Fantastic Four #245
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #245
This is really Byrne and Marvel trying to address the longtime complaints of fans and critics, but Barbara is depicted as a bit ignorant as well as ratings-driven, so it's not a fair rebuttal. During the interview the Fantastic Four flare is set off, but the TV crew doesn't tell Sue about it because they know their boss would get mad if the interview got cut short.
So Sue returns home to find the rest of her team defeated by a strange and wizardly bearded man with a childish personality.
After a fight and chase which show some impressive and varied uses of her powers...
...Sue realizes that the bearded man is actually her son Franklin.
His powers have fully manifested and he's aged himself, but he's still mentally a child. His powers are full blown reality manipulation ("With my power I can do anything.").
Now that she knows who he is, she's able to reason with him. Franklin decides to correct his problems by placing mental blocks on himself and reverting back to his natural age. Before doing so, he attempts to restore the Thing to human form. But he fails, and instead restores him from his lumpy look back to the classic rocky hide.
After the Thing is out of earshot, Reed explains to Sue that the reason Franklin didn't turn Ben human is because Ben has a deep rooted psychological fear that Alicia won't love him if he's human (although, as Reed says, "she has denied that in both word and deed"), and that curing him might cause severe psychological trauma.
It's something that's been speculated about in the past, but this is the first time this theory was confirmed in the comics.
Great issue, despite what i feel was a bit of proselytizing in the beginning.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: The Thing's rocky form is restored, allowing us to place appearances of him in that form after this issue again. Must take place before the FF's appearance in Iron Man #159.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (12): show
The title refers to the classic science fiction story by Arthur C. Clarke( and a track on Pink Floyd's "Valley Obscured By Clouds" 1972 album).
Posted by: Mark Drummond | September 18, 2011 12:25 AM
In that "Barbara Walker" interview, the dialogue is very wordy, but the panels are balanced. The balloons are well placed, there is breathing space around the faces, and it all reads gracefully. This was not the case in the most logorrheic Claremont/Romita X-MEN issues, where the art seemed to struggle to be seen under all those words, words, words. Sometimes just glancing at a page of that duo at that worst made my eyes tired.
Posted by: Todd | August 1, 2013 6:54 PM
It seems like here Sue really starts to up the ante with her creativity. I mean she did the huge zonking thing with Tylos picking up Manhattan but there are more finesse tricks here.
Posted by: david banes | January 4, 2016 4:04 AM
An example of Byrne pushing up the sexuality quotient in comics occurs in this issue. Franklin compares his "strange" feelings for Barbara "Walker." He discerns they are "similar but different" to his feelings for Sue, whom he has yet to recognize. Yes, Franklin has the hots for Barbara. Considering Byrne put Rachel and Franklin together in Days of Future Past, I wouldn't have thought "Walker" to be his type.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | April 17, 2016 6:06 PM
However wordy Byrne could get, his pages would naturally flow better because he was designing them knowing roughly how much space the word balloons would take up. Just drawing pages, writing pages, studying other pages for so many years, he would have far more ability to design and lay out his own pages. One assumes that working with Claremont and Orzechowski for so long provided an 'advanced level' course in learning how to fit verbiage onto the page, but even without that, he came by the ability honestly.
This was probably the first issue of "FF" I ever read. I'll have to see if I still have it, because I like the 'interview' pacing between Sue and Barbara. I always liked how Sharon was a random character on the splash page and then started appearing a few issues later.
Posted by: ChrisW | April 17, 2016 8:15 PM
One of the fundamental problems with the 'Marvel method' is that it invites overwriting: artists, not knowing exactly how much dialog will follow, feel obliged to provide dead space in every panel; scripters then see all that space and feel obliged to fill it.
Posted by: Oliver_C | April 17, 2016 8:38 PM
Byrne once told a story about, having just left "X-Men," he had moved on to "Avengers" (I think) and was still thinking in terms of 'Claremont' writing. And the writer had no idea what to do with the empty space until someone pointed out 'there's Captain America, have him give a speech.'
