Monday, April 4, 2016


Writing, Drawing, Inking: John Byrne | Coloring: Glynis Wein | Lettering: Jim Novak
Editing: Al Milgrom | Earthling: Jim Shooter

The Plot: In deep space, Galactus philosophizes and is visited by the living embodiment of death, then he devours the Skrull homeworld.

On Earth, Johnny Storm looks into renting a loft apartment. Meanwhile, Reed and Sue announce to Ben that the Baxter Building is unsafe for Franklin, and they plan to move to the suburbs and adopt secret identities even as they continue their careers as Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Girl.

Two days later, Sue goes house-hunting in Connecticut while Reed pays a visit to Avengers Mansion to check on the injured Vision. The Scarlet Witch leaves him alone with Vision and an intruder alarm sounds. When the Witch returns to the lab, there is a hole in the wall and Reed is gone.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Galactus has grown a conscience since Reed Richards saved his life, and has spent the past few months only devouring lifeless worlds or gathering nutrients from stars. But a visit with Death reaffirms his mission as a force of nature and, despite a desire not to, he follows Nova to the Skrull homeworld.

Nova, meanwhile, considers that she may be falling in love with Galactus.

As noted above, the FF are stretching their wings this issue. Johnny visits with Julie Angel and Sharon Selleck as he explores the loft which will become his apartment. He also refers to Sharon as “gorgeous”, desite the fact that Byrne takes every opportunity to make her look as homely as possible next to Julie.

Johnny declares that while the FF were in the Negative Zone for nearly four months, only four hours passed on Earth. This seems to contradict prior issues, which made it seem like a few days went by for Annihilus, Alicia, and Franklin.

Franklin is tended to by the Thing’s Uncle Jake, who also reveals that Sue is pregnant.

As stated previously, two days pass during this issue. The events of FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #17, which we’ll cover next time, are accepted to have occurred in that brief span.

The Vision was deactivated by Annihilus’s null-field in AVENGERS 233.

Is It Clobberin' Time? Not in this quiet issue. It is Celebratin’ Time, though.

My Thoughts: This “quiet issue” is more in keeping with what I’d expect from John Bryne than his last outing in that particular arena. Though the FF see no action and instead spend all their time in sub-plot land, the story opens with a twelve-page scene spotlighting Galactus’s assault on the Skrull homeworld.

The idea of Galactus reconnecting with the man he once was and feeling remorse for the denizens of the planets he devours is a good one. Byrne is clearly playing some sort of long game with Galactus’s arc since taking over FANTASTIC FOUR. He’s made a few spare appearances, but they all seem to be building to something big. (And in actuality they are, thanks in part to Chris Claremont’s X-MEN – but we’ll cover that another day.)

Though for me the most intriguing thing to come out of the Galactus material is Nova's belief that she might be in love with him. This is a really fascinating idea, and I’m not sure if anybody beyond Byrne ever went any further with it.

And then there’s the more terrestrial side of the story, as the stars of the series prepare to go their separate ways. Apparently the Thing’s going to be living alone in the Baxter Building, though Byrne quickly quashes the idea that this will be another storyline about the FF splitting up. It’s made clear by Reed himself that the team is tied together forever, and there’s no point in pretending they could ever part ways again.

This is one thing I really like about Byrne’s run – he is a strong proponent of the “illusion of change” rather than of actual change. In my opinion, that’s really the best way to go in serialized fiction. Sometimes change works – see the “All-New, All-Different X-Men” or Spider-Man graduating high school for good examples – but for the most part I believe the status quo should remain the same forever in a serialized saga, with only the window dressing getting tweaked now and then, in order to preserve the characters and their situations for future generations.

A good writer can get plenty of mileage out of nearly any premise without the need to reinvent it, assuming that A) he or she is interested in that premise, and B) the premise wasn’t broken in the first place. As it happens, very few Marvel series were ever broken -- and on the rare occasions that they were, they were pretty quickly fixed by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and the rest. Byrne understands this, and write accordingly.


  1. And in actuality they are, thanks in part to Chris Claremont’s X-MEN – but we’ll cover that another day.

    But on that note, Nova tearing apart the Skrull war fleet reminisces UXM #166 (Feb '83) and Binary doing the same to the Brood. It's hard to think it's completely unintentional, when Claremont had introduced his take on Cosmic Fire Lady character in UXM #164 (Dec '82) right after Byrne had had his one out in FF #244 (Jul '82).

