the FF has been useful.
Some more testimony from the rest of the FF. Sue makes a true civil rights argument, but Johnny and Ben are a little more smug.
Then, to prove Johnny and Ben's point, the next villain, Flying Tiger, attacks and the (original) FF don't lift a finger about it. Luckily Sharon is there.
I believe this is the first time that Sharon is referred to as a She-Thing instead of Ms. Marvel. I wonder if even here she's just making a joke.
Sharon then points out that there are a whole bunch more guys in trenchcoats and hats in the room.
The funny bit here is that while Mr. Fantastic has been able to name everyone so far, Mad Dog is too obscure for even him.
These villains are moderately harder to beat, but just by a smidgeon. In my book, at least, that's a slight against Thunderball, who should be near-Thor level (and in the Damage Control #1 portion of this crossover it was said that his power had been increased 4x).
After these guys are defeated, Sue discovers the device that has been summoning the villains. Then a new Congressman shows up and accuses the FF of planting it. Note that Reed feels differently, that thanks to the caliber of villains that they've been facing, it feels more like a practical joke.
In fact, that's Reed argument in proving that he didn't build the device. If he did he'd have been smart enough to make it undetectable and to attract a "better grade of villain". The other Congressmen accept that argument and Reed's testimony continues. He cites the altruism that Henry Gyrich mentioned earlier, and says that Congress is not equipped to govern the actions of super-heroes.
I guess that's a point to keep in mind for Civil War. Congress perhaps can't understand super-heroics enough to manage super-heroes, but perhaps SHIELD could, especially if some super-heroes were working with SHIELD at top levels.
Reed's testimony is once again interrupted, this time with news that there's a whole new hoard of super-villains outside. Ms. Marvel, the Human Torch, and the powerless Ben Grimm leave the building to take care of them while Reed and Sue continue with their testimony. Sue takes the opportunity to argue against the NRA's earlier arguments (despite the fact that they were also, in their own way, arguing against the law) as the testimony continues.
The fear is that the new law would ham-string super-heroes.
At this point the device that was summoning the villains gets activated again, this time causing all the humans in the room to attack Reed and Sue. Reed and Sue manage to subdue the civilians, and then we go outside to see the results of the latest super-villain attack.
Note that the colorist (George Roussos) has mistaken the Owl for the Beast. Also, i'm following the MCP and accepting that it really is Baron Brimstone that is smouldering on the right.
There are some significant bad guys in this group. Whirlwind and Man-Ape may not be the Absorbing Man, but they have been Avengers villains. Orka once fought Thor all by himself.
We then get back to the testimony, with Reed noting that the law itself is ill-defined at this point. We don't really know what the law is trying to accomplish.
And Reed finally makes a statement against the Mutant Registration Act, but only in the sense that it doesn't provide a good enough definition of a mutant.
Reed then moves on to his final point. Earlier, the Congressman that accused Reed of being behind the summoning device also asked why Reed didn't build a device to detect super-powered individuals. So, as he's been testifying Reed accepted that challenge and whipped something up. And now he turns it on the panel, which makes them sweat.
With this, the panel agrees to not pursue the matter any further.
An important point is clarified in the lettercol for issue #339. Responding to a writer who asks about the relation of the Mutant Registration Act to the Super Hero registration act, it's said that the Mutant Registration Act has actually been nullified.
That wasn't at all clear to me. Reading Gyrich's testimony, for example, doesn't seem to indicate that the MRA was no longer in effect. But at least we do belatedly have a clarification on this.
This part of the story ends with a deliberately corny "Congress are the real super-heroes" line.
Sharon stays behind to take Franklin to the museum, and the rest of the FF go after the person who sent the summoning device after them, with Ben getting into his exo-skeleton for the occasion.
They trace the device to a supposedly abandoned factory in upstate New York, and find Dr. Doom inside.
Doom gives away the whole Acts of Vengeance story (because by this point we're in the January issue of FF, so we're at the end of the crossover by publication date).
This Doom turns out to be a Doombot, although he's pretty clearly acting on the original's orders (and yet note the line about Doom ever having been a real guy; that'll be relevant as we approach issue #350).
The Doombot has a parting gift for the FF: the Super-Adaptoid.
Note the mace; Reed once formed a mace with his hand in Fantastic Four #200.
