Wednesday, November 18, 2015



Story: Steve Englehart | Breakdowns: Kieron Dwyer | Finishes: Joe Sinnott
Letters: Ken Lopez | Colors: Gregory Wright | Editor: Ralph Macchio
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

The Plot: The Fantastic Four return to their headquarters after a mission in space and spend some time relaxing. They're about to leave on their next mission, to the Negative Zone, when the Inhuman royal family arrives and requests that Crystal return to the Moon with them and reunite with her estranged husband, the mutant Quicksilver. Crystal refuses and a fight breaks out between the FF and Inhumans.

Meanwhile, on the Moon, the High Evolutionary sends his Gatherers and Eliminators into the Inhuman city of Attilan to steal the Inhumans' Terrigan Mist. The Watcher, Uatu, appears to converse with the Evolutionary while his men carry out their mission. Within Attilan, Quicksilver mounts a resistance.

On Earth the fight comes to an end when the Inhumans are informed of the attack on their city. The royal family and Fantastic Four all return to Attilan together and battle the High Evolutionary's forces. The Gatherers and Eliminators are routed and return to the High Evolutionary, who teleports away with them. The Thing attempts to get the Watcher to reveal their destination, but he refuses. Another Watcher appears, but is also silent at Uatu's command.

In the aftermath of the fight, Black Bolt flies Crystal away and asks her to stay among the Inhumans. His guilt-trip works, and she chooses to remain and try to work things out with Quicksilver.

Continuity Notes: This story takes place between FANTASTIC FOUR issues 317 and 318.

The FF left for their most recent mission in issue #313. Upon their return, the Thing recaps their adventures, including encounters with Belasco and Master Pandemonium, and the fact that they learned of a race of Beyonders who reside in the Negative Zone. The Thing locked the door to the Negative Zone in issue 308.

Quicksilver lost his mutant power fighting the West Coast Avengers in issue 36 of their own series. Crystal had an affair with a human in the VISION AND THE SCARLET WITCH limited series.

The Watcher was first encountered in FANTASTIC FOUR #13, and Attilan was moved to his "Blue Area" in #240.


The Inhumans last attacked Four Freedoms Plaza in FF #306, leading to Mister Fantastic equipping the building with shock absorbers to combat Gorgon's power.

Circa 1988: The Fantastic Four at this point consists of the Thing, the Human Torch, Ms. Marvel (Sharon Ventura), and Crystal. Also, the Thing is a giant pineapple.

The Human Torch is married to the Thing's old girlfriend, Alicia Masters (though he still has strong feelings for his one-time flame, Crystal). The Thing and Ms. Marvel are also an item.

The Thing refers to the Inhumans' dog, Lockjaw, as "Spuds".

The High Evolutionary's Plot: This time around he's after the Terrigan Mist, as noted above, for its mutagenic properties.

But, more importantly, Englehart attempts to tie together all the previous pieces of the scheme, which is appreciated, even if he doesn't get all the details right. Per the Watcher, so far the Evolutionary has "...tried to sterilize the Subterraneans of Earth, to close off that offshoot of mankind! Then your Eliminators attempted to destroy gene-altering drugs..." (Cocaine alters genes?) "Then you [attempted] to learn the secrets of the Silver Surfer's DNA! Then you attempted to analyze the genetic code of the mutant Mirage!" (Not true; he actually tried to remove Magma's mutant powers.) "But now, your drug war has spawned urban violence..." (No mention there about the plan to kill off all the New Yorkers with undesirable DNA.)

My Thoughts: Before get started, I need to note that Steve Englehart wrote one of the best Batman runs of all time, DETECTIVE COMICS issues 469 - 476. Seek them out. Read them. You won't be disappointed; they're outstanding and I return to them often. I'm sure I'll cover them in-depth here someday, and I'll rave about them when I do. My opinion of Englehart will always be tempered by that brilliant run.

But even the worst of the worst can crank out a winner once in a while. And I find Englehart's work, at least from Marvel, is generally pretty terrible.

It's possible I've just read the wrong stuff, but that seems unlikely. While the SILVER SURFER ANNUAL we covered last week wasn't all that bad, it's not really what Englehart is best known for. His most celebrated Marvel output is generally considered to be his seventies AVENGERS run and his eighties WEST COAST AVENGERS run, both of which I've read some of, and neither of which I enjoyed.

But it's this FANTASTIC FOUR run that really cements Englehart a bad writer, in my opinion.

(Warning: I am about to become petty and mean. Sometimes I just need to get this stuff out of my system.)

