Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Voice Of Freedom!

Any Fantastic Four reader who's familiar with the Great Refuge of the Inhumans more than likely knows of the Great Barrier, the impenetrable dome which covered the Refuge shortly after their discovery by the FF and essentially imprisoned their entire population thanks to a last-ditch power play by Maximus, the mad (and power-mad) brother of their ruler, Black Bolt. Fortunately, the Fantastic Four were able to destroy the barrier, and...

...what's that, you say? What do you mean the FF had nothing to do with the barrier's destruction? Would you believe it if you heard it straight from Mr. Fantastic himself, while on a later mission to the Refuge?

Now what do you say, scoffers?

All kidding aside, yes, regrettably we all must beg to differ with Reed and tell the man that he may have developed a touch of senility he's dead wrong on this point. (Keep in mind that this is also the same man who claimed it was newspaper reporters who gave him the name of "Mr. Fantastic.") We also should THWAP both the Thing and the Torch for keeping mum on the subject and not calling the mistake to his attention, though they were in a hurry to rescue Johnny's girlfriend, Crystal, and probably didn't want to see Reed go into one of his long-winded explanations. As we've seen, the FF were far from the Himalayas at the time of the barrier's destruction, fighting for their lives in the vicinity of Latveria.

But for what it's worth, there were several people who were working on the problem of bringing down the barrier, Reed included--and in a brief recap of the year's worth of scenes between 1966 and 1967 which detailed those efforts, we'll see who tried, who failed, and who finally succeeded in freeing the Inhumans so they could take their first steps toward rejoining the human race.

Though that story's climactic cover gives us a good idea of who finally did the deed.
(And it wasn't your group, Reed!)

But first things first: how did this situation come about? What led up to Maximus committing such an act? While we'd be hard-pressed to explain the actions of a madman, we can relive the moments prior to the barrier forming, as the Fantastic Four confront the Inhumans' royal family and attempt to convince them that they're living in needless isolation. Yet elsewhere, Maximus only sees the reins of power further slipping from his fingers, and that the FF's entreaties present a danger to his plans of conquest.

Maximus's atmo-gun was designed to blanket the world with deadly atmospheric vibrations which would end all human life on Earth, leaving the Inhumans alive and effectively giving them dominion over the entire planet. With its firing, Maximus no doubt feels that he's accomplished both the FF's defeat and his goals of conquest at a stroke--but, along with the rest of the Inhumans, he learns that his race is not so Inhuman after all*, and the toppling of his house of cards forces him to take desperate measures to prevent the exodus of those he would rule.

*As with Reed's erroneous recollection, writer Stan Lee would later sabotage this scene of the Inhumans having solid proof of their connection to humanity by revealing that long ago, in prehistoric times, the Inhumans had already been made aware that they were indeed part of the human race, altered by Kree science to an advanced state of evolution while taking it upon themselves to gain powers through the use of their terrigen mist. As a result, whatever the reason for their decision to remain in their refuge in isolation, it was originally unrelated to any fear that the humans would try to destroy them if they knew of their existence (though over time, as humans evolved and advanced, such fear of discovery would become a concern and drive them to take steps to isolate themselves further).

Naturally, with the barrier dome seemingly imprisoning them for all time, the Inhumans make several attempts to break through it. One obvious choice to "take a crack at it," so to speak, would be Karnak, whose power enables him to determine the weak point in any object and shatter it with a single blow.

(Confused by the nomenclature used to describe the barrier here? This all took place during the time when Reed still considered what would later be known as the Negative Zone as "sub-space," with the Great Barrier instead being designated as a "negative zone.")

Following Karnak's attempt, Black Bolt himself takes a stab at it off-panel, and apparently comes up empty.

Maximus, of course, would seem to be the key to freedom, the only person who knows of the secret of the "negative zone" but a secret now lost with his regression into madness. But Gorgon thinks that a little psychology may prevail in obtaining the knowledge they need.

But Gorgon's clever plan comes to naught when he sees how Maximus has been spending his time. (Though Triton isn't about to complain.)

At this point we can probably rule out efforts to tunnel beneath the barrier, surmising that this dome of negative force is not simply a dome but an enclosure that reaches beneath even the caverns of the Alpha Primitives, the Inhumans' worker race. Perhaps we can assume, then, that it's one of the things Black Bolt looked into during his inspection of the barrier.

