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

…Cable’s origin?

Figure 00_prophetcable1

Rob Liefeld had originally planned for Cable to be a traveller from thousands of years in the future who journeyed back to our time to combat specific menaces that threatened the future of the Marvel Universe, intending Kang the Conqueror as chief among these threats.  To support this Rob reveals, in Prophet/Cable #1, that Prophet was originally intended to be a police officer from the future sent by Kang, a warlord in his era, to bring back Cable.  While this never came to be, here’s my attempt to increase his importance in the wider Marvel Universe… but with a twist;)

In Chris Claremont’s End of Greys tale the Shi’ar, in an effort to prevent the manifestation of the Phoenix through her descendants, decide to end Rachel Grey’s line by having their Death Commandos slay the entire Grey family (cf. Uncanny X-Men #467-468).

Figure 01_Uncanny X-Men V1 468 - 11

In Uncanny X-Men #468, Rachel wonders why the Shi’ar missed Cable when he’s her carries the genes of her mother’s clone.

Figure 02_Uncanny X-Men V1 468 - 21

We know the Shi’ar have technology far exceeding anything even Mr. Sinister would possess in determining Cable’s lineage, and yet they choose not to involve him in their purge.

Figure 03_Cable V1 06

This would seem to put an end to the erroneous argument that Cable is the offspring of Jean Grey’s clone…

Figure 04_mother of Nathan Summers, Madelyne Pryor_Uncanny X-Men V1 241

…and goes along with his creator Rob Liefeld’s own hope “that one day, the Askani aspect will be revealed as a dream, a hoax or an imaginary story and that Cable’s true identity will be revealed” (Robservations XI: The Secret Origin of Cable)

Interestingly Chris Claremont also contended on Comixfan that it was never his intention for Rachel to evolve into “Mother Askani”!

Figure 05_Rachel as Mother Askani_Cable V1 23

So here I am again with a solution, this time for how the Askani aspect of Cable’s origin can be revealed as inaccurate.

Figure 06_Soldier X 08

I’d do this by firstly suggesting that young Nathan Christopher Summers and Cable are not the same being.

Figure 07_Nathan Summers of Earth-161

Okay then!

Endgame” did happen, and I felt I should make it work, so in line with Fabian et. al., I’d retain the account that young Nathan Christopher Summers was infected by Apocalypse because the Celestial caretaker had been advised that the infant would somehow prevent his ascension.

Figure 08_Nathan infected by Apocalypse

Hence Askani appears on the scene and offers to take him through time to cure him of the infection.

Figure 09_Askani takes Nathan to cure

However, in line with Claremont’s contention that Askani might not have been intended to be from 4000 AD, I’d instead reveal Cable was from the alternate world, Warlord’s Earth, where Nathaniel Richards dwelt.

Figure 10_What If v2 39 p10

I say alternate world because in X-Factor #67 on page 6, the world that Apocalypse rules (and Askani hails from) is referred to as “Sidereal scantime.” So it’s a SIDE REALITY, as Other Earth is.

Figure 11_X-Factor 67_Sidereal

I’d further reveal the Askani Sisterhood as a future version of the matriarchal society of the Eyrie on Warlord’s Earth, as shown by John Byrne in Fantastic Four #273.

Figure 12_Eyriennes from Fantastic Four 273

Upon being cured of his techno-organic infection, I’d propose the Askani placed him in the care of this timeline’s Richards clan who are descendants of this timeline’s Franklin Richards and Rachel Grey.

Nathan Christopher Summers is hence raised as a Richards to protect his identity from Clan Akkaba’s spies who will stop at nothing to kill him since he is destined to become Apocalypse’s greatest enemy.

2eb4gnt

Young Nathan is then secretly trained in the use of his powers, in much the same way 1A trained Magnus the Robot Fighter (but perhaps still ignorant of his true identity).

