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FF #5: Return of the Inhumans [Annotations]

Welcome back to the latest installment in our annotations of FF, Jonathan Hickman’s run on Marvel’s First Family! This week we’re taking a look at FF #5, with art by Barry Kitson, featuring the second part of the battle for Old Atlantis and the return of a fan-favorite Mighty Marvel Monarch! Also, yet another iteration of our Q&A with Hickman himself!IN THIS ISSUE: While half of the FF face off against the Mole Man and Normal Reed of the interdimensional Council of Reeds in an attempt to stop civil war in Old Atlantis, Our Reed and the rest of the crew hang out in the Baxter Building, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Normal Reed gains control of the geothermal vent under Old Atlantis and then brokers a treaty between the Mole Man and the leader of the devolved Moloids who live in the High Evolutionary’s Forever City; the City will close its gates to the Mole Man’s subjects, therefore preventing him from losing any more of them, and they will allow the Reeds of the Council access to the Ascension Machine that powers the Forever City to turn it into part of Sol’s Anvil, the mechanism through which they plan on returning to their pocket-dimensional home.

Also, Ben Grimm continues to attempt to come to terms with the loss of Johnny Storm and the continuing evolution of the FF concept, being comforted by his longtime girlfriend, Alicia Masters. And then, at the end, Attilan and Earth’s Inhumans return, led by the thought-deceased Black Bolt, King of all Inhumans.

Pages 1-2: Picking up from Sue’s departure in the last issue, Reed and much of the Future Foundation inspect the sea spiral used to call her to Old Atlantis and a face-to-face meeting with Plainl Reed. While Reed, Val, Nathaniel and the Moloid children analyze the spiral communication device, Franklin, Bentley, Artie and Leech stare down the Fantastic Four’s most fearsome foes with plunger guns.

Keep in mind it’s not exactly an empty threat — while Leech is subduing Franklin’s reality-altering powers (which he previously used to transform a similar gun into a real one to shoot Norman Osborn in Dark Reign: Fantastic Four), it’s certainly possible he could decide to brain himself (as in F4 #587) again and let Franklin cap Diablo, Doctor Doom, Wingless Wizard and the Mad Thinker right in the face.

The fact that Bentley stands with the other kids is very telling, since Franklin, Artie and Leech are old friends, while Bentley is not only a new addition to the group but also carrying a mean streak within him — he’s a genetic clone of the Wizard. Nature versus nurture is an ongoing theme in Hickman’s FF work, from the Reed with Doom DNA back in the initial “Solve Everything” arc to Val’s own crisis of conscience with her own intellect. Bentley’s line to Doom — “something I can help you with, mister?” — and Doom’s interested response might foreshadow Doom taking the young clone of the Wizard under his wing in the future.

Anyway, the last panel of the second page shows us that Old Atlantis done gotten blown up.

CHRIS: That last panel on page one reminded me of something I’ve never understood: why are so many villains clad in purple and green?

David: It’s a phenomenon that spans both of the Big Two, and probably started with Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery (Joker, Riddler, Golden Age Penguin and Catwoman) but it seems like it was truly cemented by Lee and Kirby (or the uncredited colorist(s) in their classic F4 run. In the first 36 issues alone, there are over a dozen classic green/purple villains, including the four we see in this panel. The FF also took on the Mole Man, Skrulls, Sub-Mariner, Impossible Man, the Hulk, Puppet Master, Rama-Tut, Hate-Monger, and the all-purple Frightful Four. Even the Foundation’s own Dragon Man spent his early years in purple underpants, and while he’s always been a gray dragon, his first two cover appearances had him looking very green.

Even characters who weren’t originally part of this color scheme eventually succumbed — Namor wore red trunks in his earliest modern appearances, and the High Evolutionary’s armor was red initially. Later FF foes like Galactus, Annhilus, Kang, Immortus and two other obscure figures we’ll get to in a minute also sport the green and purple. Superman’s villains began going green/purple not long after the Fantastic Four debuted: while Braniac showed up earlier in 1958, the Parasite debuted in 1966, and Lex Luthor adopted his familiar armors circa 1975. And of course Spider-Man’s got the Green Goblin, not to mention Vulture, Doctor Octopus, Lizard, Sandman, Mysterio, the Beetle, and more.

What the heck’s up with that? Were there studies that showed people distrust those colors? Does it all come down to the Joker being one of the first iconic supervillains? Was a comics creator traumatized at Mardi Gras? And what, if anything, does this mean to FF?

It’s probably a meaningless coincidence, but considering that this run has taken the gang out of their blue uniforms and into white ones for the first time in five decades, maybe color theory will play a role! If so, it’s probably relevant that Doom actually went ahead and replaced his green cape. And if we end up seeing Bentley in a green or purple hoodie…

Pages 3-5: As the battle is joined around Old Atlantis, Sue confronts Plain Reed, who smiles, proclaims he’d rather bang a brunette, and shoots her down. It’s not only a harsh line, but also highly uncharacteristic even for an alternate-universe Reed, showing just how much the sacrifice of their lives has aFFected the Reeds of the Council, who, as we discovered in F4 #581, all grew up fatherless.

