Today, Ethan and Drew are discussing FF 16, originally released January 22nd, 2013.
Ethan: With the arrival of FF 16 Scott Lang’s campaign to end Doom is itself at an end. Even though Doom was the cause of the crusade, it’s always been more about Scott — this finale is no different. As Scott confronts the mortal enemy of the Fantastic Four and the man who killed his daughter, there’s never going to be a better time to prove who or what the latest incarnation of Ant-Man has become. Unsurprisingly, Matt Fraction and Lee Allred do not disappoint.
The FF have disabled or destroyed all of Doctor Doom’s tools and tricks, and in turn, Doom has incapacitated all three of the Fantastic Four stand-ins except for Scott. Doom scoffs at Scott’s offer of mano-a-mano fisticuffsand unleashes an energy blast. Scott is unscathed, and in an unprecedented display of power proceeds use his bare hands to rip Doom’s metal armor right off of his body and smash Doom’s cosmic energy siphon. Their fight is interrupted by the appearance of the Living Tribunal, who condemns Doom for harming the Watcher Uatu. The Living Tribunal departs, leaving Doom alone again with Scott. Scott picks up where he left off, physically beating Doctor Doom in to submission, but leaving him alive. As Scott turns to go, Ravonna and Lockjaw teleport in with Franklin and Valeria Richards at the same moment that Doom fires a desperate blast at Scott’s back. Val is in the path of the blast, and appears to die after taking its full force; in fact, Franklin shielded his sister and Ravonna played some mind games to make Doom believe he had killed Val, leaving the dictator shattered with grief.
This issue could have been a lot of things. If the title had a more mainstream style, it could have been a straightforward beat ‘em up where Doom has the heroes on the ropes right up until the end when they turn the tables and win the day. If it had exclusively channeled the surrealist, crazy-train of whimsy that FF has exhibited from time to time, we could have seen a finale in which Doom has a picnic with the kids — Artie sitting in his lap and the Moloids lopsidedly laying a daisy chain crown on his head. We did not get either of these things. Instead, we get a showdown that blends violence, psychoanalysis, deus ex machina, reversal of roles and so much more packed into the space of your average superhero brawl. And it is amazing.
The first way this fight departs from the norm is that the good guy has the upper hand from the start. We learn that Scott has discovered the ability to use Pym particles to selectively augment not just his size, but his strength and durability, which explains his ability to go toe-to-toe with Doom. If Scott only used this turn of events to beat the tar out Doom, it still wouldn’t be anything more than a gimmick. However, Scott has more in mind than a simple beating — he’s spent a lot of time thinking about Doom, and takes this opportunity to explain his thoughts to the man himself.
This fight is not just revenge for Cassie, nor is it just a pre-emptive strike against a dangerous criminal. Scott wants to tell Victor that he sees past the arrogance and the façade of Doom as an honorable warrior. Scott wants to humble him and make him own up to the truth about himself — that he’s just a petty, damaged person who has failed to accept the fact that his selfish desires don’t give him the right to hurt the people around him. That said, we’re still talking about Doctor Doom here — he’s not going to turn over a new leaf without a bit of motivation, and Scott is more than happy to provide it.
I’ll admit that I haven’t quite made up my mind about this sequence. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense — Scott has admitted that he’s got a dark side, and he certainly has plenty of aggression and angst he wants to work out on Victor. I enjoyed the visceral catharsis of seeing Scott tapping into that darkness, and the visuals by Michael Allred realy nail this vibe. Every panel of Scott’s silhouette has beautiful, crisp composition — the stark contrast and the energy in his form show a man who is tired of trying to live up to a name, a man who is tired of being a slightly clueless, bumbling babysitter. He REALLY wants to get his hands dirty, and he’s definitely got some anger issues.
