Saturday, January 17, 2009

Family Matters: The Fantastic Four's Triumphs and Tribulations, part 3 (continued)

Part Three – Bringing Up Boys, Part II
Fantastic Four #’s 140-41
November-December 1973

“Annihilus Revealed!”
“The End of the Fantastic Four!”
Gerry Conway, John Buscema, and Joe Sinnott

NOTE: Continued from last week’s posting…

Doug: The build-up to the story’s climax was well-conceived, and Annihilus and the Negative Zone were the perfect catalysts. However, I was left somewhat flat with the last page of #141. It seemed like the tale just ended abruptly – like page 20 rolled around and “oops – gotta go!” We’d had a really well-crafted 2-parter with action, tension (lots of tension), great characterization, and then it just ended. Now, I know the fall-out continued over issues #142-149 (147-149 being a classic Sub-Mariner story that really stressed what the FF as a family is all about!), but to just look at these events – I needed one more page in the book, Gerry!!

Karen: I felt the abrupt end to 141 actually worked very well, because the reader is probably expecting Reed to save the day, as usual. When he not only doesn’t, but hurts his own son, it’s quite the shocker. The issues that follow are also worthy of reading, although I felt like Sue running off with Namor undercut her search for independence. I must say that these issues cemented my general dislike of Reed, and in many ways I would have liked seeing Sue dump him permanently for Namor! What woman wouldn’t be attracted to Namor – strong, confident, sexy, and so extremely attentive?
Sharon: It didn’t hurt that Namor was often nearly naked…or swathed in leather, with a bare chest…Karen: To be honest, I never really saw why Sue would be attracted to Reed. He always seemed far more interested in his latest experiment than he did in her.
Sharon: She was supposed to have been infatuated with Reed since she was a young girl, maybe not even a teen (he was already in college). I guess some people never outgrow their first crushes.

Indeed, the Reed-Sue relationship, at least in the early days, always stru
ck me a bit like the older man/younger woman scenario. She looked to him for guidance and to “take charge” of situations. This probably became less appealing to the general readership over the years. I don’t think they even mention this age difference at all now.

Doug: I find your (both of you) take on the Reed/Sue/Namor triangle interesting. Maybe it’s because as a male I always felt “threatened” by Namor. Although a monarch, he was brash, showy, flaunting of his strength… everything a guy who had a gal would fear. I guess sensing Reed was somewhat the underdog in that situation I always identified with him and not Namor. Perhaps as women, maybe you recall days when you or your girlfriends were infatuated with older men, or guys from a different school? Guys I knew were never digging that…

Karen: Doug, I had never thought about the Reed-Sue-Namor triangle in the way you mention. Reed just always seemed so focused on his work that his interest in Sue – particularly when she was asserting herself, like in these issues – just seemed more like possessiveness to me. But I can see where you are coming from. Namor would be very threatening to most guys. Although honestly, he would probably be a better lover than a husband! Another case where it is probably better to want than to have.
Doug: As one-hit wonder Aldo Nova once sang, “Life is just a fantasy, can you live this fantasy life?” Apparently Sue was trying…

But on to perhaps the crux of this story, the centerpiece around which all of this discussion has emanated – what do you think of Reed’s reaction to Franklin’s condition in the first 90% of the story, and then to his “dirty deed” at the conclusion of issue #141 (the zapping of Franklin with the anti-matter gun, as Karen stated earlier)?

My opinion is that Reed, in spite of his many faults (not enough quality time with Sue or Franklin, being inaccessible even to Ben and Johnny for extended periods, etc.), deeply loved his family – hence the intense mission to the Negative Zone which would place his own life at risk. Now, one could argue that this idea in itself was somewhat selfish, as his impending death would certainly leave Franklin’s condition in a potentially damaging state. Reed was never good at asking for help – but when you’re the smartest guy in the world that might just come with the territory. Reed was proactive here – the problem is perhaps not the mission, but the lack of communication to all parties concerned.

Karen: Reed’s absolute belief in himself, essentially to the exclusion of his family and their wishes, is probably his greatest failing. He was always making decisions for the team, and I think they typically accepted this because everything turned out all right. Well, except for Ben turning into a monster, but hey, other than that…but seriously, certainly in the early years he was portrayed as making the right choices. That began changing, particularly with this story. We still see this going on today in the books; he and Sue had another huge falling out over Reed’s work for the Pro-Registration forces in Civil War.Sharon: During this timeframe (basically the issues leading up to #140-141), I liked that Reed was becoming impatient with the others; it made sense character-wise. Ben has always been presented as the salt of the earth—loyal, brave, and principled. But Sue and Johnny did not come off well during this timeframe; both were prone to whine, and Johnny, in particular, seemed like he’d lost a few brain cells since the ‘60s (was he inhaling?) I guess the post-Stan writers were trying to emphasize Johnny’s immaturity.