Posted by: ChrisW | April 18, 2016 12:50 AM
Franklin is still the one out Marvel could use one day to set everything back to the 1980s lol
Posted by: Oomaga | January 8, 2018 8:26 AM
Reed deliberately lies to Ben here, and Sue goes along with it, in her private conversation with Reed behind Ben's and Alicia's backs, as shown above.
Reed's purported epiphany about why the Thing can't transform back to Ben Grimm begins here, and is attributed to insights Reed gained in a brief telepathic session between Reed and the semi-adult Franklin Richards. None of our cast besides Reed are privy to what that private telepathic conversation actually entailed-- Franklin can no longer remember, and we and Sue only get Reed's version.
Reed and Sue begin their conspiracy to withhold important information from Ben and Alicia regarding Reed's new theory of how Alicia is supposedly the reason why all Reed's attempts to cure Ben failed. Reed seemed to have no notion of this theory previously, when he last attempted to cure Ben in FF #238 (though Byrne gave strong hints that it was Alicia's tear which botched the transformation).
Ben was never actually stuck irreversibly in Thing form, as was implied here, and in #238. In the interim, he was restored to his Ben Grimm form temporarily by Gaius in FF #241, but none of the characters nor the writer ever brought our attention to that contradiction.
Reed's purported theories implicating Alicia as the reason for Ben's dilemma also fail to explain why the Thing was unable to transform back to Ben before he met Alicia in FF #8.
Reed isn't a trustworthy narrator, and many of these plot-lines have never been adequately resolved IMO.
Posted by: Holt | May 20, 2018 9:26 PM
There were always hints of this as Ben would lament whether or not Alicia would stay with him when he wasn't the Thing but never that it was a full on mental block. As I pointed out regarding Thing #23, this seemed to be a pretty good and very Byrne way of explaining it though that doesn't account for their earliest days.
It still smacks of being more theoretical than anything else. Where's the proof even in terms of comic book science? If you're Ben why wouldn't you believe it after being told? Reed is the super scientist after all. He could have just as easily brought it up to Ben as a theory and spared the two of them a lot of acrimonious feelings later.
Posted by: KevinA | May 20, 2018 10:15 PM
One can take this inconsistent behavior from Reed and blame it on Byrne's writing, or one can blame it on Reed. I never really saw Reed as such a manipulative personality until Hickman rubbed our noses in it with the Illuminati storylines and Secret Wars, but now when I go back into the Byrne era stuff, I see Reed's Machevellian tendencies all over the place. It's hard for me to overlook everything as writers' oversights, although it's always possible that might be the case much of the time. It's more fun for me to try to explain it as Reed being control freakish and egotistical.
Whatever Reed's current theory is, he likely always thinks he's always correct, right at that moment anyway, because he's so darn smart, even though he might compulsively jump to a new theory in a heartbeat upon discovering the slightest new evidence. Given that he's being deliberately duplicitous with Ben and Alicia here, about something that is so much more important to them than it is to him, I have to wonder if he might also be, you know, subconsciously or consciously serving his own purposes here, because having Ben be the Thing is much handier for Reed than having the Thing be Ben. And you know if you include the Illuminati in your head canon about it, Reed's a very dangerous and untrustworthy guy, especially when he's so certain about himself, and about his own convictions, and he always sincerely believes that his heart is in the right place.
Posted by: Holt | May 20, 2018 11:00 PM
@Holt There was no contradiction. In FF#238, Reed said the means by which he would affect Ben's change would be permanent, and that the captions at the end mention "no known power can reverse THIS transformation." Gaius's existence was not known to Reed until #241 the same issue he ceased to exist. So, there was no extant power to restore Ben's human or Thing form until this issue. Exact words mean exact words to Reed. Reed didn't lie until this issue, when he withheld the truth at the end.
