So here we are again, mixing up the Fantastic Four, recreating the strip from the ground-up for the modern era. I’m having a blast writing these things, and I appreciate the support the posts are seeing from a readership that doesn’t normally come here for this kind of crap. Thanks for letting me get this out of my system. It’s evidently been bubbling beneath the surface for a long time.
If this is the first FF Remix chapter you’ve seen, the four previous outings can be found at this link to all our previous posts dealing with the Fantastic Four. If you’re curious enough to wade through all that, I’d recommend you read ’em starting with part one. Jumping in here might not make much sense.
At any rate. Last time, we left off with the revelation of Skrull Plan 23, an attempt by shape-shifting invaders to infiltrate Earth’s media and distort public opinion. The plan went off without a hitch, Our Heroes playing into Skrull hands and causing world-wide panic.
We follow that this time with a brief coda leading into a string of adventures emulating the period of Fantastic Four people often remember most fondly: the middle of the Lee/Kirby run, when the book introduced one new concept after another, creating characters and worlds that formed the foundation of the Marvel Universe. We don’t go to all the same places (yet), and I’m sure it’s not as good as the original. But I do hope it’s interesting and fun. So, without further ado, let’s get on with it…
ARC NINE: LOVE AND HATE
A short arc with Reed and Sue serving as a coda to the previous Skrull arc, and a prologue to the next.
Open on Reed and Sue, debating the proper use of a new Skrull detector that Reed has invented. Both can see the obvious potential in such a device, but Sue fears misuse by SHIELD or, worse, lynchings from more extreme anti-Skrull forces. Tempers rise, their argument turns to their respective romantic entanglements, and they wind up in a passionate embrace. Afterwards, both confess a weariness with their Atlantean lovers, and despair at the tension that’s grown between them. Looks like the Reed/Sue romance is finally on the right track.
(A later scene: Sue goes to the Atlantean embassy to break things off with Namor, only to find the place torn apart. Fearing attack, she investigates, only to find Namor and Dorma lying asleep in the center of the rubble, quite naked and still locked together at the waist. Rather than wake them, she leaves Namor a note, reading simply, “WE’RE THROUGH.”)
Testing the Skrull detector at a rally for the anti-Skrull cult leader Gabriel, Reed and Sue find themselves caught up in a riot when people of different races and faiths start to bicker and fight. Our Heroes help police separate the rioters, but Reed detects no Skrull in the crowd.
(Another scene mixed in here somewhere: Johnny, Frankie, Ben and Alicia go on a double date. Over dinner, Frankie and Johnny tell racing stories, and Alicia realizes that she knew Tura in college. Knew her rather… intimately. Johnny’s impressed, Ben’s embarrassed, and Frankie’s amused. “You knew her in college?! What a relief! I mean, sometimes I wonder if Tura might be a Skrull!” Everyone laughs… except Alicia. End on a close-up, Alicia giving a nervous grin while everyone around her cracks up.)
The Gabriel riots continue to happen, sparking Reed’s curiosity and concern. Eventually, Reed and Sue root out the cause: a hooded figure, always standing near to, but outside, the crowds, holding a device that looks like some kind of Kirby-tech cell phone. When confronted, he is revealed to have the face of (gasp!) Adolph Hitler!
Then Reed turns the Skrull Detector on him, and the truth is revealed: he’s a Skrull, manipulating the crowd with a device that bio-chemically stimulates fear and hatred in the brains of its subjects. After a brief struggle (in which he turns the device on Reed and Sue, and they voice their deepest problems with each other), the Skrull breaks away from them and runs…
…Right into the crowd, who turn and beat him to death before Our Heroes can stop them. Were they still feeling residual effects from the Hate Monger’s control? Or is this just what Gabriel is turning them into? Sue thinks the latter, which is exactly what she feared might happen with the Skrull detector. And now it’s a reality. End with she and Reed standing apart, staring sadly at each other.
