Fantastic Four #300
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #300
And i think the marriage of Johnny Storm and Alicia Masters here is the perfect illustration. Not everyone likes the idea of Johnny marrying Alicia, and that's understandable. Alicia was the Thing's girlfriend since the earliest Fantastic Four issues, and it's only been over the past few years that there's been a change. But looking over the long period where the Thing and Alicia were together, it's pretty clear that both the Thing and the writers writing him took Alicia for granted. In many cases, since the Thing was written for humor, you have scenes like the Thing taking the blind lady to a sports games while grousing and complaining like a child whenever he has to do something she can enjoy, like taking in a concert. And she's often simply abandoned. And on the other side of the coin, to emphasize the Thing's tragic nature, he would constantly be miserable and talk about how he didn't deserve her and she'd have to repeatedly explain how no, she truly loved him and he was a wonderful person on the inside. When John Byrne came along he looked at that and combined it with an obvious-in-retrospect interpretation of the Thing's inability to be cured, and broke away from that repeating cycle. And not just that but used the same scenario to generate some growth for Johnny Storm, the immature teen member of the group who has had lots of girlfriends over the years but was unable to maintain a serious relationship.
And taking over for John Byrne, Roger Stern is completing that cycle of growth for Johnny here...
...and also for Ben by having him accept Johnny and Alicia's relationship.
Having characters marry is a significant change and it's one that's not easy to reverse. I mean of course you can literally reverse the marriage and have them get a divorce, but both marriage and divorce will age a character, and so it's nonsensical or even a little disturbing to have the character going back to being the hothead "teen". This is why Marvel will go to such extreme lengths to find other ways to reverse the Human Torch and Spider-Man's marriages.
It's worth noting that around this time we've also seen Bruce Banner and Betty Ross get married and we'll soon see the same for Peter Parker and Mary Jane (more on that in their wedding issue entry). And the Vision and the Scarlet Witch have had children. Basically, the denizens of the Marvel universe are growing up. All of the above events may have been ill-advised for the long term viability of the characters. But once they happen, it's not easy to say they haven't happened. And for better or worse, Jim Shooter let them happen.
That said, all of these changes essentially will be reversed after the Shooter era, and with the exception of the Banner/Ross marriage (whose relationship "just" gets more tenuous after Betty is killed and brought back to life), all with egregious and long ranging retcons (or "soft reboots" if you prefer). In the case of Johnny and Alicia, it will be revealed that Alicia is really a Skrull called Lyja Lazerfist. And that revelation happens in Fantastic Four #358, nearly five years from now and over seven years since Alicia was meant to have been replaced. That is a looooong time for a retcon to reach back, and it effectively ruins the character growth that has been done for the past few years for Ben, Johnny, and even Alicia (although she's still a character that i feel never got enough attention; i would love a Kurt Busiek Marvels style story told from her perspective, maybe with the art depicting other characters they way she perceived them).
Of course we'll look more at that when i get to the retcon, but it's impossible to talk about this story without mentioning it. And i thought, with this being the last full issue of the FF by Roger Stern (Tom DeFalco scripts start next issue), it was a good time to reference Chris Tolworthy's site, with the idea that this could be your happy ending conclusion to the FF if you subscribe to that theory.
(I should note as an aside that the revelation that Jean Grey was replaced by the Phoenix Force reaches back even longer than the Lyja Lazerfist retcon. But for what it's worth, that retcon was designed to preserve previous stories. They could have just had Jean come back from the dead and ruled that she wasn't acting of her own accord when she destroyed that sun. Instead, they attempted to say that all those stories and that death still had meaning because the Phoenix entity had essentially become a separate Jean Grey. Whether or not that "have your cake and eat it to" attempt really worked, i think it was done in a different spirit than the Lyja Lazerfist and Brand New Day retcons.)
As for this story itself, Roger Stern finds a good angle by focusing on the Puppet Master, Alicia's step-father. It seems he wasn't invited to the wedding, despite the FF having made some inroads with him in recent years (see Marvel Two-In-One #74). And he's initially just as against Alicia marrying Johnny as he was her marrying Ben. So he's planning to attack the wedding, and he's contacted by the Mad Thinker and the Wizard, who bully him into joining forces.
The Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master had been partners in the past, but the relationship had been severed, as you can see by the Puppet Master's reference to their many defeats.
