Fantastic Four #251-256
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #251, Fantastic Four #252, Fantastic Four #253, Fantastic Four #254, Fantastic Four #255, Fantastic Four #256
And it's a great opportunity for Byrne to do a lot of the Bizarre Tales sci-fi short stories with a twist endings, similar to what he did in his first year as a writer on the title. Good stuff.
Issue #252 has an interesting sideways layout; possibly the first instance of the "widescreen" approach that Marvel tried out again in the 2000s (i'm rotating the pictures, and note that i keep my images limited to 600px width, so the effect is kind of ruined, but you can click on them to "widescreen size").
Other Bizarre Tales type stories include the Kestors, an ancient wandering alien race that has evolved to the environment of a ship and no longer finds planets hospitable (oh, and all their people in cryogenic storage are actually dead).
The FF's trip takes several weeks in Negative Zone time, but it's only a few hours in our world. Which is a good thing, because as the FF enter the Negative Zone, they make it possible for Annihilus to leave it...
...and he sets about torturing and nearly killing Alicia Masters and Franklin Richards (there's some snark on a later letter page about the amount of starch Alicia puts in her skirts)...
...during that short amount of time, plus setting up some kind of nega-wave that nearly destroys our universe but for the actions of the Avengers (who try to hold back the wave but never confront Annihilus)...
...and the fact that the FF return in time.
The Avengers are introduced to the arc in a scene repeated from Avengers #232.
Also a cameo from Daredevil encountering the barrier.
There's a funny scene after Annihilus has taken over the Baxter Building where Johnny's friend Julie calls looking for him and Annihilus picks up the phone. We don't actually get to hear the conversation, but the notion of Annihilus answering a phone is comical, as is the reaction of each party.
In an interlude in #256, we see Nova leading Galactus to the Skrull Homeworld, in the build-up for next issue.
We'll learn that Sue becomes pregnant during this Negative Zone trip.
Also, the trip back to our universe does something that causes the FF's costumes to become a darker blue. It's a look that sticks for quite some time and remains as an occasional variant today.
Finally, in a story running from #254-256, Mr. Fantastic is captured by a creature called Taranith Gelstal, the ruler of Mantracora...
...who uses his mind to power a spaceship. The fact that Gelstal has drained more minds that he needed (and, i suspect, Reed's intellect) allows Reed to take over the mind-draining machine and free himself.
However, we'll learn in a later arc that the experience has actually removed some of Reed's memories.
Fun sci-fi stories...
...mixed with some high stakes menacing by Annihilus. The art continues to be great (i like Byrne's not-so-buff Reed Richards)...
...but there are pages - particularly in the big explosions at the end of the Annihilus arc, where the art becomes a bit muddy, which supports those who say that Byrne's art is best when he's not inking himself (i still think it's great).
Actually, the "muddy" problem seems to be only in issue #256. Issue #255's explosions look just fine.
Setting up the next issue, we see Nova and Galactus in Skrull territory (note the sort of muddy lines for Galactus, especially).
Quality Rating: A
Chronological Placement Considerations: Issue #254-256 take place concurrently with Avengers #232-233. Avengers #233 is where we see their attempts to hold back the barrier. Takes place before Thing #2.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (14): show
I wonder if "Mantracora" and the villain's masked disguise in that issue weren't lifted from the 1976 Dr. Who serial "The Masque of Mandragora".
Posted by: Mark Drummond | September 18, 2011 8:09 PM
FF#251, according to some fanzine articles, was supposedly the first mainstream newsstand comic to use the word "gay" for homosexuals. I'm not sure how accurate that is in relation to other Marvel titles(though I'm pretty sure it's correct in relation to DC).
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 20, 2013 6:51 PM
Interesting. I remember that scene -- Johnny's friend Julie had a crush on an actor, but she felt that with her luck, he was "probably gay." And that was a Byrne issue. At DC five years later, as noted elsewhere here a few days ago, he would be criticized for never having anyone use "gay" or "lesbian" to describe Superman's ally Captain Maggie Sawyer, although that character and her storyline were otherwise well received. So maybe it was a difference in editorial discretion?
