Annotations of Jonathan Hickman’s ‘Fantastic Four’ #571-572
Welcome back to our ongoing annotations of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four run. This time around, we’re taking a look at the second two parts of the opening “Solve Everything” arc, issues 571 and 572 with art by Dale Eaglesham, collected in this trade. Joining me again to provide historical background on a lot of this stuff is Chris Eckert from Funnybook Babylon. In these two issues, we’ll see talking Celestials, lobotomized Dooms, the fall of the Council and learn that the cost of solving everything… is everything.#571: “Solve Everything, Part Two”
IN THIS ISSUE: Reed Richards is inducted into the interdimensional consortium of himselves known as the Council. Over the course of the week, he sees everything they do, good and bad; as his relationships with Susan, Johnny, Ben and his kids slip away, he becomes more and more involved in his work with the Council, which involves the glamorous (building full-planet farms for worlds and worlds to feed the hungry) and not-so (lobotomizing the Doctor Doom of almost every universe). After joining the Council, Celestials attack, having stolen the secrets of the Council from the mind of one of their members. Also, Franklin Richards plans a birthday party.
Pages 1-3: As far as Google can tell me, this is the first appearance of Earth-2012, so I can only assume it was so named since Galactus is an apocalyptic event and 2012 is colloquially an apocalyptic date, although that’s just speculation. The Gold, Bronze and Platinum(?) Surfers seem to be totally new, although I wouldn’t rule them out of future existence in Hickman’s run.
Chris Eckert: Though Galactus is the Ravager of Worlds, he is also a vital and necessary part of the universe. Don’t believe me? Let’s go to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition #4, which states that Galactus “was created to fulfill an as yet unrevealed purpose that he believes will ultimately compensate the universe for all the destruction he wreaks.” This belief was confirmed by Eternity, the sentient embodiment of the universe, back in Fantastic Four #262 by John Byrne. In that issue, Reed was on intergalactic trial for saving Galactus’s life back in FF #244, which made him an accessory to cosmic mass murder in the eyes of the court. Charges were dropped after Eternity’s expert testimony, which makes “our” Reed’s relatively cavalier attitude towards killing Galactus rather surprising. Perhaps it was meant to foreshadowing for other unsavory acts of the Council of Reeds, or maybe he’s just sick of Galactus’s crap.
Pages 4-5: This scene not only sets up the birthday party to come in #574, but also the competitive relationship between Johnny and Franklin which likely comes from the fact that they’re at about the same level of maturity in Hickman’s characterization. It’s a thread we’ll see picked up again at the birthday party, at the toy store, and in the future arc with grown-up Franklin.
CE: Hickman didn’t just pluck Franklin’s birthday party guest list out of thin air. Katie and Jack Power are the youngest siblings in the Power Pack, a group of youthful superheroes who had a long-running series in the 1980s. Franklin was an occasional member of the team, as the psychic inhibitors his dad placed on his powers weren’t 100% at the time, and the Power parents were the Richards’ go-to babysitters when they were off being superheroes. With the exception of older sister Julie Power’s appearances in Runaways/Loners (but not Scott Pilgrim, that’s Julie Powers) the Power kids have been MIA for the past decade’s worth of Marvel Universe comics, though Marvel’s been publishing a series of all-ages Power Pack minis.
Leech and Artie are just a couple of lovable deformed mutants and longtime supporting players in the X-Books. They eventually ended up as junior members of Generation X and following the events of the Onslaught event, where the Fantastic Four and other heroes “died” to save the world and Franklin was also made a ward of the team. This led to Daydreamers, a mini-series where Leech, Artie, Franklin and Howard the Duck hopped through dimensions based on the Wizard of Oz, Dr. Seuss, Alice in Wonderland and other storybooks being chased by the Dark Hunter, an externalization of Franklin’s grief over his dead parents. Yes, really. I meant it last time when I said the Richards kids have ridiculous backstories. I doubt any of this will get referenced by Hickman’s run, but I am sure it created a strong bond between the trio, even if it hasn’t been mentioned in thirteen years.
Pages 11-13: All of the Earths in this issue are brand-new. Doom’s lobotomization is evocative of the Doom of Earth-616’s later brain damage as a result of the events of World War Hulks; while here the Council lobotomizes entire swaths of Reeds and imprisons them in their basement, later on at the beginning of “Three,” Valeria offers to save “our” Doom, contrasting her methods with those of her father. Valeria claims that “all hope lies in Doom” — is it possible that, in the final confrontation, they will need a fully-awake Doom with, as this alternate Reed says, his “unmatched appetite” and refusal to break or yield to fight whatever apocalypse is coming, likely the Silent Truth of 2040?
