The Great American
                Novel Act 1:
                the danger Act 2: rising action Act 3: the ball Act 4: crisis Act 5: triumph the Franklinverse part 2, act 1:
                the new danger

1972: Act 4: the unthinkable (Watergate)

timechart issue 1 issues 2-5 issues 6-24 issues 25-43 issues 45-60 issues 61-80 issues 81-102 issues 103-125 126-132 133-149 150-175 176-200 201-218 219-231 232-250 251-273 274-295 296-303 304-321 322-333 334-355 355-569 570 to present
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This is where everything falls apart. In America:

In the FF:

Issue 126: the new beginning

Fantastic Four 126

This issue sums up the main developments so far:

The central decision in Johnny's 28 year story
This issue sees arguably the most important event in all the 27 years: if the story ever continues, and grows from greatness to greatness, it will have to be led by Johnny Storm. Future generations will only know him as the leader, and looking back this is the key issue: when he finally chooses between his childhood past and his future as an adult. He finally grows up, becomes a man, leaves home, and chooses Crystal. But he's too late. We will have to wait many years before our Romeo and Juliet can finally be together.

The zeitgeist and racism
The FF's troubles reflect America's troubles. The FF evolved and change their views just as America did. In looking back to the past, Ben is shocked at his previously racist attitude (thanks to Marvel University for drawing attention to this):

Ben represents casual blue collar racism. Though he later identifies with his street gang roots, at this point he has pulled himself out of that and has little sympathy for those who stayed behind. This de facto racism ended when he was forced to see what it is like to have a different skin. This reflects the gradual decline in racism in America as the average white person sees more black celebrities and so can more easily see the world from their point of view.

Compare Ben's class based prejudice with Reed's more insidious (because it is unintentional) ability based prejudice. Consciously Reed loves all people equally, but unconsciously he treats those around him as intellectual inferiors. This unconscious belittling is tearing the team apart, and reducing the effectiveness of the four, even as individuals.

The Mole Man in context
For how the Mole Man's ten appearances reflect racism and the underground in America, see the notes to issue 1.
Mole Man

Reed is emotionally sick
"Reed picturing the most upsetting image he could think of to test his new helmet? What kind of sick mind would he have to do that?" (
This indicates the negativity at his heart. At this point in the big story, Reed's mind is indeed sick. Depression is a sickness, where you can only see the negative and cannot see the bigger picture. But Reed buries his sickness deep.

A warning to Reed
The Mole Man story comes at this point as a warning to Reed: however bad Reed and Sue's relationship is going, it is still far better than the Mole Man's tragic state. Reed has always been like the Mole Man, a genius who has trouble fitting in. But here the Mole Man is a warning of the depths a lonely person can fall to: the Mole Man clutches at any chance of love, however pathetic and dangerous it may be. Perhaps Sue does not do what Reed wants, but Reed should count his blessings: Sue is no Karla!

Other points to note

Issue 127: the family at war with itself

Fantastic Four 127

In this issue, everyone is in conflict with everyone else.

  1. Sue is trying to save the family: she brings Reed to stay at Agatha's with Franklin.
  2. Reed, for the first time ever, is seen interacting in a loving way as a father... but on the way back the harmony quickly disappears. Sue and Reed end up arguing. They have to remind each other that they love each other.
  3. Johnny feels trapped by the others. Johnny's dilemma is that he is needed by the team. But the irony is that with Crystal he would have access to Lockjaw for teleporting: he could always be on call!
  4. Ben feels so alienated that he doesn't tell the others when he leaves and doesn't expect them to help him.

The whole issue is about cooperation versus conflict. This issue returns to the question from issue 1: is the Mole Man good or bad? This represents the two different attitudes to life. Do we see the other guy's point of view or not?

Reed refers to the Mole Man as "that fiend", whereas Ben empathizes with him. This highlights their opposite personalities, the conflict that makes the story so rich. Reed has a narrow focus, Ben relies on gut feeling. Reed sees the immediate threat, but Ben sees the potential. (This tension over the Mole Man reaches its climax in act 5, in FF296.)

