Shelby: Everyone makes mistakes. There’s no way around it. Personally, I think it’s a better judge of character to see how a person deals with their mistakes, and less so that the mistakes were made in the first place. It’s important to admit when you’ve messed up and take responsibility fr your actions, but the gesture rings a little hollow when you don’t actually expect to be held responsible. Or if you can just go back in time and undo what you did: how will you learn from a mistake if you can just erase it? Moreover, if you aren’t going to be held responsible for what you did, and you can’t undo it no matter how badly you may want to, can you really forgive yourself?
Fantastic Four sees Ben and Reed taking a little trip to the past to see just how Ben may have inadvertently created Dr. Doom. Doom was a total dick to Ben in college, so Ben and his buddies decided to mess up one of his experiments. The experiment backfired, Victor went crazy, and eventually became the evil doctor. As TimeGhosts, Ben and Reed prepare to watch the experiment go wrong, a cabal of TimeGhost Dooms appear to witness their own creation. Ben can’t take it, so he tries to stop Victor, to save him, but it doesn’t work. Reed gently reminds Ben that Victor was meant to be Dr. Doom; even if the experiment hadn’t gone wrong, things would have turned out the same. Meanwhile, the FF crew has a date with the inhuman royal court. Medusa takes full responsibility for endangering the lives of all the FF kids. She calls for a challenge to her rule, which none of the court will take since she’s the queen. They declare all forgiven, which does not sit well with Jen. She and Medusa get into a wall-bustin’ tussle over it, which is only broken up by Scott with the news that Alex has returned. Except that it’s definitely a trap, since Doom has Alex’s parents prisoner, and is forcing him to spy on the team. Also, Annihilus hitched a ride with the Baxter building from the Negative Zone, so the trinity of Doom, Kang, and Annihilus that Old Johnny warned everyone about has formed.
Both these issues deal with mistakes and forgiveness, specifically a character who won’t forgive themselves. Despite being under some sort of mind-control, Medusa knows that she is to blame for endangering the children. She knew she was susceptible to this sort of manipulation, and yet was not careful enough to protect herself. Despite Jen’s disgust with the whole process, I believe Medusa was sincerely seeking a challenge for what she did. I also believe she very sincerely accepted the ruling that it all was okay. Whether she knew ahead of time she’d get off scott-free is really the question. She’s certainly arrogant and privileged, but she very genuinely cares for the well-being of the children, and takes her role as a de facto guardian very seriously.
Ben is a slightly different matter. He knowingly messed with Doom’s experiment, and very well could have been the cause of the accident that put him on the path to super-villain. Reed’s not wrong, however, when he says Doom would have ended up a psychotic megalomaniac regardless; something would have happened to scar Doom and lead him to the mask and villainy, even if this particular experiment had worked just fine.
How much, though, does this absolve Ben? Honestly, I hope Ben can find some comfort in knowing that, even having the ability to go back ti time and stop the experiment, Doom still would have become a monster. I can’t imagine the guilt he must have felt, thinking he was responsible for his family’s greatest enemy. Even for a man of stone, that’s a near-impossible burden to bear.
Despite having the same point of origin, these two books have adopted very different styles of story-telling, and have evolved into very different books as a result. Fantastic Four is more episodic, with little throw-away mini-adventures. There’s the over-arching theme of Reed’s illness, and the effect it’s having on the rest of the family, but the title focuses more on the Richards’ day-to-day experiences. It’s a shallower approach that, while fun at times (next month promises Ben punching a Skrull disguised as Ben Franklin!), leaves me wanting more from the characters. Space-time adventures are neat and all, but the characters feel more distant, the stories more detached. FF is exactly the opposite. Here, Fraction gives us longer story arcs that serve as foundation for the real story: the character’s growth and relationships with each other. I love Scott, Jen, Darlene, Medusa, and all the kids, and it’s my interest in their development that makes this book so enjoyable.
Plus, Scott is nowhere near as big of a dick as Reed is, so there’s that.
Even though it’s pretty clear which of these two titles I prefer, I still read them both because the moments when they connect are so satisfying. The resolution in FF 7 when Bentley closed the Blastaar time loop left over from Fantastic Four 7 was delightful, and made me appreciate the Fantastic Four portion of that story much more. With both these issues touching on Dr. Doom, I have a sneaking suspicion we’re going to get more of those connecting points. What did you think Ethan? Do you appreciate these two titles supporting each other, or would you rather see one or the other wholly on their own? Do you think Medusa and Ben have found some inner peace despite their mistakes?