When the duo worked with a third person, it was Egghead, but he's dead at this point and he never had any special animosity towards the FF anyway. The Wizard has never met the Puppet Master before, and it's cool seeing a first meeting between villains at this relatively late stage.
The Puppet Master tells the other villains that he wants to wait until the wedding is over (but only just) so that Alicia inherits Johnny's quarter of the Fantastic Four's estate.
The Mad Thinker tells a doubting Wizard that the chances of the Puppet Master not pulling off his end of the plan is just .13%, but as he has in the past, he's failed to factor in the human element. And what happens is that, while listening to the wedding from an alcove in the church (for what it's worth, Johnny states that he's not very religious, but he believes in "something")...
...the Puppet Master realizes that he's not going to go through with the attack, because he wants his step-daughter to be happy.
So he uses Dragon Man, who he lured to the event for transport, to attack the Wizard and the Mad Thinker. The Thinker's predictions fail him again; there's no way his androids had only a 25% chance of losing to the big guy.
The FF and other wedding attendees are unaware of all of this, and get to have a peaceful wedding with no super-villain attacks.
Another villain that was aware of the wedding was Dr. Doom, but he only sends flowers.
Only Doom can send flowers (with no hidden bombs) and make it a threat!
A few other odds and ends:
Trying to think who Johnny Storm might have been trying to recruit for the entertainment. I don't think it's a Marvel character, so i'm assuming it was a famous 80s pop star. Not a misspelled Bryan Adams. Not Brian Johnson; AC/DC doesn't seem like Johnny's sort of music and not really a wedding band either. Not Brian Eno. Who am i not thinking of? Commenter S suggests Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, and that makes the most sense.
Here's the Yancy Street Gang cheering up the Thing.
They are actually taking a page from the same book She-Hulk used last issue, giving him something to get angry about in order to cheer him up.
I was surprised to not see any familiar faces at the wedding. None of Johnny's old girlfriends or coach Sam Thorne and none of Reed's old scientist colleagues. They did decide to keep it small, and i can understand Stern not wanting to complicate things by having Alicia invite the Silver Surfer. But we do see a number of strangers arrive. I assume some of them are artist friends of Alicia (again, we've had so little development of her over the years, we have no idea what her social life is like) although some of them do look more like people that scientist-types like Reed would know.
A final cool thing is that the Mad Thinker doesn't physically appear in this issue. He's just projecting his mind into a robot duplicate...
...and we'll see next issue that he's actually still in jail. I love that about him. He's a villain that seems ordinary enough that he gets put in a regular prison, but in fact prison is essentially meaningless to him.
Despite the fact that the FF never actually see the villains, this does technically fall into that cliched category of a villain attack at a wedding. But using the Puppet Master this way works well and shows growth for him too. So as always, Roger Stern is adroit in his plotting and use of characters. His FF run is unfortunately far too short. We can console ourselves with John Buscema remaining on the title for a while longer.
Quality Rating: A-
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (15): show
I would assume Brian Wilson, especially since he refers to "the Boys"
Posted by: S | March 3, 2014 2:18 PM
Thanks for the "Great American Novel" link; while I have some differences of opinion about the Marvelverse in general, I like the whole idea at least regarding the saga of the F4.
Posted by: Ataru320 | March 3, 2014 6:51 PM
@S - thanks. I failed to "read" the capital B, but you're right that the Beach Boys were probably who Stern was referencing.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 3, 2014 7:19 PM
S, that was my take on it as well.
I liked that the wedding here was not interrupted/attacked which has long been a superhero cliche.
Posted by: Chris | March 3, 2014 8:35 PM
Note that Reed has people scanning the wedding with gizmos to see if the guests are impostors. Either the gizmos didn't work very well or Reed never thought to scan "Alicia".
Posted by: Michael | March 3, 2014 8:42 PM
Illusion of change has pretty much always been the reality for major characters -- that's one reason why marriage is doubly damaging, because even if Johnny or Ben or Peter Parker can't change, their girlfriends sometimes can. Daredevil illustrates that point. It's the transient supporting cast that can develop while the heroes are arrested, but marriage removes one of the areas of supporting-cast variation.
That said, an even bigger problem with married heroes is that editorial usually seems to have no long term plan: the wedding itself is a sales gimmick, but who gave serious thought to how Peter and MJ or Johnny and Alicia would develop after that one very special issue? There are, of course, interesting stories to be told about married couples, but except perhaps for Engelhart with Vizh and Wanda, no one at Marvel ever seemed to commit to what "the Married Adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Superhero" would look like.