    The timestamps would certainly suggest that the gentlemen are having issues over each other having a Cosmic Fire Lady on his book.

    1. Huh, another layer to the Claremont/Byrne feud! I don't know if any of this was intentional, Teemu, but your take on it sure makes it seem to be more than mere coincidence.

      Now I wish someone had produced a Binary vs. Nova battle.

    2. Well, I know how I myself imagine Claremont reacting to the Nova transformation scene in #244, and I understand he himself has been accused of turning Carol Danvers into ersatz Phoenix with Binary's near-unlimited powers and flamy costume and everything. And I know it's obviously finished and tweaked with an amount of hindsight, but Claremont's intended MS. MARVEL #25 that was published in 1992 in MARVEL SUPER HEROES #11 has a Dark Phoenix-y hallucination with her in Hellfire Club garb and Rogue being brought to her for to be killed by her. (Or then it's all a totally new take; there's discussion on Supermegamonkey site on MSH #11 recap page that originally Ms. M #25 was announced to be something completely else.)

      All this leaves me very much on the fence over what I should think of Alan Davis' UXM #370 and X-MEN #90, where the X-Men gets thrown back in time and onto the Skrull homeworld (well the moon of it) just when Galactus arrives to destroy it. I'm very much against anyone meddling with a classic, but on the other hand building on existing classic continuity in non-retconing fashion is just awesome when done right and unmedlingly. And as we know, Claremont famously was ghost-scripting some of Davis' run before his official return, though apparently not these issues, but a body still gets suspicious...

    3. For years I've wondered if the MSH 11 story was really Claremont's originally intended idea or if it was changed. John Byrne has said Claremont came up with the full roster of the Hellfire Club, so it's certainly possible he intended to use them and Carol Danvers to explore the themes we eventually saw in X-MEN with Phoenix after MS. MARVEL was canceled.

      I forgot about that UXM 370/XM 90 story! I really liked that Alan Davis era; it was the last time I truly enjoyed and looked forward to the X-Men on a monthly (or, I suppose, biweekly) basis. I'm holding out hope Marvel will release all of it in an Omnibus someday.

    4. Hmh. I didn't know they were from Claremont solely. As we all know they're a "homage" (in lack of better word;) ) to an episode of the Brit TV spy show The Avengers, and as such would maybe be better fit for a spy background character like Carol, so it's certainly plausible that DPS originally would have been a MS. MARVEL plot. I've seen suggestions that the mysterious "master" Mystique reports to in her premiere on MS. M would be Sebastian Shaw, but one would certainly expect that a huge deal would've been made of this background of DPS by comic scholars if there actually was anything to it.

      I have hard time believing Claremont wouldn't have brought Carol in for a short cameo somewhere during the DPS, if this was the case, just to acknowledge the fact.

    5. I guess Mystique's master could have retroactively been Shaw, just as Warhawk's unseen master in UXM 110 was eventually retroactively revealed as Shaw as well -- but it's pretty clear in her earliest appearances that Mystique is meant to be an alien invader, not a mutant. I wonder when Claremont changed his mind about her?

  2. I know you're not going to change your mind on this, but I'm not a fan of the "illusion of change" as a concept and I think one of the biggest strengths of Byrne's run is that he was allowed to go forward and make substantive, positive changes to the status quo of FF thanks to his clout as a creator and his contributions to the X-Men. As much as he hypocritically old-man-yells-at-clouds these days, he fundamentally grew Johnny and Sue's characters, both for the better (he also wrote Doom better than almost anyone had, including Stan). His run was a big influence on re-defining what outside media and other runs would even consider the status quo. Fiction like this is always a product of the time it's made, and after being stuck in 1960's for years due to caretaker creators, the book started to find a following again during Byrne's run because for the first time in years it seemed like there were exciting new possibilities (even if Byrne punted on a lot of them, because as an idea guy he's not all that good).

    "As it happens, very few Marvel series were ever broken -- and on the rare occasions that they were, they were pretty quickly fixed by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and the rest. Byrne understands this, and write accordingly."

