So here we are again with the Fantastic Four Remix, our on-going exercise in relaunching the Fantastic Four from scratch. We’re pretty deep into it now, so if you’re just joining us… Well, god help you. But if you want to catch up, previous chapters can be found here:
This time around, I had planned to back away from the super-detailed plots of the last couple of entries, and into more general overviews covering several story arcs in one go. But then I actually started writing, and that plan went right out the damn window. So strap yourselves in, and get ready for a wild (and painfully detailed) ride.
We had a trial for the Thing, and Dr. Doom trying to take out two-thirds of the team with one huge time travel frame job / murder plot. Also… ALICIA’S A SKRULL!
(I know, I know… It ain’t the first time…)
ARC FIFTEEN: INFINITE BENJAMIN
We pick things up a few hours after the end of last issue. The trial is over, except for Black Bolt’s final verdict. But Ben has almost certainly been cleared of the murders. Reed and Sue have presented the captain’s log from the Inhuman scout ship into evidence, confirming that Ben left the ship long before the death of the crew. More importantly, however, they’ve also introduced everyone to a most unexpected new witness: Repta, the sole survivor of that ill-fated crew.
Her story is rather complicated. The crew found her in the Savage Land, the child of scouts lost and presumed dead in an earlier North Pole expedition. Thought lost in an avalanche, in reality they fell down a shaft into the Savage Land. Unable to escape, they settled, had Repta, and made the best life they could. They did find the Terrigen their team had been looking for on the surface, however, and, after suffering mortal wounds in a dinosaur attack, exposed their young daughter to it in hope of giving her a chance at survival after they died.
She developed reptilian features (environment and personality shaping the transformation as much as genetic potential), and lived feral in the jungles until the crew found her. They’d come in search of the same Terrigen her parents had found, and hearing legends of the “Land Beneath the Ice,” they thought they might find it. This was their business with the pirate Lord Plunder: he showed them the path into and out of the Savage Land, and in return, they helped him capture dinosaurs to sell. Recognizing Repta as one of their own, they captured her as well as her pack, and took her with them, intending to bring her home to Attilan along with the Terrigen. But fate intervened.
She hid when the attack on the ship happened, finding a secret compartment in the captain’s quarters that the crew used for smuggling. And there she remained, injured in the jostling of the ship afterward, as the storm tossed it over the waves and, eventually, onto the beach of the future Monster Island.
Afterward, she was rescued and cared for by the only other survivor of the attack, an Inhuman sailor who claimed that he’d been pulled overboard and brought to the island by “the Bearded One.” He helped with Repta’s injuries and brought her food while she healed. She would have died without him, she’s sure. While she rested, he disposed of the bodies of the rest of the crew, and hid the Terrigen cargo somewhere on the island. One day while he was away, Repta heard strangers outside, and went back to her hiding place.
Before she went into hiding the first time, though, she did get a look at the attacker. Her memories of that time aren’t incredibly strong, but one thing remains quite clear to her all these years later: he was a man of normal human proportions, far smaller than Ben. And he was wearing some kind of armor.
(An aside: We know it’s Doom. And the FF have to suspect it, as well. Especially Reed and Sue. Speaking of whom…)
When last we saw them, Dr. Doom had cut his time machine’s tether to Reed and Sue, setting them adrift in a psychedelic space outside of normal time. So now we get their story in flashback, as they explain to Ben where they’ve been, and why they’re now so old…
Cut loose from time, Reed acts quickly, pulling out a small hand-held device and telling Sue to hang on. Space around them twists and warps, distorting their forms and pulling them down into a swirling chaos of color, like some kind of psychedelic singularity. The swirling colors all drain down the hole, until the hole itself blinks out of existence, and the sequence ends with a single black panel.
CUT to Reed and Sue, back in normal space-time. They find themselves deposited on the outskirts of a township under attack. They’re back on the African Gold Coast, during the Black Panther’s assault on the slave port. They see themselves (their own earlier selves) taking the same actions they took before.
Reed explains that he’d been tinkering with the remote controller he’d brought back from their alternate-timeline adventures rescuing Ben from the sad life of Thingbeard. He had never gotten around to duplicating Doom’s complete time travel technology with it, but, fearing duplicity, he’d brought it along on this trip, setting it to auto-calibrate as they traveled. And he’d just hit the panic button, taking them backward along their own timeline, effectively moving them back to the last “save point.”
