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Can Lockjaw Talk?

Lockjaw becomes a three dimensional character.

Paul Pope (regarding his Strange Tales issue 1 story) wrote:

"Lockjaw isn't a giant dog--he is just the most Inhuman of the Inhumans. I always figured he could talk if he wanted to."

(Site visitor: Is that your take, or is that "official editorial policy"?)

"Don't think it is his official status, but as Morrison's take on Superman proves, there are a lot of unexplored corners of these characters...they did say I could give him a speaking role when I asked for it" [but Lockjaw did not need to speak in that particular story]


Speech is trivial

So why doesn't Lockjaw talk more? In the Marvel Universe, talking is not a sign of intelligence. Silence shows intelligence, as shown by the silent Watcher. The Watcher watches. He observes. He very rarely speaks. On the other end of the scale, ants can talk all the time. (So can squirrels - see Squirrel Girl) This is from Avengers 46:

Critics could say that the ants don't really speak, it's just that And Man interprets their brain waves through his antennae (just as Lockjaw has antennae). So what? They are clearly having intelligent independent thoughts, regardless of how they are conveyed. Clearly, speaking is trivial.

Lockjaw speaks!

In The Thing issue 3, it is confirmed that Lockjaw can speak when he wants to.

Scans courtesy of The Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Home Page!

More about that famous issue

When I learned Lockjaw's origin, in The Thing issue 3, like Ben Grimm I was surprised. But as Ben Grimm said, it explained everything that went before: "Somehow, looking at the fish-man, Triton, the only half-human Gorgon, the mad myriad of forms the Inhumans take... somehow it seemed only logical." Here is the commentary on that issue, courtesy of The Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Home Page:

The Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Home Page!

Issue 3. Okay, time to go off a little bit. This is a wonderful issue. Quicksilver, who has always been something of a bigot, has had a daughter, Luna, through his marriage to the Inhuman Crystal. The merging of Inhuman and mutant genes produced a strictly human daughter, and Quicksilver wants to mutate her through exposure to the Inhumans' Terrigen Mists. By Inhuman law, this is the father's decision, and as Crystal opposes it, she seeks Ben's help. Very dramatic setup, very personal storyline, wonderfully told. It all comes to a head when, in the middle of the battle, Lockjaw, who for years has been perceived as the Inhumans' pet, speaks one whole line of dialog, revealing that he is sentient and an Inhuman who's gone through the Terrigen Mist, forcing Quicksilver to realize how drastically his daughter could be changed. Lockjaw doesn't ever speak again, save one line of dialog as he and Ben teleport away alone at the end. Beautiful, moving, touching story, very well done, probably my vote as the single best thing Byrne has written at Marvel.

Cut to, eight few years later, X-Factor #71. Lockjaw and Quicksilver meet up with Jamie Madrox (the Multiple Man), who then tries to talk to Lockjaw. Quicksilver then laughs at him and tells him that Lockjaw's "talking" was a practical joke played upon Ben Grimm by Gorgon and Karnak.

Here are Peter David's comments on the issue, from

"For what it's worth, I didn't give a damn about the Byrne story one way or the other. I thought it wasn't bad; not great, but not bad. It did, however, frost the flakes of several writers and the "X-Factor" editor, basically because Byrne's story made the Inhumans look like assholes. John Byrne, foremost advocate of adhering to creator intent, ignored not only sequences where Stan and Jack had the Inhumans referring to, and treating, Lockjaw as their pet or dog, but the subsequent decades worth of continuity that did the same. So, since Quicksilver was going to be in "X-Factor," the writers--and the editor in particular--asked me to take the opportunity to undo that development as quickly and simply as I could. I shrugged, said, "Okay, boss," and did so."

Continuing from the Ever-Lovin' home page:

"The Inhumans don't have pets. Period. I challenge you to go through their various appearances and find where someone has a dog, a cat, even a canary. Why, I couldn't say, but they don't have pets. So why Lockjaw? The knock then is that the Inhumans don't treat Lockjaw as an equal and this makes them out to be "assholes." Yup, I'd tend to agree, save for the simple fact that they're Inhuman. These guys have a long history of acting based on appearance and caste- they're a society built on very different rules from the current mainstream euro-centric society. The Inhumans are not America, and the knock that their actions appear a little, well, inhuman, seems a little egocentric to me. Further, if you start reading through those past issues, he's not actually treated much worse than, say, Gorgon or Karnak are treated by Black Bolt. Finally, the retcon itself is just awful. The reasoning, according to Quicksilver, is that Gorgon and Karnak played a practical joke on Ben while Quicksilver was trying to make a decision which would probably be the most important decision in his daughter's life. Okay, I can accept that Gorgon and Karnak are the kind of, to use the word at hand, "assholes" who would do that at a time like this. But it doesn't work on many levels: Quicksilver, upon learning of it later, would never just laugh it off- "hey, you guys screwed up my daughter's future- pretty funny!". He'd hardly tell it as a funny story months later. While Crystal might quietly accept it to save her daughter, she'd certainly tell Ben the truth in short order. And would Gorgon and Karnak betray the Inhumans to make Crystal feel better? They must have seen literally hundreds of children put through the Terrigen Mists in their day, no? Not to mention Gorgon's having gone through it himself...