Figure 13_1A training Magnus the Robot Fighter

Upon discovering the truth, he embraces his destiny, and travels back in time to become Rama-Tut with the aim of preventing the High Lord from becoming “all-powerful”.

Figure 14_FF273_Kang

Unfortunately, in an ironic twist, the Fantastic Four return to the same period…

Figure 15_Fantastic Four's arrival in ancient Egypt_Fantastic Four V1 19

…and it is their interference…

Figure 16_Rama-Tut's defeat_Fantastic Four V1 19

…that prevents Rama-Tut from stopping Apocalypse before he begins his meteoric rise to power.

Figure 17_Apocalypse rise to power in Egypt

As for Cable’s true identity, around the same time as his introduction there was another character in the Marvel Universe having similar features.

That is, Nathaniel Richards Senior – Reed’s father.

Figure 18_Fantastic Four V1 375 - 45

In addition, Cable regularly used the Askani curse-phrase “stab his eyes”…

Figure 20_Cable Blood-Metal 02 - 28

…and when Nathaniel was reintroduced during Tom De Falco’s run on Fantastic Four he was teaching Franklin curses including “Stab my eyes”…

Figure 21_Fantastic Force 09 - 16

….which seemed to imply that the reality he raised his grandson in was one where the Askani held sway.

This could further resolve why Cable’s first name is Nathan.

But fret not!  I’m not suggesting this is because he is Nathan Richards Senior…

…rather that he is the unnamed son from Nathaniel Richards Senior’s marriage to Cassandra, Warlord of Otherworld.

Figure 22_Fantastic Four V1 272 - 21

Figure 22_Fantastic Four V1 272 - 22

While completely out there, look at the similarities in their armour; that worn by Cable during New Mutants #90…

Figure 23_New Mutants v1 90

…and moreso during the Sabotage X-Over in X-Force #3…

Figure 24_X-Force v1 03 - 09

…and Spider-Man #16…

Figure 25_Spider-Man V1 16 - 12Figure 26_Spider-Man V1 16 - 13

Figure 27_Spider-Man V1 16 - 16-17

…was almost identical to Nathaniel Richards Senior’s psi-armour worn during flashbacks in Fantastic Four #390 (p. 10)…

Figure 25_Fantastic Four V1 390 - 11

…and #393 (p. 4).

Figure 29_Fantastic Four V1 393 - 04

I would posit that Cable’s armour was meant to be psi-armour rather than generic (which could be used in concert with his telekinesis to absorb Juggernaut impacts), and this is the reason it looked so similar to that worn by Richards.

This would further explain why, as stated in Cable’s costume specifications in his Marvel Universe Master Edition #3 entry, the various suits of body armour he wore were of “unknown composition”.

Figure 25

Furthermore, the armour worn by Reed Richards during his “battle-in-time” with Dr. Doom during Fantastic Four #352 was extremely similar to that worn by Nathaniel and Cable.

Fantastic Four V1 352 - 12

So Cable wears this trademark armour due to his being the son and heir of Nathaniel Richards Senior and a time-traveller like his father, since that would appear to be the function of that worn by both Nathaniel and Reed; and claims affiliation with Cyclops and Nathan Summers as a cover story.

Why?

Maybe Nathaniel Senior discovers the destiny of young Nathan Christopher Summers, and raises his and Cassandra’s unnamed son to travel to Earth-616 and begin involving himself in missions that would eventually suggest to Apocalypse that he was in fact young Nate.

In this way they could prevent Apocalypse from realising what the Richards Clan were really up to.  That is, training Nathan Summers to go back in time and prevent his rise as Rama-Tut.

I feel the revelation of Cable being a Richards would also fulfil Rob Liefeld’s plan of his being a technologically advanced time-traveller with a strong science background (since science certainly runs in the Richards family).

This is why Reed’s father, at times, appears enigmatic and his occasional machinations seem opposed to the Fantastic Four.  Nathaniel Sr. can’t reveal the truth to them for fear that Apocalypse may discover the truth.  That and he is still miffed at their interference in preventing Rama-Tut from putting a stop to Apocalypse.

