the origin of Marvel’s Limbo?

Limbo was originally St. Augustine’s solution to the thorny theological problem of where infants go who have been deprived of the sanctifying grace of baptism and yet have committed no personal sins. The dogmas of original sin and the necessity of baptism would seem to close the doors of heaven to them. Yet it seems inconsistent with everything we know about a loving and merciful God that these infants would suffer the usual punishments of hell, especially since they have committed no sins of their own. The only way medieval Catholic theologians could reconcile these truths was to posit the existence a third eternal destination for the unbaptised infants: Limbo.

Chris Claremont was the first writer at Marvel to acknowledge Limbo in this way, as an “edge” of Hell into which Colossus’s infant sister plunged…

scene of the infant Illyana Rasputin plunging through Limbo from New Mutants #73

…playing it like a demonic Wonderland with Illyana cast in the role of Alice.

Alice in Wonderland battling the demonic Jabberwocky

While plenty of heroes and villains experienced the existence of Hellish realms firsthand in the Marvel Universe, why would one of them NEED to bring about Limbo?

Recalling the theological reason for Limbo’s existence, I’d suggest it was brought about in direct response to concern for the fate of an unbaptised child. Any hero would have this concern if their faith told them this was where a babe would go after death.  That narrows it down to a hero who was also a devout Catholic.  The most notable practising Catholic in the Marvel Universe is Daredevil, who had a run in with Mephisto and his son Blackheart.

evidence of Matt Murdock's faith from Daredevil #282

However, nowhere during his run was he shown to have fathered a child, nor was he directly associated with parents who lost an infant child.  Plus his powers could not bring about another “dimension.”  It therefore seems reasonable to rule out Daredevil.

So who else?

Ever since Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965), in which Reed and Sue are married by a clergyman of an unnamed denomination…

Fantastic Four Annual 3 Church Wedding

…sequences over the years have shown Susan Richards’ belief in God, including particularly for members of her team (i.e. her family)…

Sue praying from Fantastic Four #43

…or asking his forgiveness (such as in Fantastic Four #391).

Sue asking God's forgiveness and her belief in the sanctity of life from Fantastic Four #391

Mind you Reed was not exactly a shrinking violent when it came to acknowledging his own belief in a higher power either during the Lee & Kirby years (despite writers after that and before Waid assuming he was anything but religious).

Reed acknowledging a higher power from Fantastic Four #1 and #78 respectively

But I digress…

She tells her son Franklin that around Easter and Christmas she lights a candle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the premier church of the Archdiocese of New York.

Sue in St Patrick's Cathedral, New York, from Marvel Holiday Special 2004 #1

So her rarely spoken of faith is revealed here as Catholicism.

It is this to which Adam Warlock’s emissary alludes in the “Infinity Crusade”.Invisible Woman from Infinity CrusadeJohnny Storm acknowledging his sister as a religious person in Infinity Crusade

This establishes her knowledge of the theory of Limbo, but what would make her want to create such a realm?

The answer I’d suggest is two-fold.

In Fantastic Four #276, Mephisto captures Reed and Susan, enraged at having lost his increased power due to the intervention of their son Franklin Richards.

Susan and Reed being kidnapped to Mephisto's Hell from Fantastic Four #276

In #277 he torments them both, but for some reason seems to take extra delight in doing so to Susan?!

Susan being tortured by Mephisto from Fantastic Four #277

Reed is conscious and defiant against Mephisto throughout his torment in this issue…

Reed Richards defiant at Mephisto's torture from Fantastic Four #277

…while Sue is a quivering, screaming mess and depicted as being at the Hell-lord’s mercy (in a manner totally unbecoming of Sue when facing a villain).

Sue depicted as a quivering, screaming mess at Mephisto's mercy from Fantastic Four #277

I would therefore suggest Mephisto singles out Susan due to her Catholic faith.

Still…

Okay, so what about her faith is Mephisto tormenting Susan for exactly?

It is worth noting that only a few issues earlier, in Fantastic Four #267, Susan “lost the child she was carrying”.

Sue's miscarriage from Fantastic Four #267

I would therefore propose that Mephisto, exploiting Susan’s faith, torments her with the thought that since she lost her child before it was baptised it would not go to Heaven. And although Sue was likely taught about Limbo as a young child when her aunt took her to church, the old doctrine was dismissed in the reforms of Vatican II, something Mephisto would eagerly remind her of, reiterating that her wide-ranging travels with the Fantastic Four had not happened upon the version espoused by her faith, so her unborn child would reach no such supposed haven.

Once Susan is free of Mephisto’s realm and the immediate terror she experienced, now surrounded by her family, she prays with every fibre of her being for her unborn child…

Sue praying from Fantastic Four #43

…and unconsciously folds space to create a pocket universe where it has a chance to escape the fate Mephisto has in store for it.

But how could the Invisible Woman create a pocket universe when her ability is to render herself wholly or partially invisible, the result of her being able to bend lightwaves away from her?

However, with the revelation during Tom DeFalco’s run that her energy seems to originate from a higher dimension of hyperspace…

Sue's power is revealed to originate from hyperspace from Fantastic Four #400Sue's power is revealed to originate from hyperspace from Fantastic Four #408

…I’d alternatively suggest Sue’s ability is more complex and what she actually does is to take a piece of hyperspace and fold it onto itself like a pocket and use it as a hiding place (anything inside the pocket is apparently almost invisible to sensors and the naked eye).

This ability initially manifests as the ability to render herself wholly or partially invisible, but when the fear that her unborn child will fall into the hands of the demon-lord Mephisto for the first time it shows a hint of its potential when she unconsciously accesses hyperspace as later theorised by Reed’s father, Nathaniel, and takes a piece of it, folding it onto itself to create a “pocket universe” to hide her unborn child in… but leaving an infinite number of access points so she can one day reach them (which manifest as the “stepping discs” which are part of the Limbo dimension).

And so, for the first time Susan demonstrates powers later shown by her son, Franklin, when he creates the pocket universe of Counter-Earth shown in the Heroes Reborn event to relocate the Fantastic Four and Avengers there to prevent their deaths at the hands of Onslaught. While Franklin’s power there was previously explained as a result of reality-warping abilities…

Franklin's power previously explained as a result of reality-warping abilities from Heroes Reborn The Return #1

…I’d instead suggest that as a mutant his latent ability to take a piece of hyperspace and fold it onto itself like a pocket was inherited from his mother, Susan.

Post-script:

Does Susan then make a deal with the Watcher to relocate his base to Limbo to watch over the child to ensure Mephisto doesn’t get her (where he is operating out of, instead of the Moon, in Strange Tales #134)?

Watcher acknowledging his base in Limbo from Strange Tales 134

But why would Uatu agree to break his oath of non-interference over this particular matter?

Well firstly I’d direct readers back to a particular scene in Fantastic Four where Uatu the Watcher becomes the first character in the Marvel Universe to not only refer explicitly to the Christian version of God, but acknowledge him as the most all-powerful being in the Marvel Universe.

Uatu acknowledging the Christian God as the most powerful entity in the Marvel Universe from Fantastic Four #72

With Uatu declaring himself a clear-cut Christian monotheist in the above scene, he would understand the gravity of Mephisto’s threat to Susan. That is, he would immediately interpret it as a direct threat against his deity by the Marvel Universe’s version of the Christian Devil. And given Susan is among the group of humans he has watched over more than any other on Earth, this event more than any other is the one he’d be most likely break his oath of non-interference over.

As for Mephisto, could all the other versions of Limbo we’ve seen have been the result of him plotting to undermine its integrity so he can abduct the child!?

Could this also be what the Celestial Messiah plot was all about?

That is, did the Watcher cause a star to appear over the Avengers Mansion (at the end of Avengers #128 as revealed in Captain Marvel #39)…

The Watcher causes a star to appear over Avengers Mansion at the start of the Celestial Madonna Saga in Avengers #128

…to put Kang off the trail of who the Celestial Madonna really was? To put the Conqueror off the fact that she was the member of another team… his team… the Fantastic Four!

Has the Celestial Madonna been Susan Richards all along?

And was the Celestial Messiah not of the human- and plant-world, but two other realms?

Now recall the revelation that Susan’s second child was a girl did not occur until years later in Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #22 (during Claremont’s run when we see the birth certificate which says the child was stillborn).

Susan's second child was a girl from Fantastic Four v3 22Susan's second child was a girl from Fantastic Four v3 22

However, in Fantastic Four #267 they’re still referring to it as “the unborn child” with no gender being stated for the remainder of Byrne’s run.

So what if it’s not Valeria Meghan Richards who was the second, child of Sue whom she had lost years before in Fantastic Four #267?

Then who else could she be?

Well I think to figure that out we need to consider what her powers were upon being first introduced, “neutralizing Franklin’s” as revealed in Fantastic Four volume 3 #29.

The purpose of Valeria's powers were to neutralise Franklin's

What purposes could these powers serve? Who more than Franklin, and more than his parents, is afraid of his power? Why Mephisto of course! Haven’t you been reading;)

Mephisto fears Franklin's power from Fantastic Four Annual #20

So what if Mephisto had made a bargain with Doctor Doom to create a clone derived of Sue’s DNA which he promised to release the soul of Victor’s lost love Valeria into? Having a being in Franklin’s constant vicinity, and what better way than through a “big sister”, that could negate his powers so he could finally obtain the boy’s long-sought-after soul!

Mephisto demonstrating his willingness to make a bargain with Doom in order to corrupt the soul of Franklin Richards from Fantastic Four Annaul #20

If so, what then of the spirit of Sue’s unborn child?!

Have we perhaps seen this “child” before?

Well let’s think about it for a moment. That is, recall my positing above that the spirit of Sue’s unborn child was transported to Limbo for its own protection! If so, “the child” is likely still there.

So which characters inhabiting Limbo could be likely candidates for this child?

Well we can rule out Magik, Illyana Rasputin, given she is the sister of Colossus of the X-Men.

Illyana Rasputin as then Sorceress Supreme of Limbo from Uncanny X-Men #231

It would seem similarly safe to rule out her previous master, demon-lord of Limbo, Belasco who allegedly started out as a sorcerer in 13th Century Florence, Italy.

Belasco started out as a sorcerer in 13th Century from Ka-Zar the Savage #12

Then there’s of course the self-proclaimed lord of Limbo, Immortus, who while revealed as a Richards, originates from the Fantastic Four’s future, not their present (or recent past).

Immortus, proclaiming himself lord of Limbo in Avengers 131

Then of course there’s the Watcher who I noted above as also operating from Limbo in Strange Tales #134 (and earlier threatening to transport the Red Ghost there in Fantastic Four #13).

Watcher also has base of operations in Limbo from Fantastic Four 13

But Uatu can be ruled out as he wasn’t ever trapped there, given he also had as his home the Blue Area of the Moon.

So who does that leave us with? Well a character first introduced in Avengers #2 who in fact was the first character to make reference to Limbo in the modern Marvel Universe, Space Phantom!

Modern Marvel's first character to make reference to Limbo from Avengers #2

While the character was later revealed, in Thor #281, as being from the planet Phantus and from a species that had mastered the intricacies of time travel long before they had attempted space travel (cf. Thor #281)…

The planet Phantus from Thor 281

…then later again had this retconned to reveal in Avengers Forever #8 that beings who get trapped in Limbo slowly forget their previous existence and turn into Space Phantoms.

Retcon that Space Phantoms are beings who get trapped in Limbo and forget their previous existence from Avengers Forever 8

However, given the story in Thor #281 was revealed to be an illusion generated by Immortus, and the whole conceit of Avengers Forever miniseries being a plot generated by the self-same villain, it’s totally conceivable that the more recent Space Phantom revelation is just another of his manipulated schemes.

I’d therefore posit that perhaps there’s more to the Space Phantom’s name than we have previously ascribed. What if he is literally a phantom – the insubstantial remnant of a once-living being? And why a Space Phantom? As opposed to a Time Phantom (particularly when his power is to displace people to a temporal dimension such as Limbo and take their place)? A Relative Dimensions Phantom?

So if we establish the Phantom was a once-living being, the next question is why a “Space” Phantom?

Well if he is the child Susan was carrying that she lost, which I’m proposing here, I’d posit the “SPACE” part of his name derives from the fact that like his mother, he can generate and control a form of energy from hyperSPACE!

And the reason he has to swap places with others is because when Susan unconsciously created Limbo she did so that her child would be “bound” to it in order to protect them from Mephisto (and all the attempted demonic incursions have been about trying to weaken the protective barrier).

But over time he comes to learn that his inherited abilities to access hyperspace enable him to fold another’s physical projection around him (as Plok puts it, copying their “hyperspatial imprint”:), causing them to suddenly end up with his form, thereby tricking Limbo and thereby displacing them and enabling him to temporarily escape its protective “prison”.

Modern Marvel's first character to make reference to Limbo from Avengers #2

The logical corollary of this being that Limbo doesn’t cause those who get trapped to forget their previous existence and turn into Space Phantoms (as suggested in Avengers Forever #8), but rather Space Phantom’s folding of himself out of Limbo and folding of them there in his place!

But how can all this be when Space Phantom in Avengers #2 refers to his “people” invading Earth?

Space Phantom reveals his plans to enable his people to invade Earth from Avengers #2

Well, there’s nothing to say his “people” are necessarily of his original race! That is, if he is an unborn child that has not had the opportunity at a real life, and Limbo ends up becoming the place for other unborn children (to protect them from Mephisto), these other “ghosts” become his community. And not knowing the reason why they are in Limbo in the first place, they perceive it as a prison from which they most desperately want to escape from…

…and see Earth from Limbo…

…while at the same time realising Space Phantom has the ability to access hyperspace to temporarily escape…

…so task him with becoming the advance scout for their “race”, an invasion force from Limbo intent on conquering Earth.

