Overview

Mark Waid Takes Charge

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From the start of Mark Waid’s remarkable tenure on the Fantastic Four, he has sought to define their mission as a team and to pay homage to the Lee/Kirby days. While keeping an eye on the past, he has brought out their differences as individuals and focused on their family and friendship ties. Lastly, Mr. Waid has upset the status quo with the last two storyarcs. Let us see how all of this was done.

As we know, the Fantastic Four consist of Reed Richards, the leader of the team, Sue Richards, the most powerful member, Ben Grimm, the strongest teammate and Johnny Storm, the young firebrand. With the start of the Lee/Kirby era, these four received powers through a cosmic accident. Since then, the team has used their special abilities to serve mankind. However, Mr. Waid contends that they are not “superheroes” in the Spider-Man or Batman mode. In issue # 60, Mr. Shertzer explains that they are adventurers, explorers of the unknown. Villains are dealt with as part of their goal to help others. It is a unique view, but it conforms to Mr. Lee’s decision to make them different by not providing them with secret identities.   

Let’s turn toward the FF as individuals and their strong emotional ties. This can be examined through the first issue of the “Sentient” saga. Reed Richards has always been the supreme scientist, but while still wedded to science, the loving exchange between Reed and Sue makes him seem more human. Certainly, Sue is more assertive, down to earth and funny here. It is light years from her “shrinking violet” persona of the Lee days.

Later in this issue, emotional bonds are evident between Ben and Sue. Ben is a true friend to her.  While disagreeing with Sue’s decision to hire Johnny as an executive for Fantastic Four Inc, he trusts her judgment. When the two encounter the strange ‘’Sentient” being, Sue’s commitment to her long time friend is shown. Despite the pain of losing her hand, she protects Ben when he is similarly injured.
While this action is one that could be taken by any teammate for any team, the words and commitment are different.  Ben supports Sue through her pain. It boils down to friendship.

During Part three of “Sentient,” several scenes highlight the theme of family. Whether it is Ben digging to find Johnny under tons of rubble, or Sue huddled with Valeria, her daughter, or Reed facing down Modulus to protect his son Franklin, all show how committed the four are to each other.     

With the ‘Unthinkable” and “Authoritative Action” stories, Mr. Waid breaks the back of this close family and team and turns the status quo on its head. In the “Unthinkable” saga, Dr Doom captures and brutally tortures three of the FF.  Using magic to defeat them, Doom achieves his lifetime goal. He holds Reed in a separate room and gives him volumes of sorcery books. Sorcery is alien to Richards but he must master it to save his family.      

In the precedent setting issue number 500, Richards overcomes his difficulties with magic and frees his loved ones. All the prior battles between the FF and Doom come down to this fierce battle. The stakes have become personal for Richards and Doom. Perhaps it was the torture of his family, but now Reed is determined to defeat him forever. The outcome is bittersweet as the evil doctor is banished to Hell forever, but as a parting shot, he scars Reed’s face. Now the two enemies share permanent disfigurement.                

This disfigurement changes Reed. He becomes bitter and his disdain for Doom grows. Richards brings his family to Latveria to dismantle all of his weaponry. The purpose for Richards is to take everything Doom had away from him. So, convinced that his arch foe will someday return, Reed will do anything, including using Johnny and Ben as pawns, to complete his plan. However, as we learn, there was an underlying layer of deception to Reed’s actions. He imprisons himself and Doom to another dimension in order to watch over Doom forever. Before his scarring, Reed would never use his family or deceive them. Clearly, Reed’s mind is unstable and he is no longer the take-charge leader of the Fantastic Four.    

This trip to Doom’s home, which takes place in the “Authoritative Action” story, ends horribly. Reed is forced to kill Ben, who is controlled by Doom’s spirit. It is an incredible scene as a grief stricken Richards begs Ben to live. However, Ben does not blame Reed at all. The two good friends have seen it all together. Ben’s passing is a devastating blow to this close family and team. Reed and Sue are living apart. Johnny is not speaking at all. The public is against the FF due to Reed’s short coup of Latervia. The government has all of Reed’s patents and money is tight. In addition, Reed wants to bring Ben back to life.

To sum up, Mark Waid has remained true to Lee’s origin while modifying their mission in practical terms. He has demonstrated their family closeness and added depth to their individual personalities. Having built this foundation up, the author tears it all down by decimating Reed’s mental state, having Ben die by Reed’s hand and leaving the team in ruin. If the Thing is truly dead, Waid might face a fan backlash. However, it is, without a doubt, a compelling story.         

- Jim Wolbert

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