(A series of scenes scattered throughout: Two men in black suits, one brown-haired, one white-haired, are seen digging into the team’s past. They work separately, reviewing news stories and speaking with former friends and associates, always with the same intent: figuring out Our Heroes’ personalities and motivations. The final of these scenes features the brown-haired man calling on a house in the suburbs. An attractive, fortyish brunette woman answers, and the Man in Black tells her that he’d like to ask her some questions about Reed Richards. Her face turns cold, and she tells him that’s a subject she doesn’t discuss with anyone. Cut to…)
Epilogue: Reed examines the Skrull’s device. But when he tries to get the shell open, something astounding happens: it starts to shrink, rapidly growing smaller until it vanishes from sight. Reed looks startled, then thoughtful, then worried. He picks up the phone. “Veronica? It’s Reed. I know you never expected to hear my voice again, but– No. No, that’s not why I’m calling. I– No, that’s not it, either. I just think I have a situation here that may require your expertise. No, I do remember what I said about– I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry I said that. It was stupid, and it was arrogant, and I– Look, I– Damn it, Ronnie! Listen to me! I think I just examined an artifact from the Microverse!” TO BE CONTINUED!!
ARC TEN: INTO THE MICROVERSE
Introducing… Veronica Richards, aka Mrs. Fantastic! Reed’s ex-wife! A brilliant scientist in her own right, Veronica’s specialty is miniaturization, and study of the sub-atomic world! Credited with discovery of the Microverse, a sub-atomic universe hidden inside the very atoms of our own!
Veronica and Reed met in his “lost years,” the time between the death of Dr. Storm and the founding of Fantasticorp. Theirs was a whirlwind romance, followed by a too-quick marriage, and an equally-quick divorce. The cause? Reed’s arrogance, and Veronica’s obsession. The search for the Microverse consumed Veronica beyond all reason – and even beyond reasonable evidence for its existence. Reed was… less than supportive, and it destroyed their marriage as quickly as it had begun. Afterwards, Veronica had her breakthrough, proving the Microverse’s existence, and even observing it. But by then Reed had moved on. Their relationship too damaged to save – and Reed too ashamed of his attitude – they haven’t spoken since. A difficult, embarrassing period in Reed’s life, it’s also one he doesn’t like to talk about. He dislikes it so much, in fact, that he’s never even mentioned it to the rest of the team. But more on that later…
Also introducing… THE MICROVERSE!
A word of explanation for what follows: After the big Skrull “fear and loathing” arc, I was thinking about using the Hate Monger or the Psycho-Man to ratchet up the tension. Ultimately, I decided to use both, but link them together. Looking for something to flesh out the Psycho-Man half of the story, I fell back on my personal best memory of the character:
Micronauts is one of my all-time favorite comics. It was a licensed toy adaptation, masterminded and written for most of its run by Bill Mantlo in what was maybe the best work of his career. Marvel’s right to the toy license has long-since expired (taken up these days by, I believe, IDW). But an awful of the series’ key characters and concepts are owned by Marvel: Lee and Kirby created the Microverse in the original Psycho-Man story, and Mantlo’s cast and themes, though inspired by the toy line, are largely divorced from it. So Marvel actually owns the lion’s share of the copyright for that book. They’ve played around with relaunches here and there, but nothing’s ever quite come of it, and maybe with good reason. For one thing, they can’t use the Micronauts name, and it’s not easy coming up with a good replacement. Marvel tried “The Microns,” which ain’t bad but lacks grandeur. I’ve been mulling it over for days, and failed to come up with anything as good. So I’m sticking with it for now.
But losing the toy license also means losing some important characters: the noble warrior Acroyear, the mystical Time Travelers, the robots Biotron and Microtron, and – in the most crippling loss – the series’ major villain:
Baron Karza was an evil despot who ruled the Microverse with an iron fist, and his presence energized the book. When Karza was around, Micronauts was a great read. When Karza wasn’t around… It was lackluster at best. So not being able to use him kind of makes a Micronauts reboot pointless. But it struck me that, for my purposes here, I have a ready-made stand-in: the aforementioned Psycho-Man. Because in his first appearance, the Psycho-Man was also an evil despot who ruled the Microverse with an iron fist. So if you combine the two characters together… It kind of works out.