The Super-Adaptoid should also be a mega-threat, but the Thing knocks him out in one punch. This is because the Adaptoid has tried to absorb Ben Grimm's powers, and Ben is just an ordinary guy with no powers. So he's theoretically easy to knock out. I can't dispute that it works, but i'll note that the Adaptoid has been able to absorb the abilities of Iron Man before and i don't see why Ben's exoskeleton should be different. I guess it's a question of expectations.
Finally, just to rub in the lame villain stuff, Hydro-Man and the Water Wizard bust into the room...
...and wind up splashing into each other.
I'm sure my feelings on the lame villain stuff is evident at this point. To sum up i'll just say it can sometimes be cute, but for the most part i find it really unnecessarily damaging to a bunch of cool characters.
The Registration debate is more interesting. I find the anti-mutant bias on display to be very interesting, although i don't think it's intended. The testimony is actually pretty inconclusive, in part because, as Reed points out, the specifics of the bill are not available. The interesting thing is that the topics raised in these issues are the same ones that you see fans debate when these topics come up (e.g. on forums circa Civil War), and that's not entirely a coincidence. In preparing for these issues, Walt Simonson went on CompuServe and got feedback from a comics forum. Respondents included fans and other pros: Christopher Foxx, Paul Grant, Cheryl Harris, Scott Martin, Dan Mishkin, Pat Mullet, John Ostrander, Tom Owens, Jim Pertierra, Don Proges, Alex Stevens, Terry St. Jean, and Nick Varga. John Ostrander i assume everyone knows. It looks like Nick Varga co-wrote one issue of Grimjack in 1989. Some of the other names here were used as the names of Congressmen in this story.
Rick Buckler and Ron Lim did a decent job with art on these issues - i especially like Lim's pin-up shot of the FF going into action at the end, and the one under that of Ben chomping his cigar - but next issue really begins Walt Simonson's FF run, as far as i'm concerned.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The MCP place this fairly early in Acts of Vengeance, at least going by Dr. Doom's chronology; he's here between Avengers #311 and Amazing Spider-Man #327. However, it seems to me that based on Doom's comments at the end of this arc, it takes place after Doom has already abandoned the Acts of Vengeance cabal in Avengers #313. The debate about the Superhero Registration Act continues throughout AoV, well past Avengers #311, and while the debate may very well continue after this committee decides not to pursue it further, it makes more narrative sense for this hearing to end near the end of the crossover. Note that i'm placing these issues where the arc ends, and it may very well span the entire length of the crossover starting from where i placed issue #334 (allowing for some time for plane travel). Should take place before X-Factor #51 when they return.
Crossover: Acts of Vengeance
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showApocalypse, Armadillo, Baron Brimstone, Dr. Doom, Eel II, Flying Tiger, Franklin Richards, Henry Peter Gyrich, Human Torch, Hydroman, Invisible Woman, Mad Dog (Buzz Baxter), Man-Ape, Mr. Fantastic, Ms. Marvel (Sharon Ventura), Orka, Owl, Plantman, Quill (Resistants), Ramrod (Daredevil villain), Stilt-Man, Super-Adaptoid, Thing, Thunderball, Vanisher, Water Wizard, Whirlwind
So, everybody else's villains are way beneath the FF? Lame.
Posted by: kveto | March 30, 2015 6:05 PM
On the one hand I really do like some of those villains so it's a bit lame so many of them are just nudged aside. Some, like the Beatle, are treaded as jokes for years.
Other hand: well they are a corner stone of Marvel comics, Reed is super smart, unlike the Avengers they don't change their team so much so some villains should be easier than others.
Pretty much what was said in the last second.
Posted by: david banes | March 30, 2015 6:12 PM
You could probably argue that the mind controlling Acts of Vengeance device also subtly made the bad guys really disoriented and easy to defeat since that was (?) the point of Doom's scheme anyway.
Anyway, as a kid I was upset that Reed couldn't identify Mad Dog because I owned an Avengers Spotlight issue with him appearing and his name wasn't mentioned there either. Ah, the days before the Internet.
Posted by: MikeCheyne | March 30, 2015 7:04 PM
Note that X-Factor is clearly not back from space at this point and Hydrobase is sunk. That's another argument against placing the end of Atlantis Attacks after X-Factor 51.
