Wednesday, May 6, 2015

...From The Ashes Of Defeat!

Yikes! From the look of things, it's open season on the FF!

Let's hope this cover of Fantastic Four proves more symbolic than the cover for the prior story, where Gladiator of the Shi'ar arrived on Earth and proceeded to trounce the FF. At the conclusion of that story, Gladiator found himself confronted by the X-Men, who were closing in for the attack--but why? And more importantly, will the Fantastic Four be able to pick themselves up from Gladiator's assault and pull victory from defeat?

Scattered in various parts of Manhattan as they are from Gladiator's attack, we find the members of the FF slowly pulling themselves together--something that writer/artist John Byrne can afford to take his time with, given that he has a lot of pages to fill in this double-sized issue. It's also important to do so from the standpoint of the team being able to demonstrate their strengths of resilience, investigation, and action within the pages of their own magazine, amidst all the guest-stars making appearances and potentially stealing their thunder. After all, while some readers might have bought this issue to see the other comics characters pictured on the cover, many undoubtedly picked up the issue to read about the Fantastic Four--and the FF, while effectively taken out of the picture in Part One of this story, still have much to offer.

Though it probably goes without saying that Byrne has every intention of keeping the FF off the sidelines and making them key players in this drama as it continues to unfold. It might seem otherwise on page one, where we find Spider-Man featured prominently on the issue's splash page; but the character sets the wheels in motion for assessing the status of the members of the FF:

(A nice nod by Byrne to the cover of Amazing Fantasy #15, eh?)

After a brief look at Gladiator under attack by the X-Men, Byrne continues to pick up the pieces of the fallen FF members--with the Torch recovering to encounter the Thing, crushed underneath a bus:

But once Reed sees to his wife and son, Byrne writes a nice scene that reassures us that it's the FF who will find the answers here and deal with Gladiator while they're at it:

Spider-Man, though, immediately departs to locate and confront Gladiator--but another hero arrives on the scene to find an all-out brawl between Gladiator and the X-Men:

It's only when Spider-Man arrives and unexpectedly finds himself attacked by the X-Men that Captain America decides to take a hand--as well as a shield, and a decisive fist:

During the sequence of these scenes, we're beginning to pick up on a few flags that Byrne is dropping on the field in terms of discrepancies in the X-Men's behavior, aside from their unusual hostility toward not only Gladiator but also Cap and Spider-Man. The odd formality between them; the team speaking to Gladiator in his own language; Nightcrawler acting completely unlike himself. In some ways, they don't even seem to be the X-Men--and isn't that food for thought?

Unfortunately, now that Cap is on the scene, he's become as much of a target of the X-Men as Spider-Man:

(As much a fan of Cap as I am, I still have to point out that there's no way even Captain America can roll with a punch if he hasn't noticed his attacker's approach.)

At any rate, it looks like Colossus is going to follow up with Cap, while Gladiator still looks at the top of his game. As Spider-Man points out, what a mess:

As for the FF (remember them?), they're on the verge of re-entering this story with a vengeance. First we check in on the Thing, who's awakened under Johnny's ministrations and is getting an update on the new players in the situation with Gladiator:

Meanwhile, if Gladiator feels his ears burning, it's with good reason, as Reed has assembled the facts as only he can and has discovered the secret of Gladiator's power:

And speaking of power, Cap and Spider-Man find the other half of the FF ready and eager to pitch in with their conflict with the X-Men.

Yet the attention of the X-Men is mainly focused on dealing with Gladiator, who is evading the strikes of both Cyclops and Storm. And if you thought Nightcrawler was acting unusually before, what he does next will surprise not only us, but also Spider-Man and most certainly Gladiator:

With Gladiator on the ropes, the Torch and the Thing are startled when three of the X-Men turn their full attention to the members of the FF, who are apparently the mutants' primary targets. It's likely that some of you have already connected the dots regarding the "X-Men" and their strange and aggressive behavior--but Byrne decides to finally lift the veil here and reveal their secret.

Gladiator, however, still has his hands full with "Storm," who is about to deliver the killing blow. But he'll extricate himself from that situation to find himself face-to-face with Mr. Fantastic, who has some settling-up to do with this foe on behalf of his team.

With the "super-man" proving to be not so super after all (I'd still like to know how he pulled off that tipped building trick), all that's left for the FF is to mop up the remaining Skrulls. That probably shouldn't have been as quick a process as it turned out to be, given that they were specially prepared to take on the FF, as much if not more than the Super-Skrull was; but Byrne makes his position on the matter clear with the Thing's final words to Cap.

(Silver Surfer #15 certainly puts Johnny's maneuverability around buildings at high speed in a different light. Byrne and Stan Lee either disagree on the subject--or Johnny's been doing a lot of practicing since.)

Spider-Man's observation is a valid one, since there's little reason for us to assume that Gladiator isn't still suffering from delusions. Even when the X-Men were acting far more like the Skrulls than the FF, Gladiator failed to put two and two together in that respect and continued to believe it was the FF who were the Skrulls. Yet apparently having four Skrulls laid out before him is enough to overcome the mental trauma he suffered in space and allow him to settle things with the FF amicably. Possibly the extraterrestrial version of shock therapy, to Byrne's mind.

Well, we still don't know what these Skrulls were doing in Shi'ar space--but since Gladiator is making a point of returning with them and not simply dropping them off with the Skrull empress, we have to assume they're in for more than a slap on the wrist for it, hmm?

Fantastic Four #250

Story and Art: John Byrne
Letterer: Joe Rosen


Anonymous said...

Surely Amazing Fantasy #15 and X-Men #141 must be the most homaged covers in Marvel history - even DC cheekily did a spoof of the X-Men cover. Nice to see John Byrne drawing the X-Men again - best X-Men artist ever !

david_b said...

ONCE AGAIN..., Cyke's eyebeam is used for heat, as it started fires in CA&F 171.

Sorry to all those nay-sayers about Cyke's beam only being a 'power force'..

Comicsfan said...

david_b, I'm afraid I have to chime in with a "nay" as well here--since this "Cyclops" is really a Skrull, and Skrulls at this time were using artificial means to duplicate powers (with the exception, of course, being the Super-Skrull). It's a good bet the Skrull-Cyclops approximated the power beam of the real McCoy and used heat properties in his ray, rather than try to come up with a force beam. (Even Gladiator noticed the difference.)

Jason Atomic said...

I think there's another homage snuck in here too. The panel of 'Nightcrawler' strangling Spidey I believe refers to a Ross Andru depiction of the 'Crawler'/Spidey confrontation in ASM 161

Comicsfan said...

Gosh, I didn't spot any similarity, Jason--but, like Gladiator, I could be missing what's right in front of me! :)

iain said...

Heh you can tell Byrne was eager to take on the Superman artist job the way he enjoys portraying the man of steel as Gladiator (he even stands like Supes in several panels I noticed) Lose the purple skin and Mohawk and that's Superman ^^

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