Fantastic Four #304
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #304
And within the FF, at least under Jim Shooter, Englehart is given a lot of leeway. After a lot of recent effort to get the original team back together and reconcile the problems between the Thing and the rest of the FF, Englehart right from this issue starts the process of considerably changing the makeup of the team.
The reasons for the change are (at least) twofold. The first being the continued undercurrent of unhappiness from the Thing, who, it's said at the start of this issue, is "so close to an explosion" despite the recent reconciliation efforts i mentioned. And the second is due to Franklin Richards.
This second point is an interesting one that actually goes back years. With a child to take care of, Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman have an additional responsibility that ought to prevent them from going off on random adventures for months at a time. In practice, poor Franklin has for years been dumped with Agatha Harkness or Alicia Masters or Jarvis, which may have been expedient but was hardly good parenting (at least Harkness was a proper nanny). Lee and Kirby briefly teased the idea that Reed and Sue would quit the team when Sue was pregnant, but that turned out to be a feint. There was the period where Reed and Sue were separated, with Sue being replaced by Medusa. And more recently in John Byrne's run, after Alicia and Franklin were attacked by Annihilus while the FF were out exploring the Negative Zone, Reed and Sue decided to adopt secret identities and a house in the suburbs. But Byrne also showed that the characters couldn't escape that easily and had them all attacked by Mephisto at their new home. More recently, at the tail end of Byrne's run, he had the Richardses thinking about Franklin in the context of the boy Kristoff, a child of similar age that was "raised" by Dr. Doom and is now a ranting loon held (somewhat disturbingly) by the FF in a padded room. Englehart reminds us of that this issue.
In the meantime, Franklin has been used extensively in Power Pack, where the themes of parental neglect have been coming up a lot and where his latent mutant powers have been becoming more and more active. In Roger Stern's brief run just prior to this, he had Franklin finally reveal his powers to his parents, despite his fear that they would think he was a monster for it.
Englehart has clearly done his research (it's what i like best about him) and he's incorporating all of that into his series here.
As we saw with John Byrne's run, it's easy to acknowledge the problem but more difficult to actually do something about it. That's largely for commercial reasons; it's relatively easy to replace a single member of the FF, as with Invisible Woman/Medusa or the Thing/She-Hulk (the Thing/Power Man switch didn't last very long and Ben was still present for most of that). But having both Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman leave, especially since Mr. Fantastic is the leader of the group and shares a name with the team, risks making the group that remains unrecognizable. But that is what Englehart intends to do here. The fact that he was allowed to in part reflects the time period; we're in the midst of a lot of replacement characters which some say was deliberately designed to allow the Marvel Universe characters to age in something closer to real time. But Marvel still had to make money, and allowing Englehart to make this significant change shows a confidence in him.
Englehart works the change into the problems for the Thing. It's kind of funny; when Johnny and Alicia first get back from their honeymoon, Johnny is upset to find out that the Thing is mad at him again.
And me too! We've been working through this since FF #296, with three different writers now (Stan Lee, Roger Stern, and Roy Thomas) providing their takes, but we still apparently haven't moved forward! But Englehart is finally going to break that cycle, along with the cycle of the Richardses realizing they are neglecting their child but not doing anything about it.
Englehart, it's worth remembering, wrote the Thing for a while in his West Coast Avengers series. And he was written in such a way that Hawkeye wanted to recruit him, not just for his raw power (the team already had Wonder Man and Iron Man), but because he was a veteran super-hero so it would be a great boost to the West Coast team's legitimacy. And as with the Thing's solo series, it was a way to look at the Thing outside the context of the FF, to show that he was a viable character on his own. Taking that into account, it makes sense for Mr. Fantastic to nominate the Thing as the leader of the FF now that he and Sue are leaving.
Johnny, by contrast, is "still young" and would be distracted by his newlywed status, according to Sue.
The Thing initially sees the offer as a form of charity, and rejects it. But by the end of the issue he'll accept.
In the meantime, Englehart brings in another character he's been working with (or, from my perspective, mangling): Quicksilver.
(Using Quicksilver will allow Englehart to bring in an obvious and traditional replacement for one of the retiring FF members next issue.)
As you can see, Quicksilver is stark raving mad. And he's blaming the Human Torch for his problems with his wife Crystal, because the Torch "let" him steal Crystal away from him. And so he's kidnapped Alicia and left her tied up in some Bronx slums, so she can be tortured by having rats crawl over her and stuff. He doesn't even intend to stick around; he's got to plan his next attack on the West Coast Avengers.
That's pretty tortured thinking, and the idea seems to be that Quicksilver is hopelessly mad. Even Alicia, who has endured the laments of the likes of the Thing and the Silver Surfer, doesn't attempt to reach out to him.