I disagree that Reed isn't a trustworthy narrator until this issue, after which Reed lies to Ben, so that makes him a liar. But I agree none of these plot lines were resolved. FF#296 should have mentioned this and opened this up, but Byrne quit and Jim Shooter and Stan Lee didn't mention it at all. So, yeah, that's been a long festering plot hole.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | May 20, 2018 11:11 PM
I may have phrased it wrong but I thought the characters' behaviors were contradictory in that, having seen Gaius transform the Thing into Ben, Reed didn't immediately snap at the scientific evidence just presented that his earlier theory was wrong, and furthermore, that Ben didn't suddenly say, "Hey, Reed, I thought you said this change was permanent." This can be interpreted in a number of ways behind the scenes. Maybe Reed was uncertain, didn't want to get Ben's hopes up prematurely, all the usual excuses. Maybe Ben was subconsciously preferring to remain in his Thing form, and I do think Byrne was hinting at this in a few places during #238-245. Byrne is going with the idea that Alicia is at the heart of the Thing's big mental block against tranforming back, while still hedging that it's more complicated than that. I'm going more with the "more complicated" part of it, not only in Ben's behavior but also in Reed's behavior. I've always thought it was careless how Alicia got implicated in all this when she seems relatively blameless to me.
Ben has always played the blame game with regards to his personal problems. Does Reed know this and take advantage of it, perhaps subconsciously? Reed rarely tries to defend himself against Ben's rage and plays the guilty-feeling contrition game very well, but here he's ignoring opportunities to help Ben, first, by not trying to capitalize on Gaius' example, and secondly, by withholding the truth from Ben.
Posted by: Holt | May 20, 2018 11:42 PM
Maybe it's not so much a liar thing as a god-complex thing for Reed. Maybe he also lies to himself to some extent, in order to justify his faith in his own infallibility. His contriteness regarding Ben's dilemma is in stark contradiction with his usual self-confidence, which is pretty enormous even for a super-genius. It's not that I dislike Reed because I've always liked the character, I'm just speculating on some open questions that will probably never be answered definitively, as is the nature of most formula fiction. Resolving the Thing's dilemma in a definitive could potentially destroy or devalue the IP. And if it ever gets resolved they'll probably just retroactively reboot the whole thing anyway, with a few new twists.
Posted by: Holt | May 21, 2018 12:01 AM
I don't think Reed has a belief that he, Reed Richards, is infallible. The fact that Ben remains the Thing after his best efforts circa this issue is proof of that he knows he isn't. Of course, this goes back to FF#1 as well. The fact is, the problem with this issue and the ones that build on it, is that these character beats are tucked under the bed as of #296, when Sue tells Reed that Reed's "suffered enough" over Ben, because Ben "never" let up on Reed being to blame. Even if that's so, the fact is there were errors of judgment on both sides and none of this really gets addressed. Ben doesn't have to be cured for Reed to say "I'm sorry for not telling you about why you became rocky again in FF#245. And Ben can admit he has some issues that maybe Reed shouldn't be expected to fix. Instead, every writer since Byrne, aside from Englehart, has worked hard at ignoring these lost character moments. It doesn't have to result in Ben being human again. But it should develop him and Reed as friends and characters more. And then, Reed doesn't look like a jerk because of this story forever.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | May 21, 2018 12:47 AM
Gaius temporarily turning Thing into Ben doesn't mean that Reed should be able to permanently do so. Perhaps Thing's mental blocks would have in time overrode Gaius' power.
And as smart as Reed is, Gaius is using technology to create an imaginary Roman city in a volcano, which seems more advanced science - more like "magic" - than anything we've seen Reed create himself. When Reed believes Thing's change to his less rocky form is permanent, he is talking based on the science he understands. He'll be aware that something reality-altering, such as a cosmic cube or in this case an adult Franklin, could override that, but based on the normal laws of science, he believes the change to be permanent.
