Fantastic Four #357-360
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #357, Fantastic Four #358, Fantastic Four #359, Fantastic Four #360
For a while, it seemed like Marvel characters could evolve. A lot, but not all, of this happened in the 1980s. Defining moments occurred that redefined some characters and broke others out of ruts that limited their character growth. Female characters broke out of their helpless 1960s archtypes, some becoming leaders. Some characters just seemed to mature. Some got married.
A short term "illusion of change" was always a part of the Marvel universe and is a necessary component of any ongoing storyline that doesn't want to be seen as one dimensional (like, say Archie) but also doesn't want to ever let their characters grow old and die. But that illusion of change was easier when the audience turnover was short. When it was kids reading comics for a summer or for a couple of years, it was easier to create some short term developments that could later be reversed without anyone complaining. But from the beginning, Marvel was trying to target an older audience, and they were successful enough that they had attracted essentially lifelong fans. And with that, the "illusion of change" had to become more and more sophisticated, and there was also desire to see real change.
The Human Torch was a character that exemplified those changes. Johnny Storm was introduced as a hot headed teen. He was immature; he bristled at Mr. Fantastic's leadership, he picked fights with the Thing, and he had girl troubles. But as the series went on, he had to grow up. He had to grow up in part because fans reading the book wouldn't have accepted a character that still acted like an immature youth after 200+ issues, and in part because Spider-Man was growing up. Spider-Man was always a more character driven book, and there was a lot of focus on him going to first high school, and then college, and then graduating college. Johnny was about the same age as Spider-Man, and they had a friendly rivalry. So if one character was growing up, the other had to as well. But until John Byrne's run in the 1980s, Johnny was still written mainly as an immature hot head (with exceptions, but he always reverted to that role). The difference is that an immature 16 year old is very different than an immature 22 year old (or so). Eventually he stops seeming like a fun kid and more like a sad man that never grew up.
At the same time, we had the Thing, and his relationship with Alicia Masters. Just as Johnny was perpetually immature, Ben Grimm was perpetually tragic, trapped in the body of a monster, unable to accept that and therefore unable to believe that Alicia could really love him. And after 200+ issues of that, some longtime readers wanted him to move on already. He's had plenty of time to get comfortable in his new skin, and if he couldn't do that, it was time to set Alicia free. So Byrne got the idea of having the Thing put his relationship with Alicia on hold, and then have the Thing decide to leave the Fantastic Four (at first remaining on the Battleplanet after Secret Wars, but not rejoining the team even when he returned home). Meanwhile, Johnny developed feelings for Alicia, and he realized that those feelings were different; what he wanted from Alicia was different than what he got from his usual short term flings. Johnny was growing up. And we were seeing more of Alicia than just "the Thing's perpetual girlfriend".
So it all made a kind of sense. But other more classically oriented fans didn't like these developments. And to be sure, John Byrne could have evolved all of these characters without pairing Alicia with Johnny. Johnny could have met a new character and had the same developments, and Alicia could still have been given enough page time to show her moving on with her life. Even more controversial, and more permanent, was the fact that Johnny and Alicia eventually got married (after Byrne's run ended). Up until that point, this all could have been part of an elaborate "illusion of change" to be reversed one day. Now reversing that change was going to get more complicated (in that regard, the parallels to Spider-Man, who got married a little after Johnny and Alicia's wedding, continue).
I was getting into comics while Byrne was making these changes, so i accepted the developments in realtime unquestioningly. It's obvious now why it would be controversial, but, having read through all of the FF (and Marvel Two-In-One, etc.) comics up until this point, it's also clear why Byrne thought making these changes was a good idea. The characters were definitely stuck in a rut. The growth of the Human Torch in particular remains a highlight of Byrne's run for me. But even if the developments were universally reviled (and it's worth remembering that Byrne's FF run was very popular, and remains so), it's something that happened at this point. The marriage happened in Fantastic Four #300, almost five years ago, and the Thing put his relationship with Alicia on hold (directly before leaving for Secret Wars) in Thing #10 (cover date Apr 84). So not only do we have more than seven years of continuity to consider, but seven years of character development.
But it's Tom DeFalco that is handling the reversal in these issues. And DeFalco isn't the type to make a few small surgical changes while respecting past continuity. DeFalco wants to bring everything back to the Silver Age, as literally as possible. We saw that in his Thor run, and it's clearly what is happening here.
In talking about the reversal of the Spider-Man marriage (many years after this story) and similar reversals, i've seen current Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort say that it's "not fair" for older fans to want characters to continue to evolve and change, because we're depriving younger readers of the chance to experience the characters in their classic status quos. I personally find that argument to be just slightly more compelling than saying that it's not fair that Hamlet dies at the end of his play, because he should perpetually be experienced dithering about what to do about his dead father. If you want to read characters in their classic status quos, go read the classic stories. But when Brevoort makes the argument, i can accept that the classic stories may read a little too corny to modern audiences, so what we need are characters in their classic status quos but produced by modern writers and artists. With DeFalco, he almost literally wants to go back to the Silver Age, with script and art styles that mimic Lee and Kirby as closely as possible, so i really don't get it.
But DeFalco is more than willing to sacrifice the past seven years of continuity in order to get things back to the Silver Age. So he reveals that Alicia Masters was replaced by a shape-shifting Skrull named Lyja during Secret Wars. Lyja's original plan was to influence the Fantastic Four through the Thing, but when the Thing didn't come back from Secret Wars, she found a way to make the Human Torch fall in love with her. So not only does this mean that the last 40+ appearances of Alicia were really a Skrull, but Johnny's character development is essentially written off as well. And we also saw that the Thing's new girlfriend conveniently disappeared without explanation last issue. So by the time this is over, we're all clear to get things back to the way "they should be".
