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

Reed's story: the Negative Zone

Reed is the elite, and the Negative Zone means negativity: the belief that people must do dark, desperate things to survive. That attitude almost killed us all.

Reed versus Sue

This is the story of Reed and Sue. Their first appearance says it all: Reed is in shadow, holding a gun. Sue is in the sunlight, holding a coffee cup.

Reed and Sue

Reed sees the world as a desperate, dangerous place, where a man must do desperate, dangerous things.


His greatest achievement was opening the Negative Zone, basically a Hell gate.

life's work

But Sue sees the world differently. Love is more powerful than violence.


The contrast is embodied in the birth of their son Franklin. To save his family's life, Reed thinks he must enter the Negative Zone. In doing so he helplessly spirals toward death, all in the name of life.

let there be life

But he could have just asked a friend, Lockjaw, to fetch the item he needed.


But Reed is always so busy with the next crisis that they never have time to slow down and think of their friends. Their friends could help them, but they are always too busy to build those relationships.

The five act story

all five acts

Act 1: the arms race

In issue 1 Reed discovers sub-space portals without realizing it, and attempt to shut down the whole system using violence. It does not work of course. In the rest of act 1 Sue tries to be as violent as the men, and all the great dangers are introduced.


Act 2: The race to build the sub-space portal

The great dangers in the universe are fleshed out. Negative zone technology is introduced, piece by piece. Sue must decide between the quick easy route (Namor: handsome, powerful, passionate lover) and the slow, difficult route (her promise to Reed, who despite his sexism, need for control and lack of social skills is deep down a humble man who only wants to do good.) Reed's masculine approach leads to the Sue's greatest challenge: the death of her father. She then makes the hardest and bravest choice of all.


Act 3: Reed enters the Negative Zone

This is the Fantastic Four's golden era: a whirlwind of adventure that feels like a drug-filled high (see issue 76). Excitement builds on excitement: the marriage, the Inhumans, Galactus, the opening of the Negative Zone, the Black Panther, and more. As a good early 1960s wife, Sue does things Reed's way. She takes a back seat and lets him call the shots. But it does not work: the chaos and danger merely increases. But Sue is learning: a love of peace cannot mean silently obeying.

never listen

Meanwhile, their son is born. From now on the question of family will crystallize around a simple choice: will Reed choose the negative Zone, or will he focus on Franklin? Franklin (representing family) can solve all their problems, if only Reed could see.

Act 4: They must close it before it destroys them all

The ever increasing danger has its inevitable end: Reed causes World War Three, everything goes wrong, Reed has a nervous breakdown, but still refuses to put his family first. Faced with this utter collapse Sue has to get away to think. They come within a hair's breadth of divorce. Sue returns to take charge of the team (as the queen in chess: the power behind the throne). This gives Reed a boost of courage, and in an almighty masculine effort he thinks he defeats his greatest enemy. But that way never works, and Reed plunges into denial. He withdraws on himself, pretends everything is fine, tries to kill himself, and eventually succeeds, in a final act of sacrifice that closes the Negative Zone forever.

seal the zone

Meanwhile Sue is battling through hell and back (literally), to save the family through love. Alicia, the hyper-Sue, steps in to solve the deepest underlying problems. The team becomes fifty percent female, and through that Reed is brought back from the dead.  Thanks to Alicia Ben is now ready to take over Reed's role. Reed is then ready to see another man like himself, and understand that maybe he isn't right all the time. He finally agrees to follow Sue and put Franklin first.

Reed sees

Act 5: A better way at last

With Reed no longer controlling everything the others can reach their potential. Ben and Johnny are no longer negative: they find love at last, and their power greatly increases. Ben combines strength and empathy and is able to find a better replacement for Reed's technology (the Mole Man already had all that sorted in issue 1). Reed spends time with Franklin, they befriend the Mole Man and the Fortesquans to provide all the technology they need, and everybody is happy. And all cosmic answers are revealed.


The epilogue
But a woman's work is never done. In the real world there is no "happy ever after." Franklin has buried years of being afraid, and it begins to surface in an inferno (FF321-324). Reed misses being in charge, and decides to come back (F326). Higher beings step in to prevent the impending disaster (the being who claims to be Aron). We are then offered several possible endings.

