…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.

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…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.

…Magneto’s resurrection after X-Men #3?

This fix, contributed by Paty Cockrum, ex-Marvel artist and colourist, and wife of the late Dave Cockrum, creator of the All-New, All-Different X-Men, takes place sometime after X-Men #3, Chris Claremont’s last issue on his first run which saw Magneto and the Acolytes sent on a fiery fall and proposes a more intellectually-satisfying way he could have been brought back as opposed to the one plotted for the execrable Fatal Attractions…

After realising his views and those of his friend Charles Xavier were incompatible, the mutant calling himself Magnus went on to became the infamous master of magnetism, Magneto. As he increased the usage of his mutant abilities, Magnus began to suffer brain seizures that would lead to debilitating pain wracking his whole body. His lover, Isabelle, before her death, theorised that manipulating the Earth’s planetary magnetic field through his body, specifically his central nervous system, could very well be affecting his brain via the seizures. During the time Magneto was regressed to infancy, Dr Moira MacTaggert attempted to modify his genetic matrix in an effort to eliminate the unstable overload of energy and prevent a progressive degradation that would affect the electrochemical balance in his brain. Some years following his restoration to adulthood and after he had broken his ties with humanity, Magneto finally discovered that Moira had performed said procedure on him in an attempt to save her own son. Believing his primacy of judgement had been compromised, and thus his reform period was not the result of free will, Magneto took Moira captive and forced her to perform her procedure on half of the X-Men, pitting them against their teammates. But the fight ended as the suborned X-Men regained their true natures. The revelation that Moira’s procedure was a failure because every use of a mutant’s power restored that person’s “default” state came too late for the master of magnetism. The toll of the recent battles he had waged left Magneto seemingly dying, his last act being to maintain Asteroid M’s structural integrity to enable the X-Men to escape, after which it exploded in space. As for Magneto… the self-styled master of magnetism is Missing-In-Action and presumed dead… unless you know him well…

DEEP PURPLE

by Paty Cockrum

The sea was a piece of red glass fading, on the eastern horizon, to a deep purple as night approached.

“His colors,” thought the scarlet clad woman in the small rowboat.

She maneuvered the boat towards the ancient and oddly carved jetty. The rocks were encrusted with old, dead deep sea detritus and had a weird, thrumming sensation under her gloved hand. After attaching the rope from the bow to a weathered ring, she clambored onto the large slab that led to the front gates of the citadel.

From her vantage point on the jetty, she surveyed the island. It wasn’t big, and most of it was taken up by an immense citadel of outrageous proportions and esoteric design. No human hand built this citadel.  Theory amongst the superheroes she interacted with was that it was a forgotten race of giants that constructed it. It had vanished under the waves long ago and had only been raised by her father a few years ago. He had made it one of his fortresses… his hidey holes. He had been missing for some time now, but if he were still alive, he might just be here.

She looked out to sea. Tonight it was like glass, with only a few shallow ripples to pick up the westering sun’s crimson and gold light.

“False calm…” she whispered to herself. She knew the sea was a bit more turbulent outside the electromagnetic shield that safeguarded the island… through which she had passed a short while ago. Even with a hurricane howling outside the shield, the waters herein would have only moderate waves and breezes. Her father’s doing. And obviously his devices were still active. No unsynchronized or unshielded mechanical device could operate within the shield. The Avenger’s yacht had cut out when it crossed the boundary… and had to be maneuvered back to the outside of it while they still had momentum. The Vision waited there for her, keeping the boat well clear of the shield interface.  She had had to row to the island… and would have to row back, she assumed… but this mission was too important to her to abandon it.

She looked up at the gold and crimson spangled walls. Something was different from the last visuals she had had of the island.

“Foliage!” she muttered to herself. “There’s plants all over the walls!” That was odd, for, even though the island was situated in the Bermuda Triangle and was tropical, it had gone for years without much, if any, foliage softening its exterior and lending a feeling of life and warmth to the eerie coldness of the stones. But the island, this night, was lush with tropical growth. Greens fading to blue in the shadows, reds deepening into the rich purple that reflected the sea’s deep swells. Golds that flitted like fireflies across the rich tropical growth that hung on the walls and dangled from overhead parapets and walkways.