The Great American Novel: symbolism

Four times in the 28 year story the team plunge down a hole, metaphorically and literally. The rabbit hole has long been the symbol of discovering hidden worlds.


This one of four times (in the 28 year story) that the Fantastic Four plunge downwards. Each time marks a key moment for their psychological development:

  1. FF1: they begin their first mission
  2. FF127: the family is at war with itself, heading downhill fast
  3. FF251: Reed's suicide attempt (see notes to that issue)
  4. FF313: Ben is about to discover the answers that Reed could not: that the technology he always looked for was (alien civilizations and teleportation) were under his feet all the time but the scientist could not see it.
The zeitgeist

Amazing ideas
What I love most about the FF is that it compresses all the most amazing real world ideas: at least four major mythologies are referenced in your issue:

Franklin Tweaks Reed's nose
Franklin is tweaking his nose, and apparently causing discomfort. Sue comments on the tweak. Why is this shown, when Reed's stretchy face should surely have felt no pain? Because tweaking the nose has rich symbolism:

"Though difficult to imagine today, there was a time when grabbing someone’s nose and giving it a twist was an insult so egregious it was likely to end in one of the parties’ death. [Like challenging to a duel.] Present day psychologically-inclined historians even speculate that the nose was a stand-in for—how should we put this delicately?—another item of protuberant male anatomy synonymous with masculinity. So to insult the nose was to insult the man deeply to the core."

Franklin unconsciously controls the Marvel Universe (an extreme example of how a baby unconsciously controls a family), Reed is not paying him enough attention and so is bringing on his own crisis.

(sources: here, and here)

Other points to note

Issue 128: a dark and lonely place

Fantastic Four 128

The title "death in a dark and lonely place" is from the poem "Farewell" by James Russell Lowell
I think thou must be dead
In some dark and lonely place,
With candles at thy head,
And a pall above thee spread
To hide thy dead, cold face
It perfectly captures the tragedy of this issue,the final step before the break up.

The story, like all great tragedies, is about being misunderstood. Reed does not understand Sue, but that is hardly new. What is new, and makes FF128 historically significant, are two developments:
Each of these misunderstandings lead to people being mis-diagnosed and suffering for decades. Even comic readers routinely assume that Ben is not in the top strength level, that Sue (until this issue) was a doormat, that Reed is a jerk, and that the Mole Man is just evil. Nothing could be further from the truth. These three dimensional characters are what made the Fantastic Four "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine."

Reed's last chance
The Mole Man tries to help Reed at the end: he is not a natural enemy. He is just unable to solve his own problems, as symbolized by being unable to solve his own blindness.
a missed opportunity

The Mole Man is not evil, just confused. The evil he did was out of lonely desperation. He is a figure to be pitied, not feared. So what does Reed do? He treats him with violence then runs away. This was Reed's big chance to save the marriage, and he blew it.

On the way down the passage Sue says that she still loves him (a metaphor for sex in a dying marriage?). They then see a dysfunctional romance, even worse than their own. And at the end they have an emotionally weak Mole man who could have done anything to help them, if only they would be his friends. This was Reed's big chance. All he had to do was shut up and listen. With Sue beside him, listening could have led to insights. Reed could see how Sue's approach, listening and feeling, was a good one. Sue could see how Reed, like the Mole Man, does not intend to do harm, but can't cope well emotionally. The solitude and silence of the caves would be a good place to get away from the outside world and just calm down, They could have spoken about Tyrannus and Kala and how romance can go wrong. This was a perfect opportunity for therapy.

Reed had every incentive to listen. Reed loves science, and here the Mole Man has he best science in the world, just waiting for Reed to use. All Reed had to do was shut up and listen - surely as a scientist he could do that? And f he listened, Sue would grow in sympathy, he would see his vulnerable side. All she ever wanted him to do was listen, to stop being so arrogant. But instead Reed acts like Tyrannus, in that he will not admit that anybody can be his equal. So Reed's marriage is about to blow up just like Tyrannus' ship: the marriage, like the ship, had booby traps that only their creator could dismantle.