Posted by: Todd | July 20, 2013 7:03 PM
I'm not sure that Byrne was so homophobic as people make him out to be. Sure, he probably felt some homosexual things were repugnant--but he did intend Northstar to be gay from Alpha Flight #1 on. A 1984 issue of Comics Collector had a statement by Byrne confirming Northstar's homosexuality. Bill Mantlo was the one who took the easy way out with Northstar by revealing he was, literally, a "fairy".
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 20, 2013 7:17 PM
Mantlo has said that he originally intended to reveal that Northstar was gay and dying of AIDS but Shooter vetoed it. It's not clear why Mantlo made Northstar a fairy instead of just coming up with a disease other than AIDS for Jean Paul to be dying of.
Posted by: Michael | July 20, 2013 7:24 PM
The Legacy Virus? I know that wasn't created yet...
I don't know why they wanted to immediately have Northstar have AIDS. That was my one problematic contention with the whole thing. A somewhat major openly gay character at Marvel, and he had to be saddled with AIDS off the bat?
I will mention that Mantlo created Marvel's first bi-sexual character, Paradox, in the page of Marvel Preview (1980). He might have been the first bi-sexual character in all of comics, but I'm not sure about that.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | July 20, 2013 8:15 PM
Mainstream newsstand comics yes, but not the undergrounds.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 20, 2013 8:26 PM
Yeah, I wasn't too sure about that. I knew that there were plenty of gay people in the undergrounds stories, but I wasn't sure if bi-sexuality was really touched on even there.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | July 20, 2013 8:36 PM
Re: Northstar and AIDS. I actually wish Mantlo had been allowed to follow through on that. I get what ChrisKafka is saying ("He had to be saddled with AIDS right off the bat?"), but those were the plague years. It was a different world...and a worse one.
Posted by: Todd | July 21, 2013 12:21 AM
I know what you mean too. It would be a socially conscious type of story.
Over at DC, around the same time (1988, so a year or two later, I guess), there was an issue of Hellblazer where one of John Constantine's friends was dying of AIDS.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | July 21, 2013 12:42 AM
The character who died of AIDS with the Hulk was Jim Wilson, I believe.
Just realized: I think this is probably the first set of issues where Byrne write Shulkie, back when she was on the Avengers. (weirdly thanks to the Stern connection of her being the first to come across that barrier; unless Stern just did a repeat of what he wrote with the Avengers issues)
Posted by: Ataru320 | August 1, 2013 4:48 PM
Byrne insists that the new costumes were black, not darker blue, but that's a battle that will never be won.
Posted by: Jay Patrick | August 2, 2013 12:56 PM
Doesn't the resurrected Jean, while fighting the Fantastic Four, say something like "Last time I checked, the Fantastic Four's costumes were *blue*, not black!" in a Byrne FF?
Posted by: Todd | August 2, 2013 4:32 PM
Just confirming Todd here; that is what Jean says.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 3, 2013 12:56 PM
There's some wonderful art and interesting sci-fi motifs in this arc, but I wish it were more realistic. I mean, we're in a parallel anti-matter universe, and everyone speaks *English*, and every planet has air breathable by humans as well as the same gravity as Earth. Seems awfully homey for the Negative Zone! (And it would have been easy enough to have had Reed come prepared for this voyage with ways for the team to cope with genuine alien races and difficult conditions.) Also, things keep working out for the good guys in a VERY convenient manner. I don't mean to be overly critical, as these are enjoyable issues, but it wouldn't hurt for comics to aim at greater plausibility. I also don't think the overall quality level here, even judging by Byrne's best work (such as in some of the Doom issues), is really an "A." Great selection of images in this review, though!
Posted by: Instantiation | July 11, 2014 8:23 PM
Instantiation, one quibble that doesn't detract from your other points: it may be hokey, but Byrne established that the Fantastic Four had a universal translator in Fantastic Four #237. And if they aren't using that, Annihilus and Blastaar always spoke English so i guess we can assume they speak English in the Negative Zone (or there's some property of coming from there that results in auto-translations).
The point of this story was a sort of exploration-vacation for the team which allowed Byrne to re-establish and develop the family connections on the team while also playing through some fun classic sci-fi tropes. I think it works really well in that regard but of course your mileage may vary. I do think a different story where they had to struggle to survive in a more hostile environment would have been really cool too.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 15, 2014 2:52 PM
Yes, the universal translator could have been mentioned.