Acknowledgements: Once again there are a series of thank yous I need to make whom without this post would not have been anything more than a pipe-dream: So without further ado, thanks to Richard Bensam of Estoreal for reviewing my initial draft, fnord12 of the Marvel Comics Chronology, Ancient One and thjan of Alvaro’s Comic Book Message Boards for tracking down some hard to obtain images, Chris Tolworthy of zak-site.com and world’s foremost authority on the Fantastic Four and Plok of A Trout in the Milk for their van Vogtian assistance in helping me explain the science fiction implications of theoretical physics:)

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…the reason for the Reed Richards’ Rocketship?

fantastic_four_cosmic-rays-112Today’s guest post comes from Justin Zyduck, who used to write about superhero comics at the Adventures of Wyatt Earp in 2999 and was a semiregular guest contributor to Mightygodking dot com from 2009-2010. Since then he’s had two children and has retired from active blogging, but he still thinks about comics all the dang time even if he’s not writing about them. These days he writes and performs music as half of Madison, Wisconsin-based indie pop duo Evening Afternoon. He’s also published some short horror fiction under the name Justin Pollock and still works at prose in fits and starts.

“If Reed Richards is so smart, why did he take his girlfriend and her kid brother on the first test of his experimental rocket?”

Everyone from J. Jonah Jameson to Jay Leno has posed that question, or some variant of it, over the years.  Professional and amateur pundits alike have long debated the reason behind Susan and Johnny Storm’s presence on the historic flight that created the Fantastic Four. Feature films and other fictionalized versions of their exploits tend to portray the Storms as fellow scientists or astronauts to Reed Richards and Ben Grimm.  But, in reality, they had little, if any, training in those fields.  Sue Storm (now Richards) holds a bachelor’s degree in theatre, and Johnny Storm was, by all reports, an average-to-bright but underachieving high school student at that time.

When faced with the question himself, Richards plays it off charmingly.  “Even before we were the Fantastic Four, we were a team,” he said at a press conference shortly after their public debut.  It’s a sentiment he’s repeated many times since. “Every risk we took, every success we celebrated, we shared equally. Sue and Johnny are two of the bravest individuals I’ve ever known and – with no disrespect intended to the highly trained and dedicated astronauts in the international space-exploration community – there’s no one I’d have rather had with me.”

Beyond this seeming non-explanation, we can only speculate. Frustratingly, due to the nature of the U.S. government’s funding and involvement, official explanations and documentation on the Richards rocket project have been largely classified. In most cases we must depend on the licensed Fantastic Four comic books as primary sources.  However, whether through deliberate or accidental miscommunication between the Fantastic Four and the creative teams behind the comic – or perhaps even for matters of simple artistic license – details are often inconsistent.

Indeed, the very nature of the rocket itself has been inconsistently portrayed over the years. The flight was described as a mission “to the stars” in the debut issue of the Fantastic Four comic book (Vol. 1, #1.)  Later retellings frequently speak only of a nebulous “spaceflight” that may or may not have involved a “hyperdrive” or “star drive.” Furthermore, the first issue presented Richards’ decision to launch the rocket without official clearance as a spur-of-the-moment impulse because “conditions are right tonight.”  Only later did Vol. 3, #11 reveal that Richards effectively stole his own ship after the government withdrew funding from the project. When we don’t even know why Richards himself undertook that flight, is it any wonder that researchers and journalists have had difficulty reading between the lines to figure out what exactly the Storms were doing there?

But what if, instead of trying to determine what Richards is not saying about his friends’ involvement, we were to focus on what he is saying? Perhaps it’s a dead end to read such statements as the one quoted above as merely some kind of media-friendly deflection. What if we take him at his word? A man goes into space with his three closest friends. What would it suggest about the mission?

In following that question to its logical conclusion, we may discover not only why the Storms were on that rocket, but the purpose of the flight itself. And, quite unexpectedly, it may also lead us to the secret behind one of the other great and terrible marvels of the modern age: the so-called “Incredible Hulk.”

*

Let’s begin with one of the few details that remains consistent in almost every account: the Fantastic Four gained their powers because the Richards rocket was insufficiently shielded from cosmic radiation.  What was the nature of that radiation? “Cosmic rays” are not in fact unusual in outer space.  Their effects have been known, studied, and guarded against in the shielding of conventional spacecraft for years. Why, then, was the Richards rocket not so protected? Critics of Richards cite this seeming negligence on his part – negligence paid for by Ben Grimm in his transformation into “The Thing.”

Others, however, rush to defend Richards. On a special edition of the TV news magazine Lateline, Dr. Henry Pym – a leading biochemist and founding member of the Avengers under identities such as Giant Man and Yellowjacket – stated the incident was “a freak accident. No one could have predicted it. A cosmic ray storm on the surface of the sun produced particles that reacted with the star drive” (Vol. 3, #543.) This statement suggests a singular, anomalous incident that Richards was not and could not have been prepared for, which would seem to absolve Richards at least partially of blame.

The “freak accident” theory, however, while occasionally repeated elsewhere, can’t be entirely accepted because the effects of the cosmic rays have been reproduced. Specifically, rogue scientist Ivan Kragoff – alias the Red Ghost – exposed himself and his trained “Super-Apes” to what would appear to be the same type of cosmic rays, as did the terrorist group known as the U-Foes. Both teams traveled in spacecraft even less shielded than the Richards rocket for the deliberate purpose of gaining cosmic ray-derived superhuman powers. The Fantastic Four themselves have re-encountered the same or similar cosmic rays on subsequent flights.  During the account of their first battle with the extraterrestrial Skrull race, a spacecraft containing the Fantastic Four passes through a “radiation belt” that temporarily cures Grimm of his condition.  It is suggested that this same belt gave them their powers in the first place (Vol. 1, #2.)  Today, it is commonly held that this radiation belt was the Van Allen belt, two bands of trapped particles held in place by the Earth’s magnetic field.  At least one account of the Fantastic Four’s origin, in Vol. 3, #60, explicitly names the Van Allen belt as the source of their powers.

We can even resolve the Van Allen belt explanation with some of Pym’s comments.  As recently as 2013, space probes detected a third radiation belt, presumably created by unusual solar activity and apparently destroyed by a subsequent shock wave from the sun.  A “cosmic ray storm on the surface of the sun” as Pym describes might indeed have created an additional, temporary radiation belt with unexplained properties – a “fantastic belt,” if you will – that interacted with the Richards party to alter their genetic structure.  A reaction with a “star drive,” however, seems unlikely given that Kragoff and the U-Foes’ ships would almost certainly not have had the same hyperdrive on board.

In any event, we can likely pinpoint the cause of the mutation as abnormal, but by no means unique, activity in the Van Allen belt.  Such fantastic belts may be created and destroyed all the time.  The ones that affected Kragoff and the U-Foes might have been different belts that shared a common origin with the one that empowered the Fantastic Four. At the time of Richards’ flight, however, the existence and effects of these fantastic belts would have been unknown.  So, it is quite possible that the “insufficient shielding” of the rocket might have been perfectly sufficient if not for the unusual Van Allen belt activity.

*

Still, there is the detail, again unusually consistent among accounts, that Ben Grimm warned Reed Richards about the shielding on the rocket. Many underestimate Grimm due to his gruff layman’s persona, often portrayed referring to Richards’ inventions as “doohickeys” and “whoziwhatzis.”  But, his credentials in the aerospace field are not to be sniffed at.  It does seem unusual that he would have been so incredibly right and Richards so incredibly wrong about the shielding. In fact, why would anyone build a rocket with anything less than the standard amount of shielding?

But perhaps the shielding not being “standard” was precisely the point. Radiation shielding is bulky and expensive, and any spaceship traveling to interstellar space would require even more than conventional spacecraft. Seeking to get around this, Richards may well have used unconventional shielding. Scientists today have proposed spaceships that generate magnetic fields to block cosmic radiation; Richards may have beaten them to this notion several years ago.  Therefore, Grimm’s concern in Vol. 1, #1 that “[they] haven’t done enough research into the effect of cosmic rays” may not have been referring to the cosmic rays themselves, but rather the ability of this unconventional shielding to successfully block it.

*

Because we tend to focus on the failings of Richards’ rocket and the seeming impracticality of bringing largely untrained astronauts aboard, we tend to overlook the true marvel of its engineering: the very fact that it could be successfully operated by civilians.

It was eventually revealed that Richards and Grimm were originally intended to pair with two trained astronauts identified as Burroughs and Hennessey, although those might be pseudonyms employed by Marvel Comics for legal reasons.  Vol. 3, #11 shows that these two were pulled from the mission, along with the government’s funding. Yet, on short notice, Richards, Grimm, and the Storm siblings launched the rocket without clearance, without ground support, fast enough to take off “before the guard can stop them” (Vol. 1, #1.)  Then, in the worst possible conditions, they navigated the rocket safely back to Earth.  They achieved all this despite half their number having effectively zero astronautics training.

We can attribute their takeoff and survival to luck, or we can ask a more compelling question: what if the Richards rocket was designed to be operated by untrained astronauts? Richards’ decision to include the Storms on the mission would no longer be a massive mistake, but instead a test of the rocket’s intended function.

This question, however, seems to muddle the purpose of the mission at first glance. By itself, a spacecraft that can be launched and operated by a mix of professional and amateur astronauts with no outside support is a lofty goal.  Faster-than-light travel is even more wildly ambitious. Combining these two parameters makes the job exponentially more difficult. Why would Richards need to build an interstellar spaceship that requires minimal training?

*

On the same edition of Lateline where Pym described the incident in space, Dr. Herbert Eagle, former Dean of Men at Eastern State University, is quoted as saying, “When [Richards] proposed a practical hyperdrive… financial backers fought for the opportunity to invest in his prototype.” Yet, ultimately, the project was funded and pulled at the discretion of the U.S. government. With the private sector champing at the bit to fund Richards’ project, why was the government interested enough to foot the bill themselves, and again, why was a hyperdrive and the ability to be operated with minimal training a necessity?

It was only after Reed Richards’ encounter with the extraterrestrial creature known as Gormuu, self-proclaimed “Warrior of Kraalo,” was declassified and published in comic book form (Vol. 1, #271) that we could begin connecting these dots. The account revealed how, some time before making his flight with the future Fantastic Four, Richards helped defeat this would-be conqueror through ingenuity and quick thinking. The incident strengthened his resolve to complete his in-progress “experimental star-drive rocket” because “this experience with Gormuu has shown [the] universe to be more dangerous than anyone ever suspected.”  It seems probable, even likely, that the U.S. government agreed with Richards’ assessment, and that they agreed to finance the rocket not for research or exploration, as Richards intended, but for defense purposes: as a prototype for the next generation of military vehicle, one that could engage extraterrestrial threats.

Here, the unusual requirements of the rocket start to make sense. It would be prohibitively expensive to create a military fleet of conventional spacecraft with heavy radiation shielding, each of which would require massive, highly trained crews on the ground and in the air just to take off and land. But, what about a spaceship, with cost-effective magnetic shields, operated by one or two experienced astronauts that would allow additional, minimally-trained personnel to perform other functions, perhaps even combat?  Whatever Richards’ original goals for faster-than-light travel, such a ship creates compelling military implications.

Why, then, would the government abandon this idea? In fact, they might not have, at least not completely. Shortly after the Richards’ flight, a lower-profile but still very unusual space launch was undertaken by Col. John Jameson – not from NASA’s usual launch site at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, but just outside New York City.  This launch could take place close to a major metropolitan center, with relatively little preparation time.  Jameson was not even in the rocket fifteen minutes before launch! Perhaps this unique launch received so little attention because it was overshadowed by a malfunction with the rocket and its subsequent rescue by the burgeoning vigilante Spider-Man, then known largely for his television appearances and live stunt shows. But might that rocket have been a derivative of Richards’ technology? Did the government steal Richards’ designs and then shut down his program in favor of a homegrown one? Richards might have been uncomfortable with his work being used for explicit military purposes.  His own subsequent work, after all, has largely been focused on exploration, with superhuman combat used only when needed and as a last resort.

*

We can make an even wilder speculation here, an intriguing speculation which has never been proposed before now. Consider the other unusual major military project undertaken at around the same time as the Richards project.  Just what was Dr. Robert Bruce Banner working on in the New Mexico desert before the accident that transformed him into the Hulk?

If the Richards rocket was top secret, Banner’s project was doubly so. The official story, as it was originally disseminated, was that Banner was studying gamma radiation for medical or genetic research.  Some sources or adaptations continue to use that explanation, undoubtedly because it makes Banner a more sympathetic figure. But today, we know that Banner was actually working on a gamma-powered weapon, although its purpose has never been made clear.

A “gamma bomb” would likely be considerably more powerful and considerably more deadly than any conventional nuclear weapon in history. The utility of such a weapon seems limited: most nuclear weapons research focuses on variable yield rather than just a bigger payload.  Whatever your political and ethical feelings about weapons of mass destruction, harnessing this highly unusual radiation for a bomb that could only sanely be conceived of as a “use only in case of Armageddon” deterrent would seem to be an egregious waste of a potentially world-changing form of energy.

But what if the gamma bomb was never meant to be used in defense or offense against another nation on Earth? What if it was a weapon designed to be used against Kraalo, or the other hostile civilizations of the universe we were only just beginning to encounter? What kind of deployment system would such a weapon require?  In light of the Fantastic Four’s reputation as peaceful ambassadors representing humankind at its finest and most high-minded, it is chilling to consider that in other circumstances, the Richards rocket might have been used as an interplanetary Enola Gay carrying a gamma-powered Little Boy.

…the Origin of Doom 2099 (or “The Fate of Doctor Doom”)?

In this special guest post, Victor Cardigan, admin of the 2099Bytes Facebook page and owner of a fan-site dedicated to 2099, gives you his thoughts on Doom 2099’s true identity.