She strode up to the towering and heavy gates and placed a scarlet gloved hand on the alien metal. It vibrated at her touch, and a darkly robed and cowled figure appeared just inside its ornamental grille.

“Who goes there?” A deep and vibrant challenge.

“The Scarlet Witch… Avenger…” a slight pause, and then she added “…Magneto’s daughter!”

The gate swung silently open a few inches… enough for her to slip in. “If you are truly our Lord’s daughter, then you are welcome here.”

She slid into the inner courtyard and heard the gate clang shut behind her.

A flash of white sparkled under the purple cowl of the imposing figure who had granted her admission.

“Father?”

A vibrant chuckle as the tall mutant rearranged his enveloping wings that had looked so much like robes and cowl. “No, Magnus daughter… if that is who you are…” the iridescent blue/purple veined and leathery wings fell back and she saw the shock of white hair that shimmered from a scaled head and tumbled in soft waves down the mutant’s back.

“Oh, sorry… the hair…”

“Often a side effect of mutation, I believe.” He turned from her to greet a diminutive figure approaching. “Greensleeves, this woman says she is Wanda, our Lord’s daughter. Speaks she truly?”

The diminutive figure, clad in purple and red samite, stretched out a hand that was opalescent in its beauty. Fire red and shimmering greens played across its surface like mother of pearl. “May I touch you, lady? It will not harm nor hurt you, but if you have our Lord’s gene structure, I will know it immediately… it is my power to know all living things… and to command some of them.”

“I thought my father had everyone else’s power turned off on this island.” Wanda removed one of her scarlet gauntlets and held out her hand to the faerie like creature.

A cool, almost icy touch, like a snowflake, and the tiny woman sank to her knees and bowed her head. “Mistress Wanda… I bid you welcome.”

The tall, dragon-like gatesman sank to one knee,  bowed his head and rumbled “I bid you welcome, Magnus daughter.”

“Oh for God’s sake… get up!” Wanda shook her head. “Stop all this bowing and kowtowing… is my father here?”

“Sadly, no.” the giant flowed like purple water to his full height of well over seven feet. He stretched the iridescent bat like wings above him and the crimson light of the sun made them glow with jewelled color.

“Then what are YOU doing here?”

“We were not on the satellite when it fell. We heard about it… and decided that if Magneto survived, he would come to one of his other strongholds. We knew of this island, so we came to make it comfortable for him if he should choose to come here. Your father is a survivor, Mistress, we do not think he died in that fiery fall.”

“Nor do I… which is why I am here.” Wanda frowned, then looked around her. “You have done a good job… the place is lovely, what I have seen of it. It used to be so… stark. He’ll be pleased… he likes green things. There were so few living things in Auschwitz.”

“Thank you my Lady.” the crystal like voice of Greensleeves danced merrily. “I have fashioned the gardens specifically for him… although, until he comes, we enjoy them too. They provide color and food to sustain us here. Will you bide a while with us even though your father is not here? It would be our greatest pleasure to serve you.”

“I think not.” Wanda shook her head and smiled at the two. “But I thank you for the offer of hospitality. I guess you don’t get many visitors out this way, do you?”

“Not hardly…” Dragon rumbled. “I almost never get to say ‘who goes there?’ It was kinda fun…”

“I have to get back… the Vision is waiting for me in a boat outside the shield wall. Night is coming and it’s a long row out.”

“You do not wish to try it in the dark.. You can get lost on the sea at night… and it is dark of the moon. Bide here with us this night. and we will have one of the merfolk tow you to your boat.”

“If daddy dearest isn’t here, I should get back…Vision will worry.” Wanda smiled wistfully.  “But thank you anyway…”

“Dragon, go fetch Fishface while you can still find him… I will let her rest herself in the temple and see that she has some refreshment. Go on… hurry up… you haven’t much light left.”

The dragonesque creature with the flowing white hair sighed deeply. ” He’s going to be out to sea… you know how he is with a storm coming…”

“Try.”

