Reed Richards — member of the super hero group the Fantastic Four and dubbed Mr. Fantastic by millions. A man of incredible brilliance. Reed has time and again used inventions of great technology to defeat the super-villain menace. Fellow genius Tony Stark — head of Stark Industries and known as the avenging hero Iron Man to the world, has also created a showcase of unimaginable technology. As a consequence of their constructions, the city of New York and civilization as a whole has taken a great leap forward. The city and its people showcase ultra=-modern superhero technology. Mankind need not ask “What If?” any longer!
Who here remembers the four-issue 2001 mini-series Big Town, written by Steve Englehart and penciled by Mike McKone? I bought and read the first two issues when they were first released, but based on my twin tenets of comic book collecting (“Don’t buy what you don’t read” and “Don’t read what you don’t enjoy”), I didn’t buy issues three and four of what I considered at the time to be nothing more than a “What If?”
But Englehart disagreed: “This is not a ‘What If?’ story, where one fact changes but the universe stays the same. This is not Earth-X, where alternate versions of heroes live but the real heroes still exist. This is a story about a universe which was exactly the same as ours, until the night that Reed Richards took his friend, his girl and her bother into space. Back from the phosphorescent stars came the Fantastic Four — and that changed everything. Super heroes made the universe expand. And the center of the Universe is the Big Town.”
Big Town tells the story of a Marvel Universe that diverged from the one we know on day one. The “Big Town” in question is comprised of the five boroughs of New York plus Newark, NJ, melded into one huge city that is the backdrop of the tale. I dropped this title because it told the story of an MU wholly unrecognizable to me, but I find the mainstream Marvel Universe of today to be wholly unrecognizable, so I thought why not read about a utopia rather than a dystopia? Besides, with talents such as Englehart and McKone producing the series, how bad could it be?
Over the weekend I picked up issues #3 and #4 and read all four start to finish. It was neither as bad as I remembered nor as good as I had hoped. I was hoping I could pretend I was reading a story set in the present day MU after a gap of however long it’s been since I lost interest in the hyper-continuity morass the MU has become, but I couldn’t do that, really. For one thing, it’s not as “utopian” as I recalled. I expected conflict, sure, but there were too many changes for me to readily embrace.
For one thing, Sue Richards was rendered sterile by one of Reed’s experiments gone awry, so there’s no Franklin. Sub-Mariner and the Hulk are villains, fighting alongside of Doctor Doom, the Red Skull, Magneto and Ultron; inexplicably (because they were never gathered together by Charles Xavier), the five original X-Men are banded together (as “Mutts”) in New Jersey; Magneto’s “Brotherhood” is comprised of Wolverine, Storm, Havok, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch; artificially enhanced police officers patrol the streets as the X-Squad; the Silver Surfer is under mind control by Doctor Doom; the Avengers are led by the Swordsman.
All in all I enjoyed it more than most stories set in today’s Marvel Universe, but I wouldn’t want a steady diet of this reality, either.