In the year 2099, mega-corporations rule everything. They run the United States, with each of the mega-corp CEO’s ruling their own slice of the country. Mega-Corps such as Alchemax, Stark-Fujikawa, Pixel, and D/Monix, to name a few, serve as the primary antagonists in the 2099 books.

There are no heroes in 2099, at least not at first. The heroes we know – the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and the X-Men – are all gone after the end of the Age of Heroes. Exactly how that age ended is shrouded in mystery. The world of 2099 suffers from a “cultural amnesia.” Only snippets of the Heroic Age remain, distorted by the passage of time.

When Marvel launched the 2099 universe in 1992, it included four characters: Spider-Man, Punisher, Ravage, and Doom. Ostensibly, Doom 2099 was the only character implied to have a direct connection to the original.  In fact, he believed himself to be the original Doctor Doom. Given Doom’s penchant for time travel, a technological capability of his since his very first appearance in Fantastic Four #5, it seemed reasonable that this Doom was the genuine article.

But, writer John Francis Moore threw readers a curve ball in Doom 2099 #1, planting the seed of doubt when Doom 2099 faced his first opponent, Tiger Wylde.  Unmasked, Doom 2099 was revealed to be a young man sporting an unscarred face – definitely not the original. He was also definitely not a Doombot, since Tiger Wylde burned his face away, leaving him to bleed all over the office carpet. Adding to the doubts about his identity, Doom 2099 suffered from amnesia and could not account for his whereabouts prior to his sudden arrival in 2099.

figure-01Despite these clues, Doom 2099 clearly had extensive knowledge that only the real Doctor Doom could have. For example, he knew the true purpose of an amulet he gave to Boris, his longtime friend and ally.

Writer John Francis Moore teased readers with more details surrounding Doom 2099’s past in issue #2.  There, we learned that Doom apparently outlived allies and enemies alike, surviving the end of the Age of Heroes. Doom, however, was still human, and age took its toll on his health. His friend Boris, apparently deceased, was replaced by Damon, who attended to his declining health.

Despite his triumph, Doom became convinced that shadowy wraiths were subverting his empire. In order to rout them, Doom “hurled himself again into the void.”

figure-02Another fragment of his past was revealed in Doom 2099 #3, where we learned that Doom’s attempt to bring unity and vision resulted in the destruction of a city or cities. Accompanied by his servant Damon, Doom concluded that to restore order he must leave. He knew where he would find answers, but readers were left to ponder where Doom went. All we knew for sure is that after his journey, whatever the outcome, he ended up in 2099.

figure-03These questions were tabled until Doom 2099 #19, when Doom 2099 received a vision that made him doubt his own identity. He saw another man’s face reflected in a mirror. He saw himself seemingly tortured by the “real” Doctor Doom.

figure-04Later, in issue #21, Doom 2099 received further evidence that there was another Victor von Doom in the mad ranting and ravings of Christian L’Argent. L’Argent, an Alchemax employee gone AWOL, traveled to the Savage Land in order to escape the all-seeing eyes of the Shadows who truly rule the world above and beyond the powers of the mega-corps.  L’Argent identified Doctor Doom as one of these Shadows.

figure-05The quest for the truth about his identity led Doom 2099 to the island of Myridia, a nexus of information ruled by General Tibor Czerny. There, Doom 2099 learned that General Czerny had a son, Erik. Erik disappeared fourteen years ago, obsessed with finding the Shadows he believed were responsible for the “political and social crises of recent years.”

figure-06In issue #25, Doom 2099 learned that 14 years earlier, in 2085, Erik Czerny was captured by one of the shadows he was chasing: Margaretta von Geisterstadt. Margaretta also happened to be the lover of another of these shadows: Victor von Doom. Margaretta and Doom played games, deadly games, against each other. Margaretta’s most recent scheme ended with Doom being severely wounded. She then placed Doom in a regenerative bubble to be healed. Meanwhile, she brainwashed Erik into believing he was the real Doctor Doom until the healed Doom was ready. This healing process would take fourteen years. Once he was ready, she unleashed him with Erik’s memories mixed with his own incomplete ones into the year 2099.

This “origin,” however, left some questions unanswered. Certainly it remains an open question if Doom 2099 is indeed the real Doom. Margaretta, a brilliant geneticist, could easily have “grown” her own Doctor Doom. L’Argent suggested as much during the Savage Land incident. There is also the question of character: how did the Doctor Doom we know evolve into Doom 2099?

After Doom 2099 was cancelled, I still wondered how Doctor Doom became Doom 2099. Although I believe them to be the same man, they are clearly the same man at two drastically different points in their life. The younger Doctor Doom is still fueled by his desire to destroy the Fantastic Four and rule the world.  Doom 2099 wants primarily to safeguard his homeland, Latveria. If that means taking over the world and making it a better place, so be it. But based on what we see in Doom 2099 #25, Doom decided at some point to leave Latveria and rule the world from the shadows. How? Why? When?

I propose that Doctor Doom made the choice to withdraw from the world and rule as a shadow king after two life-altering encounters with his own future. The first encounter was in Iron Man #250. That story showed Doctor Doom transported to the year 2093, a mere six years prior to 2099. He met and killed his future self, finding him a pathetic shadow of Doom’s former self. The Doom of 2093 was more robot than man. He lived only by virtue of the mechanics in his armor. Doom swore that this would not be his future.

Yes, at the end of Iron Man #250, Merlin erased both Iron Man’s and Doctor Doom’s memories of the events which transpired. However Iron Man: Legacy of Doom showed Tony Stark breaking through Merlin’s spell to recall the events of Legacy of Doom. I propose that Doom could similarly break through the spell and recall the events of Iron Man #250 at a later date.

figure-07The second encounter took place in the pages of Doom 2099 itself. Issue #43 tells the story of how Doom 2099 traveled to the year 1996. During his trip, he met his past self. After learning of his failed conquest of America and the subsequent destruction of Latveria, Doctor Doom once again denied this would be his future.

figure-08I propose these two encounters had a profound effect on Doctor Doom. They gave him important information about his future and informed his decisions on how to extend his life – and how to live it. From both encounters he learned that by the 2090s, he would still be trying to take over the world.

Remember, Doctor Doom has successfully taken over the world on a number of occasions. Two things always happen.  One, he gets bored.  (See the graphic novel Avengers: Emperor Doom and the two-part story Super-Villain Team-Up #14/Champions #16 for examples.)  Two, he is overthrown.

I propose that at a future date, a unique solution occurs to him. Instead of conquering the world publically, he will conquer the world in secret and become its shadow king. Thus, Doctor Doom leaves Latveria, possibly leaving a Doombot in charge, or maybe Kristoff.  Doctor Doom moves into the shadows to do his work, and he succeeds.

Doctor Doom quickly realizes that by removing himself from the scene, he can assert greater control over the world. Being in the shadows has its benefits. For instance, no one is trying to overthrow him, because they don’t know he’s really in charge. Also, he need not become bored with the daily drudgery that comes with being ruler of the world.

In time, he discovers he is not alone in the shadows. There are other such shadow kings – possibly Vulcann, Essex, and the Shaper’s Guild, all mentioned by John Francis Moore at the end of X-Men 2099. These Shadows are a loose cabal who do not exactly work together. In fact, they vie to wrest control of the world from each other. These Shadows, including Doom, push the world’s buttons from behind the scenes. It was their machinations that ignited the Pollution Wars which erupted between elected governments and the giant trans-national corporations. It was the hand of the Shadows which pulled the strings of the ruling mega-corps to hide advanced technology from the public. The world is their chessboard. Hidden from public view, Doom is no longer a piece on the board but one of the players moving the pawns.

In the shadows, Doctor Doom meets a woman, Margaretta von Geisterstadt, whose intelligence is matched only by her cunning. She is a master player in the chess game of the Shadows. Where she comes from is not important. She is the last of her people, as her name implies: von Geisterstadt = of Ghost Town. She lost everything in her past because of events completely out of her control. To make up for this lack of control, she sought total control of the world.  She has attained this, arguably, as a Shadow Queen.

This brings us to the second part of my proposal. I posit that the “cancer” which gnaws at Doctor Doom in the flashback from Doom 2099 #2 was not a preoccupation with the Shadows subverting his empire.  That was merely Erik Czerny’s memories bleeding into Doom’s. Rather, it was a real cancer.

What caused this illness? Take your pick from all the various energies Doom has exposed his body to over the years.  His body has held the power cosmic (stolen from the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four #57), the power of the Beyonder (Secret Wars #10), the power of Galactus (Fantastic Four World’s Greatest Comics Magazine #10), the power of a Watcher (Fantastic Four #375), and the Life Force (Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #7.)  A line of dialogue in Doom 2099 #43 could be interpreted as evidence of this future cancer. Doom 2099’s final warning to his younger self was, “But know this, for every victory you savor, there will be a loss that scars you.”

A human body was never meant to hold or endure being exposed to such energies. I propose that as the Age of Heroes ends and Doom survives triumphantly, his body finally succumbs to the years of torment he has put it through.  Never one to lie down and die, Doom seeks options to extend his life. However, Doom is acutely aware he must be careful of the choices he makes. At all costs he wants to avoid the future he saw in Iron Man #250.

Having vowed to change this future, and seeing that technology alone will not save him, Doom attempts to restore his health through mystical means. He returns to the place of his “birth” and attempts a “rebirth.” Doom travels to the Himalayas and visits the hidden order of monks who forged his first armor.

In a repeat of what Dr. Strange once did for him during the Infinity Gauntlet story (Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #34,) Doom attempts to heal himself in the furnace of his birth as Doctor Doom. Unfortunately, the restorative qualities of the flames are not enough to completely cure him.  They only stall his death. Doom leaves to continue his search for a cure, but not alone.  As seen in the Doom 2099 #2 flashback, he takes with him one of the monks, Damon, who administers his medicine.

figure-09For his cure, Doom turns to an unlikely source: one of the Shadows. Doom has always been drawn to powerful women like Morgan Le Fey, Storm, and Dorma.  It is not surprising he was drawn to Margaretta. Margaretta is likewise drawn to Doom because, in his weakened state, he is a man she can dominate.  Just look at her style of dress in the flashback in Doom 2099 #25 if you need evidence that this is her type of thing. Margaretta, a master geneticist, offers Doom a cure for his illness. He promptly accepts. In this way, Necrotek’s tease about Margaretta in Doom 2099 #13 comes true: her “love” redeems him. But how does it curse him?

figure-10A “cured” Doom begins an ongoing relationship with Margaretta. But, theirs is not a flowery romance. It is a game of chess, with the whole world as their chessboard. We know of Doom’s penchant for chess games from tales like Fantastic Four Special, Master of Kung-Fu #59-60, and Strange Tales #167. Doom and Margaretta’s games, like those of all who lurk in the shadows, shake and move events on a global scale.

However, by 2085, it becomes clear that Margaretta’s cure is not as permanent as they thought. Doom’s condition begins to deteriorate once more. Margaretta concludes that in order to heal Doom once and for all, she requires a “clean” genetic sample of Doom. She needs a sample not tainted by the energies he exposed himself to in his public quest to rule the world during the Age of Heroes.

Doom plans a journey into his own past to obtain the required sample. However, by doing this, he is inserting himself once more onto the chessboard at the mercy of Margaretta’s games. The journey into the past is a trap. Doom’s trip is diverted into a time corridor where Doom is forced to revisit his worst defeats, over and over again. The arduous flight through time ends with Doom’s arriving back at his citadel in the Pacific nearly dead.

This brings us full circle to the events depicted in Doom 2099 #25 where Margaretta finds a good use for Erik Czerny while healing Doom for her next game. She mixes Doom’s memories with Erik’s and erases some of his own memories before sending him out into the world of 2099.  This represents her best challenge yet for her lover. Doom, of course, overcomes her obstacles and wins the game. He is, after all, Doom.

figure-11figure-12

…the Molecule Man and the Beyonder?

beyonder-and-molecule-man-turn-into-a-cosmic-cube

Today’s post is fnord12’s, of the Marvel Comics Chronology project.  This time around, he has decided to unpick the fixes for the Beyonder’s origin, and the character’s connection to the Molecule Man, thereby weaving a logical rat’s nest into a wearable garment.  So over to fnord12.

Ok, ok, put the pitchforks down.  I know no one wants to hear any more about the Beyonder ever again.  I know we all hated Secret Wars II, and that’s fair enough.  I’m right there with you.  But, you have to admit the ending of Secret Wars II was pretty good.  The Beyonder, we had learned, was once a universe unto himself.  After he spent the series thrashing about in our universe in various ill-advised ways, the Beyonder decided to return to the void of his previous existence.  He would forego his consciousness and become a new universe – perhaps even a New Universe.  And that’s pretty cool.  Whether you see Secret Wars II as a metaphor for Jim Shooter thrashing about and disrupting the status quo in the Marvel offices, or just a cosmic storyline full of admittedly goofy moments, the ending has a nice sense of closure.  It’s a shame it got ruined when the Beyonder was brought back and “fixed” in a really weird way – actually, in two really weird ways.  And that’s what I’m hoping to get at with this piece: a way to unfix the fixes with my own fix.

But before we get to that, a more esoteric and personal bugaboo of mine:  the handling of Molecule Man in the 1970s.  Molecule Man first appeared in Fantastic Four #20 as a nerdy dweeb who suddenly had vast power and was immediately corrupted by it.  This triggered the Watcher to break his personal vow to never interfere (we know it doesn’t take much) and alert the Fantastic Four.  Then, the Watcher spirits him away in the end.  That was Molecule Man’s only Silver Age appearance.

Then, in the 1970s, things got weird.  Steve Gerber brought the character back in the first issue of Marvel Two-In-One, but it wasn’t really him.  It was Molecule Man’s son, which he somehow produced in the isolated dimension where the Watcher had trapped him.   When his “son” comes back to Earth, he’s a much more generic villain in terms of personality.  He loses his body and instead possesses whoever holds his wand.  The resurrection as his son was also supposed to eliminate his inability to affect organic molecules.  But, that starts creeping back in later stories, beginning with an inability to affect unstable molecules.  Along the way, he also seems to become his original self again, dropping the idea that he was actually Molecule Man’s son.