    Not surprisingly, I disagree with this, too. You're giving Stan WAY too much credit. This is the guy that, after canceling Silver Surfer, opined that maybe the fault was an overestimate of reader's love of surfing (not that he wrote a terribly boring version of the character who was both dull and had no antagonists).

    The "illusion of change" is stagnating if not toxic for storytelling and exists for corporations to sell lunchboxes and bedsheets, not to tell stories.

    1. I agree that Byrne went forward with the FF during his run, but I'm not sure how much of it was actual change versus window dressing. Sue changes her codename? I'd call that window dressing. She becomes more confident and skillful in the use of her powers? That's an actual change, and one which was long overdue. As I noted, most Marvel comics were not broken from the early days, but their general treatment of their female team members was something which did need to be fixed, and Byrne finally did so here. That's a change I have no problem with.

      Even She-Hulk joining the team is what I would consider a window dressing change. We all know Byrne would've brought Ben back, probably in time for FF 300. In the meantime, they're still 3/4 the original lineup and they still have a strong person in the group (plus I love She-Hulk). The stuff with Johnny, on the other hand, I'm less a fan of. I don't really like a mature, level-headed Human Torch, and I really don't like him and Alicia as a couple. I'm not sure where Byrne was going with that development, but I have to assume he would've broken them up at some point. I can't imagine the marriage we eventually saw was his actual plan, and I'm glad Marvel undid it -- even if they chose the most asinine way possible in which to do do.

      As far as giving Stan credit and his opinions on certain things, I'll happily agree his SILVER SURFER is an incredibly dull read, even though I get the impression it was sort of a passion project for him -- his attempt at a really "serious" comic. But there will always be some misses among the hits, and I think he, Kirby, Ditko, Romita, etc. got way more right than they got wrong. Even if the stories weren't always great, I tend to believe the set-ups and status quos were usually right on. It may have taken a few years for some of the original Marvel series to find their footing, but most all of them did under the original creative teams, and most later takes followed those leads even if they changed up background elements.

    2. That said, there are some changes which came later that I'm totally on board with. I don't think Thor needs a human identity and I was happy when Walter Simonson ditched Don Blake. I don't like Spider-Man in high school; I much prefer him in college wiht a bit more autonomy. Frank Miller found just the right formula for Daredevil; grim but utterly joyless like so many of the takes which followed him. I'm not a "back to basics" purist like Byrne; I just know the versions I consider definitive and I'd prefer that once the magic formula is found, a series would lock into that status quo forever, with only occasional deviations lasting no longer than maybe a year's worth of stories. (I've no problem necessarily with Reed and Sue going out and exploring secret identities; I just wouldn't want it to be the case forever.)

      All that said, my opinions on these things have changed over the years. As a teenager I was on board with most changes. I grew up with a married Spider-Man, after all, and even though I loved the earlier stories, I never understood why all the older fans (and creators) were so worked up about it. Now I am an older fan and while I still have a soft spot for the marriage years, I'm glad Marvel undid it -- even if they chose the most asinine way possible in which to do so. I just wish they'd gone further and sent Peter back to school in the process. But, despite a few misfires, the "Brand New Day" era was generally the best Spider-Man I'd read in a long time. Unfortuantely they've gone the route of real change and messed it all up again -- the current "Parker Industries" stuff just feels like "Iron Man Lite", not to mention being completely antithetical to what Spider-Man is all about.

      And again, I really only apply this logic to decades-long serialized sagas. If we're talking something finite like a novel or even a TV series which is intended to end at some point, it's a different story.

    3. But to each their own! I'm finding more and more these days that I'd rather read finite runs rather than ongoing sagas anyway.

    4. I think it depends on what the changes being made are, rather than "change being bad or good".
      I agree that the current direction on Spider Man is a bad idea. It doesn't fit the character of Peter Parker.
      I have no problem with a character changing and growing, but turning one character in to another character is not a good idea.

      The problem is, you have to balance two catergories of readers.
      One is the long-time fans who have been reading the books for years, and may grow tired of reading the same story over and over again.
      Imagine if Peter Parker had remained in high school living with his Aunt May for the entirety of the series.
      Then, you have newer readers who may know of Peter Parker as the nerdy teenager who got spider powers and lost his Uncle Ben.
      They might be expecting a more basic type of story featuring the character.