My own conception of the Negative Zone would be a place closer to the psychedelic extra-dimensional spaces envisioned by Steve Ditko and Jim Starlin.
Posted by: Instantiation | August 11, 2014 1:16 PM
Actually, if we want "proof" of how great Byrne's art is, compare the scenes in this to the same ones in Avengers #233, particularly where we see Sue holding Franklin. The art in Avengers isn't bad, but it just shows how much better Byrne is (better being a relative concept, of course).
I really love the new "black" uniforms. I've always preferred them, and since they debuted right after I started reading comics, I really grew up with them.
Posted by: Erik Beck | May 10, 2015 9:32 AM
The first two issues and then the last issue were among my first comics, and I prefer these new uniforms too.
I prefer Byrne inking himself, although I can understand why others don't. But several years back, I was flipping through this issue and came on that panel above where the Avengers come in from the elevator and was astounded.
The elevator itself (which isn't even fully open) takes up maybe one-sixth of the panel, which itself part of a much larger page, but even within that very small area, Byrne drew no less than five recognizable Avengers, even with Cap and his shield taking up most of that space. Ok, there's a red cape that doesn't seem to belong to anyone, and there's a vague pink bump that might be the Wasp's wing, but even with that, five Avengers that are instantly recognizable at a glance is impressive.
Posted by: ChrisW | May 10, 2015 11:07 AM
Byrne, btw, did the breakdowns for Avengers #233, with Joe Sinnott doing the finishes and Christie Scheele the coloring. And Byrne's hand seems particularly apparent in the space scenes on p. 16. But there's no question that the art in these FF issues, which is all Byrne (with Glynis Wein handling the colors) is far superior.
Posted by: Instantiation | July 19, 2015 6:37 PM
Regarding the 'Mantracora' question above, it is pretty blatantly based on said 'The Masque of Mandragora' Doctor Who story from 1976. The mask worn by the alien is practically the same design as worn by Hieronymus in that story, taking the mask off to reveal no head is a riff on Hieronymus unmasking to reveal a disc of glowing energy in place of his face, and there's that oh-so-subtle Mantracora/Mandragora distinction. But, in light of the similarity of the names, I'd argue that Byrne wasn't trying to be subtle, it was more an affectionate shout out to a TV series that he enjoyed.
Posted by: Harry | July 31, 2015 6:07 AM
And plot elements of #252 seem to be based on the 1977 Doctor Who story 'The Face of Evil', but much more loosely.
Posted by: Harry | July 31, 2015 6:20 AM
There seems to be quite a bit of Doctor Who influence on this story arc. As was already mentioned, the title "The Minds of Mantracora" and the visual of the villain from #254 borrow heavily from "The Masque of Mandragora," but the actual plot, with the villain sucking the mental energy from his victims (who mistakenly believe him to be a god) in order to re-power his spaceship, is EXTREMELY similar to another Doctor Who serial, "The Krotons."
In addition, the concept from #252 of an alien city that is so advanced that it becomes sentient and expels its builders who then regress into primitive barbarism is featured heavily in the Doctor Who story "Death to the Daleks."
Also, as far as other influences go, the idea of aliens spending thousands of years searching for a new planet only to find that once they arrive they have evolved to only be able to live on their spaceship is somewhat similar to an EC Comics story that I recall from Weird Science or maybe Weird Fantasy.
Posted by: Ben Herman | July 31, 2015 1:39 PM
Oops, sorry, here is the correct link to the "Death to the Daleks" summary on Wikipedia...
Posted by: Ben Herman | July 31, 2015 1:41 PM
I'd forgotten the city of the Exxilons, good call, but, as I say, there's maybe also elements of the Sevateem in terms of the now savage descendants of the builders of the alien city. It would have been a more blatant 'homage' if there were an analogue of the Tesh within, though.
Posted by: Harry | July 31, 2015 6:23 PM
Also, in #254, when the Fantastic Four, while incognito, tell someone on the alien world that they are travellers from the north, this possibly references how the intergalactic con artists and their intended dupe and also the Doctor and Romana tell people on the low-technology world of Ribos that they are from 'the north' to account for their not being known locally (in 'The Ribos Operation').