Then, in the early 80s, Jim Shooter brought back Molecule Man as the original Silver Age version.  Molecule Man re-grew a body for himself, ditched the wand, and went back to his old nebbish self that we all know and love from the first Secret Wars.   (I don’t care what anyone says.  The first Secret Wars was a fun story, and Molecule Man’s interaction with the Beyonder was one of the best parts of the second series.)   Molecule Man even regained his inability to affect organic materials.  The Shooter story in Avengers #215-216 gave a quick hand-waving explanation about the wand possessions, but offered no explanation for the son thing or the reversal of his power limitation.  That always bugged me.  The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe says something about the son being a construct he created to serve as a companion, but I never liked that.  Molecule Man was never shown to be able to create something with a consciousness.  It seems like a step too far even for his godlike powers.

Now, back to the Beyonder.  Apparently, Ralph Macchio disliked the Beyonder so much that even though the character was done/finished/caput/off being another universe where he would never bother us again, he ordered Steve Englehart to bring him back just so he could do away with him again.  Fantastic Four #318-319 showed the Beyonder merging with Molecule Man so they could become a cosmic cube.  Just typing that makes my brain hurt.   Of course, this “fix” actually had the opposite of Macchio’s intended result.  Molecule Man eventually disentangled himself from the Beyonder, or Kosmos or whatever we have to call it, and went back to his usual routine.  Now, instead of having a nice finite ending, the Beyonder is free to menace the Marvel universe (and us!) without notice, as s/he did in the 2003 Thanos series.

Then, we have the second, most recent, “fix” from the New Avengers Illuminati series by Brian Michael Bendis.  The nearly incomprehensible third issue suggested the Beyonder was a mutant Inhuman all along.  It also implied that all of Secret Wars II was just an illusion played out on an unpopulated moon out in space.  It seems unlikely, considering the number of actual developments that came out of Secret Wars II, like the first appearance of Boom Boom and the curing of Rick Jones’ cancer.  How could it in any way jibe with the Kosmos story?  Bendis has said that he kept the story deliberately vague, so that we could interpret it however we want.  I am now exercising my option to do that in a way that a) preserves the original ending of Secret Wars II while b) compartmentalizing the two Beyonder “fixes” so that we can blissfully ignore them both at once, and c) addressing my personal problem with the long forgotten weirdness of the 1970s Molecule Man.  So, here we go!

What if there was a mutant Inhuman?  Let’s call him Kosmogar Beyondagon.  (That’s a Blackagar Boltagon reference, people!  Look it up!)  Kosmogar, although incredibly powerful thanks to the mind-blowing awesomeness of his mutant Inhumanism, might lack and covet a corporeal form of his own.  He would sense Molecule Man and secretly break into the dimensional prison where the Watcher was keeping him.  He would possess the lifeless construct of a “son” that Molecule Man created and then start manipulating the guy.  Eventually, Kosmogar would use their combined powers to escape, but trap Molecule Man in the wand.

Throughout the 1970s, then, we really saw Kosmogar.  That’s why he possesses various bodies, and why his powers are inconsistent.  Eventually, though, Molecule Man subconsciously asserts himself enough to expel Kosmogar.  From Shooter’s Avengers through the two Secret Wars series, we have the “regular” Molecule Man again.  But, we do see Kosmogar separately at this time, taunting the Illuminati and priming them to think the worst of the Beyonder.  Kosmogar plans to swoop in and steal the Beyonder’s power at the right moment, something he fails to do behind the scenes in the final issue of Secret Wars II.

We could tell a whole behind-the-scenes story from Kosmogar’s point of view where we get to relive a fairly chaotic battle devoid of character moments in that issue.  This story could deliver bonus fixes, like explaining why Cyclops didn’t recognize Rachel Summers using the Phoenix Force at a time when he didn’t know she was his alternate future daughter.  It could explain some of the minor errors in character appearances, like the roster of Alpha Flight that appears in that issue, while also telling the story of how Kosmogar failed to steal the Beyonder’s power.  We can also use the bodiless Kosmogar during the early 1980s period for other fixes as well, like explaining The Thing #3 where Lockjaw talked.   The other Inhumans seemed convinced he was a real person and not a dog, but Peter David’s reversal of that had some inherent contradictions.  Kosmogar wouldn’t want to risk the emergence of another mutant Inhuman, so he possesses Lockjaw long enough to make him talk and discourage Quicksilver from exposing Luna to the Terrigen Mists, and then puts it into the Inhumans’ heads that it was all just a practical joke.

After Secret Wars II is over, Kosmogar starts manipulating Kubik and the other cosmic entities.  He gets them to think he is the Beyonder and force him to merge with Molecule Man again – which is what he actually wants.  When Molecule Man disentangles himself, Kosmogar goes on to appear in the short-lived Thanos series, where he’s put into a coma (Thanos #10).

This fix keeps the real Beyonder safely away from all of the post-Secret Wars II nonsense, allowing him to have retired in peace never to be used again.  Plus, it provides an explanation for the changes to the Molecule Man.  If we were doing all of this in some actual comics, we could frame it around a Secret Wars III.  Don’t groan!  We could have all of our various sentient cosmic cubes – Kubik, the Shaper of Worlds, and, yes, the Kosmos/Beyonder – each pitting a faction of heroes and/or villains against each other for the purposes of some cosmic contest set up by the Grandmaster.  Keeping it not too complex leaves room to work in all our changes.  It starts to come out during the course of the story that the head of the third faction isn’t really the Beyonder.  He is really Kosmos, or rather our Kosmogar.

What does Kosmogar want?  What was all that possession of the Molecule Man and his various machinations for?  Well, that’s what Secret Wars III can be about, interspersed with some classic Secret Wars-style slugfests.    We can flash back to his birth and childhood and exposure to the Terrigen Mists, seeing how he first gained his powers but also lost his corporeal form.  For all his vast power, he’s been unable to create permanent body for himself.  The “son” created by the Molecule Man got burned out by his energies, and he had to release all the other forms he possessed or they would have burnt out too.  In order to form a permanent body, he needs truly cosmic power.  The real Beyonder could have created one for him, but Kosmogar failed in that attempt.  Now he needs to win the Grandmaster’s contest.  But, why does he want a body?  Again we go back to his childhood to find a very simple and human reason:  a boy that could never receive a hug from his parents, a kiss from his girlfriend, or even pet his Lockjaw puppy.  Over the years in his quest for power his mind has become more twisted, and he’s forgotten the reason for his quest.  But with this, we can resolve the character arc for Kosmogar without him ever succeeding in gaining a body, as our heroes delve into his psyche and learn that, deep inside, he’s just a little boy that needed a hug.

…Gateway’s origin?

Figure 01

Before Chris Claremont was unceremoniously fired from the X-titles by Bob Harras, we never learnt the origins of the mutant aborigine Gateway or the details behind the “geas” binding him to the land surrounding the abandoned mining town that served as the Reavers’ outback headquarters.

In the letters page of Uncanny X-Men #229 it says this about Gateway:

"And the full truth won't be known about Gateway for quite some time – which just might cost the X-Men dearly!" (letters page of Uncanny X-Men #229)

“And the full truth won’t be known about Gateway for quite some time – which just might cost the X-Men dearly!” (letters page of Uncanny X-Men #229)

Cryptic hint there in that last sentence, wouldn’t you say?  What “full truth” is going to cost the X-Men dearly?? When we meet Gateway in #229, he is providing the villainous Reavers use of his teleporting powers.  But why? Reaver leader Bonebreaker knows something about Gateway, saying on Page 9:

"Don't mind. He can look any which way he pleases... so long as he does what he's told. But mark me, Gateway-- any funny stuff, an' the Reavers'll trash your Holy Place beyond all hope o-' reconsecration-- an' then your people will NEVER know peace. They'll wander the Dreamlands, slave to OUTSIGN SPIRITS, to the end of time an' beyond!" (cf. Uncanny X-Men #229, p.9)

“Don’t mind. He can look any which way he pleases… so long as he does what he’s told. But mark me, Gateway– any funny stuff, an’ the Reavers’ll trash your Holy Place beyond all hope o’ reconsecration– an’ then your people will NEVER know peace. They’ll wander the Dreamlands, slave to OUTSIGN SPIRITS, to the end of time an’ beyond!” (cf. Uncanny X-Men #229, p.9)

Gateway stares at Bonebreaker with barely hidden contempt.  Reading the above quote, the “Holy Place” Bonebreaker mentions is obviously the land surrounding the outback town, where the spirits of Gateway’s ancestors reside.  What’s further interesting about this quote is that the Dreamlands, the usual resting place for all ancestral spirit beings in Australian Aboriginal mythology, according to Bonebreaker are threatened by “outsign spirits”.

So just what are these “outsign spirits” threatening the Dreamlands?

The next time Claremont refers to the Aboriginal Dreamtime, also known as Alchera, being under threat is when the Shadow King kidnaps Gateway in X-Treme X-Men Annual 2001 in an effort to access the totality of time-space and all of creation through it.

Figure 04

Interesting to note  in this Annual is that Donald Pierce, leader of the Reavers, is revealed to have been among the Shadow King’s many hosts.

Figure 05

So was the Shadow King one of the “outsign spirits” Bonebreaker refers to, and the Reaver’s threat to Gateway concerns the Shadow King enslaving his ancestors if he didn’t serve their villainous needs?

Other mysteries surrounding this whole Claremont plot include the origins of the Australian Outback town itself and the land surrounding it.

Figure 06

So what were the origins of the town, and for that matter the Reavers’ base?

Well first up, the saloon in the town is shown with a signpost atop it with the year 1890 inscribed…

Figure 07

…a period when there had been regular massacres of Aboriginal people by white settlers in Australia. This initially made me consider the significance of the town to be that white settlers had massacred Gateway’s people and had further desecrated the land by building their town over it.

However, if we go back to Bonebreaker’s quote in Uncanny X-Men #229, he threatens to desecrate their Holy Place (FUTURE TENSE), not that it has already been desecrated (PAST or PRESENT TENSE)!

Then there is the mystery of the technology of the Reavers’ base.  The underground computer system in particular is technologically advanced – moreso than that of the X-Mansion –

Figure 08

so advanced in fact that it teaches Madelyne how to operate it – something she found eerily convenient.

Figure 09

Among its many other advanced features it once tapped into Madelyne’s dreams and displayed them on its monitors, suggesting it had the ability to psionically scan minds and translate this into visual images.

Figure 10

However, this ability only manifested after Madelyne appeared to have made contact with Limbo and there is evidence that S’ym and N’astirh could perform this trick with other devices, during one instance while Madelyne was away from the Outback…

Figure 11

…N’astirh contacted her over a computer monitor on the island of Genosha in Uncanny X-Men #236.

Figure 12

In addition to being possibly self-aware and connected to Limbo, the computer appeared to be self-repairing as well.  It was perhaps even organic, the monitor twice repairing itself after a user damaged it; once at the hands of Madelyne in Uncanny X-Men #234…

Figure 13

..and once by Havok in Uncanny X-Men #249.

Figure 14a

Figure 14b

Then after the Reavers retook the town, they observed that the computer system seemed to be growing on its own.

Figure 15a

Figure 15b

This self-repairing ability would seem analogous to Sentinel technology (i.e. Master Mold as shown in Uncanny X-Men #246)…

Figure 16

…or the Transmode Virus, and given the demon N’astirh had during Inferno been shown to have been infected by this virus…

Figure 17

…this could suggest his seduction of Madelyne through its systems spread the virus enough that the system’s former operator, Bonebreaker, would understandably show surprise at its new programming language and note its growth being comparable to that of a living organism (see above).

But what of the computer’s advanced technology shown prior to its potential infection by the Transmode Virus, and that beyond Bonebreakers’ modifications?  Does a clue lie in Uncanny X-Men #253?  The other Reaver besides Bonebreaker that demonstrates knowledge operating the computer’s systems in this issue is Lady Deathstrike, particularly its comprehensive surveillance system, which she refers to as “Spyeye”.

Figure 18

Now where have we heard that before?  This is the term by which Psylocke’s prosthetic set of cybernetic eyeballs Spiral implanted to replace those blinded by Slaymaster – which also functioned as cameras allowing Mojo to spy on the X-Men – were referred by Mojo and Spiral.

Figure 19

Considering Lady Deathstrike was cybernetically enhanced by Spiral to become a member of the Reavers…

Figure 20

…I’d posit the technology behind their base’s computer system, with its advanced cameras, etc., could be from Mojoworld and have been purchased from Spiral by Donald Pierce.

But back to the “outsign spirits” Bonebreaker refers to, which, sadly, the explanation for has been RIGHT THERE in another tale from Marvel’s history.

This tale requires us to travel to Wakanda for a moment where after the vibranium meteor fell there, as revealed by T’Challa in Black Panther #7…

Figure 21a

…it emitted radiation causing mutations in small portions of the population, turning them into “demon spirits” who attacked their fellow tribe members.

Figure 21b

T’Challa’s ancestor, Bashenga, declared the vibranium mound too dangerous closing it to outsiders, and formed the Panther Cult to guard over it thus preventing others from being transformed by it into “demon spirits” and spreading across the kingdom.

Figure 21c

I would therefore suggest that the “outsign spirits” to whom Bonebreaker refers were Aborigines similarly transformed by a vibranium meteor that fell in the Australian Outback.

This raises another question, that being where is the vibranium meteor now?  In order to answer this, I must continue to try explaining the mystery behind the Australian Outback town.

It is worth noting that a vast, sprawling complex lies hidden beneath the town where the Reavers established their base; the buildings connected to each other by a series of underground tunnels and a sewer system, in addition to massive vaults.

