Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #523 has it all. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to wield cosmic power? Can there be perfection without imperfection? And so on.
Recap: Aliens obsessed with using invisibility to hide from Galactus came to Earth wanting to destroy Sue for her powers. Reed faked them out by switching Sue’s power with Johnny. Then Galactus himself showed up and made Johnny his new herald. While Johnny and Sue adjust to their new powers, Reed, Sue, Ben and special guest star Nova head off into space to confront Galactus and get Johnny back. Using Johnny’s newfound cosmic sight powers, Reed and Quasar concocted a machine to transform Galactus back into his original human form, Galan.
The first page of this issue establishes that Galactus’ cosmic importance still exists, as does his planet-devouring hunger. This is illustrated by Galan in a pool hall trying to eat the 8 ball. Ben has brought him here for a hot dog, and to explore what it means to be human. Reed shows up, putting an end the silliness, saying that Galan is only human temporarily. He says they’ve only got a limited amount of time to teach Galan human empathy before he turns back into Galactus. If they succeed, Galactus might spare inhabited planets from destruction in the future.
Back at the New Baxter Building, Quasar works the machines in Reed’s lab, saying it will take about 24 hours of recalibration to switch Sue and Johnny’s powers back to normal. Quasar adds that Galactus’ power cosmic is floating around the cosmos searching for Galan, and once it finds him, Galan will become Galactus again. Quasar flies off with Sue and Johnny’s thanks, bowing out of this story.
Sue and Johnny have a heart-to-heart chat, with Sue admitting she never realized just how hard it is to control the fire powers. She asks if he will miss the invisibility powers, or the power cosmic. He has a flashback of flying through space, but then says, “Nah. I’ll be fine.”
Later, at Central Park, Ben, Johnny, and Galan are taking the kids ice skating. Galan is unmoved, arguing that the family togetherness is all for show. He calls the kids “germ-ridden,” and Johnny says he’s been calling New York “the worst” ever since he arrived. Galan argues that his homeworld Taa was the pinnacle of technological and spiritual achievement, and NYC is a cesspool in comparison. He says devouring the Earth would be a mercy killing. Johnny and Ben argue that the Silver Surfer once thought the same way but came to appreciate humanity. Then they both realize that the one who taught the Surfer humanity was Alicia.
At the Guggenheim Museum, Alicia and Sue give Galan the tour, with Alicia showing off her smarts about art in all its forms. Galan calls the classic art unremarkable and pedestrian. When they come across one of Alicia’s own sculptures, Galan says he doesn’t understand why someone blind would attempt art and not just “surrender herself.” While Alicia continues to speak eloquently on other artwork, Sue says to Galan, “You wouldn’t understand.” Sue and Alicia continue Galan’s tour of NYC, but he can only focus on how broken society is, and none of its good points.
At Reed’s lab, he’s experimenting with opening portals to other dimensions, hoping there might something in one of them to satiate Galactus’ hunger. He says he’s not giving up, and Galan emerges from the shadows to ask, “Why not?” Reed argues that common trait of intelligent life throughout the universe is ambition, and a natural inclination for achievement and betterment. Even though his lab is on the cutting edge of knowledge, Reed admits there are hundreds of others on Earth just as smart as he is, who have insights he lacks, and future generations will have even more. Every time Galactus destroys a world, Reed said, all this achievement dies with it.
Upon hearing this, Galan locks himself in the portal room. Fearing that Galan is going to open a portal to energies that will destroy the Earth, the FF try to break inside, but Reed’s safeguards are too strong for them. Reed tries to reason with Galan, but Galan only says, “I’ve misjudged you.”
Galan gives a big speech, saying that he’s struck with humanity’s inability to surrender to hopelessness. He says he recognizes that feeling even among cosmic beings, and he says, “Who am I to extinguish in you that which lies within myself?” Instead of destroying the Earth, he is sparing it. He’s voluntarily going through the portal to exile himself in another dimension. Even if the power cosmic finds him there, he says even that will save the Earth. Or, he says, humanity might find a solution to the finality of Galactus. “I have every confidence they will eventually do,” he says. “After all… that is their nature.” With that, he disappears into the portal and it shuts behind him.
Reed says there’s a loose end to tie up, which is switching Sue and Johnny’s powers back. They step into the power-switching device, only for it to go haywire. Reed says there are still small traces of the power cosmic in Johnny’s system. The machine explodes. As our heroes crawl from the wreckage, Reed, Sue and Johnny discover their powers are gone, and Ben is human again. Reed asks where their powers might have gone.
On the next page, we see a boxer with Reed’s stretching power, a firefighter with Johnny’s fire powers, a man on a date with Sue’s invisibility powers, and a nun (!) turning into a big, rocky Thing.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed’s safeguards around the portal chamber are meant to keep cosmic energy from getting out, but those same safeguards lock the FF out, which seems like a design flaw. The chamber is made of an adamantium-vibranium alloy, which raises a lot of questions. Historically, the only known existence of this alloy in the Marvel Universe is Captain America’s shield, so where’d Reed get so much of it?
Fade out: Sue apologizes to Johnny, saying she’s shortchanged him over the years, and she has a better understanding of who is as a person now she’s experienced his powers.
Clobberin’ time: There’s a lengthy discussion about Johnny volunteering to switch his powers with Ben, so Ben can be human again. Reed says Ben refused, not wanting anyone else to become a Thing in his place. (And then that’s what happens at the end of the issue.)
Flame on: Johnny says he’s still adapting to not having his fire powers, saying he can’t remember the last time he worked up a sweat.
Four and a half: Franklin is apparently a talented ice skater, but not enough to impress Galan.
Our gal Val: It’s hard to tell, but it seems Valeria has gotten even taller. At the very least, she’s definitely grown from baby to little kid.
Trivia time: At the pool hall, Ben cavalierly blurts out, “Matt Murdock is Daredevil!” This is a reference to the Marvel Knights Daredevil series running at this time, when a tabloid revealed DD’s secret identity to the world. This left Murdock with the predicament of publicly denying he is Daredevil, while still secretly fighting evil in back alleys at night as Daredevil.
The pool hall is called Maisie’s, and Ben says it serves the best hot dogs on Yancy Street. You’d think this would be a Marvel mainstay, but according to the wiki, it’s never seen again after this. One customer at Maisie’s is named Lurleen, and is clearly based on Lurleen Lumpkin from The Simpsons.
Fantastic or frightful? Here we have Mark Waid, Mike Wieringo, and their co-conspirator Karl Kesel firing on all cylinders. This is far-out sci-fi with a lot of big ideas, but it’s still a very human story about a family of adventurers wresting with their own thoughts on what it means to be human. This is the type of story that would make a great Fantastic Four movie.
Next: Get thee to a nunnery.
- * * * *
Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.