Like the Mole Man, Reed is unable to fix his own blindness. For more about the Mole Man, see his own page. For how Reed is eventually forced to be humble, see the end to act 4. Reed's destiny is to eventually return underground: this should have been his focus from issue 1, but instead he wasted 28 years trying to be number one.

The tunnel metaphor
Why does Ben give up so easily? Because as Ben said, deep down he knew all along this would not work. This story is about the team looking for a way out of their despair. Being trapped underground in winding dark tunnels, fighting each other, is a perfect metaphor for the team's condition at this time: they are trapped inside themselves. Whereas in their golden age they went outward into space and easily defeated the Mole Man and his monsters in one third of an issue, here they struggle in the dark. Note how self centered everyone is. Each is absorbed by their own problems. The issue begins by the narrator talking directly to Ben about looking at himself. This issue is all about the individuals looking inward and not outward at others.  The Mole Man and Kala are further examples of self obsession. The Mole Man's blindness to what should be obvious reflects Reed's emotional blindness. For more about tunnel symbolism see the notes to FF314.

Criticisms (source: here and here)

This issue is about the family at its most dysfunctional. Many readers to not notice this (despite it being shouted on the cover: "a family divided! At each other's throats!") So they see the strange behavior as mistakes by the writer:
The poem in full
(courtesy of Project Gutenberg)
"Marian" could be either Sue or Kala.

(by James Russell Lowell, 1842)
Farewell! as the bee round the blossom
Doth murmur drowsily,
So murmureth round my bosom
The memory of thee;
Lingering, it seems to go,
When the wind more full doth flow,
Waving the flower to and fro,
But still returneth, Marian!

My hope no longer burneth,
Which did so fiercely burn,
My joy to sorrow turneth,
Although loath, loath to turn—
I would forget—
And yet—and yet
My heart to thee still yearneth, Marian!

Fair as a single star thou shinest,
And white as lilies are
The slender hands wherewith thou twinest
Thy heavy auburn hair;
Thou art to me
A memory
Of all that is divinest:
Thou art so fair and tall,
Thy looks so queenly are,
Thy very shadow on the wall,
Thy step upon the stair,
The thought that thou art nigh,
The chance look of thine eye
Are more to me than all, Marian,
And will be till I die!

As the last quiver of a bell
Doth fade into the air,
With a subsiding swell
That dies we know not where,
So my hope melted and was gone:
I raised mine eyes to bless the star
That shared its light with me so far
Below its silver throne,
And gloom and chilling vacancy
Were all was left to me,
In the dark, bleak night I was alone!
Alone in the blessed Earth, Marian,
For what were all to me—
Its love, and light, and mirth, Marian,
If I were not with thee?

My heart will not forget thee
More than the moaning brine
Forgets the moon when she is set;
The gush when first I met thee
That thrilled my brain like wine,
Doth thrill as madly yet;
My heart cannot forget thee,
Though it may droop and pine,
Too deeply it had set thee
In every love of mine;
No new moon ever cometh,
No flower ever bloometh,
No twilight ever gloometh
But I'm more only thine.
Oh look not on me, Marian,
Thine eyes are wild and deep,
And they have won me, Marian,
From peacefulness and sleep;
The sunlight doth not sun me,
The meek moonshine doth shun me,
All sweetest voices stun me—
There is no rest
Within my breast
And I can only weep, Marian!

As a landbird far at sea
Doth wander through the sleet
And drooping downward wearily
Finds no rest for her feet,
So wandereth my memory
O'er the years when we did meet:
I used to say that everything
Partook a share of thee,
That not a little bird could sing,
Or green leaf flutter on a tree,
That nothing could be beautiful
Save part of thee were there,
That from thy soul so clear and full
All bright and blessèd things did cull
The charm to make them fair;
And now I know
That it was so,
Thy spirit through the earth doth flow
And face me wheresoe'er I go—
What right hath perfectness to give
Such weary weight of woe
Unto the soul which cannot live
On anything more low?
Oh leave me, leave me, Marian,
There's no fair thing I see
But doth deceive me, Marian,
Into sad dreams of thee!

