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

1988: Act 5: happily ever after? (treaties and globalization)

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Through 1988 the signs became stronger; the cold war was ending. The world was getting better!

Conflicts are resolved, prizes for everyone!

At last the struggle is over! Doom is neutralized, Reed decides to finally put Franklin first, and everything else falls into place. All the major dilemmas are resolved according to the four themes:

  1. The American Dream (Reed and Sue finally get the happy family they want)
  2. Confidence (Johnny is no longer in anyone's shadow, Ben accepts himself, leads the team, can finally love, and finally beats the Hulk)
  3. Equality (Ben and Johnny emerge from Reed's shadow, Reed admits Sue is right, even Doom finally meets his equal and reaches a status quo)
  4. Reluctance (the FF begins its transition to the only two member who actually loved being in the team: Crystal and Johnny. Although She-Hulk also enjoyed her time, she never felt like family. Crystal did.)

Like every "well made play" (Google it) the story ends with a reaffirmation of family values: putting Franklin first solves everything! Even Doom is finally neutralized by children (Franklin and Kristoff) in a story about Doom's love for his mother.

This conforms to all the expectations of a fifth act in the classic five act structure: The lovers return and each ends up with their true love (although this is cut short at 321: see the next generation); There is the final push where Ben finally finds his true self and achieves peace; secrets are revealed (hidden themes are acknowledged: that Reed should put Franklin first, Ben must face himself, and Johnny is still in love with Crystal), and there are prizes for everyone (everyone gets their heart's desire, or is on the way to it).

All major character arcs are now resolved: The Mole Man is now a friend; Doom, having abandoned ruling the world as his primary goal, is also neutralized as an existential threat. The Namor, Baxter building and Skrull sub-plots were resolved (or in the case of the Skrulls, moved toward resolution) in Act 4.

All major motifs are present in these final issues of Act 5: monarchs and would-be monarchs (the kingdom of Fasaud); hidden races (many of them are seen in Subterranea); dangerous frontiers (a new team; the Beyonder's universe); mind control (Crystal's affair and Kristoff); doppelgangers (the She-Thing); home (Reed and Sue move out); Reed's health and appearance (now he looks like a scientist, his true self): and the return of pseudo-Biblical language.

The battle between writer and editors

Steve Englehart was the last writer of the twenty seven year story:

Englehart he presided over the end of continuity, and it happened against his will. He made a big noise about it and eventually resigned and left Marvel as a result. He could see the scale of the loss when the editors could not.

time line

Why did the big story end so abruptly? The details are on the next page, but briefly: After Reed and Sue left, the publishers got nervous. They did not like the evolving FF. Sometimes they would allow in-continuity stories, sometimes they would demand changes. started demanding changes, to turn the clock back. This period was a battle between a writer determined to move the story forwards and editors determined to force it into reverse. Finally the editors won and the 28 year story was plunged into limbo.

Praise for Englehart's run

On the FF message board a fan wrote, "I never get why people like Englehart so much." Many fans feel the same way: they see so many mediocre Englehart-Harkness issues they can't understand the love. Here is my answer.
Many fans agree.

Why do some old fans love Englehart? His 1970s work. And he tried to move stuff forward, as if what the characters say matters.  Sue and Reed had said for years they wanted to settle down and put Franklin first. We can argue over what they meant, or whether it was even a good idea, but that's what they said. Repeatedly. I give Englehart huge credit for treating them like they matter. If I wanted to read stories where nothing matters I can pick up any random comic or book or TV series in the world. But I care about these people and what they say. I care about their hopes and dreams. It sometimes seems like Englehart, for his faults, was the only one who did. Even Byrne, who sincerely cared about the characters as he imagined them (and let that guide him, leading to a superb run in isolation) conveniently ignored most of what previous writers said. Englehart showed the characters and previous writers great respect and I will always love his work for that.

Englehart only really wrote 12 issues
Based on the comics, email exchanges with Englehart, and commentary on his web site, there were only 12 issues where Englehart was able to tell the story the characters wanted to tell. They were: 304-311, 313, 320-321, and Annual 20. Almost every issue resolves a major theme or subplot begun in Act 1. Englehart's 12 issues included one of the best annuals ever, the best Hulk versus Thing fight ever (because the Thing won!), a superior conclusion to the much hyped (and disappointing) 296 anniversary issue, and all kinds of genuinely new ideas, real character development, and real new directions for the FF (not just "the illusion of change" that other writers provide).

All of that in just twelve issues. And all of this was done with one arm tied behind his back because he was not allowed to use his trademark real world references. I'd say that Englehart was on good form. As usual.

Another fan asked, "Why is Mantis in his run? She doesn't seem to fit."

Those issues come from after 321, and that's a whole can of worms. So I can't really blame him. It's like blaming Kirby because FF 108 was such a mess after they cut it up. Englehart was unable to write what he really wanted, so instead he ended up just tying up loose ends while he used a pseudonym and planned his exit. The Mantis story was intended for another title and context but the editors in their wisdom screwed with him. The idea of sentient trees might have potential if handled very carefully (think World Tree, faeries, pan dimensional beings, ents, etc.) but this was a time when editorial interference at the last minute made it impossible to write anything that involved planning.

Marvel after 1987
Englehart wasn't the only one who found it impossible to work under these conditions. Simonson had the same complaints on the Avengers at the same time. He'd plan a subtle and well thought out story, get permission months in advance, then have it changed at the last minute. As ex-Editor in Chief Jim Shooter later observed, all the best writers were being driven away after 1987 (when Shooter was forced out). All that mattered to Marvel was crossovers, because they brought short term sales boosts. Then writing in general was scorned, because artists became so popular. Then the industry collapsed. It was a bad situation all round and I can't blame Englehart: at least he fought against it, he made a big noise about what was happening and was proven right.

tl;dr: in the 1970s Englehart was free to be a great writer. In the 1980s he was an imprisoned prophet. In my opinion.

Issue 304: after 28 years, Reed does the right thing!

For the past few years, the pressure has been relentless. Reed and Sue were in despair, and Ben had given up hope. But finally Reed makes the right decision, to make Franklin his top priority at last. The pressure drops! As with many issues, the title reflects both the particular issue and the long term story.


This is a very big deal:
Act 5 announced

Fantastic Four

The Thing begins to discover his identity. In FF296 his monster anxiety is finally resolved once and for all. He is at last able to put it behind him. Under Englehart he becomes no longer an outcast but a leader: he replaces Reed Richards as head of the Fantastic Four.

Reed and Sue finally resolve their 28 year conflict of family versus ambition: family wins. In FF307 they leave the day to day running of the FF to Ben, and move out to do what they always promised to do: focus on Franklin. Note that they can never truly leave, they simply step aside to let Ben and Johnny flourish.

Note that Reed has finally learned humility: he spent years ensuring that he was the alpha male, and now he's giving power to his rival, Ben, the one he always treated like a child (e.g. not telling him the truth in FF245) because Ben is genuinely the best man for the job.

Fantastic Four 304

Note the big continuity: they remember Johnny and Ben's adventures in Strange Tales (1962-1963), and they recognize that time has passed and they have grown. It ain't old times, kid!

Issue 305: the lovers return!

Fantastic Four

Ben takes over the FF, and begins to be the responsible protector Alicia always wanted. He brings back Crystal, Johnny's true love. The lovers have been out of balance for so many years, and balance is finally on the way back.

The momentous importance of these stories may not be obvious from the cover. As Englehart wrote,

"One thing to note is that the writer has nothing to do with the cover; that's the province of the editor, and shows what he thinks of the book. So even though I started a radical new storyline as per usual, the early covers in this run remain pretty uninspired, even generic."

More about Crystal and Johnny.

Why she matters to the next generation of the Fantastic Four.

Other points to note


Annual 20: Doom is neutralized!

Fantastic Four
        annual 20 Fantastic Four annual
        20Fantastic Four annual 20

This is the big one, the resolution of Reed's biggest conflict: how can he concentrate on Franklin while Doom is free?