Posted by: Harry | August 4, 2015 7:02 PM
Regarding Chris' comment:
"Ok, there's a red cape that doesn't seem to belong to anyone, and there's a vague pink bump that might be the Wasp's wing..."
The "vague pink bump" is Thor's bicep. He's standing in front of Wanda. The red cape is his. The only questionable thing is how perfectly the Wasp's body is masked by Cap's. She's definitely standing in between Cap and Thor. Thor's right leg being masked by Cap's shield and left leg is fine.
Aside from that, I know the FF trust Alicia and all, but given their plethora of enemies, is leaving the two of them alone for an extended period really that great of an idea? I know it's one of those story contrivances to get the Annihilus subplot rolling, but there's no way Reed and Sue would take off as they did without either moving some extra security into the building or just having Franklin and Alicia move into Avengers Mansion or stay with the Inhumans while they were gone. I'm sure there was an explanation of sorts in the first issue of this arc, but I'm equally sure it was weak. I mean, at LEAST have someone set up to drop in on them regularly. That way you can still do the story, just have Annihilus show up and get his shield going in between visits.
Posted by: Dan H. | December 21, 2015 11:16 AM
You're probably right about Thor's bicep, but that red cape is draping down behind Cap's legs. There's no way Thor could be standing like that, and Wanda isn't close enough. That cape seriously doesn't belong to anyone in the picture.
It's why I simultaneously love and hate John Byrne. Even when he's doing work that that is totally awesome, there's always something that makes me go 'that's not right.' The red cape in that picture [awesome as it is] cannot belong to anybody in that picture. Wanda is behind Thor, the Wasp, and Cap. The cape can't be hers. Even if the vaguely-pink bump is Thor's bicep (and I don't disagree there) the red cape is just in such a place that you wonder what the hell Thor is doing.
It appears on both sides of Cap, and between his legs. And there's obviously enough distance between the two for Jan to stand between them. If Todd McFarlane drew it, I could understand, but really?
Posted by: ChrisW | December 21, 2015 11:16 PM
And good point about leaving Alicia to serve as babysitter. I am very much in favor of superheroes behaving like real people, and yeah, there's no way Reed and Sue would leave their child in the care of a blind woman without some sort of protection.
I know I keep harping on this, but isn't Franklin Richards a perfect example of why Marvel's Illuminati doesn't work? If Reed is really so in contact with Professor Xavier, than wouldn't the two of them be actively looking to figure out Franklin's problems? Never mind all the universe-destroying things going on in "X-Men," shouldn't Reed be looking out for what's best for his son? I could see a decent story where Reed wants this and the X-Men want that and the time-travelers want the other thing. But not if Reed and Charlie have been working together all along. Sucks to be Franklin.
Posted by: ChrisW | December 21, 2015 11:28 PM
There are 7 Avengers coming in through the elevator in Fantastic Four #256, p.21, pan.1. It's easy to miss that Thor is carrying the unconscious Vision, who is slung over his left shoulder. The scene is set up in Avengers #233, pp.20-21. From left to right they are:
Starfox, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Captain America, Thor, Vision, and She-Hulk.
You can see Vision's left leg in yellow between Cap's shield and She-Hulk's right upper leg. Vision's dangling yellow cape is probably mis-colored red. A lot of that area seems to be miscolored. I'm guessing the black probably bled a bit, too, either on the original art during handling, or, maybe more likely, during the pulp paper printing process.
Should FF #256 and Avengers #233 be listed as crossovers? They both show the exact same scenes and dialog, almost panel for panel, on their respective pages 21 and 22.
Posted by: Holt | November 22, 2017 10:33 PM
I've been skimming through these issues in response to the thread in Fantastic Four 179 about the physics of the Negative Zone, and if it was ever explained why Negative Zone space is made up of breathable atmosphere at Earth-sea-level pressure. I figured if it was exposited anywhere, it would be here, but Byrne ignores the issue. He does lay out a couple of other comic-book-phsyics tidbits though:
Posted by: Andrew | January 1, 2018 7:57 AM
"1) The "several weeks in Negative Zone, but only hours on Earth" issue, which has never come up before or since as far as I know, is due to a variable "time-flux in the Distortion Area." Which would explain why it's never been an issue for Rick Jones and Captain Marvel."
