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

1983: Act 4: to be or not to be? (the Star Wars Initiative; brinkmanship)

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In 1983 Reagan played "Russian roulette": his ultra-expensive "Star Wars Initiative" would either bankrupt the Soviet Union or force them to take desperate measures. In hindsight it worked, but it was a gamble for the future of America and the world.

Likewise, in the FF Reed stared into the abyss: it was his "to be or not to be" moment. As with Hamlet, readers must decide if he is mad or sane?

Quick issue summary

Issue 251: staring into the abyss

into the negative

Why now?

Reed has rescued Galactus, who is about to destroy the Skrull Throne world. The Skrulls and Shi'ar just sent a warning. So Reed has to escape. But is escape possible? Is this an unconscious suicide attempt?

Woah, wait, suicide??? No way!

The Fantastic Four works on multiple levels. The surface level is feel-good escapism. So the dark side is usually hidden. But it's always there.

Suicide is a common theme.

Ben attempts suicide in FF297.


But these were very depressed people, not like Reed, right?
Well ask yourself this question: if person A causes person B to be injured, who will hate himself the most? A or B?
Reed always takes responsibility for everything. Unlike Ben, who in most ways has a very healthy psyche, Reed is an idealist. He has no place for his own weakness. Any outsider would say that highly strung Reed is far more likely to be self hating than easy going Ben.

Reed is so intelligent that he finds it hard to connect to other people. Other people do not understand him. We don't know what is going on underneath the surface. Separation from others is another risk factor for suicide.

When Reed fails he blames himself. He cannot cope. He becomes violent with himself:

can't cope
Note that last frame: when he calms down he just internalizes it. He still has the same conclusion: there is "no point" in others' solutions.

Most of this web site charts Reed's emotional progress. Crucially Reed never changes his attitudes. The internal crisis was still there, unresolved.

OK, back to the suicide motif. It's there throughout the 28 year story, if you look for it. Probably the most popular FF story of all (FF51) ends in suicide.


Note that the guy could attempt to jump after Reed, but he chooses not to.

Later when Reed's duplicate chooses a noble suicide, he does it by entering the Negative Zone. Note that this is deliberate suicide: he actively prevents the others from saving him.


Another noble suicide is Herbie: Reed said Herbie was just a machine but Ben realized he was more than that.

The Negative Zone is the go-to pace for suicide, especially for people who look and think like Reed. The name "negative zone" says it all. It is ruled over by Annihilus, "the living death that walks".

certain death

So that's the context. We have seen Reed's growing despair throughout Act 4. Now let's look at what he does in FF 251.

OK, now the evidence:

  1. It's the only way out
    Reed has saved Galactus, Galactus is about to destroy the Skrull Throne World, and both the Skrulls and the Shi'ar are watching closely. What options does Reed have left?

  2. By FF251 Reed has failed at everything.
    Doom is back, he can't protect his son from abuse, his mistakes almost killed his family, and so on. Over the last 6 to 12 months (i.e. since 200) the rate of failure has increased. Why does Reed not talk about it? Because his self image depends on being in control. Reed has always kept huge secrets, right from the Planet X story (FF7). Why does he not look miserable? He only looks miserable when he doesn't have a plan, as when Sue left him, or when he failed to stop the Skrull Aging ray. (Also from a practical viewpoint, new readers would not buy the comic if Reed spent every issue in despair, and kept talking about: Marvel discovered that in the divorce story.)

  3. He sees his family in similar despair.
    Sue realizes that their lives cannot go on like this (e.g. in FF223, 224, 227, 229-231, and her desperate and failing Stepford Wife gambit). He realizes that he will always fail to cure Ben (FF239,244), and Ben is never at peace (FF249), and it's is all Reed's fault. Finally, it must seem to Reed that Johnny can never find happiness in the team (e.g. FF244). He sees his family as trapped and (under the surface) as miserable as just as he is.

  4. He freely chooses "almost certain death."
    So he decides to take them on an extended trip to the negative zone, a.k.a. "almost certain death" (see FF annual 6). When any sane person enters the negative zone (which you never do by choice) your number one goal is to get out as quickly as they can - if you can! Your number two goal is that nobody sees you because they will try to follow you back and kill you. The negative zone is not something you visit unless have no choice, or you want to die!

  5. His goal? A long, slow trip to see what they can find.
    This is not just a short trip like before, when they had no choice, and tried to hide, and barely escaped with their lives, but a long, extended trip, to see what they can find! And you know what they always find in the negative zone? Annihilus, who wants to kill all that lives, especially the FF! Blastaar, the murderous living bomb! Stygorr, who's goal is to kill anyone who invades his realm!

  6. He is advertising his presence!!
    There are very good reasons why the negative zone portal has multiple massive doors and only survives because the monsters on the other side don't know where it is. So Reed, this time, has created a half mile long gigantic tunnel in the other side, leading straight to the Baxter Building!
  7. He removes all locks and barriers!!!
    Reed tells Ben that he his new design "eliminates the need" for locks and barriers! No locks and barriers!!!

  8. He creates Hell's bottomless pit.
    For this special journey he has created the new easy-access entrance in the form of a great pit that leads down to the realm of death (literally: the realm is ruled by Annihilus, "the living death who walks.). The Biblical symbolism should be obvious: the negative zone is Reed Richards' version of hell, a realm of demons and death. Reed has created the great bottomless pit, the abyss spoken of in Revelation, and plans to jump straight down there and take his family with him. It is probably just coincidence that Reed's new vehicle looks like a highly ornamental crucifix (shown diagonally, but the writing encourages the reader to rotate the page) and it then closes up in the shape of a coffin.

  9. He makes sure he can't be rescued.
    The majority of times that Reed has gone there, he ends up trapped! And then he usually relies on the other team members to rescue him from this side. So this time, for the first time ever, he's taking them all with him!

  10. He leaves Franklin unprotected.
    In FF249, the previous adventure, an enemy just blasted a hole in the side of the Baxter Building and Spider-man could just swing on in. So now Reed leaves Franklin with Alicia there!. Alicia is blind and un-powered. Ben alerted Reed to the fact that Annihilus is a very great danger. Reed must know that Annihilus has a special interest in Franklin. So Reed leaves Franklin unprotected by the entrance to the Negative Zone! Why Franklin? Galactus is Franklin's herald. If Galactus unleashes the wrath of the galaxies on Reed the Franklin has no hope. At least Annihilus would make it quick. But the goal of the Skrulls and Shi'ar would be to make the guilty suffer. And remember that although Franklin slows down time (allegedly), beneath it all, Franklin is an adult and would be tried as an adult. He hides in a child's form, but don't let that fool you.

  11. He notices something going the other way, but does not care!
    As they leave, Reed notes that something powerful may have come back in the other direction: something from hell may be heading back to his home. Statistically, based on past experience, it is most likely to be Annihilus. He does not seem to care!

  12. When deep inside the zone he acts like he wants to die.
    See commentary to FF254 and FF256. Time and again Reed behaves erratically, as if death is always his goal.

  13. The reason he gives for visiting makes no sense.
    Reed says he wants to explore its "endless wonders." Reed must have a zillion things to explore, and all of them are less dangerous than the negative zone, so why choose that? Obviously he has some free time. Then may I suggest a higher priority: His own son! His son who can potentially destroy galaxies (see FF 141). Whatever he can learn from the negative zone is nothing compared to that. And Franklin has the power of Annihilus' cosmic control rod in his blood, so by studying Franklin you get to know the neg zone at the same time. And apart from the scientific reasons, the parental duty reasons and the save-the-world reasons, there is the little matter of a promise. Reed said in issue 229, regarding Franklin's powers, "I'll never stop pursuing the problem until I've resolved it." Whatever happened that that promise?

  14. When he gets back he avoids looking for Franklin.
    See commentary to FF256. Then, to keep Franklin "safe" he takes him to a more dangerous place, where he ends up in Hell (Reed's original plan, but this time a different Hell?) Maybe he didn't specifically plan the hell thing, but surely he did a background check on the neighbors? At the very least he should have remembered the last time they moved out - and ended up over a pit to the center of the Earth. Note the parallels: the high tech infernal abyss, the Mole Man's high tech pit, and being pulled underground by demons in FF276. Surely Reed cannot have consciously intended this, but unconsciously he is acting like Doom (foreshadowing their final confrontation in FF annual 20).
The idea that Reed just wants to explore the neg zone does not add up. Is this an unconscious death wish? Or a desperate attempt to prove himself by jumping into certain death, with his family to witness his brilliant escape (or die with him)? Or has he just gone insane? You decide.
into the zone

Sue is not entirely innocent either: this is what she said just before leaving Franklin: "the Baxter Building is no place for a normal child."

Fantastic Four 252

Then what did she do? She abandons him in the Baxter building!!!!

Any claim of innocence is lost at this point. She knows better. The Negative Zone visit was not necessary.

As for the ideal home for Franklin, Sue is correct that the Baxter Building is no place for a normal child, but Franklin is not normal, he is superhuman. Also, Franklin has never been in danger because of being in the Baxter Building (it's one of the best protected buildings in the world). He has only ever come to harm because his parents neglected him: at least two of his attacks were because they gave Agatha Harkness privileged access as a nanny instead of raising Franklin themselves.

Then, in an act of what can only be madness, Reed recently removed the only defenses Franklin had. What was Reed thinking??

And still Reed does not keep his promise made in FF229 (to find out about Franklin's powers as his top priority). Until Reed keeps his promise, Franklin will not be safe and neither will the team. But neither Sue nor Reed are thinking clearly at this point: we are nearing the end of Act 4, and everything is going wrong.

The zeitgeist, and a world's first
The 1980s saw a growing awareness of homosexuality in the media.