Doom has already mellowed a little, he no longer actively seeks to rule the world, but he is still a loose cannon: and no matter how often you defeat him he comes back, and while he does Reed can never relax. How do you defeat someone like that? Answer: you don't, you keep him busy with an equal and opposite force, Doom 2. Doom 2 has the same brain, and most of the same experience, but he's younger and presumably learns faster. They are equally matched, each devotes his life to defeating the other, and neither will ever be defeated. Stalemate!

Doom will still return - as the major "villain" of the epic story he will dominate the remainder of the final act, but after this he is de-clawed. He still talks the talk, he is still a serious threat, but from now on Ben and the others can handle him. For an overview of Doom's development in all his twenty appearances see his own page.

This new Doom does not get the whole of the old Doom's experience. This actually makes him stronger: the old Doom made some pretty bad decisions but could never accept they were wrong. This Doom does not have those decisions, but has the flexible brain of a child. he can learn more quickly without all that baggage.

Why Kristoff matters
Kristoff is a good example of how the stories write themselves. Byrne introduced him as a throw-away bit part character, but then found the character became more and more important. By the end of his run he planned a whole year of stories, "Doom War" about Doom 1 versus Doom 2. This would be the first time that Byrne's run had a whole year on anything. But instead Byrne got an offer from DC to reboot Superman, so the Doom War epic was never written. But it underlines that Kristoff has major importance to the Fantastic Four. (Source: "Comics Creators on Fantastic Four" page 95)

It's is all about families
Note that both Doom and Reed are finally "defeated" by children, and Doom's story was about his mother. This is a family drama that moves forward, so this is the only way it could end, with mothers and fathers usurped by children and a new beginning.

Doom's love for his mother is obsessive

"Doom is a egotistical mad man. He has a severe God complex giving him delusions of grandeur and the idea of followers. While he has been around the Marvel dating pool, with such romances as Scarlet Witch and Valeria. I find that the character has had a one true love of what many people called a disturbing nature. He has such a large ego that it's plain to see that he has a God Complex it does make finding love hard, who could possibly measure up to Doom's standards. From the looks of things, Doom certainly seems to suffer from an Ego Induced Oedipus Complex. For who should be worth of "God's" Love then the Woman who gave him life. A disturbing Idea, Understandably. But It does culminate to a darker truth of Doom's Love for his mother, reaching very unhealthy standards.  To see Doom having Romantic love for his mother really puts the idea that Doom is a broken individual. He has literally gone through hell for his mother.  It could be an affect of his Mother's early witchcraft that affected Doom. It could be his traumatic childhood. But there is one thing that is plane to see. Doom suffers from a deep sexual attraction and true physical love for his mother. An effect to his psyche that makes him a prototype Bond Villain.  Whether that becomes something we as comic book fans accept is an entirely different issue. Sure it's a disturbing Idea, but it's a strongly supportive theory. Comic Book Canon has done much to show this idea without blatantly stating such an insane theory. But this is a long and well thought out and theory." - Robert Garlen

So in the end Doom is neutralized by his family: his mother, and his son

The real story behind the Kristoff-Doom fight

Could Kristoff really defeat Doom?

Option 1: Yes: Doom has a history of making mistakes

The simplest explanation is that FF350 was Doom's version of events, and his version of events is always self serving. Doom was never as smart as he believed he was: for proof, see the early Lee-Kirby stories, the early 1970s stories, etc.

Option 2: Yes: as Doom is no longer a madman

In the Emperor Doom, graphic novel it is explicitly shown that Doom has matured. He no longer wants to destroy, or to be sole ruler. He let himself be beaten. Consciously he denies it (as in FF247), but unconsciously he knows: Doom needs others. Annual 20 seems to be Emperor Doom in a nutshell: Doom has moved on. He does not simply crush Kristof as he could: he enjoys the interplay. Whether consciously or unconsciously, he enjoys the personal growth.

Option 3: Yes, Kristoff's mind was younger

Simonson raises a good point: surely Doom would have added a fail safe "off" switch for Kristoff that only he, Doom, would know about? Yes, he would. But look at it from Kristoff's point of view. Kristoff is just as smart as Doom. He will work out at least part of what happened: that the "other" Doom did something to his head. It is true that Kristoff still thinks he is the original, but he knows that his mortal enemy has done something to his mind. So he will not rest until he has worked out what it was, and disabled that weakness. Kristoff's brain is still young and adaptable. He can look at the other Doom's record objectively. And he had plenty of time to think

Option 4: No, it was Pinnochio Doom

"Reverend Meteor" on the comic board, makes some interesting points:

"The Doom who lost to Kristoff was a Doombot that the Beyonder accidentally made real.

"We know the Doom that swapped minds with Norman McArthur was the Doom that the Beyonder placed in a new body. We know this is the same Doom that was killed in the battle between Terrax and Silver Surfer because that's when Doom pulled the Ovoid mind trick on Norman (how funny would it have been if it was the Norman Crystal banged) We know that same Doom is the one who lost to Kristoff. We know that same Doom is the Doom who later confronted Beyonder to regain the memories he lost so he could be whole to fight Kristoff. We know this Doom is not the real Doom as the real Doom reappears in Fantastic Four #350 and it's stated rather emphatically this Doom never lost to Kristoff...the entire purpose of this retcon was to keep Doom from losing to Kristoff. So if Doom didn't lose to Kristoff then Doom didn't confront the Beyonder to get his memories back to fight Kristoff after losing to him. If the Doom who confronted Beyonder was a doombot then so was the Doom who was in Norman McArthur's mind and thus the Beyonder never gave the new body to the real Doom....he gave it to a Doombot. Meaning that if Doom that was in Norman's mind was a doombot then ipso facto the guy who was destroyed in the battle between Terrax and Silver Surfer...must have been a Doombot.

"But how could a Doombot pull off the Ovoid mind trick? Doom has two things going for him...his mastery of science and his mastery of magic. Doombots have been able to fool telepaths and others with heightened senses before. If Doom has a good enough Doombot it can do everything Doom can do and fool the best. Even the Beyonder? Yes because the issue Beyonder separates Doom from Norman shows that the Beyonder isn't good at observation and can't even tell Doom is in another body.

"Doomochio just swapped out another Doombot to fight Kristoff in FF #350. The Doom that fought Kristoff (whether real or originally a Doombot) shouldn't have still been a Doombot by FF #350 because of the Beyonder giving him a new body in FF #288."

Option 5: No: it was a Doombot

Walt Simonson did not like the idea that Doom could be defeated by Kristoff. He felt the real Doom would have added a fail safe to quickly defeat Kristoff. So in FF350 that is what happened, and he explains that Kristoff merely defeated a Doombot. But FF350 was soon contradicted by FF358, which explained that Doombots are not that bright. Doom as a Doombot also creates problems for FF288, because the Doom who was afraid of Kristoff was taken by the Beyonder, and he seems to be human. FF350 also has problems when we trace the origin of the shiny new armor: it appeared in an issue of Excalibur, and this does not fit Doom's story that he had been away a very long time.

"Reverend Meteor" notes another problem this causes:

"I think the #350 retcon is kind of interesting. The purpose of the retcon was to invalidate Doom's defeat at the hands of Kristoff and for the reader to be able to cherry pick which Doom appearances they feel are the real Doom and which are Doombots. I don't think the writer realized that removing Doom's defeat at the hands of Kristoff sets off a chain reaction that invalidates an almost 100 FF issue stretch of appearances. All those stories built off each other and removing the defeat at the hands of Kristoff is like pulling the wrong piece in a game of Jenga...everything falls apart. Because like I said if Doom didn't lose to Kristoff then he never got his memories back from Beyonder to help him defeat Kristoff, he was never given a new body, was never in Secret Wars, never swapped places with Norman McArthur in the battle between Terrax and Silver Surfer. A lot of continuity was tied into to his feud with Kristoff both before and after his defeat."

Option 6: No, because Kristoff was the original Doom

See the notes to FF 247 for details

Other points to note

Issue 306: the mental health issue

Humans are social creatures. Finally, by focusing on friendship rather than technology, the team achieves equality and balance and happiness.

