Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Storyteller: John Byrne | Colorist: Christie Scheele | Letterer: Joe Rosen
Script Editor: Tom DeFalco | Plot Editor: Jim Salicrup
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Swinging over Manhattan, Spider-Man locates an unconscious Mister Fantastic and brings him around. As they head for the Baxter Building, not far away Gladiator is attacked by the X-Men. The Human Torch prepares to join the fray but finds the Thing, still knocked out following his fight with Gladiator, and stops to tend to him instead.

At the Baxter Building, Mister Fantastic figures out the key to beating Gladiator. As he gets to work on it, Spider-Man leaves to join the fight. Captain America soon joins in as well, helping Spider-Man against Nightcrawler. The Torch and the Thing arrive also, while Reed puts the finishing touches on his device at the Baxter Building.

As the X-Men overcome Gladiator, Cyclops is accidentally killed by Angel, and upon dying reverts to the form of a Skrull. Meanwhile, Reed and Captain America trick Gladiator into losing his confidence, which allows the Invisible Girl to take him out with a force blast. The Torch and the Thing defeat the remaining Skrulls, and when Gladiator comes to, he takes them into custody and leaves Earth after declaring the Fantastic Four his friends.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Reed recaps the previous issue’s slugfest for Spider-Man.

Gladiator doesn’t understand why the X-Men are attacking him, as they last met as allies in X-MEN issues 156 and 157, part of the long “Brood Saga” storyline.

Franklin calls Spider-Man “Spidey-Man”, and the web-slinger blames The Electric Company’s depiction of him for the mispronunciation. (Byrne has a weird pet peeve about superheroes being called by diminutive nicknames outside of their fictional universes.)

Captain America becomes aware of the battle while on a date with his girlfriend, Bernie Rosenthal (co-created by Byrne in CAPTAIN AMERICA #247). Over their meal, they discuss an important revelation Steve made to Bernie in CAP #276.

Gladiator recalls that he defeated Colossus in one-on-one combat in X-MEN #137, the finale of the legendary “Dark Phoenix Saga”.

Alicia Masters hears a news report about the fight on her radio and wonders when the Thing will finally find peace.

Reed deduces that Gladiator’s apparent physical abilities are actually psionic in nature, and that if he loses his confidence, his powers will drastically weaken. Gladiator has been played this way ever since, and I believe it was this issue which established the weakness. We also learn here that Gladiator is especially susceptible to radiation, a vulnerability which I believe sticks with him going forward as well.

Is It Clobberin' Time? It quite dramatically is.

My Thoughts: As noted last time, I’m sure there was a contingent of fans waiting for Byrne to use the X-Men in some fashion here in the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR, and Byrne at last appeases them… after a fashion. These X-Men are obviously not the real thing, as is evident throughout the issue, which features them speaking to Gladiator in alien tongues and using stilted speech patterns.

But more than that, Byrne seems to be taking this opportunity to wash his hands of the X-Men. He left that series over long-stewing issues with Chris Claremont. The short of it is that Byrne became increasingly irritated as Claremont rewrote scenes during scripting to play them differently than originally plotted by Byrne and Claremont together.

So here, Byrne casts off the shackles of the past, using what one could read as a pretty severe metaphor: the death-by-impaling of Cyclops, who I believe was Byrne’s favorite X-Man. With that, Byrne turns his back on the X-Men, at least for a few years.

Other notes: last issue, Gladiator was referred to as having “slate” colored skin. This time, he’s called gray. I’ve only ever seen Gladiator as having purple skin (including in this very issue). I know Byrne has a very minor level of color-blindness; I wonder if that contributed to his mistake here? (Or have I been seeing Gladiator wrong all these years??)

Beyond all that, this is a double-sized issue, but I don’t think Byrne really crams any more story into it than normal. Unlike the double-sized issue 236, in which he gave us a two-part epic in normal comic book layout, here Byrne simply fills the extra pages by using fewer panels per page. This issue is filled with three- and four-panel grids. One could call it a cheat, but I really like it. The action seems bigger than life, and I think Byrne uses the space well.

That said, this is around the point in his career when Byrne began to to be accused of skimping on backgrounds. I believe it really becomes noticeable when ALPHA FLIGHT launches later in the year and Byrne is writing, penciling, and inking two series a month for a while, but the trend seems to have started already. It’s not out of control yet, but there are more than a few pages this issue with very little to speak of in the way of backgrounds. One wonders why he didn't simply get a background assistant to pitch in on these stories.


  1. It's an apt pointer on the first page that the reader didn't pick up the wrong magazine because the feel and especially Spidey is very Marvel Team-Uppey here.

    I love the bit about "Nightcrawler" looking to use his fangs only to be denied by Cap the vampire slayer. Johnny using his heat to warm up Ben in shock is great, as is Ben quite not hearing Johnny voicing his doubts about Ben's condition. Great little story bits.

    I've commented on it before but the bit about Cyclops' beam not burning is very memorable to me mostly thanks to our letter editor returning to it on later occasion to clarify that Cyke's beam is a "tight energy blast and not some crappy heat vision". And Kallark's right there in the story! Really, couldn't they find the man a civilian job on the Daily Globe? He could disguise himself with glasses.