  1. Peace
    If Sue can hold it together, it can yet be peace and harmony.
  2. Craziness
    If Crystal lets her pride take over we can have a whole new set of problems, with she and Johnny running a team including their dysfunctional teenage children. but it will be a wild ride - exactly like the first team yet different!
  3. Doom
    Or if Reed takes charge again the Negative Zone will be reopened, conflict will increase and it will be the end of the world.
  4. Denial
    Or we can just pretend, and ignore reality completely. The book closes by leaving us with the ending we want: Peace, a roller-coaster ride, or destruction, or illusion.

To be continued... in real life.

The real world message

The Fantastic Four is the story of the cold war. The time when America and Russia felt it necessary to create weapons that could end all life, and they said it was a necessary, even a good thing. Yet in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in fact every moment since then, we were (and are) only four minutes away from armageddon.


The boys cannot understand the risk. Sue can. She sees the bigger picture.

explosion at end

And Sue knows it does not have to be this way.

The Fantastic Four is America's "Lord of the Rings"

The Lord of the Rings is about how simple good hearted folk can save the world, but the well meaning wizards can only destroy.

"Tolkien had spent the afternoon walking around Rotterdam--a city that had suffered much destruction during World War II. The sight of it had saddened him, reminding him of the "orc-ery" that he so lamented taking hold of the world. The "cold-hearted wizards," in their quest for knowledge and power, were only good at destroying things. In his final salute to the assembly of hobbit-lovers, Tolkien said that Sauron is gone, but the descendants of the hateful, Shire-polluting wizard Saruman are everywhere. The hobbits of the world have no magic weapons to fight them. But, he adds with a robust and hopeful declaration: 'And yet here gentle hobbits may I conclude by giving you this toast. To the hobbits! And may they outlast all the wizards!'" (source)

Sue is like a hobbit. She has coffee instead of ale, but otherwise their values are her values. She does not have answers, she is not a leader, but she has friends, and instinctively knows what is right.

Reed is like a wizard. He is extremely clever and thinks he can control nature but instead risks destroying it.

Acts 1 and 2 of the Fantastic Four are like the book "The Hobbit", a simple, optimistic tale of adventure that ends in a great discovery: the one ring to rule them all (like the Negative Zone). Acts 3 and 4 are like "The Lord of the Rings", an increasingly dark journey to the heart of darkness where the ring must ultimately be destroyed. Act 5 is the aftermath, the age of men (Ben Grimm is the common man) when the wizards and ring bearers go away and a new story begins.

Why  Reed built the Negative Zone portal

Then Negative Zone is the default universe accessed when entering sub-space, the space between realities. Reed wanted to enter sub-space because he wanted to be able to fight Galactus, the destroyer of worlds.


Did Reed have a choice? Yes.

Reed could not wrap his head around the bigger reality: but everyone else knew better.

The Negative Zone story began in issue 1

The great threat in issue 1 was a series of tunnels through the planet, leading to nuclear plants around the world 


Each tunnel must be thousands of miles long. How could the attacks be coordinated? And presumably the Mole Man could travel there at faster than walking pace, but how? There must be high technology involved. Why was nobody curious? We begin to see his fabulously advanced equipment in when he next appears, but still nobody cares: he is just an enemy to be defeated.

They could have solved all their problems in issue 1
It is not until years later that the team realize he is just a sad, lonely man, and all he ever wanted was a friend, even though that is the first thing he told them! When Reed left the team Ben was able to be his friend, and had access to his best technology: space warps that make Reed's crude subspace portal unnecessary.


This sets the scene for every story that follows: enemies are only enemies because the team don't take the time to understand them,

The Negative Zone in the rest of act 1

Issues 2-3: they continue to miss seeing the bigger picture
Issue 2 introduces faster than light travel: without it the Skrulls could never have arrived from another galaxy. This left Reed with his first space ship to cannibalize (actually his second, as we will later learn, see FF 271). This would form the basis for his later discoveries: see the page on Reed's technology for details. reed's great mistake here is to treat the enemy as inferior. He believes at the end that Skrulls are stupid, easily tricked, and easily hypnotized. But in fact the opposite is true: see the notes to FF2 for details. In short, if Reed had tried to understand how the Skrulls thought, instead of focusing on a technical fix, he would not have been deceived. This leads to a whole issue (issue 3) based on illusion, where Reed is busy cannibalizing Skrull technology and does not realize he is being duped.

