Monday, March 7, 2016


Chronicler: John Byrne | Letterer: Joe Rosen | Colorist: George Roussos
Editor: Jim Salicrup | Superior Being: Jim Shooter

The Plot: A Skrull starship emerges from hyperspace near Pluto, pursued by Gladiator of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. The ship seemingly explodes under Gladiator’s assault.

On Earth, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm are out in Central Park when they spot the Fantastic Four’s signal flare. Johnny is first back to the Baxter Building, where Reed explains that he monitored an explosion near Pluto, and some piece of debris from that explosion is rocketing to Earth faster than the speed of light. The “debris” is soon revealed as Gladiator, who appears in Manhattan to be challenged by the Thing.

Gladiator defeats the Thing, then the Human Torch. Mister Fantastic attempts to reason with him using his universal translator and learns Gladiator is after the Skrulls, but Gladiator then takes him out as well. The Invisible Girl follows, as does the Thing, back for a second round. Then, as Gladiator gloats over the defeated FF, he is confronted by the X-Men.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Johnny and Ben bump into Julie Angel, dressed up as some kind of mime for a drama class exercise, in Central Park. Ben is thrown into a funk when he realizes how much he frightens Julie. Also, Johnny wears an absurdly fringed jacket during the scene.

Johnny recalls that Frankie Raye became Galactus’s herald in issue 244. When he reaches the Baxter Building, we’re treated to an old-fashioned Silver Age-y cutaway of the new layout.

When Gladiator announces himself as an agent of the Shi’ar, a footnote tells us to check out UNCANNY X-MEN for more on that alien civilization.

Franklin attempts to lash out at Gladiator using his mutant power, but the psychic blocks placed in issue 245 hold, rendering him ineffective.

When the X-Men appear, it's noted that they're speaking in Gladiator’s alien tongue rather than English.

Is It Clobberin' Time? It is straight-up "Leap out the window into the bad guy while yelling 'It's clobberin' time!' time"! (Though narration lets us know Ben is all talk this time, as Gladiator makes swift work of him in the very next panel.)

My Thoughts: I have to imagine that when John Byrne left X-MEN for FANTASTIC FOUR, there had to be fans who, unaware of the somewhat acrimonious nature of his departure, wanted to know when the X-Men would pop up in the pages of FF. Here, Byrne gives those fans what they want – sort of. But we’ll cover that in more depth next time. Instead, this issue is dedicated to a fight between the Fantastic Four and Superman.

The Shi’ar Imperial Guard were created by Dave Cockrum and Chris Claremont as a not-so-thinly veiled parody of/tribute to DC’s Legion of Super Heroes, and as one of the Legion’s premiere members at the time was Superboy, naturally the Shi’ar team included an analogue for him. But Gladiator is clearly a man rather than a boy, and so from pretty much day one, he was Marvel’s answer to Superman.

(Though Hyperion of the Squadron Supreme was also Marvel’s Superman, of course; the Squadron being analogues for the Justice League. Has anyone ever written a Hyperion vs. Gladiator fight?)

Considering Byrne would later go on to write Superman’s adventures and drastically decrease his power levels, it's fun to see his take on the pre-CRISIS version of the character. This “Superman” takes out all of the FF without breaking a sweat, knocking out the Thing with one blow, snuffing out the Human Torch with a gust of super-breath, and basically stretching Mister Fantastic into unconsciousness. Only the Invisible Girl gives him anything resembling a run for his money, noting that her force fields have taken out the Hulk, but Gladiator eventually overcomes her as well.

So this is the FF’s book, but Byrne makes it clear that if Superman were ever to come calling on the Marvel Universe, its champions would scarcely stand a chance against him. Which, really, is probably how it should be.


  1. Wolverine would beat him, off-panel.

    1. Actually, you bring up an interesting question which I'm not sure has ever been addressed in any inter-company crossover -- can adamantium claws penetrate Superman's skin? Post-CRISIS I'd assume yes, it would be equivalent to cutting a normal man with a normal knife -- but I'm not so sure about the pre-CRISIS version.

      Though if anyone's qualified to write and draw the story, at least post-CRISIS, I'd say it would be John Byrne.

    2. I won't presume to guess, but Byrne's credentials to make that call IMO surpasses the combined opinion by the EICs of the big two on the matter, so if we could come up with a way to lure a statement off John Byrne then that would be it.

    3. Well, one of us could sign up for his forum and ask him, though I'd fear for my safety if I did it and someone found this blog, where I have occasionally dared to criticize his genius.

    4. Teemu, as it happens, just the other day, @JohnByrneSays posted a commission Byrne drew in 2013, featuring Superman and Batman vs. Wolverine and Spider-Man, and I think this settles his thoughts on Pre-CRISIS Superman vs. adamantium claws:

      Superman & Batman Vs Spider-Man & Wolverine commission by John Byrne. 2013.

      Looks like adamantium scrapes off Superman's chin, sending sparks flying but otherwise doing nothing.

    5. Maybe Wolverine lacks the physical strength to push them into Supe's flesh, even if adamantium technically was capable of cutting him.

      On the other hand, Batman seems less lucky some pictures lower, and Spidey is owning him in this one. Unless he has spider-web repellent spray. He probably does.

  2. Julie appears to be playing a comedia del arte style clown. And while I'm not sure if Gladiator ever fought Hyperion, Supreme beat him pretty good, pre-story of the year, in one of Image's dumber Marvel crossovers.

    1. Oh yeah! Didn't you do a post about that Supreme/Gladiator story? I remember reading it and thinking how random and bizarre it was that there was a comic with Gladiator, of all characters, as the co-headliner.