A cold snake gnaws my heart
And crushes round my brain,
And I should glory but to part
So bitterly again,
Feeling the slow tears start
And fall in fiery rain:
There's a wide ring round the moon,
The ghost-like clouds glide by,
And I hear the sad winds croon
A dirge to the lowering sky;
There's nothing soft or mild
In the pale moon's sickly light,
But all looks strange and wild
Through the dim, foreboding night:
I think thou must be dead
In some dark and lonely place,
With candles at thy head,
And a pall above thee spread
To hide thy dead, cold face;
But I can see thee underneath
So pale, and still, and fair,
Thine eyes closed smoothly and a wreath
Of flowers in thy hair;
I never saw thy face so clear
When thou wast with the living,
As now beneath the pall, so drear,
And stiff, and unforgiving;
I cannot flee thee, Marian,
I cannot turn away,
Mine eyes must see thee, Marian,
Through salt tears night and day.

Those last few lines could have been written for the Mole Man's tears at the end.

Issue 129: the family breaks up

Fantastic Four 129

So much could be said about this pivotal issue, the point where the family breaks up. But to avoid stating the obvious, this may be a good opportunity to talk about just one aspect of the separation: Ben's loneliness. When the team breaks up, Ben is losing more than just friends. This is the only place where people treated him as normal. Ben suffers the most from the team breaking up (treating the approaching divorce as a separate issue), and yet he's the only innocent party.

This is where the male dynamic finally ends. The axis reverses: we have three weak men and three strong women. The men can no longer cope. Johnny leaves, Ben is lonely and sick of the team, and Reed fails as a husband and leader. In contrast the three failing men  we have Sue finally taking action after years of letting Reed rule, Thundra dominates her team, and Medusa joins the team and saves Ben in the process. 

For why Ben loses to Thundra, see "how strong is the Thing?"

Ben's loneliness

Colin Smith uses FF129 as a springboard for a superb discussion of Ben's loneliness. Most of this section is based on his work.

In Marvel post 1991 there are so many superheroes, with their own subculture and support networks. So they they never have to feel alone. But in the The Original Marvel Universe it was different. Most heroes were lone outsiders, just them against the world. In the real world, with so many heroes, there would be civil war against the normal folks. J. Jonah Jameson was right to see the large number of superheroes as a threat. [Personally I assume that only FF stories are "real" : although other heroes exist, I interpret them to be weaker and fewer than their own books would suggest. But let's get back to the topic of Ben Grimm in the original Fantastic Four.] "Where modesty ends and shame begins is a difficult question to answer where Ben Grimm is concerned." He likes to hide in a coat and hat, not because he's ashamed, but because he wants privacy.

Colin Smith comments on three panels from FF129
Ben in a
"In this brief three-panel sequence... his sense of his own powerlessness in this situation is emphasized by Mr Buscema's decision to portray him from an askew high-angle. By being placed in such a way as the reader is looking down on Grimm, The Thing's own sense of isolation and helplessness is emphasized, for he looks strangely tiny and toy-like. Similarly, the choice to have the line of the bottom of the wall behind him extending up at an angle of approximately 45% makes his world seem seriously out of kilter, as if he's just about to tumble from the panel if that right leg of his wasn't braced as it is, if the black inks of his right-facing shadow weren't holding him into the frame. Leaving the Baxter Building is obviously a matter of abandoning security and predictability for a far less pleasant and reasonable world."
"descending through the thirty-five stories of the Baxter Building would surely be a tedious, lonely and dispiriting experience. From the air-conditioned privacy of the Fantastic Four's technological castle of a home down to street level feels like a fall from heaven to at the very least purgatory. "
"There's the saddest irony present in the fact that Ben's desire to stay incognito has so obviously failed and yet he retains his disguise. [in this third picture he is] entirely encircled by a lack of compassion."