It's worth contrasting this with the resurrection of Jean Grey storyline, which also went back a number of years and said that the character we thought we saw was actually someone else. They are similar, and maybe Jean's resurrection should be considered a precursor to this, the event that opened up the floodgates (we've got more of these coming up, starting with the Iron Fist story in Namor). But i would say there is a difference with the Jean Grey story. However successful it wound up being, the attempt was made with Jean to have our cake and eat it too. Yes, Jean Grey was replaced by the Phoenix Force, but the Phoenix modeled itself on Jean. The point was emphasized in the retcon that it was Jean's personality that caused the Phoenix to act the way it did. And ultimately the resurrected Jean absorbed the memories of the Phoenix, so that going forward those stories really did - sort of - happen to her. It may have been executed poorly, but preserving the character development done during the Phoenix Force period was definitely a goal of the retcon. The closest equivalent in this I Married A Skrull storyline is Lyja and Johnny retaining feelings for each other, but that is done as much to explain why Lyja never acted on the fact that she had infiltrated the Fantastic Four for seven fricking years than it is for character purposes, and certainly it doesn't do anything for Johnny and especially Alicia's character development (the latter of whom it will turn out was in suspended animation the whole time, so she's literally what she was seven years ago).
This story starts with Mr. Fantastic implementing a new security system after the actions of the Puppet Master last issue. To protect everyone in the Four Freedoms Plaza from mind-control. But to do that, he needs everyone's brain scans. And Alicia refuses to be scanned.
Based on Sue's mama bear reaction, i could almost believe that she's a Skrull too.
Alicia does eventually consent to the scan.
Meanwhile, the Mad Thinker projects his mind into a robot body so that he can leave prison for a while to talk to the Puppet Master. He gives the Puppet Master information about "Alicia" that proves that she's really a Skrull, although we don't find that out until the end of issue #357. The Thinker also has an unrelated scheme going on that will result in the death of the FF, and he mentions it to the Puppet Master. More on that in a bit.
Meanwhile, DeFalco makes up for lost time in showing us that Johnny and Alicia's marriage sucks. Alicia is suddenly a shrew, and Johnny is leaving all those hot pieces of ass behind.
Subtle it ain't.
And from there we go right into Johnny trying to figure out how to make marriage work.
Again, this is after 60 issues of being married, as well as a plotline in Steve Englehart's run on the title where Johnny was faced with the prospect of working with a former girlfriend (Crystal) and still being attracted to her. He dealt with that but seems to be back on square one now. And the only "work" we've seen him have to deal with is leaving behind the lady in hot pants.
DeFalco may have just not thought much of marriage generally, considering how he's written Eric Masterson's ex-wife in Thor and the way he writes Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman (which i have to admit is 100% in character).
Later, the Thing notices an odd shadow in Mr. Fantastic's lab and accidentally smashes the brain scanning machine while trying to catch it.
Mr. Fantastic already has copies of the brain scans, though, so he continues to analyze them. Meanwhile, the Puppet Master contacts the Thing and tells him what he knows. But of course this is all a big mystery to the readers, so we aren't let in on the secret, and this is to the detriment of the plot and all common sense. The Thing bursts into Johnny and Alicia's room, threatening to kill Alicia without explanation.
The Thing has plenty of time to talk, and is in a rational enough state of mind to make jokes, but he somehow can't bring himself to say, "That's not really Alicia, it's a Skrull".
So everyone assumes that he's under the control of the Puppet Master. And this goes on for pages (as Andrew notes in the comments, the bottom panel in the scan below is an homage to a scene from FF #1).
And Mr. Fantastic, who independently comes to the same conclusion as the Mad Thinker, is equally mum beyond all rationality.
And then, finally, the reveal.
And what better way to go into issue #358, which is the FF's triple sized ($2.50) 30th anniversary issue? The cover of the issue is heavy cardstock with a circle cut out in the middle. It opens to a spread of all the FF's allies and villains. And there are pin-ups and features showing off each FF members' powers and a description of their building and a copy of Stan Lee's initial plot write-up for issue #1, and a back-up Dr. Doom story (more on that below). And of course a main story revealing that the past seven of those thirty years featured a Skrull posing as one of the book's main supporting characters.
It all started with the Skrulls deciding that they needed a spy to infiltrate the Fantastic Four. Despite the fact that you'd think that this would be like the first thing that Skrulls would ever think to do, it's presented as a radical and controversial idea, and it takes "General Kalamari" a little time to wrap his head around the fact that no one is proposing to replace a member of the FF specifically with a Skrull.
"Captain Paibok" is put in charge of the spy operation, and he chooses his former girlfriend, Lyja, to play the role of Alicia.
My favorite over-complication of this scheme is the idea that Lyja had to wear contacts to fake Alicia's blindness (surgically implanted, but only in effect when she's in human form!).
In this story alone, we saw Lyja change into a variety of forms while tricking the Thing into destroying the brain scanning device, and she'll also turn into a "bierbeast", with all the abilities of that alien creature. So she couldn't just use her shape-shifting powers to make herself blind?
Anyway, Alicia was kidnapped while the Thing, the Human Torch, and Mr. Fantastic were away for Secret Wars. It's said that the Invisible Woman was too distraught over the missing teammates to notice the switch, and Lyja was "firmly established" by the time Secret Wars ended. The fact that the Thing was replaced by She-Hulk caused the change in plans where she focused on seducing Johnny.
But she fell in looooove with him.
My favorite unnecessary plot twist is when Lyja tells Johnny that she's carrying his baby.
She'll back away from the baby claim a little later in this arc, but it will come back to haunt us in a future storyline.
Poor Johnny is confused. He's still in love with Lyja.
Another character who is being reset to the Silver Age is the Puppet Master. He's been mellowing out in recent years, and his relationship with the Fantastic Four was thawing. He was even coming to their Christmas parties for a little while. But now he's back to pure villain mode. And with no development, just an overt out loud statement of his motivations.
I mean, Jesus. Couldn't it at least be a thought bubble of him thinking, "If Alicia never associated with the Fantastic Four, then this never would have happened. After they get her back, I need to make sure they are never around to put her in danger again!". Or something? Just having him literally state "The Thing... doesn't realize I blame the Fantastic Four" is so unsubtle and corny.