So here they are, watching once again as Lord Plunder’s raptors wreak havoc, and the Panther frees the captured slaves. Sue suggests trying to give herself a warning, sneaking in using her invisibility, but they decide against it, not wanting to splinter the timeline any more than they have to. So they wait until their past selves have left. And then they get to see something they didn’t before.
The Panther leads the freed slaves off into the jungle, leaving the town burning and bleeding behind them. But the raptors are still loose, and they don’t discriminate. Three of them face down the Panther’s party in a clearing, and the odds don’t look good. Reed and Sue move in to help, but before the fighting starts, an odd trilling comes from behind the raptors.
It’s the young Repta, crouched on a downed tree. She calls the raptors to her side, and now the four of them stand together, eyeing Our Heroes with a hungry look…
Sue steps forward and calls Repta by name. The child falters, as if snapping out of a trance. Then she smiles. “Friends,” she says. “These are my friends.” The lead raptor nuzzles her, smearing blood on her cheek. But everyone relaxes nonetheless. Repta has a calming influence on the beasts, and seems able to control them to some extent. But what the hell is she doing here?
The story: Sue found Repta injured in the captain’s quarters and won her trust, getting the story of the attack out of her in confused snippets. Sue suspected Doom immediately, and kept Repta hidden in case he was there when they exited the ship. She’d planned to reveal the child to Reed, but events had gotten complicated before she had the chance. Repta was dragged along with them through time (connected, Reed speculates, by Sue’s powers – an intriguing link he makes note to study later), and now here they all are.
But Our Heroes have a problem: Reed’s time remote is burned out. It can still get them home, he thinks, but it needs a new power source. One that the time they’re in is ill-equipped to provide. So the Panther invites them to travel with him. Because Wakanda, he assures them, is their best hope. Some of the Black Panther mythology gets filled out here: the advanced civilization in jungle, the ancestral heritage of the Panther God, etc. There could even be a brief encounter with Wakanda’s rival Tribe of the White Ape, if we need some action. But it might be more fun to just have the raptors fight some lions or something. Because LIONS VS RAPTORS!!
Anyway. Wakandan technology is about a century ahead of the rest of the world. It’s not quite up to the task of powering the remote, but at least it gives Reed something to work with. Still, the process takes time. He has to recreate entire technologies that do not yet exist, from memory. And while Reed may be a polymath, even his elastic brain has its limits. Then there’s the issue of Doomtech to consider. Doom’s work draws as much from alchemy and sorcery as traditional science, and those are fields Reed has never mastered.
But he does so now, venturing out from Wakanda on numerous missions to gather supplies and books he can learn from. We only get glimpses of these adventures, but a few might include:
Escape from Wundagore Mountain!
Legend of the Bloodstone!
The Inability of the Human Mind to Correlate All Its Contents!
(Image: Reed, haggard and half-mad, brain swollen to monstrous proportions, poring over a copy of the Necronomicon.)
In-between adventures, Reed helps advance Wakandan science, and Wakanda gives him the resources he needs to develop the power source. And finally, after gaining their trust, Reed is given access to their greatest secret: the mountain of Vibranium at the heart of the nation. From that, he’s finally able to generate sufficient power to make the time jump they need.
But it takes him 20 years.
In the meantime, Repta grows up, with Reed and Sue serving as her parents. Their relationship blossoms in these years, as well, all the complications and barriers of their old lives forgotten. By the time they’re ready to go, they’re a family, with relationships forged in hardship and adventure. But their path home is circuitous, at best. With their tether to Doom’s main Time Platform cut, they have limited control over the remote. So they find themselves buffeted across time and space, through multiple pasts and potential futures, in another series of adventures we see only glimpses of:
Slaves of Rama-Tut!
Conquered by Kang!
Ballad of the Rawhide Kid!
Hordes of the Mega-Khan!
Repta Richards: War-God of the Aztecs!
Chronicles of the Badoon War, guest-starring Killraven!
(Much like The Adventures of Hobo Namor, Reed and Sue Tour Time and Space could easily be its own spin-off book. One that I am resisting the urge to write about in greater detail…)
We get this story in flashback, told by all three of the time travelers to a gathering of Ben, Johnny, Alicia, Petunia, Crystal, and Karnak. Sue does most of the talking. Repta is very well-spoken, her childhood animal brain having been nurtured over the years by Reed and Sue, but she seems somewhat taciturn, and doesn’t say much about anything that’s not explicitly about her. Reed starts things off, explaining how he rescued them from Doom’s betrayal, but trails off not long after, letting Sue tell the story.