Issue 4: Sue begins to learn
Issue 4 introduces us to a third group with high technology: The Atlanteans. Until now, Sue has just gone along with Reed's method: we must beat the Russians! We must beat the Mole Man! We must beat the Miracle Man! But now Sue begins to see the other person;s point of view. (It later becomes clear that this change of heart is prompted by her own secret history: she is reminded that you should never judge by appearances. But Reed learns the opposite lesson: the last frame shows a deadly serious Reed making a vow to be ready for anything. "If he dares return he'll find us waiting! I swear it!"

Issue 5: the first dimensional travel

FF5: dimensional travel
FF5 introduces Dr Doom, a man obsessed with reaching other dimensions (to find his dead mother). To do this he needs help, hence his appeal to demons. Even Doom realizes the value of making alliances, and the power of family.


The origin of the time machine is discussed in the notes to FF 271. It's key parts can probably be traced to the faster than light drives on the first ship that Reed ever captured. he time platform gives us the first clue to how dimensional travel works: a flat surface moves so that the three dimensional person is read as a two dimensional plane.

time machine
According to brane theory, the entire universe can be enclosed on a 2D surface. Presumably the machine then simplifies this 2D even further, enough to experience quantum effects. At a small enough scale (i.e. quantum scale) all possibilities overlap, allowing changes in time and space that would otherwise be impossible.

Act 1 summary
So act 1 introduces everything we need to know about sub space portals:

  1. They give access in principle to anywhere in time, space, or other dimensions
  2. Sue now knows that alliances are more important, 
  3. But people like Doom and Reed want to do everything themselves

In addition, we have been introduced to the four main kinds of technology:

  1. Unstable Molecules
    Issue 3 shows us unstable molecules (though they are not names until later). These are molecules that can grab energy from other dimensions in order to do interesting things: see the page on superscience for details.
  2. Sub-space portals
    Issues 1-5 hint at how unstable molecules might be the building blocks for a sub-space portal: a sub-space portal simply accesses other dimensions on a much larger scale.
  3. Cosmic cubes
    Issue 1 also hinted at something far more focused at work something that gave the teams particular powers. Later (in FF 319) we will gain the first hint of that that is: a fragment of a cosmic cube. A cosmic cube allows complete control over the principles of unstable molecules and subspace portals so that a person can go anywhere and do anything.
  4. Cooperation
    Finally, issues 1-5 show that the greatest power of all is cooperation, after all, even a cosmic cube is no use of your enemy has one as well. The wisest and most powerful beings, the Watchers, understand that non-violence is more powerful than violence.

Act 2: building the parts for the portal

The portal appears to rely on three technologies:

  1. dimensional shifting (unstable molecules scaled up),
  2. massive computing power to do it right (to avoid spreading the person thinly between realities)
  3. enormous electrical power to force the initial dimensional rifts. This may be the reason why the sub-space portal defaults to the anti-matter universe: once the first hole is open it can draw in unlimited energy by sucking in antimatter and annihilating it with regular matter.

Let's look at how Reed developed the capability

The breakthroughs

Act 2 shows the discovery of the parts that will later form the sub-space portal we see in FF 51. To keep things short I will only mention these briefly.

FF6: first power ray
In FF6 the arms race escalates. In FF1, Reed could only reach the edge of space. In FF6, his great rival Doom shows he can go much further, taking an entire building into the sun if needed. We also see the two greatest threats combine: Doom (symbolizing old Europe) and Namor (symbolizing  oceanic power - note Namor's oriental features). The grabber holds vast power, is able to hold a structure together (it does not merely make a hole when it pushes too hard) and travels under a "magnetic beam". This is the first hint of the power ray from FF 18.

FF7: Reed obtains a dimensional unit, and learns more about space-time
FF7 is a huge breakthrough: Reed obtains a working saucer from a world that specializes in anti-gravity. (The previous faster than light unit, from Gormuu, was probably already scavenged by his father and Doom for their time machines.) It appears that the planet X saucer is immediately taken apart: it is seen in Reed's workshop in FF11, as it is not available for general use until Reed is shown (in FF 92) combining it with the (not faster than light) Skrull craft from FF 2.

Note that planet X specialized in anti-gravity. Gravity is just curves in space time, so controlling gravity and compressing people to ve very tiny (a shrinking gas) would be closely related. These insights would prove invaluable later.