Or it does if you’re me, anyway, and suddenly find yourself a full page into a “Micronauts Re-Mix” series bible before you know what’s happening. I reigned myself in from that, thank god, but I’m still going to share the results here. The whole point of these “Re-Mix” posts, after all, is to not let my aimless fictional meanderings go to waste. First up, our combined villain:
Ruler of the Microverse! Creator of the Body Banks! Master of Minds!
A scientific genius, his true name forgotten (it might start with a K), Baron Psycho rose to power promising eternal life to the rich via advanced cloning and transplant technology. He slowly gathered a fortune while building himself a modular super-body, each section removable, replaceable, and capable of individual action separate from the whole. His mastery of biology has also made him a master of minds, capable of inspiring, on a bio-chemical level, soul-crushingly powerful emotions: Fear, Doubt, Hate, Lust, and Despair.
With these tools, and the threat of a genetic cut-off switch for his rich subjects’ eternal youth, he overthrew the rightful government and assumed power over an empire that will soon have stood for a thousand years. Now, the rich and powerful live forever, the poor and downtrodden serve as genetic fodder for the Body Banks, and all serve the will of Baron Psycho.
But all tyrants inspire rebels, and Psycho is no different…
A rag-tag team of rebels, devoted to the overthrow of Baron Psycho’s reign. The Micronauts seek to master the ENIGMA FORCE, the powerful life-force of the Microverse, in order to defeat Baron Psycho. As a sign of their devotion to the cause, each Micronaut takes on a revolutionary name, a self-deprecating nomme de guerre worn as a badge of honor in their status as second-class citizens, and in parody of Baron Psycho’s own outrageous pseudonym.
Old Man Rann: The Micronaut! Arcturus Rann departed on a thousand-year mission to explore the Microverse just before Psycho took power. Living in suspended animation between landings, Rann mapped and logged a wealth of information in the data banks of his ship The Endeavor. It’s in those logs that the Micronauts hope to find the secrets of the ENIGMA FORCE. A man out of time, Rann represents an era of hope and self-respect that could well become a rallying point for the rebellion.
The Lady Slug: Leader of the rebellion against Baron Psycho. A pugnacious fighter, Slug was raised in The Hole, a genetic ghetto used to provide raw material for the Body Banks. Slug is desperate to keep the returned Rann out of Baron Psycho’s hands, but once she’s got him, she finds herself in a struggle for leadership that will either define the rebellion, or destroy it.
Marionette: Formerly a member of the ruling class, Marionette dared question the Way of Things and was made a Pleasure Puppet in Baron Psycho’s Flesh Pits. Freed from that life in a raid lead by The Lady Slug, Marionette has cut her strings and become an acrobatic warrior of the rebellion, armed with a century’s worth of knowledge on how the ruling class operates. Lover of the Lady Slug, but increasingly attracted to Rann.
The Insectoid master thief! Wisecracking and amoral, Bug is a devoted anarchist, opposed to Baron Psycho’s rule on purely philosophical grounds. A daring and reckless swashbuckler who often gets in over his head. Often paired on missions with…
Devil: A scientific genius in the body of a feral beast. His reason always under threat by the savage instincts of his biology, Devil is accompanied at all times by a pair of tiny glowing sprites who soothe him with music and reason in a constant stream, just barely audible to those around him (visually represented by musical notes and mathematical symbols that spiral around his head and flow in his wake). But if the sprites stop singing, the Devil gets loose. And woe betide any who get in his way.
Hunter: A grotesque product of the Body Banks. Hunter was a Dog Soldier of Baron Psycho, assigned to genetic testing that turned her into a biological killing machine. But an unforeseen side effect of the process also freed her from the psychological conditioning that made her loyal. Killing the Gene Lords that created her, she escaped the Body Banks and joined up with the rebellion.
So, yeah. I could write that book for ages. But that ain’t what we’re here for, so… Now that we’re done with the laborious background, let’s get on with the story itself. I’ve spilled enough words on it already, though, so let me go into super-condensed plot mode for the rest…
Open in flashback, several months earlier:
Veronica Richards observes the Microverse, and is observed in turn.