"I was once told by a gay friend of mine (and I can't find where he cited this from originally) that Fantastic Four #251 by John Byrne features the first instance of homosexuality being mentioned in a mainstream comic book. Juliette D'Angelo pines for actor Grey Landers, but then dismisses the notion by thinking that he must be gay." - Sean Kleefeld
Gray Landers

On the subject of gay rights, Kleefeld notes that everyone says the Fantastic Four is about family, yet it is not a standard nuclear family: Ben and Johnny are not children, and others can be accepted into the inner circle (e.g. Alicia, Crystal). So he grew up believing that a family is about long term commitment and love, not specifically male, female and children.

Other points to note

Issue 252: well, what did Reed expect?

Fantastic Four 252
Fantastic Four 252

Not only did Reed leave Franklin undefended, but in FF245 he had made Franklin powerless. Annihilus has a special interest in Franklin (see FF140), he rules a large part of the Negative Zone, and his greatest desire is to reach our universe. So this attack was hardly unexpected. It could be argued that Franklin's worst enemy is Reed, and Sue is partly responsible because she always deferred to Reed instead of following her intuition. At the same time that Annihilus was attacking Franklin and Alicia, Reed was saying that nothing is what it appears. Is this really an innocent trip to the Negative Zone (if such a thing is possible), or is Reed's subconscious giving us a clue to the real nature of this "science trip"?

Reed as Hamlet
On a personal note, I have always been a huge fan of Reed Richards. of all the team, I have only ever identified with Reed (until recently). Reed is my avatar on the Fantastic Four Comic books forum. I began my Reed Richards page because I was annoyed that modern comics do not portray Reed as such a hero.

But when making this web site I am looking for patterns and themes, and I am shocked by what I see: Reed Richards does not come off well at all.

Reed really is the Hamlet character. He is sincere, we care for him and we see how he suffers, we see his heroic nobility. But as the story develops we begin to wonder: did Hamlet really see the ghost? Why did Hamlet not show remorse when he killed Polonius? Was Hamlet faking being mad or was he really truly insane? Is Reed like his father? Not evil, but not quite a hero either, despite moments of great nobility? Only the reader can judge.

Other points to note

Issue 253: when strongly held beliefs do not match the evidence

Fantastic Four 253

All the Negative Zone stories revolve around deep secrets that the people either cannot see or refuse to admit, because they cannot handle the truth. Is this a parallel to Reed's own mental state, e.g. the decision to enter the zone?

In FF254 Reed meets a race who have found their promised land but reject it. For Reed, Franklin is the promised land: Franklin is the future, Franklin has the power and secrets that Reed both wants and needs. But Reed won't enter that new, bigger world. Reed keeps Franklin at arms' length because Franklin has too much power, and Franklin has a greater claim on Sue's love. By putting Franklin first, Reed would no longer be number 1. Note that the head alien is called number 1.

Other points to note

curling iron

Issue 254: Reed's death wish?

Fantastic Four 254

This issue is different from all others. It's the only time in the 321 issue series that we see Reed and Sue in bed (this is where they conceive the new baby). It's also the one that's dripping with evidence that Reed is consciously planning suicide.

  1. He leaves the ship far behind - yet Sue's invisibility could have hidden it (we have established that such things are now easier for her).
  2. He insists that "this should be a peaceful, easy visit", when all their experience of the negative zone says death hides around every corner.
  3. He is irritable (to Ben, "please don't cause trouble") despite his claims of safety, and this journey being in effect a holiday.
  4. This is the first time in their journey that they travel in disguise.
  5. Reed's explanation of odd energy readings is either nonsense (high energy means danger, not safety), or a diversion: the message "unusual energy reading yet perfectly safe" conveys zero information.
  6. When it becomes clear there is danger, Reed still seems very keen on entering the tower , and he does not call the others (luckily they show up anyway)
  7. He is conscious of danger of being drugged, and that different physical laws mean his scanners are not reliable, but he eats and drinks everything anyway, even though it tastes (and presumably smells) drugged.
  8. The evidence continues in the commentary to 256.

Why is it not more obvious? In real life such plans are always hidden. Nobody says "well friends, today I will kill myself." This is especially true of a comic, where many readers are young, others started reading recently and are unaware of the 20 year back story, and still others buy the book for an entertaining good guys versus bad guys story. This story works on all levels.

Other points to note

Issue 255: Alicia can't take it any more

Fantastic Four 255

Alicia needs Ben to protect her, and he is never there. And his neglect leads to her being tortured, it almost killed her.Ben constantly puts off proposing, due to his self confidence issues. Being away having to save the world is understandable, but Ben did not need to go on this speculative adventure. And he knew that the Negative Zone entrance was unguarded because Reed told him so.This is when Alicia loses hope. The next time Ben chooses to stay away without a good reason, Alicia will find somebody else, somebody less afraid of commitment. (Next, Ben stays behind on Battleworld when the others come back.)

Meanwhile Reed gets his wish, almost: he almost dies (the cover says he is dead). But Reed will always fight: it's a matter of pride. A death wish is not a simple suicide: it is simply an attraction to deadly danger.

Other points to note

Issue 256: Reed's death wish, continued


Note that Ben genuinely loves Alicia. His feelings for her are real. His neglect is due to his personal issues, his deep fear that she cannot really love him. But they need each other and it is only his tragic personal issues that force them apart. After this turning point, Ben will finally face his issues on Battleworld, and ironically Alicia will take that as final proof that he has abandoned her.

This issue we see yet more evidence for a death wish:

  1. When released he takes their ship - in which they could survive for years - right up to the most dangerous part of the negative zone. He then insists they all stand outside, next to where matter and antimatter collide!
  2. When they arrive back, he avoids looking for Franklin, in order to put out fires - which the Torch can easily do. He tells the torch to stop, in case he starts fires, yet Johnny is absorbing fires, and his flame has complete control (e.g. flaming in gasoline vapor, shaving Namor, etc.)
  3. Reed tells Captain Marvel not to help, yet she could find Franklin at literally the speed of light!

At best, Reed is irrational, at worst he not only wants to die himself, but wants to take his family with him.

The end of Act 4: black costumes for their darkest hour

With the discovery that Reed's actions have almost killed his son, we enter the team's darkest hour. The final stages of Act 4, the act where it all gets worse and worse. Soon Sue will lose their baby, Reed will destroy their home, facilitate genocide,  and more. To symbolize the blackness their uniforms turn black.

The interlude
To see the importance of the Negative Zone issues (251-256) we now an interlude where the FF barely feature:
  • In FF257  we see that Galactus, Frankln's herald, is dying. This is a cosmic issue of galactic proportions. It is then approriate that we see Johnny, the future leader, at his lowest ever point.
  • In FF258 the interlude turns to Doom, and we see his character deepen and develop as he develops compassion for his people.
Big things are happening.

When the darkness will end
In act 5, when things begin to go right, the uniforms will begin to lighten: Reed and Sue will adopt civilian clothing (until they make the disastrous decision to neglect Franklin again). Ms Marvel (She-Thing) will have a white design on her black costume, with white sash, as well as the white neck and belt the others have. Ben, who takes center stage, is mostly orange anyway and his orange will burst outwards more than before. Johnny is naturally shining and bright rather than dark: he will spend more time aflame (especially from 321 when he makes his fateful decision that triggers the end of continuity, and then he cannot turn off). That just leaves Crystal, who will be suited to black because she's going through her own troubled period - wanting Johnny yet unable to have him.

Issue 257: does Reed actually care for Franklin?

Fantastic Four 257

Fantastic Four 257

What is Reed thinking????

Franklin was never in danger by being in the Baxter Building, that was the only thing that gave him any protection since Reed left him powerless!

Franklin has only ever been in danger because his parents neglected him. Mainly through giving him to Agatha Harkness (Agatha delivered Franklin to Annihilus and later her son Nicholas Scratch possessed the child)

So what does Reed suggest? Take Franklin to an unprotected house, and then leave him while Reed goes to work each day. What a great idea. What could possibly go wrong?

Reed's actions catch up with him
As soon as Reed gets back from his suicide attempt he is arrested to stand trial on the charge of genocide. He disappears, after apparently dying in FF255. Note the irony: he resists spending time with Franklin, because he believes he must always be present to lead the team: then his actions cause him to lose his mind (mental absence) and then to be physically absent.

The family is tearing apart
In the same issue we see Reed, Sue and Johnny all move out: within a few days (Marvel Time) Ben will have gone as well, choosing to stay on Battle World. The underlying stresses are tearing them apart: the team cannot stand being together for long.

Franklin and Galactus
Galactus is Franklin's herald (see notes to FF74). Franklin has never been hurt like this, so the issue begins with Galactus saying "I am dying". In order to survive he must destroy the Skrull throne world, triggering galactic civil war and the events that will end the Skrull threat forever (see annuals 18 and 19). This is big. it also illustrates how Galactus is a force of nature, bringing balance to the universe, as we shall see in FF262.

The Cold War
The Skrulls, shape changers, always represented communists. In 1961, communist spies and saboteurs might be anywhere! By 1966 it was clear that America was forging ahead economically, and so we have the symbolism of Galactus heading toward the Skrull throne world to destroy it. That time the Skrulls buy time, but fate has decreed that the evil empire must fall. Now, in the early 1980s, it is clear to all commentartors that Communist Russia is terminally weak. Symbolizing that, Galactus finally reaches the Skrull world and destroys it. The Skrull and Russian empires will limp along for a while yet, but they are "dead men walking" - they are just waiting for a reformer to help them start again. (See annual 119 for the Skrull version of Gorbechev.)