Comments from Smith's readers (summarized)
Even if the vast majority respect Ben, the proportion who do not is still a lot of people. being pointed at every time you go outside must hurt. It's like being very obese, or disfigured: some people will always point.

Celebrities are not immune from insecurity and self hatred. "Darren" writes,"Look at Marlon Brando, who was one of the greatest actors who ever lived, and died practically a recluse, so uncomfortable with his own physical appearance he had Coppola film his scenes in Apocalypse Now in shadow (which made for a dramatic effect)."  Colin replies,"Sting once said that fame and fortune doesn’t make you any happier in the long-term, it just means that you don’t get unhappy about the bills."  [But in Ben's case he doesn't even have that advantage: his fame means he or his loved ones could be killed any day, and their unstable life means are always close to bankruptcy.]  Another downer is the number of superheroes: at least in 1961 Ben could stand out as the strongest person on Earth, Now he's just one more strong guy. He has become replaceable, and that affects his self esteem (see FF171).

"JRC22" continues Colin's thread by pointing out that many have questioned whether Ben can consummate a marriage. Possibly he can, but fears accidentally hurting the other person. Both would add to his feeling of alienation, especially as he was original the archetypal alpha male, the school jock, baseball star, war hero and fighter pilot. That has to hurt. "History man" comments that a lot depends on the artist: possibly Ben's skin looks much worse in real life. Finally, "Anonymous" comments on the frustration of never being able to return to his old life. [And I would add the frustration and guilt that maybe it's his own fault that he can't change, and his best friend keeps offering hope and then it never works - he can never have closure.]

Ben's struggle for self acceptance

This is a good time to talk about Ben and queer culture. Ben is not gay (as far as we know) but he is an example of Queer Theory. Tony explains:

"Fantastic Four offers a prime example of what 'queer theory' is all about. Much more so than Young Avengers. And it's all in the story of Ben Grimm.  Queer theory is not so much about homosexual characters or even homosexuality per se, but about 'queerness,' i.e., what it means to be 'gay' or 'queer' or 'not straight' in modern society. And Ben Grimm's decades-long struggle to accept being 'The Thing'  is a perfect metaphor for a man coming to truly accept that he's gay. Think about 'Ben Grimm' (his human aspect) representing 'straight' and 'The Thing' (his transformed self) as representing 'gay' or 'queer.'

"Every time the Thing changes back into human form, he's rejecting his queerness and trying to be 'normal.' For a long time, his most ardent wish is to be 'normal,' have a 'normal' life, and a 'normal' love. But he always becomes the Thing again, because it's his "natural" state now. Many gay men go through this same process in their lives, rejecting homosexuality and trying to be straight, to date women, to be 'normal,' and they can be traumatized by repeatedly "falling back" into homosexuality. This is clear in accounts of men trying to get 'cured' of being gay. The 'cures' never work, just like Reed's cures for Ben. Finally, (circa F.F. #320 or so), Ben comes to terms with being the Thing, sees the positive side of it, and becomes happy and well-adjusted. This parallels the gay man accepting his homosexuality and finally being at peace with himself. But society can still condemn him, just as the Thing continues to be seen as an 'ugly monster.'

"I never thought of this before, but Ben Grimm can totally be read this way! The perfect metaphor for coming to an acceptance of one's homosexuality -- or any other 'difference' really, but the article is talking specifically about queer theory. And it's so much better / more positive than any metaphor the X-Men have to offer, and that's the one everybody seems to talk about. What do the X-Men have to say on the matter? You can be cool and kinky and be insular and do your cool things within your little group, but the world at large will always hate and fear you no matter what. But keep plugging away anyway, keep fighting. Forever. Gee, thanks a lot. Whereas Ben Grimm shows the internal struggle for self-acceptance that is ultimately achieved, despite all obstacles internal and external. Man, Fantastic Four is the World's Greatest Comic Magazine!"