By the way, why do we never get super-villain weddings with superheroes crashing? I guess the villains are meant to be commitment-averse and treacherous or something, but I'd still like to see one...
Posted by: Walter Lawson | March 3, 2014 9:23 PM
Or, the superheroes are too polite to ruin such a sacred moment.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | March 3, 2014 9:27 PM
"Oh, look, there are the Wyeths!" -- presumably the artist Andrew Wyeth and his wife, meant as a nod to Alicia's stature in the world of the visual arts?
I cannot remember whether this was in an FF or an issue of The Thing's solo title, but I believe it was written by Byrne. Didn't Byrne (or some writer), in a Code-suitable way, gently raise the issue that a relationship between Ben and Alicia would have to be chaste? This is after Ben has discovered the Johnny/Alicia affair and gone into a rage over it. He's mulling it over privately and there's a thought balloon, something like, "I can't say I blame her. His skin is soft. He can hold her. He can...be a man with her."
Posted by: Todd | March 3, 2014 9:43 PM
This issue is often cited as one of the main reasons why Waid's "Johnny sent the Yancy Street packages" retcon made no sense- the Yancy Street gangsters talk about how they've been hassling Ben for years and play a prank on him similar to the package pranks.
Posted by: Michael | March 3, 2014 9:49 PM
That guy with the big black tie is either DC's Toyman with a mustache, or Rip Taylor.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 8, 2014 6:13 PM
Todd, that scene you're referring to seems to be from Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men #3.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 21, 2014 1:16 PM
There actually IS a super-villian wedding that's crashed and interrupted by superheroes. Of course it happened in Avengers Unplugged, which is why no one knows about it.
The problem with the "Illusion of Change" theory (at least in regards to marriage) is that it only works when the "illusion" is believable. Since creators seem to come up with some PAINFULLY awkward ways to end these marriages and families, it's the equivalent of doing a trick with visible strings.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | May 8, 2014 5:07 AM
A belated thank you for turning me on to Chris Tolworthy's F.F. site! I've only just recently managed to find my way out of that rabbit hole. His analysis sparked my interest in the F.F. themselves, even if I don't agree with everything I read.
Posted by: TCP | February 13, 2015 3:57 PM
It's definitely a cool site that has given me some food for thought.
Posted by: fnord12 | February 13, 2015 6:06 PM
Maybe it was Brian May.
I know I'd rather have Queen play at my wedding. I was actually fortunate to attend a friend's wedding, and he had Almost Queen play - it was absolutely fantastic!
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | May 31, 2015 7:16 PM
Fnord, loved your analysis of marriages, babies and divorce aging the characters... Marvel has spent about 45 years trying to shy away from that -- basically Reed and Sue's is the only marriage that sticks!
However, at the time I'm writing this at least (post 2015 Secret Wars), it seems Marvel may finally be ready to let its older characters reflect the amount of time that's passed. A lot of that is due to legacy heroes... on top of older characters like Falcon as the new Captain America, the original Ms. Marvel as Captain Marvel and Jane Foster as the new "Thor," we have a new Hawkeye, Nova, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Hulk, Wasp ..heck they've even set up Doom as a new Iron Man. In fact, the Miles Morales Spidey is such a fan favorite that it quite seems lately Marvel is ready to finally let Peter Parker... *gasp* be a grown-up (which, of course, he's actually been since finishing grad school in 1978!)
So who knows.. maybe the illusion of change is finally giving away to ACTUAL change!
Posted by: Jeff | July 13, 2016 3:57 PM
Yeah Jeff, count me among the Marvel fans who has *absolutely no problem* with the characters aging, passing the baton, etc.
Posted by: cullen | July 13, 2016 6:47 PM
@Michael: I doubt that Johnny was responsible for all those prank packages, its more probable that he took over after the Yancy Street Gang began to lose interest in winding up the Thing every so often.
Posted by: D09 | September 30, 2016 1:50 AM
Groan. Well, I made it through it. The culmination of the travesty that's the Johnny/Alicia hook-up. Never liked it, never will. I believe I've been quite clear on that these past weeks.
If you wanted some great drama Ben should have decided not to attend or at least refuse to be best man regardless of whether by now he's accepted it after a fashion anyway.
I will say I liked the angle of Philip Masters deciding not to go through with the ambush.
Posted by: KevinA | May 25, 2018 9:48 AM
Comments are now closed.
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