Fantastic Four 306

A major theme of the series has been equality. While equality is more than numbers it cannot have escaped notice that Sue was the only woman in the group. True, She-Hulk joined, but it was understood that she was a temporary replacement for a male (Ben) and was not part of the family. But when Sharon joins there is no temporary clause: she is a member of the team for as long as she wants to be.

More importantly, Ben will finally have a healthy relationship with a woman: not fearful, not self hating, not wondering if she only likes him out of pity, but a position of strength and equality. This can only happen by finding someone who has the same fear of commitment that he had, so seeing himself in someone else. This finally allows him to see himself in his true light, and no longer be a "thing," a monster, but a person.

The mental health issue
Here we contrast people with contrasting mental health:

Medusa: a glimpse behind the facade
This issue may reveal a key insight into Medusa and Inhuman politics: Medusa may be doing more than we think. Here it is Medusa's idea that Crystal joins the FF, and she claims to represent Black Bolt's thinking. But in annual 20 Black Bolt strongly wants Crystal to stay with the Inhumans. This is perhaps the clearest evidence that Medusa does not simply deliver Black Bolt's message, she is the vital gatekeeper: just as Reed Richards' pliable hair represents his pliable mind, so Medusa's pliable hair may reflect her own political skill. It was Medusa who arranged for Reed and Sue to get back together in FF149, and Medusa who played both sides at the start, Frightful Four and Fantastic Four.Medusa may be doing far more than we realize.

Diablo's career

Sympathetic magic
To understand Diablo we must understand sympathetic magic: form follows function; similar things have similar effects and are naturally connected. As explained in The Golden Bough:

"If we analyze the principles of thought on which magic is based, they will probably be found to resolve themselves into two: first, that like produces like, or that an effect resembles its cause; and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed. The former principle may be called the Law of Similarity, the latter the Law of Contact or Contagion. From the first of these principles, namely the Law of Similarity, the magician infers that he can produce any effect he desires merely by imitating it: from the second he infers that whatever he does to a material object will affect equally the person with whom the object was once in contact, whether it formed part of his body or not."

Sympathetic magic is the basis for alchemy. It contrasts with the more powerful forms of magic, such as practised by Dr Strange, where people call on much higher beings for help. Sympathetic magic is how the brain works, and how all data compression software works: we increase our ability to comprehend the world around us by classing similar concepts together. Sympathetic magic could be the title of FF 306: the story is of how we the team benefits from connections with others. The team was lost until Ms Marvel saved them. And Ms Marvel only stuck around because she thinks Ben might be the one man who can connect to her.


Other points to note:


Issue 307: the start of a new era!

Fantastic Four 307
Fantastic Four 307

Reed and Sue leave to raise Franklin.

Note the pathos. We have followed this man from the start. He is perhaps the greatest hero ever. He has done more for the world than anybody else (considering the time he's saved it from the biggest threats, plus his inventions). His courage is unquestioned. Those who know him are willing to give their lives for him: his enemies have done so on at least two occasions (FF51, and the Brute). he is the hero's hero, he is beyond any criticism. Yet despite his fantastic, unparalleled abilities, he cannot do what needs to be done. No one man can be that fantastic. The greatest thing he can do is step aside, because he is holding the others back.

It's deep stuff.

As the story says, one era gives way to another.

Sue's triumph

Note that is was Sue who persuaded Ben to come on the original rocket ship, and Johnny only came because she was there. Sue created the Fantastic Four. Without her it would be the Fantastic One. And now, at the end, it is Sue who persuades Reed to put his family first. By doing this she saves her whole family:

Respecting others' decisions

This story's theme is the need to value others. We see it both through Reed letting Ben take over, and in examples of people who do not appreciate others:

Franklin's triumph

The splash page shows Franklin adjusting his bow tie. One fan commented on the FF message board: "Franklin also has TERRIBLE fashion sense AND is apparently quite proud of it!" Personally I think it shows that Franklin has a sense of humor that's really quite sophisticated. 

bow tie
That single image is possibly the most important one since the cover of FF1. It's the end of the 28 year story, the climax before they walk into the sunset, when Reed finally puts his family first. Sue and Franklin have won.

Here's my theory:

In that context, look at his costume choice: a costume he has never worn before or since to my knowledge:

in short, this is Franklin's slightly unhinged "I won! I won!" suit. For more evidence, look at their faces:


The whole point of this image is a new start: it looks to the future at last (sad that it took a story about science 28 years to look to the future!) and this is where the image gets REALLY interesting. The roles are now reversing. Until now Reed was at least nominally in charge (and he was completely in charge until the half way point, FF159, in my opinion). Until now we could always see Sue as the Cassandra character, the innocent who was always right yet always ignored (hence the name invisible). but now it switches. Sue is officially in charge now, s the buck stops with her. There are no excuses. She is about to discover how hard it was for Reed.

What happens next
In the next few months Sue will find herself out of her depth just as Reed was. Instead of the happy family that learns Franklin's abilities, she will default to the easy option, just middle American family, and within a month they will accept a job with the Avengers and slide right back into putting Franklin second. Because Sue is an imperfect parent, just as Reed is. Neither of them had their parents around in their formative years. Neither of them really knows how to bring up kids.

Now let's look beyond the next couple of months (where Sue begins to flounder), to the next year when Reed regains control. The key issue is FF319, where Doom takes Ben's team to meet the Beyonder. At the start Reed catches a glimpse of Doom and Ben in their ship as they jump between realities.
seeing Reed

We should never underestimate Reed's brain when it comes to the physics of other dimensions, or his rivalry with Doom. Although that was just a split second image its significance would not be lost on Reed and he would pick up the details later. That moment is a massive turning point for Reed. I believe that is when Reed unconsciously knew he had to go back. It was no coincidence:

Franklin beat Reed, so Reed learns to be more like Franklin
The F319 journey is the first time we see Reed do the "astride multiple realities" thing. Until that point he had often sometimes jumped between realities one at a time (e.g. to the negative zone or the fifth dimension) but had never flicked between realities like flipping the pages of a book. That reality flipping became the signature for the Franklinverse period. It happens again and again from this point: notably at the end of Simonson's run, the end of Claremont's run, the end of Millar's run, the end of Hickman's run, and numerous other times. It's pure Franklinverse. It's the "between realities" life that Franklin experiences semi-consciously all the time.

FF319 is when Reed decides to loop back on his own timeline. It leads to FF326 where Reed comes back to the team, ending the linear progress his lie had taken to that point. This is exemplified by the next story arc (321-333) where we see an alternate team starting again. Sue, doppelgangers have been a theme since issue 2, but this is the first time Reed goes back to retread his old life again: I believe this is the first time that Reed embraces being multiple Reeds at once. Reed is becoming more like Franklin: a multidimensional layered timeline, straddling more than one reality at once. Normal chronology (one person moving forwards in time) ends at this point.

This eventually leads to the "council of Reeds" that we see evolve from the Dark Raider story, the Ben's skin story and climaxing on Hickman's run. Reed is like Franklin:a multi dimensional being. Sure, the other Reeds are in theory separate people, but the fact that they evolve to look and act so similar indicates some kind blurred links between realities. Reed is learning Franklin's dream-world rules.

Doom's role in the end of the FF
Note how Doom, like Reed, is in a state of flux at this point (FF304-321): Reed could only step down while Doom, like Reed, was defeated by his own son. In FF311 we see Doom, like Reed, forced to play second fiddle to someone else. Doom returns to play a central role in FF319, foreshadowing the whole Franklinverse meta-arc, where the Celestial links Doom and Reed, Doom connects with Val, "all hope lies in Doom", etc. Doom's use of magic makes him more comfortable with the Franklinverse multi reality layering, and Doom at his best totally understands the idea of a leader's duty to the younger generation. In my opinion neither Doom nor Reed can be complete until they recognize each other as two sides of the same coin. FF319's Molecule Man and Beyonder work as a metaphor for Reed and Doom. Note the role of the Molecule Man and Doom in breaking up the team int he previous false dawn, FF188-200.

tl;dr: that bow tie picture is worth a thousand words.

Issue 308: Ben is cured!