Baron Psycho watches her watching him via the Prometheus Pit, ancient artifact of the Enigma Force!
Perceiving her as a threat from beyond, he uses the Pit as a gateway into the World Above.
Upon arrival, he finds himself… tiny, his Prometheus Ship no bigger than a large cell phone.
He begins reconnaissance missions, gathering intel and eventually coming into contact with a Skrull. The two strike a deal: He aids the Skrull in destabilizing human society…
…and the Skrull provides him with Skrull genetic samples to use in the Body Banks.
In the fight with Reed and Sue, Psycho is rendered unconscious inside the Prometheus Ship.
Coming to in Reed’s lab, he fires up the Prometheus Engines and returns to the Microverse.
Meanwhile, back in the Microverse, Rann returns.
In Psycho’s absence, the rebels save him from Psycho’s Dog Soldiers, and fly off in The Endeavor.
Psycho returns in the aftermath and flies into a rage.
Back to the present!
Veronica comes as a considerable shock to the rest of the FF.
She’s still hostile toward Reed, but there’s also still an obvious attraction between them.
All of this drives the wedge between Sue and Reed even deeper.
Reed wants to pursue Baron Psycho’s craft into the Microverse to prevent any further aid to the Skrull.
Veronica has built a size-changing suit that will allow her to cross over into the Microverse.
It’s still in the testing phase, but she’s sure it will work.
She’s still obsessed, however, so Reed (cautious after the Negative Zone Incident) insists on more tests.
Veronica and Reed work together to perfect the tech, and incorporate it into the Fantasticar.
Their hostility fades in the process, and they’re drawn back together again.
Veronica reveals that she’s lonely, her obsessions having distanced her from everyone in her life.
They’re about to kiss when the Fantasticar signals that the tech integration is complete.
So the team launches off INTO THE MICROVERSE!
(Visual Note: the shrinking process is a chance for all kinds of cool visuals:
Vertiginous perspective shots, weird body morphing stuff, Kirbyesque takes on atomic structures, etc)
On the other side, Our Heroes get mixed up in the conflict between the Micronauts and Baron Psycho.
Reed learns about the Enigma Force, which he realizes is another aspect of the POWER COSMIC.
He also learns about the Prometheus Pit, and cuts a deal with the Lady Slug:
He’ll give the rebels all his knowledge of the POWER COSMIC, and they’ll help the FF destroy the Pit.
Hijinks ensue, with space battles and ground assaults and stealthy capers galore.
Veronica’s Micro-Suit gives her size-changing abilities, allowing her to become a powerful giant.
The Micronauts, insistent on everyone having a nomme de guerre, take to calling her Mrs. Fantastic.
This chafes Sue’s ass to no end, leading to more friction between the two.
The Pit is destroyed, and Psycho can’t return to the World Above. But his empire remains intact.
Johnny takes stupid risks in the fighting, and Hunter dies saving him from Baron Psycho.
Veronica decides to take Hunter’s place, staying behind to explore the Microverse with the rebels.
“I still love you, Reed. But I love my work more.”
She takes on the rebel name Goliath, and privately reverts to her maiden name: Pym.
Meanwhile, back on Earth…
The Men in Black make contact with Bob Baxter!
Doom funnels weapons tech to the Latverian rebels!
Gabriel starts singing the FF’s praises in his sermons!
A mysterious red-haired woman is seen, plotting against the Thing!
Alicia’s father receives orders to take over operations relating to discrediting Gabriel!
Alicia overhears part of the conversation, but acts as if everything’s normal! DOES SHE KNOW?!
