This thread is a part of our Grant Morrison Reading Project.

In 2001-2002, Grant Morrison and Jae Lee crafted the Marvel Knights mini Fantastic Four:1234 #1-4. In a nutshell, Doctor Doom amps up the Prime Mover and changes reality to cause the FF to split apart so he could kill Reed Richards. Each member is placed in peril and the Sub-Mariner andthe Mole Man are involved. It's difficult to do a linear review but I will focus on the cast.

On the plus side, Morrison obviously read a lot of Fantastic Four stories. On the minus side, Morrison obviously read a lot of Fantastic Four stories. Writers sometimes seem to want to do a Doctor Doom story rather than a FF story. Here Morrison tries to do both.

The Thing: Ben Grimm is angry. He feels that everyone sees him as a freak and a monster. Even in the Baxter Building, he wears his overcoat and hat. He longs for something to fight, to hit. He's trapped in a fragile world and needs beings like the Hulk, Sandman, the Super-Skrull, Blastaar, etc in order to release his frustration and rage. He is easily tricked into entering Doom's trap due to the reality shift. He seems ready to believe the worst of Reed because, deep down, he wants there to be a concrete reason why this has happened to him. Doom reverts him back to Ben Grimm from before the space-flight, surpressing his memories. He gets his heart's desire and is immediately struck by a car. Sent to a VA hospital, his arm is amputated and his despair grows.

Jae Lee's portrayal of Ben is too realistic. The Thing works best as a cartoon character in the "real" world. His proportions and body type are not possible, going by Kirby's designs. Byrne modelled him after a starfish of all things but modernizing Ben as a deformed victim is too tragic, especially after all this time for him to adjust.

The Invisible Woman: Sue Richards is lonely. Her husband has isolated himself again (and again). Her brother has no sympathy for her nor empathy for her situation. Her team-mate is once more raging at the world. In short, no one sees her. She visits blind sculptress and Ben's true love, Alicia Masters and oddly is invisible the entire time. Perhaps that is her natural state now, or at least her most comfortable. She suffers more than emotional frustration, it is sexual frustration and she is confronted by Namor the Sub-Mariner in his most tempting Speedos! More on that later.

The Human Torch: Johnny Storm is bored. He is obxious to Sue and Ben and dismissive of Reed. Cars and girls bring him no joy. Only flaming combat brings a smile to his face but he's no match for a suddenly enhanced Namor. In some ways, Johnny becomes the voice of the longtime reader/fan. Rude, demanding and waiting.

Mister Fantastic:Reed Richards is thinking.

Next: The Villains and Reactions!

 

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I haven't read this in years; but well worth digging out, methinks.

I'll reread this after Kid Eternity, but this is a good perceptive review from what I remember of the comic.  This has whetted my appetite and I'm looking forward to reading it now.

I remember liking this long ago. I wasn't into the Fantastic Four when I read it, but the creative team drew me in. It's mostly a Namor/Sue story, if I recall correctly. And I also know I remember Sue using her power against Doom (okay, threatening to, at least) in a way that I had always thought about her using against someone, but she never had.

Namor's entrance - hardly dressed, dripping wet and reeking of saltwater - was very sexual.  Not sexy, in the way used to sell jeans, but sexual with the nakedness, the sweat/seawater and the sense of contained violence and hardly socialised masculine power.  In the MU, Namor would have always struck people as hardly dressed, dripping wet and incredibly sexual, but it took Morrison to draw attention to what has always been there.  In other words to make it all 'real' again.

 

Marvel has some very powerful, fundamentally striking properties.  One of my gripes against the fan mentality is that it habitually deadens the wonder and 'strangeness' of these concepts. 

 

"Oh, here comes Namor again, for the 409th time, threatening war against the land-lubbers." 

 

Sometimes it's refreshing to see Namor fresh out of the Atlantic, making a big seawater stain on someone's best carpet.  What would meeting such a being be like?  Morrison and Lee are trying to present us with that here.  For Sue, there is the added charge of knowing that she was one of the very few 'land-dwellers' that this extraordinary, barely socialised Alpha-male actually cares about, or would allow himself to be known by.

 

I'm reminded also that when the Fantastic Four are compared to the four elements, Reed is usually assigned to water - fluid, adaptable - so in a way Sue is loving the same man in Namor and Reed.

 

I'll have to read this again in the next day or so.

Ok. I finished this yesterday.  Awaiting more of your commentatoes, Philip.

 

Meanwhile, can you expand on this statement?

 

On the plus side, Morrison obviously read a lot of Fantastic Four stories. On the minus side, Morrison obviously read a lot of Fantastic Four stories.