Yet Black Bolt hasn't finished exhausting his own resources--in this case, using his own life force to charge a powerful bomb which will be hurled against the barrier in the hope of destroying it. But in the process, Black Bolt, up until now believed to be totally mute, uses his voice for the first time, startling his own family--all except, perhaps, for Maximus, who uses the occasion to twist the knife regarding the Inhumans' hopes for freedom.

It appears the Inhumans have played their last card, and nearly at the cost of Black Bolt's life--though knowing the power of Black Bolt's voice, the explanation of how any part of the Great Refuge is still intact after unleashing that voice in a scream is worthy of a no-prize of the highest order. (Let's say, for instance, that the effort of focusing that scream on defusing the bomb is what injured him so badly.)

But while he's in recovery, let's check in on Reed, as he monitors the Negative Zone the vast universe known as sub-space--the very means by which he hopes to bypass the Great Barrier and re-enter the refuge of the Inhumans.

And since Reed and Ben Grimm are discussing Johnny, we find the Human Torch and his college roommate and friend, Wyatt Wingfoot, roaming the Himalayas in their "search for the Inhumans" (come on, Mr. Lee--Johnny of all people knows precisely where they're holed up!), where they catch a break in their own efforts to free the trapped race (and one Inhuman in particular) when another means of bypassing the barrier drops into their lap--a sight which ordinary mountain travelers no doubt react to more fearfully than these two young men who regard it with both surprise and hope.

Unfortunately, despite Johnny's enthusiasm, Lockjaw leads the pair on a merry series of dimensional jaunts where they wind up anywhere but the Great Refuge, as they attempt to win the trust of a creature trained to keep others away from the Inhumans. To make matters worse, Johnny is sidetracked when the FF become embroiled in a struggle against Dr. Doom--at which time we don't see Lockjaw again until he rejoins Crystal and the rest of the Royal Family after they've escaped their domed prison.

Which brings us to the moment finally at hand, having taken a year to get to this point. In essence, Black Bolt has made the decision to use the power of his voice against the barrier directly, prompting him to direct the entire Inhuman population to underground shelters. Readers haven't been privy to whatever deliberation (if any) has taken place in order for Black Bolt to settle on this course of action; with the exception of Maximus and apparently Medusa, none of the Inhumans know the reason why Black Bolt has remained silent all this time (Lee would dispel this point as well in a later story), and so this fateful day will end up yielding two major events rather than one.

The comments of those ascending from their shelters can't help but raise the question of how the Inhumans ever coped with their relocation to Earth's moon, where they might as well have been trapped by another barrier--never again to experience fresh air and the warmth of the sun. (Of course, a perpetual starry night beats a negative zone enclosure any day... er, night.)

In any case, with their city in ruins, the mystery of Black Bolt's silence is a mystery no longer. There are obvious details missing from this scene which might have added to the drama--for instance, how did Black Bolt come to this decision? Was it a Hail Mary, or was it a carefully reasoned decision--and if the latter, how did he come to believe that a sonic assault on the barrier would be successful? (The crowds pictured here would certainly have had a few other things to say if they'd emerged only to find their entire city in shambles and the barrier still in place.) Also, with his vocal bombardment being directed upward, presumably to avoid laying waste to the city, why would those sound waves instead proceed on a lateral path before the force even makes contact with the barrier?

In any case, the Inhumans are now free to seek their destiny. If memory serves, the only other time we see the Great Barrier is during the Kree-Skrull War, when the Super-Skrull takes steps to deny the Kree the option of using their evolutionary experiment, the Inhumans, as powerful soldiers in the conflict. However, Maximus, who has again usurped the throne, once more makes use of the means by which even a nuclear attack must end in failure.

Surely a desperate play on the part of Maximus, who has seen to it that Black Bolt, having traveled to New York, has lost his memory and is effectively prevented from ever returning to the Great Refuge--which means that this time the barrier could well be in place forever (though no doubt a fate preferable to nuclear annihilation). Fortunately, the Avengers, with Triton's assistance, have located Black Bolt and, with his memory restored, returned with him to the refuge, where he now has the good sense to be in close proximity to the barrier wall before using the power of his voice to shatter it.

Well, no one seems happy to see the sun this time, do they.

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