Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Final Fate of Mr. Fantastic!

OR: "Strangers In The Night Zone"

If you've ever wondered how far a man like Reed Richards could fall--well, just remember, there was once a time when we were all equally dismissive of such a question being applied to Tony Stark, and we learned a hard lesson on that one. Lately, we've seen how even a man like Reed can suffer only so much loss before he finally loses his perspective on right and wrong. First, there was his error in judgment which caused him to fail his teammates in the Fantastic Four as they faced the first coming of Galactus; then, upon his return to them, he found them dead amidst the ruins of his world, decimated by the drain of its life energy. Finally, as the Dark Raider, he began an insane mission to eradicate every Reed Richards from every alternate reality, in what seemed a mixture of grief, rage, and a search for redemption while "stopping" those alternate versions of himself before they too could doom their own worlds. When he arrived on "our" Earth to eliminate the Reed that we know, it was the Watcher who intervened and seemingly obliterated him before he could continue to cause further deaths.

Hold on a minute: "seemingly"?

Perhaps the thought to take away from that apparent killing stroke is that, for the Watcher, his biggest transgression in that moment was his decision to act, rather than continue to stand by and observe.

Speaking of the Watcher, who seemed to be the running theme in the issues leading up to Fantastic Four #400, the time comes when the FF finally confront Aron, the renegade Watcher, who had partnered to an extent with the Dark Raider in order to accomplish his ends. In the course of battling the FF, Aron strikes at Sue and effectively takes her out of the fight, banishing her to a chilling destination which, in the course of her career, she has become more than familiar with.

What happens next, however, takes her even more by surprise. Her husband, Reed, has been presumed dead following a battle with Dr. Doom, though she has never given up hope that he might somehow have survived that encounter. And now, after almost 20 issues have passed without a sign of him, Sue's patience and hope are finally rewarded, amidst an environment which would explain why there has been no sign of Reed for so long.

Yes, this is Reed Richards. But in the "too good to be true" department, Sue has instead encountered a deadly enemy--one whom she's met before, during a spree of murder that soon enough brought him to her own world.

As we can tell from Reed's rantings in this penultimate issue to FF #400, things with Aron and whatever upcoming crisis he's involved with are coming to a head. But even fighting for her life against the former "Dark Raider," Sue takes the opportunity to probe for more information on what Reed knows of the situation--including why the Watchers seem to be at the center of it.

Resourceful as Reed is, however, he can't anticipate everything--including the forces of this universe that render him virtually helpless as he beings to plummet toward the planet's exploding atmosphere.

Sue, of course, will at least try to save Reed, despite this man's state of mind and his attempts to subdue her. But aside from her weakened state which hampers her focus and concentration, and thus her power to project her force field, there's another reason why her rescue attempt is likely to fail--can you spot it? (And with those words, you've even been given a hint!)

Exactly. Given all the times that Sue has made a point to attach the word "invisible" to her exclamations when using her power (e.g., "my invisible force field will..."), the word is conspicuously absent in this one scene where its use would have virtually announced the reason why her attempt would fail. In other words: How is Reed supposed to reach out and grab a force-field lifeline that's invisible?

Regardless, Reed perhaps spoke more truly than he knew, when he said he was "doomed." Indeed he was, at the moment when he decided to abandon his dead world and embark on his murderous course of action, effectively putting himself on a collision course with his own end. Perhaps it's easy to condemn this Reed, when under other circumstances we could probably picture the Reed of our world finding a way to turn defeat into victory and reverse the events which led to his world's end; yet the Reed who became the Dark Raider was also battling something deep within himself that he wasn't willing to face up to, an aspect of himself that he nevertheless knew made him indirectly responsible for the death of his Earth. Carelessness is something our Reed often strives to avoid--and given what we've seen in these stories involving another Reed Richards who failed in that respect, perhaps we've seen an example of how his sense of responsibility can be carried to its extreme.

From earlier in the "Nobody Gets Out Alive!" arc,
a homage to the FF's most prolific artist/creator.

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