Fantastic Four

A large part of the Fantastic Four was Reed's attempts to cure Ben. But the problem was never his rocky exterior. He was the idol of millions, and the last time that Reed's influence waned, he was desired by both the most confident of all women, Thundra, and the sexiest, the were-woman Tigra. Even near the start, when he was lumpy, women admired him (e.g. in issue 17).

Ben's appearance was never the problem. The problem was Reed, who (unintentionally) gradually destroyed Ben's confidence. Now that the old confidence is back, and with added responsibility, the one thing he lacked in issue 1.

Remember that Ben never actually wanted to be a superhero, but there are three who love being members: Reed, Crystal, and Franklin. So this interregnum period will only last until the last member of the new team is ready: until Reed and Sue have learned the extent of Franklin's powers, and he is ready to take his rightful place in the team. Reed said he could join in a couple of years, and that was one year ago (Marvel Time), leaving one year for them to prove they love him and understand his powers, during which time Ben, Sharon, Alicia, Johnny and Crystal work out their issues. And Reed has to come to terms with the new status quo.

Ben is beautiful

Fantastic Four

Face facts, Reed. You've been defeated by a child (your duty to Franklin), just as Doom was defeated by a child (Kristoff). It's a new generation, Reed, and it belongs to the young.

Fasaud is the zeitgeist
America's main challenge is no longer communism but its own divisions (Johnny versus the Thing), but it needs an external enemy, hence Fasaud. Fasaud is the arc that a lot of people hate, but its only crime was being ahead of its time. As the Great American Novel, a story straight from the zeitgeist, the great new villain has to be Fasaud:

Had Englehart waited three years until the pressure built into the first Gulf War, the story would have been seen as highly relevant. The Fantastic Four was so in tune with the national mood that it identifies themes before most people are aware of them.

Issue 309: Johnny and Crystal!

Fantastic Four 309

In this issue, Crystal really was fabulous. And she said she wants a life of action. She was in the team in their happiest and most exciting time: like Johnny and Franklin (and unlike Ben, Reed and Sue) she really enjoys this, she's made for the team.

Meanwhile, Alicia describes how Johnny and she fell in love. But what she describes is not love but friendship. And what she needs is not Johnny, but a protector who won't leave her as Ben did before he found himself.


Other points to note:

1998 - different

Resolving the themes once and for all

At the top of the page we saw how the story is resolved in terms of the four major themes. But that was superficial, merely showing examples of those themes (they get what they want, Doom was defeated by a child, etc.) But that does not resolve the underlying causes of those themes, so the play is not yet over.

The second half of act 5 shows the themes themselves are resolved in a deeper, underlying way as well. This is necessary for a truly satisfying and final end. After this there will be no more doubts over their desire, confidence, equality, or achievements: these troubles can never again arise. Sure, the friends will still have battles to fight, but we know they will always be happy and at peace, and more than able to solve whatever problems come at them. So we can have a big "THE END" sign as the team rides into the sunset. After this we will need a new team with a new set of conflicts, otherwise the stories would become dull.

This is how they finally solve the underlying problems of...

Reluctance: Ben was never happy (deep down) because he did not want his life. By seeing this at its most extreme (Sharon wanting to die) he finally accepts that his life is not so bad. In fact he finally gets the two things he always felt were denied him: self esteem and sexual magnetism. And now he knows that they come from inside so he an always have them whenever he wants. Sharon will also embrace her role. The other two (Johnny and Crystal) were never reluctant in the first place.

Self confidence: Their success always depended on their confidence. Again, Sharon shows this at its most extreme. The seeds of her cure are sown by the most confident man on the planet, Doom. Ben's confidence is assured by seeing his own repeated success against their greatest enemy, Doom. He can never doubt again. Meanwhile, Johnny is gradually making his life's greatest decision, as you can only be confident when you know what you want! Johnny always had self doubts after Crystal left him, and Crystal's return will solve these once and for all.

Equality: The team is now equal (Ben does not claim superiority) but equality also referred to how they treat enemies. The secret to ultimate success was always Sue's method, to see enemies as people, just like us, and not as one dimensional evil. Since Doom will continue to return (albeit weakened by Kristoff) the solution is to understand him. In the remainder of Act 5 we see Doom as a rounded person, with the concerns of monarchy, with insecurities and weaknesses, and able to good as well as evil (albeit for selfish reasons). Each of these provides an angle with which to neutralize some future threat.

The American Dream: Here the team finally gets everything it ever wanted - Ben even defeats the Hulk! And in issue 319 they see the folly in wanting more and more, so they are now at peace. In issue 310 we also see the limits of the American government (the only time this has ever happened in the 28 year history). So the dream is over, but in a good and healthy way.

Issue 310: "to see ourselves as other see us"


Ben now has his confidence. Now he needs perspective and to learn to love. He gains perspective by seeing another person who is just like he was.

Fantastic Four

The Zeitgeist

Possible criticisms?

Other points to note

Issue 311: three dimensional Doom

Fantastic Four 311

Ben continues his self discovery, seeing Sharon go through all the depression that he did. Note the contrast with Reed. Reed in the early days had no sympathy with Ben, and ended up knocking Ben's self confidence. But Ben is a better leader and builds Sharon up.

This issue is clearly intended as a lead into a bigger story featuring Dr Doom (note that Doom in his armor and hating his appearance is a mirror of the old Ben), but then editorial stepped in and demanded a crossover with a new book, X-Factor. So the story didn't make a lot of sense. (Warning! Editorial interference!) But we still get some interesting touches:

Issue 312: self-knowledge

Fantastic Four 312

The Doom and T'Challa sequence is Shakespearean in its beauty and understanding of monarchy. If any reader wishes to translate it into iambic pentameter, feel free. The rest of the story had a crossover forced upon it (foreshadowing the end of continuity with FF322) so the story does not develop as well as it might.

to see ourselves...

But the real point of this issue is self knowledge. Ben sees himself more clearly by seeing Sharon. Sharon sees herself more clearly by seeing the Beast. 

Self knowledge: Ben achieves what Reed never could

In this issue we see that the new team is more mature than the old team: Ben has self knowledge, and Reed never achieved that. This is why it took a very long fourth act for Reed to learn what Ben learns in just a few issues.

Literary quality

"This issue contains powerful characterization. Englehart says, 'by showing Sharon’s reaction and Ben’s reaction to it, we learned new stuff about him. It had always been a given that turning into a Thing was a terrible curse a noble man had to live with—and now, here’s a noble woman who was taking refuge in it. That blew [Ben’s] mind because it upset his long-held sense of who he was.'” (- "Back Issue" 74)

Three dimensional Doom

Doom is in a position where for once he is the weak party. He should learn, but he won't. He should learn of himself by comparing Kristoff and Rees, but Doom is incapable of objectivity or humility, and that is why he always fails, because he tries to do it all himself. Reed was the same: he failed to make better use of the team because he could not see himself in Doom, his own tendency to want to control everything.

This imperfect Doom really bugs a lot of comic fans.  One fan called FF312 "one of the few issues I have rated worth burning." This may be partly because Englehart was forced to add a cross-over that harmed the story but mainly it's because Doom shows weakness. This is what sets great writing, like Shakespeare apart from bad comic books: the greatest characters do have character flaws. Note the skill in Englehart's approach: Doom is a natural leader, and he is at his weakest when separated from his people. His absolute lowest point was when his vanity caused him to choose to neglect his people in the early 1970s (when struggling to cope with the loss of the power cosmic), as memorably shown in the Englehart's still shocking Super Villain Team Up series.

A return to the theme of monarchy

Acts 1 and 2 were dominated by the theme of monarchy: the FF represented democracy whereas all their enemies represented the desire to be king.
Now in act 5 we return to the theme, and see monarchies in the modern age:

Issue 313: the Mole Man is finally a friend

Fantastic Four 313Fantastic Four 313
Fantastic Four 313

Issue 313 brings an emotional resolution to the FF's first enemy, the Mole Man - focusing on his core identity, loneliness. It also begins the final resolution of Johnny's twenty five year "will they - won't they" relationship with Crystal. (25 years publication time; 9 years in Marvel Time, with half of that being before they split up.) Note that Alicia had already made the Mole Man into a friend in annual 13, but rather than forming an alliance Reed had abandoned him and the good was later undone when the surface world attacked him.