"In the end, either interpretation has problems and needs help to make it work. I wish Byrne had taken more care with his retcon, or David with his counter-retcon, just so it would make sense either way. Personally, I think Lockjaw as sentient Inhuman makes perfect sense, and that the eternally angry Quicksilver would try to put a different spin on the incident by lying to Madrox makes a lot more sense than Gorgon and Karnak playing "practical jokes" at that time. In the meantime, Lockjaw remains a man of mystery..."

The retcon that wasn't

In X-Factor 71, written by Peter David, Quicksilver says that Lockjaw never spoke. This was not a retcon (retrospective continuity change) because the events did not change previous history. In X-Factor #71 Quicksilver simply made a statement that was probably not true (see below).

Peter David, the writer of the X-Factor story, explained:

"And just for the record, the reason I always liked the practical joke explanation was specifically BECAUSE it seemed so ridiculous. The elegance was in its absurdity. Because for those fans who disliked Byrne's retcon, they could embrace this and say, "Thank God." For those who liked the retcon, they could look for reasons that Quicksilver was in fact lying to Madrox. And they wouldn't have far to look: the reason is right there in Byrne's own story. Lockjaw's status is supposed to be the Inhumans' darkest secret. If it's a freakin secret, do you REALLY want everybody and his brother knowing? So Quicksilver came up with the first explanation off the top of his head that he could to throw Madrox off the track. Then all we had to do was never have Lockjaw talk again--which no one else at Marvel was gonna do anyway since they hated it--and everyone would be satisfied. Everyone wins. My one miscalculation was that I haven't actually ever seen fans come up with the explanation that I thought was kind of obvious."


Was Quicksilver telling the truth?

Quicksilver cannot have been telling the truth, because:

  1. If he knew it was a trick, why didn't he go back immediately and expose Luna to the mists?
  2. This makes Gorgon and Karnak look cruel and shallow at a moment of life and death drama. This is totally out of character.
  3. It invents a power - controlling Lockjaw's mouth by controlling his antennae - that has never been demonstrated before.
  4. Lockjaw did not only speak when the guys were all standing around together, but later, when Ben and Lockjaw were alone.
  5. The memory is completely different from the original (from polished floor to apparently outdoor scene with large rock).

Gorgon in two places at once

Did the Inhumans treat Lockjaw badly?

The Inhumans are a monarchy. In a monarchy, the royal family treat others as inferior - it is a fact of life. This is not bad behavior, it is just how the system works. If you don't like it, then you don't like monarchies. Don't blame the Inhumans for acting within their established culture.

As CapnVball pointed out, if the Inhumans treat Lockjaw badly, then Dr Strange treats his servant Wong just as "badly." Why don't we consider the possibility that they are happy being servants? It's not as if anyone is forcing Lockjaw - he can leave whenever he wants to. And if we insist on calling Lockjaw a dog, why don't we insist on calling other humans hominids or primates?

"I also don't really see how Lockjaw has been treated like a dog. This is a human perspective on Inhumans. Why can't Lockjaw just be happy enough to be a servant, companion, etc. Why don't we call Wong Dr. Strange's pet monkey?"

This is from David Hine, the writer of Son of M:

"Marvel�s official stance is �Yes, he�s a dog dammit!� and I�ve gone along with that in my treatment of the character in the Son of M series, but unofficially, as a reader and a fan, I still have niggling doubts. ... it is not inconsistent for The Inhumans to show disrespect for an Inhuman who�s Terrigenesis goes wrong. In The Inhumans series Sonic Youth, written by Paul Jenkins, the Inhuman, Woz, comes out of Terrigenesis with the appearance of an Alpha primitive, the sub species that slaves away underground to maintain the machinery that keeps the Inhuman city of Attilan going. The Inhumans had no scruples about banishing Woz to the Underworld to live with the Alphas. Later it was discovered that, despite his appearance, Woz still had Inhuman attributes and was reinstated in Inhuman society. But his treatment is proof that The Inhumans can be, for want of a better expression, brutally inhuman. In a sense the result of Terrigenesis is seen as a judgment on the worthiness of those who undergo it. It is quite possible that even if Lockjaw was in fact a member of the Inhuman Royal Family, they would lose respect for him if the process of Terrigenesis turned him into a dumb animal."