 

Also, Can anyone suggest what is the significance of Alicia's baked clay puppet fish that Sue gets so attached to?

 Most of the Marvel general public went nuts over her scuptures...which I think showed up in the first Miracle Man adventure... around #19 or so... but her statues continued to spark interest in other books....like Thor, IIRC...(Journey into Mystery, actually)

Commenting on Namor's nakedness... a couple of years ago, I misordered on ebay a Marvel Masterworks volume of the Submariner, from TOA # 70-92 or so.  Anyway, I gave it to my boss who I really liked at the time, and have no idea if he read it.  I got my copy down off the shelf (mine was the Limited edition gold foil version) and started to flip through it

OMG, I was struck by all the flesh that Namor shows, especially in the early "Quest" storyline as Gene Colan draws him SO realisticly.  It suddenly dawned on me that seeing Namor in all his undressed glory could be interpreted as a homosexual fantasy....and I immediately began to worry that my boss WOULD open the book and read it.  To this day, he has never mentioned it, and as we had a falling out within a year or so after that Xmas gift,  I  don't know if he turned around and sold it on Ebay, or if he kept it.  (They fired him last month.)
Figserello said:

On the plus side, Morrison obviously read a lot of Fantastic Four stories. On the minus side, Morrison obviously read a lot of Fantastic Four stories.

 

Also, Can anyone suggest what is the significance of Alicia's baked clay puppet fish that Sue gets so attached to?

Well, Alicia makes these model fish for Sue in this 2001-2 miniseries, which is set more or less in that era's continuity.  Sue keeps them in an elaborate fishtank and they swim around as if they were alive, so they would seem to be magically animated in some way. 

 

I assumed without thinking about it too much that Alicia was using her father's magic clay, but then that wasn't exactly how the Puppet Master's clay worked, was it?  The little models of his enemies he made were inanimate, weren't they?  Curious...

 

Unless Sue has made the tanks with her forcefields and is moving the fish with her powers too? Indicating she's reeaaally bored and lonely...

Strange when I plotted my comments, I left out Alicia. Even stranger was that she has no scenes with Ben. Her talk with Sue is the most natural portrayal that I've read of her. Alicia tends to come off as "the purest of the pure" as if her blindness made her Snow White or something. Her other major scene is with Johnny which reminds us of what John Byrne had in mind for the two. IMHO, he was very wrong despite the (needless) drama. But then again, Johnny would protect her, too.

The clay fish seem to be a reflection of her role in Earth X/Universe X as she could give her sculptures "life".

As for the villains:

  • The Sub-Mariner-Doom obviously affected Namor's thinking as well since there is no way that he could be deceived by the same offer again! And even if he was, did he honestly think Sue would simply move to the ocean after Doom killed her husband, brother and friend and destroyed/enslaved humanity? Whatever attraction she has for him would not let her stand by and do nothing. Doom appealled to Namor's basic emotions of lust, lonlieness and redemption. He, like Doom, wanted to prove that he, not Reed, deserved Sue. But in the end, as always, Sue's common sense and his innate noblity win out in the end as he rejects Doom and helps defeat him. Again. Still it's good to see Namor look handsome and be the "bad boy" once more.
  • The Mole Man--the first FF foe returns as Doom's "ally", sending his monsters to trample the surface world. His deal is apparently to see his kingdom prosper, force people to respect him, have Alicia as his queen and have a blinded, powerless Johnny as his slave. That thought combined with Moley being undressed himself is a totally disgusting image!Namor is repulsed that Doom considers he and the Mole Man of being on the same level. The Mole Man seems to drown at the end but we know better.
  • Doctor Doom--Victor Von Doom used the Prime Mover, alien technology, to alter reality, change what people think his origin is, cause destruction and possibly many deaths, all in an(other) attempt to kill Reed Richards. He tries to divide the Fantastic Four, make them turn on Reed, lure Namor into another alliance, threaten NYC at least, just he can finally prove his superiority to Mister Fantastic. And fails. Miserably. Reed not only beats him at his own game but with less resources but more faith. Worse, Sue exposes him as the petty man he has become instead of the superior man he claims to be. His flaws made visible by the Invisible Woman, he is crushed by humilation and despair.

It's a very clever story with insightful character pieces. Morrison knew the history of the Fantastic Four but he added very little. Another Doom plot to kill Reed. Another Doom/Sub-Mariner "Super-Villain Team-Up". Another Namor and Sue romantic subplot, a "Samor" story if you will. And Doom underestimated both Reed and Namor again.

Ben becomes human again. Ben is miserable being human. Ben must become the Thing again.