Other points to note

Annual 17: American militarism (and, decisions have consequences)

Fantastic Four
        annual 17

The Reagan annuals: empires at war
Ronald Reagan was known for his military spending, including his "Star Wars" program, and his "strong" attitude to America's enemies. So all of Byrne's Reagan-era annuals are about empires at war:

Milk is always the symbol of what we eat and drink as a young child. American children are raised to recite the pledge of allegiance every day, to see gun ownership as a moral right, to see the nation as the world's policeman, and so on. To other nations, this is disturbing. The metaphor of Skrull milk is perfect.

Another way to see annual 17 is that Reed (America) should have dealt more decisively with the Russians (Skrulls). Instead, he literally kicked the problem "into the long grass" and it didn't really go away. Similarly, annual 18 and 19 are about the end of the cold war, about the rise of peace. So these annuals can be seen both as a condemnation and vindication of Reagan. The Great American Novel is not polemical, it is simply here to make us think.

Decisions have consequences
We have seen before that Reed's method (conflict) does not solve anything. Here we see that this is true in the long term: even if we think a problem is solved, then it comes back to bite us.

Sue's method, for comparison
What else was Reed supposed to do?as there any other way to stop the Skrulls in FF2? Let's see what Sue would have done. In FF37 we saw Sue's method against the Skrulls:

  1. She goes to them (something she again recommended in the aging ray arc).
  2. She uses the Skrulls' own laws - the king condemned Morat
  3. She realized that revenge does not work
  4. She helped the Skrulls, showing that the FF are not a threat
In FF204-214 we see another example of Reed rejecting Sue's methods. If Reed had listened to Sue and paid more attention to Franklin then the problem could have been solved easily. Maybe Franklin could have zapped them, maybe he could have found a better solution (like the one in FF annuals 18-19), but either way, listening to Sue would have made things much, much easier.

The splash page
Things are so bad that simply still being together is a reason to celebrate. Note the irony: Johnny says that the only thing that could be better is if Galactus joined Weight Watchers. Yet the irony is that Galactus did shrink and was about to stop eating planets, but Reed saved him, and immediately when they get back (at the end of FF257) Reed is put on trial for exactly that.

The Great American Novel
This is an affectionate look at the American "flyover" states. We see a small town, the roads, the fields, a dairy, a military base, Just as FF4 was a guide to the city, this is a guide to the country. Although the people become monsters they don't mean any harm, they just want to be left alone. The theme of this annual, that decisions have very long term effects, is a warning to every politician, especially in a nation the size of the USA.

Other points to note

Issue 258: even Doom cares more

Doom cares

This issue provides a stark contrast with Reed from the previous issue, FF257. Dr Doom cares more for his adopted son than Reed does for his real son. "First and foremost" comes Kristoff. Throughout the issue, Doom is shown seeking out the opinions of others. True, he considers everybody as inferior to himself, and he is ruthlessly violent if he disagrees, but he does care and he does listen. Doom delegates. He trains others to replace him. Even the most arrogant man in the universe understand this.

Other points to note

Issue 259: Choices


This issue is entitled choices. It is subtitled a "bold new beginning" for the Fantastic Four.

Reed has finally decided to leave the Baxter Building.

Fantastic Four 259

Other points to note:

Issue 260: arrogance is fatal

Fantastic Four 260

After seeing that Doom understands delegation, we see his fatal flaw: he is still arrogant. He wants everybody to see how great he is, so he will not let his servant destroy the team except on his terms. This arrogance leads to resentment, and the servant turns against the master. Doom loses everything. He will never again regain his position and authority.

Note that this classic arc, including the destruction of Doom at his most powerful, takes place without Reed. Will Reed take the message when he gets back? Will he now understand that he can delegate and the team can still function?

Other points to note

This is the clearest proof in the whole series that Doom's goal is not to destroy the FF, but to humiliate Reed Richards: destroying them is just a means to that end. hence he does not simply shoot them, gas them, etc.

Issue 261: love is dying

Fantastic Four 261

The opposite of love is not hate but indifference. Reed and Sue at this stage are not close. Reed has been kidnapped and Sue does not even notice! A day or so has passed, but Sue has no interest in being near Reed and only notices when something draws his absence to her attention. She searches out of duty, but she seems more angry that he disappeared than concerned. Because whenever something bad happens, it's usually something Reed caused in the first place, and this time is no different. The title "The Search for Reed Richards" reflects the weakness of Sue's marriage: can she find the old Reed, she once fell in love with?

1945 and 1983

The splash page is a reminder of the famous photo from 1945, where a sailor returning from war grabs a nurse and kisses her. This link is reinforced by other elements in the story.


Namor and Sue probably had a brief affair when Sue was a teenager (see the notes to FF 291). This would have reached its climax in May 1945, when the allies gained victory of Germany. That was probably the month when Johnny Storm was conceived. Here are the reasons why this issue should be seen as a reminder of their first meeting:
neck visible
I am not suggesting that Byrne intended this: his words tell a different, more mundane story. But unconsciously he felt that these were the best images to choose, and Namor was the one who had to be here at this moment. On an unconscious level he drew a story about loneliness and Sue's past relationship with Namor. I am not exploring what Byrne consciously intended, I am exploring the 30 year story that is bigger than anyone writer.
In summary, this period when love is dying and Sue has to face the hardest adult responsibilities, causes her to remember when love was first awakened. It reminds us of her choice she gave up the passionate but dangerous Namor to be with the frustrating yet so human Reed.

Ben's pain
On the surface, John Byrne's Ben Grimm appears relaxed and at peace, in contrast to Reed and Sue at this point. But look closer and Ben's depression is constant throughout acts 1 to 4. We see that here in FF261 just as we have seen it before.


Ben is a three dimensional character. Like most long term depressed people, he generally hides it. But his inner pain will soon reach a climax.

One year in just five days
We are approaching the end of Act 34 and events are happening at break-neck speed. Disaster follows disaster, sometimes in a matter of days. FF206-214 took just three days (the time for the aging ray to kill the team), and FF251-261 takes about 5 days:

So 251-262 is one year of stories (our time) in around five days, our time! This is a crazy pace that cannot continue or something will break. Meanwhile John Byrne is running late for a deadline (see FF262), implying that his life takes place in real world time.

A problem with chronology?
In FF262 Sue says that FF244 (when Reed saved Galactus) was "months ago": but this was a unique case of a comic book character talking to a real world character about chronology. There are at least three obvious explanations:

Issue 262: good and evil, and ultimate cosmic truth

Fantastic Four 262

For the context to this see "Galactus and the end of the world" in the notes to FF 213.

Did John Byrne remember this correctly?
The Watcher said that the memory was already fading. By the time the comic dialog was added we can expect it would contain errors.

Did Galactus need to be saved?
Galactus is a phenomenon, nothing has ever been able to stop him. Whenever he appears to die he always comes back in some way. The High Evolutionary even dissipated Galactus into an energy field, and still he came back. It is absurd to think that Galactus could have been ended forever simply because he grew tired!

Then what did Reed do?
Reed showed Galactus that Reed is his friend. That is why Galactus defended him at the trial: to help "that mortal I name friend." Incidentally, this ends Galactus as a threat. He is now Reed's friend. While it is conceivable that Galactus may need to attack Earth in the future he does not want to, and will take any other alternative if possible. Somebody with Reed's mind can always find some other solution. The Galactus-versus-Earth subplot is over.

Was Reed to correct to try and save Galactus?
Reed was "steadying the ark." See Biblical book of judges: the Ark of the Covenant was a symbol of God (kind of like Galactus). It was carried in front of the people of Israel. At one point the cart stumbled and a nearby priest put out his hand to steady the ark. He was struck dead by God. Why? The idea that God needs help is far more dangerous than the idea that God might appear to fail to our limited understanding. But Galactus is not God, he does not require worship, so he found Reed's efforts to be merely a sign of friendship.

Was Reed good or evil?

Reed Richards
Reed's logic is faulty: he says that Galactus is not good or evil, therefore he is not evil, therefore he is good. If we ever wanted proof that Reed has mentally fallen apart y the end of Act 4, then here it is. As to why the Watcher agrees, we will come to this in a moment.

Odin says that Reed was not criminal, because Galactus is a test, just a s the dangerous seas made the Vikings strong. .But listen to who is speaking! The Norse gods were a pessimistic lot, where all of life was a cold, harsh, negative thing, where death in battle was the best you could hope for, and even the gods would eventually die. Odin is simply a pessimist who believes that death and annihilation is good. We may have well heard testimony from Chthulu. Let us move on.

Galactus said that Reed is his friend, with pure intentions and [therefore] his deed was honorable and good. Yet Galactus is above good and evil (as stated in his first appearance and repeated in this issue), so why did he use the word "good"? His only concern is his own needs, and he speaks simply because Reed is his friend.

beyond good and

scale is an illusionWhat is cosmic truth?
Why, then, does the Watcher say that Galactus is "the cosmic truth"? Note that the Watcher hangs his head when he says that. We'll come to that in a moment. The best guide we have to cosmic truth is the final story in FF annual 23: the story surveys all levels of reality, and comes to the final conclusion that scale is an illusion and the highest plane of existence is whichever one you currently occupy. So the cosmic truth is that the cosmic truth is nothing special: if 2 + 2 = 4 then that is true wherever you find it. It is dangerous to believe in a higher truth takes precedence. Is there a place where 2 + 2 = something else? (See George Orwell's 1984: freedom is the freedom to say that 2+2=4 regardless of what the controlling party may say.)

Another reason why the Watcher hangs his head: while the Watcher may appear to be more truthful and honorable than others, he is not. Ben saw through him immediately (e.g. in FF188). The Watcher has even broken his word (his oath of non-intervention) on several occasions. He cannot look somebody in the eye and claim to be morally superior.

