Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Fantastic Four 7, originally released April 24th, 2013.
Shelby: When I read comics (or watch movies), I throw myself into it completely; I get so wrapped up in the world these types of media create, strongly written characters can affect me very deeply. This happens with characters I love (you all know of my gigantic crush on Clint Barton), and it happens with characters I hate. Sometimes, I just can’t extricate myself from a fictional universe to remember that it is, in fact, fictional, and I probably don’t need to get angry at a character for being a total ass.
When last we saw the Fantastics, Franklin had just magicked them away to…somewhere. I think we underestimated his powers; he was able to transport the family from the beginning of time to the very end, where they meet up with the very aliens who transported Blastaar back in the first place. They explain that Franklin’s powers are a bigger strain on him the further he is from his point of origin in space time, Reed tries to talk them into letting the Fantastics take Blastaar, Valeria builds something, etc. When the aliens tell Reed that their 5 billion years of knowledge means they know better, the whole family executes a complicated bait-and-switch that puts now-human Ben in Blastaar’s place, and Blastaar in the hold of the Fantastic’s fancy, rebuilt ship. Franklin magics Ben back on board, they dump Blastaar in the Negative Zone, and Ben decides that, with his remaining 24 hours of time as a human, he just wants to go home.
I know I’m not especially familiar with the Marvel universe as a whole, let alone the Fantastic Four portion, but I thought I was making some progress. This issue dissuaded me of that idea; I feel like I understand less about how this world operates for having read this issue. I know I shouldn’t worry too much about the the mechanics of time travel we see here, but “because time travel” is Reed’s entire motivation this issue, and I was too distracted by not understanding the rules to really appreciate the story. Franklin transported the family to shortly before the end of the universe, just before the unnamed alien collective sent Blastaar back to the beginning. According to Reed, that can’t happen for timeline reasons; my question is, what timeline reasons? Is there some sort of continuity that breaks because Blastaar was sent from the future to be executed in the past? Based on Reed’s history-altering Post-It, I assumed the book was operating on a “whatever happened, happened” rule: every iteration of time had Blastaar terrorizing the Fantastic Four, ending up at the end of time, and getting sent to the beginning of time. Wouldn’t rescuing Blastaar break the timeline instead of maintaining it? Is there something obvious I’m missing, or is this just a plot point that exists to get Blastaar in the Negative Zone for next month’s FF?
I know Patrick thinks it’s funny how much I dislike Reed Richards, but dammit do I dislike Reed Richards. The temerity of the man continues to astound me. Honestly, the whole family is starting to get on my nerves; they seem to represent the stereotypical rich, white, privileged American, running around doing whatever they want without worrying about consequences outside of their own objectives because they know best. No one could possible know better. Sue didn’t have any problem with the species in issue 4 worshipping her as a queen, Valeria complains about how shitty future technology is, and Reed tells the aliens point blank that their billions of years of knowledge can’t beat his intellect.
This family blithely scampers through space and time assuming that the mere fact they can means that they should. I could forgive their priviledged attitudes and general ass-hattery if the story was especially compelling or there was some sort of character growth, but there isn’t. The story continues to be one-off space adventures, and Reed seems to be growing more sure that he’s the greatest thing to happen to the universe since sliced bread. This despite the fact he’s made zero progress towards fixing his and now Ben’s problems.
I’ve liked this book as a companion story to FF; its an old-fashioned, space-adventure foil to FF‘s goofy, character-driven stories. While FF has focused heavily on its characters, Fantastic Four has focused on the adventures; they’re fun enough, but lack the substance I need to really feel invested in the story. That, paired with Reed being a giant butt all the time, makes me appreciate this book far less than I used to. What do you think, Patrick? Am I being way too nit-picky wondering about the time travel rules in play? Do I need to cut Reed and the rest of the family a little more slack?
Patrick: I think you generally need to cut Reed a little slack, but this issue does kind of cut to the heart of the Ugly American problem you’ve illuminated so well. I can forgive Reed his aloofness precisely because he is one of the super-geniuses of the Marvel world, and I suspect that he’s probably got a diagnosable personality disorder. In fact, Grant Morrison wrote (and Jae Lee drew) a mini-series called Fantastic Four 1234 wherein a friend suggests that Reed might be showing signs of Autism or Asberger’s Syndrome. In that light, I can watch the character act without constantly being mad at him – that doesn’t mean his behavior isn’t frustrating, but I remain totally sympathetic to the guy.
Also, I’m not 100% on what’s motivating the Richards family to prevent our Crunch-Watchers from sending Blastaar back to the beginning of time. If we’re to believe Valerie’s speech, the family thinks that detonating him — even in the context of the big bang — would result in to much collateral destruction. The Fantastic solution avoids destroying the baddy by absconding with him and then sending him off to the Negative Zone, where he presumably can’t hurt anyone… except for anyone in the Negative Zone like, oh I don’t know – all of the characters in FF. Johnny brings up the fact that this might cause a paradox, but Sue shuts down that line of thinking pretty quick.
I trust that’s a cue from Matt Fraction to let our concerns about the mechanics of time travel go.
There’s a piece of Fantastic Four trivia at the center of the solution to this issue that I didn’t know about at all: Ben turns into a human being for one day a year? It’s a day that he knows by heart, and the rest of the family seems to know that it’s coming up too – even when they’re displaced in time and space. Or at least, they should. Check out the disappointment in The Thing’s face when Sue asks what he’s talking about, as though she’s forgotten his birthday:
It’s interesting to me how Ben comes off as the only sympathetic character in this bunch this issue. In fact, his whole deal is about wanting to be human, wanting to be safe, wanting to be home. His concerns are so far away from the time traveling space operatics that he can’t even bring himself to care about the fact that these alien dudes just diagnosed his headaches as the result of cellular decay. That’s too far a bridge for Ben Grimm: he just wants to make sure the kids are okay.
I do start to worry about the uniqueness of Ben’s humanity on this team. Val and Franklin end up being almost as cold and dispassionate as their father, both gleefully executing their portions of the plan with little shit-eating grins. This issue doesn’t seem to place a lot of judgement on the kids’ actions either way – after all, they’re just children. But Reed and the head alien guy do talk about children. The alien basically says that they stopped reproducing years ago because they didn’t want to subject their young to the absurd choice they maybe to stick around for the end of the universe. Ultimately, that ends up sounding more humane than dragging your family across the cosmos on a half-baked quest for a cure-all.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?