"Being a different dimension with different laws of physics, time flows differently in the Negative Zone than it does on Earth. Although a comprehensive analysis has never been completed, preliminary findings suggest that two weeks pass in the Negative Zone for every hour on Earth, making a 336:1 ratio. On a smaller scale, every minute on Earth is a little over five and half hours in the Negative Zone.
It seems, however, that this ratio changes as one approaches the center of the Negative Zone. Since there have been several instances of pan-dimensional conversations between the two planes, it appears the time ratio is much closer to 1:1 when one is at the nexus of the Negative Zone. It is currently unclear at what rate the time difference increases as one moves away from the vortex or if there is an upper limit to how great the difference between the two universes can become."
Posted by: clyde | January 1, 2018 8:59 AM
"Somehow visitors to the Negative Zone are converted to anti-matter when entering, so they don't blow up. It seems like any portal to the Negative Zone has the same conversion properties, since again this hasn't been an issue for Rick Jones."
In FF #51, Richards passes through the portal for the first time. The Negative Zone is called "sub-space" and the portal is called "the radical cube." The term "anti-matter" isn't used, but rather, they refer extensively to "negative matter" and "positive matter."
On page 13, Richards activates the "phase-drive mechanism" of his radical cube, shredding "the very fabric of infinity-- where all positive matter is transposed into negative form!" He then plunges through "the resulting void" which he's created in the "space-time dimensional barrier!!" He's "actually witnessing a four-dimensional universe." He's "finally approaching" his "goal" at "the very edge of sub-space!"
The Earth which Richards sees from the "crossroads of infinity" is our Earth, not an "anti-Earth" as it's later described in Annual #7. On page 15, Richards is drawn towards Earth, along with a bunch of rocky debris. He says, "The elements of sub-space are being irresistably drawn back towards Earth-- but, here in sub-space all matter is negative-- while Earth is positive!! Therefore, whatever strikes the atmosphere of Earth must instantly explode!"
The only way he can return safely to Earth is through the dimensional portal he created using the radical cube.
Posted by: Holt | January 1, 2018 10:07 AM
I should have said "Annual #6," not "Annual #7."
The outlines of North and South America are clearly shown in at least two panels of FF #51. A scan of one of those panels is shown here: http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/fantastic_four_51.shtml
The zone which Rick Jones and Mar-Vell shared seems more like a "limbo" and reminds me more of DC's "Phantom Zone" than the Negative Zone. Maybe that's because Roy Thomas had the two zones confused? If the FF visits the Negative Zone, might they find Jones or Mar-Vell floating around in it? Like a lot of things Thomas wrote for Marvel, that never made much sense to me.
The conflation between anti-matter (which is defined in real-life theoretical physics) and "negative matter" (which isn't) might be somewhat deliberate. "Negative energy" is used to explain various super-powers and other phenomena in the Marvel Universe, but these pseudo-scientific explanations might not work so well if anti-matter was the underlying concept. So "negative energy," and not "anti-energy," is used in the MU to power various things, for instance, the barrier around the Inhumans' Great Refuge, Janus the "Nega-Man," and Captain Mar-Vell's "nega-band" wrist devices.
Posted by: Holt | January 1, 2018 10:36 AM
I was first introduced to the Negative Zone in Annual #6, or rather a reprint of it, where the earth at the center of it is an anti-matter planet, and the male FF stay positive but are protected by harnesses (at last for the first half of the story; why they don't blow up as soon as they lose the harnesses is unclear), so I always figured that was canon, until I read FF 51 (or again a reprint), where the opposite is true. The anti-Earth narrative is reinforced in FF 109, attributed to Stan Lee, in which the anti-Earth is in a "zone of anti-matter" within the Negative Zone, so presumably the rest of the Negative Zone is considered positive matter in that story. Byrne, being Byrne, is restoring the status quo ante here.
Whether it makes sense or not, the Fantastic Four's Negative Zone is clearly established as the same as Captain Mar-Vell's at the beginning of the Kree-Skrull War storyline, and is reinforced in subsequent Captain Marvel storylines.
Posted by: Andrew | January 1, 2018 2:59 PM
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