First off, the artwork. Yes, Englehart is a writer, but let's look at what he forced his artists to draw: Pineapple Thing. One of the ugliest, most cumbersome and inelegant character designs ever conceived. NO ONE can draw that design well. It's hideous. Add to that Ms. Marvel, too. Not every superheroine needs to be lithe and sexy; I have no problem with variation there -- but Sharon's character design, based on the Thing's original "lumpy" look, is just dopey. She looks like "Ned" from THE VENTURE BROTHERS. She's impossible to take seriously, and because of her visual, I "hear" every line out of her mouth in a dumb, slow-witted voice, whether I want to or not.

Second, the sub-plots. Englehart was famous in the seventies for the soap opera style he brought to the Avengers. Maybe some of that stuff was good. This stuff is just awful. The Fantastic Four, at this point, consists of a two people in a relationship with each other and two people who used to date but are both currently married to other people while they continue to lust after each other. Here's the thing: The Torch/Crystal storyline can't go anywhere. It could work in primetime TV, but this is a kids' comic. You can't have one or the other cleat on his or her spouse. It destroys them as heroes and role models. It's bad enough they're pining for each other. This FF dynamic, mainly due to the Torch and Crystal, is just awful.

And I have no objections to occasionally changing up the Fantastic Four's roster. I love She-Hulk as a member. But this particular grouping just doesn't work for me. And besides that, there should always be a plan in place to return Reed and Sue Richards to the team. I'd argue that Reed, above all others, is the one member who should never leave. But Englehart has said that his plans for the series were to write the Richardses out for good, which is a completely boneheaded idea. Reed Richards is the Fantastic Four. He's Mister Fantastic.

And finally, the scripting. I admit it's not as bad in this eighties work as it was in some of the seventies stuff I read, but still... Englehart's narration is a bit too cute for its own good, invoking the Stan Lee style which really doesn't work for anyone other than Stan Lee. His Thing doesn't sound like the Thing to me, either. It reads like someone trying to write the Thing and missing it by that much, to the point that it's almost right but just wrong enough to bug you.

But, most egregious (and most petty of me) is his Watcher, who says, three or four times throughout the issue, "I just watch." Is that right, Uatu? You "just" watch? Do you eat potato chips and drink beer while you "just" watch? Do you walk your dog around the neighborhood while you "just" watch? Do you work a boring nine to five job, then go home to veg out by "just" watching TV?

What I'm getting at is that "I just watch" is something a mere mortal would say. It sounds ridiculous coming from the Watcher, who traditionally employs much more stilted speech. How about "I only watch" or "I simply watch" or "I do nothing more than watch"? "I just watch"? Please, Steve. This isn't Spider-Man you're writing; it's a cosmic being.

Like I said, I was gonna get petty. I really just can't stand Steve Englehart. (Except for those DETECTIVE COMICS issues. I love those.)


  1. A good petty rant is in order every now and then, just to keep them on their toes. Fair go with the Watcher, I now imagine him with phony Italian accent with the associated shrug o' shoulders going "Hey, I just watch." In matter of minutes he went from being Pete Thornton of MacGyver fame to Midnight Cowboy Dustin Hoffman. I may hate you for this later on.

    I love the internal discrepancy here, about the impossibility of Johnny/Crystal shenanigans and the reason for it, after you having earlier dropped the off-hand fact that Crystal had already cheated on her husband, to the extent that I had to go and look up the juicy details on Marvel Unlimited. And in a lengthy meaningful affair too. Not an A-list superhero she really, despite having been in both FF and Avengers, but always foremostly a member of the Inhuman Royal Family to me, so maybe that's why she got easy off with that. Just imagine Scott Summers trying something similar. So, do it with a human all you want, Crystal, just not Human Torch.

    Not having read one issue of Peter David X-FACTOR, yet, I'd be willing to bet that he can't resist having Crystal pin her extramarital endeavors on Quicksilver partially to the fact that he was always so fast.

    1. Crystal's affair and her strained relationship with Quicksilver definitely comes up in Peter David's X-FACTOR, and it also features in the roughly-contemporaneous Harras/Epting run on AVENGERS (where things get complicated by Crystal also being a love triangle with teammates Black Knight and Sersi).

      Basically, those two runs on those two books are my main points of reference for the Quicksilver/Crystal relationship, so much so that I don't think I've ever actually read the issues where the initial affair takes place.

    2. I have no real problem with the soap opera dynamic of Crystal and Quicksilver having a troubled marriage and even with them being attracted to other people. It's just if they consummate the attraction while together that I have issues. If they're separated for some reason, I can handle it.