But the FF track him down thanks to Reed tracking the "fatigue poisons that build up in normal people" when exerting themselves but which Quicksilver expels by exhaling them while he runs. However, Quicksilver's super-speed turns out to be difficult for the FF to counter...
...until the Thing decides to use teamwork.
It is Alicia describing Quicksilver as having a spirit "so twisted - so inflamed by pain and madness" that causes the Thing to let go of his own pain and agree to lead the FF.
It's a good beginning and a nice way to signal a new direction by examining the problems that have been building in this series. The continuation of John Buscema on art helps temper some of Englehart's more histrionic tendencies. It's unfortunate how over-the-top crazy Quicksilver is, because showing him to be a little more rational might have made the parallel with the Thing more powerful and plausible. But accepting that, we are off to a good start.
I should also note that this issue marks the return of Joe Sinnott to the FF (actually on finishes). He's been off the book since John Byrne's run began, but prior to that inked the FF beginning with issue #44. This run won't be quite as long, but the combination of him and Buscema help provide a traditional look that is an interesting contrast to the radical changes Englehart will be making.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The Human Torch and Alicia return from their honeymoon this issue.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showFranklin Richards, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Kristoff, Lyja the Lazerfist, Mr. Fantastic, Quicksilver, Sergius O'Hoolihan, Thing
Englehart claimed that the problem with the Fantastic Four was that the membership consisted of Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny for too long:
Posted by: Michael | March 12, 2014 9:42 PM
Hmmm, surprised Alicia didn't recognize Pietro's voice ("..whoever you are...")--she and Ben seemed to be part of Pietro and Crys's wedding party back in FF #150. Well, maybe in his maniacal state here he didn't sound like himself? ;)
Posted by: Shar | March 14, 2014 10:48 AM
Nope, because it will eventually be revealed that Alicia was replaced by the Skrull Lyja Lazerfist circa Secret Wars! (No wonder she didn't recognize Quicksilver!)
Love your new site, Shar.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 14, 2014 10:54 AM
Ah! Of course--darn, I should have realized that, fnord.
And thanks for the plug--appreciate your comments!:) I'm having fun checking out those FF issues.
Posted by: Shar | March 14, 2014 11:29 AM
I think Englehart had the right idea - shake up the book somewhat - but I disagree in multiple ways the way he went about doing it. So far with these first couple of issues, I have no complaints.
I don't like the portrayal of Quicksilver, but he's been a damaged character for a very long time. Even in the early days of the Avengers, the writers gave him little personality except for being overprotective of his sister.
Posted by: Chris | March 16, 2014 12:33 AM
I was extremely stoked for the return of Englehart, my favorite writer. (Whom I'd discovered only in retrospect, not really reading Marvel during his first run. [He left less than 6 months after I first dipped a toe into the line.]) I think most of his work here was good, and certainly holds up better than his concurrent work on Green Lantern for DC. ("But Hal, I used my ring to age my body, so I'm not really 14 any more! And the years on my planet are half as long as on Earth, so it's just like I'm 28, honestly!" JFC, Steve…wtf?)
BUT…he does seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of this book. This isn't the Avengers or the Defenders, a team in flux. It's the adventures of four people who were joined by a single event in their past. If you don't like that this is the Reed/Sue/Ben/Johnny show, don't write the book. Period.
I don't mind that Steve starts off by shaking up the team for a legitimate reason, and that this is used to give character development to Ben, making "The Idol o' Millions" take some responsibility for once. I don't mind that Steve shows us that there's more than one way to run a team, with the FF no longer depending on Reed to tech their way out of problems. But a few years of this is all we need (I mean, it's still less time than we spent having to endure Byrne's She-Hulk fetish), the book should return to its core concept, eventually.
Posted by: Dan Spector | January 30, 2018 3:08 AM
Unfortunately, Steve doesn't seem to get that last bit. Character growth is most relevant when we get to see it in familiar situations. Instead we get Reed and Sue joining the Avengers (the hell??), which pretty much makes a hash out of their reasons for quitting this book, and Steve going into an extended pout when he's told to at least do a semi-reboot and lazily churning out "John Harkness" stories instead of understanding Shooter's point. A disappointing end to what had been a very good run for a while.
And the pandering "Sue and Crystal have a catfight" issue was just flat-out embarrassing. (Also Sue should be able to kick Crystal's ass even after Crys "wins", but I digress…)
Posted by: Dan Spector | January 30, 2018 3:14 AM
Great, more of the piece of sh*t that is Pietro Maximoff. Now we get an over-the-top lunatic finger-pointer brave enough to not only kidnap but TIE UP a blind woman. At least we get to see him get his ass kicked again which is always a good thing.
Posted by: KevinA | June 11, 2018 9:55 AM
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