…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.


…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.


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.