  3. They did actually fight each other sometime during the Quasar series. Towards the end of the series. I think Gladiator won.

    How about a three-way, adding in Thor?
    They did the Thor vs. Hyperion fight back when Roy Thomas was writing Thor.
    Thor is really the closest Marvel has to their own version of Superman.

    1. Thanks! I want to read Gruenwald's QUASAR someday. I love his CAPTAIN AMERICA.

      I agree that in terms of stature and power, Thor is more-or-less Marvel's Superman, though in terms of actual power-set, I think it's Gladiator or Hyperion. In any case, a three-way slugfest between all of them would be a fun issue. I'd love something like that drawn by Byrne or Perez.

    2. Can't a fellow wear blue tights and red cape and swimtrunks and hit harder than Wonder Man without comparisons being instantly made?

      Also, isn't Sentry also a Superman stand-in in Marvel Universe?

    3. Yeah, I guess Sentry is. I hadn't really thought of him since, as we all know, Marvel mostly ceased to exist around 2000 or so.

    4. I got only Wikipedia knowledge to show off with from the early 00's onwards, but I'll actively make do with what I got. It's appropriate though that Marvel doesn't have a go-to equivalent to the Original Superhero, and any commenting they feel they need to do on the concept is through these sort of second tier characters. It all really reads like certain respectfulness towards Himself.

      Unless of course one wants to count Master Man from early 90's Byrne Namor as a Nazi equivalent one, though he's maybe more the original "superman" type the Man of Steel was created to subvert in the first place. Quite a dark place our beloved genre comes from if one wants to look it like that.

    5. Wasn't Master Man originally from INVADERS? I could totally see Roy Thomas doing another take on a Marvel Superman, though I'm not sure I could see him making that character a Nazi!

    6. ... damn. Yes, he was. Invaders is the blind spot in my Marveldom. I've seen them cameo on Marvel Saga and then been perplexed on the 40's comics not knowing them. My brain actively writes over there being 70's war comics with Marvel superheroes.

      Actually I think now it's my own misread. I've seen Master Man and Warrior Woman on the aforementioned Byrne Namor and always read them as sort of Superman/Wonder Woman wind-up, but MM's origin obviously posits him as Captain America equivalent, having been a frail American nazi Bundist Willie Lohmer who went through the stolen super soldier treatment.

    7. I have Marvel's recent two-book set of the full original INVADERS series. Someday I'll read it...

    8. I think Roy Thomas intended Master Man and Warrior Woman to invoke Superman and Wonder Woman, yes, but as powered-down versions not unlike the Golden Age Superman was himself at the very start — and that he also intended to contrast with Captain America and invoke the real-world concept of the lowercase-s superman/overman, the übermensch, in relation to Hitler’s supposed Aryan master race.

    9. While I haven't read (or had occasion to research) that Invaders run in quite some time, I think Warrior Woman had been created after Master Man and was actually stronger than he was, so now I... uh... wonder if she wasn't supposed to evoke William Moulton Marston's view of female superiority and, in her leather-strapped outfit, themes of domination.

    10. I did do a very quick check for my previous post, and I believe you're right on every count there, Blam.

      The übermensch thematics certainly were explicitly name-checked by Roy Thomas, and in our Finnish translation for the 90's Namor they actually and quite curiously used the optional German names Übermensch and Kriegerfrau (from Thomas' Invaders) for the characters, as the straight translations from English would be utterly silly and wouldn't invoke the thematics correctly, what with 'superman' always having been translated to explicitly gender-neutral 'superhuman' and Superman himself "the Steel Man".

      On the happy note, I can read after all. Something in Byrne's take may have been quite knowing and intentional... could it have been that Master Man was posing with his fists to his hips a lot and Warrior Woman I think was in bondage when she got re-powered? Of course your regular male Byrne face post-1987 is hard to disassociate from Supes to begin with.

    11. Correct that: she was in bandages. But I have haunting memory that someone was tied to a chair, and then the ropes cut and fell off. Could be from any other comic though. It's bit vague because I never really considered the series as essential re-reading material. I know it's Byrne and I can't point out what is so different from his 80's material, but still it somehow feels like living up to the cover announcement on #1: "Out of the depths... and into the 90's!"

    12. I haven't read Byrne's NAMOR in years, but wasn't Namor himself tied to a chair in that issue? I think he was dehydrated at the time, and hallucinated that the Invaders were coming to rescue him.


  4. You’re likely aware of this but it’s always fun to mention: Not long after Byrne started on Superman he switched things up in an homage to this cover. Superman takes Gladiator’s place and the FF are replaced by members of the Legion of Super-Heroes with similar abilities — Sun Boy, Blok, Invisible Kid, and Brainiac 5 (who has Reed’s smarts rather than his stretching power, but close enough, and his force-field belt is a bonus nod to Sue).

    1. Ah, yes. I think Byrne has homaged the cover once or twice more, as well, most recently in his TRIO mini-series at IDW. I like that he went to the trouble of picking rough analogues for the FF. I wonder if anyone has ever hired him to do a straight mash-up commission homage featuring Superman and the FF?

  5. I dunno.
    I think Superman or the Superman analogue, would have to be pitted against the real premier Marvel heroes.

    the Avengers and he'd have hell of a lot more trouble with them.
    This is a team that includes or has included Thor
    Captain Marvel ( Monica Rambeux )
    Iron man
    The Hulk
    Wonder man
    She Hulk
    and led by Captain America

    None of these are lightweights, The Dude Of Steel might have a fight on his hands there.

    1. Yeah, Superman against the Avengers would be a way different fight than Superman against the FF. That said, I bet Pre-CRISIS Superman could still put up a decent showing, even if he was to lose in the end.