Arc Ten Notes
Some dramatic sub-text not covered in the synopsis above: I want to juxtapose Our Heroes’ mostly-peaceful scientific and exploratory mind-set against the more war-like rebels. While I don’t want to get into the heavy-handed “super heroes don’t kill” stuff you’d have gotten in the 70s and 80s, there’s still mileage to be gotten out of the FF being a bit horrified at the Micronauts’ willingness (and, in Slug’s case, eagerness) to kill. Ben, as the one FF member with military experience, would be in the middle of this conflict, but it would also play into Johnny’s arc. In his reckless abandon, he treats the war as a game. Right up until somebody dies. It could also play into Veronica’s decision to stay, as she discovers a taste for the revolutionary life that she never knew she had.
But speaking of Veronica… She winds up being another Black Mirror for Reed: someone so obsessed with their work that they isolate themselves from friends and family. The “Mrs. Fantastic” thing was taken from the under-rated Millar/Hitch run on FF (which started really well, and then fizzled). And, yes, I called her Veronica in a shout-out to Archie Andrews’ eternal romantic struggles. As for the Pym thing… I dunno. It just seemed apropos.
ARC ELEVEN: FRIGHTFUL
An arc dealing with the formation of the Frightful Four. Each member gets a single issue that introduces them in opposition to a single member of the FF, and showcases some aspect of that FF member’s powers/abilities. Then everything wraps up in two issues where the full teams face off.
The Wizard: Bentley Whitman, the self-proclaimed world’s smartest man, stars in the reality TV show The Wizard, in which he faces off every episode in a “Battle of Wits” against another genius. Whitman is legitimately brilliant, with an intellect that may qualify as super-human. But he’s also notorious for his arrogance, pride, and nasty disposition. Nuclear physicist Otto Octavius (himself a famously unpleasant person) once called Whitman “a preening malevolence in human form,” and it’s Whitman’s nastiness, as well as his great intellect, that makes The Wizard a success. Reed agrees to go on the show as part of a new Lieberkurtz publicity scheme, but also to test his own ever-increasing intellect. He defeats Whitman handily, triggering an on-camera melt-down that goes viral, destroying the Wizard’s television career. Whitman holes up in his lab, sanity degenerating over the course of weeks, until he’s contacted by a shadowy figure who offers him an opportunity for revenge…
Medusa: A red-headed mystery woman with prehensile super-hair!
We’ve seen her in previous issues plotting against the Thing, and here she confronts him directly. Open on Ben having a beer with Fury and Dum-Dum, trading war stories. When they go their separate ways, Medusa attacks from the shadows, the bulk of the issue being taken up with a silent fight between the two that displays Ben’s pugilistic and tactical skills as well as establishing Medusa as a heavy hitter. Ben gets the upper hand, and she retreats. Holed up in a penthouse apartment elsewhere in the city, she licks her wounds and plots her next assault. But then she’s contacted by a shadowy figure, who offers her aid in capturing her rocky foe…
Red Pete: A man with a bloody past, Russian-born Peter Petruska was once a notorious hunter and assassin, famous (in some circles) for the trail of bodies left in his wake. That reputation earned him the nickname “Red Pete,” but soon Pete found that the blood wasn’t thrilling anymore. Killing his prey had become too easy. So he took to trapping them instead, rendering them helpless and at his mercy… And then letting them go. He works primarily as a bounty hunter now, but not because he needs the money. It’s because bounties give him the opportunity to hunt his favorite prey: man. So we open on the Men in Black hiring Pete to test the mettle of the Human Torch. As he studies his prey, we get to see Our Hero through Pete’s eyes, noting his strengths (unpredictability), weaknesses (impatience), and tells (Flame On!). Following Johnny to a remote cross-country race, Pete lays his trap on the race route, staging “accidents” that delay Johnny’s progress while Frankie zooms ahead. Then, with Johnny isolated, he springs the real trap: a spray of flame-retardant foam that hardens into an unbreakable cocoon. But before he can reveal himself to his prey, Petruska is approached by an unseen figure who congratulates him on his victory, and asks him if he’d be interesting in a related, but far greater challenge…
(Note: The traditional Frightful Four line-up would take us next to the Sandman. But Sandman is such a signature Spider-Man villain that I’m loathe to introduce him here. So instead, we’ll go with one of my favorite third-tier FF bad guys who I haven’t been able to work in yet…)
Diablo: A Mexican brujeria (South American voodoo) practitioner who’s come to New York to wipe out the competition for a drug cartel trying to move in on the city. He runs afoul of Sue in the opening scene, when he kills a reporter friend of hers who got too close to the truth in her investigation of his grisly supernatural murders. Sue witnesses the woman’s mysterious death (choking on what the autopsy reveals to be a multitude of chicken bones), and takes up the case herself in a story that highlights her formidable stealth abilities. Her investigation takes her into an ugly world of crime and death, bizarre curses and frightening synchronicities that she ultimately traces to Diablo himself. She stops him in the end, and the cartel’s bid to take over New York fails. Sue fails to capture Diablo, but he winds up facing retribution from the cartel, who chop off one of his hands as punishment. Huddled in pain in his filthy hovel, he’s approached by a shadowy figure, who offers to teach him greater magic then he ever dreamed… and vengeance on the woman who defeated him.