Posted by: Michael | March 30, 2015 9:14 PM
The correct statistic isn't that there were disproportionate black and Hispanic casualties in Vietnam, it's that there were disproportionate black and Hispanic casualties in Vietnam IN THE INITIAL STAGES OF THE WAR. (In the later stages, there were fewer black and Hispanic casualties, so it evened out.)
Posted by: Michael | March 30, 2015 10:59 PM
I was disappointed at the time there were just lame villain attacks (although I agree with comments that I don't consider all of these villains intrinsically lame, just how they were presented). If they had give one good fight at some point (perhaps setting up a cool battle in earlier issues so it's not a complete slugfest), I would have been fine.
Posted by: Chris | March 30, 2015 11:20 PM
Dan Mishkin was pretty much an exclusive DC writer, I don't know if he did anything for Marvel.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 31, 2015 11:11 AM
I actually enjoyed these three issues, with #336 being the best. DeCarlo's inks really worked with Lim's pencils, and I'd like to see Lim handle an issue of Spider-man, with DeCarlo inking.
The very end of #336 is maybe some of the most fun I've ever had with the FF, especially Ben in the exo-skeleton. His confidence in going against the Super-Adaptoid was incredible. Lim's rendering of the Thing really took my breath away - at times, I thought Byrne had come in and drawn the figure.
Posted by: Vin the Comic Guy | April 7, 2015 7:53 PM
It's a shame no one ever got Lim to do a FF run after Walt.
Might have saved the book from its early 90s dark ages.
He draws a great Reed, especially in the Silver Surfer chapter of the Lifeform annuals crossover the next year.
Posted by: Bob | June 8, 2015 8:45 AM
Honestly, this whole issue just seems ridiculous, like when the villains wanted to attack Sue and Reed's wedding or when they tried to attack Ben in the hospital. Just far too corny given the issues at play here.
Posted by: Erik Beck | September 27, 2015 9:04 AM
Orka has Sub-Mariner -level strength (at least) and once knocked out six Avengers (including Iron Man) with one punch. (Avengers #149) But here he's off-panel joke kayo, in service of yet another SneerFest. From the sophisticated writer who counts Frog-Thor as among his achievements. Eff off, Simonson.
Posted by: Dan Spector | September 1, 2016 6:15 PM
Since the Thing made the reference, and I'm bored, I'll ask: when did Gerry Cooney suddenly get a reputation as a lousy boxer? He had 28 wins and only 3 losses in his career, with 24 KOs. How'd he get to be a punchline (no pun intended... OK, maybe slightly intended...)? Eh, I'm too tired today.
Posted by: mikrolik | May 3, 2017 10:00 PM
Cooney's reputation suffered as a result of his fight with Holmes. The build up to that fight played heavily on race and it was one of the most lucrative matches of all time. Cooney was simply outclassed by Holmes although he fought bravely.After that fight he experienced problems with alcohol and a loss of confidence that led to an extended period away from the ring. This further led to the public' s concept of him as a product of hype. When he did come back he was stopped by The new champion,Michael Spinks who was smaller than him. Spinks in turn would get obliterated by Tyson. Not sure if this issue came out before or after Cooney was knocked out by George Foreman but in any case the damage was done. The public ( unjustly) viewed him as a fighter whose chief attribute was his skin color rather than his left hook.
Posted by: Mizark | May 8, 2017 8:27 AM
This issue came out before Cooney was knocked out by Foreman.
Posted by: Michael | May 9, 2017 10:29 PM
Wait a minute, is this the first appearance of Plantman's new costume??
Posted by: KombatGod | December 6, 2017 8:51 PM
That's actually his original costume from Strange Tales 121. Like the Sandman, he goes back and forth, depending on who's drawing him.
Posted by: Andrew | December 7, 2017 12:05 PM
In fact, Plantman has his John Buscema costume on the cover, but has his second costume from the comics inside. Eventually, John Byrne puts him back in his original original costume, a trenchcoat and hat. If he'd just worn that here, he wouldn't even have had to add a disguise over it to fit in with the other villains!
Posted by: Omar Karindu | December 8, 2017 6:26 PM
Oh wow. I've yet to check his earlier appearances, thanks for clearing that up.
Posted by: KombatGod | December 13, 2017 10:48 PM
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