FF8: more planet X technology
Applying Occam's razor, the puppet master probably used planet X mind control technology. See the notes to FF8 for why. The more technology that Reed sees, the better he can understand how it all fits together. This technology appears to be in the form of clay: probably nano-technology gray goo.

FF9: "no more mister nice guy"
Reed's financial problems humiliated him. For a mind like Reed's, this would lead him to be even more independent, to always be "strong" (meaning rich, controlling and not taking advice).

FF10: the shrinking ray: key to dimensional travel
FF7 gave Reed to some alien shrinking technology (essential for understanding space time on a quantum scale) and now Doom has it too. it's an arms race! Sue will understand that Doom was only defeated because they understood Reed as a friend. But Reed will see this as proof that he needs more and more technology!

FF11: extreme unstable molecules
The Impossible Man embodies unstable molecules taken to their greatest extreme. A few issue later we will see Reed creating a similar form of unstable-molecule life, and then the Mad thinker improving upon it to create a slower less intelligent version of the Impossible Man

FF12: "project 34, the anti-grav missile"
The anti-gravity missile probably indicates that Reed has been sharing his Planet X technology with the military, thus becoming their friends at last. Access to military scientists will increase his progress. Anti-gravity is of course the key to creating wormholes. The barrier may be a very crude and weaker version of the matter-antimatter negative zone shell used by Maximus and Annihilus.

FF13: an unlimited energy source
What could release so much energy from a single metal bar? Probably stable pockets of antimatter within the meteor. It appears that Reed was unable to duplicate this, but it would have planted the idea in his mind.

FF14: biotechnology
The "roving eye" technology appears to be left with Sue, so Reed can study it. This is able to broadcast through miles of water, so may have very exotic technology. The bigger the variety of technology Reed has, the more he can understand how it all works.

FF annual 1: Reed experiments with matter transmission
Reed's device to isolate the sea water and make it evaporate is a device to remove mass from A to B: a first very crude dimensional ray, a first step to the full size sub-space portal.

FF15: biotechnology and unstable molecules
Reed's device in annual 1 could only transmit a simple molecule, and could not keep to together. To eventually transmit living flesh and keep it one one place means Reed has to study biology. No doubt inspired by the Impossible Man, Reed is trying to understand organic molecules by seeing how unstable molecules can imitate life.

FF16-19: the big breakthroughs
Now that Reed has returned triumphant from the moon, and met the Watcher, he is ready to discover take the first steps in human scale dimensional travel:

FF16: breakthrough 1: dimensional travel via shrinking
In FF 7 Reed worked wit shrinking technology but was against the clock and could not bring any back with him, Now he has more time and the people are friendly; he can gain a much better idea of space time at a quantum level.

FF17: experimenting with the new technology
Here we see Doom has also made progress: he can make objects phase through walls. At the moment they are little more than a gimmick, but it will remind Reed that he cannot waste a second!

FF18: breakthrough 2: the sub-space matter ray
Here Reed discovers a power ray that we later learn is permanently liked to Earth (see FF32 and annual 19 for example). This ray has the ability to transmit a human body faster than light, Studying this ray will enable Reed to finally see how a general purpose sub-space portal might work.

FF19: Reed takes control of the time machine
This is probably something Reed should have done long ago, but he was not in a position to use it. Now he understand more he can disassemble it and make his own (using planet X parts as needed)

FF20: a Cosmic Cube Fragment
This is our first clear glimpse of the power that gave the team their abilities: a fragment of a cosmic cube. See FF 319 for details.

FF21: dimensional shifting
The hate ray appears to be based on planet X "hostility ray", as was the Puppet Master's clay. In all three cases, mind control is linked to anti-gravity technology. Reed seems to expect this. Why?


Dimensional shifting
The mind is incredibly complicated: to control a mind against a person's will, without them feeling confused and drugged, you would need to know that person very well. That is not practical when dealing with strangers. But the puppet master's technique gives us a clue: he only needs to create an image of the person. It is as if his clay seeks out that outer form, How would that work, if you cannot access a person's mind? Very easily, if it was a bi-product of anti-gravity.

Gravity is space time, So anti gravity distorts space: making shrinking a person a simple matter. By turning space inside out (so gravity acts in reverse) you may create a wormhole: you are in effect shifting mass into another dimension. Once you become expert at dimensional shifting then mind control become possible: you could for example change a person's thoughts simply by finding a closely connected parallel reality where the person was already suggestible or angry, and shifting between those realities.