Medusa joins the team

Medusa's significance: patriarchy

Reed's inability to treat others as equals will eventually drive his team away (see commentary to F141). Then why was Medusa happy to join him? Because she comes from a strict monarchy, and was always the one to support the leader no matter what (unlike Crystal who needed to be treated as an equal). Medusa does not expect Reed to treat her as an equal, so she cannot stop Reed's further decline. Note that Medusa is a male chauvinist's ideal woman: obsessed with her hair, wearing revealing outfits (for the time, given the comics code), a former temptress (when with the Frightful Four), named after a woman who could turn you to stone if you dared look at her, and a woman who accepts patriarchy as the natural order of things. There is far more to Medusa than that of course, but her surface features tick all the chauvinist boxes.

Medusa and She-Hulk

Note that the next time Reed chooses an alternate member (other than Luke Cage, who was hired just for a few days), it is when Reed has lost all confidence: he chooses a woman, one who is literally stronger than he is, one who can literally look down on him.

Medusa's sexuality

An interesting discussion from  "Two Girls, A Guy, and Some Comics"

"Doug: Looking at these stories as self-contained, it’s interesting to see the dynamic on the team with Medusa. Conway does a nice job of separating her personality from the way Stan had handled Crystal years earlier. Although sisters, Stan, Roy, and now Gerry Conway have worked together over time to make them completely different people. The absence of any love interest between Medusa and her teammates also creates a dynamic new to the team, and that is NO dynamic. Medusa’s just kind of there – she’s an agitant, a nay-sayer, sort of a square peg in a round hole. Yet it works – her presence on the team only heightens the angst felt by all at Sue’s absence.

"Karen: Was it just me, or in the later issues, did it seem like perhaps Medusa was developing an interest in Reed? Do you think that Gerry and Roy were considering having the two of them become a couple? Perhaps they were just seeing what the fan reaction was before really moving in that direction. How would that have altered the dynamics of the book – Reed off with Medusa, and Sue with Namor?

"Sharon: Yes, during this time, Medusa was frequently drawn as hanging onto, or hovering over, Reed. Too bad nothing developed—I think it would have been interesting to see her with Reed, or even Ben or Johnny--but I guess a major part of her character is her unyielding, inviolate devotion to Black Bolt. Back when she was a member of the Frightful Four (and it’s been retconned that she was amnesiac during that time), she did express a fondness for the “handsome” Reed as she caressed his face with her hair! And Johnny seemed interested in her back in the Frightful Four days; both he and Reed acknowledged that she was an “extremely attractive female.”

"Sharon: My reading of Medusa is that she represses her sexuality (reserves it for Black Bolt) but when she’s not in control – as when she’s been mind-controlled (by Maximus) or amnesiac – the defenses come down and she’s hot to trot. I see Medusa and Crystal as the two archetypes of female sexuality: virgin and whore (I don’t mean literally). But one is chaste, while the other is open to her sexual/romantic impulses. Also, talk about ironic imagery: Medusa, the reserved one, has all that resplendent hair (an the exaggerated female characteristic); while Crystal, the wild child, is normally shown with fettered hair--the famous headband, or the snoods she wears on occasion.

"Karen: I never really knew what to make of Medusa’s relationship with Black Bolt. In fact, I think it was several years before I even knew they were a couple! At least now it’s much more obvious."

This is especially  interesting in light of the theory (see notes to FF128) that Crystal's role was to be the one being every few centuries who was to prevent the Inhumans' gene pool from growing stagnant, e.g. by seeking out the greatest alpha male outside the ranks. She could see Johnny's potential whereas others could not - remember when Hickman had Franklin say that Johnny is his favorite hero.