As mentioned above Claremont’s End of Greys storyline puts an end to the argument that Cable is the offspring of Jean Grey’s clone.

In addition, it is more likely, as I suggest, that Cable hails from an alternate earth, rather than the far flung future of 4000 AD. Cable can still be a time-traveller and travel from Earth-6311 to Earth-616, as time machines have previously been proven to be able to access both realities.

It is further doubtful that Cable travelled from this future to our present, since after Pryde’s Time-Switch, the Hierarchy set in motion appropriate counter-measures installing Ahab and his Sentinels and Hounds at the temporal Nexus to prevent any further time travel from the future back to the modern era…

Figure 29

…so Cable would have been prevented from travelling from the future to our era prior to 1990.

While one could argue that Bishop had done the same, this was only after Claremont had Ahab defeated and Cable had arrived in our era prior to this.

If we maintain Cable was a alternity traveller, this further supports my theory that he did not come from the 4000 AD, but rather the period of Warlord’s Earth that Nathaniel Richards Sr. had settled in (hence my positing above that he is Nathaniel’s other unnamed son, by way of Cassandra).

All that’s left to figure out now is how Cable knew the Master of the Hounds, Ahab in Uncanny X-Men Annual #14 (and no I don’t believe the two were originally intended to be the same character and here is my reason why).

Postscript: What would make this whole scenario perfect for me is for the Shi’ar to eventually make an attempt on one of the incarnations of Nathaniel Richards Jr., whether that be Rama-Tut, Kang or Immortus.

…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.

…Crystal’s infidelity?

Crystal gets a lot of disrespect from Avengers fans for her occasional lapses in marital fidelity, but I feel her actions could be understood in a different light.

Crystal is the second-oldest “young” superheroine in the Marvel Universe. The Invisible Girl, the Wasp, and even the Scarlet Witch were all depicted as fully grown women from their first appearances (although Wanda was portrayed as younger when she joined the Avengers than she first appeared to be in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants). Only Marvel Girl of the X-Men predates Crystal in the role of superheroic ingénue.

In a sense, Crystal was created to be a romance interest. From her first appearance in Fantastic Four #45 it was clear that she was meant for Johnny Storm, and we never saw the human Torch more proactive or more motivated than when he was trying to get to Crystal. She in turn seems to have had a “love at first sight” experience (nicely portrayed from her perspective for the first time in the Fantastic Four: Fireworks limited series). This mutual passion led to Crystal being willing for the first time to defy her family and risk everything to be with Johnny, leading to the dry-run Romeo and Juliet plotline which avoided the rather permanently tragic ending.

Later, Crystal came to live at the Baxter building as a member of the Fantastic Four (although there was absolutely NO indication that there were ever any nocturnal wanderings on her or Johnny’s part – Crystal and Johnny seem to have had the sort of chaste love that wouldn’t have been out of place in a 1960’s My Love comic). She and Johnny seemed to be happily joined at the hip for a while until Crystal’s health deteriorated because of the pollutants of modern civilisation and she had to return to Attilan.

It was whilst returning to Attilan that Crystal became enmeshed in a plot of Diablo’s and eventually was taken by Lockjaw to the wounded Quicksilver who was trapped in the collapsing Australian Sentinel base. Despite a ruling that outsiders were not allowed in Attilan (which had kept Johnny away previously) Crystal brought Pietro home with her and nursed him to health. That they fell in love off-panel is one of the greatest failures in comics’ narration and goes a long way to explaining why this couple has never enjoyed the popularity of, say, Cyclops and Jean Grey or the Vision and the Scarlet Witch.