“My Lady…” a bow to Wanda and the incredible wings spread and he lifted into the sultry air, shimmering iridescently as he rose into the stronger sunlight.

“Wow… couldn’t he have just towed me out?” Wanda watched the flying man disappear almost straight up.

“Nah… he hates flying over water. He will go straight up and look down for Fishface. Come, let me show you the gardens.”

Greensleves led down a pathway towards an interior area that, because it was sheltered by the walls, was beginning to go blue and mauve with the fading sunlight.

Lush greenery spread before Wanda in generous profusion. Shimmering walkways cut through the verdant green like multicolored brick roads. All paths led to a round, Grecian temple in the center of the gardens, where a small light flickered in the growing shadows.

“How lovely… did you do all this?”

“Only the plants… they grow at my command.  Granit did the stone…” the tiny lady sighed deeply… “Granit was one of us. He actually knew our Lord… for a short while. He worshipped him and built the temple for him. It contains a resting place for his body if we should find out that he has died.  Beside it is a tomb for the remains of his wife, Magda, which we brought here to rest beside him.  Granit died making the temple and we interred him there, to be near the master he so loved. We keep vigil there praying for the return of our Lord… one way or another.”

“Dear God! You do this for…Magneto?”

“You do not understand what he means to us, dear.  He is our guiding light, for he is right about many things when it comes to mutants and humans. We know you and your brother may not believe this.  It is, however, a truth that the prophet is never respected in his own house.” she chuckled.  “Familiarity breeds contempt… happens in every family, don’t you know?”

“Right… uh… who is that?” Wanda pointed to a monk like figure, clad also in deep purple robes, entering the temple.

“That is Regis. He came here one night and we allowed him to stay because he had the mark.”

“The mark?”

“The mark that identified him as a Holocaust survivor… the numbers tattooed on his arm. He said he knew Magnus in the camp. He doesn’t sleep well at night, so he takes the night-time vigil to tend the flame. He is a sad man.”

“Ah… is he a mutant, too?”

“Not that we can tell… He has an aversion to being touched, so I have never scanned him. The mark is his passage and instant acceptance here. He is a quiet man. I cannot imagine what he and our Lord went through in that horrible place when they were children!”

The diminutive woman led Wanda to the temple. ”  There are benches to sit and rest and meditate here.  The light is always burning, so please rest and I will fetch you some refreshments while we wait for Dragon and Fishface to come. Regis may or may not speak with you.  Don’t push him, he is frail and mostly silent… and I think he waits for death to release him from his body and his memories.”

“How tragic… I will not disturb him if he does not wish company. I’ll just sit here and rest. This whole building is Granit’s work? He was a genius and an artist.”

The faerie smiled sadly. “He was only twelve.”

“Dear God… and he did THIS? For my FATHER?”

“Yes…” and she was gone, disappearing into the twilight like the magickal creature she so closely resembled.

Wanda sat and looked at the glistening sheen of polished marble. Pearly white and shimmering black and green marble. Cascades of sparkling amethyst crystals clustered and grew around the foot of a greater than life-sized figure of her father.  What love created this beauty? What effort from a child, done to please someone that she, his daughter, considered arrogant and overbearing and sometimes crazy!

“What did you see in him, I wonder…” she murmured to herself as she contemplated the artistry before her. She looked around and saw the old monk seated in the shadows. Maybe he could explain the dedication these people showed the very memory of her father. She didn’t want to bother him… but… he would have an outsiders view of everything. She had to ask… to try to understand.

“Excuse me, sir… I don’t want to intrude on your meditations… or prayers… but … um… you knew my father?”

“As well as anyone…” the voice was almost a whisper but had once been a pleasant one, Wanda thought.

“You were in Auschwitz…?” She didn’t know quite how to proceed.

“Yes… a hateful place. You do not want to hear of it… even if I could bring myself to talk about it.”

“Ah… no… I have studied the history books and photographs. It is better left to the dead…”

“But not forgotten… If it is forgotten, it will happen again… to people like you.. and your brother… and the children who keep this island .”

Wanda gulped… might as well ask… “What was he like… my father? What do you remember of him? You sit here every night and look at that statue and it must mean something to you… what?”

