Monday, April 11, 2016

We Can't Stay Negative About The Negative Zone


In the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" department, I can't say I was fond of the "capsule" approach which writer/artist John Byrne took to provide the Fantastic Four with a new way of entering the Negative Zone. There are a number of questions to be raised concerning Byrne's particulars in his story from FF #251, perhaps the most pressing being: Why? Usually a new development or direction for some established procedure or event in a comic comes about as a result of, for example, inconsistency, or a necessary change that's warranted (such as Hank Pym dropping his identity of Goliath in favor of Yellowjacket). In this case, a stable, tried-and-true method of entering the Negative Zone was already a done deal; the only reason to do further work on it would be from a security standpoint, to prevent the gateway from being accessed by hostiles indigenous to the Zone.

So it's easy to find yourself totally on board with the Thing's comments on the subject, as Reed unveils the new procedure.




To put these comments in perspective, we should take a brief look back at the evolution of Reed's attempts to access the Zone, which basically amounted to two: the original device from issue #51 through which Reed made his first exploratory crossover, and the later gateway device which was more secure and contained more safeguards. It bears mentioning that the use of each of these devices resulted in Reed being trapped in the Zone and needing to be rescued from certain death--perhaps the most telling evidence that the Negative Zone should simply be declared off-limits.





Even Reed seemed to acknowledge that the Zone is far too dangerous for exploration, not only to the explorer(s), but to the entire human race--as he attempts to make clear to an old college friend, Janus, as he tries to dissuade him from pursuing his obsession with entering the Zone.





In short, Reed makes a near-indisputable case for abandoning the Zone and chalking up its discovery as a loss. (Though, with such staunch objections and fears, it makes no sense whatsoever for Reed to maintain this entrance to the Zone, rather than dismantling it entirely. No entrance--no access--no danger. What's so complicated about that?)

So, given that the method of accessing the Zone isn't the issue here as far as Reed designing a new procedure--and given Reed's strong feelings on not re-entering the Zone--why is Byrne revisiting the subject in this way? And how can Reed possibly change his position on the matter? In order for Byrne to proceed, he tackles the problem on two fronts: first, to break with the stigma of danger and dread involved with the FF's old gateway by simply replacing it, and at the same time, address Reed's position out in the open (through Ben), which makes it more easy to discard.





We would later see graphic evidence of how maintaining part of the gateway within the Zone itself would result in significant problems and even tragedy; but a more obvious caution against Byrne's approach is that constructing most of the gateway to exist within the Zone makes visible a virtual welcome mat to any hostiles from the Zone who would like nothing better than to be on the doorstep to Earth, waiting for the moment for it to open. In other words, where the old gateway to Earth was hidden until it was utilized, there now will be hardware in the Zone that all but says, "Wait here for access." Combined with Reed's new "Pfah--danger, shmanger!" position, the human race is now looking at an extinction event waiting to happen.

That leaves us with one-upping the previous gateway mechanics with hopefully something more impressive. So far, a drop shaft--forgive the pun--falls short in that respect. Do the FF just jump down the shaft? They were already jumping through the old gateway--what's the difference? Byrne's answer is to create, in essence, a mobile support capsule to transport all the FF members into and through the Zone.




Just the thing for an extended journey into another universe--a pod that, when shut, traps these four people into close quarters that assumes that all of them will be content to remain seated in one position for what could be hours until they decide to land somewhere. Kudos to Reed for also neglecting to design a viewport into this thing--who wants something like that for exploration, when you've got exciting instrument readouts?

Let's at least hope that its departure is an improvement over what we've previously seen. Again, though, the draw is the Negative Zone, not in making the jump to it--so in this case, if you've seen one traverse through the distortion area, you've seen them all.




Perhaps it's also telling that, for the issue's cover, Byrne has decided that in terms of sales, the FF should be pictured entering the Zone the old-fashioned way.



Finally, with Reed so jazzed on believing that the dangers of the Zone can be elbowed aside in the spirit of exploration, this probably isn't the time to tell him that one of those dangers has already taken advantage of the flaw in his new design and headed through the shaft in the opposite direction as the capsule was entering the Zone. As a result, the FF proceed with their mission completely unaware of the sadistic creature that's now finally broken through to Earth, and is already well on the way to raining death on the human race.


(To give you a heads-up on the fate of Alicia as well as Franklin Richards--it isn't pretty.)

2 comments:

Colin Jones said...

How would Reed have dismantled the entrance to the Negative Zone if he had so chosen ? He would have needed to completely close off the entrance to the Zone - the entrance is obviously an inter-dimensional portal so you'd think Reed could have opened and closed it as needed rather than using clumsy things like steel doors and shafts.

Comicsfan said...

Colin, my understanding is that Reed must access the Zone through the use of technology. The man isn't Dr. Strange or Thor, after all--nor is the entrance to the Zone like that of the so-called Fifth Dimension, where you could just walk into an entrance point that exists in our dimension (in that story, a swamp) and vanish into another dimension. It's his technology that allows him to create an access point, with mechanisms and levers and buttons that "shred the fabric of infinity," as he puts it. Dismantle that technology, and remove those steel doors, and Reed could use the extra space for another lab, or maybe a billiards room. In other words, there's nothing to "close off" if there's nothing there in the first place.

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