So Crystal breaks Johnny’s heart and marries Quicksilver. The Inhumans get over their prejudices about outsiders enough to allow this to happen, and apart from a guest appearance by Ultron at the wedding everything goes OK for a while. Quicksilver stays in Attilan, putting his Avengers training to good use as leader of the defence militia, and inexplicably failing to call his old comrades in when the city is attacked by a variety of menaces from Shatterstar to Maelstrom to the Enclave. Eventually Crystal has a baby, who is names Luna. Luna is extraordinarily human.

Now things get more complicated. In an excellent Byrne Thing story we see Crystal resisting her family’s efforts to expose Luna to the Terrigen Mists. Quicksilver is all for it. He doesn’t want to have a homo sapiens daughter. This is the first major schism between the young lovers, even though all appears to be restored to status quo afterwards. The story ends when Lockjaw speaks for the first time, claiming to be an Inhuman who was terribly changed by the Mists. Although this revelation has since been retconned as a joke on Ben, the actual story does not support this. Lockjaw’s speech is the pivotal point of a very dramatic and serious storyline. Nobody was going to be pulling jokes. It was this sudden interference by Lockjaw which convinces Pietro not to mutate Luna.

The next major development is of course Crystal’s adultery with the rather shallow real estate salesman (Norm somebody?) over in the Vision & Scarlet Witch Limited Series. Crystal’s motivations for this are depicted as being an increasing schism between her and Pietro. Later retcons have attributed it (and Quicksilver’s turning to the darkside of the force for a while) to Maximus’ mental manipulations. Suffice to say that this was the trigger for Crystal and Pietro to split up (though I was never that disappointed by it since I didn’t like them getting together in the first place).

The Inhumans do not appear to have been very sympathetic to Crystal about her troubles. When she decides to rejoin the FF there is a lot of resistance from her family and she is very closely monitored around Johnny Storm. Clearly there is much of the old attraction still intact on both sides, but Crystal overcomes temptation and eventually gets recalled to Attilan for a family-ordained reunion with the apparently repentant Pietro. The estranged couple remain together in a rather uncomfortable no-man’s land until the Avengers Collection Obsession storyline which leads to Crystal joining Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (bad idea). Quicksilver joins X-Factor shortly afterwards (worse idea).

Two things happen during Crystal’s time with the Avengers. First she has to cope with a growing mutual attraction to Dane Whitman, the Black Knight (another bad idea). Secondly she has to deal with attempts from Pietro to reconcile (even worse idea). And being Crystal she lets both of these things go too far. The story never makes clear whether Crystal and Dane consummate their affection (although there is an implication that they certainly did something down in the Mansion’s gardens, watched by Sersi and possibly the fake Vision – now that’s a couple I could get into), but they are certainly more than friends. And it is this last complicated triangle, or quadrilateral, or whatever, that has branded Crystal a slut in the eyes of many Avengers readers. When Tuc, Crystal’s alternate-future son, appeared in The Crossing, it was unclear as to whether Pietro or Dane was his father (I’d prefer Johnny as the one since I’m still convinced he is Luna’s pa too).

So much is history, and a simplified version at that. But the Inhumans limited series by Jae Lee introduced a new concept which could force us all to re-evaluate little Crystal’s behaviour.

Lee’s Inhumans are more than just a race of mutants or some other super-powered variant species of humanity. The storyline in the current series implies that the Inhumans are effectively a designer organism, each gaining powers from the Terrigen mist which enable them to fulfil some social function within the society as a whole. In other words, each Inhuman is born to a place within Inhuman culture, just as an ant has a fixed role within its live. What that role is becomes clear at the time of Terrigen metamorphosis for an Inhuman. Whether it is the destiny of that person to be a food-generator, a guard, a drone, or a king, it is all regulated in some way by the collective need of the race which we now know to be truly Inhuman.

Yet even amongst the Inhumans this is understood only by Maximus the Mad, and perhaps Black Bolt.

This function is not just about power. An Inhumans’ special ability is only a reflection of the core of their nature. Hence the mutation of the mists only manifests the role which they have been genetically engineered to play from birth.

