Friday, August 10, 2018

The Fantastic Four Are On The Job!

We've reached the end of our week-long look at the various titles which rode the wave of the Avengers: Disassembled stories from 2004, adding the distinctive DISASSEMBLED banner to their mastheads even if their plots had little to nothing to do with what was happening in The Avengers. But though the Avengers are indeed in dire straits, there yet remains another super-group in New York City, one that used to be the standard-bearer for Marvel Comics and whose book is still going strong at this point in time--and along with a number of other prominent characters, they show up on the Avengers' doorstep during their crisis, which is likely the reason alone that the crossover banner is tacked onto their book's title.  Nevertheless, writer Mark Waid has an interesting and even nostalgic way of associating the book with the Avengers story, one that will again assure New Yorkers why they can always count on the Fantastic Four.

Waid brings us up to speed on the team's current status in the book's introductory section, which isn't exactly a glowing report of the four. Essentially, the FF have made some public missteps that have eroded public confidence in them, to the point of everyone being uneasy now that the Avengers have been violently taken off the grid. No one is more aware of how things currently stand than the FF themselves; and when a frightening new crisis is thrust upon the city, the Mayor's office is in a quandary as to who to reach out to for assistance.

It seems that even in a situation where aliens are invading, politics override a concern for public safety, something we can all take heart in. (He said sarcastically.)

To sum up the apparent threat, four alien pylons have descended from the sky and are driven like stakes into the water surrounding the island of Manhattan. In the process, the resulting water displacement has sent huge waves into the city, which the FF, now on the scene, are helping to hold back. To make matters much worse, energy being sent out by the pylons causes the entire island to begin to rise.

Fortunately, the Mayor cares more about fulfilling the duties of his office than making an unpopular choice--and a flare gun, as much a staple of Fantastic Four as its principal characters, once more signals help, and hope, for a waiting city.

Investigating the alien columns, the FF split up, with Reed attacking the problem of shutting down their power source while Ben, Sue, and Johnny are sent to locate and make contact with the aliens. Thanks to the monitoring device that Reed attached to Ben, the two groups are able to keep in touch with each other; but a live news crew has also been able to hack the signal, so that everything that Ben sees and hears is now being broadcast nationally.

To make a long story short, the aliens, led by an individual named Zius, are refugees from worlds which have been ravaged by Galactus. In time, they were able to create a device which effectively protects other worlds from his attacks...

...but intelligence from both the Shi'ar and the Skrulls reveals that there is something on Earth which has the ability to negate the cloaking "freeware" that now protects the thousands of worlds that have opted to make use of it, information that Galactus is now aware of. And so Zius has raced to Earth to eliminate whatever it is that could disrupt the technology that has ensured the safety of countless trillions of lives on other worlds.

The search was soon narrowed to what Zius has called the "anthill" of Manhattan, but no further--and so the plan was to eject the entire island into the sun in order to ensure the resource that could neutralize the cloaking field was destroyed. But when the Thing's group met with the aliens, Zius was able to pinpoint the object of his search: Sue Richards, who possesses the ability to negate invisibility. And so he offers her a terrible choice: surrender herself, or continue to fight until Manhattan is annihilated. Her decision doesn't come easily--but to the shock of her teammates, and certainly to Reed, she capitulates.

But just before the final moment comes, Reed arrives like the cavalry--though to the horror of his teammates, he opens fire on Sue with a device he's brought with him, giving the impression that he's ended her life rather than letting her be slain by Zius. As it turns out, he's instead removed her powers, achieving the same goal that Zius sought but without sacrificing a life.

Thanks to the live news feed, the island's population isn't taken unaware when, due to the FF's intervention, Zius makes good on his promise to spare Manhattan as both island and power are restored and all damage caused by the upheaval is repaired by the alien technology. But everyone watching the news broadcast is also mindful of the heroes they're lucky and proud to have in their midst after hearing Reed's parting words to Zius, which, judging by the expressions we see, are backed up by every New Yorker within earshot.

Naturally, Reed had an ace up his elastic sleeve regarding his treatment of Sue.  Unknown to Zius, Reed's device actually switched Sue's power with Johnny, with Reed meaning to reverse the process once Zius had departed.  A necessary deception on the spur of the moment--and what Zius doesn't know won't hurt him.  (That happens later.)

The story was an inspired way to demonstrate to the city that, unlike their fallen comrades who will gather in the ruins on Fifth Avenue and stand down, the Fantastic Four are very much assembled on behalf of those who need them, whenever the call goes out. In other words, nuts to you, Marcia.


Warren JB said...

Maybe it's me, but I feel that Reed could've done that speechifying at the end without the kind of temper that Waid is known for. No need to be extra-chummy with the guys who almost flung Manhattan into the sun, but why go with antagonism rather than diplomacy with the interplanetary representatives who had only the safety of trillions in mind? Hath Spock taught us naught?

And the bait-and-switch? Well done Reed, you've deceived and potentially doomed thousands of planets. You gonna stand on each one and shout 'check yo history' when Galactus is hovering over it?

I don't want to belittle the quality or intent of this story. It's pretty good, but I feel it could've used a more magnanimous, possibly 'Lee & Kirby' ending.

Comicsfan said...

Warren, I imagine what pushed Reed a little over the edge in his parting words to Zius was the fact that this being was not only justifying the slaying of an innocent while having the temerity to insist that he wasn't a murderer, but that the person whose life was being threatened was his wife and the mother of his children. Under the circumstances, it was probably difficult if not impossible for him to consider the bigger picture that Zius life had been framed by for so long.

And while Zius and his crew complement would indeed perish at the hand of Galactus (and quite literally so, in panels not shown here), it's hard to pin either that or any further fallout from Galactus on Reed's actions vis-à-vis Sue. True, all he's really done is to take her off the table as far as being the one element that could sabotage Zius's plan; Galactus, on the other hand, who hasn't been part of that deception, is still closing in on Earth with the intent to use Sue's power to pierce Zius's technology. With more time, Reed could possibly have covered that base, as well--but Zius moved so swiftly that Reed only had time to deal with him. Reed's motives admittedly disregarded all the sacrifice that Zius and his fellow victims had gone through to put their plan into effect, yet he arguably made the only choice possible in the time available to him. If blame needs to be assigned to Reed at all, we could more readily do so at the point when Reed saved the life of Galactus when he was defeated and dying, an act which endangered all worlds thereafter.