    I wonder if someone somewhere had recently got Cyke's powers wrong so that Byrne took the chance here to remind him and everyone?

    1. Yes, there are a lot of nice moments in this one that I sort of glossed over in my summary above.

      Seeing Cyclops's beams as a heat/burning source is a huge pet peeve of mine. It's a simple thing to get right if you have anything beyond the most casual knowledge of the X-Men!

      As I recall, shortly after "Onslaught", when Marvel did an IMPERIAL GUARD mini-series, Gladiator did indeed adopt a bespectacled identity while on Earth.


  2. // Reed deduces that Gladiator’s apparent physical abilities are actually psionic in nature //

    Which is something that Byrne long surmised about Superman and incorporated into the mythos once he started writing the character. The post-Crisis Superman was still (preter)naturally strong, but it was explained that his power of flight aided him in lifting unwieldy objects that would otherwise break apart no matter how strong he was due to tension — i.e., holding up an entire building by the cornerstones — and that his invulnerability was due in large part to a razor-thin energy field surrounding him.

    // I’ve only ever seen Gladiator as having purple skin //

    Although it usually shows up in print as purple, I think I’ve always taken it to be “slate” as well. I’m not gonna look 'em up right now but I assume that’s because of how it looked in his earliest appearances. Gray is well known for being hard to reproduce faithfully on newsprint, in the days before computer-aided separation, which is why black hair was highlighted blue and Hulk ended up green.

    // this is around the point in his career when Byrne began to to be accused of skimping on backgrounds //

    Oh, Alpha Flight was a tremendous disappointment in that regard. Byrne did himself no favors reprinting parts of the classic X-Men #109 in Alpha Flight #17, the latter having little in the way of backgrounds, figure detail, and even spotting of blacks. I even drew a cartoon for my friends laughing at the comparison.

    1. It's interesting how much of Byrne's Gladiator here previews what he would eventually do with Superman. I find some of Byrne's explanations silly and overthought, though I at least appreciate that he tried to explain the weird physics of super-strength, even if I'm not a fan of the execution.

      As for Gladiator's skin, you may be right in that he was always intended to be gray -- the whole "gray is hard to print" thing is definitely true -- but for whatever reason, I've always read him as sort of lavender, even though I generaly understand other cases where the color isn't necessarily a literal representation (the blue highlights you mentioned, for example).

      I read Byrne's ALPHA FLIGHT for the first time just a few years ago and I was a little shocked at just how many corners he seemed to be cutting. It seems evident he always considered that the lesser of his two ongoing assignments, because even when his FF work looked lazy, it never looked as bad as ALPHA. He really should've gotten an inker for at least one of the two, or at least -- as I mentioned above -- a background artist! I don't think anyone would've accused him of being lazy if he was writing, penciling, and inking two books a month, even if he only drew the figures and allowed someone else to handle the scenery.

  3. Wait, so Byrne is fine with diminutive hero nicknames in comics, just not elsewhere? So Spider-Man can be "Spidey" in a comic but not on a TV show?

    FWIW I've always thought Gladiator is purple, not gray, but I too have some mild colorblindness, at least when it comes to transitions between like colors (blue/green, red/orange, gray/purple).

    Having not read these issues in a while, I forget: why does Gladiator fight the FF in the previous issue? Do they attack him w/o provocation first?

    1. That's basically it -- in universe he's okay with such nicknames. It's all right for the Human Torch to call Spider-Man "Spidey" or for Jimmy Olsen to call Superman "Supes", but if a fan does it, they're showing disrespect for the character.

      In issue 249, Gladiator shows up looking for the Skrulls and I think there's just sort of a misunderstanding. I'll have to go take another look because I don't remember what happens off the top of my head, except that the first member of the FF he fights is the Thing.

    2. To add to the "Spidey" thing, Roger Stern doesn't like it either. I once saw a message board post where someone referred to the character as "Spidey" and Stern corrected him by saying something like, "I think you mean Spider-Man. 'Spidey' was a character on THE ELECTRIC COMPANY."

    3. Oh, John Byrne, of all the John Byrnes, you're the John Byrne-iest. :)

    4. First: ^ That’s hilarious.
      Second: I was never bothered by “Spidey” (although I’m not sure I’ve ever used it myself, in spoken conversation anyway as opposed to shorthand when writing about the character) but always kind-of hated “Supes”.

    5. I don't like "Supes" or "Bats". They just sound silly and make me wince a bit. I'm okay with "Spidey", though. I almost feel like Marvel characters lend themselves to whimsical nicknames better than DC characters.

    6. I think it's funny that JB hates nicknames but constantly uses them in West Coast Avengers, calling Mockingbird Mocky, Moxie, and such, as well as Viz (Vision) and Wondy (Wonderman). Mayby he was trying to severely emphasize the ridiculousness of the nicknames, or maybe he just really likes them. Either way, very annoying. :)

    7. Well, as noted, he's okay with characters using nicknames in-story. Hawkeye can call Mockingbird "Mocky" because they know each other personally. You don't know Mockingbird, so you don't have the pleasure of calling her by a familiar nickname.