CE: Bald Reed’s line — “I’ve got some Doom in me” — resonates with me for a couple of reasons. First off, it makes no scientific sense: a small portion of Victor Von Doom’s DNA is spliced into Reed’s DNA? Are we to believe there is a “unmatched appetite” gene? Hickman’s coming down pretty solidly in the “nature” vs. “nurture” camp here. Secondly, the Richardses and Dooms have a long line of getting up in each other. Reed and Doom swapped bodies way back in FF #10, Doom’s third appearance. Reed and Doom swapping roles is practically a trope at this point: It happened in Earth X, Chris Claremont’s late 90s run (FF v3 #25-31), Mark Waid’s run (FF #500-506), in Doom’s private fantasy in Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch’s FF #577, at least twice in Ultimate Fantastic Four, and in the sixth issue of the original What If… series. All of these stories provide different mechanisms and motivations, but the Reed/Doom rivalry has always been more about them being two sides of the same coin
And then there’s Kristoff Vernard, chosen heir of Doom that has not yet been seen in Hickman’s run, but will be mentioned in #583. During Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan’s FF run, it was strongly implied that Kristoff’s father is Nathaniel Richards, making him Reed’s half-brother. And following in his other son’s footsteps, Nathaniel spends a decent stretch of that run impersonating Doom and running Latveria. It remains to be seen if the DeFalco-era Nathaniel Richards is going to be directly relevant to Hickman’s interpretation, but given how much Marvel cosmic history Hickman is mining, it wouldn’t surprise me. And I’m still not going to try to explain Valeria Von Doom. There are a lot of Richardses with some Doom in them, which is fortunate since we learn in FF #574 that “all hope lies in Doom”.
Pages 14-16: The theme of dissolution between parent and child continues here, with the Reeds’ cosmic surgery on a star in the introduced-this-issue Universe 12498. They’re retrieving a piece of fringe dark matter — a remnant of the big bang — which the other Reed likens to a “cruel parent reaching out from the past to try and take place one of her children,” a line that could describe the Reed/Nathaniel relationship, especially the wrinkle revealed in the time-travel arc in #581-582 and the damage Nathaniel’s absence continues to cause Reed.
Pages 18-19: I’m skeptical that Nathaniel’s “I know it” is just him being supportive of his son, although it’s certainly that as well. Nathaniel was a member of the Brotherhood of the Shield, and likely would have had access to certain of Nostradamus’ prophecies, some of which could involve Reed. Not to mention that he’d already built a time platform.
Pages 20-22: With these three pages, Hickman brings the Celestials onto the stage of the book. As we discussed in the last annotations, the Celestials have been experimenting with Earth’s evolutionary progression for millions of years. Why the Celestials from this Reed’s universe are now seeking the acquisition of power and have gone mad, I’m not sure, but it might occur to “our” Celestials before Hickman’s run is over.
#572: “Solve Everything, Part Three”
IN THIS ISSUE: The Council is under attack by Celestials, and it’s all-out war in their interdimensional home. While Johnny and Ben go off to Nu-World on a vacation and Franklin and Valeria hitch a ride in tow, the Reeds eventually drive off the Celestials before “our” Reed Richards leaves their number to, at the advice of his long-gone father, rejoin his friends and family after discovering the other Reeds of the Council have lost all those things.
Pages 1-3: Again, more confirmation that something’s driven all of the Celestials mad and powerhungry from that universe. I have to admit, I expected the Doom/Reed combo guy to last a bit longer since it was such a specific idea. Maybe it was just a device to get across Doom’s ambition and hunger from a “reliable” source, or maybe it’s hinting at a concept that’ll come back into play later.
CE: The Celestials have an odd history in the Marvel Universe, one that Marvel has only recently begun actively mining. Created by Jack Kirby in his 1976-1978 series The Eternals, a Chariots of the Gods-inspired book detailing the return of “Space Gods” to Earth every thousand years or so to pass judgment on humanity. Each Celestial had a specific name and task: Gammenon the Gatherer, Jemiah the Analyzer, Nezarr the Calculator. They were mute, unstoppable giants who could not be harmed and scarcely took notice of any humans. They also had the Eternals canceled out from under them before they could make a judgment.
