There is definitely something to be said about remembering your firsts. Whether that be your first kiss, first beer you drank, or first time you thought diving into a snow drift after sitting in a outdoor hot tub for an hour was a good idea. Regardless, today’s article deals with one of the very first trade paperbacks I ever added to my collection. This one in particular came from my cousin and occasional podcast guest, JA Scott, who snagged me this and Marvel’s Greatest Super Battles for a Christmas past back when I was a teenager.
At the time I remember being more excited about the Marvel Greatest Super Battles and with good reason given it sported an impressive collection of stories including the first ever Hulk vs. Thor battle featuring Jack Kirby art, one of the first Wolverine/Sabertooth brawls, Spidey vs. Venom, and a great little story where The Thing plays the roll of Rocky Balboa in saving the Earth from the intergalactic Eternal, The Champion.
Still though, eventually I grew out of reading random issues of comics and wanted a little more substance in terms of stories that moved the needle as it were in terms of some of my favorite characters. That’s when Fantastic Four vs. X-men took center stage as a book I found extremely interesting in that it gave some much needed insights into the Fantastic Four, one of the couple monthly books I was reading in my teenage years.
However, I must admit that I haven’t dusted off the book in a decade or so until I heard about the recent Chip Zdarsky/Terry Dodson series FF/X-men which will be hitting comic stores this week. Although this new series seems to have more to do with the “House of X” story line that’s currently been running its course through the Marvel Universe now, what I was interested in was the fact that both series seem to highlight the original Fantastic kid, Franklin Richards, albeit in somewhat different roles.
So for those of you that might not have read it or those of you which have forgotten, here comes the 1987 4 part mini arc which first asked the question: “Is Reed Richards actually a just one huge colossal jerk?”.
It’s the original “Fantastic Four vs. The X-men” written by comic book legend Chris Claremont with art by Jon Bogdanove.
10 Cent Synopsis:
In the aftermath of the Mutant Massacre attack by Mr. Sinister and the Marauders, the X-men are in pretty bad shape. Many of their members are injured, concussed, or worse including long time fan favorite, Kitty Pryde, who is stuck in her phased form and is slowly disappearing forever into the ether.
The recently reformed Magneto, who is serving as the X-men’s mentor, suggested contacting the Fantastic Four for assistance with Kitty’s problem given Reed Richards pretty much as an invention for everything.
Unfortunately, the FF have issues of their own when a long forgotten college journal of Reed’s resurfaces and seems to shed new light on the rocket flight that initially gave the FF their powers. The journal seems to indicate that Reed had purposely left the extra shielding off the rocket in order to specifically give the FF their powers in order to combat the upcoming threats the planet would face. This startling realization sets the entire team into turmoil, as even FF stalwart, The Thing, starts questioning Reed’s motives for everything, shaking their leader’s confidence to the core.
At the same time, Doctor Doom takes a special interest in the Kitty Pryde case, wanting to use healing her as not only a way to put the X-men in his debt, but to prove his superiority over Reed once again.
But with Franklin Richards having visions of a future where the X-men and FF destroy each other over all of this, is saving Kitty Pryde worth such a high price?
Well, I gotta say that this is one of the most intriguing Fantastic Four stories out there and one that has a pretty deep well when it comes to the possible outcomes. I mean give Chris Claremont all the credit in the world that he first postulated the idea that Reed Richards wasn’t as innocent as he claimed when the FF first had their failed space flight that gave the group their powers. It really doesn’t make much sense that a fella of Reed’s genius wouldn’t have predicted the cosmic rays or provided adequate shielding for their spacecraft so this notion of him doing this all on purpose does make sense.
It would eventually be the whole impetus of the Ultimate universe version of Reed becoming the Maker, this idea of Reed looking at the world the same way Dr. Doom does in terms of Machiavellian strategies and acceptable losses.
Of course, Chris does pull back the reins at the last minute by dropping the notion that it was most likely Dr. Doom himself that planted a false journal in the FF headquarters in order to seed distrust among the members, but like in the comic, the genie is already out of the bottle. Meaning those seeds of Reed being a manipulative jerk who made his best friend a rock monster on purpose have already been sown not only in the minds of the FF from a fictional standpoint, but also in the minds of readers, some of which include future authors that would later go on to write the FF themselves.
Indeed, I think this book is extremely important in that for better or worse it changed the trajectory of what we think of Reed in terms of being the stern yet caring father figure of the Marvel Universe, to what some of my co-hosts think of him in that he’s pretty much a villain and is no better than Doom most times. Sure, I feel events like Civil War and his involvement in the Illuminati have done more to establish that characterization, but this story in particular sets the groundwork for a Reed that’s more clinical and unfeeling.
Additionally, this is also a really great story for some of the perennial baddies of the Marvel universe in both Doom himself and Magneto. Both get to show the fact that regardless of what you might label them, these “villains” are extremely complex characters in their own rights and it’s no longer simple to look at them through the lens that everything they do is wrong. I mean, Magneto is somewhat obvious because he’s in the midst of his 80s full “face turn” following the events of his trial and his acceptance of leadership among the X-men. So it’s not uncommon to see him help the FF save a building that’s on the verge of collapse and other genuinely heroic things.
However, Doom also does quite a lot in this book that could be considered heroic as well, such as healing Storm’s burn scarred arm after a tussle with the Human Torch and ultimately helping Reed stabilize Kitty Pryde’s condition so that she didn’t immediately disappear into the ether forever. Of course, in typical Doom fashion, he mostly plays the part of the silver tongued devil, promising kindness and generosity with a secret price. Still though, it’s a Doom which is more in line with more modern takes on the character in which he is actually magnanimous and benevolent at times.