Even Johnny realizes this by this quotes, "Nothing's happening and you're bored.", "Isn't it Reed's turn to get us out of here?" and "Will he (Ben) just turn back into the Thing now that we need him?" He knows how everything is going to end.

However I was fascinated by the idea that Reed is malleable to reality, that he can sense changes to it and possible think beyond it. That would explain a lot! Doom sees everyone as pawns while Reed reluctantly sees them all as players. He apologizes and realizes that another extra-dimensional expedition will "cure" all their problems.

Despite her near-swooning in Namor's prescence, Sue's strength, love and morality shines through. Reed's plan works because he trusts his wife. Without a doubt. She encourages and supports Johnny, Ben and Namor through the battle with the Giant Doombot and it is she who confronts Doom and finally puts him in his place.

There are many memorable quotes and moments in this mini and Morrison has a clear fondness for the FF. It's too bad that he did not have a larger canvas to work on and build up to this story. It felt like a finale to one of his grand epics but without the first three acts!

Great commentary.  Very insightful overall.

 

Just to use some of it as a starting point...

 

Strange when I plotted my comments, I left out Alicia.

 

Like all the best FF stories this one is about 'Family'.  As I read the first 3 parts I realised that family was something quite amorphous here.  Not only is Ben emphatically included in the family (as usual), but the implication is that Namor, Doom and the Mole Man are also 'family' in their way.  Their long association with Reed's mob has meant that the FF relates to them on some level as family and takes responsibility for their actions.  I think Grant makes that quite overt in the text of the final issue.

 

Alicia tends to come off as "the purest of the pure" as if her blindness made her Snow White or something.

 

Very true.  We tend to have that attitutde to all disabled people, as if their disability made them saints somehow.  It's typical of Morrison writing that he would address this point.  I read a few FF comics around this time.  Is Alicia wearing something (of Reed's invention, perhaps) that gives her sight in some fashion?

 

Her other major scene is with Johnny which reminds us of what John Byrne had in mind for the two.

 

I know Johnny's relationship with Alicia was retconned as a relationship with Lyra the Skrull, but the dialogue in this mini seems to state that Johnny and Alicia did have a relationship after all. Or maybe that's just the Mole Man's understanding of it?

 

In any case, it's typical of Grant that he would include this reference to something that most writers would chose to deliberately avoid discussing.  'If it happened, it happened' is one attitude to continuity.

 

On the other hand, why are Sue's kids completely left out?  Were they around at all at this time?

 

IMHO, he was very wrong despite the (needless) drama.

 

AAAAGREED!!

 

The clay fish seem to be a reflection of her role in Earth X/Universe X as she could give her sculptures "life".

 

Genuinely good to know, but hardly an answer as to the significance of the fish in THIS story.  Relationship to continuity isn't the same as  meaning!  :-)

 

Doom appealed to Namor's basic emotions of lust, lonlieness and redemption.

 

The Prime Mover in this case worked on all the participants 'basic emotions' and deepest desires and urges.  Often the desires and urges that they spend most of their normal lives denying.  I don't think it's by accident that Doom enlists the lords of the oceans and the subterrarenean world, respectively, as allies.  The ocean is a longstanding metaphor for the unconscious and the phrase 'underneath the surface' is never far away in discussions about it either.

 

We see each of the Fantastic Four acting as though their unconscious urges were driving them rather than their logical daylight rationality.  There thoughts and volitions seem clouded and uncertain.  With the Human Torch is it 'Fear of Failure', so he fails?  With Reed, it is of course guilt, and the nasty side of his manipulativeness and arrogance, which Doom starts to work on before Reed brushes him aside.

 

Perhaps there is a little sexual stereotyping here, as Sue is the one most able to fight against her unconscious desires.  Perhaps because as a woman, she is more in touch with her unconscious, emotional, irrational side anyway.  (Just reading the text here, not judging a whole gender!)  Sue was, after all, the first person I'd ever seen the phrase 'woman's intuition' applied to, back when Stan was introducing me to a plenitude of rhapsodic verbiage!

 

Sue's difference as the only woman on the team has been a part of FF since the beginning and Morrison is only continuing it here.

 

Still it's good to see Namor look handsome and be the "bad boy" once more.

 

Definitely.  I loved Alicia's ironically insightful characterisation of him as a 'shark'.  Says it all.  Lee portrayed him beautifully. 

 

(I have no trouble with Lee's portrayal of the Thing, at least for this one short mini.  You might like Colin Smith's piece on a Bronze Age portrayal of the Thing as someone dealing with being [seen as] disabled and deformed.  In fact he has just recently done a few pieces on MTIO #1 that you should like, too.)