Other points to note:
Paste Pot Pete

Issue 130: Sue finally leaves

Fantastic Four

This is such a momentous event that it needs no commentary. Except to point out that this did not come out of nowhere. It was not just a reflection of the rise of feminism in the early 1970s (though it was that as well): it's a fundamental part of the great 28 year novel. The tensions have been building since the very start, and the effects of this issue will be felt right up to act 5.

Three milestones:
As Crissy mentioned, this issue has not one, not two, but three historic milestones:
  1. Sue leaves
  2. The first visible sign of Franklin's power
  3. The first visible sign of Reed's loss of stretching, as pinpointed in the overview in issue 190:

Reed's inability to Stretch: the FF141 theory debunked

We have already seen Reed's body weakening as his confidence weakens, most notably at the start of FF124. But here for the first time we see it affect his ability to stretch. At the end of the battle he cannot stretch far enough to reach the ship. This might not seem like a big deal, but in FF1 he grabbed a missile out of the sky! We might say FF130 was just bad luck, except it was singled out as important in the FF190 review issue.

It is sometimes wrongly assumed that Annihilus caused the loss of stretching FF141. He zapped Reed and then said to Medusa: "Richards is not harmed, merely stunned. For a time, however, he will find it impossible to use his unique powers... and in a short while, that loss will last forever!" This was probably not the cause of the long term problem, because it applied to all of them, not just Reed. They clearly said that they all had their power drained, not just Reed. In the same panel Medusa then said it was useless to fight Annihilus, then Ben finds it impossible to even knock Annihilus over. Johnny finds his flame is useless, and Reed (by then awake) says all their life-forces are being drained. Later in the tower Johnny and Reed repeat it: they are all drained. So FF141 is not the source of the stretching problem. Annihilus said Reed would lose his power forever "in a short while", not forty issues later. Annihilus appeared to refer to his draining power from Franklin. He said he wanted them in good health to witness the event, indicating that they would then be of no danger at all. Reed never made a connection between his eventual loss of strength and Annihilus. Instead he put it down to aging. (Heed lacked the self awareness to realize it was psychological, even though the only other time he lost power, when in Latveria, it was all in the mind. There was also the time they all lost power due to the Q-bomb, but as a physical problem it had a simple physical solution: the Skrull stimulator gun. But the long term loss of stretching was different. It could not be solved until he regained his confidence.

This gradual loss of ability is confirmed in FF157, and then becomes a major theme until Reed's power is returned in FF 197.

Other points to note

Issue 131: first Sue, now Crystal

Fantastic Four 131

The story of what happened here, how it happened, and what it led to, is too big for one review. For the full details see

the story of Crystal and Johnny

Other points to note:

Issue 132: he loses her

Fantastic Four 132

This issue is about being enslaved. The alpha primitives are enslaved. Johnny, the alpha male, is enslaved by his duty to his family. It made him neglect Crystal, and now he is trapped. And he knows it's his fault. Yet even here thare are hidden undercurrents that are not obvious on first reason: there is more than one kind of underworld in this story. As usual the Great American Novel works on multiple levels.

How racism begins

This is not just a love story. It deals with powerful themes: it is no coincidence that the main story is about race. Race is of course just an extension of family. Johnny stayed with his family and did not follow Crystal because to Johnny his family was more important than hers. Loyalty is admirable but where does it stop? Does this mean that races should never intermarry?

If races never intermarry then we have separate but equal development. That is what "apartheid" means: developing apart. It is means to allow each side to be equal, but it never works that way. Any economic differences become magnified until one side effectively controls the other. Why they become magnified is a technical matter of economics, but basically richer people have more choices.

That is how Inhuman slavery started. The alpha primitives are not in chains. They are not controlled by guns and whips. They simply developed separately, and ended up all working for the Inhumans on low and lower pay until now they just work for food and protection.

All of this has obvious parallels with modern economic slavery, but that is not the main feature of this story. The main feature is that, while Johnny felt he could not leave his own people, Quicksilver was more ready. He was never very popular among his own kind, so he as ready to commit to the Inhumans instead. So Quicksilver won the prize and Johnny lost.