So what does this say about Crystal’s function in Inhuman society? Is it only the whimsy of a silly girl that led her to Johnny Storm and later to Pietro Maximoff and Dane Whitman? Or does Crystal have some sort of cultural imperative which makes her seek out the unknown and embrace it? Of all the Inhumans’ royal family Crystal is the only one who has willingly sought out adventure beyond Attilan.

There is something almost mystical about the way the Mists manifest skills within the Inhumans in anticipation of what they will need. Just at the time that contact with other cultures was going to be critical to the survival of the Inhumans, Crystal came along to seek out liaison with the Human Torch, and through him others who had power to achieve what the current Inhumans could not. Her instinct seemed to be to bond, physically, emotionally, totally, with some gifted male from outside her own culture. Denied access to Johnny Storm she was taken (by Lockjaw!) to Pietro Maximoff.

Lockjaw remains an enigma (although I hear that Inhumans series addresses him but I don’t know how). Although his sentience has been portrayed as a joke by Inhumans such as Karnak and Gorgon ever since Byrne left the FF, I don’t entirely trust the Inhuman royal family to always speak the truth to outsiders. Certainly a culture which has created and enslaved the Alpha Primitives would have few qualms in mutating one of its own and making them a dumb beast. But whether dumb beast or not, his pivotal role at two vital moments of Crystal’s life cannot be ignored. Perhaps Lockjaw’s function was to do whatever was necessary to bring about the conception and preservation of Luna?

As to the estate agent, I can only plead that Crystal’s instincts are clearly very strong.

Still, the Inhuman collective imperative does seem to require “fresh blood” for the future. There has been more interaction between Inhumans and the outside world in the few years since the FF first met Medusa than in all the centuries before that. And Crystal’s urge to join with a non-Inhuman man do not seem to have diminished. Even her very personality – nurturing, gentle, loving, and kind – seems to suit her for the role placed upon her.

So what do you think? Is there more to Crystal’s actions than meets the eye? Is there an explanation for how a loving and caring woman could break first Johnny’s then Pietro’s hearts? Is Crystal as much victim as perpetrator? Has she any way to avoid her genetically-impelled destiny?

The “victim/perpetrator” concept reminds one of the viewpoint on Lucrezia Borgia. Used as a lovely tool for political alliances, which were often destroyed by her family when they were no longer necessary (including her one true love, who was stabbed and later murdered on her own brother’s command). It sparks the imagination, but I would be concerned that any of the Inhumans (except Maximus) would consciously have such cold-hearted intentions. What are your thoughts on this?

There are a number of dark shadows at the edge of the Inhumans stories. Apart from the Alpha Primitives, and the later depicted genetic snobbery based upon the Terrigen Mist mutations, there is also the mystery of Lockjaw, the only mutated apparent animal we have ever seen in Attilan, and also the questions around Medusa’s child.

We have seen the Inhumans drag Crystal home on a number of occasions when her behaviour has been considered inappropriate by Inhuman society. Conversely, we have seen Quicksilver treated with contempt by them even as he has been struggling for their lives. We have seen the very strict regimen under which Inhuman culture is operated, by never-fully-depicted codes as complex and impenetrable as many of the older cultures of our own world.

All of this seems to suggest that the Inhumans are not, as they often appear to be, merely the Addams Family of the Marvel Universe, or another lost tribe, but something very different… Inhuman in fact. It may even be that the Inhuman organism is, on one level, the culture, not the individual. And if so, judging any of the Inhumans’ interactions by human standards will always leave us somewhat puzzled.

On the other hand, the Inhuman Royal family and some others have been shown as noble, compassionate, and selfless. It may be that like many cultures the Inhumans maintain a “public face” for outsiders and have a rich, complicated sub-strata which is reserved for insiders only. Or there may be those things that all Inhumans know, but never speak about (think about the Victorian culture of our own history, and the taboos which it had, such as homosexuality; things still went on, but were never acknowledged).