Galactus as cosmic bacteria
Galactus cannot choose either good or evil (see the last page of the story, where the Watcher again hangs his head). Galactus is simply a test that keeps populations healthy. Ironically, in this story an attack on Galactus is compared to bacteria on a human skin. Yet the moral analogy is that Galactus is the bacteria: his attacks are necessary to maintain a good immune system. Yet a moral person will act to prevent bacteria from wiping out whole populations. Reed did the opposite. He decided that bacteria are good (true) therefore they should not be opposed (false).

For more about the nature of Galactus as cosmic tester, see the discussion by FF74.

Lilandra understands morality. Unlike the passive Watcher and destructive Galactus, Lilandra says she is pledged to preserve all life. She is  scared by Galactus (rightly so), but is also not impressed by his amorality.

equality and sexism are a major part of America and this is the Great American Novel. So Lilandra plays the role of females throughout the Fantastic Four: beautiful but out of her depth, instructed by the men. All the witnesses are male (there may be doubt over Eternity, so Galactus calls him "father" just so we know. Where are the mothers of the dead Skrulls? Like in some ancient court, only the men's testimonies are heard. The only female who looks like she might be a witness (Frankie Raye) is actually a herald for the man, Galactus. Yet Lilandra is correct and all the men are wrong! She is the only one who is devoted to saving lives! The woman speaks the truth despite the male sophistry (Reed), amorality (Galactus) and love of war (Odin)! She is only finally persuaded due to mind control. And what of Sue? By the end of Act 4 (most recently the torture of Alicia and Franklin), Sue is so emotionally beaten that her only role is to be as cheerleader for her husband

Eternity does not say Reed was right. He simply says that Galactus should exist. Alarm bells should be ringing at his strange choice of words: Eternity says that "mortal life hangs in the balance, because your truth is doubted." Excuse me? Mortal lives hang in the balance all the time: that is why it is called mortal life. People die all the time because of false understanding, so why defend Reed? Look forward to FF351: on a cosmic scale, Reed Richards matters. (Because Earth matters, and Earth matters to other planets because of the superheroes. Reed is the one who triggered the superhero flood gates opening, and his team is at the cutting edge of everything that happens, and he puts himself right at the front.) The message of Eternity is not that Reed is right, but that Reed should be saved.

Lilandra again
Finally Lilandra and the others were brainwashed into accepting Reed's innocence.

The Watcher
The Watcher summarizes the trial by saying that the correctness of Reed's decision will never be questioned (except by fan boys like me, LOL). That is not the same as saying that Reed is innocent or that killing billions of people is suddenly OK.

The zeitgeist: religion
These recent issues were written in the early 1980s, when American politics, after moving toward secularism in the 1960s and 1970s, turned back toward religion. This was due to the famous wedge issues of evolution and abortion that gave the Bible Belt to the Republicans, and the rise of the tele-evangelist and other trends. Many (arguably all) of these issues of the Fantastic Four have underlying religious themes:

So it is only right that the next issue should be...
next: The Messiah

Other points

Issue 263: good intentions are not enough

Fantastic Four 263

This issue is about a false messiah: a man who, like Reed, thinks he is doing the best thing possible, saving the world. But in fact he's making it worse.

Sue looks to be in love?
When a woman is neglected by her husband she will often do her best to be loving. Here we see Sue doing her best to act like all is well. Yet still Reed abandons her when she needs him.

How much time passes
Most of the second half of act 4 passes extremely quickly, with just a day or so per issue. But two months pass here. Reed can no longer complain that he is to busy for Franklin. He had two months without any major danger.

Reed's willful neglect
Franklin wants to talk and play, but instead Reed leaves, to go and potter around in the Baxter Building. Reed would rather spend his time on anything other than Franklin, his own son.

Reed's face
Without dangers, Reed loses his sense of purpose. Notice how his "living in a small house" face is even more haggard than his regular face, reflecting his inner state.

The Great American Novel
What could be more American than Disney? This issue is the FF's homage to the brand, though of course it cannot use the actual characters. Note that Maas (any relation to "Mouse" may be coincidental?) is not a villain, he simply did what he thought was best - the entire issue is sympathetic. It's the robots who go too far. Disney world is of course famous for its animatronics and underground tunnels for staff.

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

The expanding Earth
"Alden Maas" is an anagram of "Neal Adams," the artist famous for his influence on comic art, on creators rights, and his belief that the earth is expanding.

Neal Adams


The above image from Wikipedia shows an extreme version of the theory: actual expansion if it happens may be far less. The theory doesn't sound as crazy if you put it another way: the Earth's core is becoming less dense. This comic was dated February 1984. In November 1984 a reputable science magazine published an article summarizing the evidence for expansion. In short, continental drift fits better if the Earth is expanding. If you try to fit the continents on a modern sized planet there are gaps, and these gaps reflect newer crust.

"The geological and geophysical implications of such Earth expansion are so profound that most geologists and geophysicists shy away from them. In order to fit with the reconstruction that seems to be required, the volume of the Earth was only 51 per cent of its present value, and the surface area 64 per cent of that of the present day, 200 million years ago. Established theory says that the Earth's interior is stable, an inner core of nickel iron surrounded by an outer layer that behaves like a fluid. Perhaps we are completely wrong and the inner core is in some state nobody has yet imagined, a state that is undergoing a transition from a high-density state to a lower density state, and pushing out the crust, the skin of the Earth, as it expands." (Owen, Hugh; "The Earth Is Expanding and We Don't Know Why, "New Scientist, p. 27, November 22, 1984)

While Owen's view is of modest expansion, more extreme theories seem to contradict the evidence: they suggest that all continental drift is driven by expansion, and that the earth was much smaller. However there is evidence for other causes of continental drift, and a much smaller earth would have noticeably higher gravity on the surface which would show up in dinosaurs finding it harder t grow to such sizes. This is reflected in the comic: while in a world of comics an expanding earth is perfectly reasonable, the man supporting it goes much too far.

Issue 264: the answer to all their problems

Fantastic Four 264

The deeper problem

To see the importance of this issue, step back and see the big 27 year story. Reed's story is his need to put his family first. Eventually he must step down as leader. This issue reminds us of his lack of social skills. In this issue we see that everyone is separate and alone, exhausted or paralysed. Reed is not on top of the situation. In particular he's abandoning his pregnant wife. Reed believes that he cannot make time for Franklin because he (Reed) is needed to lead the team, but that is not true. He's not a good leader. His story is of his need to become a good father instead.

Reed's life

Meanwhile, Ben is crippled by self doubt, even now. Ben's story is to come to love himself as he is: he will finally find his natural place at the top.

Ben's life

But there is a problem: the Fantastic Four has always relied on Reed's science. Reed can come up with brilliant machines, using alien technology: in particular he understand the sub-space portal, the secret of faster than light travel. Ben, though highly intelligent, is not in that league. How can he lead the team without that technology? In this issue we have the answer: for the first time, the team and the Mole Man are allies.

This is the turning point in their relationship with the Mole Man. In annual 13 he ceased to see himself as their enemy. In this issue he becomes their ally. In FF296 he will be Ben's friend.

The Mole Man has access to far more technology than Reed: he is a brilliant scientist (as we are told in FF296) with access to everything the Deviants left behind. And finally, in FF313-314 we will see that Project Pegasus leads directly to the Mole Man's realm, and he has his own perfectly safe user friendly sub-space portals. When Ben takes over the FF he will have all the technology he needs. All he needs is to strengthen his friendship with the Mole Man.

The Great American Novel
Friendship with the Mole Man can be seen as an analogy for American power. Reed's reliance on technology is mirrored and exaggerated by Alden Maas: the guy is so American that his island is shaped like a star and he is surrounded by Disney-type characters. He thinks he can save the world on his own, but ends up hurting Ben and Johnny. A better way to lead the world is through friendship: that way you avoid becoming a tyrant, and get access to all the power and technology you need.

Acting like children

Reed is acting like a child, not seeing the bigger picture: his responsibility to his family, because his family can solve all his problems. he is not supporting the,. Instead he is like a child, going off to play. This is symbolised in three ways:
  1. The main story is about a man who was so obsessed with toys that he went completely off the rails.
  2. At the end we find that Alden Maas died long ago: a subtle reference to the rumors that Disney wanted his body cryonically frozen when he died. Disney's family has denied this, but the myth is too strong to die: the myth of the man who could not face reality (in this case the reality of death).
  3. Art the end, Reed runs away to another world: Secret Wars starts (for him) in The Thing issue 10.
    Secret Wars
  4. Secret Wars existed as a way to sell toys for Mattel. Jack Kirby's Marvel Comics appealed to adults, but by now they are just vehicles for selling children's toys.

Note the pose when they leave for Secret Wars. it is the same pose as used on the back of oversized Fantastic Four Treasury Edition, intended to show the FF at their most noble.

looking up
This in turn is based on Reed's moment of absolute triumph: where he reaches the moon in issue 13, and the Watcher accepts him, and tells him he will never be alone.
FF 13
But Secret Wars is a mockery of Reed's destiny. He faces the other way. He runs from responsibility, leaving his wife and son (the ones who can save them all) behind. Secret Wars is a denial of what the Watcher told him. By fleeing his wife and son, running away to (effectively) play with toys instead, he is not there when he could have saved the new baby. By rejecting his family he chooses to reject the Watcher's wisdom and make himself alone.

Other points to note

Issue 265: Reed would rather fix the house than fix his family

Fantastic Four 265Fantastic Four 265Fantastic Four 265

This issue is about Reed's refusal to be a real man. In the past he was a chauvinist, and his family came crashing down round him. now he has lost confidence, but instead of treating Sue as an equal he goes to the opposite extreme: he spends his time on the house, and chooses She-Hulk, a woman who is stronger then him, one who towers over him. Reed still cannot see women as equals.