Later we will see dimensional shifting at its peak when we meet the nega-man.

Putting it all together

From now on, Reed will focus on putting the basic discoveries together and seeing what they can do. With the discovery of the Molecule Man he has all the puzzle pieces that will be finally brought together in FF319

FF22: forcefields imply dimensional shifting
Reed's increasing understanding shows him that Sue's ability to divert light should also let her divert force. This suggests dimensional shifting again: Sue is shifting light from A to C without passing through B. Light is a vibration of forces (electrical and magnetic) so why can't she do the same with force in general? So a person who hits her never transmits the force to her body? Later in the Franklinverse, Tom DeFalco's will take this further and argue that Sue's dimensional shifting even lets her break through a Celestial's unbreakable skin (see FF400).

FF23: Doom makes progress with dimensional travel
Once again we see the arms race: Doom (by incorporating magic) is ahead of Reed in dimensional shifting he can shift people or entire rooms.

FF24: Reed's first sub-space experiment; first thought helmet
This is the first use of what will become the thought projector helmet: This first version is probably just a simple device to help him focus on these extremely difficult calculations. But gradually he will add more connections to detect brain signals. Gradually the device will be improved, reading more and more data about the brain. Dimensional travel is extremely reliant on the mental state and requires a lot of computation, hence Lockjaw's very large brain and the large heads needed by dragons (see FF annual 16).


FF25: an unstable molecule virus
Reeds better understanding of minds and dimension shifting leads him to try designing a virus for Ben. His previous biological experiments were with unstable molecules, and since this involves mass sifting it must be the same.


FF26: the gamma ray capsule
Reed and Bruce Banner met in FF11 where Reed was sharing technology. Bruce has a capsule that provides gamma radiation to trigger a change. Clearly Bruce understands gamma radiation and mass shifting. It is unclear whether he has shared that knowledge with Reed.

FF27: improving the helmet
FF24's mind helmet now has thought projection abilities. Reed says it is for crime fighting, but the team are not crime fighters. In FF51 we see that all his sub-space research is kept secret from the others.

FF28: further study on mind control
At the end of the issue Reed correctly guesses how a mind controller could turn off the Awesome Android, and he is impressed by the fine control of just a part of the Android's "brain". This agrees with the previous conclusion that Reed knows about crude dimensional shifts but is now thinking more about the details of the brain.

FF annual 2: dimensional travel focuses on the mind
Doom's origin story sheds more light on his obsession with dimensional travel, and the complexity required. Note that his machine focuses on the head: keeping thoughts intact when shifting to a parallel reality is the hard part.

the device

FF29 the Watcher tells him what he needs to know
At exactly the time when Reed is struggling to put his ideas together, the Watcher steps in. he says that Reed's brain is not big enough to handle the technology, so he arranges for Reed's brain to expand. He then shows how gravity hold star systems together, then explains matter transmitters and power rays. This is everything Reed needs to know!

Watcher's house

FF30 exploring "magic"

Reed knows that Doom uses magic to win the arms race. So Reed arranges holiday and "accidentally" lands by a low level magician. Reed is doing everything he can to understand.

FF31 further improvements to the brainwave scanner
The new version allows thoughts to be broadcast We can see a clear progression here. The early research was to dimension shifting in general, and the later research is based on the keeping the mind intact. Also in this issue we see the huge extent of the Mole Man's technology. But once again it doesn't occur to Reed that the Mole Man just wants a friend, and could be persuaded to share his amazing hoard. Instead, Reed reinvents the wheel in the most dangerous way possible.

FF32 the power ray as subspace transit
Now Reed sees how a power ray can also transmit people and objects. He also learns that once created, a power ray link cannot be easily shut down, and he has built a device for using it to cause damage (he cannot yet do anything more useful). This is no doubt inspired by what he learned in FF29.


FF33 pulling matter from other dimensions
"Self perpetuating oxygen" shows that Reed is becoming more proficient with mass shifting. This is an advance on his water removal ray from annual 5, that simply destroyed matter. This creates matter that continues to create itself.

