Sunday, March 4, 2012

Fantastic Four: science fiction superheroes

In continuing my series of posts of superheroes with strong science fiction aspects, I have chosen today to focus on the Fantastic Four of Marvel Comics.

The Fantastic Four were born in space.  Not in terms of birth itself but in as far as gaining their super powers.  A brilliant scientist named Dr. Reed Richards forced the launch of an experimental spaceship.  The ship's crew consisted of Ben Grimm, the pilot of the ship and former college roommate of Richards, Susan Storm, Reed's girlfriend and eventual wife, and Johnny Storm, Susan's bratty teenage brother.  Not the ideal crew for a space mission but it was a rush job so what do ya want?

As the spaceship left Earth's atmosphere, it was bombarded by cosmic rays.  After a crash-landing back on Earth, the four found that they had developed incredible new powers.  Reed, later to be known as Mr. Fantastic, could stretch his body like an elastic band.  Susan, later to be known as the Invisible Girl/Woman, could...well, turn invisible.  Eventually she would learn to use her power to construct and project objects such as invisible force fields.  Johnny, later to be known as The Human Torch, had the ability to control fire and to fly.  Ben, soon to be known as The Thing, had it roughest of all.  His skin turned to an orange, rocky hide, giving him the appearance of a hideous monster.  To his benefit, however, Ben gained incredible strength...enough to make him one of the strongest beings on Earth.

While much of this is standard superhero fare, the Fantastic Four went one step beyond such genre trappings and plunged headfirst into science fiction.  Does it focus on real science?  Of course not.  It's a comic book after all.  If these four people had indeed been doused with cosmic radiation, they'd be dead.  Period.  Doesn't make for all that interesting of a story now does it?

What the Fantastic Four did that made them stand apart was where they went.  They were often in other dimensions or traveling through time or deep into the Hollow Earth (of sorts) and of course out in space.  When they faced a threat, it was quite frequently a menace to the entire world and not just one super-criminal robbing a bank or holding a city hostage.  Galactus is a prime example of such a global threat.  This gigantic being devoured entire planets.  The only world to ever give him a fight was Earth.  Why?  Because we had the Fantastic Four.  Geez, I can't even begin to get into all of the classic storylines that came about as result of the Fantastic Four confronting Galactus.  There was the arc where Galactus lay defeated in downtown Manhattan.  Yet given that Galactus was a living being, Reed Richards chose the moral high ground and led the effort to save the villain's life.  In doing so, Richards was taken prisoner by a refugee fleet of several alien races, all beings who had lost their homes and families to Galactus.  They placed Reed on trial for the equivalent of aiding and abetting a known felon. 

And let us not forget the Skrulls; shape-shifting aliens that were first introduced to the Marvel Universe in Fantastic Four issue #2.  This race of aliens would continue to plague not just the Fantastic Four but the entire Marvel U for decades, including Marvel's vast Secret Invasion crossover. 

There many other oracular, little-known examples of what I would term to be science fiction in the Fantastic Four, more than I can really go into here and still do them justice.  What serves to additionally separate the FF from other comic books is what creators Stan Lee and especially Jack Kirby brought to them.  The characters were, simply put, human.  They had human problems.  They often argued with one another and didn't get along.  Reed carried around the guilt of being the one who urged the other three into space and thereby altered their entire lives without asking.  The Thing persistently felt like a disgusting outcast because of his form, color, and shape.  Yet he remained the epitome of the word "hero" time and again.  Just today, I read an issue of Fantastic Four where Susan Storm Richards goes house hunting in the Connecticut suburbs of NYC, hoping to achieve some semblance of normal lives for her, her husband, and their children.  Despite having all these powers, abilities, and scientific knowledge, the Fantastic Four just wanted what we all want.  A home of their own, a purpose in life, and safety for the people they love.

The line-up of the Fantastic Four changed off and on over the years.  Still, the primary four were always the mainstays.  I saw recently that Johnny Storm was killed off.  To that I say, "whatever."

In a similar vein of opinion, I see that Andrew Breitbart is still dead.
I could say something, but I'm a nice guy.

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1 comment:

  1. I have always liked the Fantastic Four. The science aspect on the book as well as the high adventure was always a blast. And, the added aspect, they were a family.


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