"The house that Reed built"
What has Reed been doing with all this free time? Spending time on his son as promised? Making Sue feel special? No, working in his shed. He made high tech devices to protect his family, when the only power than can really protect his family is his son, if only he cared enough to notice.

And now, as the high profile leader, he's been called away on business. He spends time on the house and on his job, but not on his family.

How essential is it to fix up the Baxter Building? Reed and Sue and Johnny all live elsewhere now, and Ben can look after himself. What is Reed really doing there? Only fixing the security? Or is he making plans for something? See notes by FF279.

A family drama
Note that superpowers are just a McGuffin, an excuse to tell a particular story. This story is really a familiar tale of a father not having time for his family. The super powers just make it more colorful.

Peter's final issue
This is the end for Peter Petruski's story of coming unglued. he has failed at everything.

Paste Pot Pete

This is his last attempt to do something, on his own because nobody has any respect for him. He needs to prove himself but can only defeat himself.

Paste Pot Pete

He fades to black and is never seen again (in the five act story).

Other points to note

Issue 266: dramatic contrast

This is a flashback issue, so we can see the contrast with what happens next. This issue forms the calm before the storm, so we can appreciate how far the family has fallen in a short time since the optimism of FF232, and how much worse it's about to become.

The importance of being cosmetically aware
This was a light hearted story that Sue and Ben told to Alicia later, so it would be perfect to tell to Franklin as well. It would reinforce the simplistic view that Franklin has of romance: that men should automatically love women. Note the (pun) punchline: Karisma was "cosmetically aware": even she understood these basic superficial rules. Contrast that with Reed's neglect of Sue: he looks so deep that he can't see the obvious surface things - a man should pay attention to his wife. So the stage is set for what happens the next issue.

Fantastic Four 266

This story reminds us that things are getting worse and worse. This story is set at the around the time of FF232, when Sue was trying to be happy and pretty for Reed, to make everything right. They tried to act happy, to joke around, to act like everything is right. But now we can see the contrast: instead everything went wrong, and it's about to get far worse.


This is the only Byrne issue not penciled by Byrne: it was an inventory issue kept back for emergencies, and penciled by Kerry Gammill. Byrne explained on his website:
"Marvel used to get inventory issues done, against such times that the writer or artist or all of the above might get behind and a Deadline Doom would loom. (Some of you will recall that what should have been my second issue of UNCANNY X-MEN was one of these. Even tho UNCANNY was bimonthly, the Powers That Were were so concerned about it missing deadlines that a couple of inventory jobs had been commissioned. One ended up being what should have been Cockrum’s penultimate issue, and one, because of some kind of legal constraints I never understood, had to be used for 110.) Altho I knew I would never need one, I scripted an inventory issue for FANTASTIC FOUR. It languished in a drawer for a while, until I decided we should use it just so people could see the great job Kerry did. (Obviously, since I inked it myself, saving time was not a consideration.)"

So is FF266 "just a fill-in" to be ignored? No, it was written by Byrne, there was no rush, and Byrne decided when to use it, so it still counts. Indeed, it is crucial to what happens next issue.

Issue 267: Sue loses the baby

Fantastic Four 267

Why does Sue lose the baby? Because Reed exposed Sue to radiation in the negative zone.

Franklin and the unborn baby

Years later it was revealed that the baby did not die. Her consciousness left her tiny body, but it went elsewhere to a different body far away. Most fans consider this a horrible retcon that cheapens a powerful story.  But seen another way, it heightens the tragedy. This is why.

The long term story structure

The story of the baby (later named Valeria) is an example of how the Great American Novel has a large scale structure, where every issue matters. Even though it was not planned that way, and the connections may not be obvious at the time.

The baby was to be their second child. To see what happened, consider the first child's point of view. Sub-space plays a key role. so we need to go right back to act 3:

Franklin and sub-space

You can see where Franklin's mind is leading. At this point Franklin is aged 15 in Real Time, but emotionally he is younger. He has been neglected and put in danger by his father for his whole life. He is scared. And now he is about to be replaced. A sweet baby girl will now take his parents' affection. And now the final straw: the pregnancy is causing his mother great pain! What if it kills her?? A scared 15 year old with stunted emotional growth will come to an obvious conclusion.

What would Franklin do?

So Franklin sees the baby as a threat (unconsciously at least). But he also knows that his mother loves the baby, so he can hardly kill it. Let us see what he as done when faced with crises in the past:

So Franklin can fix things, but how?

OK so Franklin could unconsciously remove the baby to another body, but where?

So by FF267, the loss of the baby, we know that

  1. Franklin will remove the baby, without hurting it, if he can.
  2. And he can.
  3. Franklin can easily transfer the consciousness to one of those dimensions
  4. In another dimension the baby could grow up normally
  5. If there is anybody else involved in this process it might well be Lockjaw

So the story of saving of the child was contained within the early stories, even though it was not made explicit until later. Even Lockjaw is there, as Valeria's "Puppy".

For the other way that Franklin tried to fix things (with Johnny and Alicia) see the notes to FF 269.

Heightened tragedy

Does this weaken the story? Not in a Shakespearian sense: in the classic sense, the tragedy is heightened by Franklin's unconscious act.

If bad things are just bad luck that is unfortunate but not tragic. Tragedy implies bad things due to a personal failing in an otherwise strong person. And for the greatest tragedies, the suffering must be truly pointless, and only due to our lack of understanding. Take Romeo and Juliet for example. Romeo kills himself because he thinks Juliet is dead, and that is sad. But it is a greater tragedy because Juliet is not dead. Then Juliet kills herself because she thinks she can never he happy, which is of course sad. But it is a greater tragedy because it is so unnecessary: lost love should not cause such grief: she is a fourteen year old girl who had a four day romance (Shakespeare's version covers Sunday through to Thursday morning)! The real villain was the dysfunctional family. That is the tragedy, not the death.

This Shakespearian motif is repeated in the loss of the baby. It was caused by Reed's choice to conceive in the Negative Zone and then ignore Sue as her pain increased. It was a tragedy because it could have been avoided if only he paid attention to his existing child. This unnecessary suffering was foreshadowed in the half way story, in FF155-157: the Surfer's tragedy was that he has lost his beloved Shalla Bal. But the tragedy was worse because; unknown to him, she was transported to a place where he could see her again is only he knew: just as Valeria was transported somewhere safe. But Sue, like the surfer, was miserable because she did not know. Then later when she met Valeria again she thought the child was an impostor, just as the surfer thought the girl he saw as just a look-alike. Both innocents were put through the emotional wringer precisely because their happiness was so close yet they did not know where to find it. 

Without Valeria...

Without Valeria the miscarriage would destroy the whole story. Byrne intended it to give "the illusion of change" without actually changing anything. But if nothing changes, there is no big story. Valeria gives the miscarriage long term significance: it is not simply an event without consequences that can therefore be forgotten. It does not simply fade into the past, or no relevance to new readers. Its importance grows with the years. Let us look at why:

The importance of this issue and of Valeria

Valeria (or Maleria as many fans call her) is possibly the most hated character in FF history. Why does she exist, other than to ruin stories? What does she add to the FF? When we find the answer then everything else falls into place.

Valeria is essential to the bigger story moving forwards. This is why:

  1. FF 167: to make a deeper tragedy:
    Her (non-)birth was essential to Reed and Sue's character arc. The family had to suffer everything: loss of home, confidence, purpose, being dragged through Hell, etc.. For a family drama losing a child was the worst thing that could happen. But for the greatest tragedy it must be utterly pointless and have repercussions in later years (see above).
  2. Volume 3:49: she is Franklin's turning point
    Val's return as an unborn child is the great turning point in Franklin's life: the time when he decides to consciously start fixing things. Before that point all his actions were unconscious (e.g. FF150), not powered at all (see the notes to FF269 as it relates to FF332), or guided by Reed (FF245), or were short term panics (annual 14). Franklin had severe and long term psychological problems (see his own page for details), but the rebirth was proof that he could sometimes do things right. His return to mental health reached its climax in FF600.
  3. FF 600: to move Franklin forwards:
    Everything depends on Franklin. Franklin controls everything. The only way for the story to move forwards is for him to no longer be so mentally messed up. He needs a friend. Valeria is that friend. It is no coincidence that Val is by his side in FF600, where he finally finds peace. Throughout the FF it is always the women who are the real power. E.g. the problems are never solved by violence, but by Sue making friends; Galactus was not defeated by the FF but by Alicia, through touching the heart of the surfer and thus Galactus' heart was no longer in the battle, and so on. Throughout history women have always been treated as flawed and weak, yet have quietly been the creators of everything, and Valeria is the ultimate example of this.
  4. The future: to unite the team with Doom:
    The Great American Novel, built around the cold war, cannot be fully resolved until the great conflict is resolved. The team must make peace with its greatest enemy. We saw Doom's character develop and mellow before 2008 (see his own page for details). We saw a Celestial merge Doom and Reed in Claremont's run, where we also saw that a future merged Reed-Doom was Valeria's father. Doom facilitated her birth and named her. In the early years of the Great Reboot we saw that "all hope lies with Doom" and Valeria brings Doom closer and closer to the team. Without Valeria the final peace could not happen. (A note to fans of other comics: every Doombot thinks he is the original Doom, so don't worry, there will always be Evil Doctor Doom stories even after the original Doom has moved on to higher things: the other Dooms will simply deny him.)

Valeria's life and career

Valeria was an unborn child in FF277. Franklin sent her to a place of ultimate safety: to Roma, "omniversal guardian" who is charged with the safety of all dimensions. How would that work? FF322-326 (the end of long term continuity) shows us. In FF322-326, two dimensions (magic and normal) merge. From this point on the Fantastic Four routinely hop between dimensions, and sometimes get younger. Valeria is the clearest example of this, because as the youngest (and a girl) her bodily changes are the easiest to judge. Let us follow her life across the dimensions:

As for how this plays out in the future, only time will tell. I just wish they would all age normally: life would be much simpler.