FF34: time tech spreads
Reed has teams of men and other scientists helping him, giving us a glimpse into how he achieves so much. Obviously this risks losing some secrets: Gideon manages to obtain a crude version of the time machine, at great expense. It is very crude, it simply throws them to unspecified time in past. It possibly uses the dimensional unit from Doom's castle or Reed's own machine

FF35: Reed can study a permanent connection between dimensions.
It cannot be a coincidence that Reed visits the place where artificial life is being studied. But Reed must pretend it is coincidence, as his work is secret (see FF 51), How is the Dragon Man animated? Magic is simply highly advanced technology,  and the simplest way to make a thing live is to connect it to a spirit from another dimension. This is advanced dimensional communication. For more about demons and robots see the notes to FF23 (the Thing robot) and FF143 (on Doom, robots, and Darkoth).

FF36: anti-gravity
Reed gets hold of three anti-grav disks to study: understanding how to manipulate localized gravity is the key to understanding wormholes. The Wizard apparently obtained the Skrulls' anti-gravity pack and flaming suit (see super technology page for details) and worked out how to use them

FF37: first journey in subspace
Here Reed is able to use the Skrull power beam to take an entire NASA space craft to the Skrull galaxy, showing that he now understands it well.

FF38: studying Skrull power plants
The splash page shows Reed studying Skrull power plants: a dimensional portal needs vast quantities of power.

FF39: Reed uses anti-gravity
This issue shows us the state of the art for Reed's knowledge:


Also in this issue we see an air displace vortex beam: a variation on the water displacer in annual 1, and seen later in FF 198.

FF40: energy needs, and the arms race
The stimulator apparently recharges unstable molecules, so it is like a miniature sub-space portal: it changes every particle of the body, and shifts mass as needed so the person becomes an alternate version of themselves. Here we see that such a device requires vast quantities of energy: Reed has a nuclear device yet it still took days to recharge. Presumably the energy is needed to create a dimensional rift for every particle of the body. In this issue we also see the state of Doom's armor. He has:

FF41 and FF43: the state of the art: mind reading
This issue shows the current state of mind detecting. By FF296 Reed will have a global brainwave scanner, but at this early stage he resorts to listening to police broadcasts and knocking on doors. Meanwhile the Wizard has a mind control device that appears to require some kind of surgery. Undoing the effects in FF43 requires some very complex equipment, thousands of volts of energy, and deadly radiation. At the same time (FF 43) Dr Doom has a targeted version of the hate ray from FF21, and in the following issue (annual 3) SHIELD has general purpose sloes range mind reading technology. All of this is evidence of a mind-reading arms race. Everyone is working hard to improve the previous versions, and they must be getting help because the secrets are leaking out to everyone else. As noted, scanning a mind is essential to the sub-pace portal.

ID machine

FF42: Reed gains the Wizard's tech
Reed finds the wizard's storehouse: he becomes familiar with the technology and no doubt studies it when the Wizard is in jail. This is standard practice: Reed studies the Wizard;s technology, Doom studied Reed's when he was in the Baxter Building, Reed studied Doom's when he copied the time machine, the Wizard studied the Skrull torch suit, Reed shares ideas with the military in order to get their support, and so on.Plus from time to time they all capture alien devices, and so the knowledge and technology expands at a rapid pace.

FF annual 3: the Watcher's tech
Here the Watcher again gives Reed the freedom to quickly examine his sub-space technology. Reed then chooses a variation on a sub-space portal. he isn't allowed to keep it, but just choosing and operating it will give him vital insights.

FF44: first contact with Inhuman society

Inhuman technology is 25,000 years ahead of ours, as noted in FF annual 20. With friends like these he finally has access to any remaining missing parts.

Inhuman science

In FF51 Reed finishes his secret project, a working sub-space portal at last!

No more issue reviews

I hope it's clear by now that every single issue of the Fantastic Four adds to the technology, and builds naturally on what went before. My original notes go into detail for about a hundred more issues, but I just don't have time to edit them, because every edit always turns into a re-write and more original research. The point is that the Fantastic Four grows organically, and the technology does make sense (on its own terms). There is endless detail: a person could easily devote a lifetime to studying it and barely even begin. So from now on I'll just cover some highlights.

How the portal works

The sub-space portal is protected by heavy doors, partly in case anything unwanted comes out, but probably also because of the enormous energies involved. The heart of the sub-space portal is a pair of electrodes. The person has to jump between or near them.

the chamber

The best guide to the portal and the control room is in FF107-110. Examine the pictures closely and you get a pretty good idea of how it's all laid out. Note that the distortion zone though very thin, feels much wider because time itself is distorted.

