One thing I realized reading Fantastic Four Forever: it’s been too long since I’ve read Fantastic Four!
Jonathan Hickman’s story about the Kree invasion of Earth, the Celestials’ attack on the planet, Council of Reeds, humanity’s relationship with Galactus, and the evolution of the FF itself (and add to that many other things) has me recalling why this is the first (dysfunctional) family of Marvel. It also moves me to assert that we should think of Reed Richards as the Superman of Marvel (but we can get to that later).
World’s Greatest Comic Magazine? Not sure. But this was one of my favorite comics in a while.
Fantastic Four Forever is volume five, and collects FF #600 – #604.
In it, we find the team without Johnny Storm, but with Spider-Man and various students and hangers-on, in the iteration of The Future Foundation (still ‘FF’). Think the Fantastic Four, but in white costumes instead of blue, and a bit more dedicated to science and the progress of humanity, rather than the standard super team which comes together to combat major threats against humanity. In either case, coming together to combat major threats is just what they’re going to do.
First, it is the Kree, and while the FF and their allies, Captain America, Iron-Man, and She-Hulk, to name a few, do their best to keep the civilian casualties to a minimum, it becomes clear that the armies of Earth are ill-prepared for the calculated invasion, orchestrated by Supremor, the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence.
It is not until Johnny Storm (flame on!) returns from the Negative Zone, and back from death a few dozen times, that the tide begins to turn. Johnny’s stay in the Negative Zone, home of Annihilus, makes up some of my favorite content in the graphic novel, but the complete story, “Whatever Happened to Johnny Storm?” is a full entry by itself, and I would have been happy to read a book-length story centered upon the Human Torch during these events.
He returns with the Cosmic Control Rod, Annihilus’ object of massive power, and only then is humanity able to mount a counter offensive against the Kree.
When that offensive appears to fail, Reed summons Galactus, the entity who has attempted to devour Earth on more than one occasion. To understand the sort of relationship Reed and Galactus would have to maintain in order for this to make sense, I go back to my favorite FF story, “The Trial of Reed Richards.”
Therein, Reed is accused of condemning countless lifeforms to death by making the moral choice to save the life of Galactus. (Batman thought he had it bad with the Joker on his conscience.) But it is determined that both Galactus and Reed are forces of nature, and that they must exist. For, as the cause of Galactus is destruction and ‘testing’ of worlds, the cause of Richards is life and the progress of worlds. Through his intellect, science, and self-determination, and not so much his stretchy powers, Reed is elevating those around him, making the case that the Earth, and all lifeforms including Galactus, deserve to exist.
This is where we get into the idea that Reed Richards could be thought of as the Superman of the Marvel universe. In my eyes he is, and again, that isn’t to put his stretchy powers on par with the might of a Kryptonian, but rather to judge his importance. When I see the various theories or crossover battles that put Thor, Sentry, or the Hulk on Superman’s level, I can’t help but shake my head. But when I think of Reed Richards, I see somebody just as capable as the last son of Krypton, someone just as moral, and perhaps even more intelligent. This character is one who has done just as much for his universe as Kal El has done for his, and he is the man everyone turns to when they’ve run out of options. Because he’s the one who finds a way.
So, why are the Celestials so angry with him? Why have they crossed the spaceways to kill him, even as the Kree invade Earth? Well, it may be because Reed is doing too much.
The problem is everything. In prior issues, Reed crosses an inter-dimensional bridge where he finds others like him. That is, Reeds from other universes. He joins this Council of Reeds, whose tireless work is to solve the ‘problem of everything’ or any problem that any universe might be facing, be it hunger, disease, or the schemes of Dr. Doom. However, the Celestials, cosmic beings who believe themselves to be gods, view this work as tampering with the natural order of the multiverse. They come for Reed at the worst possible time, just as the Kree are invading. Galactus, in a stunning role reversal, would seem to be Earth’s only hope.
While their plans are brilliant, Reed himself turns away from the council he has discovered so that he might better raise his son, Franklin.
In the present conflict, Galactus kills one of the Celestials, which prompts them to combine into a single entity. Although Galactus is subsequently killed, he is resurrected by an adult Franklin Richards who has come from the future. It is revealed that Reed’s choice to reject the Council of Reeds, in favor of taking the time to raise his son, is what allows Franklin to grow in power, and ultimately defeat the threat of the Celestials, and save Earth.
As a classic reader of Fantastic Four, who loved the take of creators like Jack Kirby and John Byrne, I was given pause to wonder why so many established icons of power in the Marvel universe seemed to have little effect on the threats posed in this comic. Reed Richards, who can be seen brandishing an Ultimate Nullifier (a device capable of destroying anything) seems only interested in threatening Annihilus with it, and not using it to bargain against the Kree leader, Supremor, or to defend Earth from the Celestials’ onslaught. Johnny, who has come in possession of the Cosmic Control Rod, seems unable to control much of anything on a cosmic level, but only uses is to raise a ragtag army of Negative Zone warriors to counter the Kree, and even this effort comes up a bit short.
With the creation of more powerful objects like the Infinity Gems, or a Cosmic Cube, I guess it’s easy to see why other traditional items have become like the US Dollar, losing value and novelty over the years.
In the end, it is Franklin Richards, with his reality-manipulating powers, Galactus, acting as his herald (an idea I love) and the use of another all-new powerful object, Sol’s Anvil, that stop the mad gods. The anvil is, so far as I can tell, just a big space gun that the Council of Reeds built to fire at the Celestials. It fails, but once again, a little explanation as to why one would need such a weapon, when the Ultimate Nullifier is kicking around in your closet at the Baxter Building, and the Cosmic Control Rod is ghetto-taped to your wrist, would have been appreciated.
With all it took to defeat the Celestials and drive the Kree off, it did at times feel like there were too many flash-bang surprises and hairsbreadth escapes for Earth and the FF. Usually, when you put in a call to Galactus, that’s the end of the discussion, or at least very near the end. Yet, in modern comics I suppose it isn’t.
In any event, this was a superb story about facing problems head on, doing everything you can to protect the ones you love, and the importance of parenting. It was also a nostalgic experience for me since it had been a while since I’d picked up a copy of the FF. I read it in a single night, and it stirred plans in me to find issues that concern the Council of Reeds in more detail, such a compelling concept that it is.
If we live, there is hope. And if we hope, then there is tomorrow. And if tomorrow, then forever.
See you out there,