Figure 22

These catacombs – obviously predating the Reavers’ arrival – are indicative of abandoned mining corridors.

Does this therefore suggest that white settlers had discovered small vibranium deposits and so decided to establish a mining town on the site (that was the land of Gateway’s ancestors)?

I’ll get to this mystery soon but will first try to answer where the vibranium meteor had fallen in the Australian Outback.

When it comes to Gateway, he spends virtually every moment we saw him – during Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men run – sitting atop a rock not unlike Uluru.

Figure 23

It is interesting to note that Uluru, a mineral rich monolith arising from the heart of Australia…

Figure 24

…used to be believed by people to be a meteorite.  So was Claremont aware of this theory and decided to reveal the similar monolith overlooking the town as a vibranium mound?

Might this further suggest Claremont intended to reveal Gateway’s power as a product of the mutagenic properties of a vibranium mound?  In addition to Gateway being somehow indebted to the Reavers, Uncanny X-Men #269 revealed that a “geas” bound him to the place to perform some task.

Figure 25

I would posit that this was equivalent to the sacred duty of the Panther Cult in Wakanda and was placed upon him by his spirit ancestors to ensure he guarded over the monolithic vibranium mound to prevent the “outsign spirits” from breaking free to control the Dreamlands.  To substantiate this theory I’d ask you to recall how during Claremont’s Outback era Gateway is shown to firstly never leave the vicinity of the rock…

Figure 26

…and secondly regularly use a bull-roarer, a sacred object known for its ability in Australian Aboriginal culture to ward off evil spirits.

Figure 27

While writers since Claremont have attempted to place the location of the town and its surrounding land in Western Australia, the town’s high-tech computer systems were to me a more reliable source of information, and they place the town somewhere in North Central Australia.

Figure 28a

Figure 28b

Readers can, I suppose, be forgiven for buying bulldust written by later writers given their lack of familiarity with Australian geography (though for goodness sake if the giant rock Gateway sat atop wasn’t a clue), but a little research about Australian indigenous religion would reveal Gateway’s use of the bull-roarer also held the answer to the location of the town in addition to the identity of his people’s tribal group.  You see, the bull-roarer, also known as a Churinga, is an object of religious significance used only by North Central Australian indigenous people of the Arrernte groups, who are the traditional custodians of the Arrernte lands which lies roughly between Alice Springs and Uluru.

Now back to the mining town, the explanation for who mined the vibranium mound has been RIGHT THERE… and perhaps answers the real reason why Donald Pierce had established the Reavers’ base in this particular Australian Outback town.  Recall that in Marvel Graphic Novel #4, introducing the New Mutants, the mine young Samuel Guthrie gained employment at after the death of his father in Cameron, Kentucky was owned by Pierce-Consolidated Mining, the company responsible for providing Donald with his vast financial resources which made him eligible for membership in the Hellfire Club.

Figure 29

Since Pierce was a pawn of the Shadow King at the time, and probably had been since becoming a member of the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club given the Shadow King had been its lord imperial…

Figure 30

…I would posit he had been manipulated to establish the underground complex in the town for purpose of mining the vibranium there; and Pierce had encouraged his original Reavers using it as their base of operations for their international heists to conceal its true function.

But what did the Shadow King want with Vibranium?

Well recall throughout most of his appearances during Claremont’s run how the Shadow King had been pursuing Storm for many years?

Figure 31

Toward the end of his run, in Uncanny X-Men #265, further hints were dropped as to what was behind this bizarre obsession when the Shadow King claimed she had been promised to him long ago.

Figure 32

With it then being shown in Uncanny X-Men #253 that the Shadow King had Gateway bound for some time, could this finally explain what he was attempting all along?

Figure 33a

Figure 33bNow recall that both Ororo’s mother N’Dare’s tribe was in Kenya and Wakanda is likewise obviously meant to be in Kenya – what with its name being evocative of the Wakamba tribe of Kenya.  However, Wakanda is a patriarchy, the title of Black Panther prior to T’Challa always having gone to the nation’s king, whereas N’Dare was a princess in a matriarchal tribe.

Figure 34

This raises the question of how N’Dare’s tribe became a matriarchy.  Might it stem back to the incident in Wakanda?  That is, was N’Dare’s tribe originally a clan of the territory that was cut off when Bashenga founded the nation of Wakanda around the area of the vibranium mound to prevent the spread of “demon spirits” across the kingdom?  And was the Shadow King leader of a clan who was mutated into a “demon spirit” by radiation from the mound?  Were the males of this clan perhaps more susceptible to being transformed into “demon spirits” and did the surviving clan go on to became a matriarchy after this incident? And is this why the Shadow King was so intent on gaining possession of Ororo, so he could unseat the ancient line of sorceresses and reinstate himself as rightful heir to the tribe’s mystical power, after which he intends to return to Wakanda to release his demon brethren?  A closely guarded secret of the royal family of Wakanda is that pure vibranium can amplify magical abilities exponentially, so had whom Farouk had been back then discovered this and made his way to the mound to increase the power of some spell, which led to his becoming a being of pure psionic energy, further prompting Bashenga’s formation of the Black Panther Cult to guard the sacred mound containing it?

If this was the case why did he then need to manipulate Donald Pierce and force Gateway into his servitude?

Well recall he had been defeated at every turn in his efforts to possess Storm, so had he turned his attentions to the Sacred Mound in Australia as a backup?  That is, by firstly employing Pierce to mine the site the mound would be uncovered and the “outsign spirits” equivalent to his demon brethren would be released and enslave Gateway’s spirit ancestors, thereby shifting them off the board so he could go on to conquer the Dreamtime, perhaps providing him with a back door to Wakanda.

Whatever the case may be, the remaining question in this overall plot requiring an intellectually-satisfying answer is where did the vibranium meteor originate from?  With my fix suggesting Storm’s ancestry as Faltine, I began entertaining the idea that Vibranium had come to reside on Earth as a result of an ancient Wakandan cult summoning it from some Dark Dimension by performing some dark ritual; and that the leader of this ancient cult was a member of Bashenga’s tribe who would go on to become the Shadow King as a result of the meteor’s radiation.

But this didn’t sit quite right with me, and I recalled how the Vibranium mound was shown in Black Panther #7 to transform at least one member of Bashenga’s tribe into a great red demon with tough, leathery skin and razor-sharp claws…

Figure 35

…leading me to think of Kierrok, and whether the vibranium meteor had been summoned by the ancient Wakandan cult from the N’Garai dimension?  And were those of Bashenga’s tribe who were transformed into “demon spirits” members of this mystical cult and their leader mutated into a demon of pure psionic energy?

However, I still found myself not entirely satisfied with this explanation, and began returning my thoughts to the Arrernte people above and how their term for the Dreaming is the Alchera, a name etymologically similar to the spirit plane called the Alshra…

Figure 36a

…introduced by Claremont’s partner in Arthurian crime, Alan Davis, in the Wolverine 1990 annual, Bloodlust.

Figure 36b

Figure 36c

In this tale, a group of the Neuri tribe are draining energy from the spirit plane following their transformation into “demon spirits” after feasting on human flesh…

Figure 36d

Figure 36e

…a concept identical to that more famous Marvel spirit demon, Wendigo.  It is worth noting that the curse of the Wendigo is referred to as a “curse of the Elder Gods” in Monsters Unleashed #9.

Figure 37

As it’s written by Claremont, that would seem to tie the Wendigo to the N’Garai.

So if the N’Garai are responsible for this “demon spirit” does this suggest they are responsible for all “demon spirits” in the Marvel Universe and are exposing those they corrupt into demons with raw vibranium?  Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu #22, also written by Claremont, reveals that many millennia ago, long before the Great Cataclysm which sank Atlantis, humanity was enslaved by the N’Garai, serving as their workers.

Figure 38

It has never been revealed what work it was that humans were forced to perform for the N’Garai, but I’d posit based on the above that it was mining vibranium for them.

This would seem to suggest that the N’Garai had conquered Earth for the purpose of mining its vibranium deposits, which would mean the vibranium meteor had obviously not come from their dimension.

That is, unless the N’Garai were not otherdimensional demons at all but rather our ancient ancestors, and like later “demon spirits” were similarly transformed by the vibranium deposits!

But if the N’Garai were birthed on Earth, this still leaves unresolved the question of where the vibranium meteor originates from.

While vibranium does not obviously originate from the dimension the N’Garai were banished to (by Satana’s father according to Marvel Preview #7), was there more to their interest in Limbo than just using it as a “stepping stone” back to Earth?  Now recall that Limbo was a place with an ecology composed primarily of demons, and outsiders who come to be lost/ trapped there similarly develop a demonic appearance.

Figure 39

So might this finally explain not only the mystery of the source of the massive meteor made up of the sound-absorbing mineral vibranium that crashed on Earth, but what was responsible for transforming travellers becoming trapped in Limbo?

To those who made it this far you’ve been wondering “He completely overlooked the Savage Land variant (aka. Anti-Metal)”!   To which I answer “Oh ye of little faith” and posit that Antarctica vibranium, while appearing different due to it destroying other metals by its presence as opposed to the Wakandan version which absorbs energy/ vibrations, has much more in common with it than previously believed.

Figure 40a

Figure 40b

In promoting this theory I’d draw your attention to Ka-Zar the Savage #11, which is set in Pangaea, the semi-tropical paradise hidden in the icy reaches of Antarctica built as an amusement park by the ancient Atlanteans before Atlantis fell, its virtually indestructible machinery keeping the cold at bay.

Figure 41

In this tale we learn this to be the place the N’Garai directed Belasco to for performing a ritual to summon them to Earth.  In his supposed efforts, Belasco formed vast tunnels deep into the caverns of the valley, but I’d alternatively posit he did this with the intention of mining the Anti-Metal for his N’Garai Masters who had previously enslaved humanity to mine it for them before the Great Cataclysm.  Then as is the pattern, upon exposure to pure deposits of the element, he begins developing a demonic appearance.

Figure 42

This tale also introduces the Children of Dis, an underground yellow-skinned humanoid race are identical to Moloids in appearance…

Figure 45a

…save for the power to emit bursts of energy through their eyes, are said to be descendants of Dante’s crew mutated by Belasco.

Figure 45b

But what if he instead had enslaved them to work in the mines and their mutation was from exposure to the Antartic vibranium?  Given their appearance this could further overturn the shoe-horned origin for the Moloids and Tyrannoids – that they were created through Celestial science by the Deviants – and alternatively align it more to their creator, Jack Kirby’s plot of Vibranium as a major source of mutation in the Marvel Universe (still retaining the Deviants but not as creations of the Celestials but rather vibranium mutates who formed their own race).

And here Kirby spells it out in black & pink, Vibranium abilities drawing on energy from Limbo!

And here Kirby spells it out in black & pink, Vibranium abilities drawing on energy from Limbo!

The Children of Dis (hereafter Disoids;) emitting bursts of energy through their eyes further brings to mind those denizens of the Dark Dimension, the Mindless Ones.

Figure 45c

And like the Moloids, Tyrannoids and Disoids, the Mindless Ones are a slave-race summoned to do the bidding of others.   Might this suggest they were originally a cult of wizards who sought out a sacred mound to amplify some spell which similarly transformed them into “demon spirits”!?  And might this further explain how the realm that later became the Dark Dimension got wiped out half a million years ago?  That is, upon being transformed, these mindless wizards were perhaps compelled, like Jakarra, to enter the vibranium mound in that universe; generating a shockwave so massive it shattered the dimension, creating warps into pocket universes?  I’d further posit that the Mindless Ones managed to somehow survive this cataclysm and their continued attempts at shattering the Dark Dimension’s great mystical barrier is in an effort to access the warps into pocket universes so they can seek out more stores of vibranium.  Which leads me to finally conclude that Vibranium originates from this realm and the cataclysm that destroyed it sent meteors of the stuff through the warps it created into pocket universes…

Figure 44

…which is how it ended up in Wakanda, Antarctica, the heart of Australia and various other locations.  It’s interesting to note in Marvel Preview #7 the N’Garai were revealed as being defeated and driven from the Earth by the forces of Heaven, led by the angel Lucifer (Satana’s father), prior to his fall.  Humanity subsequently gained its freedom.  Given we are now to a point that Vibranium originated from the realm that became the Dark Dimension, and the Faltine conquer this dimension in an effort to keep the Mindless Ones from setting off further cataclysms in pocket universes in their pursuit of vibranium, might Lucifer and his host have known to drive the N’Garai from Earth because they were likewise aware of how the Dark Dimension came to be?  As to how, recall in Ghost Rider, and then Son of Satan, he had very similar facial features to Dormammu, including the flaming head.  I’d therefore posit that these flames were the flames of regency and Lucifer was the first Regent of the Dark Dimension!

Now back to Ka-Zar the Savage #11 where I’d like to point out that the story in this issue, which is the foundation from which Claremont builds his “Return of the Elder Gods” subplot on (i.e. Belasco’s efforts to free the N’Garai from their dimensional imprisonment), is titled “Children of the Damned”.  This is of particular note when you recall his regular use of the term “Damned” when referring to these demons, e.g. Kierrok THE DAMNED, the Shiatra Book of THE DAMNED and don’t get me started on Prince Gaynor the Damned (from the Conan the Barbarian story introducing Kulan Gath, another sorcerer Claremont would go on to use and reveal as a High Priest of the N’Garai).  By using this term it would appear he is suggesting this whole connection between the N’Garai and demonic transformation from exposure to “pure vibranium”.

In this same issue Pangaea’s rides and attractions began attacking Ka-Zar and crew (which they blamed on Belasco).