Issue 268: Reed doesn't have any answers

Fantastic Four 268

Reed admits that it was his fault, but cannot see the implications: maybe he should pay more attention to his family and less to his hobbies?

The mask of Doom

Since FF232 Reed has worn a mask. Before that, he would react passionately to his failures. See his outbursts and his sulks when Sue left. See how he gave up when he lost his powers. See his admission of despair when trapped in the negative Zone in FF231. He doesn't do that any more. No, no matter what happens, he shows the same near-emotionless face. Metaphorically Reed wears a mask, hiding the crisis underneath. And like the literal; mask of Doom in this issue he races around metaphorically shooting fire from his eyes, causing disaster after disaster. And like the mask he can only survive as long as he receives power from outside. He relies on his family and is not the self contained power he believes. Eventually, in the last issue of act 4 (FF295), he will see that.

On planning ahead

The previous issue, FF267, saw Reed at his emotional best. His emotional dialog, when dealing with Otto Octavius, has never been better, before or since. He was dealing with a man who was emotionally even weaker than himself. Reed thought he could perform a last minute rescue, and acted as a great hero, with all the confidence of old. But true success cannot rely on last minute heroism. Reed's lack of dedication in preceding months and years led to that disaster. As a literary contrast, this issue shows Reed's mirror, Doom, and how Doom always plans ahead. Doom never leaves anything to the last minute.

Issue 269: Sue finally snaps

pushing things away

Since FF232, Sue has tried to be the perfect Stepford wife, making life easy and very sexy for Reed, pretending that all is good. That all ends here. No more Stepford Sue.

Like mother like son

As the above images show, Sue reacts to frustration the same way that Franklin does: she pushes things away. The next issue, FF270, follows just seconds after Sue's violence: it shows the greatest bonding we have ever seen between Sue and Franklin.


FF270 shows the most controversial example of pushing away: when Franklin pushing Alicia from Ben and toward Johnny. FF270's commentary focuses on Alicia, so let us discuss Franklin now, at the moment before Alicia decides to date Johnny.

Franklin pushed Frankie away
This is what Franklin did in FF242. He could see that Frankie did not really care for Johnny she only cared for power. So Franklin brought his herald Galactus, somebody Frankie could not resist. That pushed her away, leaving Johnny free (in Franklin's mind) to find somebody better.

Frankie loves power

Franklin pushed Ben away
Franklin then did the same in FF245. At first he thought that Ben wanted to be human, but the he realized that Ben was scared of being vulnerable. So Franklin gave him a thick skin back. This meant nothing would ever change with Alicia: as long as the thick skin survives, Ben will never face his problems. Franklin didn't push him a long way from Alicia, just a few inches, but far enough that Ben felt safe.

Franklin's understanding

But Franklin knew Alicia well. Alicia was his sitter: Franklin spent more time with Alicia than anybody else. he understood her emotional need for commitment: a child understands that perfectly.

Franklin did not "make" Alicia and Johnny fall in love.
To Franklin's immature mind it was all very simple. Johnny needed somebody reliable. Alicia needed somebody who could commit. Be needed a barrier to feel safe. By giving them what they wanted everything would naturally come right. Franklin did not mess with their minds, he simply removed barriers. Here is what happened n Franklin's own words, from FF322:

Franklin explains

Johnny sums it up as "he made us fall in love" but that is not what Franklin said. This is how Johnny interprets what Franklin said. What Franklin said was:

Note that he had the idea at that moment, but Alicia did not date Johnny until almost a year later their time: Sue's pregnancy and many other events came in between. Throughout that time Alicia went with Ben, not Johnny. So the mind control theory fails: Franklin must have meant "At that moment I understood how Ben felt, and so later I made Alicia spend time with Johnny."

Johnny's dream
Then why did Johnny interpret Franklin's words as mind control? Simple: because this was Johnny's dream - a dream about getting back with Crystal.
Johnny's dream

In the dream, Crystal came back and Johnny needed an excuse to leave Alicia. True, the dream represented what would have happened if the big story had not ended in FF322-326, but it is filtered by the person dreaming it. For example, in Ben's dream (FF329), Sharon is disappointed in him, whereas in Sharon's dream Ben no longer wants to be the Thing. Both dreams contradict what was previously established, but both reflect the insecurities of the dreamers. The dreams are distorted versions of what would happen in real life, just as in all dreams.

The end of the dream
At the end of the dream Franklin says he makes everything right again. But at that time Johnny already wanted Crystal and Ben was already falling out with Sharon (in Ben and Sharon's dreams). His magical "make it back to normal" needed no power at all: he simply gave Ben and Johnny an excuse to do what they wanted to do anyway.

Why Alicia went with Johnny
How did Franklin "make Auntie Alicia go to Uncle Johnny"? The comics show what happened:

how Alicia dated Johnny
  1. First, Alicia is abandoned one last time. She spends hours (perhaps days) hanging upside down next to Franklin. Obviously Alicia would want to take Franklin's mind off their impending death. What would they talk about? Ben and Johnny of course. Children tend to talk plainly, so perhaps Franklin mentions how Johnny wants a girlfriend. How he wants to get married. Perhaps Franklin remembers how Johnny likes Alicia (FF160).
    Johnny likes Alicia
  2. After this ordeal, Alicia is terrified of being alone.
  3. She continues to spend a lot of time with Franklin. Surely they talk about more than ice cream.
  4. Ben then abandons Alicia again.
  5. Alicia keeps remembering the "Karisma" adventure, where Ben left her again.
  6. In Sue's darkest time Johnny is there and Ben is not. 

Where can Alicia go? Ben is not there. So she begins to find excuses to be with Johnny.

Occam's razor

Franklin did not need a mind control device to point Alicia to Johnny. All he needed to do was talk about Johnny. He thought it was the obvious solution, so his encouragement pushed Alicia in that direction. That is all.

Then why does Franklin feel guilty?

Franklin is a child who wished his father loved him more. Such children often blame themselves: they look for something they did to cause the problem. That explains Franklin's words.

Sue's fertility

In FF269 we learn that Sue's doctor is called Dr Lansing:

Fantastic Four 269

This comes is only two issues after Reed looked found all the relevant medical specialists in the Marvel Universe. It cannot be coincidence then when John Byrne began with Marvel comics he drew the Champions (issues 11-15), and would have read the previous few issues, including those featuring Dr Lansing, who specialized in enhanced humans and extended life.


Reed said (probably rightly) that the miscarriage was due to conceiving the child in the Negative Zone. Lansing said no., How could he be sure, when he knew far less about the Negatve Zone than Reed? Because there is one very obvious fact about Sue's fertility, that any moderately trained doctor would immediately pick up: although Sue has the body of a woman in her 30s, her eggs were probably from a 50 year old. Sue was de-aged in FF 214, but for her true age see the notes to FF292. Lansing's obvious conclusion, not knowing her real age, is that this was cell damage due to the early radiation. But knowing that she is too old, but not wanting to face it, would add to Sue's tragedy.

The nature of Franklin's powers
Finally Sue carried the baby to full term, but this was a different Sue. This illustrates how Franklin's power works: rather than having the magical ability to change anything he simply shunts us into a different dimension where what we want is true. He is like Lockjaw, a dimensional traveler; like the philosopher Crates, "the door opener". This confirms the explanation of cosmic powers in the back up stories to annuals 22 and 23: scale is an illusion. The more powerful beings are not actually more powerful, just different.

Reed and Terminus

Was Reed exaggerating?

There is something very odd about the Terminus story. A number of things don't quite add up. There is nothing serious enough to say "that cannot have happened" but it is odd enough to suggest an alternative hypothesis:

  1. The Fantastic Four is always careful to be believable, at least until FF322. but why did nobody in the real world noticed this beam from space, especially as it passed by Manhattan, or (in FF270) the "cosmic cyclone" over the city of Hanover. Maybe everybody was looking the other way, but it pushes plausible deniability to its limit.
  2. How can a language be deciphered from so few markings? Or maybe it's just similar to some known universal language?
  3. How did Reed have such a convenient and powerful and useful invention, one that he has never used again?  
  4. She-Hulk observes that Reed almost looks happy in FF270. She then asks if he can hit Terminus with a planet, and Reed does just that.

It all pushes the FF's normal realism to almost breaking point. But the last point, Reed's happiness, fits a number of coincidences:

  1. Reed just came from his greatest disaster, and immediately has his greatest success - defeating somebody like Galactus with almost no effort, because of his latest machine.
  2. Sue's body, unable to cope with the radiation, just terminated her baby. We now have a being called Terminus who also uses radiation blood red of course).
  3. The tiny good alien (tiny relative to humans) looks like an alien unborn child - huge head, weak body, highly vulnerable. He lives inside a capsule that looks like a pill to cure something medical.
  4.  Terminus' limbs are like fixed versions of Dr Octopus' arms, and his body shape is dumpy (albeit on a huge scale) like Otto's, recalling Reed's triumph that turned into defeat.

Remember that Reed reports his stories to Marvel, who publish them. The simplest explanation for all this is that Terminus was real, but much less of a threat, and Reed described the battle in such a way that it restored his reputation. As if he told Marvel "I failed in one way, but look I now succeeded in a much bigger way." The next story after 269-70 continues the aftermath of Reed's failure to ave his child: with a look to his own parents and the question "who is Reed Richards?"

Issue 270: Alicia's decision (the solution to all their problems)

Fantastic Four 270

This is the issue where Alicia accepts that she can no longer depend on Ben to protect her. So she makes a choice that will finally drive Ben to face his problems, and Ben's additional stress will at last force Reed to question himself, leading to the solution to the crisis of act four. It all starts here.