While Wheelchair Reed said two issues ago that he was familiar with the behavioral pattern of Vals, presumably Valeria Richardses don’t exist without a Susan Richards to mother them, and Plainl Reed never had that unless his Susan Richards was a brunette. (It’s more likely he ended up with Reed’s old tomb-raider flame Alyssa Moy.)

CHRIS: I wanted to protest your binary theory that all these Reeds either end up with Sue Storm or Alyssa Moy, because come on: In the infinite expanse of realities, do things with Reed really turn into a Betty/Veronica situation? But really, we’re not looking at an infinite number of realities. We’re looking at realities that are similar enough that Reed Richards becomes a leading scientist/hero, and Victor Von Doom becomes a masked dictator. That narrows the field of variance a whole lot. Assuming all the cosmos lined up to the point, it’s not that much of a leap to assume it further aligned to give all these other Reeds a similar lovelife to ours. Or maybe Plain Reed hooked up with Tony Stark after a wine-fueled science conference.

Pages 6-9: Spider-Man and Alex Power attempt to take on the Mole Man’s armies, as well as the Chordai and Mala people who are aiding Mole Man in attempting to usurp the Uhari rule in Old Atlantis. Alex Power uses his gravity powers, while Spider-Man uses his… somewhat spider-esque powers. They are not particularly successful.

CHRIS: I did my best to identify the Mole Man’s monsters here, but came up mostly empty. Some people have speculated about a few of them being VanDoom’s Monster, Goliath/Gigantus, and Googam, Son of Goom. I’m not sure that any of them are supposed to be established monsters, but here’s some shots of those classic monsters anyway!

One monster whose identity is clear: Giganto, better known as That Monster on the Cover of Fantastic Four #1. Despite being featured on that iconic cover, it wouldn’t appear again outside of flashbacks to that story for over two decades. John Byrne brought him back in 1984′s F4 #264, and again in Avengers West Coast #54, where he was finally given a name. Both of those comics had covers that paid homage to F4 #1, something Byrne has done at least seven times.

Page 10: Plain Reed is definitely still an “ends justify the means” kind of guy, since he corrects the Mala (crab people)’s cry of betrayal with “necessity.” The stone-cold look in his eyes shows that he truly believes he’s 100% justified in screwing over Earth-616 and orchestrating a gigantic war for the sole purpose of getting oFF this universe and returning to the Council pocket dimension.

Page 11: Considering Namor’s last encounter with Old Atlantis ended with him stabbing their king in the chest and going “IMPERIUS REX!” in the middle of a peace negotiation, I’m not exactly sure why Sue thinks bringing him into this situation will accomplish anything other than sparking another gigantic fight. Sue says he’ll restore order, and I guess he will, but Namor’s “restoring order” probably involves more riot cops than diplomats.

Pages 12-13: This is a particularly excellent scene with Ben Grimm and his longtime girlfriend Alicia Masters, the blind daughter of the Puppet Master whose disposition provides a natural and unique opportunity to give the big rocky orange dude a love interest. The fact that Ben asks for Splenda (low-calorie sugar substitute) rather than sugar is an interesting character beat — Ben, being the rocky orange dude that he is, is likely in no danger from ingesting too many calories. Alicia promises Ben that there’s “nothing to be afraid of,” and Ben looks both nonplussed and unconvinced.

Keep in mind that in this summer’s major Marvel event, Fear Itself, in which the Marvel Universe battles the long-lost Norse God of Fear, Ben Grimm is manipulated into becoming one of his Worthy and wielding one of the Serpent God’s Hammers to become possessed by Angrir, Breaker of Souls. He’s certainly feeling both angry and afraid — as well as guilty, as stated here — after the loss of his teammate Johnny Storm, not to mention his growing feeling of obsolescence in the increasingly superintelligence-ridden Baxter Building.

CHRIS: Maybe Ben just prefers the taste of Splenda! Or maybe he’s got adult-onset diabetes. You don’t know, David!

Pages 14-16: Note how paternal Reed is acting with Alex; giving him advice, telling him he’s proud of him. It’s a skill that’s likely meant to mirror the fact that Reed actually knew his own father, and in fact, his actions towards Alex here are similar to Nathaniel’s towards Reed back in the flashbacks in the “Solve Everything” arc.

Sue, on the other hand, quickly susses out everything Reed’s hiding from her, including the existence of alternate Reeds and the true purpose of the Council of Doom.

CHRIS: Hey! I brought up the Dark Raider back in our annotations of F4 #570! The Dark Raider’s backstory — a Reed Richards that sought to kill all other versions of himself — calls to mind the Great Hunt from F4 #581-2.

The Brute comes from the High Evolutionary’s Counter-Earth (not to be confused with Franklin’s Heroes Reborn Counter-Earth or Nu-Earth), his attempt to create a more perfect, sin-free Earth. The H-E’s C-E was devoid of superheroes (save for Adam Warlock, who he placed there as a Jesus analogue) but there were two established characters who popped up on Counter-Earth: Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom.