And while Kirby never intended The Eternals to be part of the Marvel Universe, a couple of years later Roy Thomas and Mark Gruenwald brought the Celestials back in Thor. Despite Odin and his multi-pantheon God Squad repeatedly and impotently trying to murder the Celestials, humanity was silently given another thousand years by Arishem the Judge. After that, the Celestials floated around the Marvel Universe, appearing in big cosmic events like Infinity Gauntlet as interchangable Incredibly Powerful Cosmic Forces.
Hickman is the first creator to have Celestials directly communicate with mortals; there’s a precedent for weird mindmeld/proxy communication, such as Makkari’s bond with the Dreaming Celestial in the two Eternals series earlier this decade by Neil Gaiman and the Knaufs. Hickman’s Celestials speak in the same machine-logic way that the Dreaming Celestial did in those series, but the first person to mindmeld with a Celestial was actually Sue Richards back in FF #400, though in that issue Exitar the Exterminator manifested as an exact duplicate of Sue and spoke to her in colloquial English.
The Dreaming Celestial — buried under the Earth millennia ago for breaching the Celestial’s code of conduct — has shown up in FF before as a villain, first in Walt Simonson’s run (FF #337-341) attempting to compel Galactus to eat the entire universe and restart it with the Dreaming Celestial as the core consciousness of the new Big Bang, and again in Claremont’s run as it made a bid to more directly alter the universe in his image. If anything, the Celestials attacking the Council of Reeds seem to be more Dreaming Celestial than their traditional Silent Watchmaker Gods role, though they are recognizable as the Fourth Host: Arishem the Judge is the one speaking on page one, and Eson the Searcher chases “our” Reed back to his Bridge. That makes the severed hand a potential plot point: as The Searcher, Eson has a “Universal Eye” embedded into the palm of his hand, to assist in seeking out lifeforms to bring to judgment. We haven’t seen his hand since this issue, but hypothetically it could still be out there searching.
And while it looks like the Reeds are beating or killing the Celestials, no one has ever — not Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet, not Odin in the Destroyer armor empowered by all the Gods of all of Earth’s pantheons — successfully killed a Celestial. They’ve been stabbed, limbs have been cut off, but they have always recovered/regenerated in short order. Even on page 15, the Reeds only state that the Celestials are “retreating”.
All of the Reeds we’ve seen thus far are “new”, the one in the third panel of page three has a familiar logo: the Star Brand. Like the Celestials, the Star Brand was not originally intended to be part of the Marvel Universe proper, debuting in the flagship title of Marvel’s 1986 “New Universe” line. As a shorthand, imagine the Star Brand as a Green Lantern ring in tattoo form, and there’s only one of them. After the New Universe got canceled a couple of years in, Mark Gruenwald saw fit to sneak the Star Brand into the Marvel Universe in Quasar, his five year plan to integrate as much Marvel-published arcana as possible into their “real” Universe. The Star Brand eventually ended up bonded to Quasar’s secretary, though neither she nor the brand have appeared since that series ended in 1994. But I guess in one universe, it found its way onto Reed Richards!
Pages 4-8: Paying off the earlier point about Infinity Gauntlets needing access to their home dimension to work, here the human-teleporter Reed (kind of like Cloak?) helps the superscientist Reed use his Gauntlet on the Celestial. That bit about the Infinity Gauntlet could come back up later in the run, although it’s currently busy over in Bendis’s Avengers.
Pages 9-12: Franklin and Valeria hitch a ride on the Fantasticar to Nu-World, which is the very next issue. The object Valeria picks up will be used in the next arc; why she knows to bring it as “insurance” is interesting, since she hasn’t been informed by her future self yet, but it’s a power source. Maybe she’s just predicting some kind of power outage.
Pages 14-18: Here, Cyclops-glasses Reed — now ripped of his intelligence, just like Doom will be — relays to Reed the cost of the Council: losing his family and friends and relationships. And this is a choice every other Reed Richards in the multiverse has made, to give up their family for the “greater good,” leading to their slaughter here in the Council chamber. “Our” Reed, however, leaves, for a reason we’ll find out in the next segment:
Pages 19-22: Basically, before he went on his last mission that we see in S.H.I.E.L.D. #2, Nathaniel instilled in Reed the need to not lose yourself in your work and lose your connections with your friends and family. Nathaniel mentions he’ll be gone for a long time, meaning that he knows he’s basically not going to come back, and won’t see Reed again for a long number of years. Presumably, the Reeds of the Council never got that speech from their fathers, or, since they’re all Reed, they all would have made that same choice. The reason why that might be the case is something we’ll see later, in #581-582.
Previous Annotations: #570