Alicia: the most powerful human of all.

Here we see Alicia to to the FF what she did to Galactus: she changed history by reaching inside a key person's soul.

One of the major themes of the FF is family: that is, soft power, how relationships are stronger than brute force. We see this in how Sue has always been the strongest character and made things happen. But Alicia, even more gentle than Sue, and in the most important events (Galactus in the 1960s, and the final climax to the 28 year story) she is even more powerful.

In FF49 Alicia defeated Galactus by inspiring the Surfer, thus breaking Galactus' will. Why else did he give up so easily? The Ultimate Nullifier just gave him an excuse: somebody with his power could easily have stopped time, encased Reed's hand in ice, or whatever. Galactus' will is the all. Weakening that will was what defeated him. The surfer was his only friend. Galactus and the surfer were analogs of the traditional avenging Old Testament God and the messiah figure. What he surfer did mattered. it touched Galactus at the heart. And it was all due to Alicia: Alicia to the FF is like Mary to Catholics. The silent power behind the throne.

Here Alicia does something just as significant. By touching Johnny's heart she changes Ben. By changing Ben she changed Reed, and solves the unsolvable crisis (see FF295, the final issue to act 5, where Ben's distress finally breaks down Reed's barriers).

Is Alicia really leaving Ben?

Here is how Alicia describes this momentous event:
reasons for leaving

Alicia says Johnny has put his finger on the problem. People think Alicia and Ben are married, "But we are not. Not in any sense of the word. We were two people drawn to each other by mutual needs, mutual dependencies... and somehow we've each turned a corner in our lives. Things between us are.. different. Ben and I still love each other. We always will. But somehow I think we've both come to the realization that..." and she will say no more.

Two levels of meaning
Alicia's words can be read on at least two levels. On a short term level readers can say they never deeply loved each other, and move on. There is no need to think of longer term continuity. After all, mutual needs are not a good basis for a relationship, right?

But when we look at the longer term we see something different: Alicia and Ben are meant for each other, and this time out is the only way for them to make the final step to marriage.

Alicia and Ben: destined to be together
What Alicia calls "mutual needs" are the perfect foundation for a relationship: they mean the couple will always be together. Alicia and Ben are also very similar types: both has a barrier between them and others (Ben's appearance, Alicia's blindness and sheltered childhood). Both tends to not share their feelings. Both had a very tough childhood. And they both enjoy each other's company. But their problem is that neither of them took charge. Either of them could have said "it is time to marry, we must do it" and the other would have been talked round.

But they both come from controlling, confidence destroying backgrounds (Alicia's childhood, Ben under Reed), and they both feel very vulnerable (Ben fears he will never be loved, Alicia is blind and vulnerable to the FF's many enemies: she needs Ben). So both were afraid to push. Ironically they each have infinite courage in the face of danger but not the courage to tell the loved one what needs to be said. Not only do Alicia and Ben have mutual needs, they have so much in common and think the same. They were the perfect couple!

In this context, Alicia's words mean they should be married. Because they will always love each other. She says they have both come to a realization. She does not say what it is directly, but we know what it is from Ben: they need time apart. Ben has his time apart on "Battle World". Alicia has that time apart with Johnny. This does not mean they are separating, they are simply taking time away to think. Alicia does not consider marrying Johnny until FF297, after Ben has (in his emotional pain) rejected her again and she gives up hope.

The zeitgeist
The tragedy of marrying the wrong person reflects the changing morals in the 1980s. In previous centuries marrying the wrong person was the end of the story: divorce was impossible. Even in the 1970s divorce was still largely frowned on by the majority of people, most of whom were raised in the 1950s or before. But in the 1980s the world was changing. Most people were raised in the 1960s or later (i.e. born in the mid 50s or later). What was previously a radical approach was becoming mainstream. Most people began to accept the idea that marrying the wrong person, correcting the mistake, and still loving both people is possible, at last as an ideal. And given that Alicia was solving everyone's problems it was never in doubt that they would all love each other afterwards.

Criticisms of this event

Is it creepy that Johnny likes somebody who looks just like his sister?
She looked like Sue in 1962 (eleven years earlier, their time), but probably not quite as much now. Besides, a recurring motif in the book is doppelgangers: they have seen so many people who look exactly like themselves that this would not be a big deal any more.

Is Alicia using Johnny badly?
Taking the "time apart" view, is Alicia treating Johnny badly by agreeing to marry him when her heart is with Ben? No. She works by intuition, not conscious plans. She does not consciously plan to return to Ben. She is sincere. She will let what happens happen: that is her way.

Intuitively she knows this is the best thing for Johnny as well. This leads to Johnny learning how to relate to women and this solves his problems. It also, by solving Ben's problems, leads to the return of Crystal and so eventually everyone will be with their soul mate. (Clearly Alicia and Johnny are not soul mates: compare Johnny with Alicia to Johnny with Crystal, or Alicia with Ben. Johnny's occasional "this is right, I am in love" outbursts only seem designed to persuade himself.)

Perhaps Alicia thought Ben would hear the news and come back, or her father step in and end it - perhaps she could never imagine the marriage would actually happen. But she was following instinct all the time, so when it happened she let it. In doing so she also healed her father (see FF300), so this was win-win all round.

This is also a classic tragedy: the heroine marries the wrong man. This is, after all, the Great American Novel, and what is a great novel without great tragedy?

But Johnny was a womanizer?

After 14 years as the most eligible celebrity in the world, Johnny only had four girlfriends: Dorrie, Crystal, Frankie and Lorrie.
Johnny's girlfriends

Every one of them dumped him. Frankie, twice.

Did this all happen too quickly?
It wasn't too quick for Johnny: his failure with girls goes right back to the beginning. His frustration goes back almost as far. As a 28 year old heterosexual male he would be desperate, below the surface. He has admired Alicia for at least three years, his time, as we saw in FF160:

dating Alicia
Granted, this was partly a joke, but Alicia looked like Sue and Sue was known for her great beauty. it would be very strange if Johnny was not attracted to Alicia.

Back in his own title, Strange Tales 116, he was mind controlled to try to date Alicia. Did this reflect his own deeper feelings?
Strange Tales 116 Alicia

As for Alicia's own change of heart, it was gentle, not rushed. Ben's dithering goes back to the start of act four or before. As a sensitive person Alicia would notice this. Her concerns for Ben's emotional problems became particularly prominent in Moench's run. She has now had five months in hospital to think about how Ben left her, and then hears he has abandoned her again. She would also be aware of Johnny's qualities and his frustration.

Finally, this is the tenth anniversary of dating Ben: Alicia is now 29 year old, biologically the same age as Sue (since Sue de-aged by three years in FF214). Sue just lost her baby. That, and facing turning 30 after ten years with a boyfriend who cannot commit, Alicia's biological clock is starting to tick.

Is it fair for Johnny to do this to Ben?
Johnny was badly hurt when Crystal left him. Why would he now do the same thing to Ben? Well, Ben doesn't need Johnny's sympathy. Ben neglected Alicia far more than Johnny neglected Crystal. And Ben is an adult, with more life experience than the emotionally sheltered Johnny. Ben at this point has had plenty of second chances with Alicia. He should have proposed in the 120s when he began to come out of his depression. He definitely should have proposed in the 160s when he planned to do so but always put it off. In FF136 he had a push, and again he could not do it. And now, after abandoning Alicia in 151 and then again after Secret Wars, Ben has used up any good will.

For Johnny to continuing to support Ben while leaving Alicia to be neglected and attacked again would be a far bigger crime. Plus Ben was planning to separate anyway, until Alicia's decision snapped him into soul searching (for him to reject her was business as usual, for her to reject him hurt)

Is this theory contradicted by Ben's actions?
If Alicia and Ben are destined to be together, how does this square with Ben's decision to break up, in FF277?
break up
Ben later said that this slap hurt him more than anything he had ever felt (even though he did not even feel it physically). And it was clear after this that he still loved her, as we saw in FF303:

in love

Clearly Ben was trying to do what he thought was right, because he knew he would never have the courage to propose, because of his inner doubts. But the slap began the process of him facing his demons, which resulted in Ben finally lacking the emotional strength he lacked.

As for Ben's belief that marriage would be "ridiculous", this is explained by FF236: he fears he might hurt her.


This is a major, defining issue for Ben, and why he unconsciously holds back his strength.

Some fans wonder if it's because of sexual problems (again, his fear of hurting her), but there are many kinds of sex. Besides, as any long married couple knows, marriage is more than sex. If sex was important they would not have stayed together, kissing frequently, for ten years: they would have either married or separated long ago.

Ben was planning to dump Alicia? Really?
Ben is a deep, tragic character at this point. Things are not as they seem. A this point ben is on Battleworld, a planet that reflects hi psychology. He's trying to make sense of his life. As part of this he thinks he finds someone to replace Alicia, but of course she dies. Nobody can replace Alicia.

Ben on battleworld

Ben feels terrible about putting Alicia through all this, while lacking the confidence to leave the team and devote his life to her. So from time to time he tells Alicia he thinks they should separate. but this is not because he falls out of love, it's because he loves her so much. This is from Marvel Two in One 64, June 1980 (contemporary with FF 219):

But he could not live without her. Within a few months (Dec 1980, roughly FF 225) he was asking her to live in the Baxter Building.
But he still hadn't solved his inner problems, leading to the tragedy of FF 251-255. Ben is a tragic figure. His inability to make the right decision (to leave the FF, put Alicia first) is down to his loss of confidence in act 2. It mirrors Reed's inability to put Franklin first.

This is a story about putting the family first in order to save the world. Alicia, like Franklin, has the power to solve the team's problems. In this issue (FF270) she finally takes charge.

How does Alicia really feel about Ben?