Puppet Master does remember that the Mad Thinker was talking about destroying the Fantastic Four, and since he doesn't want them destroyed yet, he takes possession of the Thinker's neighboring cellmate at the Vault, the Cobra, to make sure that the Thinker isn't about to do anything. But this is the Mad Thinker we're talking about, and he's anticipated the Puppet Master taking control of Cobra to ask him about that.
In fact the Thinker does have a plan for killing off the FF while they are in space rescuing Alicia, but more on that in a bit.
Lyja is coming along with the FF for their trip, and let's just put an FF costume on her and see how fans react.
Lyja takes the FF to an asteroid in the Andromeda galaxy where Alicia is being held, and the FF fight their way through a bunch of Skrulls.
The big challenge is Paibok, who has now gone through a process similar to the Super-Skrull and is now the Power Skrull. Super-Skrull of course has the powers of the Fantastic Four. Paibok has powers that seem to mimic Iceman...
But he also has electricity powers (maybe loosely based on Storm, if we're continuing with the X-Men theme, but obviously closer to, say, Electro).
And his fourth power seems to just be generic flight.
His electricity power has the ability to go right through Sue's forcefield. This is something of a change. Normally it's her invisibility power that is ignored by half of the villains she encounters.
Paibok has a special desire to see the Human Torch defeated, since "though she was acting under my orders, the Torch must pay for the countless humiliations Lyja must have suffered in his hands". But Lyja legitimately loves the Torch, so she transforms into the aforementioned bierbeast to protect him.
Lyja seemingly dies, now saying that there was no baby.
Mr. Fantastic, meanwhile, sabotages the asteroid base's nuclear core, and the Skrulls start fleeing in panic. He also locates and rescues Alicia. Who, as noted before, will wake up not realizing that any time has passed.
Hell, DeFalco. Why not reveal that all of the Fantastic Four have been in suspended animation since FF #102? In fact, every day they can wake up from suspended animation as if it's FF #103, have an adventure, and then get reset? It's exactly what Steve Englehart mocked at the end of his run, come to life.
As the FF are escaping, the Mad Thinker's plan comes into play. It seems he's managed to infiltrate the company that manufactures the plates that Mr. Fantastic uses as radiation shields on the FF's spaceship. And he's implemented a defect that causes the shielding to malfunction and fall off. These days Mr. Fantastic uses redundant shielding, so the FF aren't in any immediate danger from radiation. But the resultant explosion damages the ship's hyper drive, leaving them stranded in the Andromeda galaxy.
The one thing i kind of like in these issues is the fact that the Mad Thinker is able to execute this behind the scenes attack on the FF without even anyone knowing he was involved. That's a good role for him that we should have seen more of.
Before we get to the other two issues in this arc, let me just note that the reaction to the Skrull revelation, as printed in the lettercol for issue #360, is 100% positive. The only point of contention is from people who think Lyja shouldn't have been killed off and she should return and join the Fantastic Four and continue her romance with Johnny. I also remember being shocked when Marvel released a set of trading cards in 1992 and included the I Married A Skrull storyline as a Milestone alongside Days of Future Past and the Death of Gwen Stacy. That took a lot of balls. But clearly some fans liked the story, even if Marvel was being very selective about which letters they printed.
Anyway, DeFalco wastes no time in getting back to Silver Age stories (literally not even enough time for the FF to get home). Any hope for character development is immediately squashed when we find out at the beginning of issue #359 that Alicia found out about everything that happened to her off panel so we don't get to see her reaction.
And then we're immediately rushed into an introduction of a poor man's substitute for a Jack Kirby creation, Devos the Devastator.
Devos' deal is that he, er, devastates any species that has the capacity for war, which in practice means anyone. Note that among his trophies (silhouetted in the foreground) seems to be John Byrne. Just in case there was any doubt about what DeFalco was trying to accomplish with the previous two issues.
Devos also has a creature, shown in the shape of a a black cube, that he doesn't know how to destroy. We'll see more of that in a bit.
So obviously the FF are found by Devos and they fight him and use his ship to get back to Earth. Only interesting (if at all) because of the clumsy way that DeFalco continues the Alicia situation during the battle.
Devos is more of a traditionalist than Paibok. He is able to negate the Invisible Woman's basic power, not her forcefields.
As i've said before, this should never happen. The power that grants the Invisible Woman her namesake should not be so easily negated, especially not by some lame ass Kirby rip-off villain. Her invisibility should extend to the infared, radar sense, etc.. It's her goddamn power.
Anyway, enough of this guy.
He evacuates his ship, releasing a spray that kills off all his captives, except the Fantastic Four, thanks to Sue's forcefield. And of course not before a "The strain is too great! I... I can't hold out much longer!" Byrne's powering up of the Invisible Woman seems to be another casualty. At least she doesn't change her name back to the Invisible Girl.
The FF are able to hyperspace home, but they are forced to land on a deserted South Sea island. Devos did have smaller shuttles on his spaceship, and Mr. Fantastic is able to get one of them working. But there isn't enough room for everyone to go home on it, so the Thing (the heaviest) and one other person will have to remain behind. Alicia sensibly thinks that this would be a good opportunity for her to get re-acquainted with Ben and do some character work, but that idea is nixed.
Well if "the boys" have made up their minds, i guess that's that.
So instead this is a story about the black creature that Devos had on his ship.
And if it reminds you of Venom, it's all going according to plan for Tom DeFalco. One caveat to his Silver Age obsession is that he knows that the grim and gritty elements of the 90s are what sell. So why not give the Fantastic Four their own symbiote to fight?
Whether this thing was actualy meant to be a symbiote or not, i am not sure, but he's clearly meant to give us that impression.
This issue opens by saying "Introducing a sinister deadly new foe for the world's greatest fighting team!". In practice i guess he didn't go over so well, since "Dreadface" only has two more appearances.
