Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"I, Reed Richards, Being Of Sound Mind And Body..."

Back when MTV was having a heyday with its successful "Unplugged" series of performances, Marvel Editor-In-Chief Mark Gruenwald threw his weight behind producing two 6-issue titles in the mid-1990s that capitalized on the "unplugged" label but otherwise carried no relevance in regard to the word itself.  One series was published featuring the Avengers--and one with the Fantastic Four, its masthead revised accordingly. (Though the additional lettering left something to be desired.)

Looking back at my own copies of this series, I noticed that I stopped well short of collecting the entire run (I never did start on the Avengers book), perhaps not wanting to reward what seemed to be a poorly-conceived marketing ploy; but the issue being profiled here today may surprise you as much as it did myself after pulling it off the shelf to give it a second read.  Its story follows up on what appeared to be the death of Reed Richards at the hand of Doctor Doom--details that were conspicuously absent in the regular FF title, where things were happening at a breakneck pace and the remainder of the team as well as their allies being given no time to fully process Reed's death, much less mourn the man. Nor was there a formal service for Reed (if I'm remembering correctly)--perhaps in part because, for a time, Sue was convinced that Reed was still alive, even though Ben and Johnny were sure and weren't hesitant to voice their feelings on the matter to Sue.

Inevitably, however, Sue had to accept Reed's death and move on--and she does so by observing the formality of arranging for the reading of Reed's last will and testament, a more personal drama which would have been almost inappropriate to wedge into the back-to-back crises occurring in the main title but which can be given its full due in the limited series without interruption. But while Sue may now be prepared to see this through, the twist to this story is in finding that Ben Grimm, the Thing and Reed's best friend, is visibly on edge and short-tempered at the thought of a legal proceeding that would effectively make Reed's passing a reality to be acknowledged and, in his own case, admitted.

We can see that this meeting includes those not in the immediate FF family--specifically, Scott Lang, Huntara, and the Sub-Mariner, who have been recently active with the FF and are present, presumably, because they are named in a letter Reed has included at his reading. That would indicate that Reed had amended his letter fairly recently, though his reasoning for doing so is unclear.  The letter ends up mentioning Huntara, Lang, and Namor in mostly a token sense, which wouldn't have necessitated Reed dropping everything to print a revised letter and get it to his lawyer; further, none of the three are bequeathed anything in the will. (Lang even has the good sense to excuse himself early, recognizing this proceeding is mainly for family.)

As for its content, Reed's letter isn't particularly noteworthy in a personal sense, but resonates on an inspirational level that urges the team to continue.

How Huntara and Namor interpret those words is anyone's guess. Namor in particular is probably still confused as to why Reed specified that he be present.

Ben, however, grows more bitter by the minute, most notably when the will is being read--after which, he makes the blunt and poorly-considered implication that those present have come mainly to walk away with something tangible, an accusation that Johnny Storm takes offense at and doesn't hesitate to let the Thing know it.

As for those items that Reed is passing down to his father, his son, and his partners, for the most part the items carry some sentimental value for the recipients, as they obviously did for Reed himself. Though the person they appear to affect the most is Ben, as their dispensation marks these proceedings drawing to a close--and, by extension, his long, memory-filled life with his best friend.

(It's news to me that the old Fantasti-Car had an ignition key--but it stands to reason that if something were being bequeathed that needed ignition keys, Johnny would be the one it would go to.)

It would seem, however, that Reed has saved the best for last--and in Ben's current mood, the announcement is like throwing napalm over an already-simmering cauldron.

Writer Mike Lackey has done a fair job with this story's dialog thus far--and while penciler Adriana Melo's portrayal of the Thing has been somewhat distorted throughout (clearly not a fan of a "less is more" approach to the character, Melo has made the Thing immense, with expressions to match), she's more than done the job of setting up Lackey's narrative for this moment: Why has it taken Ben so long to finally release his pent-up rage from being transformed into the Thing? We can speculate that Ben felt Reed's class ring represented ties to him, and giving it instead to their greatest enemy was a virtual punch in the gut to Ben. Regardless, it's hard to believe that Sue's slap would have triggered Ben's explosive reaction; unless she's packing Danny Rand's iron fist, an angry slap against Ben's hide would be akin to slapping one's hand against a rock face (heh, get it?), and would never have impacted hard enough to jar his head as it did.  On the contrary, for poor Sue it would only have resulted in a very bruised and possibly broken hand for her trouble.

On a similar note, the book's editor, Nel Yomtov, like Lackey, has ignored the one obstacle that would have averted this scene altogether--the fact that the same act that caused Reed's death also caused Doom's, which means that there's no one in Latveria to receive the ring, and, for that matter, no reason to even execute that part of Reed's will. You can't reform a man who's dead.

Still, the story ends well for Ben, who receives some sense of closure with Reed--and for Sue, as well, who formally takes the baton as team leader and intends to continue on.

The story that led up to all of this!

Fantastic 4 Unplugged #2

Script: Mike Lackey
Pencils: Adriana Melo
Inks: Tim Dzon
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos


Big Murr said...

The top level comic book waste of time, energy and my money is a Funeral Issue. Wailing, gnashing, histrionics, blubbering...and in two issues, the Dearly Departed is back.

In-Universe, I'd think by now the superhero community would have a deferment pact on memorials. Pencil in the service for...six months later, just to be sure. Until then, simply pretend the person is on sabbatical or laid up in hospital and take up his/her slack.

Maybe superheroes really like any excuse for dressing up in fancy clothes and crying.

On a personal note, 90's comic artwork makes my eyes burn.

Comicsfan said...

I must say that '90s art would be a topic in itself, Murray. :D

Rick said...

Boy, I'm sure glad the days of that terrible art are behind us.

Tiboldt said...

So Sue slaps the Thing. How does that work?

Broken fingers maybe? Certainly she couldn't apply enough force to move his head. It would be like slapping a statue or a slab of concrete.

Comicsfan said...

If I had to answer as if I were gunning for a no-prize, Tiboldt, I'd guess that Sue, er, "slapped" a force field around her hand to both cushion the blow to her hand and provide enough force of impact to have Ben reacting as he would if slapped while in his human form. (Hey, it's an invisible field, so it's a plausible enough explanation. And worth TWO no-prizes. :) )