Figure 45

But what if their exposure to vibranium was likewise causing this?  What do inanimate objects attacking and devouring people remind you of?  The answer of course is Inferno, when the whole of New York City became demonically possessed!  Pangaea’s amusement park interestingly does resemble Dante’s Inferno, even to the extent of its entranceway having the inscription… Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

Figure 43

So does this suggest the rides and attractions the park possessed by “demon spirits” too, and this was also caused by the vibranium exposure?  And if this is the case, does this finally explain why the Reavers’ computer system appeared to be growing on its own, with its former operator, Bonebreaker, comparing it to a living organism?  You’d have to agree this is a much better fix than my above suggestion of Mojoworld technology since it links it directly to the overall matter for discussion, that is, Vibranium being another source of mutation in the Marvel Universe.

And given the Atlanteans had extremely advanced technology in the lead-up to the Great Cataclysm, was the “orichalcum” they used as an energy source, including to power their vailixi, actually “vibranium” which they mined causing members of their race to mutate into “demon spirits” who were then banished by King of Atlantis, Kamuu. I’d further posit these “demon spirits” went on to conquer Lemuria and then storm the domed capital city of Atlantis under which the Vibranium mound perhaps was.

Figure 47

And the final cataclysm that sank both continents was a result of one of these “demon spirits” entering the mound, analogous to when Jakarra, T’Challa’s half-brother, was compelled to journey to the Sacred Mound after his transformation into a “demon spirit” which would unwittingly generate a cataclysmic shockwave so powerful it could destroy the earth.  Interesting to note here is that Plato’s Critias refers to orichalcum sparkling “like fire” and flashing with “red light”, which immediately brings to mind the sound constructs used by the Black Panther’s oldest foe, Klaw.  So there’s one more box ticked!

And of further note is how the young homo mermani also named Kamuu, who’d taken up the Sword of Kamuu after finding it in the sunken ruins of  Atlantis, was visited by the spirits of his air-breathing predecessors King Kamuu and Queen Zartra.

Figure 48

So had they crossed over to the spirit plane like Gateway’s ancestors, and the Lemurian “demon spirits” compelled to return to the sacred mound under Atlantis to bring about the cataclysm in an effort to access the Dreamtime/ Alchera/ Alshra and conquer and enslave the spirit world?

While on the subject of Atlantis, and post-Cataclysm King Kamuu, I need to bring up the tribe of the Unforgiven Dead, and their priest-king, Suma-Ket, first seen in Namor the Sub-Mariner #36.  Suma-Ket and his tribe came from the North as the saviour of the undersea city of Atlantis.  Ket claimed his people to be wise men who could rid Atlantis of the plague of Faceless Ones; in return, they wished merely to settle among them.  Suma-Ket freed the Atlanteans from the terror of the Faceless Ones, banishing the monstrous creatures from the city.  In awe of his mighty battle-prowess and great mystical power, the Atlanteans followed Ket, slaying their king Harran, the son of Kamuu, and proclaimed Ket as King of all Atlantis.

Figure 50a

Figure 50b

Once he was made king, the seemingly messianic Suma-Ket transformed into a demonic tyrant, bringing to Atlantis the religion of the Elder Gods and building an immense temple in the capital dedicated to these dark gods (just like Belasco).  Namor #37 reveals that Suma-Ket’s tribe “are followers of the old ways, of deities both foul and fell, dark and evil beings are they, whose cruelty offended the very gods of Olympus”…Figure 50c

…which seems similar to how Kulan Gath was driven out of Stygia for practicing sorcery forbidden even by the worshippers of Set.

Figure 50d

And with Kulan Gath later revealed as a High Priest of the N’Garai you can see where I’m going with this…

Figure 50b

Had Suma-Ket and his tribe of Unforgiven Dead been homo mermani that had settled north of the undersea city of Atlantis to mine a vibranium deposit that had sunk there after breaking off from Atlantis during the great cataclysm for their N’Garai Masters?  It’s interesting to note how Suma-Ket’s banishment of the Faceless Ones from the city of Atlantis leads to his being proclaimed its King just as Dormammu and Umar upon repelling and confining the Mindless Ones were likewise hailed heroes and proclaimed regents of the Dark Dimension.  It was also later revealed that the Faceless Ones had really been mindless servants of Ket…

Figure 50d

… which would seem to suggest, under this theory, that they had been homo mermani transformed by radiation from the vibranium mound north of Atlantis into undersea “demon spirits”; similar to perhaps how the Mindless Ones were transformed.

But I’m not stopping there in my Grand Unified Theory.

This whole plot raises in my mind a number of other mysteries introduced by Chris Claremont that could be resolved in one fell swoop, this time surrounding Xavier’s Estate in Westchester County.  Was the stone cairn carved with mystical symbols on Xavier’s Estate installed there, of all places, due to it once being the site of a Vibranium mound?

Figure 49

That is, if the N’Garai were inhabitants of Earth evolved into demons by the mineral’s energies they would be more likely to be hanging around sites with deposits of the unstable mineral!

Figure 51

The other mystery is the network of tunnels leading from Manhattan to directly beneath the hangar complex below the mansion on Xavier’s estate!

Colossus tells his teammates that the Morlock tunnel network leads from Manhattan to those directly beneath the hangar complex below Professor Xavier’s estate (Uncanny X-Men #243, p. 19).  Coincidence!?

Colossus tells his teammates that the Morlock tunnel network leads from Manhattan to those directly beneath the hangar complex below Professor Xavier’s estate (Uncanny X-Men #243, p. 19). Coincidence!?

Who originally built these tunnels to cover nearly forty miles from Manhattan to Graymalkin Lane in Westchester? (Uncanny X-Men #193, p.4)

Who originally built these tunnels to cover nearly forty miles from Manhattan to Graymalkin Lane in Westchester? (Uncanny X-Men #193, p.4)

Might the N’Garai demon that made its way into the mansion in Uncanny X-Men #143 have been compelled to do so because of one such mound lying beneath the massive underground complex, similar to the one below the Reavers’ base, which was constructed to mine vibranium which was then transported by train some forty miles to Manhattan for shipping to perhaps the San Francisco Mint which held the entire stock of the United States’ vibranium as revealed in Spider-Woman #37?  It’s interesting to note that Claremont introduced Siryn in this same issue as accomplice to her uncle Black Tom Cassidy and Juggernaut in their plan to rob the Mint of the United States’ stock of vibranium.

Figure 51

Could it be that Black Tom wasn’t just after the metal for profit?  Then why!

I believe the answer lies in Siryn’s sonic powers.

Now recall when Claremont originally introduced Black Tom his actions were primarily driven by his hate and jealousy for his cousin, Sean (Banshee).  So did Tom come to the belief that Sean’s mutant abilities were to blame for his own failures, Sean subtly using his sonic powers to manipulate the roll of the dice in the game that won him both Cassidy Keep and the family fortune in addition to winning the heart of Maeve Rourke?  Then when Sean is away on Interpol business, Tom discovers some a small deposit of vibranium in Cassidy Keep (perhaps left behind by the leprechauns) and an analysis shows its sonic properties which lead him to believe it is responsible for Sean’s mutation.  He perhaps then tried exposing himself to the sample but it wasn’t enough to impact on a fully grown adult.  Frustrated he perhaps exposes young Theresa to it without her knowledge and is surprised to discover she begins manifesting similar abilities to her father.

So yes, I’m suggesting Siryn is not necessarily your garden-variety mutant.  That is, it has always been a mystery about how Siryn came to develop the same abilities as her father, since up until her introduction while inheriting the gene responsible for mutant powers offspring did not inherit the same subset of abilities as their mutant parents.  Then in the following issue, Spider-Woman #38, Siryn is shown to be able to create illusions with her sonic powers.

Figure 52

So were her sonic powers not inherited but a result of exposure to a sample of vibranium Tom exposed her to, and her so-called “illusions” are actually inchoate sonic constructs?  And Tom’s plan to steal the United States’ vibranium was so he could expose himself to a larger concentration of the mineral and in his mind make himself a more powerful version of Banshee, thereby reclaiming his rightful status in the family as Sean’s superior (but would obviously as we know turn himself into a rampaging “demon spirit”)!

Returning to the stone cairns for a moment… there is another famous stone with mystical carvings that crops up during Claremont’s run… the tombstone that seals the portal Forge forced the Adversary through.

Figure 53

I’ve contended for years now that the Adversary was somehow connected to the N’Garai and this may have been another hint dropped by Claremont to suggest so.  During The Fall of the Mutants we are shown a scene in Vietnam where Forge uses the spirits of his fallen comrades to summon forth N’Garai demons to take revenge on the Vietcong…

Figure 54

…an action that apparently allowed the Adversary to come to Earth.

It’s also worth noting that back in his first appearance the Adversary is actually called “The Great Spirit” so might this resolve the connection and suggest Claremont intend to later reveal him as leader of all the “demon spirits”?

Figure 54

But back to Siryn… if her sonic powers were not inherited from her father, but rather a result of exposure to vibranium, we need to look to what other Marvel’s heroes this may have likewise been the case for.

And I’m not suggesting only looking for those characters with abilities similar to Klaw, the Sultan of Sound!

I’d firstly nominate another Marvel character with vibratory powers was the global terrorist, Moses Magnum. Obsessed with weapons, he became the head of a major global weapons manufacturer.  Initially dealing with chemical weapons, after a blistering defeat at the hands of Spider-Man and the Punisher, he turned his attention to mining operations.  After a confrontation with the hero known as Power Man, Magnum fell down a shaft which his laser drill had bored to the centre of the Earth.  To Magnum’s surprise, he was saved from the fall by Apocalypse (cf. Classic X-Men #25) who transformed him so that he was able to generate concussive force and seismic powers.

apocalypse22

The first use of Moses Magnum’s new abilities and technology came during his assault on the isles of Japan, where he was confronted and defeated by the X-Men (cf. Uncanny X-Men #118-119).  I’d suggest Magnum had manifested these particular powers as a result of Apocalypse exposing him to a sample of vibranium.

Next I’d nominate another character Apocalypse had his hand in transforming; Cable, one of the most powerful telepaths/ telekinetics on the planet.  Now recall when he was baby in X-Factor, Nathan was shown with a force-field power (think Unus the Untouchable), which really could be separate and have had nothing to do with his psionic abilities.

cable01

This would seem to suggest Cable’s true mutant power is to generate a force-field, and the psionic powers come from a different source.  So what is that source, you ask!  What’s really interesting here is that T’Challa is exposed to vibranium radiation and suddenly develops psionic abilities, making me believe that Cable’s enhanced psionic abilities were a result of his own exposure to vibranium radiation which I’d suggest emerged as a result of the Techno-Organic Virus Apocalypse infected him with…

Nathan infected by Apocalypse

…a virus which derived from Anti-Metal he mined from his base in the Savage Land.

jungleadventure

I’d next suggest that Killraven’s heightened perceptions, especially his ESP hallucinations…

Figure 61

… are akin to those developed by T’Challa in Black Panther #10 after he is exposed to “pure vibranium”.

Figure 50a

Figure 50b

Figure 50c

So when earlier was young Jonathan exposed to vibranium?  To determine that answer I’m proposing that he was raised in the Savage Land and that his parents were in fact Lord Kevin Plunder and Shanna O’Hara! But the son of Ka-Zar and Shanna the She-Devil was named Matthew and Jonathan Raven’s mother was named Maureen?

What I’m proposing here is that while growing up as a child in the Savage Land with his parents, Matthew was in close proximity to the vibranium deposits there, which granted him ESP which lay dormant until the stress of experimentation by Keeper Whitman caused them to finally manifest.  Knowing these abilities had the potential to defeat the Martians…

Figure 58

…Ka-Zar and Shanna separated, Ka-Zar remaining behind in the Savage Land to defend it from invasion, Shanna fleeing with young Matthew to New York City where she changed their names, adopting Maureen, after Maureen O’Hara her famous namesake, and the surname Raven since it is Middle English for Plunder!  Then consider the Panther’s vibranium in the light of Frank Herbert’s Dune, and the spice, it seems like telepathy, but then it also seems like clairvoyance, as perhaps ungovernable telepathy would.  But maybe it’s neither of those.  Maybe it’s a space-time effect!  I would posit here that T’Challa’s exposure to the pure vibranium makes him not able to necessarily “read” minds, but rather make contact, i.e. he’s touching them, he’s there… it’s a distance effect.  In this whole Vibranium plot Chris Claremont makes even more explicit reference to Dune in Uncanny X-Men #251, where he has one the Reavers specifically refer to Psylocke as a “mentat”.

Figure 65

I’d therefore extend Killraven’s psionic abilities to being an extension of T’Challa’s likewise caused from exposure to Vibranium while raised by his parents Ka-Zar and Shanna in the Savage Land, and reintroduce him as Marvel’s version of Muad’Dib!  I’d further posit M’Shulla Scott was perhaps a sleeper agent from Wakanda sent to join the Freeman (?Marvel Fremen?) to secretly mentor him in the use of these abilities!  And that the Martians were really on Earth to mine Vibranium so they could then use it to “fold space” in order to return to their original homeworld!

Then there’s, of course, Matt Murdock.  That is, was the radioactive substance inside the drum that fell from the truck and spilled directly onto his eyes some form of vibranium?

Figure 53
It is rather interesting that the Savage Land variant (i.e. Anti-Metal) is first introduced in of all series Daredevil, and the only issue illustrated by Jack Kirby to boot.

Figure 54

And isn’t it further interesting that the substance from the accident not only gave Matt heightened senses but a sonar that allowed him to “see” through sonic vibrations!?

Figure 55

And his costumed identity in effect makes him a “demon spirit” protecting those in Hell’s Kitchen!  As T’Challa states above “DEVILISH metal” indeed!

While on the subject of Anti-Metal, the unstable variant of Wakandan vibranium, might this provide a further explanation for what is behind Marvel’s famous “Unstable Molecules”?  Is it these molecules which make vibranium so unstable in the first place?  While previously considered to be an invention of Reed Richards…

Figure 67a

…recall that the Fantastic Four did not obtain their costumes that adapted to their powers until after three of the four Skrulls they fought in Fantastic Four #2 were captured (while one of the four Skrulls in this issue escaped you’ll recall Ben Grimm did not require a costume that adapted to his Thing state since it didn’t change).