Team Battle! In the final two issues of the arc, the FF face an assault from the gathered villains. Using a plan concocted by the Wizard’s genius and Red Pete’s gift for strategy, the Frightful Four (don’t know if I want to actually use that name or not) assault the Baxter Building. Starts out with some atmospheric stuff, as Diablo uses his sympathetic magic abilities to weaken the FF before the real assault begins. Red Pete disables building security with the aid of tech designed by the Wizard – and inside info provided by their mysterious benefactor.
Then the kicking and the punching and the yelling, with the FF ultimately getting the upper hand. The Wizard and Diablo are captured, but not before Diablo puts Ben in a magically-induced coma. Red Pete escapes, leaping out a window, laughing, to what appears certain doom. But no body is found, and Pete himself is thrilled by the whole thing. At last, he’s found prey that challenges him! And now, as a fugitive from justice, he gets to use his abilities to evade other hunters who might come after him. Life, at last, is as thrilling as he’s always wanted.
And while the rest of the FF is occupied mopping up her teammates, Medusa retreats to the roof with the comatose Thing in tow, ranting (is this the first time she speaks?) that he will finally face justice for his crimes against her people! Once there, she pulls out a whistle and summons LOCKJAW (who at this point should be treated with all the bizarre-ass WTF grandeur due a giant inexplicable teleporting dog).
He transports all three of them away, leaving behind only some Kirby Krackle, and an emptry rooftop. TO BE CONTINUED!!
In a final coda, the Frightful Four’s benefactor is revealed to have been watching the action unfold on nano-cameras that have, for the entire battle, been spreading themselves undetected across the Baxter Building from inside the Wizard’s gadgets. As we see computer screens processing reams of data on the team, their abilities, and the Baxter Building itself, the mystery man is revealed to be… Dr. Doom!
ARC TWELVE: INHUMAN
Introducing the Inhumans! An advanced race that’s lived, separate and in secret, alongside humanity since the dawn of time! And the Inhuman royal family!
Mysterious Medusa! She of the prehensile hair! The most genetically-perfect woman in Atillan! Royal Consort and Voice of the King!
Brutish Gorgon! A powerful, bull-like warrior! Capable of creating tremors with a single stomp of his mighty feet!
Karnak the Cunning! Master strategist and martial artist! His mighty brain can find the flaw in anything, and his fists can shatter it along those faults!
Triton, Lord of the Under-Sea! The amphibious master of Inhuman hell! Strange even by Inhuman standards, Triton’s power rivals that of the King himself!
And Mighty Black Bolt! King of the city-state Atillan, and Lord by genetic right over all Inhumankind! Black Bolt is a being of such immense power that he seldom moves, except by flight! Even his voice is so mighty that he never dares speak, for his slightest utterance could bring destruction to all!
(Note: I really won’t be changing too much from the traditional Inhuman royal family here, but will attempt to depict them in a weird and somewhat frightening way, especially at first. I’m thinking something in-between Kirby’s depiction and more modern takes by the likes of Jae Lee and Frazer Irving…
…stressing the “inhuman” in them. One thing that’s sort-of-but-not-quite a change is that I want to establish Atillan as a genetic meritocracy. Terrigenesis is at the center of their society, and those who receive the greatest gifts from the Terrigen Mists are deemed the most worthy to rule. So the royal family aren’t necessarily related. They’re just the mightiest Inhumans of the current generation.)
