Fantastic Friday: Cosmic bowl

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #530 brings us a lot of crazy space action, but also gives us a whole new take on the FF’s origin.

Recap: Reed took a top-secret government job, where scientists hoped to create FF-style superhumans by recreating the spaceflight from the FF’s origin. Reed deduced that the cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers were actually a message from unseen aliens. Believing that only he and his teammates should respond to the message, Reed escapes from military police (!) and returns to NYC, where he and the FF plan to recreate the spaceflight on their own. Meanwhile, a social worker named Simone DeBouvier is investigating Reed and Sue concerning whether the new Baxter Building is a safe place to raise their kids.

We begin with cosmic rays bombarding the FF’s ship. The rays then part, with a glowing ball of energy flying toward the ship. It knocks out all power to the ship, leaving the FF adrift. They fall back to Earth, with Sue using a force field to keep the ship from burning up in reentry. Inside the atmosphere, Johnny flies outside the ship and combines his flame with the force field to cushion the impact. The ship is destroyed in the crash, but the heroes are unharmed thanks to Sue and Johnny’s efforts.

Then a creature emerges from the wreckage. It has glowing blue eyes and images of starscapes on its body, kind of like classic Marvel character Eternity. Ben says, “Looks ta me like yer message got through, Stretch.”

Reed starts expositing about how the creature used the cosmic rays as a teleportation carrier signal, when he’s interrupted by gunfire. It’s the U.S. Army, who accuse the FF of violating Army air space, and they have further instructions to take Reed into custody. Then they see the alien and prepare to open fire. Reed tells them the creature means no harm. Then one of the soldiers trips (!) and accidentally fires his gun. The bullet hits the alien in the arm. It returns fire, disintegrating the soldier.

Now all the soldiers open fire, with Sue protecting the alien with a force field. The alien won’t have this, and it disintegrates even more soldiers. The remaining soldiers retreat. Reed is about to fight the alien, but Ben stops him. Ben says this wasn’t a disintegration, and that the soldiers are all still alive. We then see that the soldiers were teleported to a remote, snowy mountain top. Ben says, “Don’t worry. They’ll call in soon.”

Ben says the alien is telling him these things in his head. He asks the others to trust him. (The comic uses male pronouns for the alien at this point.) He says the alien understands, and that the best solution is to be somewhere else. The alien then teleports itself and the FF back to the new Baxter Building. Reed checks to confirm that the soldiers are all right, and then the alien speaks for the first time, saying all this teleporting took a lot out of him, and that the strain was almost more than he could bear. Reed questions the alien’s intentions, and why he chose to communicate with Ben first. The alien says he was alone for a long time, so he connected with Ben, who is also feels alone.

Then the alien tells his story. He says he was once a flesh and blood creature, who longed to understand the “ultimate final truth” of the universe. His people’s leaders, however, insisted there were things his people were not meant to know. Using stolen technology, the alien studied the entire cosmos. He shared his findings with his people, believing that a desire for knowledge and truth would overcome their fears and prejudices. “I was wrong,” he says.

The alien’s people attacked him just as he used his forbidden technology to “touch the mind of the universe.” With his equipment damaged, he transformed into the cosmic being he is now. With the power to “ride the thoughts of the universe,” the alien calibrated the cosmic rays to find others like him, which brought him to the FF. Unfortunately, they don’t have time to talk, because the people of the alien’s home world have learned to track him. They are on a “religious crusade” to stop him from sharing his knowledge with others. On cue, a battleship appears in the sky over New York, and the alien says, “In a very little while, we shall all be dead.”

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: For a guy who’s made first contact with various aliens over the years, Reed is quick to throw out diplomacy and attack the alien when he believes the alien killed the soldiers. Could Reed be fearing that his status with the U.S. military could worsen because of this?

Fade out: Sue nearly passes out from using her force fields to protect everyone as their ship crashes, but we’ve seen her force fields become much more powerful in the last hundred issues or so. Perhaps the stress of going into space added to her strain.

Clobberin’ time: All this talk about Ben feeling lonely goes back to earlier issues, where the women were flirting with him only because he’s rich now. The comic reminds us that he’s rich when he makes a wisecrack about Reed being “broke” at one point.

Flame on: Johnny and Reed can hear and talk to each other while Johnny is flying outside the crashing spaceship. We know their suits have built-in communicators, so I guess the suits’ audio can also compensate for Johnny travelling at high velocity.

Trivia time: Johnny tries to talk down the soldiers by reminding them that there was a Fantastic Four movie. This is obviously a meta joke, referencing the 2005 film, the same year as this comic. But within the fiction of the Marvel Universe, remember that their have been at least two attempts at a Fantastic Four movie, which were either unfinished or huge flops.

Fantastic or frightful? This story was controversial at the time for what many felt was rewriting the FF’s origin. As far as this issue goes, however, it’s more far-out sci-fi that fans of J. Michael Straczynski and his series Babylon 5 hoped for.

Next: Charge of the light brigade.

* * * *

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.

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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