The closest we get to an actual examination of what's happened with Alicia comes from a campfire conversation between Johnny and Ben before Dreadface attacks. But it's really just a repeat of things Johnny has said already followed by the Thing saying "Too bad real life ain't as easy goin' as the funny papers" which i think is really ironic given that something like this can only have happened in a comic book, and a bad one at that.
So anyway, here comes Dreadface. Actually, it's the Thing that names him.
Sure looks like the Venom symbiote. But on the other hand, it's talking independently of its host, and it's not afraid of fire.
In fact, it's able to possess the Human Torch.
Sonics don't seem to be a problem, either.
Of course, since we've only met one symbiote so far, we don't know what might be unique to Venom compared to the rest of his species.
The Thing is able to stop Dreadface by triggering an explosion in Devos' ship's fuel tank. He breaks his arm in the process, but seemingly burns Dreadface off of Johnny.
Then Mr. Fantastic shows up and takes them home, and that's the end of our arc.
It's worth noting that these issues would be terrible even if they weren't retconning years of continuity. The scripting is so corny and antiquated, it's just embarrassing.
All the above panel is missing is a narration capsule saying, "Suddenly, the cheetah pounces!" and we'd have the show it/say it/narrate it trifecta from the early Silver Age. All of the dialogue is like this, with characters just saying what needs to be said to move the plot along. In DeFalco's Thor, this is mitigated to some degree by Ron Frenz's obvious aping of Kirby, which clearly signals that it's meant to be a nostalgia book. Paul Ryan's art in this comic is fine, if not great, but it's neither flashy 90s art nor deliberately retro like Frenz. It's just kind of plain, and there's nothing to obscure or enhance DeFalco's kiddie scripting.
Then of course there's the retcon, which is easily the most far reaching and destructive that we've seen so far. What's also ridiculous about it is that the situation is found out by accident, thanks to the Puppet Master. Ok, Lyja legitimately fell in love with the Torch, but did her Skrull handlers just forget about her? They never expected updates, never had an actual scheme in mind for her to execute? How much longer before whatever they were going to do came to fruition? They are playing the longest game i've ever seen from them. The whole plot is just a device to retcon Johnny and Alicia's relationship; the actual story is, i guess, unimportant.
There is more continuity meddling in the back-up Dr. Doom story in issue #358. It starts with an "Editor" revising the dialogue from Dr. Doom's battle with Kristoff in Fantastic Four #350.
The basic idea seems to be a knock on continuity itself, saying that they stories we are told, at least as they relate to Doom, are not the truth.
We're shown that Doombots themselves are too incompetent to ever be mistaken for the original, and someone like Doom would never program robots for independent thought, so basically Walt Simonson's idea in FF #350 can not have been true.
Beyond unretconning the Simonson retcon (which was designed to be possible to ignore in the first place, so it's completely unnecessary), the meta meaning of this back-up is a little unclear to me. Obviously there is The Editor, and it puts a lot of emphasis on the long hard work that editors have to deal with. But what it's trying to say exactly is beyond me, and i imagine it was all mystifyingly weird to fans buying the issue for the 30th anniversary and gimmick cover.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: The Thing breaks his arm at the end of this issue and is seen getting a cast in issue #361 (the MCP have a number of Thing appearances between this issue and next, though).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (9): show
"Then of course there's the retcon, which is easily the most far reaching and destructive that we've seen so far."
This is just the beginning, of course - it gets beat by the "Clone Saga".
Posted by: clyde | November 2, 2015 2:57 PM
I started getting into the FF shortly after this, so I grew up with Lyja and enjoy her a lot. To me, she's basically the love of Johnny's life and she should be an essential part of the supporting cast.
That said, dear God this retcon.
(Oh, and I do so enjoy the Mad Thinker's plan here.)
Posted by: Thanos6 | November 2, 2015 4:08 PM
A good summary of the regressive nature of Marvel Comics in the 90s, and of the constant, ongoing struggle between core character attributes and actual character development (a struggle that Marvel itself had a hand in starting). Maybe Steve Englehart was right when he theorized that DeFalco and Marvel had a "plan to end innovation across the line."
I wasn't reading FF at this time, but I was reading the various Spider-titles on and off. It's surprising to me that this retcon would be well-received by readers given what would happen a decade later with "One More Day," though I grant that OMD was worse by virtue of the retcon being even grander in scale.
Posted by: TCP | November 2, 2015 4:22 PM
Sometimes it truly amazes me how some fans seem to like the idea of the past seven years or more being undone, or even ASK for it! Especially before eras where you could torrent the comic, they're effectively rendering their own spendings moot as well as the time they spent reading it.
Those familar with the MC2 universe would remember Lyja as a member of the Fantastic Five (as the shapeshifting Ms. Fantastic), which along with having Mayday Parker seemed to be somewhat built on aborted 90's plotlines given form in a sense. Because of this, its somewhat amusing to see that Lyja wore a Fantastic Four uniform almost immediately after her revelation.
Posted by: Max_Spider | November 2, 2015 4:25 PM
Ironically, Lyja had a lot of potential for provoking character development and being a character herself. The woman you fell deeply in love with is actually employed by one of your enemies and the woman you thought you were in love with suddenly re-enters the picture unaware of any change in status quo? If writers stopped looking at their retcon devices as just retcon devices, they could actually start telling stories with them!
But no, let's just kill her. Don't they kill her twice in the 90's?
Posted by: Max_Spider | November 2, 2015 4:28 PM
I didn't read much of late 80s-early 90s FF, so at the time, I liked this comic book, as it had a nice old school feel to it compared to the grim and gritty other comics. However, in retrospect, there's a lot of problems with it, especially now that I know what was being retconned.
I do like the Mad Thinker here; it kind of reminds me of a non superhuman type plot that Hector Hammond would always carry out in Green Lantern, in which the hero is completely unaware that the villain is waging this scheme.
Paibok and Devos would form a new Frightful Four like squad in future issues.