Figure 67bb

In this issue Skrull clothes were shown to adapt to whatever they needed…

Figure 67c

…suggesting they are made of unstable molecules, and it is not until issue #3 that Sue appears with three unstable molecule costumes.

Figure 67d

While on the subject of the Skrulls, it is interesting that their shape-changing cousins, the Dire Wraiths, are red-scaled monstrosities like T’Challa’s cousin.

Figure 67e

Then if you recall that the Martians in H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds are revealed as not native to Mars, might this suggest these invaders in Killraven are in fact Dire Wraiths and the real reason behind their invasion is to obtain vibranium to kickstart their shape-changing abilities which they perhaps lost after the activation of the Hyper-Wave Bomb?

Figure 67f

Tales to Astonish #35, released in the exact same month as first mention of unstable molecules in Fantastic Four, reveals Hank Pym’s own Ant-Man costume was made from unstable molecules…

Figure 68a

…which leads me to further suggest the dimension of Kosmos, from which Pym draws his “growth pollen”, also contains vibranium energy which is why the Pilai were similarly monstrously scaled…

Figure 68b

…and it is this energy (i.e. unstable molecules) which is the true science behind his ability to alter his size.

While on the subject of “unstable molecules”, when Claremont wrote X-Men Forever he reintroduced Gambit as Remy Picard (no longer able to have him as a psionic projection of Scott’s boyhood friend Nathan from the orphanage)…

Figure 69a

…fans assumed this was a veiled reference to the character being a fan of Patrick Stewart’s character in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  However, what if Claremont was instead using Picard to refer to Remy’s being French as it is a surname meaning a person from a historical region and cultural area of France?  So basically Gambit is Remy from Picardy, or at least his true family as intended by Claremont.  So which other characters did Claremont write that came from this region of France?  Well none that I’ve been able to find, but Picardy was famous for being where founding members of the Knights Templars, Godfrey de Saint-Omer, hailed from.  So was Claremont intending to reveal Gambit by this stage as descended from the Knights Templar?  The Knights Templar were rumoured to be protecting a secret treasure, so what if this treasure was vibranium?  And the Guilds are modern day Knights Templars attempting to reclaim this treasure?  And what if that treasure is a bloodline?  And that bloodline is Ororo’s?  That is, throughout Storm’s history she has shown an unusual ability to manipulate and shape unstable molecules into different kinds of clothing with ease.

Figure 69b

Figure 69c

Figure 69d

So might this finally explain the Shadow King’s long obsession with her!?  He realises this ability means she effectively has the ability to shape vibranium.  And this is the reason behind Gambit’s initial pairing up with Stormie!

Figure 69e

But this isn’t the end of the theory and to get closer to that point I must return to the underlying origins of the Marvel Universe itself, in particular Thor #169, where Galactus is revealed to have been the scientist/ explorer Galan who was the only individual from the planet Taa to survive a space plague as a result of absorbing its radiation causing him to be transformed into the devourer of worlds.

Figure 60b

This was retconned somewhat by Mark Gruenwald & John Byrne in Super Villain Classics #1 (1983), where it was revealed that Taa actually existed in the pre-Big Bang universe, thus establishing in Marvel canon that a universe existed prior to the current one, and that Galan/ Galactus came from this universe.

Figure 60

While I liked some of this origin (the appearing to different races differently), making him a Cosmic Principle was a little too comfortable.

As usual, I’ll go back to Stan and Jack, which makes Galactus being from a universe in another dimension possible.  So what was that dimension?  Well we know Galan was a scientist and informed people of an impending cataclysm not only to Taa, but their system as well.

Figure 60e

Figure 60f

When inhabitants of Taa began dying of the radiation wave responsible for the cataclysm and even their advanced skills could not prevent it, Galan, believing at least one of his race to be immune to the radiation…

Figure 60h

…and determined that the glory and grandeur of their civilisation must live on…

Figure 60g

…persuaded the remaining survivors to join him on his space vessel by flying into the source of the plague, what was designated as “the largest sun in the(ir) universe”.

Figure 60i

Galan’s crewmen were said to have all died.  At this point I’d suggest that this sun was the original source of vibranium and the space plague was caused by the mineral at its core increasing entropy which began destabilising the molecules within the cells of Taa’s inhabitants leading to planet-wide death.  I’d further suggest that just before Galan would also die from the vibranium radiation, the sun generated a final shockwave so massive it shattered the dimension, creating warps into pocket dimensions.  Because Galan was so close to the sun he took the full brunt of this shockwave and was thrown into one of these warps and was sent hurtling into our universe.  Having been in the direct path of the shockwave before being thrown into the warp, Galan absorbed so much vibranium energy he came out the other end having transformed into Galactus, whose hunger for planets is perhaps explained by his needing to feed an addiction to vibranium.  I’d further suggest that Galan’s crewmen did not die before he was thrown into the dimensional warp but survived to become the Mindless Ones whose singular drive is to breach the Dark Dimension’s great mystical barrier so they can access the warps into pocket universes in an effort to seek out stores of vibranium similar to Galactus, but on a smaller scale given they were not in the direct path of their sun’s final shockwave and so did not absorb its final burst of vibranium radiation.

Figure 60j

So yes, in my Grand Unified Theory this makes the realm that later became the Dark Dimension, the universe where Galactus originated.

Now that we’ve been back to the possible origins of the Marvel Universe, we find ourselves almost back at the beginning of this article and another Kirby creation, the source of mutation in the Marvel Universe the Terrigen Mists, those rays responsible for providing the Inhumans with their powers.  Terrigen means “earth-producing” which would suggest the Kree Sentry in Thor #147 was not telling the entire story…

Figure 68a

…and the mists were produced by them from extensive heating of some mineral on Earth; perhaps vibranium!?  This would appear to be a tenuous link to vibranium until one considers king of the Inhumans, Black Bolt, whose exposure to the mists gave him a “sonic scream” capable of vibrating electrons to the extent that his merest whisper can level buildings.

Figure 68b

Then recall the metallic trim on Black Bolt’s costume looks like a V radiating from his body, which was perhaps a hint to the true source of his powers.

Figure 68c

Then consider the fork-shaped antenna that Black Bolt wore upon his brow since childhood enabled him to channel his powers in more directed, less destructive ways.  When shown here his channelled powers are mentioned as “deeply… corroding ALL metal…”

Figure 70d

…which couldn’t be anything but a blatant reference to the Antarctic variant of Vibranium, also known as Anti-Metal, and its ability to break “the molecular bondings of ALL other metals” (i.e. the ultimate corrosive), especially when revealed in another Kirby story of all places!

In addition, Black Bolt’s vow of silence due to the cataclysmic potential of his voice brings to mind Gateway’s own silence apparent during Claremont’s run.  So was Claremont attempting to suggest the ancient Aborigine had likewise taken a vow of silence due to similar capabilities of his voice caused by exposure to the vibranium mound in outback Australia?

Figure 69a

Figure 69

Might this further suggest Gateway’s bull-roarer acts in a similar fashion to Black Bolt’s tuning fork in that when he spins it he is disrupting electrons in their air, which in his case opened teletransportational wormholes in space?

Good enough for me to say ©J C. N 2013

Postscript: Now that I’ve done all the heavy lifting who wants to have a go at explaining why Roma chose this abandoned mining town, occupied by a band of sadistic, cybernetic super-criminals, to insert the X-Men after restoring them to life following their sacrifice at the conclusion of The Fall of the Mutants?  Was it a) so they could access advanced computer systems to detect problems and crises around the planet and the abilities of Gateway so they could respond accordingly, b) to help Gateway break the “geas” that bound him to Reavers, or c) to prevent the “outsign spirits” from spreading across the Dreamlands?

Post-postscript: Oh and you know what other mystery connecting Vibranium to Limbo leads me to after some brief musing?  The Singing Sword, Excalibur, and Avalon!  Which for some reason leads me to Prester John, whom after finding the fabled isle of Avalon…

Figure 61b

…and sitting in the Siege Perilous appeared to fall into a form of suspended animation, only to be found centuries later in a deep underground cavern beneath the African desert north of Wakanda by the Human Torch and Wyatt Wingfoot.

Figure 61a

So how might the mystery behind Prester John and Avalon tie into my revelations regarding Limbo and the origin of Vibranium?

Acknowledgements: Thanks go out to fnord12 of the Marvel Comics Chronology – for his continued assistance in compiling some of the more obscure comic panel scans here – Teebore of Gentlemen of Leisure, bipedal mammal of Estoreal, Richard Bensam, Rob Johnson of the Iron Man Library and Bad Man of Bad Haven for the remainder I required, in addition to comic book scholar and writer/ editor of the Unofficial Appendix to the Marvel Universe, Michael Hoskin, for compelling me to begin piecing together a worthwhile origin for Vibranium.  But my biggest thanks must go to the inimitable Jason Powell who here, moreso than any other blog post I’ve written previously, has made me begin to live up to his designation of me lo’ those many years ago as “He Who Can Explain Every Claremont Dangler Given Enough Time”.  Though I’m requesting if you’re out there in the blogosphere, Jason, that you now need to upgrade this description to “He Who Can create a Grand Unified Theory for the Marvel Universe Given Enough Time”;)

…bad Galactus stories?

Bad Galactus stories

Fantastic Four aficionado, Chris Tolworthy, comes to the rescue with this second guest post in quick succession to his last, here!

This “how would you fix” is about pretty much every Galactus story after the original classic.  Even the good ones raise difficult questions; and the bad ones are awful.  Yet there is a logic to them if we look closely.  A solution is found by comparing Fantastic Four #262, Annual #23 and #604.  Yes, #604.  Normally I run screaming from any Fantastic Four number dated after 1990, but this one deserves attention.

Before continuing, I must stress that I rely heavily on the Fantastic Four as the core text, and mainly issues before #322.  I refer to very few others.  I am an unrepentant Fantastic Four fanboy, and am apt to pick holes in other comics while defending the Fantastic Four as Great Literature, so be warned.  Also, spoilers ahead…

Let’s start with the problem with later Galactus stories.  Fantastic Four #48-50 (the Galactus trilogy, and more) is the gold standard for superhero comics.  Utterly superb.  Yet later appearances (even by Stan Lee… well actually ESPECIALLY by Stan Lee) show a different and inferior Galactus.  Here are some examples:

1. The original Galactus visit was a one off event.  The Watcher said of these forces “you shall never see their like again!”  Yet we allegedly “see their like again” regularly in later years.

2. Galactus seems unaware of where the Skrull throne world should be.  So either he travels so widely that he would not expect to visit the same galaxy twice within a few thousand years, or he travels at random and avoids maps.  Either way, why does he keep coming back to Earth?

3. “Of all who inhabit the known universe, only GALACTUS has powers enough to match my own!” – so said the Watcher.  We can quibble over the exact meaning of this phrase, but at the very least we cannot expect any Earth bound power or collection of powers to defeat him.  Yet in later appearances he is routinely defeated.

4. The Silver Surfer is different.  The original Surfer features in Skrull history books, books that less informed Skrulls have not read, suggesting that he’s been around a long time.  But there is no indication in the origin that the Surfer is any younger than Galactus.  Galactus seems unaware of the Surfer’s full power: “Your power is far greater than I suspected, herald.”  The surfer does not understand beauty or self-sacrifice: “there is a word some races use… a word I have never understood… until now!  At last I know… BEAUTY!” and “I have learned from the HUMANS how glorious it can be to have a cause worth dying for!”  Yet in later appearances we are told that Norrin Rad became the Surfer in order to save his home world, and his beloved Shalla Bal, who can still pass for a young woman (cf. Fantastic Four #153-155).  Granted, perhaps the Surfer’s race lives a long time, but this really sounds like a different person.

5. The original Galactus does not get hungry quickly: “All ETERNITY awaits me! I can afford to be patient!”  Yet the later Galactus is always hungry: “You must be swift! My hunger grows UNENDURABLE!” (FF76)

6. The original Galactus can never lie.  “The promise of GALACTUS is living TRUTH itself! His word can never be questioned!”  Yet when he came back he said he promised never to return, but was considering breaking the promise.  (Actually he never promised not to return, he simply promised not to tarry, so this is another change.)

7. The original Galactus is part of an advanced race.  As the Watcher said, “Did not YOUR race… and MINE… evolve from such humble beginnings?”  Yet the later Galactus was a lone survivor of a world that, while more advanced than ours, was more like “gnats” than “gods.”

8. The original Galactus has a symbol of an eternal arrow on his chest (often mistaken for a letter G).  Later Galactuses do not.  They also alternate with sleeves or not, visible eyes or not, highly muscular arms or not.  The ship changes completely as well: from a sphere to a wing to a cube.

9. I gather that other comics feature problematic origin stories.  I think those problems will resolve themselves once we understand what Galactus is and how he operates.

Now let’s look at a solution to the problems.  Our first exhibit is the backup story in Fantastic Four Annual #23.  It follows from a similar backup story in Annual 22, and both could be considered together.  They give an overview of the highest powers in the universe, and I would like to draw your attention to a comment about the Celestials.  A certain character in another comic was shown defeating Celestials.  But that is just because it suited the Celestials for him to believe that.  The stories also show that scale is largely an illusion, and there is much we do not know (the Beyonders, for example, are barely known at all).  This is as we should expect: advanced beings are not like us.  They do not look or think or act like us.  We can draw some conclusions, but those conclusions may be surprising. Let’s go, shall we?

Advanced beings probably operate on higher dimensions.  This means one being might have multiple appearances in this world.  Imagine your 3D body appearing in a 2D world.  Like putting your hand slowly through the 2D surface of a bath of water.  To that surface, your hand appears as 5 separate shapes, then those shapes join, change shape, get thicker… one being appears as multiple slightly different beings!  We can see this already in the real world: as people we exist online as avatars.  One person can have many avatars at the same time.  As Artificial Intelligence improves, our avatars could even answer questions on our behalf.  We can exist as multiple beings!