      In this particular issue, there is no consummation, but it's more the way Englehart writes the thoughts of Johnny and Crystal, making it sound like they're trying their hardest to stay loyal, but they aren't sure they can pull it off. It lays seeds so that if they ever do hook up, it will come off as completely premeditated, and that just seems kind of icky for a comic aimed at kids.

  2. I've said before that I've always liked atypical FF lineups (something about the narrow and limited roster construction of the group makes me really appreciate when it gets blown up), but always as a limited time kind of thing, like, it exists with the knowledge that it's only a matter of time before the classic foursome retakes the book.

    Similarly, I don't mind Pineapple Thing as a temporary, uh, thing. I wouldn't want him to be that way permanently, but as wild mutation for a couple dozen issues, sure, why not? Comics are all about the illusion of change, of taking a character down a path for awhile before ultimately bringing him or her back to the standard, and I usually enjoy those little diversions.

    I hear you on She-Thing, though. VENTURE BROS. kind of ruined that iteration of the character for me (it also makes me apprehensive to go back and read old FF stories when Thing is in that more Ned-esque form). Thankfully, other artists handle her much better (Art Adam's She-Thing in the New FF story, for example, doesn't have the same resemblance to Ned). Also, I agree that the whole Human Torch/Crystal thing in this run is icky and unnecessary.

    His most celebrated Marvel output is generally considered to be his seventies AVENGERS run and his eighties WEST COAST AVENGERS run, both of which I've read some of, and neither of which I enjoyed.

    Of his WEST COAST AVENGERS run, did you read the "Lost in Space Time" story? That's easily the highlight of his run on that book for me. A lot of the stuff surrounding it, especially Hawkeye's righteous indignation at Mockingbird not saving the life of her rapist, is hit-or miss, but the story itself is tons of fun, with lots of cool time travel stuff weaving in and out of different significant moments in Marvel's history while also making lemonade out of the lemons that were Hank Pym's character post-Shooter.

    It's one of my all time favorite comic book stories, and would be much, much higher on that list (and I would recommend it more often/emphatically) if it wasn't dragged down by the interminable Al Milgrom artwork, which is without a doubt the worst part of Englehart's run on that series.

    1. Like I said, I don't mind a change to the lineup now and then, and I'll cite She-Hulk again as an example. But the idea of permanently retiring Reed and Sue is as silly to me as Chris Claremont's plans to permanently retire Cyclops. I would argue that the Richardses and Scott Summers are the hearts of their teams more than anyone else, and the teams don't work as well without them.

      I also don't mind a change to the Thing for a while; John Byrne reverted him to his lumpy form during his FF run (and drew it much better than most artists drew Sharon during the Englehart run so it actually worked there), and I'm fine with that. I just specifically find the "pineapple" look extremely cumbersome and ugly. I don't believe anyone handled it well except Todd McFarlane in an issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (which is high praise from me because I don't really like his artwork).

      I actually did read "Lost in Space Time" as it happens -- this was when I became infatuated with Moon Knight and sought out every one of his appearances many years ago, and that was the storyline where Moon Knight joined the WCA. It's been a long time, but I recall I liked the plotting but not the scripting, and I was displeased with Englehart's handling of Moon Knight -- who, again, was my main reason for picking up the run.

  3. I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Englehart due to his work in the 1970s.
    I loved his run on Avengers and Captain America (probably my favourite). His run on Dr. Strange is, without a doubt, the best work on that character, in my opinion. He also did some good work at DC before returning to Marvel.
    Having said that, you'll never hear me making excuses for his run on Fantastic Four. This annual was one of his better stories on FF too. (Although the "origin of the Savage Land" story wasn't bad).

    I was going to point out the discrepancy from earlier about Crystal having an affair versus your last section.
    Crystal had an affair due to Quicksilver being an abusive husband.

    I didn't hate the fact that Human Torch still had feelings for Crystal. She was his first love. It would be hard working so close with someone that you once felt so deeply about.
    Englehart just really made it sappy.

    1. I'd argue that Crystal having an affair from Quicksilver being abusive kind of ruins Quicksilver as a hero, but nobody has been sure whether he should be a hero or a villain for a very long time. Personally, I like him as an arrogant, but generally good, person.

      I think I said a while back, but I would love to read Englehart's JLA. Based on his Batman, I feel like maybe he just gets DC better than Marvel. But then, it could also be that he's better at solo characters than team books -- I love his Batman, and I found the SILVER SURFER annual the least-bad of all the Marvel stuff I've read from him.