Posted by: MikeCheyne | November 2, 2015 4:54 PM
At least Lyja is a pretty sexy Skrull. As Max_Spider said there's at least potential to salvage a new character. I'd say the late 70s-80s is the best period of Marvel comics with just about every title kicking butt.
So what's the best ending point for most comics? I say the Thor run ends with Walt Simonson's. I guess X-Men can end with Claremont's closing Shadowking story but that sounds like it was pretty weak. I even like to think Cyclops' story ends with him happily married to Maddie.
Posted by: david banes | November 2, 2015 5:43 PM
DeFalco's run is just bizarre.
On the one hand, he regresses the scripting to silver age style. On the other, he takes the writing into 90s shock drek, with Reed and Doom dead, Sue half naked and shacking up with Namor, Ben getting grim and gritty disfigured and wearing a bucket, pouches, jackets, etc.
This run was gawdawful, and made even moreso by the fact that it followed the abrupt end of Simonson's perfection.
And undoing that Doom story was just asinine. It says to the reader that you HAVE to accept every dumb use of Doom as canon. Meanwhile, DeFalco has no issue erasing development for Johnny and Alicia that he hated.
Posted by: Bob | November 2, 2015 6:16 PM
Oh my, this is bad. Now I know why some FF fans hate DeFalco so much...
Posted by: Piotr W | November 2, 2015 6:19 PM
I started FF a few issues before this one so I loved Lyja but I empathise with the classic readers too. I like Ryan's art both here and in Quasar and Avengers West Coast. I really dislike De Falco's kiddie writing.
Posted by: Grom | November 2, 2015 6:21 PM
The scan of the Thing grabbing the pylon to threaten the Human Torch reminds me of the scene from FF 1, where the thing uproots a tree to threaten Mr Fantastic, except it's flipped right to left. That's probably what you're thinking of.
Posted by: Andrew | November 2, 2015 6:24 PM
You know, looking at this thru fresh eyes (I did read all this in real time, but not since), I like Raul Ryan's pencils. He's got a classic comic book style. He even adds in nice touches, like Johnny's hairstyle during the Byrne era.
By the way, I think the silhouette in the trophy room is of DeFalco, not Byrne.
Posted by: Bill | November 2, 2015 6:55 PM
Heh, and I thought I was the only one who thought Lyja was at least attractive.
Regarding all this: there is nothing wrong with shock value but the regression of 7 years of storytelling to do it without a logistical means and measures is just that: shock value. Marvel is at a really bizarre point at this period where we have a desire by the main editor to go back to the Silver Age and doing so with his main titles (Thor, F4), but at the same time allowing for the huge money makers to get away with anything and relying too much on the mutants and the grit (Punisher, Ghost Rider) that's selling. Its only going to get worse with the Silver Age books collapsing apart while the Image exodus happens...but this evidently is something that was really just Defalco's pure desire to screw with certain aspect of developments to try to return the team to a more naive time when, as you highlighted with Simonson, you can get away with telling stories while restoring to a sort-of status quo by the end of them.
Posted by: Ataru320 | November 2, 2015 7:03 PM
If it weren't written by DeFalco, I'd think the Doom story was a commentary on what was happening in the main story.
"Characters in their classic status quos but produced by modern writers and artists" is what the Ultimate universe was, or at least was supposed to be. Of course, the Ultimate era produced One More Day, it was the Ultimate universe that killed Peter Parker and replaced him with Miles Morales, and now the Ultimate universe is dead.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | November 2, 2015 8:03 PM
The "Lyja is Alicia" retcon made no sense-it contradicted several issues:
Posted by: Michael | November 2, 2015 8:25 PM
Johnny was essentially raped by Lyja but she's treated sympathetically and he's showing none of the trauma.
Posted by: Michael | November 2, 2015 9:25 PM
Yeah I think Johnny would consent to some slap and tickle with Lyja
Posted by: Grom | November 2, 2015 9:44 PM
This should be the example of why editors (especially editors-in-chief) should not be allowed to write books. If you are Ralph Macchio, how exactly can you tell DeFalco that this is terrible and can't be published?
The Paul Ryan/Danny Bulandi art team is very serviceable. I like Ryan, but he is not the most dynamic storyteller, but Marvel could definitely do a lot worse in this time period.
Posted by: Chris | November 2, 2015 10:16 PM
My personal fanon is that Paibok is a more advanced development in the line of the "X-Men" Skrulls we saw back in Fantastic Four #249-250; note that those included a Colossus, Storm, and Angel imposters.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | November 2, 2015 10:32 PM
My first FF story and my my, it's a doosy. Loved it then, i'm sad to say and I still have a fondness for it, being it was my first FF book. 20 odd years later I know it's crap and should be excised from canon, but my 6 year old self had no idea of such things.
As for your post Michael there could be reasons that counter the arguments made against the retcon, too bad DeFalco never once thought of them.
1.Lyja could have been given information about Ben and studied him extensively to make the Alicia disguise credible, though the inner monologue would be very awkward if she's just a cover.
As for the shape changing thing, yeah I got nothing. I was under the same suspicion that only S'byll could return their powers. This is not in defense of the retcon, but there were ways, better ones, to explain away the change. Tom was just too lazy or ignorant to give explanations.
Posted by: Darren | November 3, 2015 1:06 AM
If Alicia/Lyja was a skrull then wtf is up with her being punched out by fellow Skrull De'Lila less than a year ago in the New FF arc.
I mean cum da fug on Defalco, at least pretend like you give a shit.
Posted by: JC | November 3, 2015 6:03 AM
People blame De Falco for the "Alicia is a Skrull" retcon but he didn’t start it. In #350 from a 6 months earlier, by Walter Simonson, is where the suggestion starts. Go back and look at the panels where Doom is catching up on what has occurred in his absence, and he says the following: "Johnny Storm married to Grimm's former woman, Alicia Masters? PREPOSTEROUS, Kristoff! And Grimm with his ferocious temper failed to kill young Storm? IMPOSSIBLE! Psychologically IMPOSSIBLE! And if it is impossible, we must SUPPOSE that the cause is elsewhere." So we have Walter Simonson to blame for starting the retcon, not Tom!!!
