Fantastic Four #40: Reed Goes Cosmic and Shaves!!!

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Dan Slott and the folks at Marvel Comics had no way of knowing that February 16 when this issue came out was my birthday, but they sure gave me one of the most welcome gifts I could have. getting by finally becoming so ugly, tacky, shabby, squalid, slovenly, unseemly, unworthy, hoarse-looking, and utterly ungraceful, a horror of a beard on the face of the leader of the Fantastic Four. Since the current FF the series started, i didn’t let a number of reviews pass without raising an objection to Mr. Fantastic running around looking like a costumed thug, and it’s only with a crisis of this magnitude that we restored Reed to look like himself again. What can I say that…

ULTIMATELY! IT’S TIME FOR BLOOD! NOW CAN WE KEEP THIS?

Alright, enough of that. We have other matters to discuss, namely Reed’s general conduct in this latest cosmic upheaval.

We know that Reed, even without his Watcher upgrades, is the superior human intelligence in the Marvel Universe (regardless of what they tell you about his daughter and other characters). We know that Reed’s mastery of science and knowledge and the way he uses it can make him seem too clinical, too detached, too focused and driven. We know that Reed can come across as an entirely pragmatic person and so focused on the “big picture” of things that he misses the most intimate details. But his handling of the Johnny issue in this issue is unsettling.

Reed, as we know him, generally knows how to balance science and compassion, and when he left the beam, he always had Sue and the others to remind him of that critical balance. This is the central premise of The Fantastic Four. Everyone says it’s about family, which is true, but on a deeper level it’s always been about the greatest ‘power’ being the marriage of mind and heart. By viewing Johnny only as his “greatest weapon” against the Reckoning and dismissing the pain and anguish his brother-in-law has experienced over what was done to his powers and his life, Reed seems to be showing that he lost his balance. Sue is right to be very concerned about this. We all should be. This becomes even more egregious in light of Reed bringing the Jack of Hearts as an apparent backup for Johnny. If he knew he was going to call on Jack in this capacity, Reed’s adamant refusal to help his brother-in-law seems truly ruthless. That really doesn’t bode well.

But all is not necessarily lost. Reed’s compassion is still there when he appeals to Sue to become his “greatest secret asset”. He acknowledges that he scared Sue and she acknowledges what is happening to her. Their feelings for each other suggest that Reed was not completely consumed by his massive intelligence upgrade and he is still capable of that balance of mind and heart that has always carried the Fantastic Four through every crisis. However, remember that in FF #42, in just two issues from now, Reed is said to have done something that infuriates the Thing so much that Ben wants to assassinate him. What could happen in just one more issue, maybe two, to take Ben to such an extreme? Something sinister is hovering over our Fantastic Four’s heads right now.

I only wish these heads, including the gratifyingly shaved reed one, looked better. The latest in this book’s endless fluctuation of artists is Rachael Stott, who makes Reed look too goofy and cheesy, and I can’t tell if that’s an effect of Watcher intelligence or just the artist style. She also draws what might be the most unsatisfying take on the Thing since Sara Pichelli’s at the start of the current series. Plus, she makes She-Hulk look overly bulky and massively constructed at a time when the character has just been restored from the Hulk extremes that were inflicted on her. She has again lost the flexibility of her muscles. Leaving aside how Stott draws She-Hulk, there’s really no need for what’s happening visually with Reed unless he physically transforms into a Watcher. This issue’s cover is by Carlos Pacheco and shows Reed much more heroically, as we want to see him. I don’t know why we can’t have Pacheco, who was the lead artist for The FF before, return on the interior pencils. I don’t know why we can’t have someone like Ron Lim, who does such a great job on the current Silver Surfer miniseries, or Aaron Lopresti, drawing this mag. Why don’t they bring back Sean Izaaske, who did such a great job with The FF in previous issues? Why The Fantastic Four, the original Marvel comics, which have become the testing ground for new artists whose styles vary so widely in line with this series? This remains the most frustrating aspect of the book at this time. It’s a shame The FF works best for story value currently, when it should be top notch for story and art.

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