Project Pegasus
Project Pegasus is Reed's destiny: the man who wanted to fly (like the winged horse of mythology) will eventually end up with his feet on the ground: like a true scientist he will learn the most that way. See the Next Generation for details.


As for DeVoor (or DeVere), this is the name of the man who tried to buy the Fantastic Four in FF163, and of the villain of the Project Pegasus saga in Marvel Two In One. The name deVore or deVere comes from the Norman conquest of Britain. The deVere family so successful in defeating the nation of Britain that they were given huge amounts of the land. The deVeres think big.

Other points to note

Issue 314: Sharon is cured

Fantastic Four 314

As with Ben, her problem was not her appearance, but her confidence.

Here she works through her confidence. The underground symbolizes her inner state, just as her rocky skin symbolizes her self hatred and search for a stable identity. (For more on the symbolism of rocky skin see the notes to issue 1.)

The symbolism of underground rivers

For more about the symbolism of underground rivers in psychology and myth, see "Underground Rivers" by Richard J. Heggen (searchable via Google books)
underground rivers

Other points to note

Issue 315: if Johnny was single...

Fantastic Four 315

In this issue we see why Ben will end up with Alicia, and Johnny will end up with Crystal.

Johnny was always in love with Crystal. The lack of passion in his relationship with Alicia (I said passion, not sex) confirms what was clear at the time: Johnny and Alicia both married on the rebound. (Alicia had given up hope with Ben, and Johnny had finally given up hope of true love after Frankie left him).

While Ben's creation of Tari may seem proof that he is fated to be with Sharon, it actually shows the opposite: Tari was temporary, an illusion. Ben needed to know that he could succeed with a stereotypical curvy blond, to get past his self doubts. Sharon provides that, while at the same time Sharon needs to know that not all men are evil. They help each other because they both have temporary needs, but when those needs are resolved then they mature and become different people: they both become whole. The basis of their relationship was always their problems. Ben and Sharon will always love each other as friends, but there is no long term bond between them. Note the parallels with FF319, about becoming complete, whole people, then moving on.

Other points to note:

Issue 316: the pre-history of the world

This and issue 319 finally explains everything: this gives us the history of the world, and 319 gives us the higher powers behind it all.

This issues does not merely explain big Marvel history, it hints at the much bigger story that's behind everything. Issue 319 will reveal that higher powers (what we call highly advanced beings, or magic) are behind all humanity and all superheroes. From time to time we get hints, and more than hints: with Nicholas Scratch, or the Sphinx, or the tension between the Watcher and Galactus, etc. See the notes to Galactus' first appearance for more details.between them we can piece together Earth's history (some details from Uatu's List):

200 million BC Nuwali (working for Beyonders) created the Savage Land
(same time)
Beyonders plant colonizers on Planet Fortisque, around Arcturus
50 million BC Continents separate, Nuwali install heaters under Antarctic
1 million BC
Origins of Kree-Skrull war, Cotati, blue areas of the moon,etc See the notes to FF323
500,000 BC FF221: Primus explores Earth: magnetic poles flip.
500,000-40,000 BC: Odin founds the Asgardian gods. (Journey into Mystery 103, Thor annual 3).
For the links, see the notes to FF224.
200,000 BC Homo Sapiens evolve; Nuwali leave
For details of the three main races on Earth, see the Eternals by Jack Kirby.
25,000 BC
Kree visitors discover Earth's three races. They create a new experimental race: the Inhumans
18,500 BC
King Kull rules Atlantis: now still barbaric, but later becomes advanced. This is an ear where higher beings (magic) were less hidden.
15,000 BC Height of Atlantis
12,000 BC
On Earth: the Hyborean age of Conan.
On Arcturus (the demon world of FF315): caretakers from Fortisque leave.
10,000 BC
Deviants (on Lemuria) defeat Atlantis.
Celestials destroy Lemuria: huge global cataclysm (heating ends, Savage Land sinks, etc.)
Deviants and old Atlantis sink under the Earth: the origin of the Mole Man technology. See FF127.
Fortisquans told (by their unknown masters, the Beyonders) to preserve the Savage Land as an animal reserve
Fortisquans discover teleportation technology
1,400 BC
The Sphinx, contemporary with Moses
AD 1961
The Fantastic Four gain their powers
AD 3000
Kang the Conqueror grows up (see FF19)

And where is Ben's heart really?

The big story is side by side with the small story.

Fantastic Four 316

Real world science
...although, given that Alicia is more important than people tend to think, maybe this is big as well. Note that Ben is friends with the Mole Man's people and looks like a Deviant. So Human, Ben and Inhuman (Crystal) represent three species of humanity. This reminds us of the real world pre-history of man, where homo sapiens were just one of many hominid species, but the Sapiens wiped out the rest.

Other points to note

snow creatures
Issue 222
Issue 316
protected by semi-mindless ice creatures (black)
protected by semi-mindless ice creatures (white)
went there to solve a global mystery
went there to solve a global mystery
an underground alien civilization from thousands of years before
an underground alien civilization from thousands of years before
machines that caused global catastrophe (through swapping the magnetic poles)
machines that caused global catastrophe (through turning off massive heaters)

For how everything connects, see the notes to issue 224 (regarding Odin and 500,000 BC).

Completing the story that began with Galactus

The cover reminds us that this is the end of the story that began with FF47. Issue 47 is where the FF discovered the secret of the Inhumans, which alerted Galactus, and brought planet Earth into contact with the forbidden secrets of the highest cosmic beings. This issue is where we finally begin to learn what those secrets mean. The four issues 47-50 are equivalent to the four issues 316-319.


Issue 317: Ben loves Alicia, Johnny loves Crystal

Fantastic Four 317

As the start of a new era, these issues fill us in on a whole lot of Marvel history and geography, plus revealing a few more details (like the easy way to travel - the idea of walking between caves and planets really appeals to me. I'm a sucker for that stuff, seeing how all the star systems and races fit together. There's even a miniature version of the Negative Zone!) But the real purpose of this issue is to show that Johnny really loves Crystal, but he's too much of a hero to abandon his wife. Note that there is never passion for Alicia, he just has to tell himself that he loves here. Whereas for Crystal, every fiber of his being burns. Twice he repeats how much it hurts to stay with Alicia when Crystal is there.

Fantastic Four

As for Ben, everyone remembers this famous kissing scene, but we tend to forget the context: this happened because Ben had just let his guard down with Alicia, showing how happy he was to see her, and now Ben wants to prove to Sharon that, no, he isn't secretly wanting Alicia, honest. But the last page of FF303 told a different story: Ben will probably always be in love with Alicia.

And the title, "last kiss"? Johnny does kiss Alicia again, but his mental "I do love you" sounds more desperate every time.

Annual 21: the final annual. Growing up and moving forwards.

Fantastic Four      annual 21Fantastic Four annual 20

The final annual
This is the final in continuity annual. The next (annual 22) follows directly from FF 333 and is the first adventure of the clone team (see notes). Every annual in the Great American Novel has a message of central importance to the whole 28 year story, and the final annual of course is a message for the future. Or rather, two messages: an exhortation promise and a warning.

