Wednesday, January 27, 2016

FANTASTIC FOUR #238

"THE LADY IS FOR BURNING!"
Words and Pictures: John Byrne | Lettering: Jim Novak | Coloring: Bob Sharen
Editor: Jim Salicrup | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Frankie Raye reveals to Johnny that she has a golden costume which vanishes when she's wearing clothes and reappears when she isn't. She explains her past to Johnny, which causes her to suddenly “flame on” and unlocks repressed memories of her childhood, when she was accidentally endowed with fire-powers by her stepfather. Johnny begins to teach Frankie control over her abilities, then takes her to the Baxter Building, where Reed runs some tests on her.

Meanwhile, in Benson, Arizona, a doctor named Jake and his wife, Penny, peform an autopsy on a man who was frightened to death. Penny persuades Jake that they must contact the Fantastic Four for help.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: A footnote on the first page reminds us that the FF were recently prisoners of Doctor Doom.

The majority of this story is a recap of Frankie’s life. In a nutshell: she originally had no memory of her life before she was fourteen years old. But when her memories are unlocked she recalls her stepfather, Thomas Raye, a repairman who became distraught when the Fantastic Four first appeared, and took Frankie to his hidden lab with the intention of building a new Human Torch.


Johnny realizes that Thomas Raye was an alias, and Frankie’s stepfather was actually Phineas Horton, creator of the original World War II android Human Torch.

After running his tests, Reed suggests that Frankie could become a new member of the FF.


For the timeline-conscious among us, Frankie says she was fourteen when she put on the costume, which was shortly after the Fantastic Four’s public debut, and also says that she's worn the costume for six years. Ergo, per Byrne at this point, the FF have been in operation for barely more than half a decade.

Is It Clobberin' Time? No, the Thing has only a three-panel cameo in this story.

My Thoughts: First off, the cover cracks me up. I even like Byrne's self-portrait. A lot of people like to rag on him for inserting himself into his stories, calling him egotistical -- and while he may well be, this is really no different from the time Doctor Doom visited Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in an FF annual many years earlier. Byrne merely ran with their precedent.

As a “story”, there's really not much to say about this one. It's basically one long exposition dump as Byrne brings his weird Frankie Raye sub-plot to a close and ties her in with the Golden Age Human Torch (this is not the last time Byrne will visit that character, either, though he won't return to him in this FANTASTIC FOUR run).


I know I'm overthinking this, but what's up with Frankie’s costume? She's worn it since she was fourteen, but it only appears when she's naked. We first glimpsed the concept when she caught sight of herself in a mirror as she reached for a towel a few issues back. But surely she has looked down at herself in the shower many times over the years? Surely in general she's seen herself nude once or twice in the mirror? Further, is she a virgin? Not that there's anything wrong with that; but the implication here is that literally no one, including herself, has seen her naked in six years.


The whole concept makes absolutely no sense, but at least it's been explained and we can put it behind us now.

"THE MORE THINGS CHANGE…"
Story and Pencils: John Byrne | Guest Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Joe Rosen | Colorist: Bob Sharen
Editor: Jim Salicrup | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Reed creates a new robotic babysitter for Franklin, then escorts Sue, Franklin, Ben, and Alicia into a secret chamber which houses a machine Reed is certain will transform the Thing back into Ben Grimm. Reed straps Ben in and activates the device, but it overloads and explodes and Ben is reverted to an earlier form of his Thing body.


Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: As noted in the caption above, two weeks have passed since the first story in this issue.

Franklin’s new “sitter” is based upon that beloved former member of the FF family, Saturday morning cartoon mainstay HERBIE the robot. I believe official sources have named him HUBERT, but to my knowledge, Byrne never addresses the robot by any name during his time on this title.

Ben asks Alicia point blank if she loves the Thing or Ben Brimm, and notices her hesitation in answering.


The form Ben reverts to is based on his appearance from the earliest issues of FANTASTIC FOUR.

Is It Clobberin' Time? No, but Ben does try to smash HUBERT.

My Thoughts: I feel like every FANTASTIC FOUR writer believes they have some obligation to do a story where Reed tries to revert Ben to normal, and I just don't see why. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did it best in “This Man, This Monster!” from FF #51; anybody who tries to revisit that ground is doing themselves and the readers a disservice. And Byrne seems to realize this; while he also pays homage to the trope, he makes sure to have Reed explain that if this attempt doesn't work, Ben will be stuck as the Thing forever. Though, in the tradition of "the illusion of change", Byrne will step back that declaration in only a few issues' time.

The art in this story is wonderful. I really have little problem with Byrne’s inking his own work on this series, but at the same time, seeing him polished here by his X-MEN finisher Terry Austin makes the regular monthly installments pale by comparison. Austin’s tight, crisp style is just what Byrne’s somewhat rough pencils need. It's too bad he only returns one or two more times before this long run is over.

9 comments:

  1. Yeah, HERBIE also appeared in the comic book, getting possessed by the computer entity Doctor Sun (a TOMB OF DRACULA foe to, well, Dracula, hence Ben's shock), and then pulling a Father Karras by destroying Sun/sacrificing itself.
    Ben returns to his muddy/oatmeal form, which is suggested as permanent (this does contradict an earlier Byrne-penned MARVEL TWO IN ONE, which has Reed tell Ben that his rocky form was the more impossible phase to cure, forcing Ben to go back in time and cure his past self in the muddy/oatmeal phase). At any rate, Byrne soon regretted this change to the older form, finding it harder to shade it.