Fantastic Four 132

An unforgettable story

For me this is the most moving comic ever. Possibly the most moving chapter I've ever read, in any book, and I've read a few. It's because I'm so invested in the long term story.

Part of this issue's impact is because I live in Britain (but I try to use American spellings because most of my web site readers are American). Our comics were printed on a larger size, usually in black and white. When this story was reprinted the comics had high quality glossy covers. (Yes, I spell color without a "u" because most readers of this site are American). This one would have been just after the weekly FF magazine merged with Spider-man weekly, and that last glossy page is burned into my memory. I remember turning those large black and white pages, as my horror increased at what was happening. I had followed Johnny and Crystal from the start. I remember Dorrie Evans. I remember when Johnny and Crystal first met. Like all right thinking readers of the silver age I adored Crystal, with her exotic origin, brains, feisty personality and cat-like two colored hair. I suppose a lot of young male fans had a crush on her. Surely she couldn't leave Johnny Storm? How could Juliet leave Romeo? What was happening? All those years, the greatest stories in the history of superheroes, and it all came to this? I turned the final page and this image was the back cover, in large size glossy color. It stared out at me, so large and intense.

The magazine just lay there and I stared at it.

It was so powerful.

It still is.

This really is "the world's greatest comic magazine.

Colin Smith calls this "the most touching and believable romantic rejection in all of Marvel's history."

"You might think that any young superheroic lad would respond badly to losing his lover to the odious Pietro Maximoff, but Johnny Storm's brave and privately tearful response to being dumped is a world away from the usual tantrums associated with the character. I can recall being 11 years old and rather tearful myself faced with Crystal's inexplicable choice. Surely men and women couldn't possibly be this irrational where their love lives were concerned? Was all of this fuss about relationships really going to be as confusing and as heart-breaking as this?

Well, of course it was ...

On Guilt

The main story is Omega, the embodiment of guilt for misusing other people. Crystal must feel some guilt for abandoning Johnny, just as Johnny must feel guilt for not giving her the attention she deserved. It is no coincidence that Omega will return at the wedding in FF150. At that time he really be be Ultron, a robot rebuilt by Maximus: In FF150 we are told that Maximus is given freedom because of Black Bolt's feeling of guilt. We are not told why he feels responsible for his brother's madness: did he cause it? Or is this guilt the good kind, the kind that makes one feel a duty to his fellow man? The Inhumans are advanced in their feeling of duty to their kind, yet they are inhuman because, unlike the American ideal, they will not extend that feeling of duty to people of a different social class.

The Godfather

Note the final frame reference to the Godfather - a story of guilt, family duty and ancient honor systems gone wrong. The Godfather was released in 1972, just as this issue was being written. There are many parallels:

But is there an actual godfather pulling the strings? At the time all this seemed like just a tragedy, some terribly bad decisions. But in the Great American Novel there are layers upon layers. perhaps the godfather here was the cruel hand of fate. Or perhaps this godfather was more tangible.

the Godfather

In the Inhumans family we don't have to look far for the godfather figure: Maximus. He portrays himself as either a harmless fool or an absurd mad scientist, but with Maximus appearances can never be trusted.

This godfather is in a constant battle for power, when when he appears to be doping nothing. The fact that he repeatedly achieves power, and seems immune to prosecution, suggests that either he is the rightful ruler of the family, or he is a most skillful manipulator with tentacles everywhere.

Maximus would benefit greatly from an alliance between Inhuman mafia and mutant mafia?  Was Maximus manipulating Crystal and Pietro? It seems very likely. And in later years (in X-Factor 2) he confirmed it.

We tend to see things from the Fantastic Four's point of view but Johnny may simply have been collateral damage in a much bigger war. One message of the Great American Novel is to see other points of view (e.g. Reed needs to see Sue's point of view; Reed needs to learn from Doom). What we think is not always what's going on. We need to see the bigger picture.

Other points to note


The Great American Novel