The man gathered his robes around him and shrank deeper into the shadows and Wanda thought she had gone too far… pressed too hard…

“They think of him as a God. He never wanted to be thought of as a god… only as a man. He… wanted to die so many times… but he knew it would happen again… and he had to survive to keep it from happening again. He never wanted to rule the world… his power just ran away with him. Do you understand?  He couldn’t control it when he needed to in Auschwitz… and later, it grew so big that it nearly killed him every time he used it. But he still had to use it because he feared it would happen again.” The old man drew in on himself. “All he tried to do was to save his people.”

“He did it the wrong way. He was arrogant and treated those beneath him as things to use and throw away. My brother and I…”

“He did not know who you were, did he? Your mother saw to that. He did not know you existed. Family was the most important thing in his life… because he had none. He lived only to help his people. And his vaunted power ate him alive.” The man’s whispery voice was almost a sob in the darkness. “He didn’t know you were his children. When he found out, he wept… both for joy, at the miracle of your existence… and for sorrow, at his treatment of you in the days of his madness.”

Wanda was silent for a moment. “His madness… the backup of power that made him act insane. Moira MacTaggert corrected his gene anomaly and opened the floodgates of his power. Why did he hate her?”

“It was not what she did… it was how and why she did it. She experimented on him to see if she could help her child. It wasn’t done for him… the benefit to him was a by-product of her experiments.  Do you know how much that smacks of Mengele? Of experiments performed on him before he was a sonderkommando? Before he had the relative safety of that hated position?” the voice was stronger now… low and growling… a voice with outrage and pain in it.

“I can’t even imagine what you… and he… went through in Auschwitz.  I do know it warped him terribly.”

A low chuckle. “Warped? Yes, maybe you are right. But the same fires that destroy can temper, too. So many died. Weaker willed men bent and were not as… warped… as the strong ones. But the weaker ones are all dead, now… some of them from suicide… some from the infirmities that broke them. Not your father. He may have been warped, but he knew he had to survive… to fight…”

“You think he is alive?”

Silence.

“Look, if you know him so well, and you think he is alive, can you tell me where he is or might be?”

“Why would you want to know? You and your brother have written him off as a mindless terrorist…”

“I just… need… to talk to him… to see if there is any glimmer of intellect there that I could reach… because I think we have found out what may be driving him crazy these days.”

“And you would like to give him this information? A man you consider arrogant and insane? A terrorist? Why would you do that?”

It’s not that simple. I have to talk to him… to gauge if what I know could be used wrongly. It would give him so much more power… and if I  couldn’t be sure he would use the knowledge wisely…”

“More power? The power he has now drives him mad at times… even with MacTaggert’s tampering. What could possibly be the benefit of giving him more? Do you want him to go totally insane?”

“It’s not like that. The Vision and I have been doing some research… and if what we think is true, it would explain all the aberrations of his behavior.  It could let him control his power… and power he hasn’t even dreamed of. I just don’t know if I can trust him with the power that the knowledge would open up to him. I have got to know how he really IS. I have to know how he thinks and what he thinks… and what he really wants to do.

“He wants to save his people from another Holocaust… that is what he wants. He is not Emperor of the World material… it would bore him silly.”  The monk slumped back into the seat from which he had almost risen. “His people, his followers, know what he wants. That is what this island… this shrine… is all about. They may treat him like a god… but they know he is not one. They know your father better than you will ever know him… because your heart is hardened against him.”

“His own fault…”

“Possibly true… but you still see him as more than he ever wanted to be… and less than he is.”

“You like him, don’t you?”

“I respect what I know of him… what I understand of him…”

“OK… let me run this by you… but you have to promise that no matter what, you will never tell him. I have to be the one to do that…OK?”

“He will never hear a word of what passes between us from me in any way shape or form. Are you sure you wish to tell me this?”

“You might know how he would react… whether I SHOULD tell him what we found out… or not.” I just don’t know what to do with it… that’s why I wanted to talk with him.”