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  2. I believe official sources have named him HUBERT, but to my knowledge, Byrne never addresses the robot by any name during his time on this title.

    That seems...odd. I mean, to have a recurring character in a series and somehow never reference him by name?

    Then again, I doubt Unnamed Robot appeared all *that* much.

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    1. They pretty much just call the robot "Franklin's robot babysitter" and so on. Though you're right; he really only pops up a few times.

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  3. So does that mean that Frankie is a android ?
    The whole costume idea is rather ..strange, but it could work if the costume only appeared recently.
    Otherwise its one o those things you'd best not think about too much, otherwise it all comes apart at the seams.

    This man, This monster, isn't that the one where some criminal siphons off Ben's powers for some petty slight Richards did upon him and the realises that Richards isn't a monster after all and sacrifices his life for him ?

    I hate to harp about The Savage Dragon here, but that's one reason why I like that series so much.
    There is no illusion of change, there is actual change.
    Character grow and grow old and are retired or die.
    On flagship Marvel titles a writer and artist always have to put the toys back in the box when they are done.
    Course they still can do wonderfull things, but there is always just an illusion of change opposed to actual change.

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    1. No. Frankie is not an android. She was accidentally exposed to chemicals from a scientific experiment involved with the creation of the original Human Torch.

      Yes, that is "This Man, This Monster" which is truly a classic Marvel story.

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    2. I think real change is easier to do on a creator-owned title. Erik Larsen has allowed other people to play in the SAVAGE DRAGON universe, but he fully controls the characters and their fates. He can do what he wants and, presumably, after he retires, there will be no more SAVAGE DRAGON issues.

      The FF, on the other hand, are owned by a corporate entity, and Marvel has a responsibility to keep the characters in place with a relatively unchanged status quo since they will continue to exist perpetually well after each creative team moves on.

      Personally, I appreciate the merits of both ways, based upon their reasons for being.

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    3. While all that certainly is true, it seems that in the 1980's characters could actually change.
      Female characters for instance, finally started breaking out of their helpless archetype. ( Which is something I generally dislike from 1960's Marvel comics. The chauvinism on display is a turn of, and its one of the things that I really cant stand from the Lee\Kirby FF run. ) Helped along with Claremont spearheading strong female characters in 1975 and on with the X-men.
      Some became leaders, some became more mature, but they finally broke out of their archetypes, but other characters also seemed to be allowed to grow.
      Spiderman for instance, finally graduated settled his oldest score with the burglar, put his education on a side burner, married and gotten a scholar ship at ESU.

      Daredevil...well he got deconstructed and torn down in Born Again.
      The FF ? Sue upgraded her name from girl to WOMAN and got a power upgrade.
      Johnny and Alicia started to develop feelings for one another and were even allowed to marry.

      And then DeFalco's run comes along and resets almost everything. It's almost so much of a throw back to the silver age, that it's insulting.
      Alicia is back to becoming a helpless mewling damsel in distress.
      Johnny turned out to have married a skrull and she is killed off, to rub more salt in the wound. Especially considering he loves Lyra no matter what.
      And even Sue got some of the 1960's archetype back.
      I don't know if it was DeFalco, who seems to be a decent writer or an editorial edict, but the FF got slammed down hard there.
      Considering some of Defalco's writing in Spidergirl it seems this was an editorial edict.
      Because everything is thrown out of the water, just to dial back to issue 102.
      Alicia's and Johnny's and partially Sue's characterisations be damned, and people's attachment to 7 years worth of stories also be damned.
      Why not stop the publication of FF stories period and just reprint the first 103 issues ?
      Because that's apparently what Marvel wants at times.
      A slavish reinvention of the first 102 issues instead of letting creators do what they do best, tell good stories and let the characters move on.
      ( There is no love lost or nostalgia with me for the silver age, I'm sure it shows.)

      I've mostly read Waid's FF run and those are as far as I am concerned, great issues. Fun, filled with humor and levity and great character interaction, but still moving the characters forward.
      Doom is even more of a monster then we first thought him to be and Waid seems to get the characters like only few before him, like Simonson and Byrne seemed to do.

      ( there we go another essay)

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    4. I would bet that the reversion to the sixties mold was Tom DeFalco's idea. He did something similar on Thor around the same time, and his artist, Ron Frenz, even got in on the act too, illustrating the first chunk of their run in a faux Kirby style.

      Some of the stuff you mention is actual change, no doubt there. But things like the female characters coming into their own simply had to happen, or Marvel would be looked upon as a dinosaur in the modern age.

      Other stuff, I'd argue is more a case of changing the window dressing than actual change. Daredevil being broken down and "born again" is a huge story and feels momentous, but when it's over, Matt Murdock is still Daredevil, he's still fighting the Kingpin, and Foggy is still his law partner. The only thing changed is his social status and the setting. I'd even argue Sue changing to the Invisible Woman is really only window dressing since she's still the same character.

      But Johnny and Alicia and Peter and Mary Jane marrying are certainly real, major changes. I don't like the idea of Johnny/Alicia, since I prefer Alicia with Ben, but I grew up on married Peter so, even though I feel it was probably a mistake to do it, I can't dislike that one too much.

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  4. Further, is she a virgin? Not that there's anything wrong with that; but the implication here is that literally no one, including herself, has seen her naked in six years.

    She's been wearing a blouse on those sort of occasions, he said, in fully appropriate no-prizesque explanation way and totally not in any questionable fan fiction way.

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