Or – “When Is A Surprise Ending NOT A Surprise?”

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There’s a theory that circulates around my comic shop about the Fantastic Four, that states that people misunderstand the roles of the members. Contrary to popular assumption, says our thesis, Sue is NOT the heart of the Fantastic Four. That’s Ben Grimm, the member most likely to respond on an emotional level. Likewise, Ben is not the steel in the FF’s backbone, it’s Sue that truly acts as the team’s fist, the spine that will not break, even when everything has gone to pot and a big purple fat guy wants to eat the whole planet. That’s what made her decision to walk during the events of Civil War so stunning, not merely that this woman left her husband and family, but that the central pillar that kept the FF upright was gone, leaving only a wishy-washy squishy Reed to babble and freak out and build horrific implements of torture for Darth Stark’s super-stormtroopers. So, since this is Major Spoilers, and we already know the fallout of this issue (Stephen previewed it months ago), how do we get there?

Evening, at the Baxter Building… Reed and Susan are gone on a date, leaving Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm to babysit their precocious little moppets, Franklin and Valeria. ff1.jpgTheir evening itinerary? To watch an anniversary special looking back at the history of the Fantastic Four (though in Marvel time it’s been maybe ten years, rather than the 45 in ours). It starts with a pretty hilarious interview with the man who failed to stop a young scientist, his pilot friend, and two teenagers from STEALING and destroying a multi-million dollar starship. “Yeah, I was on duty that night. I saw them sneaking in… I was as surprised as anyone when he stole the freakin’ ship. I got canned, you know. My clearance was revoked. I never worked in the security field again.” The camera pulls out to show him as a greeter at a faux Wal-Mart (which cracked me up for some reason) but he doesn’t seem to have any regrets. Then, we see footage from the press conference where Reed introduced the team to the world…

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Note that it’s Ben who gets the emotional gist of what’s going on. Reed and Sue have left the team before, in situations much less stressful than this one, and they’ve got a lot of rebuilding to do before their marriage is habitable again. Johnny is obviously troubled, but he’s at a loss, as his usual tactic of “set it on fire and work it all out later” isn’t going to work here. Reed, for his part, is making an honest effort to change his usual tactics. taking his wife on a romantic date (albeit a romantic date in the Fantasticar), and talking to her honestly. Again, this is an example of why Civil War wouldn’t have even been necessary had some of these idiots just taken the time to clearly communicate with each other. Sue tells him that the thing that really changed her mind was him taking those bullets to save her (even though she was inside a bullet-proof forcefield at the time) and they both remind each other how much they love the other. And then Susie addresses the elephant in the room…

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And there’s the heart of the matter… They’ve both been forced to deal with unflattering revelations about themselves and each other, and things like that don’t just go away. At least, not until the next giant crossover event (which starts in a couple months, right?). The television special continues, interviewing Namor (who opines that Doom is jealous of Reed) and T’Challa (who opines that villains underestimate the Fantastic Four because they forget that it’s not a team, it’s a family) and then the most entertaining interview of all, as Doom takes advantage of Reed’s recent bad press.

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Laying aside the awesome arrogance of that speech for second, and ignoring the bias created by their years-old feud, Victor has a point. What’s the difference between Doctor Doom’s elite robot guards in Latveria and the cryptofascist superhuman army being assembled by Tony Stark in America? Um… Let’s see. One’s an armored despot who uses his techological prowess to subjugate a nation to his will, regardless of the greater good, and will go to any lengths to destroy those who disagree with him… the other wears a big green cape. Ben responds by chucking his popcorn at the TV screen, to which Johnny responds by setting off the fire extinguisher, and the boys start off on another of their trademark slapfights. But it’s the response of the Franklin and Valeria that makes it truly classic, as little Val apparently bet Franklin that their uncle’s would fight before the night is over…

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Hee. Those kids are going to have therapy bills that rival the national debt… An interview with Sue airs that reinforces the “Gatekeeper Hobbies” theory of “Reed is mind, Johnny is guts, Ben is heart, Sue is spine”. And then, Marvel pisses me off again, so much that I finally have to get this off my chest…

DEAR JOE QUESADA:

I LIKE MARVEL COMICS. I WANT TO LOVE IRON MAN, BUT IT’S HARD WHEN HE’S A SMUG ROCKET-PROPELLED #@*ING TOOL EVERY OTHER TIME HE APPEARS. IF HE’S GOING TO ACT LIKE A VILLAIN, THERE BETTER BE CONSEQUENCES. IF HE’S REALLY A TRAGIC HERO, MAKE YOUR WRITERS STOP PUTTING IN SEQUENCES WHERE HE COMES ACROSS AS JOSEF MENGELE IN A TINFOIL TUXEDO.