  1. Stories must move forwards
    This annual foreshadows the final year of stories: the clone team saga is Steve Englehart's pleas to Marvel that stories must move forwards (this is made explicit in the final in-continuity issue, FF 333). The ned to move forward is the theme of this annual, "the evolutionary war". The main story is about evolution. The subplots are also about moving on:
  2. We can't always get what we want
    This is a core message for the end of the Cold War. America wins, but in doing so America loses: it loses its purpose and unity. See the notes to FF 200 for how the "united" states began to be "disunited" as inequality increased: and inequality is of course the whole point of superheroes. While on the topic, note how the Fantastic Four is in fact a monster comic, representing the Cold War, and declines to be a regular superhero comic when the cold war ends. We see this winning but losing in:

The 21 annuals
As we prepare to finish the Great American Novel, this may be a good moment to remember the message of each of the 21 annuals (21 being the age at which people are traditionally adults: the Great American Novel is about America growing up), In order to reach the number 21, some years do not have annuals. Also, the period of greatest confusion, the end of act 3 and start of act 4, misses four annuals, but later we have four original "giant size Fantastic Four" issues to make up. If I had more time I'd look at the significance of the number four (fantastic four, obviously) and which years missed annuals. But for now, here is a reminder of the main themes covered:
  1. (Annual 1, 1963) the first great war.
    Message: we create out own wars.
  2. The origin of Doom.
    Message: enemies have their reasons. We would perhaps behave the same way if we were them.
  3. The wedding.
    Message: we must move forwards, and the sexes must be equal. This was the first time that major comic book superheroes got married.
  4. Torch versus Torch.
    Message: beware! Never make non-human corporations (or androids, or computers, or companies that use an artist's skill) more powerful than humans.
  5. Psycho-man and pregnancy.
    Message:psychology is just as important as physical power: perhaps more so. Look deep inside yourself (the microverse): do you act out of fear and ignorance? These things have long term results (the metaphor of pregnancy
  6. The birth of Franklin.
    Message: put the children first.
  7. (Giant Size FF 1) Hulk versus Thing
    Message: our real enemy is ourself.
  8. (GSFF 2) America's history
    Message: remember where you came from and why you are what you are.
  9. (GSFF 3) the four horsemen of the apocalypse
    Message: remember the dangers
  10. (GSFF 4) the multiple man
    Message: through ignorance, a simple problem that should never be a problem can instead multiply. We are innocent, but mad. This is perhaps the most profound message of all, because life could be so perfect and so simple if only we stand back and think. My main website is on this topic.
  11. (Annual 11) World War II
    Message: the smallest thing can cause war. (Also, World War II was the biggest event in American history, so it matters in its own right!)
  12. the beginning of the end
    Message: long term, everything depends on friendship, not force.
  13. Mole Man becomes a friend
    Message: enemies can become friends.
  14. Franklin begins to grow up
    Message: children are the answer.
  15. The return of Doom
    Message: defeating someone through force is not a victory: that person, or another enemy like them, will come back.
  16. The dragon riders
    Message: dragons represent strong relationships, like marriage. We can have powerful friends, if only we focus on creating networks of mutual need and trust
  17. Skrull milk
    Message: defeating someone through deception is not a victory either (see the message of annual 15)
  18. The end of the Kree-Skrull war
    Message: resolve even the greatest of all problems through cooperation
  19. The end of the Skrulls as threats
    Message: even bad guys have some good people among them
  20. Doom is neutralised
    Message: children are the permanent solution
  21. The evolutionary war.
    Message: move forwards!

And for good measure, after the story ends and the clone team take over:

   22.  The clones fight annual 1's battle again (more or less)
          Message: if we don't move forwards, nothing will ever get better.

Other points to note


Issue 318: Doom and the new team

Fantastic Four 318Fantastic Four 318

Again this story we see Johnny telling himself that he does love Alicia, he does, he does, he does. But when Alicia says something surprising, Johnny does not believe her, but Ben does. The notable event this issue is Ben's apparent spontaneous declaration of love for Sharon. It may be influenced by Johnny's presence, to reassure him that Ben is not after Alicia. But it could also be simple concern: Ben feels bad that he may be taking Sharon to her death. Whether this is a serious declaration of romantic love or a simple "if we die remember that I love you all" is left for the reader to decide.

A three dimensional Doom

This issue has been criticized because Doom shows a lack of honor in killing the Molecule Man. But Doom is a three dimensional character: a leader who is morally lost when separated from his people. See FF287 and FF312 for other examples. As we see with Sharon, Doom can also do genuine good when it suits his agenda. he is not a two dimensional character. 

Doom and Ben

Ben, the one who broke Doom's hands, was always Doom's nemesis: Doom hates Reed, but is far angrier with Ben because Ben is not supposed to be on his level, yet routinely beats him.Doom compensates with high technology, but with Kristoff to keep Doom busy, Ben is now a match for the good doctor.

Fantastic Four 318

With Reed gone, Doom's future battles will be a lot more physical and more exciting.

Issue 319: final cosmic answers to everything

Fantastic Four 319

This double sized spectacular finishes the 28 year story with a bang: superpowers are finally explained, and the most powerful being in the Marvel Universe (or so it was believed at the time) is taught humility. He is as great as he thought he was. This parallels Reed's 28 year story: it was all about being humble.

To drive home the parallel, Doom is also not complete, and the important thing he is missing is memory. Memory makes us what we are, it gives us insights and depth. So the loss of memory in the Franklinverse era (when themes can be forgotten and Ben no longer fought in WWII) will be a serious loss.

no accident

This issue ends the saga of the Molecule Man that began in Act 2 (it was the Molecule Man who made Reed decide to give up being a superhero in FF188, remember). It may also provide what we need to decipher the "accident" in issue 1. Yes, it was a genuine accident, just as the Molecule Man's origin was a genuine accident. But it could only occur because certain powers were waiting. In FF351, Kubik (a star of FF319) makes the link, but all the information is here, in FF319.

More about superpowers, as explained in FF319.

About the Rick Jones image

One of the images in FF319 features Rick Jones creating super heroes. This is the defining image from Avengers 97, the key issue in the Kree-Skrull War story. Is this canon? The position of this web site is that non-FF comics are open to exaggeration, since other heroes do not report their adventures direct to Marvel Comics. However, the Kree-Skrull war features strongly in the FF, so it has to be taken seriously. And not just because the Kree and Skrulls first appear in the FF. The Kree-Skrull war is referenced in FF319, the issue that explains everything, and it's the background to FF annuals 12, 15,18 and 19. FF annuals only cover major events, so that gives you an idea of the war's importance. Avengers 97 features Annihilus and the four skrulls from FF2, and what happens reveals a lot about Franklin Richards.


Note that the Avengers title, "Godhood's end" is a confirmation of FF319. It's a reference to the book "Childhood's end", the basis of FF245 where Franklin finally took action (see the notes to FF245). Franklin is both a god (he controls everything) and a child (he does not understand).

The theme of the book "Childhood's End" is the theme of FF319: advanced aliens are waiting until we are ready for their gifts. In the advanced aliens are called Beyonders, and the first gift is super powers to a select few humans. The Fantastic Four are the first humans to receive such powers (previous heroes, the Torch and Namor, are not entirely human). One of their roles is to prepare the way for Franklin, a living Cosmic Control rod.

In Avengers 97 Rick Jones gains a fraction of Franklin's "Cosmic Control" power, but Rick lacked Franklin's parentage so could not retain it. The full story was pieced together by Tony, creator of the amazing "Original Marvel Universe" (OMU) blog. His email is reprinted here by kind permission.

Franklin Richards, Rick Jones, and the Cosmic Control Rod?

I’ve been looking more closely at Rick Jones and his experience in the Kree-Skrull War, and I’ve found something interesting that I think ties in really well with your discussion of Franklin Richards and his relationship with Annihilus, the Cosmic Control Rod, and the Negative Zone.

While looking online for some color scans of panels from these stories, I of course stopped by the SuperMegaMonkey Marvel Comics Chronology site. In his extensive review/summary of the storyline, he makes a good point about the climax in which Rick generates simulacra of Golden-Age superheroes to fight Ronan’s troops: “There's no real good explanation about how Rick was able to do what he did or why that power subsequently goes away.” But I think, as is often the case, the answer is literally staring us in the face—it’s right there in the artwork.

In AVENGERS #96, Rick Jones is imprisoned on the planet Hala with the Supreme Intelligence, who is, of course, taking credit as the prime mover behind all recent events. (He always does that!) Suddenly, a space warp opens up in the room, which pulls Rick back into the Negative Zone, where Annihilus just happens to be cruising by on an asteroid. The immediate implication is that the Supreme Intelligence created the space warp, but this turns out not to be quite the case.