Issues 177-183 show how the room had developed by the mid 1970s, but the essentials are the same. (FF 177 appears to show the zone being clearly visible through the portal: it is not clear whether this is artistic license, because t those moving through the distortion zone it seems wild - s.g. see FF 182)

The system requires enormous amounts of energy:

power requirements

The science behind it

Reed calls his device a "radical cube". In mathematics, "radical" refers to going back to dimensional origins (e.g. square roots, cube roots, etc). In theoretical physics, all reality is the extension of equations from an initially much simpler set of conditions at the Big Bang. In chemistry, a radical is a reactive particle: e.g. a free radical is an unpaired (and therefore highly reactive) electron. If Reed's radical cube works by reducing a person to the primal root state, then this state is potentially anything, and is therefore highly reactive, a kind of free radical. So presumably Reed's radical cube works as follows:

  1. The user jumps
    The head (the most complex part) should be as close as possible to the electrodes, and the body should be surrounded by air, for the calculation to be as easy as possible.
  2. The system targets each atom
    The electrodes pinpoint each atom of the body
  3. Identify it
    Vast computing power instantly calculates how each atom relates to every other atom (this obviously requires alien computer technology).
  4. Calculate it
    it also calculates what is needed to deconstruct each particle to such a primitive quantum state that all time and space overlap . . .
  5. Re-calculate it
    . . . and in such away that it will naturally re-form in a different time and space, keeping everything, even brainwaves, intact
  6. Supply the energy
    Enormous energy is supplied at just the right point to change each atom as needed.
  7. Create a return machine
    Possibly the device also needs to construct a copy of itself at the other side, for the return journey...
  8. Transmit images
    ... and also to transmit data for images. Transmitting images is much easier than transmitting people, and essential in case anything goes wrong, so a Negative Zone viewer is part of the system.

The experience of being in a quantum timeless state is experienced as the distortion zone.

Larger and larger items
Jumping is all about probabilities: once this reality has made a tiny jump then a large jump requires a lower probability (though still very high, hence the need for high energy: energy and entropy are closely related). So as the years pass, larger and larger objects can be pushed through the portal. By FF251 a tiny space craft could pass through. FF292 the combination of time passed, plus interest from the other side, meant a portal was large enough to push space craft through.

Map, and Q&A

In FF230 we see a map of subspace for the first time, and many questions are answered:
FF230-231 is a key story, the final story before John Byrne's historic run, and answers some major questions:

Q and A

Here are some of the stranger aspects of the portal, and possible explanations.

"What about..."

So Reed built it. Did it help?

From here on, Reed tries to refine and improve his subspace based technology. bit as time goes on it becomes obvious that the thing is a disaster. Reed created the sub-space portal to defend the world from Galactus, but it never did: it just opened our world to even greater dangers. It was a symptom of Reed's disastrous "control and conflict" approach to dangers, it became the albatross around his neck. As he plunged further and further into despair and denial it became a symbol of his despair, and twice he tried to end his life there. The second time he succeeded. But in doing so he caused such an explosion that it awoke a Franklin-prototype who reset time. As mentioned above, dimension jumping is a probability based thing, and if you mess with the universe it tries to reset itself. So Reed survived. But this and the next event - seeing another man like himself who tried to save everybody and failed- caused him to finally question his methods. So finally Reed let go. Ben took over, and began to use the Mole Man's much safer sub-space portal, like they should have done at the start. And all was right again.
safe? No.

Other notes

Janus: a warning to Reed
At the start of act 4, Reed's decline became obvious: his faith in technology yet inability to control absolutely everything caused world war three. Immediately after that he was Dr D=Rambau, another scientist who went too far. Then he saw the clearest warning of all: Reed's old friend Janus, another man obsessed with the Negative Zone. Like Reed, Janus thought the power of a sub-space portal would solve his problems. After all, sub-space allows you to switch any part of reality for a parallel one of your choice, so (for example) his legs would work again, and he could create power blasts, and do almost anything he could imagine!  But like Reed he thought he could do it all alone, he did not listen to those around him, and it all went horribly wrong.

nega man

FF 131: Maximus creates a similar device

Note the similarities between Maximus' device for sharing minds and the original radical cube. This is not proof: Inhuman technology is so far ahead of ours that it's hard to judge, and of course Maximus wanted to hide this in plain sight. besides, this overview s about tracing Reed's technology., not trying to understand Inhuman tech (which is probably futile, it's too advanced). But overlaying different people into one being is a common use for parallel dimensions. In this case, Maximus took people from the same dimension who shared the same DNA, and overlaid just one common trait.