But on with the story.
Picking up from the end of the previous issue, the FF chase after Medusa, following Lockjaw’s energy signature to the Himalayas, where Atillan is carefully hidden behind an array of cloaking technology. The team enters in secret via a maintenance tunnel that leads them into the Undercity of the Alpha Primitives, who they believe to be a genetically-engineered slave race (which isn’t entirely wrong, but far from right, as well).
Proceeding upwards toward Atillan proper, they come across a sparsely-populated prison level. But an entire wing of the facility is devoted to the imprisonment of a single person, given a suite of rooms that are comfortable but completely sealed off from outside contact. This is the gilded cage of Maximus the Mad, brother of Black Bolt, possessed of super-human intellect and charisma.
(Note: the trick here will be to present Maximus’ super-charisma not as standard mind control, per se, but as extremely effective personal magnetism. He doesn’t put people under a hypnotic spell so much as he convinces them, quickly and with ease, that he’s their best possible friend. It’s such an effective ability that he can convince even people who know that he’s an insane despot to support him, and be happy to do so. Initially, he should come off that way even to the reader. He seems open and friendly, as opposed to the Royal Family, who are harsh and mysterious. It’s only slowly that the reality of the situation becomes clear.)
Maximus convinces Our Heroes that he’s the rightful ruler of Atillan, usurped and imprisoned by his evil brother and his powerful flunkies. He’ll help them free Ben, he says, if they’ll help him regain his throne. Under Maximus’ spell, they agree. Reed pauses, feeling that something’s wrong, but unable to say exactly what. Then they move on…
While all this has been going on, the Inhumans have put Ben on trial for the murder of an entire shipload of Inhumans some 250 years prior. This, of course, refers back to the Thingbeard Incident…
…but Ben is confused by the charges against him. When he left the Inhumans’ pirate ship, they were still alive, and sailing for home with the Terrigen crystals intact. But the ship never made it back, he’s told, and the last report Attilan received from the crew indicated that they’d picked up a human ally mightier than all of them combined. An ally who, when the ship failed to return, became the Inhumans’ most wanted criminal. A generation has passed in Atillan, but every Inhuman child is taught the description of this villain. So when he was spotted in human news broadcasts (which they monitor for their own protection), the Inhumans knew they’d found their man.
Also going on in the upper city is the preparation of Crystal, Medusa’s younger sister, for Terrigenesis. This is the Inhuman coming-of-age ceremony, in which young Inhumans on the verge of adulthood expose themselves to the Terrigen Mists, and emerge… changed. Some become powerful thinkers or fighters, serving Atillan as their abilities best-suit them. Others evolve into strange, wondrous, monstrous beings, as far above their fellow Inhumans as the Inhumans are above mankind. These Eternals may serve Atillan for a time, but nearly all eventually leave, to seek their place who knows where. And some don’t evolve, but devolve, their brains shrinking, their bodies becoming thick and brutish. These are the Alpha Primitives, pitied and revered by their fellows, allowed to serve the city if they wish, or to retreat below and be with others of their kind, cared and provided for by the city above.
At any rate. There’s some drama here, as Crystal has been conditionally betrothed to Triton, who fills a Hades-type role here as an Inhuman powerful enough to challenge Black Bolt, but instead chooses to rule a world below Atillan that is more to his liking. If her Terrigenesis goes well, the marriage will go through, and she will become, effectively, the Queen of Hell. It’s not a role she relishes, but she’s determined to serve the city in the manner to which she’s best-suited. So she’s torn. On the one hand, she hopes for mighty powers that will allow her to serve. But on the other, she’d rather stay in Atillan, even if it means becoming a genetic flop.