(The space warp actuates from Captain Marvel trying to contact Rick with the Omni-Wave Projector he has just built on the Skrull Throneworld. The Omni-Wave Projector is essentially a communications device that works through subspace, thus allowing instantaneous two-way communication across intergalactic distances. However, the OWP can also be adapted to serve as a powerful weapon, some kind of “ultimate death-ray.” So, while the Supreme Intelligence manipulated events to get Mar-Vell to ‘accidentally’ transport Rick into the Negative Zone just then, he didn’t actively create the space warp himself. And we both know the complicated connections between “subspace” and the Negative Zone.)

Now here’s the good bit. In AVENGERS #97, Annihilus attacks Rick and is about to throttle him when suddenly a blast of energy of some kind apparently shoots out of Rick’s mind (through his forehead) and strikes Annihilus—where?—right in the COSMIC CONTROL ROD. Now, this energy beam obviously would be traveling essentially at the speed of light, like the beam of a flashlight, so it would be impossible to see if it actually went from Rick to Annihilus or from Annihilus to Rick. And if there was some kind of two-way transmission going on, neither of them would be able to tell the difference. Annihilus merely says, “What bedeviling bolt is this—from out of nowhere? Who—?” Rick responds, “It’s—me, Bat-Man. The blast is coming from—my mind! But—even I don’t know why—or how!” Note Rick’s hesitation and uncertainty. The next two panels have captions that tell us, “Speechless with shock and useless rage, Annihilus is sent swiftly, violently, hurtling away—till he is lost in darkness and vast distance—leaving a floating and helpless Rick Jones no better off than he was before—and perhaps much worse!”

Annihilus does not return, but Rick suddenly has the ability to escape from the exploding atmosphere of the zone of distortion by simply flying away like Superman—“doing the up, up, and away shtick,” as Rick puts it. He then, unconsciously it seems, creates a space warp that takes him right back to the Supreme Intelligence on Hala. The Supreme Intelligence knows that Rick has now achieved the cosmic potential inherent in the human race, and therefore has the power to defeat Ronan and stop the war. It is the Supreme Intelligence who tells Rick what to do next, to concentrate on the superheroes he read about in comic books as a child. As Ronan’s troops rush in to kill their prisoners, Rick suddenly creates his Golden-Age superheroes “out of thin air.” These manifestations appear to have the personalities, memories, and even self-awareness of the originals for the few minutes of their existence. Then, they fade away before Ronan and his troops are fully defeated. Has Rick failed?

The Supreme Intelligence tells him, “Your mindlings gave you a moment’s respite, during which your brain could consolidate its awesome, newfound power. Now, however, comes the fateful test!” The creation of these superheroes, which is what everyone remembers and talks about, was not the main event. It was just Rick getting warmed up. Next, he sends out his power in an energy bolt that “fills both chamber and cosmos in the selfsame instant! It permeates the very universe in the space of a heartbeat—reaches the far-off Skrull galaxy,” where it causes every Kree and Skrull involved in the battle to freeze in his tracks, essentially thrown into suspended animation for at least a few minutes. Once this is accomplished, Rick stays on his feet long enough to hear another of the Supreme Intelligence’s long-winded speeches, then pitches over on the brink of death. His frail human form was not able to channel that much cosmic power in such a short amount of time.

(Very similar to the DOCTOR WHO episode, if you watch that, where Rose Tyler goes all “Phoenix” on the Daleks and then collapses for the same reason. I know Russell T. Davies was a fan of Marvel Comics from way back, and I’ve always been struck by the many apparent borrowings in DOCTOR WHO from old comic book story lines and tropes. The Face of Boe is reminiscent of the Supreme Intelligence, for example. But that’s a whole other tangent.)

So essentially, Rick has a close encounter with Annihilus’s Cosmic Control Rod, then manifests these awesome cosmic powers to warp reality, and burns them out very quickly. I think the Supreme Intelligence’s whole plan was for Rick to absorb the power of the Cosmic Control Rod and use it to stop the “hot” war between the two empires, so they would settle back into their comfortable and more manageable “cold” war status quo. Rick absorbed a set amount of its energy, which enabled him to do what needed to be done, and then the energy was all expended, leaving him “uncursed by awakening of latent power,” as the S.I. says while teleporting Rick and the Avengers back to earth. That’s why he never manifested such abilities again.

Rick’s life is saved when Captain Marvel phases into him, providing Rick with the “life force” he needs to continue to exist. However, Rick and Captain Marvel were separated again years later, with no ill effects on Rick, so clearly Rick just needed the “life force” to sustain him long enough for his body to heal.

Annihilus could easily have been driven away not by some kind of mental force-blast, but by the draining of energy from the Cosmic Control Rod. The comic does not clearly explain what exactly is happening in that scene, and leaves it open to interpretation.

Interestingly, when all the Skrulls suddenly stop fighting and go into a trance, the confused Avengers are wondering who caused it. Iron Man says, “Whoever did it, one thing’s for sure—he’s got to be one of the most powerful beings in the universe!” Sounds like hyperbole, but isn’t that how we might describe Franklin Richards? Here, Rick took a short-cut and was artificially amped-up by the Cosmic Control Rod to do exactly what Franklin can do naturally. And of course it almost cost him his life. Unlike Rick, Franklin was an enhanced human already, being a mutant, and was “energized” at birth with the Cosmic Control Rod, as you’ve pointed out. So Franklin is able to channel the same power levels that Rick did without destroying himself.

In this way, Rick is something of a precursor to Franklin Richards. This story takes place when Franklin is still basically an infant (whether you’re in real-time, Marvel Time, or my OMU timeline) and his powers have not yet manifested. If you want to put a “biblical” spin on it, you could say that Rick Jones is the “John the Baptist” to Franklin’s “Jesus Christ.” And obviously the Supreme Intelligence is analogous to “God” (YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah, etc.) (I guess that makes Annihilus “Satan” and the Negative Zone is “Hell,” but I think I’m getting way ahead of myself and this analogy is spinning out of control.)

Anyway, I think AVENGERS #97 offers a great deal of support for your ideas about the Cosmic Control Rod’s involvement in Franklin’s birth and the nature of his mutant/cosmic powers.

-- Tony

Other points to note:

homage cover

Issue 320: Ben finally defeats the Hulk!

Fantastic Four 320

Finally a conclusion to the age-old Hulk Versus Thing war. After 28 years, the Thing finally wins! And to symbolize the new equality in the book, the next issue has She-Hulk versus She-Thing.

Note Doctor Doom on the cover: Doom is now Ben's opponent, not Reed's. Doom may consider Reed's semi-retirement as either Reed admitting defeat, or Reed arrogantly saying that even Ben could defeat him now. Which is true: Doom is now rescued to a threat he can deal on his own. And note Doom's hands outstretched: Ben gave him arguably his greatest humiliation by crushing his hands. It is doubtful whether hands with that much damage could ever fully recover their original state.

Issue 321: aiming for the moon again

Issue 321 is the last in-continuity monthly issue of the Fantastic Four. That is, the last one where all events grow out of previous events. Note the retro-style cover, looking back to several classic covers of the past. There was then a limbo period, during which events did not move forwards, but did not move dramatically backwards either. For much of this period the team were literally asleep. This limbo period ended with issue 354: see further down the page. At the end of 354 the team was dramatically rebooted. It is possible that some later issues may or may not be in continuity, depending on how we view Franklin's role.

This issue sums up the state of the Fantastic Four at this point: Ben has finally come to terms with himself, and is no longer needy. Johnny is finally facing the decision that will kick start the next generation of the FF (see "The Last Fantastic Four Story" below - note the moon imagery). She-Thing is finally at peace and ready to have fun, and walks into the moonlight with She-Hulk, the previous "new member."

With FF321, the book is finally ready for the future. But instead, 322 started a break in the story, and a rather long interlude... 24 years of the Franklinverse, and counting!

The theme at the start and end: feminism and alienation

The very first panels of the 28 year story (after the splash page), shows Sue leaving her friends to join the FF. This is highly symbolic. What follows is 28 years of chaos driven by the men: 28 years of fighting, confrontation and struggle.
28 years later, the women finally decide to do things their way. They decide that their lives do not need to revolve around men. And they walk off into the sunset.

the Bechdel test

Again and again we have seen that Sue's gentle methods could have solved or prevented the problems. But Sue is always kept too busy to sit down and do things her way, or else she is just ignored. This is all part of the theme of alienation, discussed in the notes to issue 2.