Now recall the Watcher’s comment that there are basically just two powerful beings: the Watcher and Galactus.  It seems reasonable to suppose that the Beyonders, Celestials, etc., are merely aspects of Galactus.  Galactus tests planets (eating those that cannot hide), the Celestials test planets (Arishem the judge), the Beyonders test planets (by providing rewards for those who reach a certain level), and so on.  I further submit that each Galactus is a different aspect of the one Galactus, hence the different appearance, history, and behaviour.  The Surfer may also have been raised to a higher dimension to gain his powers, explaining his different versions.

Our next exhibit is Fantastic Four #262, and follows from the previous discussion: we are shown (in the Trial of Reed Richards) that each civilisation sees Galactus in its own image.  We have the Galactus that most suits us at a particular time.  Remember that the highest powers in the universe tend to personify concepts, such as Eternity, or the Living Tribunal.  It seems likely that the Watchers personify knowledge and Galactus personifies testing or truth (the same thing).  It is only natural that these concepts change according to who interacts with them.

The final exhibit is Fantastic Four #604, the climax to Jonathan Hickman’s long arc.  My view is that after issue #321 we see different realities slipping in and out of focus, so I take most later stories with a pinch of salt (with the exception of Claremont’s run: he appears to use the original Fantastic Four).  However, Franklin exists across dimensions, so every Franklin appearance counts as canon.  But this is not an essay about Franklin, so I will cut to the chase.  I did warn you about spoilers, didn’t I?  OK, here is the conclusion to Hickman’s 50 issue arc: Galactus is the herald of Franklin.  Yes, you read that right.  Don’t act horrified.  It makes sense if we step back and look at the nature of Franklin’s power.

Franklin basically connects realities.  I won’t go into details, but he is a doorkeeper.  He lets the entire universe (or a part of it) slip into an alternate universe.  By letting people switch universes he appears to be creating or changing entire universes, but it’s more subtle than that.  It’s more like connecting doorways, except you do not physically walk through any door, the normal passage of time does the walking for you.  It’s all quite simple and subtle really. As Annual #23 said, scale is an illusion.  But this is not an essay about Franklin.

If Franklin’s power is to connect universes, and Galactus personifies testing, it follows naturally that Galactus is the herald of Franklin because every test leads to a new state of the universe (e.g. one where we have defeated Galactus or one where we are destroyed).  All the rest of it, the explosions and battles and Kirby dots and such, is just how we experience this higher dimensional testing and connecting.  Galactus only appears in his big G form when the test is of a particular type.

OK, with that understanding (Galactus adapts to us, and is attracted to Franklin), let us examine the appearances of Galactus in the core Fantastic Four timeline:

Fantastic Four #48-50: this was the great test. Galactus finds the Earth at random, and he represents all the grandeur of the universe, as you would expect.  Notice that the Ultimate Nullifier is basically a crude Franklin tool: it jumps everything to a different reality.

The next appearance of Galactus, Fantastic Four 74: One year later (1967) Sue learns she is pregnant with Franklin.  She learns in Annual #5, a Microverse story.  Soon after, in another Microverse story, Galactus feels drawn back to Earth against his will (“Galactus did VOW to NEVER RETURN– and yet, he is HERE!”) and is inexplicably desperately hungry.  Ironically the boys are rushing around like mad things (seriously this is probably the busiest arc ever) and they think they are letting Sue rest.  But the real story is going on inside Sue’s womb: Franklin’s stress hormones are dragging Galactus to Earth.

The next appearance, Fantastic Four #122: Franklin’s life is relatively uneventful for a few years (except for the birth, but this was probably a Caesarian due to the complications, so Franklin probably didn’t feel too stressed).  But by the age of four Franklin is old enough to realise what is going on, and it coincides with the beginnings of the family problems that I call Act Four.  (Although Franklin is four years old in 1972 he only lets himself appear as two years old.)  Franklin must be worried, as Galactus is drawn back to the Earth, and acts like a four year old: he looks like a toy soldier with bulging muscles, and acts very dumb (tripped over by Ben, and has an easy to access spacecraft with a gigantic self-destruct button).  He even plays with a roller coaster and giant train set.  He is basically molded to Franklin’s four year old brain.  He is announced by Franklin’s nanny, Agatha Harkness, Agatha watches throughout, and he (Galactus) ends up in Franklin’s home turf, the Negative Zone.

The next appearance, Fantastic Four #172: Though Franklin is brain zapped in the #140s he isn’t really aware of this (he is far more concerned with what happens to his family).  Franklin is next aware of major problems when his uncle Ben fights against the family, then loses his powers and is replaced and fights them again.  Franklin’s eight year old brain (appearing as three years old) has a typical eight year old solution: he unconsciously has a new, better Earth built, and summons Galactus there so his family can prove once again that they do the right thing.  And how does his eight year old brain get rid of Galactus this time?  By giving him indigestion!

The next appearance, Fantastic Four #212: Franklin is getting older and better at controlling things: Galactus is becoming more of a friend.  The family experiences a new crisis – Sue and Reed and Ben age and almost die, so Franklin unconsciously summons Galactus to help against the Sphinx.  Obviously he doesn’t just say “come here Galactus” – it is all unconscious through manipulating reality so that others do the job, but the result is the same.  When he finally masters his powers in Fantastic Four #604 then yes, he does say “to me, my Galactus.”  Of course Galactus still asks for his dinner, but that is just how the test always goes, and the family always passes the test.

The next appearance, Fantastic Four #243-44: The most traumatic experience in Franklin’s life (pre-Waid) is when he is hung upside down as fresh meat for Annihilus.  This trauma not only drags his parents back from Reed’s Negative Zone debacle, but also drags Galactus along.  By now Galactus and Franklin are best buds in whatever higher plane they occupy.  It plays out in this reality as Reed saving the big G’s life and becoming BFF.  And that ends the Galactus threat.  At least as far as the original Fantastic Four is concerned (i.e. pre 1989, pre Fantastic Four #322).

As for other appearances, origin stories, etc., what we see is merely our four dimensional glimpse of a five dimensional reality.  We only ever see a partial Galactus, a Galactus-adapted-to-our-needs, or more likely a story made up by the Bullpen.  Only the Fantastic Four report directly to the Bullpen: other comics include wild speculation, especially where secret identities are concerned.  So we should not get too hung up on the details if some other version of Galactus is a bit odd.  Untangling it is half the fun.

Note: Fantastic Four #257 was part of their seventh encounter, when they had become friends.  Note the Biblical significance (6 is struggle, as in 666, 7 represents peace, as in resting on the seventh day, 7 angels, etc.). The Fantastic Four have six battles, leading to the seventh encounter as friends. Hmmm.

…Aunt Petunia’s age?

This guest post comes from foremost Fantastic Four scholar, Chris Tolworthy.  Chris holds the unconventional view that the Fantastic Four (from 1961 to 1988) was the Great American Novel, and equivalent to Shakespeare.  This essay is typical of the stuff he finds every time he opens a comic, and why his site will never be finished.  Over to you Chris…

Since 1964, Ben Grimm (The Thing) has referred to his “old aunt Petunia” as a source of wisdom. Note the word “old.”  But in Fantastic Four #238-239 we finally see her, and she is young.  How young?  She looks to be in her 20s or 30s.  O’Hoolihan calls Petunia “a foin broth of a girl” and Johnny considers her attractive.  Assuming an upper age of 35, and with the stretching time scale between 1961 and 1982, she was born after 1935.  But for Ben to have fought in WWII he left home in 1945 at the latest.  Petunia would have been 10 or younger when she was dishing out old lady advice to a teenage Ben.  More seriously, she was supposedly a qualified nurse and possibly even married to Uncle Jake at this time.  The numbers do not add up.

Figure 1: Ben’s “old aunt Petunia”, from Fantastic Four #239, page 5.

As an aside, Petunia has a highly dated name.  Flower names (rose, lily, iris, etc.) had an explosion in popularity around the year 1900, but the fashion soon ended.  Babycenter.com now ranks Petunia as number 12,986 in popularity (compared with the dated but still possible Susan at 840 and relatively trendy Alicia at 185).  Everything points to Petunia being a generation older than Ben, and not a married nine year old graduate.

However, the story suggests a solution.  Petunia appears to ask Ben’s help with problems in the town.  We learn that ancient earth spirits are causing the bad people to face their inner demons and die, and the solution is to get the bad people to leave.  Only a handful of good people are left, including Petunia and Jake, and a girl called Wendy who spends time with the spirits.  Perhaps Petunia also spends time with them?  Wendy does not tell people what she knows about the spirits.  At the end of the book she is shown with the spirits, a fact not revealed to anybody.  But if it was not revealed, how was it in the book?  In the Fantastic Four we only see what the team tell Marvel: if the team don’t know about it then it can’t go in the book (cf. Fantastic Four #10, #176).  How, then, did they know Wendy’s secret?  Presumably somebody else had experience with the spirits.. Who else could it be but Petunia?  Jake is not mobile, but Petunia is feisty and curious: another Wendy.  Petunia would have explored there as a small girl (face it, there was not much else to do) and, like Wendy, would have discovered the spirits.  Perhaps “Wendy’s friends” are not just the spirits, but also Jake and Petunia.

Figure 2: Ben’s Uncle Jake was once angry we are told, from Fantastic Four #239, page 7.

Jake is also another version of Wendy’s father: he was once angry, we are told.  He comes from a time when men were often violent, and Ben comes from a culture of violent gang members.  But now Jake is at peace.  Perhaps Wendy’s tale is also Petunia’s tale.  Perhaps it is really all about Jake, but like Wendy, Petunia and Ben are too loyal to ever speak against him.  Jake had to face his inner demons, the demons of the violent earth that made his generation (the last generation to sweep the Native Americans away): he had to reap the whirlwind.  Notice that redemption comes from the land itself.  The American settlers lose their thirst to conquer the land and begin to cooperate with it.  The Grimm story is the story of the people of the land.  Note that none of this contradicts “second wife” or “many years younger” story.  But the significance is not that a 50 year old man married a 9 year old, the significance is that a 50 year old man married a 30 year old who healed his anger.

This raises several questions.

First, did Petunia move to Arizona too late to be this young? She said they moved to Arizona “shortly before” Fantastic Four #1.  But why would two New Yorkers choose Arizona?  Seems a long way from New York – where they trying to escape?  Or did they already have connections there?

Second, Jake is portrayed as a nice middle class doctor who was only angry because of his legs.  He contrasts with Ben’s alcoholic father and gang leader brother.  In The Thing #2 we see how Ben idolised his brother, but then his brother was killed in a gang fight, and Ben went to live with Uncle Jake.  Later Ben became leader of the same Yancy Street Gang; and only THEN did Jake talk to Ben about leaving the gang.

Something does not add up. While it is possible that a lower class alcoholic has a middle class doctor for a brother, it is statistically unlikely.  More seriously, Jake knew that Ben’s favourite brother was killed in a gang fight.  Why did Jake wait until Ben was gang leader before suggesting it was a bad idea?  It sounds like Jake was saw gang membership, including stabbing, as perfectly acceptable.

Third, we are told that people disapproved of Jake marrying a much younger woman.  But the numbers suggest this was only a man in his fifties marrying a woman in her thirties – unusual but hardly a scandal.

Which leads to our next curiosity:

Fourth, why did Petunia have such an influence on Ben?  According to The Thing #2, Ben was raised by his aunt Alyce, and Petunia did not arrive on the scene until later.  Ben was a gang leader while Petunia was a student nurse who claims she never questioned anything Jake did.  Why would Ben be influenced by Petunia more than Alyce?  Petunia’s story is all very neat – far TOO neat.  Jake was an idealised man?  Jake needed the excuse of an injury to explain why he met this nurse?  But he was a doctor in a busy hospital (cf. Fantastic Four #238, 257): he worked with nurses all the time!  Then it took years for Petunia to be Jake’s student and then eventually his wife, and then become an influence on Ben?  There isn’t enough time.  And Petunia never questioned Jake? This doesn’t sound like a woman that the rebellious Ben would idolise.

A simpler explanation is that Jake was seeing Petunia before the accident, and we are hearing the sanitised version of events.  I am not suggesting that Jake killed his wife deliberately.  But if Jake was seeing somebody then his marriage may not have been a happy one: Jake’s brother was an alcoholic.  It’s easy to see how Jake might have been driving after drinking, and having a lot on his mind.  That would explain why he and Petunia wanted to move from their home in New York and get as far away as possible: accidentally killing your wife then marrying your much younger mistress is quite a scandal, and they would want to get away.

In short, Jake was not innocent.  Though Petunia probably is.  Petunia must have a pure heart, to survive being friends with the spirits.

Fifth potential problem: if Petunia knew about the spirits, why didn’t she tell Ben?  For the same reason that Wendy kept them secret, right to the end.  Some things are best not discussed.  But why would Petunia come to ask help from Ben if she could already talk to the spirits?  Because the evil in the town is causing deaths, and she needs help to get the bad people out of there.  Wendy did not tell everything she knew, so why should Petunia?

Finally, why did Ben not notice that Petunia had not aged?  Reed notes that the spirits may still be around in ten thousand years.  Like the Native American “ancient ones” found by the Miracle Man, they appear to have slowed aging to an almost standstill.  Being around time-stretching superheroes keeps a person young (as noted in the fourth-wall-breaking She-Hulk book), so perhaps being around these earth spirits will slow aging to a crawl.  This would explain why Petunia had barely aged since Ben knew her when Ben was a child (and 35 then seemed ancient).  This also explains why Ben does not notice that Petunia has not aged: time dilation in comics is never noticed by those who experience it.