"What after all is the alternative? Whatever Lockjaw started out as, it is certain that he was exposed to the Terrigen Mists. But we know that no species apart from Inhumans is allowed to undergo the process. Certainly not a dog. So there are two possibilities. Lockjaw was an Inhuman, and Terrigenesis made him a mutant who resembles a dog. Or he was a dog who somehow, accidentally entered the Mists. Maybe he sneaked in with his master Black Bolt. They both have the same antenna on their heads. An antenna which no other Inhuman possesses. That suggests they may have been in the same chamber at the same time and undergone a similar mutation. "

Lockjaw is given the highest honor of any inhuman

Even great writers like Peter David and Kurt Busiek say the Inhumans have treated Lockjaw badly, but they cannot produce a single example. Lockjaw is not a member of the royal family, yet is allowed to live with them. Not only that, he is much loved (see below), he is central to their frequent traveling, he is given space on whatever royal table or platform they occupy, and is allowed access to anywhere he wants. He thus has greater privileges than any other inhuman. And unlike the royals he did not attain his position by birth but by merit.

Not only does Lockjaw have nearly all the privileges of his royal friends, but he has almost none of their obligations. He can come and go as he pleases, and act and have fun as he pleases. In this respect he is rather like the fool in Shakespeare's historical plays, though with greater freedom. And as everyone Shakespeare buff knows, the fool is often the smartest person in the court.

Quicksilver's argument is a straw man

Quicksilver mocked the idea that Lockjaw is a deformed inhuman. But that is a straw man: Lockjaw never claimed to be a deformed inhuman. Lockjaw simply pointed out what could happen.

Lockjaw told the truth: the Terrigen mists could radically change a human or inhuman into something else. Lockjaw isn't the only strange looking Inhuman: at least he's a mammal. Triton, being fish-like, is biologically far less human than Lockjaw, and cannot even breathe air. Luna could have turned into a giant snake, as in this example:

According to the Marvel Directory, in their history of the Inhumans,

"Centuries later, an Inhumans leader named Gral, tired of the discrimination against the non-human-looking minority, instituted a reign of terror in which the entire population of Attilan was involuntarily subjected to the mutagenic Terrigen Mist. The Mist transformed over three quarters of the population into non-humanoid types altering their genetic destinies for untold generations. Successive exposure to the Terrigen only furthered the extent of the mutation. For years, the Inhumans were segregated into Mutation Camps, forced to live only among their own basic phenotypes."

Why should Quicksilver make this up?

Look at the events that prompted Lockjaw to speak. What should have been Quicksilver's greatest moment - the decision to send his firstborn into the Terrigen mists - became his greatest humiliation. Lockjaw practically accused him of being a bad father who did not care for his child's welfare. Clearly Quicksilver would rather not believe this.

Would Quicksilver lie to himself in order to avoid humiliation? Yes he would. This is how he reacted when Crystal left him, from FF 304-306. This is not out of character. In his early days he was an "evil mutant" and in the recent Son of M miniseries he acts as the villain. Why should anyone believe Quicksilver when his pride is at stake?

Why do people think Lockjaw is stupid?

Given the evidence for his intelligence, why do so many comic fans think Lockjaw is stupid? It all starts with Fantastic Four issues 55-58.

Wyatt and Johnny treat Lockjaw like he is an idiot, when in fact Lockjaw is saving his people. Wyatt and Johnny insult and demean Lockjaw, but he responds with affection. He shows far more wisdom and maturity than his young 'friends.' Yet they treat him as inferior and stupid. This is especially shocking coming from Wyatt, because his own people were victims of similar prejudice in days gone by.

This is just one of many examples where Lockjaw is treated like an idiot, and so readers come away thinking Lockjaw is dumb. But look more carefully! The Inhumans never treat him like an idiot. It is only humans who don't know him well who treat him badly.

This is a classic problem faced by people who are different. People with physical disabilities, or people with great intellectual abilities who lack social skills, or immigrants who lack common skills, all are routinely treated as idiots. But look closely. Who is the real idiot here?