That said, one’s impression is that even the Inhumans themselves do not understand how deep their genetic imperatives go. Perhaps that is why Maximus, who seems to comprehend them best, is mad, and why Black Bolt, who is the wisdom of his people, can shatter worlds with his voice.

So what about Crystal’s place as a specialised breeder to stimulate the otherwise inbred Inhuman community?

First, the Inhumans have been around for a very long time, and isolated for nearly all of their history. We have never heard anything about inbreeding problems in their community before, presumably because the mutative effects of the Terrigen Mist go far beyond simply giving people fins and wings and so on, and negate the sort of problematic cross-breeding that humans would have suffered in that time. So we need a different reason for Crystal’s (hypothesised) imperative.

However, the Inhuman Terrigen transformation is more than just a genetic change. Like the Gamma radiation which has created several super-powered beings, the Terrigen Mists seem to unlock what is already inside a person. Hence manipulative Maximus becomes a mind-bender, fierce bullish Gorgon gains hooves and a powerful stamp, and responsible, brooding Black Bolt gains electron control at the cost of his voice (the only Inhuman with two different powers, which is interesting).

And the transformation allows the young Inhuman to take their place in society, setting their social status and life-role. So the transformation is more than genetic, making this a far more complex system than the different instinctive roles of an insect hive.

As mentioned above, even Crystal would have to be a damn sight sluttier to make a significant difference to the Inhuman gene pool. So there is clearly some other reason why she might need to conceive a child by an outsider, and who turns out to be entirely human.

There is evidence to argue that the Inhumans bring forth the individuals that their society will need, somehow unconsciously anticipating what is to come. If rebellious, heart-led Crystal had not struck up her romance with Johnny Storm, the entire Inhuman population might have been destroyed, or at least subjugated by Maximus and later by the Kree. If Crystal had not birthed Luna then the Avengers would not have survived the Crossing. And who knows what need the Inhumans might have for Luna in the days to come?

Or perhaps it was just time for the Inhumans to stop hiding. It is perhaps significant that within weeks of the Inhumans being discovered the world was visited for the first time by Galactus. Within a few years of their “discovery” the Inhumans would be involved in all kinds of world-shattering events from invasions to Infernos. Was this all somehow anticipated, and Crystal spawned to prepare for it?

My other point is about the origins of the Inhumans. Remember that they were an early, forgotten, genetic experiment by the Kree. This takes on a new relevance in the light of the Supreme Intelligence’s sacrifice of the entire Kree galaxy in order to promote the genetic advancement of his race.

We have never seen anything like an Inhumans experiment on another planet, yet somehow this unique accomplishment, which has significant military value and which had both a Sentinel and Shatterstar set to watch over it was overlooked for millennia. Only the Supreme Intelligence himself could bury data that well. And the Inhumans started interacting with the outside world just as the Skrulls began their major campaign on Earth, and shortly before the Kree/Skrull War (in which they also played a role).

Is there still Kree programming somewhere in the genetic code of the Inhumans? Is the Supreme Intelligence saving this experiment for something special, perhaps something to do with his plans to revitalise the Kree genetic inheritance? Has the Supreme Intelligence got a purpose for Luna?

These what-if games can get very deep, can’t they? Perhaps it’s safer to assume that Crystal is a fallible, all-too human girl who has made good judgements and bad in her time. Not the culmination of an ancient plot by the Supreme Intelligence to exploit the genetic potential of humankind and spread his power across the stars.  But the latter sounds like much more fun!!!

To the earlier point, and I have seen similar behaviour in many real women who definitely weren’t sluts, I am interested by the later idea that the Inhumans are not really individuals but parts of one organism, with each playing its assigned social function (this raises some really big questions about Maximus, though, and whether he is a slipped cog or a vital part of the machine. In that concept, Crystal is either totally betraying the hive-society by her actions or else is performing some vital function.