Sexism is part of the American story, particularly when the story opened in 1961. Women in the 1950s were supposed to stay at home: with no income, very little human contact, and no right to overrule men. The Fantastic Four starts with the race to the moon, and this was as sexist as anywhere else. In space flight, every pound of weight matters. Women, being lighter, should have been the obvious astronauts. They were often better fliers than the men. But instead they were banned:

"Under NASA's selection criteria women could not qualify as astronaut candidates. Glenn also believed that "The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order." They correctly stated that NASA required all astronauts to be graduates of military jet test piloting programs and have engineering degrees, although John Glenn conceded that he had been assigned to NASA's Mercury Project without having earned the required college degree. In 1962, women were still barred from Air Force training schools, so no American women could become test pilots of military jets. Despite the fact that several of the Mercury 13 [women] had been employed as civilian test pilots, and many had considerably more propeller aircraft flying time than the male astronaut candidates"  (Wikipedia)

All the women in the Great American Novel are strong, usually stronger than the men, but are alienated from the society they would naturally choose:

The Bechdel test: a summary
We can see their alienation by how seldom the women meet and talk: between those first and last panels they seldom they pass the Bechdel test: "The Bechdel test asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man." (WikipediaHere are the main woman-woman conversations in the 28 year Fantastic Four story. Apart from the very start and very end, they all show alienation from each other due to conflicts originating with males:

The only time women can pass the Bechdel test without alienation or conflict is the very opening and closing panels of the story. The story is about male conflict as it affects the females around them.

Men, women and Watchers
Incidentally, note the presence of the rogue Watcher. In Genesis 6 and the book of Enoch, the watchers were the Nephilim, the offspring of forbidden liaisons between the sons of god and the daughters of men. This forbidden male-female mixing was followed by the calamity of the Great Flood. the most learned of the early Christians ("gnostic" means "learned") argued that at this point these gods were corrupt, and Noah's wife (Norea) was the smart one (she was Sophia, spirit of wisdom). Draw whatever parallels you want!

Who is Aron?

This is a shortened version of much longer notes. I don't have the time to do this topic justice: it links everything. but hopefully these short comments are better than nothing.

The opposite of a Watcher
The original Aron the Watcher appeared in Captain Marvel comics, and in FF annual 21: a young Watcher who believed Watchers should get more involved. But this Aron acts like the opposite of a Watcher:

  • Watchers have almost unlimited power: he does not (he needs a dragon for help; he has to scrape off skin cells for DNA, his power is in his mechanical suit, etc.)
  • Watchers know almost everything: he does not.
  • Watchers never interfere (or if they do it is in extremely limited ways): he interferes all the time.
  • Watchers do not want power, he does.
  • Watchers do not prevent people finding them: he does.
  • Watchers are giants by default (though they can change size at will): he is only a little taller than average.Watchers wear robes, he wears a battle suit.
  • and so on.

Is he a villain?
Aron is also assumed to be a villain, but he never actually does anything bad, in the long term.  His actions only seem bad in the short term, but do no harm: arguably they even do good. Whatever he says must be treated with extreme caution: he hides his true nature from most people, and his purpose is to create fake versions of people to study: he is all about hiding reality. Clearly he is very powerful and interested in studying the team but why?

Why he cannot be a junior Watcher: the ant problem
Perhaps he is a young Watcher, who's power is still not far above human level? No, because that would make him like an ant to the other Watchers. Also, as their child they would want to watch him all the time as they do in Captain Marvel. Given their far greater power there is no way he could hide from them. We often forget that the Watcher can do almost anything (see FF13 and FF29), and in all the universe only Galactus has equal power (see FF 48)

How could he not be the real Aron?
The real Aron is a rebel, so if somebody had good reason to pretend to be him, Aron might approve. But who would that person be? And why pretend?

And another problem:
The other big problem is Dragon Man. Ever since FF annual 16, Dragon Man has been the permanent companion of Ral Dorn, Dragon Rider. Ral relies on him for transport across time and space, so would not let him away except for special brief missions, like watching over Johnny Storm's wedding (Dragon man is always there at history changing romantic moments - see the notes by FF35). Anyone standing with Dragon Man like that has to be Ral Dorn. But if this is Ral, why is he pretending to be Aron?

        Dragon Man
Dragon Riders are like Watchers
Dragon Riders have extremely advanced technology and can travel anywhere in time or space (thanks to the dragons). They are galactic policemen, but believe very strongly in personal freedom: they only interfere to preserve freedom. This is pretty much the same as the Watchers' creed: although the Watcher claims to never interfere, it is clear from his actions that what he means is he will not take away freedom. Watchers are so wise and powerful that anything he says would be taken as a command and therefore remove freedom. So Watchers say and do the minimum possible. The bottom line is that Dragon Riders are like Watchers, except they are weaker (who isn't?) and therefore more willing to interfere.

So the weakest and most rebellious Watcher, Aron would be very sympathetic to a Dragon Rider's requests. And if a Dragon Rider wanted to hide then pretending to be a Watcher would be a good idea: that way, no matter what crazy powers the Dragon Rider uses, nobody would think it was odd. But still, why would Ral Dorn want to hide his identity? Let's see what we know about Ral Dorn.

Ral Dorn's need for a disguise
When we last saw Ral he was hunting his father. He had just discovered that his father's best friend was evil. So there is a good chance that his father was evil as well, and trying to avoid being caught. That explains the need for a disguise. But who is his father, and why would Ral look for him here? All we know about his father is that he (Ral) and his father were the only humans ever allowed to be dragon riders, and the other dragon riders were hugely impressed. So we are looking for:

  1. an extraordinary human male
  2. with abilities that would impress the libertarian dragon riders,
  3. somebody who has been away from planet Earth for long periods,
  4. and is probably evil (or there is no reason for a disguise)

Ral Dorn's father
Most of Aron's time is spent studying the FF, and we'll look at reasons for that later. But only one person fits the description of his father: Necrodamus, who appeared as part of Inferno. Necrodamus spent a long time in Limbo, a space between dimensions. The dates might not seem to match, but dates mean nothing in Limbo: you can go in, spend a thousand years there, and emerge before you entered. The space between dimensions is of course where dragon riders go in between dimensions, and is the only place you could hide from dragons (as they could track you in any regular dimension). So it is just where Ral's father would hide.

Checking this conclusion
Dragons who spend time in Limbo are called demons. The demons from Limbo looked just like Dragon Riders and their dragons. Obviously there were too many to just be dragon riders, and many are evil, but we are talking about the same kind of beings. So everything fits with "Aron" being Ral in disguise.

Coming soon:
Who began Inferno, and what is their link with the Dragon Riders?
Who was Necrodamus originally, and why would the Dragon Riders be so impressed?
Questions answered, and
how Dragon man ties everything together.

How the Great American Novel ends

And so we come to the end of the Great American novel. What next for America? The big new idea introduced here is the Rogue Watcher: as the lone superpower America is no longer limited and can survey the whole world and do what it wants. Or so it thinks..

empire state

America's founding fathers were isolationist, seeing themselves itself as watching old Europe but not getting involved. They were like the old Watcher, having learned from hard experience that well intentioned involvement in others' affairs does as much harm as good in the long term: it is better to offer an example of better things, and let the persecuted free to safety in America. Compare that old view of America, that old Watcher, to this new Watcher:

The old Watcher welcomes anybody to his house (as long as they respect it)
The new watcher hides. Note the modern surveillance state (at time of writing it is 2013 and the revelations of Edward Snowden: the American government can watch the people, and the people are not allowed to know.).

The old watcher will not interfere
The new watcher will do whatever he needs in order to further his interests.

Original good Watcher observed from the moon: a higher ideal
New bad Watcher watches from the "Empire State" building: the state of empire. The new America is the global empire (with military bases within reach of everywhere) and no rivals on earth. It is all about the empire.

Other points to note:

next: Franklin pulls the plug

The Great American Novel