As for Ben and Alicia's deepest feelings for each other, this montage should make it clear:

Was Johnny's upbringing really so difficult?

Johnny's need for Alicia depends on his own emotionally fragile state. This can be easily be demonstrated by how easily Sue controls him in Strange Tales, when she is still his legal guardian, with how badly he fares on dates - showing off in an immature way, and with his loyalty despite his frustration over the years: he stayed at high school against his wishes, he stayed in the team despite wanting to leave many times... all he has ever known is being under the control of his sister.
Johnny is obedient
Johnny obeys
Johnny at this point was 22 years old. He has never been free to be himself.

But Johnny was shallow?

Johnny has such potential. Such depth that's been ignored for so long most fans forget it's even there. Let's see him as Alicia sees him. When Alicia joined the family (FF 8) Johnny was about to begin his Strange Tales career. Yes he was young, but he was incredibly creative, always coming up with new ways to solve problems, and fighting above his weight. And he was a hard worker: practicing for hours each day, flying through intricate mazes, studying weather patterns, finding new uses for his flame. The guy was amazing. Remember the colored flame model made in FF 17? Or how he used his flame to create a tornado that could lift probably thousands of tons at the end of issue 4? That's all down to hard work and dedication. Beyond that he is intensely loyal. Over the years he's been treated as a child, living in the shadow of the others, and had every reason to leave. But he cares for his family. He even gave up his soul mate, Crystal, because he would not leave the family, despite them not appreciating him in the slightest. He has a superb mind, incredible dedication and a pure heart.


In summary, Alicia is destined to be with Ben, and Johnny is destined to be with Crystal. but in order to get there, they have to solve their problems... together.

For more on this topic, see the notes to FF275.

Issue 271: what happened before issue 1

Issue 270 set in motion the events that will take place after the 27 story ends. As the big story approaches its climax we begin to fill in the gaps. We finally see what happened before issue 1.

Fantastic Four 271

Reed begins to pay the price
The negative zone adventure was Reed's death wish. In a way he got what he wished for: his mind was removed from his body, and some parts of it were lost forever. Now that he has failed Sue (radiation from the negative zone killed the baby) his death wish comes back to haunt him. Reed has always neglected his family, and now, as karma, he cannot remember his own family, or at least not the details.

Reed and Autism
Why the interest in his mother's eyes? Is that something most people think about? Reed also says he can't remember his mother's eyes. Avoiding eye contact is a classic sign of autism. As an adult he would learn to look at everyone's eyes, but it is likely that as a child his mother's eyes are the only ones he ever looked at. For more evidence of Reed's probably Autism see the notes to FF182.

Why FF1 happened
This issue, the story of Gormuu, finally reveals the gaps in why the spaceflight in FF1 happened:

Other points to note:

The history of time travel

FF271 reveals that Nathaniel Richards had a time machine three years before the FF gained their powers: that is, in 1958. By using FF annual 2 and Occam's razor (do not multiply elements: in this case, each discovery only happens once) we can deduce the following timeline.

Issue 272: Hamlet sees the ghost of his father

Fantastic Four 272

This is a family epic, and here Reed, the bad father, finally seeks out his own father. His own father neglected him, just as Reed neglects Franklin. This is so often the case in the real world: neglect begets neglect.

Note the parallels between Reed and Hamlet.

Time travel

FF272 finally explains how time travel works, and gives the vital clue to why the time machine is not used more often. After all, if you had a time machine, wouldn't you use it? Yet the FF barely use theirs. After obtaining it after FF5, they only use it three times:
  1. In FF19, to travel to ancient Egypt, to find a cure for Alicia's blindness
  2. In FF152, Reed adjusts the machine to travel "outside" of the time stream in order to also move sideways to Makhismo's parallel dimension. This is the only time it is used for traveling to the future, and even then it is not Earth's future.
  3. In FF annual 11, Ben uses it to return to World War II.
Why is the device not used more? Let us first consider the problems of traveling to the future.
  1. The fundamental problem
    You do not actually go "there". As Reed notes in FF172, each future is in fact a parallel dimension. This is probably because there are many possible futures, each one created whenever a major decision is made. Probably simply traveling in time is enough to create a parallel future. This limits the usefulness of forward movement: you cannot use it to reliably predict what will happen.
  2. The practical problem
    You probably cannot bring back useful information. Useful information can easily create a time paradox. For example, if a scientist was going to make a discovery, and you learned the information first, then the need to make the discovery would not arise.... so the discovery could not be made and you could not discover it.
  3. A particular limitation
    You cannot bring back radioactive elements (see FF19). Radioactive decay is the classic example of quantum uncertainty, and is the basis of the "Copenhagen model", the idea in physics that reality is made of multiple dimensions, and a decision simply means a different reality. Since radioactive material cannot travel through time this suggests that quantum uncertainty creates some kind of natural resistance. The more that an event relies on uncertainty, the less it can travel through time. Since every decision involves uncertainty this severely restricts any useful time travel.
As a result, for the user, time travel is of no more benefit than simply imagining the journey. The question is therefore not "why don't they use the machine more", but "how does it ever work at all?" Let us look again at the five times the machine is used:
In FF322: dimensional travel becomes routine

After FF321, when continuity ends, we have the use of magic and merging of dimensions of time and space. From then on the Fantastic Four routinely travel across dimensions and events no longer have consequences in the future.

Issue 273: Reed's father (Reed knows he is not a self made man)

Fantastic Four 273

Reed remembers his childhood, what made him what he is. Like Doom, Reed has always believed that he is the only one who can lead. Reed acted like he did everything himself, it was all due to him, all reliant on him. But now he must admit that he relies on others. Whatever he has, he got from his father.

Reed also sees that his father, though well meaning, became bad. His arrogance blinded him to the needs of others. Could this happen to Reed?

Reed's journey of self discovery and suffering has taken almost the whole of act 4. But soon it will be Sue's turn. Sue will soon suffer just as Reed suffered, and she will also go back to her childhood, in FF291-292.

The zeitgeist

Other points to note:

Annual 18: the end of the Kree-Skrull war:
resolving an age-old conflict through cooperation

Fantastic Four
        annual 18

We are approaching the end of the five act story. All the major subplots approach their conclusion. Perhaps the biggest and most complex subplot is the war between alien empires the Kree and the Skrulls. Obviously this will take some time to settle, so this settling begins early. It will be completed in next year's annual.

Conflict versus cooperation

A major theme of the 28 year story is that cooperation is better than conflict. This is the central truth for any empire, any family, or any nation (such as America: this is the Great American Novel):

The annual also represents the final calm before the final storm. The remaining issues of act 4 will be unprecedented disaster followed by unprecedented disaster:

  1. Franklin bleeds and is trapped in hell
  2. Their home is destroyed
  3. Sue is mentally raped
  4. Johnny's inspiration leads a fan to kill himself
  5. But then the resurrection of Phoenix gives a hint that there is a way back.
  6. Reed's near death leads him to finally question himself: finally the nightmare is over.

Annual 18 and X-Men 137

Page 1 starts with a banner headline that indicates 10 months passing since X-Men 137, one of the most important comics in the history of Marvel (the death of Phoenix). This is significant for a number of reasons:

1. The big cosmic story

This all links back to F13, the issue where Reed finally reaches the moon and meets higher beings. You don't need to study this deeply to see the links: just look at the art (thanks for the "WaitWhat" podcast for the scans)

FF13 and annual 18

2. The zeitgeist

Annual 18 reflects the cold war politics of the time: The USSR was effectively bankrupt and commentators could see the end of the cold war is in sight. They just didn't know if it would be violent or peaceful. The battle between the lone Kree and Skrull warriors began in X-Men 137 where Phoenix died. The conflict begins to be resolved. Phoenix then returns a few weeks later (the time), just as the FF return from the events of annual 19. They then discover that the Phoenix cocoon is giving off some kind of radiation. Is the timing coincidence? Presumably this change on the ages old conflict was felt on some fundamental level through the universe, just as the field that ended the Skrull stretching abilities in annual 19. Why does this matter to the big story? Because this was a major change in comics, reflecting the end of the cold war. The friendship between a Kree and a Skrull warrior reflected the end of the cold war, and so the end of the cultural driving force behind the Great American Novel.

3. The end of the Great American Novel

X-Men 137 is perhaps the best known example of the success of Marvel. It is the key story that launched the X-Men into record breaking sales, making it the keystone of the money-first comics of the 1990s. The success of the Marvel Universe (a by-product of the Fantastic Four) meant comics were profitable. But the greatest short term profit always comes from merchandising. This in turn led to a fear of change. The return of Phoenix was the first sign that time was not merely slowing down  (as it had since the birth of Franklin in 1968) but would completely stop and even go backwards. The return of Phoenix in FF286 was the first break in the dam, and in a few years a flood of resurrections and retcons would mean the death of realism. For the context see the page on the death of the Marvel Universe.

4. Real Time and Marvel Time

X-Men 137 was cover dated Sep 1980, the same as FF222 (the possession of Franklin). This annual takes place just before FF274, cover dated January 1985.  Page one says ten months have passed, so 1980-85 is only 10 months, Marvel Time. This is consistent with the dating suggested elsewhere on this site:

FF231 indicated that only "a few weeks" took place between FF222 and FF231. FF232 has the team looking thinner, as if a few weeks at least has passed since FF232. So we can infer that time passes roughly like this:
building The timing is important: on a surface reading it may seem that too much happens to compress into such a small time, but a closer reading indicates that everything makes sense temporally. The story still makes sense. On the strictest technical definition of real time, that each event can be assigned a date in the real world, the story is still happening in real time. But only just. The last arc of act 4 will look more closely at the sliding time scale, and the entire 28 year story will end when continuity is abandoned entirely.

Next: Alicia saves the day

The Great American Novel