Second, there could be more to this still than meets the eye, and you could claim that Reed may suspect it, even if he can't fully explain it: in #175 Galactus turns Ben back into the Thing, & in #355 the Thing changes from his extra rocky form back to his classic Thing form and Thing comments maybe the universe likes him better that way, which to readers is an in-joke, but to the characters they must be wondering if that's true. Neither of these events seem easy to explain (Why does Galactus choose to do so? If it's a punishment, why do nothing to the other members of the FF?) but since Reed believes Galactus is part of the universe's necessary design, does he start to think that perhaps Ben being Thing is also part of some design, or why else would Galactus have done what he did?
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | May 21, 2018 6:23 AM
"Reed's purported theories implicating Alicia as the reason for Ben's dilemma also fail to explain why the Thing was unable to transform back to Ben before he met Alicia in FF #8"
Thing transforms back into Ben a few times in the first 8 issues, as far as I remember the random changes back into Ben stop after he meets Alicia, until Secret Wars where he stars having random changes again. (There are still some occasional changes back to Ben but they are prompted by some super-science attempt to cure him etc, not him randomly reverting back to Ben as happens in the early issues.)
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | May 21, 2018 6:34 AM
And so he does. I pulled my FF Marvel Masterworks Vol. 1 off the shelf and flipped through it. He changes back apparently at random and only for minutes at a time at best in #'s 2, 4, 8, and 9.
Posted by: KevinA | May 21, 2018 10:11 AM
I'm not sure Lee & Kirby were thinking anything at the time, they were just making it up as they went along & after Ben & Alicia get together they decide to go for the Beauty & the Beast tragedy of having Ben stuck as Thing, with Reed constantly trying to cure him. So I think at that point they ditch the idea that Ben is changing back randomly, for the more dramatic "Reed needs to cure him". It does really work with Byrne's theory though.
There are several other reasons Reed might have been suspicious about Ben/Thing even before this issue though, see #11 where Reed apparently cures Ben until Ben gets angry and turns back into the Thing, or the storyline from about #106-113 where Reed makes it so Thing can turn back into Ben anytime he wants, following which Thing's mental health deteriorates until he goes on a rampage. At the end of the rampage, Reed judges that Thing's madness is now gone, and Thing decides to destroy Reed's invention so he can't turn back into Ben anymore, saying he likes being the Thing.
Presumably it's not long after that before Reed is made to feel guilty about Ben being trapped as the Thing, but you've got to imagine Reed from that point knows that the Thing is a completely unreliable narrator as to whether he does or doesn't want to be the Thing, and that there is some link between his transformations and his mental states.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | May 21, 2018 10:57 AM
When I said Reed was an unreliable narrator I was referring to the fact that most FF writers use him in lieu of a narrator to deliver exposition. In that last scan there's only one narrative line, because Byrne is able to explain things via Reed's dialog instead, beginning with the line, "I think I can explain," in the 2nd row of panels, following his little white lie he told to Franklin in the previous panel.
Stan and Jack used Reed in the same way, and I developed a habit over the years of trusting Reed's expository dialog balloons to be as reliable as exposition delivered via the invisible omniscient narrator, who writes only in the rectangular boxes. But this led me into what I can now see were some errors in my interpretation of the stories.
Reed isn't a reliable narrator because ( 1.) he's been shown to lie for his own purposes, ( 2.) he can't be totally objective, because he's usually an interested party in whatever it is that he's trying to explain, ( 3.) he can still be just plain wrong, even when he's presumably not lying, and ( 4.) he's often overconfident in his own theories. As an example of this, in Marvel Two-In-One #50, he explains his/Byrne's theory that changing the past via time travel "results in another reality--a new one caused by your presence." Then in MTIO #100 he contradicts himself by showing Ben that the reality he "caused" wasn't a new one at all but was actually a pre-existing alternate reality. Byrne didn't lie, Reed was just wrong in #50.
Posted by: Holt | May 21, 2018 5:36 PM
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