A closer look at Fantastic Four 55-58

Wyatt insults and demeans Lockjaw, but if you follow the story in FF 55-58, you will see that Lockjaw is the hero, and everyone else is incompetent by comparison. Here is the sequence of events:

Maximus, the mad genius, imprisons the Inhumans. None of them, not even Black Bolt, can escape. The obvious solution would be for the Royal Family to use Lockjaw to escape, but it appears that even Lockjaw is trapped for some time. Obviously Maximus understands Lockjaw's powers, and restrains him. If he were just a dog, that would be the end of the story. There is no indication that he is commanded to do anything - the rest of the Inhumans, despite their superpowers and advanced science, are helpless. But Lockjaw, under his own initiative, works out how to overcome whatever restraints are in place, and escapes. Please note that this must be due to his intelligence, as Maximus was clearly able to restrain his physical power. Whatever Maximus did, Lockjaw was unable to teleport far beyond the walls of the Great refuge, and needed food as a high priority. At this point, he finds Johnny and Wyatt. (And grabs Wyatt's gun to disarm him- another example of tool use.)

Wyatt and Johnny do not understand the situation - they do not know the extent of Maximus' power, or what Lockjaw had to do to escape. They want to just rush in and be captures. Lockjaw has more sense. His first teleport stop is to regain his energy. All this time his foolish human companions think he is stupid and try to "train" him. Having refueled, his next stop is to gather reinforcements - he takes them to the Fantastic Four. After this, he has one more brief stop in a world of giants. It is not clear why - Johnny is too stupid to work it out. Perhaps there was something there to help? We will never know. Or perhaps it was to get Johnny prepared for the dangers to follow. Or perhaps it was to remind Johnny and Wyatt that they were entirely dependent on Lockjaw, and should stop acting like they were in charge. Finally, when Lockjaw senses an even greater danger (Dr Doom with the surfer's power) he gives up any hope of Johnny helping him, and returns Johnny home. At every stage, his actions have beer rational and helpful, but he is treated like a fool. Lockjaw has driven the course of the action, and the bumbling humans take all the credit as usual. Shades of Dastardly and Muttley?

All the other "idiot Lockjaw" stories follow the same pattern. Lockjaw looks like a dog and likes to bark and sniff. And what is wrong with that? Does that harm anyone? He routinely saves the world. He consistently shows more intelligence than most of the humans around him. He is not an idiot. He is a genius surrounded by idiots.

Objections and responses

"Stan and Jack never hinted that he could talk�

Stan and Jack had Lockjaw understand complex sentences, and showed that even ants could talk, so it is no great leap to have Lockjaw talk. Besides, Stan and Jack never imagined ANY of their great origin stories until they wrote them. They did not have vast files called "the history of Marvel characters" - they made it up as they went along!

"They never showed him with a 'thinks' balloon"

Black Bolt, the Watcher, and many other intelligent characters never (or almost never) had �thinks� balloons either.

"Lockjaw has always been considered a dog"

This is a red herring. Yes, Lockjaw is a dog. A dog with vast mental abilities who can speak but prefers not to.

"The Inhumans are meant to be socially superior"

This is not true. They are a monarchy, founded on slaves (the alpha primitives). How is that socially superior?

"They would not treat their relative like this."

There is no evidence that Lockjaw was ever human or human-like. Ben Grimm speculated that this was the case, but that was only speculation. Lockjaw did not say "I was once human" he said "the terrigen mists could turn a human into something like me" - which is not the same thing.

Lockjaw is not a member of the royal family. When Crystal first introduced Lockjaw she referred to Black Bolt as his master. This allows the possibility of pet or servant, but not royalty.

However, the fact that he lives alongside the royal family indicates that they treat him better than any other member of their race.

"Luna presents another problem. If Reed's analysis is correct, then exposing her to the Terrigen Mists would kill her. That would be a much better reason for stopping the process, so there was no reason for Lockjaw to speak."

The later Son of M miniseries showed that Luna could be exposed to the Terrigen mists without obvious harm

Can can you trust John Byrne on this?

Some critics say that John Byrne's story caused problems, but they cannot identify what problems. He never claimed that Lockjaw was human - that was merely a conclusion that Ben Grimm drew. Byrne's story was consistent with what went before. But the Quicksilver's story caused exactly the upheaval it sought to avoid. Before X-Factor #71, Lockjaw was always treated well. But after that issue, writers began to have the Inhumans treat him badly.

Take Dan Slott�s otherwise excellent story in The Thing 4, for example. In it, Medusa says "Bad dog! How dare you disturb Lord Black Bolt while he is attending to affairs of state!" and she whips him with her hair. That would never have happened before X-Factor #71. Sadly, a problem that never existed has now been created.

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