Then you have the confession? apology? from Doom. I don’t speak Romani, but I’m assuming he’s saying something to the effect of “you’re right, I’m sorry.” These statements would be a bit ridiculous coming from Doom — perhaps that’s why they’re obscured by a foreign language, to take the edge of incredulity off of them. There’s also the fact that he’s only saying it because he’s just been tortured and arguably close to being killed. Perhaps the idea is that Doom has to be made to feel powerless in order to speak honestly, but this can’t completely avoid having a tinge of that feeling you get when you look at Galileo’s shaky signature, penned after enduring the tender mercies of the Inquisition.
I’m similarly unsure about whether Doom’s cowardly potshot at Scott’s back means that Doom was just lying through his teeth to make Scott stop, or if it’s just the logical response of a narcissistic sociopath who’s just been humiliated. In either case, when his blast accidentally immolates Valeria Richards, it’s an undeniable coup de grâce made all the worse by the fact that it’s his own fault.
The visual echo behind Val confused me for a moment until I recognized it as Cassie Lang, confirmed by Scott’s stunned reaction: “Just like Cassie. Just. Like. Cassie.” Ravonna’s appearance with the Richards children is rather too convenient, but again it’s put to good use, as Val’s apparent death is a more potent lesson for Doom than any other that Scott could have managed. The fact that Val DOESN’T actually die cheapens it, but my desire for the happy ending does marginally outweigh my desire for Doom to have truly hoisted himself with his own petard.
Speaking of happy endings, I didn’t get the chance to talk about the backup-story by Lee Allred and Karl Kesel. Drew, I’m curious what you thought of both stories. Between the barbeque on the moon, the convenient revelations, and last-minute move by Ravonna, do you think this was too neat of an ending for this arc? Was the mission to cut Doom down to size worth it all? Also: why didn’t anyone invite The Living Tribunal to the after-party?
Drew: Honestly? He’s a little judgmental. Seriously, though: that picnic. It was easily my favorite part of the issue. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Scott’s victory — it was both rousing and disturbing — but gosh darn it if I don’t have a soft spot for seeing this cast having a good time in each other’s company.
And what a cast! Each one of these characters stirs a kind of fond recognition — the kind most series can only hope to achieve with their central cast — recalling each and every issue of this run. Whether it’s Vil and Wu’s parents, Adolf and Luna’s budding friendship, or Cargo Manshark, this page is wall-to-wall knowing chuckles. The creative team even brings themselves back — only they’ve grown a bit since their last appearance: we’re now also treated to Joe Quinones’ versions of himself, Laura Allred, and, most notably, Fantastic Four creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. If this spread is about looking back on this remarkable run, it’s only appropriate that the men who made all of this possible should be featured, as well.
For me, that joy has always been what this series is about, which may be why I’m slower to embrace Scott’s solo victory. And I don’t just mean that it’s so dark: the emphasis on Scott vs. Doom here reframes one of my favorite ensemble comedies as a classic revenge story. I’ve always known those elements were there, but I tended to think of those as equal to Medusa’s mind-control issues or Tong’s gender identity. I have no problem giving Scott his closure, but the fact that it’s emphasized here at the conclusion makes this whole arc read like his story, relegating the rest of the cast to cooky window dressing.
Of course, we were treated to a great celebration of the cast in the previous issue, which I think made a fantastic case for the importance of their zaniness. I think the structure of battle and the emotional needs of Scott’s story dictated that these issues would brake down the way they did — and again, I don’t want to begrudge Scott his closure — which is why I’m so grateful for the epilogue. We get to spend a few more minutes with the kids, and even get to see how Scott’s emotional journey has affected Darla.
I’m curious to see what Marvel does with Darla now that her superhero responsibilities are over. Will she head back out on the road as a pop diva? Will she settle down with Scott at the Baxter Building (where he’ll presumably be doing his research on Pym particles)? Will she continue to be Ms. Thing?
Whatever small gripes I might have about not seeing enough of the kids, this was a fantastic issue, and a great capper to this series. It’s been such a regular source of joy for me over the past year, and I can’t wait to see where these characters (and creators) pop up next.
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?