On the question of Inhuman morals, they seem to place a massive emphasis on the sanctity of marriage. This is presumably because they have a society based upon genetic lines, so parentage is very important. The hint we have sometimes had about Maximus’ forbidden passion, and possibly affair, with Medusa raises some very dark questions over the Inhuman Royal Family.

On the question of Inhuman morals, they seem to place a massive emphasis on the sanctity of marriage. This is presumably because they have a society based upon genetic lines, so parentage is very important. The hint we have sometimes had about Maximus’ forbidden passion, and possibly affair, with Medusa raises some very dark questions over the Inhuman Royal Family.

Maybe Crystal is a “selective Xeno-breeder.”

Bear with me, I might lose even myself here.

The sentence above, “This is presumably because they have a society based upon genetic lines, so parentage is important” sets off bells in me noggin’.

The Inhumans keep careful watch of their breeding. They are a small society made up of genetic time-bombs (fused by the Terrigen Mists), so they must be very careful of inbreeding, more so than other small societies.

The smaller the society the harder it would be to keep relatives (especially distant ones) from breeding. This is why many states have blood testing before marriage.

Crystal could perhaps be meant to breed outside of her species to introduce new genetic material to the Inhumans bloodline.

When dog breeders breed their dogs they look for the best possible mate they could find. They do research and check all documents to make sure inbreeding won’t occur. In breeding is bad.

Ok, so assuming Crystal is a “selective Xeno-breeder”, what’s the “selective” part mean?

Look who she chose to breed with on Earth. Her first choice was a Homo Sapien that had been changed by cosmic ray bombardment, he was a public figure, a hero, and roughly her age.

Her second choice: a Homo Superior that had been severely injured while committing a heroic deed (Pietro’s bloodline is actually worshipped by some Mutants on Marvel Earth).

Her third? Well, let’s just say this is what makes Crystal’s function also risky to the Inhumans. A “selective breeder” with misguided judgement.

Or maybe she just was trying to gain back Pietro’s attention by hooking up with Norm the real estate agent. Maybe she had found love. Pietro’s a cold dude though, and he’s not innocent in their relationship problems.

Her fourth. A Homo Sapien that had been a hero in two centuries, an Avenger, a scientist, and a master sword-fighter to boot.

Crystal is also an elemental, which also raises questions on her connection to earthly type things.

My point: Maybe Crystal is MEANT to breed with exceptional males that are not Inhuman to bring in new genes to the gene pool. This would be a very hard position for her, because the Inhumans are very serious about marriage, and her genetic role would be to seek mates.

Crystal did however accomplish her “mission” (if this were actual continuity), she successfully had a child with a Homo Superior Pietro. Luna is like a breath of fresh air(no pun intended) for the Inhumans and their scrutinised gene pool. The Royal Family gets the gold.

Maybe.

Also, close society have a high percentage of endogamy. That comes with a lot of disease and sickness to them. The percentage between genome mutations is higher than in other more open/ mixed cultures. When that happens, a society like such can even vanish, dying all their members. Then the cross with another population can health that sick population, the hybrid vigour like its name, can save them. Then, if correct, Crystal’s role in her society is vital. They have to mix with human or some close species just to survive (but then you need more than one Luna to accomplish that).

Something entirely different. To have a baby is an honour between Inhumans. Their reproduction is politically controlled (Like we saw in Vision & SW LS II). They can´t have children if their government (Royal family?) don’t allow it. When a couple have a baby it is consider a gift and their prestige elevates (suggesting everything is programmed).

And we have never yet seen how they “know” that it is right to reproduce.

One interesting thought: we have some evidence that Inhumans are longer lived than homo sapiens. We also have evidence that they have very long courtships (Medusa and Black Bolt, for example). Is it because Inhumans have to be genetically and socially “right” for each other before they are allowed to breed?

About Crystal betraying the society, well Inhumans don’t like her behaviour but then perhaps they don´t even know Crystal part is crucial for them.