Friday, January 4, 2019

"Where There Be Gods!"

Having seen the fate of the Futurist, a godlike being who didn't seem to have much of a future as a captive of the Stranger, we can at least travel back to early 1980 and find out how things went wrong for scientist Randolph James--a former classmate of Reed Richards who got in touch for consultation on a project, only to face a considerable setback when a computer feedback causes an explosion in his lab that destroys years of work. Fortunately, the Fantastic Four were on hand to contain the situation and prevent serious injury--in the lab, that is. Once the FF depart, however, we see things turn from bad to worse for Professor James.

As for the FF, they have their own problems, when they return to their headquarters and find that Blastaar has broken out of the Negative Zone!

Blastaar's attack proves to be overwhelming, and he manages to escape into New York City. But though the FF plan to pursue him, they're soon going to have another problem--a portent of which is a phone call from James, who was worked over pretty thoroughly by the thugs who robbed him and who turns to his untested evolutionary accelerator to heal his injuries.

All of which coalesces in a two-part story--and it's not clear which threat is going to finish off the FF first!

This tale occurs at the point where writer Marv Wolfman and artist John Byrne are beginning to wrap up their roughly nine-month collaboration on Fantastic Four (Wolfman himself having scripted 22 issues since Len Wein's departure in mid-1978) before the baton is passed to Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz. How far in advance this was all planned is a matter for some debate, given the suddenness of the letters page announcement's wording of Wolfman's departure--as well as the almost jarring shifting of creative resources to produce the story's second part, with Bill Mantlo being brought in to script and finisher Pablo Marcos replacing Joe Sinnott, as well as letterers Irv Watanabe and future editor Michael Higgins subbing for Joe Rosen. You'll find, however, that Mantlo does his usual thorough job; and along with Byrne's breakdowns in Part 2, the story is reasonably seamless.

As the dust settles from Blastaar's attack, the FF find themselves having to split their forces: the Thing and the Human Torch take off after Blastaar, while Reed heads back to James' home/lab, concerned about the growing bitterness he senses in the man. (Sue appears to have been completely forgotten by both Byrne and Mantlo in the dispersal--more on that in a moment.) What Reed will discover on arrival, however, is that the man himself has grown, in ways that Reed couldn't have possibly expected.

Reed convinces James to return to the Baxter Building with him in order to run some tests on him--but what happens next serves to justify Reed's earlier concern, when the three punks who attacked James are spotted on the way back to his home, more than likely to give the place another ransacking for valuables. Reed then watches in helplessness as James proceeds to bathe them in a beam that transforms them to a trio of rodents (which certainly falls in line with their predilection for foraging).

On the way back with Reed, however, James--who now calls himself the Futurist--decides to inexplicably go off on his own into the city. It becomes clear that James regards his thoughts, concerns, and perspective as being well beyond those of ordinary humans, to the point of musing about their state of existence and their failures--and heaven help any criminals who remind him of his recent experience of being victimized.

As we can see, Blastaar has ended up in the right place at the right time.

Nor does he need to wait long for an opportunity to make his move with the Futurist, having spotted ¾ of the FF* on approach. It seems even a being who believes himself to be a god is vulnerable to deception.

*As has happened in the past, Sue was ordered to stay behind with the couple's son, Franklin, while the others left in search of Blastaar and the Futurist, though this time Reed had a reasonable excuse: not wanting Franklin to be left alone, in case the Futurist might show up at the Baxter Building. I've broached the subject of a "safe room" for Franklin before--I still don't see why it doesn't have merit. And what if there were instances when there was no imminent threat, yet all of the FF had to head out to deal with an emergency? What parent would sign off on the decision to leave Franklin by himself, unsupervised?

Even James, who by his own admission values Reed as one of the few friends he ever had, has fallen for Blastaar's justification for Reed's seeming betrayal, hook, line and sinker.

The dual threat of the Futurist and Blastaar is nothing to sneeze at; this time at bat against Blastaar, however, the Thing and the Torch are able to devise a way to contain him for the time being. But the Futurist, loyal to this ally who opened his eyes (so to speak) as to the true nature of Reed and the others, frees him almost instantly. And after paralyzing the FF with his power, the Futurist grants a request from Blastaar that will leave him free to ravage the Earth at will--while it appears that Reed indeed made the right call where Sue was concerned, for all the good it does either of them.

With all obstacles to the Negative Zone portal dispatched, Blastaar proceeds to "open fire" on the reinforced doors, to little avail. But unlike the Futurist, he's failed to reckon with all forms of resistance to their incursion--for while the portal stands firm against even Blastaar's power, it fares less well against Blastaar himself, when seized by the power of Franklin Richards' anguished mind.

To the Futurist, who has been aware of and observed what has transpired, the words of protest from the FF on his impassive behavior have no perceived impact, as his consciousness has already begun to probe the vastness of the universe itself. It's no surprise, then, to see him pass on Reed's offer to attempt to restore him to normal; indeed, for one who believes that he represents the future potential of all humanity, in a sense he represents the end result of what would be the normal evolution of the human race. And to him, his course is clear.

We don't know at what point the Stranger intercepted the Futurist for study; in fact it wouldn't be at all surprising to find that he'd rigged some sort of orbital alarm to alert him of such developments on Earth. At any rate, it's disheartening to learn that even if the human race achieves the evolved state of the Futurist millennia from now, we'll all still be as ants to beings out there like the Stranger.


Big Murr said...

If my memory isn't stuttering too much, the Futurist's origin is identical to that of Herbert Wyndham. Battered and hurt, Herb climbed into his evolutionary machine and came out the High Evolutionary.

I wonder how the Evolutionary has managed to slip thru the cosmic fingers of the Stranger or the Collector or whoever?

Tiboldt said...

Big Murr, 'thru' - you are so Marvel.

I remember having my spelling corrected at junior school because of that.

At least I never got into the habit of ending all of my sentences with an exclamation mark!

Comicsfan said...

Murray, that's a very interesting point! An Earth scientist, eventually heading out into space and evolving to near-godhood, to say nothing of creating a duplicate of the Earth on the far side of the sun--he'd certainly pique the Stranger's interest.