Posted by: Nathan Adler | November 3, 2015 6:58 AM
@Andrew, that was indeed what i was thinking of. Thanks!
Posted by: fnord12 | November 3, 2015 7:30 AM
At least the Avengers come out of the hole when Busiek comes on board, and Cap gets Waid/Garney.
FF bounces back a little from this dark ages drek with Waid's mixed bag work, but it never really gets a solid run again and has been mismanaged by Marvel ever since.
Posted by: Bob | November 3, 2015 3:19 PM
"Your wife is really a SKRULL!!!" and it's only 1992. We haven't even gotten to the leather jackets yet.
We haven't even gotten to the distorted anatomy and wide open mouths with unhinged jaws connected by saliva ropes yet. When you get there we'll all long for the days of these Paul Ryan workman-like pencils.
Posted by: Red Comet | November 4, 2015 10:35 AM
...I kinda like the leather jackets look on superheroes...
Posted by: Berend | November 4, 2015 11:36 AM
How is the name "Lyja" pronounced? Is it supposed to be a homophone (or close) of 'Licia? If so, how clever...not
Posted by: Shar | November 4, 2015 4:08 PM
Paul Ryan is a fantastic artist, and it's unfortunate that he was saddled with being associated with one of the most hated retcons of all time.
I can't help but to think that Paibok was actually a precursor to the Secret Invasion Skrull models. He was clearly the X-Men equivalent of a Super-Skrull. All he needed was claws.
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | November 11, 2015 12:01 PM
Are you seriously suggesting we believe Doom though? He's kind of got a skewered perspective of the Fantastic Four as it is. I mean, Ben did try and kick his ass a little for it, but...
Posted by: Max_Spider | January 16, 2016 12:14 PM
@Max_Spider: Why not as that particular scene in #350 was him talking to himself. So he'd have no reason to lie. The dialogue is there, we can't do away with it.
Posted by: Nathan Adler | January 16, 2016 3:16 PM
Actually, I think we can quite easily. This is the guy who constantly claims that the fool Richards is responsible for most of his woes. I'm not saying that Doom is lying intentionally, I'm saying that his perspective is warped. We don't have to agree with his opinion.
Posted by: Max_Spider | February 5, 2016 9:59 AM
I wanted to write a long piece about how bad this retcon is, how it destroys what was once the best comic at Marvel but it's so bad I can't do it.
I will say, how convenient for this story that they had already undone the "freezing" of all Skrulls in their current form. Lyja would have just been stuck as Alicia forever.
And, on a related tangent to fnord's intro to this: That was the joy of all the Earth-2 stories at DC from the early 60's to the mid 80's. It allowed those characters to grow older and deal with aging and a new generation while simultaneously allowing the main DC characters to stay younger and in less of a state of change.
Posted by: Erik Beck | February 13, 2016 8:50 AM
Tldr; Defalco takes a 💩💩💩
Posted by: JC | February 13, 2016 9:02 AM
That's funny, Erik. I've been meaning to write a similar piece. Great Erik minds think alike...
Posted by: Erik Robbins | February 13, 2016 11:35 PM
Has there ever been a retcon that's been good where a writer reveals character X in someone else(s) runs has really been character Y? I'm struggling to think of one. (And don't bother me with that horse-trash Avengers Forever or any of Busiek's other show-off retcons of that ilk.)
Posted by: AF | March 6, 2016 4:08 PM
@AF, maybe Roger Stern's retcon of Mysterio being one of the "aliens" in ASM#2?
Posted by: Robert | March 6, 2016 4:19 PM
Hi, AF. I can think of one, though it's not in the Marvel universe: Alan Moore's retcon that Swamp Thing was never really Alec Holland (spoiler?) doesn't decrease the enjoyment of the original saga on its own merits, but adds another ironic layer. For that matter, Geoff John's Parallax retcon, for all its faults, is an improvement over "Hal Jordon becomes a mass murderer."
Posted by: Andrew | March 6, 2016 9:13 PM
Well, I've not read Swamp Thing but I think almost all of Geoff John's DC retcons are selfish garbage trying to reset everything to his beloved Silver Age DC. Not too dissimilar to this Lyja retcon, to be honest.
The Stern alien one is a bit too inconsequential to really count. It didn't really make a major change and wasn't referred to again. Although, I considered Hobgoblin IS Roderick Kingsley but, again, that was basically just self-serving. And actually did very little for Hobgoblin as a character. At that point the Hobgoblin identity was a screwed up footnote that hadn't been relevant for over 10 years and he had been rightfully superseded by a character with ultimately far less baggage. So for the purpose of "righting a wrong" (that didn't matter anymore), we kill off Jason Macendale - a character for all his faults had become a regular foe for Spidey - to re-establish the one true Hobgoblin Roderick Kingsley. So we finally get the reveal that Hobgoblin really was a minor character most readers at that point did not remember and then for after that absolutely nobody to actually touch Hobgoblin again for well over a decade. Considering all the legwork Stern had to go through to explain away Ned Leeds, Kingsley meeting Hobgoblin, Kingsley being shot... what's the point?
Posted by: AF | March 7, 2016 3:26 AM
I would not say that I was a huge fan of Tom DeFalco & Paul Ryan's run on FF. But I did like it. Well, that is to say, I got into it as a regular reader around issue #273, and going forward from that point I read the series monthly until "Heroes Reborn."
However, their first year was *really* rough and bumpy. The "Alicia is a Skrull" retcon really doesn't work. I cannot help wondering what would have happened if DeFalco & Ryan had taken some time to set up the reveal of Lyja, laid the groundwork over six or seven issues. It still would not have been a great idea, by any means, but perhaps it would have been somewhat better executed. Instead they chose to rush through it in two issues so that it can be the center point of the giant-sized 30th anniversary special.