Maximus' toy

FF176-184: the Negative Zone epic


This is the longest Negative Zone sequence in the entire 333 issue epic. It comes just after the half way point, and reflects the centrality of the Negative Zone to the 28 year story. Note that the story revolves around the symbolism of the Negative Zone: Reed's emotional isolation leading to emotional weakness, reflected in his physical limitations.

FF178: more about the cosmic control rod
By comparing Tyannan technology to that of the High Evolutionary we see they deal with the same thing: the same goals, concepts, tools, costumes, etc (with minor variations). So it is probably the same life tubes, the source of the control rod. We get more insight into the High Evolutionary's origin and the nature of his technology.

cosmic control rod
Note that counter-Reed only assumed he was physically hit by the control rod, rather than a concussive blast, and that it as an accident. Someone as advanced as the High Evolutionary would not let people simply wander into his ship: it must have been deliberate. Note that the name and nature of the Brute suggests evolution. And note the central role of self-directed evolution in cosmic cubes in FF319.

FF134, 141, and 198: transferring powers
Note the parallels with the Stimulator from FF40, and how sub-space portals read each atom. Just something to think about if you want to study this in depth.

power transference

FF297: the extra-dimensional siphon
This drains the sun's energy: it could be bigger than any dimensional portal yet seen; bigger even than the space fleet sized hole in FF292. Note the progress in portal sizes:

  1. FF3: unstable molecules: molecular sized portals
  2. FF18,32: skrull power beam: person sized portal (but only to a specific location)
  3. FF37: skrull power beam again: space ship sized portal (but only to a specific location)
  4. FF51: person sized portal
  5. FF251: tiny ship sized portal
  6. FF292: fleet sized portal
  7. FF297: portal that can suck in a noticeable fraction of the sun

This would force Reed to reconsider his own decision to close the portal. But note the death of the scientist,. showing once again that personal relationships are more powerful than technology.

FF303: Thundra's dimension
This is all about travel between parallel dimensions. Note the familiar motifs:

FF annuals 20 and 23:
Reed and Franklin's shields: another topic to study if you're really into this stuff. And another example of where relationships are more important than technology. Putting Franklin first would have solved it, and no amount of technological shielding can.

tao neutrinos

FF307: the Franklinverse
Regarding the Negative Zone, we see that Franklin can navigate the distortion zone safely

Franklin in the distortion zone

We see that Diablo's power goes far beyond simple chemistry: he is swapping dimensions.


We foreshadow the moment when continuity ends and we enter the Franklinverse, never to escape


The biggest events take place in the Negative Zone

All these events are covered in depth in the main issue reviews. but they have to at least be mentioned here.

FF51: The Man This Monster: generally considered the greatest issue ever. The Negative Zone is opened.

FF139-141: Annihilus escapes and almost kills Franklin

FF222: Nicholas Scratch escapes via the Negative Zone

FF230-1 the team reach their lowest point

FF251: the Negative Zone "holiday"

FF290: the successful suicide: closed forever

FF319: everything is explained:
They finally enter crossroads of infinity, something that's been tantalizing us since FF51, and fulfills Reed's ambitions to explore ever farther, from FF1

And finally... the alternative to conflict

So negativity is not the answer. Understanding is.

Understanding does not mean "being nice" to really evil guys. It means understanding their needs and fears. Understanding enables you to do business even with enemies. And half of the time you find the enemies are willing to be friends, which is even better. Understanding is always the key. Investing in weaponry only makes things worse. Take the Skrulls and Kree for example: nobody can pretend they will ever be friends, but they have self interest, and some of them are smart. So they do finally come to an agreement simply to survive.


Skrulls have differences like any group, and some Skrulls can be reasoned with. Sue's method works.

Skrull prince

So in the final analysis, Captain America is right. We don't need to compromise our values. We don't need to go negative. if Galactus, the ultimate killer, can do something, that doesn't mean that we should too. Values make us stronger.

The Fantastic Four is a positive, inspiring book, and that's why I love it.

The Great American Novel