      Let's look at Daredevil though. Yes, the Frank Miller version is definitive. There's no doubt about that. Some later writers got a lot of mileage out of that character.
      However, there were many points where it became just plain soulless. "Oh, look. Matt Murdoch is having another break down after he got his latest girlfriend killed."
      After reading about the DD character for so many years, it gets old to see new writers trying to copy Miller, especially when most of those writers didn't have the talent of Miller.
      Mark Waid recently had a run on DD where he took the character in a new direction. Without ignoring what came before, he decided to lighten the character up again. It was certainly one of the best runs on DD.
      Currently, the book has gotten "dark 'n' gritty" again, and I have no interest in reading what the current creative team is doing with the book.

    5. I'll put it this way -- I have no problem either with a character changing and growing within reason. As I said before, I don't like the idea of a level-headed Human Torch. Johnny being an impetuous hothead is a core part of his personality. I would never want to see Cyclops gain control over his optic blasts and it bugged me when Marvel gave Rogue control over her power theft ability because the inability to control those powers is a core part of who the characters are.

      I don't mind when characters such as Reed and Sue get married since they're a couple from day one and marriage is the natural conclusion of that. I don't like Clark Kent and Lois Lane getting married because the Clark-Lois-Superman triangle is such a great soap opera device that it shouldn't be messed with.

      Waid's DAREDEVIL was a return to the character's original form, really -- he was a swashbuckling wisecracker in the Stan Lee days. A couple decades back, Karl Kesel did the same thing in a very short, often forgotten run. I don't like the dark, grim Daredevil everyone seems to remember from Frank Miller's run. Miller's DD was dark and went to some extreme places, but it was also fun sometimes. His Daredevil cracked jokes and there was a decent amount of humor too, usually at the expense of Foggy, Turk, or Josie's plate glass window. Most post-Miller DD writers seem to forget this and go "all dark, all the time".

      But I may be odd in some respects. I am the "long-time fan who read the books for years" that you mention, but I'm not tired of reading the same stories over and over again. If I had my druthers, the status quos of most Marvel characters would be exactly now where they were in the eighties and nineties, and creators would be revisiting and mining those eras over and over again. I'd be perfectly happy to read about the X-Men going into space to fight the Brood every three or four years and Spider-Man trying to solve the mystery of a new goblin's identity once a decade. I don't mind if the Kingpin falls once in a while, but I want him back in power within a year or two. And so on, and so forth.

  3. Oh, and: the cover is a beaut.


  4. There’s always been something I've liked about Byrne’s “illusion of change” mantra even as I agree with Dobson that the changes he made were quite substantive and that actual change tends to be more satisfying for me. (A big reason why Earth-Two at Marvel's distinguished competition was a favorite.) I’m pretty sure the first time I recall him using the phrase was during/after Secret Wars in which he noted how the FF still had a member with super-strength and a member dating Alicia Masters as if no dynamics changed when She-Hulk and Johnny replaced Ben in those roles. I can’t say my memory of the interview is perfect all these years later but he seemed to use “illusion of change” in that regard, meaning the changes were superficial, rather than as a reference to the fact that they wouldn’t be permanent, which isn’t to say that he never intended Ben to return to Earth and reclaim his membership. I enjoyed She-Hulk on the team as well, and was also less than thrilled with Johnny dating Alicia, but I guess how we felt about those changes is incidental to the debate over how illusory they are.

    1. If that's how Byrne defined "illusion of change", then I'm with him. In fact, I think I said a bit further up that She-Hulk joining the FF is exactly what Byrne said -- they still have a super-strong team member.

      Interpersonal dynamics can change; I have no issue with that. For me it's more the status quo and setting that I prefer stay the same. I'm not a fan of the X-Men living in Australia or San Francisco because to me, Westchester is where they belong. I also don't like the world knowing that Xavier's is a school for mutants, because it removes part of the X-Men's longtime core concept as frequently defined by Chris Claremont -- they're an "outlaw team". Hard to be outlaws when everyone knows your address, and the X-Men operating in secret is a big part of what makes them cool to me.

      That said, I certainly don't mind additions to the team or characters leaving or teammate romances or things like that. Those add history to the group and keep things interesting for readers, both new and old alike.

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