Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #532 goes way back – all the way back – to explain everything about the universe and reality itself. That’s a tall order. Can it succeed?
How to recap all this? Reed took a job with the government, who wanted to recreate the FF’s original spaceflight with a bunch of astronauts. Deducing that the cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers contained a message from unseen aliens, Reed sabotaged the astronauts’ flight and went on the run. He and his teammates then met the Entity, the alien who sent the message. He wanted to find other seekers of the truth like himself. The Entity’s people, who accused him of being a heretic, arrived on Earth and attacked. The Entity and Reed tried escaping into the Negative Zone, but the portal was damaged, sending them to a void before the creation of the universe. The Entity, wanting to understand all things, went ahead and created the big bang. Got all that?
This issue begins with Reed floating in space as he witnesses the origin of the universe. He says it’s too much even for his mind to comprehend. He further says “This isn’t how it’s supposed to work,” and that it’s all just chaos. He says it’s all unstable, with forces of energy fighting against one another.
The Entity contacts Reed telepathically, and says he cannot control it all. The Entity says he was searching for truth, while Reed searched for knowledge. The big bang can only happen when truth and knowledge are in balance. He says Reed much let the Entity into his mind, or else the universe will collapse into destruction. Reed agrees, and then he screams in pain. Reed tries to cling to his sanity while experiencing all of time and space at once, including the creation of life on Earth.
The Entity says he understands why there is life in the universe, and Reed says he understands it, too. Reed explains that sentient life always struggles to understand, because the universe itself is a living, sentient consciousness that is struggling to understand itself. The Entity, addressing himself as, “I/we/the universe,” says he will continue to grow and expand, until he finally understands himself. He promises Reed that Reed will be there to see that moment, just as he was there to see the beginning.
Cosmic rays then appear, blasting through Reed. He says he can feel his thoughts affecting the rays, and his mind dwells on his three teammates, so far away. He then deduces that those thoughts are the message inside the rays, eventually turning into the force that gave the FF their powers. The intelligence behind the origin of the FF was Reed himself.
The Entity tells Reed that Reed is now free of his human bonds, and can go anywhere in time or space. Reed glimpses the FF’s original spaceflight, the birth of Franklin, and the FF fighting Dr. Doom. Reed says his family is his whole universe. The Entity tells him, “Choose your moment.”
Turn the page, and Reed is back on the U.S. Army base talking with scientist Dr. Love. They talk about how there’s never enough time for both work and family, and she hopes to get ahead of schedule so Reed can get back to New York. She asks the same question she did a few issues earlier: if the FF were struck by the exact same cosmic rays, how did the rays affect each of them differently. Reed says there must be some random factor he missed. Dr. Love suggests that Reed can’t see this random variable because he’s “in the fishbowl.”
Then the other scientist, Dr. Crane, calls Reed and Dr. Love to his office. He says the composition of the cosmic rays have changed, and they are no longer the exact same combination that gave the FF their powers. The astronauts’ spaceflight will have to be suspended and probably shut down. Reed’s only response is that he’d like to go back home.
Back in New York, Sue is frustrated after dealing with the social worker investigating whether the new Baxter Building is a safe place for the children. Reed returns, and he and Sue are happy to see each other. Later that night, Reed catches up with Ben and Johnny. Ben has bought another fancy suit with his newfound wealth (his one-fourth of Fantastic Four Inc.’s money was preserved when the rest of the team lost theirs some time ago).
Reed returns to his lab, to study the miniature planet from the beginning of this story arc. He says it would be easy to interfere in their culture, ending war and bloodshed. He doesn’t, however, saying there’s a difference between history and the smaller moments in all our lives. He concludes that the smaller moments are the parts that really matter. Reed and Sue go off to bed, saying it’s good to see their whole family together, and looking so happy. Alone in his room, Ben sheds a single tear, suggesting that he’s not so happy after all.
Unstable molecule: Does Reed remember what happened, or doesn’t he? At first, it seems like he does, but the issue doesn’t say. It’s left up to reader’s imagination.
Fade out: After spending the night together, Sue says she’s thankful for the cosmic rays, suggesting that Reed used his powers in creative ways in bed. Has Banky from Mallrats read this issue?
Clobberin’ time: Ben’s new life as a multi-millionaire, and the complications that come with that, will be further chronicled in the Thing miniseries that debuted shortly after this issue.
Flame on: The cover image has Jonny in place of Reed at the center of the universe. I assume this is because each other character were prominent on the previous three covers, so Johnny got his due, even though he’s barely in the issue.
Four and a half: Franklin is one panel, as Reed checks on him sleeping. The flashback scene would have to be Franklin’s birth, as Dr. Doom was present for Valeria’s birth.
SUE-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all along. In this issue, she’s walking around the Baxter Building wearing camouflage pants and a form-fitting dark green t-shirt. Not the sort of thing she normally wears. Was she just coming home from spy training, or even a mission?
Trivia time: The Entity never appeared again after this. Although, if he became the universe, you could argue that he’s in every Marvel comic. (What is the Entity’s relationship to Eternity? Or the Pheonix Force? Or the Beyonder? These and similar questions will likely never be answered.)
This story arc is also the only appearances of Dr. Love and Dr. Crane. Crane is quite obviously modeled after actor Paul Giamatti, but I can’t find any official sources from Marvel that confirms this.
Years later, writer Dan Slott will do a story similar to this one, in which an alien called the Overseer was responsible for the cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers. How to reconcile that with this story? This one says the Entity manipulated the rays to send a message to the FF, but did not create them. Let’s see if this holds up when we get to those Slott issues.
Trash website Aint It Cool News once published a review of this issue, except that it was mostly the words “Where are the editors?” repeated over and over.
Fantastic or frightful? There we have it, the origin of the Marvel Universe and the true story of the Fantastic Four’s powers. So, why wasn’t this a mega-event that rocked the entire comics world to its core? It’s very much a philosophical discussion, and not pulse-pounding superhero action. Also, because Reed (probably) doesn’t remember any of this, it comes off as inconsequential. If the characters go on like nothing happened, then why shouldn’t the reader?
Next: Green Vegas.
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