I do think that once all of this nonsense in their first year or so was out of the way, their run did get somewhat better. Lyja eventually became a character that I liked.
In certain respects it did feel that DeFalco & Ryan were trying very hard to give FF a retro Silver Age fell *and* to simultaneously make the book appealing to readers who loved the X-Men books, i.e. sexing up the Invisible Woman & making her more ruthless, giving the rest of the team a more gritty look, introducing numerous long-running subplots & mysteries, introducing a younger "next generation" of FF-related heroes, and tossing in lots of stuff involving time travel, alternate realities & dystopian futures, complete with an actual tie-in to "Days of Future Past."
Looking back, it is now obvious that both DeFalco & Ryan were huge fans of the classic Lee & Kirby issues, and they really wanted to emulate that period, but they also were trying to make the book competitive at a time when X-Men was Marvel's hottest property by far, and everything else was falling by the wayside. In the end, those two disparate styles didn't go together very well.
Anyway, I still do appreciate this era. Certainly it is impressive that Paul Ryan penciled 59 consecutive issues, one month short of a full five years. Ryan would undoubtedly have stayed even longer if he and DeFalco had not been given the boot to make way for "Heroes Reborn." Ryan was a very good penciler, a strong storyteller, a guy who turned in in quality work while consistently meeting deadlines. He did a great job rendering the FF, their supporting cast and their enemies. I've always felt he was underrated.
I'm posting this now since Paul Ryan passed away a few days ago at the too young age of 66. Just wanted to put out some positive thoughts about his work on FF, since it was certainly a major piece of his career as a comic book artist.
Posted by: Ben Herman | March 8, 2016 8:46 PM
First I heard of Paul Ryan's passing. Too young at 66. He was never great, but he did real good journeyman work, and was extremely professional. He was one of the few artists in the '80s and '90s to carry two titles at once and always hit deadlines. Like Kerry Gammil, he didn't get the respect he deserved.
Posted by: Chris | March 8, 2016 9:18 PM
@Chris - Yes, in the late 1980s and early 90s there were a number of good, solid artists who had strong storytelling skills and a genuinely professional ability to consistently meet deadlines. More often than not they were overshadowed by the hot artists who generated a lot of buzz and caused huge sales, at least in the short term, but who in the long run just couldn't keep a monthly deadline or jumped from one title to another or left to form Image.
Paul Ryan was certainly one of those artists from that time period who could be counted to turn in quality work on time. Ron Frenz, Ron Lim, Mark Bagley, Dave Ross, Dave Hoover, and Pat Olliffe also come to mind.
Whatever you may think of the writing on Fantastic Four in the first half of the 1990s, the artwork by Paul Ryan was very good, and certainly much better than much of the work on display in most other Marvel titles. I really think his long run on FF would be much better regarded if DeFalco's writing hadn't been so uneven.
Posted by: Ben Herman | March 9, 2016 1:49 PM
I think that Ryan's problem is that unfortunately he'll always be known as the artist that designed Sue's boob window costume and that will keep out of the pantheon of great FF artists.
Posted by: Michael | March 10, 2016 10:51 PM
Like Mike Parobeck laboring under Len Strazewski's scripts over at DC, Ryan deserved better than DeFalco.
Posted by: Oliver_C | March 11, 2016 7:18 AM
@Nathan Adler I've always taken the Doom scene at meta-textual value. Simonson had been floating the idea(originating from Marvel Editoral) that the Johnny/Alicia marriage was in trouble from the start after taking the art while doing his Celestial/Cross Time stories with Johnny haunted by visions of "Nebula." It's likely that by issue 350, he knew he was leaving the book and that editorial was going to chuck the marriage. Having Dr. Doom establish the wrongness was a in-joke. And then DeFalco comes back in #359 with his story(drawn by Art Adams, a Simsonson collaborator to drive the point home) that the Editor will always retcon any story at the demands of the boss(Doom).
Of course, if we want to be literal about Doom's scene, Victor von Doom is a emotionally damaged, seriously warped individual, whose understanding of human relationships is framed by his childhood traumas and adult defeats at the hands of the Fantastic Four. Ben, actually kill Johnny, is in character? Really? Doom's opinion is certainly definitively established as he thinks that's what would/should have happened. But it didn't and his ego doesn't allow him to concede his assessment is incorrect(a defining character trait of von Doom.) So, he hand waves that the "cause must lie elsewhere." Which of course, it does in story and meta-textually after Simonson quits and DeFalco takes over.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | March 31, 2016 5:01 PM
"And, on a related tangent to fnord's intro to this: That was the joy of all the Earth-2 stories at DC from the early 60's to the mid 80's. It allowed those characters to grow older and deal with aging and a new generation while simultaneously allowing the main DC characters to stay younger and in less of a state of change."
Which is similar (even if in an opposite direction) to Marvel publishing it's Ultimate line. (And various other media-related tie-ins and imprints as well, which makes excuses of the Tom Brevoort's of of the world that much sillier.)
Aldp, does anyone else imagine comic creators reacting like Ross from Friends ("Three divorces!"). In other words divorce/separation doesn't have to always be treated as WORSE than, say wrecking the space/time continuum kr invoking alien imposters. Have characters go the Demi Moore/Bruce Willis route if you want to avoid "drama" that badly.
By the way the funny thing about this arc is that, despite it's pootly-recieved output (maybe. Does anyone know what the tenor of the letter pages were arpund the tome of this revelation?), it's replicated on a larger scale in a line-wide crossover a decade later.
So they went to the trouble of imposing blindness on Alyja, but didn't think to teach her any sculpting skills (even just up to "Hello" video quality?) Or some basic knowledge about her own stepfather?
Posted by: Jon Dubya | May 22, 2016 10:08 AM
FNORD12: Her invisibility should extend to the infared, radar sense, etc..
I agree, and it would be a very "fix" to do. Since Sue's real power is to generate an "invisible force" that first manifested as invisibility to the visual spectrum, and then an invisible force field, it is not much of a stretch for that invisible force to negate other wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum (just as the force field blocks physical effects and various energy beams). An easy explanation would be that since Sue was initially only aware of the visible spectrum, that is what her power blocked. But given enough experience and training, she can then block the other things as well.
