Monday, May 13, 2019

"For What Shall It Profit A Man..."

During the 2006-07 mega-crossover event known as Civil War, sides were taken by the super-beings of the U.S., depending on which of them came out in support of the Superhuman Registration Act and which of them refused to comply with it. Consequently, two principal factions were formed and went to "war"--those who sided with Tony Stark (Iron Man) to enforce the Act, with those who rebelled and joined Steve Rogers (Captain America) in defiance of it. In the case of the Fantastic Four, the team's leader, Reed Richards, was firmly in Stark's corner; but the Human Torch and Reed's wife, the Invisible Woman, were sympathetic to Cap's position, while the Thing decided to remain neutral and rode out the conflict in Paris.

As the war reached its boiling point, the Torch met his brother-in-law in a coffee shop and made an earnest effort to have a meeting of the minds on the subject. Reed remained adamant in his belief that the Act is necessary; but even more, he hints that his decision has been reached through a mathematical equation that made the implementation of the Act vital. Granted, that must be some equation, to make him turn on his friends and family for the sake of making sure a law is enforced. And yet... Johnny manages to reach Reed because he's family--and with the Torch in tow, Reed agrees that it would be prudent to have someone "check [his] work."

That brings us to a not-so-abandoned factory in Queens--and a request that one of the Fantastic Four's most persistent and tenacious foes wouldn't soon forget.

"I want you dead. Why should I help you?" If writer Dwayne McDuffie were standing next to me, I'd give him a hearty slap on the back for that line alone.

With the Thinker's acquiescence, Reed ushers him into his room of 100 ideas, which in this early stage was geared to focus on a single, startling model of prediction--a point of study which the Thinker is of course well versed in, though he's willing to concede that Richards' approach is leaps and bounds ahead of his own.

But as the details emerge of the scope of Reed's calculations, and his shocking conclusions, we discover why all roads in this scenario lead to the Superhuman Registration Act--and why, therefore, Reed has been so steadfast in his support of it, though his reasoning is far from the watered down response he's chosen to give the rest of the FF in which he simply professes to believe that the SHRA is "absolutely necessary."

It's quite fascinating to watch these two enemies table their conflict for the time being--and at the behest of Reed, no less--and instead see Reed solicit the Thinker for his perspective on the mathematics, the "numbers" which have directed Reed's actions in this matter. It's a "second opinion" like no other, one that becomes engrossing to the reader who might be waiting for the other shoe to drop--and a scene made all the more riveting when the Thinker indeed provides a point of view that Reed doesn't quite see coming, one which forces him to hear in so many words the truth he's tucked into the back of his mind for the duration. And we discover there's something else he hasn't seen.

The Thinker's words describing the contrast between Stark and Reed can't help but resonate--after all, there was a time when Reed was the kind of man who would "do what needs to be done, even knowing full well what it will cost him," without the crutch of a room full of equations to guide him. Perhaps it was also the kind of man who would have faced his own crucible here and caught up to his wife in order to tell her that she'd restored his faith.

But the science is unassailable, as the Thinker admits--and as far as Reed is concerned, the numbers have spoken, which is why he decides to live with his decision rather than second-guess himself. When all is said and done, he remains absolutely committed to the correctness of his actions, regardless of how he got there.  And, honestly? It makes for a better story, which I wasn't prepared to admit when I started putting all of these thoughts on paper--even though I'm not in favor of Reed's decision coming about because he trusts an equation more than his own judgment.  Would there have been anything wrong, for instance, with Reed coming up with reasons of his own as to why he supports the SHRA? I dare say that also would have made for compelling reading.


The end of the Civil War... and Reed is more convinced than ever that he made the right decision. But where does that leave his marriage?


Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this before and I enjoyed reading it.
I'm usually fond of these stories which add depth and complexity to characters who had previous appeared rather cartoonish.
I imagine the Thinker, Puppet Master, who was mentioned above, the Wizard and maybe Diablo getting together for a weekly poker game.
And all of them using secret devises to cheat!


Comicsfan said...

M.P., I don't doubt it!