THANK YOU! DRIVE THROUGH!
MATTHEW

What prompted this moment of vitriol?

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It’s easy for Tony to pooh-pooh the consequences of “friction in the family,” having been raised by an absentee father, with a deceased mother, no siblings, and having never had a relationship last more than forty-five minutes. It galls me beyond the telling that a lifelong bachelor could be that blase about someone else’s marriage, especially when the someones in question have two children. Ben and Johnny have a heart-to-heart, showing their casual brotherly relationship at it’s finest. The boys decide that they can still follow Reed (assuming he comes back), just as the Richardses return home. Ben nearly snaps Susie in half with his welcoming hug, then throws out his big orange mitt for their traditional “all for one”, quickly followed by Johnny… and an awkward silence. Reed and Sue need a little time to process, without having to fight Dragon Man and the Mad Thinker while they heal. But luckily, a couple of old friends are recently homeless AND super-powered, and happy to fill the “married couple” half of the Fantastic Four…

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McKone does a pretty fine looking Storm, doesn’t he? I’ve heard some whining about Panther’s inclusion in this book, but I don’t see the problem. He’s one of the first black heroes (I think only Lobo came first, though he’s a cowboy hero) and T’Challa really should be among Marvel’s upper echelon by dint of his uniqueness alone, and I enjoy when the Fantastic Four has different members (as long as Wolverine isn’t one of them).

The second story in the issue is a cute tale written by Smilin’ Stan Lee himself, with awesome proto-Kirby art by Mike Allred. The Mole Man is attacking, but when the army calls the Fantastic Four, Reed hangs up on them. Why? Because it’s the 45th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, and he’s depressed…

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Reed continues stewing, as Stan gives Franklin a present (building blocks, far too young for the child), and Reed refuses to help. Mole Man’s legions take over the city easily without the FF to deflect them, as Stan tries valiantly to get Reed to act. He finally has the best idea ever, and runs out into the streets. “What’s he gonna do, bore ’em to death?” grouses The Thing. The team decides to act, but as they rush out, they meet Stand and Mole Man on their way in.

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It’s a cute little story, and I think about how cool an Allred run on Fantastic Four would be. The second story is a Paul Pope original, and it’s interesting to see his signature style on the FF. Johnny Storm shows off a bit, detailing the chrome on his hot rod with his flame rather than using hot wax. Wyatt Wingfoot is impressed, but points out to Johnny that he’s a bit of a showoff.

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Johnny heads off to the big race, trying to keep from showing off, while Jonah Jameson turns down Peter Parker’s latest set of Spider-Man photos. Pete decides that he needs a different subject, and decides to get shots of Johnny’s upcoming hot rod race. Johnny plays it cool until he sees Spidey hanging around. Johnny blows a gasket (and also melts his hot rod) and the boys do the old fight fight fight routine. Suddenly, Crystal steps out of the crowd to put a stop to it.

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I don’t know about anyone else, but Pope draws a really weird lookin’ Spider-Man here. The overall effect of this issue is mixed, the first story mostly good, the second strange and the third just… bizarre. I like that they actually went to the trouble to give us some psychology behind Reed and Sue’s leaving the team (essentially a ratings stunt). I don’t suspect that the Richardses will be out of the title, just out of the Fantastic Four’s official missions, and it’ll be interesting to see McDuffie’s take on T’Challa and Storm. I’m actually going to start picking up Fantastic Four regularly BECAUSE Dwayne is taking over the writing chores, and it’s obvious that he’s got a good read on all the lead characters’ minds.

This only thing I would call a complete miss in this issue is the goofy and garish cover, with a strangely John-Kerry-looking Reed and a Thing that resembles Stretch Armstrong. It’s an issue that acts as both a beginning (of the new direction) and an end (of the Civil War nonsense) and gives a good platform to build on in future issues. More good than bad, and only a little ugly, means Fantastic Four #543 a solid 2.5 stars.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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1 Comment

  1. mike Glennon
    June 29, 2007 at 12:49 pm — Reply

    But what ever happened with the “civil war”? Maybe I missed a few crossover issues. I did get all of the FF issues! What other mags carried over the theme? Was there a closure issue with the actual conclusions within – the S.H.R.A. itself, did it pass and is it in effect? Where are those who resisted until the end (surely not locked away in a prison camp within the negative zone?)?
    Basically – how did this thing end? I read Fantastic Four #542 and #543 and there was no conclusions regarding the actual civil war or its initial catalysts. If there were crossover issues regarding the finality of the war then does anyone know what titles and issues they were? Thanks.
    Opinion: This was rather humdrum writing (besides the personal FF family interaction of course). Somewhat stolen from the mutant registration act storyline – which was actually an engaging storyline and did not leave one hanging.
    P.S. What happened to Thor’s hammer Mjolner in the end????

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