So! Into all this blunder the FF, Maximus at their side. He sets about recruiting followers as they ascend into the upper city, netting rank and file soldiers, Alpha Primitive workers, and regular citizens of Atillan, all of whom (with the proper coaxing) welcome Maximus’ return with rapturous joy. Sue and Johnny (also under the spell of Maximus’ powerful charisma) are impressed, but Reed seems increasingly troubled. (Note: Reed’s head gets slightly larger, bit by bit, throughout this sequence, as he slowly increases his brain mass in an attempt to fight off Maximus’ control.)
They reach the Terrigenesis chamber just as Crystal is emerging, steaming and confused, her newly-altered DNA still settling. They seize control of the chamber, and recruit/kidnap her as part of the occupation. She forms a quick bond with Johnny, who is kind to her in spite of Maximus’ cruelty.
Ben’s trial is put on hold as a tense stand-off develops: Maximus controls Terrigenesis, and holds the sister of the Royal Consort, but is boxed in by Black Bolt’s troops. Triton goes to parlay with Maximus, his mind too adamant to succumb to the villain’s charms. Crystal escapes with him, and we get some sense of their relationship: there is fondness between them, but he’s a mystery to her. Crystal pleads the FF’s case to the royal family, but no one will listen.
So in frustration, she returns to their side voluntarily. Reed also escapes, ostensibly to free Ben, but really because he’s managed to fight off Maximus’ influence. Meanwhile, events escalate, and everything comes to a head in a massive battle in the throne room. Crystal’s elemental powers activate, and she’s so powerful it turns the tide against the royal family. Reed and Ben enter the fray, fighting against Sue and Johnny in an attempt to free them from Maximus and make things right. It doesn’t go well. Tempers flare, and chaos mounts.
Through everything, Black Bolt has remained sitting, stone-like and silent, so powerful he’s helpless.
Medusa speaks for him. Karnak and Gorgon act as his arms and legs. But as the fighting descends into pandemonium, Atillan being shaken to its foundations, he rises. Raises a hand. Opens his mouth. And whispers a single consonant: “ T. ”
The shockwave flattens the combatants and nearly destroys the throne room, cracking the floor and ceiling with its force. Only one person remains standing in the face of it: Triton. He shields Crystal and the FF with his body and, giving Black Bolt a doleful look…
…helps them escape underground.
Triton leads them to the banks of the Under-Sea, where a group of amphibious Alpha-Primitives meet them with the Fantasticar in tow. Why has he helped them? His love for Crystal. She’s as much a fugitive now as the FF, and he entrusts Reed with her safety. But they must hurry. Black Bolt has already set Karnak and Gorgon on their trail, and they will not be gentle.
So Triton leads them deep into the stygian depths of the Under-Sea (the Inhuman Hell, a cold, black underground ocean over which Triton rules). He directs them finally to a tunnel that he indicates will take them away from Atillan and into a series of caverns that should start them on their way home. TO BE CONTINUED!!
Arc Twelve Notes: By the end of this initial Inhumans arc, I want things to be really unsettled and squidgy. While it’s clear that Maximus is the bad guy here, the royal family hasn’t really been humanized one bit, and they should come off as domineering fanatics. I’d like to avoid some of the hide-bound, taking-an-idea-to-its-logical-extreme stuff from the Paul Jenkins / Jae Lee revamp. That take’s informed much of the modern writing on the characters, and I often find it kind of dumb. I’m not sure Inhuman society could actually function if they were as bound to the implications of their own rules as they’re often depicted. That said, however, in this initial encounter with it, I still want Attilan’s meritocracy to seem unduly harsh, if not entirely unfair. And Black Bolt should come off like a noble tyrant.
(What’s up with all these kings in the Marvel Universe, anyway? Why are we still depicting monarchy as a good system of government? But I digress.)
We also have a new mystery on our hands: what happened to Thingbeard’s pirate crew, and their cargo of Terrigen crystals? It really looked like Our Heroes had fixed all those problems at the end of their time travel adventures. But evidently not…
All right. That’s enough for this time out. Coming up next: Punching! Kicking! Yelling! Action! Chases! And a return visit with the Mole Man!
Be there, True Believers!
And, uhm… Yeah.