This Doom suffered the same scarring accident as “our” Doom, but persevered through it to become a humanitarian and scientist, rocking his trademark mask and a three piece suit. On the other hand, Reed’s rocket launch was a disaster that left Sue Storm in a coma. He was bitter and angry, and the cosmic rays gave him latent Hulk-like powers that transformed him into the Brute, a giant purple monster. Doom nobly sacrificed himself to save Warlock, but when Galactus showed up to try to eat Counter-Earth, the Brute hitched a ride to Earth, joining an iteration of the Frightful Four for a time.

Both the Brute and the Dark Raider are lost and presumed dead in the Negative Zone. And they’re two more Purple & Green FF Villains.

DAVID: Note that Reed’s admission that he’s done something terrible is completely in keeping with the run previous: after the reality-shattering events of Dark Reign: Fantastic Four, Susan told Reed to turn off the dimensional Bridge and hide it away forever, except that he just rebuilt it somewhere else and hid it from her. As a result, the loosing of the four Reeds by his daughter is his fault, and a direct consequence of him not following her advice. In a way, this is almost a gigantic, cosmic version of a kid finding his parents’ firearm and shooting somebody, when the mother asked the dad to please, please, please get rid of the damn gun.

(Not that I’m saying Hickman’s Fantastic Four is a big polemic about gun control, but it seems like a good metaphor.)

Pages 17-20: Back in the Forever City, they talk about a “systemic problem” for which they have a solution — again, the role of these alternate Reeds is to Solve Everything, as the title of the first arc suggested. Apparently, as on other worlds, fixing the High Evolutionary’s Ascension Engine is a simple problem, but to have the access to do so, they must force the devolved Moloids to seal the city oFF from regular Moloids who might wish to use the machinery to change. However, as a result of the Reeds’ tampering, they’ll be able to have kids that look like them, which will render the need to assimilate outside Moloids moot.

Then Earth’s Inhumans show up and everything goes to hell, led by Black Bolt, their long-lost king who disappeared in the War of Kings crossover. We’ll likely find out the full details of where he’s been and how he returned in the next two issues, drawn by Greg Tocchini.

CHRIS: The Inhumans are yet another enduring contribution from the Lee/Kirby F4 run. Individual members popped up a little earlier, but as a group they were introduced in F4 #45. Trying to sort out the palimpsest of additive Marvel history is a Herculean task, but here’s a rough outline of all of the Genetic Experimentation in the Marvel Universe, and how it may come into play here with the players Hickman’s introduced.

The Celestials (as seen in F4 and SHIELD) are a race of Space Gods that travel the universe seeding planets with life, advancing their evolution, and then coming back to judge them. On each planet they encounter, they create two classes: the genetically perfect Eternals and the grotesque mutated Deviants. They did this on countless planets, and some of Earth’s Deviants apparently ended up as the Mole Man’s Monsters. OFF in the cosmos, the Skrull race was eventually overtaken by Deviants, so that only the shapeshifting oFFshoot of the race survives. These Skrulls built up an empire, and eventually warred with the Kree, a race that found itself evolutionarily stagnant.

Hoping to find a way to kickstart their evolutionary process, or at least develop some superpowered cannon fodder, the Kree sought out planets where the Celestials had experimented on genetically unstable races, and started doing their own experiments on these planets. That’s how the Inhumans were created, and as revealed in F4 #577, the process worked on four other planets besides Earth. During the aforementioned War of Kings crossover, the Kree called the (Earth) Inhumans back to assist in their war against the Shi’ar, who were led by Cyclops’s mad brother Vulcan. Yeah. Vulcan and Black Bolt apparently died at the conclusion of WoK, but I expect that to be explained in the next couple of issues.

And for the latest in our series of question/answers with writer Jonathan Hickman:

CA: You mentioned last time how you chose the Surviving Reeds carefully because they all had specific roles to play in the story. Without spoiling too much, is there anything you could tell us about the thought process behind the recruits for the Council of Doom? Were there any potential recruits that didn’t make the cut for one reason or another?

JH: First off, to answer in reverse, there wasn’t anyone that I wanted that we couldn’t get. I suppose the most difficult to make work was the High Evolutionary as he was featuring in the Silver Surfer mini at the time, but Greg Pak and I had worked out most of that early on anyway. So no big deal.

Secondly, the individuals invited to Doom’s anti-Reed think tank had varied reasons for being included. Structurally, some are there for me to wrap business up with (like the High Evolutionary), some are there to serve as a bridge in their larger story (The Wizard and his AIM lieutenants), and some are there to set up for their future stories (The Mad Thinker and Diablo). Beyond that, the Council of Doom (Not what they’re called, see the upcoming FF issue #8 for the answer to that) have a very large role to play in the conclusion to the War of Four Cities — which wraps up in FF issues 8 and 9.

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