Tuesday, April 17, 2018


After the classic 1968 Fantastic Four story which averted near-tragedy following complications involving Sue Richards' pregnancy with her first child, it was interesting to see how the book--and its writer/artist, John Byrne--would treat her second pregnancy over fifteen years later (our time), which involved similar circumstances. Once more, readers would be gripping their seats up until the last minute as to the outcome--and once more, a successful birth depended on a race against time to locate and return with a necessary element, without which there was a chance that mother and/or child could die.

Sue's husband, Reed, had already called in the best of the best in radiation research--but there was one more expert whose help could be sought, assuming he would be willing to give it. Given the man's psychotic nature, convincing him would be touch and go.

Fortunately, Reed is successful at getting Octavius to trust him, and the two proceed to the hospital. But their altercation has taken too long--and by the time they arrive, there is no longer anything to be done.

So while there was cause for celebration in the earlier story, Reed and Sue now face the terrible outcome that they'd avoided before, which opens the door to a situation other comics have had to deal with from time to time: What depths of mourning can or should be explored, and for how long? We know what would normally be the case, as human beings in the real world; but a story in a book published on a monthly basis walks a fine line in that respect, since three or four issues of dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy amounts to three or four months of sad and mournful behavior that your readers are sitting down with. How much is too much, or not enough?

That kind of dilemma obviously wasn't something that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wanted to burden their merry Marvel readers with in '68 (and there's really nothing at all wrong with the happy ending the FF celebrated that day); but in 1984, with Byrne's treatment of the FF having been so well-received, he perhaps felt that such tragedy and drama mixed with just the right amount of the FF's usual action/adventure fare would result in enough of a balance to satisfy the book's fans rather than focusing almost solely on postpartum concerns and this tragedy's repercussions. The end result amounts to a rather diverting approach to the situation by Byrne--providing select scenes which cover many (albeit by no means all) of the bases that one would expect to see Sue and Reed deal with here, all the while proceeding to move the FF steadily along as they pick up the pieces and continue in their roles.

The first stop, of course, is Sue's hospital room--where Byrne already has Sue feeling more composed than one might expect only two hours after a miscarriage, while his narrative is taking care to convey business as usual by making introductions to the reader of the rest of the FF and immediate family.

Meanwhile, one loose end to be tied up is Octavius, a brilliant yet unstable scientist who in his criminal career was used to asserting his authority and dominating the room, and has no intention of shrinking into the background now. Unfortunately, he lashes out at the last person he should have provoked.

With Octavius subdued, and with the Torch heading to the Baxter Building with She-Hulk to familiarize her with the building's setup--a segue to five pages of story space with the apparent aim of assuring the reader that life goes on for the FF--Dr. Lansing, Sue's physician, has a private conversation with Reed and Sue, the content of which we don't learn until we rejoin Sue in the next issue, brooding in the Baxter Building.

The recommendation of Lansing is sound advice; in fact, the explanation he gives in regard to the radiation in Sue's cells making it inadvisable to have children is something I would have thought Reed, of all people, would have heeded, considering the data that he himself examined from Sue's first pregnancy.

Without being able to provide Sue with regulated energy from Annihilus' cosmic control rod this time around, Sue would be in same predicament she was before. To make matters worse, according to Lansing, Reed's theory that Sue's present complications arose due to the baby being conceived from within the Negative Zone was incorrect; regardless, at the very least, Reed should have at least considered the possibility that Sue was in the same danger she was previously.

It's also curious that the one base Byrne chose not to cover here is a conversation between Franklin and his parents about what happened to the little brother or sister he was expecting to arrive home with them. He seems like the same happy-go-lucky tyke as he speaks with his mother, so apparently he took the news in stride--while his mother is instead relieved that he's acclimating well to their suburban home in Connecticut?

A new adventure, however, is revving up in the form of Terminus, a planetary threat--and with Reed concerned about Sue's recovery and sidelining her for the time being, Sue is fuming because it's the same behavior toward her that Reed exhibited after Franklin's birth. In her current state, she reacts accordingly--but the scene serves as the lever Byrne uses to have Sue face up to her anger and guilt and end her self-made purgatory where the Fantastic Four title is concerned.

Following the dispatch of Terminus, Sue rejoins the team in short order, every bit her old self as the FF take on a mission to locate Reed's missing father--with only a brief scene during the mission that reiterates what she's shared here to mark the tragedy the Richards family suffered. Surely we've seen here only an abridged version of the anguish that any woman who suffers such a tragedy would go through in real life, but it's a decent treatment of the issue in these pages and a fair effort on Byrne's part.


George Chambers said...

I think this arc was some of Byrne's best writing, and some of the best FF ever. Reed's use of the manual controls to neutralise Ock's arms was inspired - (wonder why Spider-man never tried that) - but what hasn't been shown here was Reed convincing Doc Ock to help by calling him "Doctor Octavius" rather than "Doctor Octopus" - appealing to him as a brilliant scientist, not a villain. I think Byrne was able to write Reed as the genius he is, something rare in comics, and maybe equalled only by Priest's treatment of the Black Panther.

Comicsfan said...

I'm right with you on Priest's run on Black Panther, George.

dbutler16 said...

It's too bad that Dr. Lansing's sound advice must have apparently gotten retconned, since I understand that the Richards did have another child, who apparently is the smartest person in the universe. Sigh.

Yes, Byrne's run was excellent, and he really excelled at characterization, especially for some of the villains.

I've never read Priest's Black Panther, so no comment on that.

B Smith said...

Naturally, Sue did what any woman written and drawn by Byrne would do....reached for the scissors.

dbutler16 said...

Arrgh. Don't remind me, B Smith!

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