 

I thought Namor's comment "No man is Namor's master!" also reflected on his representation here as our subconscious.  No-one can truly master it, just send it back down every time it rises up to threaten our everyday existence, just as the FF periodically do to Namor and to the Mole Man.

 

More anon.

Perhaps the fish remind Sue of her feelings for Namor, the wild side of her, if you will. Artificial pets make a lot of sense when you live in the Baxter Building. It's not like it would be safe to have a parakeet or gerbil, just waiting for the next Frightful Four attack or Ben/Johnny squabble!

Johnny's "killing" of them could echo the scene with Namor's portrait in Fantastic Four #6 (see link above).

There is a definite sense of family amoung the FF's friends (the Inhumans, Black Panther, Wyatt Wingfoot) and foes. Namor wants to marry Sue, Doom surplant Reed and the Mole Man, I think, would rather be treated as an equal than as an opponent. With longtime enemies like the Sandman, Blastarr, the Mad Thinker and the rest just as likely to need the FF's help as fight them, there is no denying the bound that subconsciously exists.

I know you hate when I do this but I feel Morrison was using Doom, Namor and the Mole Man as counterparts to Zeus (at his most pettiest), Poseidon (Lustful) and Hades (vengeful). I have no trouble believing that Doom might consider himself Jovian in nature and destiny. First he must rid himself of Reed (Kronos) in order to ascend the throne of the world!

Pray continue.

 

Another Doom plot to kill Reed. Another Doom/Sub-Mariner "Super-Villain Team-Up". Another Namor and Sue romantic subplot, a "Samor" story if you will. And Doom underestimated both Reed and Namor again.

Ben becomes human again. Ben is miserable being human. Ben must become the Thing again.

Even Johnny realizes this by this quotes, "Nothing's happening and you're bored.", "Isn't it Reed's turn to get us out of here?" and "Will he (Ben) just turn back into the Thing now that we need him?" He knows how everything is going to end.

 

"Samor" - heh heh!

 

I thought this was the main 'meta-textual' part of the story.  The participants are all aware on some level that their lives are cyclical, that no matter what happens things will resort to a predictable status quo sooner or later.  (Perhaps that's why Morrison brings up the completely outrageous Johnny/Alicia fling.  If things return to 'normal' after that, then they can survive anything.)  That's being very true to the comics, in a way.

 

Moving away from Continuity though and back towards 'Meaning', I think this circularity is a good reflection of what goes on in close families.  (As you yourself would no doubt attest, Philip!)  There's a centrifugal force with the members all trying to pull away from each other and define themselves away from the family and a centripetal force which ties them together and keeps bringing them back to each other.  This story brings us one such 'pulse' of this family dynamic.  We see them pull apart and then come back together again. 

 

In a way this story is all metaphor.  As I said, the Mole Man and Namor are the usually unseen impulses that drive people, rearing up again to cause mayhem and threaten drastic change.  The point is that upheavals and changes of heart, and the return to appreciation of what you've got etc happen every day within families.  Many times every day; many times an hour even!  What Morrison dramatised here, and dressed up as a superhero action fest, is our everyday family lives, and the inner lives of the family members; the little betrayals and the repeated re-commitments we make to each other.

 

Of course!  Caring for the fish = caring for / thinking about Namor!  D'Oh!

 

But then Johnny's destruction of them = jealousy of his sister's love for Namor.  Freudian!  And it casts a light on the disatisfaction he gets out of all the empty substitutes for what he really desires. But I have no problem with that in this tale of sublimated forbidden urges.

 

I know you hate when I do this but I feel Morrison was using Doom, Namor and the Mole Man as counterparts to Zeus (at his most pettiest), Poseidon (Lustful) and Hades (vengeful). I have no trouble believing that Doom might consider himself Jovian in nature and destiny. First he must rid himself of Reed (Kronos) in order to ascend the throne of the world!

 

No, I don't hate it. That's insightful too. Once you mention it, they fit quite agreeably into those personas. So long as you see that Zeus, Hades and Poseidon, in turn, are metaphors for what really goes on in this world we live in.

 

In fact you've just shown me that Morrison was doing the exact same thing here as he did with JLA, but thereby produced something as startlingly different as one superhero story could be from another. Wow!

 

The Chronus allegory is interesting. By that analysis, Doom is the son trying to supplant the father, but Doom's little fantasy depicts Doom as Reed's brother/Doppleganger. Doom would rather see himself as the equal of Reed than his inferior.

 

Kudos is another greek term, Philip!  You've given me reasons to go back and look at this mini again...

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