“I understand your quandary. If this information is as potent as you say…”

“You tell me.” She heaved a great sigh. “The Vision and I did a graph to find out what might possibly  influence Magneto’s rampages… social factors, laws against mutants, you name it, we looked and looked to no avail. I believe some wanted us to succeed so they could use the information to set a trap for him.  Long after others had written off our studies, we found it. Simple, really, if you consider his basic power. Wonder is that no one thought of it before…”

The man shuffled listlessly… striving for a comfortable seat on the cushioned granite. It seemed as if he didn’t really care if she told him or not.

“So simple… my father’s power is to channel and use the magnetic flux of the earth.”

“This is well known…”

“But every once in a while, he goes off the deep end… we thought at first it was emotional trauma from Auschwitz. Making him go nuts and trip himself up… put roadblocks on his own power…”

“That could well be… Auschwitz traumatized many beyond all measure…”

“No… it has everything to do with the nature of his power. If there is too much of it, it backs up and causes an overload… a short circuit of the mind, as it were.”

“Yes… and this causes him to lose control and act irrationally.”

“Exactly. Moira should have fixed that… the flow of the earth’s magnetosphere is steady and strong… no great surprises there…”

“So why does he still go crazy at times?”

Wanda smiled. “Sunspots! He’s drawing power from the sun and when the sun flares in those huge magnetic storms called sunspots, they overload him.  He doesn’t know he can draw power from the sun… y’see? If he did, he might be able to control how the sunspots affect him! He might be able to know when one of them is going to happen and adjust his ability to deal with it or channel it. But that’s a lot of power… and to let him know he could possibly do that… you see my problem?”

Silence.

“Yes… you DO see my problem. What do I do when and if I find him? How can I judge whether to clue him in to this potential solution to his problems? Or do we just let him run around like a nutball and never understand what he could DO … or control? Is it better for him to be less powerful with no control or more powerful with control of all that power?”

Silence.

Was the old guy even awake? “Uh… Mr. Regis…?”

“I am here…”

“So what do you think?”

“I think you have a very difficult choice to make when you find your father.”

“You think he’s alive?”

“Yes…”

Wanda slumped where she sat.  “I just don’t know what to do. I am almost glad he wasn’t here. I don’t know if I’m ready to face him with this… y’know? I am afraid he would roar out BWAHAHAHAHA and go dancing around like a demented loon! He’s done that, you know…”

A small chuckle from the shadows. “Yes… I know…”

“You know, sir, you have been a great help to me… even if you haven’t said much. Sometimes you just have to get things out on the table…and when you explain them to others, you see them a lot clearer yourself. Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For just being here and letting me sort this out in my own mind.”

“And when you find your father, what are you going to do? What will you tell him?”

“That will depend on him, won’t it?” She looked up to see Greensleeves hurrying towards the temple in the deepening dusk. Beside her was an even smaller figure. “I think my ride is here. It was nice talking to you, sir. I could wish my father was as gentle a person as you are. I wouldn’t have a problem then, would I?”

“Who knows… it was nice talking to you, too. You have brightened my evening.”

“Wanda, this is Fishface…”  Greensleves glided in as if she were walking on air… and a wet, very fishy appearing youngster sloshed beside her. “…he will pull your boat back to your yacht, so you don’t have to row. You’d best come along…it is already quite dark… but that won’t bother Fishface any… he already knows where your friend is waiting and watching for you. He will have you there in no time… and I have some fruit and something to drink for you to take with you.”

“Thank you Greensleeves…” she turned to the shadowed figure on the other end of the marble seat…” and thank you, Mr Regis for your help.”

“I did nothing…”

“You listened. Your promise…?”

“Not a word from my lips.”  She smiled and turned to leave with Greensleeves and Fishface. Soon they were all lost in the deep purple haze of evening.

The monk got up, stretched and walked to the front of the statue. He adjusted the brazier so that it would not go out in the middle of the night. He swept the concealing cowl back from his face and looked up at his own marble visage.

Magneto smiled to himself. “Bwahahahaha, indeed.”  He settled back on the cushioned slab… He WOULD sleep tonight… and tomorrow, he would greet his newfound compatriot… the sun.

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