Ethan: I definitely appreciate the way these two titles provide context for each other, though it’s subtler than what we find over in the All-New/Uncanny X-Men camp. Pros and cons to each, right? It’s fun to see the exact same scenes from different characters’ perspectives in the latter, but as you mentioned, FF offers a lot more freedom to explore both the characters themselves and the act of story-telling. I was interested to see that you preferred FF over Fantastic Four, whereas I tend to look forward to the Fantastic Four releases more. Part of it is my (shallow!) bias towards over-production. I was exposed to techno and Soviet statuary (and Chernobyl radiation) in my youth, both of which place a premium on glitz rather than innovation. It’s probably not fair or accurate, but I’m going to go ahead and blame those for the fact that — to this day — I’m ultimately more entertained by beautiful CGI with a terrible plot than I am by French surrealism. If I had to line them up with genres, Fantastic Four seems to be the Top 40 to FF’s indie group. Anyway, I love ‘em both – I think they’re both effective at striking the tone and transmitting their different messages.
Speaking of message, Shelby, I too liked the neat parallels of guilt between these issues. Again, I had a bit of a different perspective on Medusa. The Inhumans are so wacky and (wait for it) alien that it’s hard for me to put myself in any of their shoes, much less head-to-toe onesies, but Medusa even more so. I’ve always found Black Bolt an interesting study in contrasts – sound and silence, restraint and wrath – but that’s about it. Medusa, with the hair, and the gimmicky psychic cheap-shot she suffered in the recent FF issues reduced her as a character for me. And to be honest, I agree with She-Hulk on the court scene. I full allow that Medusa seems to be truly concerned with her failure to protect the children, and I respect her for her introspection and for being able to find fault with herself. Those are great qualities. But I do not for a minute believe that she is making her confessions with any expectation of reprisal or consequence, mostly because she does not have as much first-hand experience with these things as most people do. When I lived in cold places, I ran around in freezing sleet in shorts and flip flops; now that I’m on the West Coast, I am an absolute pushover when it comes to temperature. My ability to work within the context of “cold” is dramatically reduced because I don’t have to deal with it. So too do I think that Medusa’s admissions of guilt are easier for her to put out there purely because she doesn’t have to deal with anything but nobility-worship most of the time.
I was most drawn to Doom’s role in the two issues, and there’s a segue somewhere in there because one of the things I have always enjoyed about Doom is his absolute LACK of guilt. He’s got enough bad qualities to well equip a few dozen copies of the Jersey Shore cast, plus a handful of concentration camp overseers, but his determination and sense self-assurance do not take a sick-day EVER. Most baddies turn weepy or snarly when they’re tied up and sitting at the feet of the hero. When Doom’s having an off-day, he literally doesn’t even notice it. When his plans inevitably go awry, he doesn’t curse fate or try to convince his enemy that he’s just being misunderstood; he’s already cooking up his next crazy plot. This guy doesn’t just have a big ego; it’s like his perception of the world is inherently polarized such that he’s incapable of even imagining that he could fail. For the record, I do think that he is a terrifically horrible person, but I love his narrative potential – often realized – as a sort of Platonic form of the will to power.
Doom has been orbiting the core of these titles quite distantly until now, though he’s never actually absent from any Richards-family story. With these issues, he’s turned on a dime in that respect and popped right into the spotlight. Here I’ll credit FF for its superior pacing – the build-up for some quality face-time with Doom (no pun, no pun) has been really well handled ever since Alex Power ran off to Latveria. In Fantastic Four, we went from basically no Doom at all to a zany, packed, room of time-shifted versions of him, which was much less satisfying.
I like the parallel of Medusa and Ben, but check out the perpendicular of the Doom axis to the Ben axis. Ben is a guy who grew up with natural physical advantages, he’s got a heart of gold, and he’s now trapped inside of an impervious shell against his will. Victor was a skinny geek with a tortured past who’s grown up to be a genocidal sociopath who was so eager to wear his metal mask that he voluntarily shoved the thing onto his own face while it was still red-hot. Before Fantastic Four #9, I always compared Victor to Reed and kind of dismissed the obvious meathead/nerd dichotomy of Ben and Doom, but this issue jump-started my brain in a pleasantly surprising way with that contrast. The way the two characters come away from their run-in is the finishing touch: Ben, I think, will never be able to completely forgive himself, while Victor is so deep inside his own head that it did not occur to him that there was ever anything to forgive.
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