It’s a great story for Sue Richards in that she gets some great scenes as the incredibly capable “Mama Lion” of the FF clan, threatening Doom publicly to not mess with her family. There’s also some great stuff with The Thing, as he’s reminded that despite looking like a monster, his heart is as pure as gold, as he saves a young child from a burning car wreck and gets a kiss from the mom in the process.
Yeah, from start to finish, this is a great FF story. Truly one of the best.
Is it a great X-men story or a great Versus story though?
I think I’ll save that for my Overall grade section…
In writing this article I was reminded that this wasn’t the first time the Fantastic Four and the X-men locked horns with each other. In fact, the whole impetus for the X-men I’ve read in a variety of sources was the fact that Stan Lee wanted to have another hit team book like the Fantastic Four, and so he somewhat copied directly from the formula he had with the FF to create the world’s most famous band of mutants.
Therefore it’s no surprise that Stan and Jack made a point to have their rookies show up early on in their careers in the pages of the more established FF book in issue #28, as the two teams are manipulated into fighting each other by the sinister plottings of the Mad Thinker.
And although in other articles, I might talk about why I liked this particular issue or something, it’s actually not much to write home about. So instead I’ll talk about my thoughts on the X-men vs. the FF as teams within the Marvel Universe.
For me though despite the X-men being an attempt to cash in originally on the success of the FF, I honestly have felt like the two teams are somewhat mirror opposites of each other. For me, The Fantastic Four are the most “establishment” style super team Marvel has. Even more than the Avengers who albeit has worked under government supervision before, the FF have always been more of the poster children for the status quo, the nuclear family, and that 1950s picture of the American Dream. And it’s hard to argue that fact given that despite the FF’s various unearthly powers and the Thing’s creepy rock visage, they are normally celebrated and accepted as the authority figures of the Marvel Universe, the ones which have the most public support and then to command the herd of the superhero community.
The X-men are the polar opposites. They have similar powers and even in some situations the same monstrous appearance (such as the Beast), yet they are always publicly condemned and must exist as outcasts to pretty much society on the whole. Heck, even the reasons they got their powers are somewhat similar in that neither group had a choice. The mutants were born with their powers and the FF got theirs by accident. And yet despite all these similarities, they couldn’t be further apart in the Marvel universe.
And it always struck me as odd that the only difference between the two was the fact that the FF just had better public relations than the X-men did. I mean you save the Earth from a giant planet eating dude in purple antlers, that’s bound to get you positive front page press. Also the FF didn’t have “evil” representatives running around like Magneto or the Vanisher gumming up the good work that their team was doing, creating in the public’s mind this notion that all muties were something to be feared, regardless of the good or bad they have done. Even the FF were pretty dismissive of the X-men when they first heard of them, even though they should have welcomed with open arms their genetically freakish brothers.
Maybe if early in the careers of the FF someone had come out and built giant robots to cut the menace of the FF down, things would have been different. The Sentinel project was pretty much a game changer in the way that the public viewed mutants in general if they feared them so much they allowed colossal androids to blow up entire city blocks just to get at one or two mutant children.
Still though, I think the biggest reason the FF and X-men are different, is because of sheer numbers. The X-men represent the next evolutionary step, an inevitability in that humanity might some day be replaced by these people different from them, and because of that there are tons of mutants. Enough for most people to notice there is something going on there. The FF are more of an anomaly, something that doesn’t upset the status quo of things because it only involves 4 people.
People dislike change. What else can I say?
Okay, now that I’ve dumped all that philosophical stuff in your lap on the differences between the X folks and F folks, back to my review of this particular “Vs.” book. Or should I say, a “lack thereof” in terms of being a real “Vs.” book. I say this because despite being the king of all X-men writers, Chris Claremont really doesn’t do much in this book with his precious X-men. It’s almost as if they are afterthoughts. A means to bring the Fantastic Four into the story and give Chris an opportunity to tell a more fascinating tale about a team he doesn’t get to touch very often.
I mean the only characters from the X-men that have interesting “meat” to their stories here are Magneto, mainly because he’s still trying to genuinely shed his villain persona and rehabilitate into a respected member of the community, and of course Kitty Pryde, who has always been one of Chris Claremont’s darlings.
This story is no different has the mental anguish and depression that she goes through as she slowly fades from existence and the guilt she feels in placing her team in such a difficult situation through caring for her, it’s very heartbreaking. Any one that has ever had a serious illness or cared for someone with a serious illness can relate with the feeling of being a burden on loved ones and whether they would be better off without that.
Plus there’s the wonderful moments with the young Franklin Richards, who brings such a youthful joy, sadness, and overall emotionalism to the piece that it’s hard not to want to just give him a big ol’ hug every time those teardrops start.
In fact, one of my favorite scenes in this book is the one where Franklin asks Doctor Doom to help Kitty just because he’s a good person and it’s the right thing to do. And the reaction of genuine humanity that Doctor Doom has at that moment, it’s breathtaking!
Still though, this is not really an X-men book, nor is this a book about the X-men and the FF throwing down in a series of knock out, drag ’em out fights. It’s a Fantastic Four story at its heart, so if you are a fan of those or want to read really good ones, then pick this up. I am and so obvious I’m going to grade this pretty high.
If you are more of an X-men fan, you are probably going to be better served picking up “God Loves, Man Kills” or something…