In the Silver and Bronze Ages, access to radar, infrared, etc. was more rare and could be reserved for only the toughest villains. It was also likely not thought of much by the reading public. Nowadays, it's so common even goons can have it, much less Skrull special forces. So a power boost is definitely needed.
Posted by: Chris | May 22, 2016 1:43 PM
I, of course, loved it.
It's fine for Johnny to graduate to a mature relationship, but grabbing onto Ben's girl while Ben's away sure isn't the way to do it. 4,000,000 women in NYC (not to mention commuters, etc.) and this douche latches on to the one woman most likely to (in-story) fuck up his relationship with his teammate/best friend and (metatextually) pile on the Ben-angst that we're allegedly sick of. And then Johnny can be all "wah wah wah, we couldn't help it, we're IN LOVE!" as if he had no control over his actions. Character-destructive crap, and while seven years to undo it may have been six too many, that's no reason to let the wound fester any longer.
And it's odd to cite Engelhart's anti-"recycling" arguments to defend Johnny/"Alicia", given that Steve wanted to have Johnny dump his wife for Crystal…
Clumsily executed, but a joy to behold. Now can we do something with other Byrne-crap, like "Ben always had the power to regain human form, but he was afraid Alicia only loved him as the Thing, so he subconsciously kept himself a monster for her"? Gee, if Alicia makes Ben essentially self-mutilate, then maybe she's not the best "mature relationship" for Johnny…but Byrne's OFCs suck (Julie Angel? Seriously?), so he has to leech off the work better writers have done with Alicia, instead. Blech.
Posted by: Dan Spector | August 22, 2016 6:10 AM
Meh, hard to get too bent out of shape over this...Alicia was a pretty uninteresting character as it was. Too bad Lyja was killed off so soon, that I agree is lame.
DeFalco's plots were not uninteresting, but Ryan's by-the-numbers art never did anything for me.
Posted by: MindlessOne | June 23, 2017 9:33 PM
"Before we get to the other two issues in this arc, let me just note that the reaction to the Skrull revelation, as printed in the lettercol for issue #360, is 100% positive. The only point of contention is from people who think Lyja shouldn't have been killed off and she should return and join the Fantastic Four and continue her romance with Johnny. [...] But clearly some fans liked the story, even if Marvel was being very selective about which letters they printed."
After skimming over some of the Avengers lettercols after DeFalco took over as EiC (in Avengers #285), I'm at least marginally convinced that the editorial staff made up some of the letters they printed, as well as being selective. It's often been contended that Stan Lee did the same thing, and considering DeFalco's penchant for Silver Age nostalgia, well...
"In [FF] #350 from a 6 months earlier, by Walter Simonson, is where the suggestion starts. Go back and look at the panels where Doom is catching up on what has occurred in his absence, and he says the following: "Johnny Storm married to Grimm's former woman, Alicia Masters? PREPOSTEROUS, Kristoff! And Grimm with his ferocious temper failed to kill young Storm? IMPOSSIBLE! Psychologically IMPOSSIBLE! And if it is impossible, we must SUPPOSE that the cause is elsewhere." So we have Walter Simonson to blame for starting the retcon, not Tom!!!"
It's also possible that this dialog was edited in by Macchio or DeFalco.
I can't prove it, but...
Posted by: Holt | November 18, 2017 2:26 PM
I always saw Doom's comment in #350 as Simonson intentionally showing Doom's misunderstanding of the team's family nature - Doom can't conceive why Ben wouldn't have killed Johnny because Doom doesn't understand their brotherly love for each other.
But I'd never considered before that perhaps DeFalco had told Simonson that he wanted Ben & Alicia brought back together, and this was Simonson referring to DeFalco's future plans? #350 was the start of Simonson's last story arc which ends up tying back to his first story arc, so it is possible he was already aware that he was leaving the book & what DeFalco intended to do once he took over? Perhaps DeFalco had been telling Simonson to do this story and then decided to do it himself? Contrastingly, Simonson seemed to enjoy writing the Ben & Sharon relationship, I think in part because it put a new spin on the character dynamics.
In theory, the idea of a Skrull infiltrating the FF makes all-too-obvious sense, even if it turns back 7 years of character growth. If it had to be done, I slightly prefer Englehart's idea of Franklin manipulating them to be together, but that puts too much baggage on Franklin going forward. But despite the idea itself making sense (if you ignore all the plotholes Michael points out), DeFalco's execution was terrible, from the very name "Lyja The Lazerfist" to the corny melodrama Fnord points out where Reed, Ben & the Puppet Master refuse for several pages to tell Johnny what they know.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | May 1, 2018 12:32 PM
I planned on a lot longer commentary concerning the whole Johnny/Alicia story line but there's just no space here. And I'm exhausted by it. My opinion of hating their pair-up is well known from other comments as my "Great FF Re-Read" rolls on. Last week I finally made it to these stories and Dan Spector above sums it up quite well: Clumsily executed, but a joy to behold.
Posted by: KevinA | July 16, 2018 10:45 AM
@KevinA: Well, you can always talk about it on the forum on this site if you want to.
Posted by: D09 | July 16, 2018 9:29 PM
While fnord is away, and when he comes back
Posted by: Andrew | July 17, 2018 6:41 AM
@D09: I enjoy this site immensely for the fact that i don't need a username, password, or have to log in. I'm tired of all of that. But here are a couple things from fnord above that made an impression.
"The characters were definitely stuck in a rut." [I agree, BUT....]
Even more controversial, and more permanent, was the fact that Johnny and Alicia eventually got married (after Byrne's run ended). Up until that point, this all could have been part of an elaborate "illusion of change" to be reversed one day.
Posted by: KevinA | July 17, 2018 10:06 AM
Comments are now closed.
|SuperMegaMonkey home | Comics Chronology home|