Doug: Earlier I’d mentioned that I felt Conway rushed the ending of #141 – I’d like to clarify that point somewhat. Karen liked the stark finality to it – I wanted something more than just everyone’s kneejerk reactions (which were all in character – I have no problem with that). Had I written this, there might have been a few panels with just facial reactions, pensiveness, numbness – and then the reaction. I know I’ve ripped on today’s decompressed stories ‘til the cows have come home (Midwestern expression :) ), but I wanted this scene to be a couple of pages longer. I’m not unhappy with the final panel, but just wanted a longer bridge to the departure of the rest of the team – Reed’s abandonment.

Sharon: The ending is effective if overly melodramatic (and the last panel is basically repeated for the splash for the next issue). But I know what you mean about wanting to see more here, Doug; the ending seems like a sort of fait accompli. For me, the emotional impact compensates for that.

Karen: There is some initial rejection of Reed by Johnny and Ben, but ultimately, they wind up sticking with Reed rather than Sue. It almost seems as though they really have no other options – Reed runs the show after all. I guess the thought I’m left with is this: if a man could lobotomize his own child –and yes, he was saving the world by doing so – what else might he be capable of? If you were his wife, would you ever be able to completely trust him again?

Sharon: I just assumed Reed would be working on a way to reverse Franklin’s condition…and that Sue of all people would know that.

Doug: Funny that you say Ben and Johnny felt like they might not have had other options – they’d done OK by themselves through the Torch’s series way back in Strange Tales. I’ve always wondered just what the FF was? Obviously a family, sure. But through all of the line-up changes over the years (and there are quite a few when you reflect), there were always two members who stayed. So was the sum greater than the parts, or were any of the parts when combined good enough to create the essence of the team?

In answer to the question relating to Reed’s behavior in using the anti-matter gun on Franklin: I am really torn on this! I have no doubt that Reed’s behavior throughout this two-part story is sincere – his anguish, sense of desperation – these emotions have him wrought with fear. I am also convinced that he was using every ounce of his magnificent brainpower to try to find an aid or cure for Franklin’s condition. I really want to believe that Reed acted out of overwhelming anxiety – a desperation to save Franklin’s life, yes – but also to save the world. Reed’s altruism toward humanity cannot be overlooked here. And let’s give him the benefit of the doubt as far as lobotomizing his son. Do we know that the condition brought on by the anti-matter gun was irreversible? Also, while the reaction of the rest of the team was not out of character, it certainly showed little to no faith in Reed’s track record. Yeah, I know that Ben’s condition was caused by Reed (as Karen pointed out earlier) – but Ben was outwardly a freak; the other three were no less changed in terms of what they could now do. So while Ben “got it the worst”, everyone was different. But I’ve believed Reed over the years every time he’s said that he never stops looking for a way to change Ben back permanently.

Karen: It also occurs to me that Gerry Conway was responsible for stripping away a lot of the innocence of comics; he split up Reed and Sue AND he killed Gwen Stacy.

Sharon: And he introduced the Punisher! No surprise Conway went on to produce Law and Order: Criminal Intent. ;)
Doug: I think a great topic for the future would be to debate the ages that followed the Silver Age, which is generally linked to Kirby’s departure from Marvel in 1970 (roughly the same time Mort Weisinger turned over the reins of the Superman family of titles at DC). Just when did the Bronze Age end, and couldn’t we argue that this new realism and social relevance was the ushering toward a Dark Age (not creatively, but topically)?


Skydragon said...

I finally had time to come back to the blog! I've only read this post for the moment, and it's a great work as usual. It also prompted me to pull out the DVD and read #141 (for the first time! Still going through Thor dvd at the moment).

Regarding the final scene, I think I'm with Reed on this one. After all we are talking about the fate of the world, and he certainly didn't act lightly. It's not like he lobotomized his son to experiment on him or because he wanted a quiet evening with Sue. Ben and Johnny should have seen his sacrifice, or at least given him the benefit of the doubt a bit more.

Taking a step back however, I agree that often Reed comes across as lacking patience with his team-mates, especially Sue. He loves them all, but at times it's like he doesn't see them as equals and tends to be self-righteous, looking almost like a softer and more well-meaning version of Dr. Doom. This never happens with Iron-Man in the Avengers, I wonder if it's because Earth Mightiest's other main members are so special of their own that they never look like Tony's sidekicks the way Sue, Ben and Johhny at times do with Reed.

On the Reed/Namor thing, I agree with Karen that Namor could be a better lover ^^ He certainly is very attentive, but then he is the one who has to "win" Sue, and men in this situation tend to be more caring. Had she accepted his court, would have he managed to keep the attentiveness while ruling over Atlantis, or to keep in better check his temper? It's more like Reed takes Sue for granted (a common man mistake ^^) and forgets to show her his love all the time.

Karen said...

Hey Skydragon, welcome back!

I think you hit the nail on the head about Namor: as a pursuer, he will lavish attention on a woman. But I am sure if Sue had ever actually settled down with him, she would find that being a king, saving his people, attacking "the surface world", etc, all would take precedent before her needs. Namor has too strong a personality for me to see him ever putting his own needs second for very long.

As for Reed, I've never found him very likeable. He always seemed to be wrapped up in his projects (hence Sue leaving him in the first place). But I'll concede that I do think he loves Sue, Franklin, and the rest, he just does a lousy job of showing it!

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