While all this is going on, we get some visual cues from body language as to how everyone is relating here. Sue, Reed, and Repta sit together, facing the rest. But there’s a gap between the two groups. On the other side, Johnny and Crystal sit very close to one another, Johnny’s hand sometimes straying to Crystal’s arm or leg. We don’t get any conversation between Ben and Alicia, but they seem somewhat cut off from each other. They sit side-by-side, but don’t touch, and their eyes never meet. Karnak, meanwhile, stands behind the rest, directly behind Ben. We may catch him staring at Alicia sometimes, like he’s trying to find the weakness in the back of her skull.
But it’s Reed who’s the most telling. Once he stops speaking, a vacant look comes over him, as if he’s a thousand miles (or years) away. And his physical form (already ravaged by age) droops more and more each time we see him. He’s not turning into a puddle or anything, but his body does slowly start to lose its frame.
But when Sue finishes their story with the revelation that it’s taken them another 20 years of wandering to get back, he snaps back to attention, suddenly frantic. His cranium swells grotesquely, and his eyes go wild. “SUE! Sue, you didn’t tell them! You have to tell them! They have to know! Doom! Johnny! The future! The future! THE FUTURE…” He passes out, collapsing to the floor, his body finally losing all coherent form. Sue crouches beside him, silently weeping. Repta places a hand on her shoulder, head down, eyes closed.
Reed is dead.
OPEN on Ben Grimm, human, sitting cross-legged in a cave. His eyes are closed. A small fire burns in front of him, but otherwise he’s surrounded by darkness. A voice comes to him from out of that darkness.
“THINK, Benjamin. Do not feel. Let the body wash away. Let the mind go where it will.”
FLASH: Reed’s funeral, his body in an urn. Sue in mourning. Bob Baxter comforting her. Repta, Johnny, and Frankie beside them. Ben, a leathery hide starting to form over the raw nail bed of his flesh, sitting in the back of the room, expressionless, his eyes rimmed red. Karnak stands behind him.
FLASH: Sue in Attilan, tears streaming down her face, trying vainly to cradle Reed’s shapeless head in her lap. “It was just too much. Too many years. Too many calculations. The remote… It couldn’t get us home. Reed… He did the calculations in his head. Time… space… He tried, he tried so hard… Again and again… I told him to stop. I begged him to stop. But he couldn’t let it go. He owed you so much, Ben… So much. We both did, and… It was just too much…”
CUT to Ben, still sitting in the same cave, now the leathery lumpy Thing of his early transformation.
FLASH: Doom, lying prone, limbs splayed out at odd angles. The Thing sits on his chest, straddling him, punching him again and again and again. Doom’s mask is cracked and broken, the sharp edges of it digging into the pulpy flesh of his face. Blood everywhere. Someone is screaming.
FLASH: The Thing mounts Alicia on a bed in her New York studio, her first statue of him looming large in the foreground. With each thrust, her body changes. She’s green. She’s pink. She’s orange. Parts of her ripple outward in rhythm with his movements. He thrusts harder. She grunts. The bed breaks. They don’t stop. Her legs lengthen and distort, wrapping around the small of his back. Her ankles lock, pulling him in. Teeth grind. The floor creaks. Her arms grow, wrapping around his shoulders. One hand grows claws. Rakes his back. Draws blood. He howls, losing control, thrusting ever harder, her body contorting around him to accommodate the force. The floor gives way and they fall, still locked together.
FLASH: Sue, Repta, Crystal and Johnny at a press conference, pronouncing themselves The New Fantastic Four. Ben watches on TV from a darkened room, expressionless, eyes rimmed red. Karnak stands behind him.
FLASH: Sue, dressed as she was at the funeral, tells Ben and Johnny what Reed asked her to explain before he died. “We went to a time about ten years in the future. Namor was leading Atlantis in a war against the surface world, which had united against him under the leadership of Doom. We tried to discover how all this happened, but… It was chaos. All we were able to learn before Reed had his next batch of calculations done was that it had something to do with Namora. But… Ben, you had gone missing. And Johnny… Johnny, you were dead.”
FLASH: Ben and Karnak, in some kind of high-tech lab. Ben’s hands are trembling. They’re covered in blood. Behind him, we can see Doom’s broken body lying on the floor. Karnak places a hand on Ben’s shoulder. “Breathe,” he says. Alicia, visibly shaken, appears at his other shoulder. Her face is spattered with blood. “Breathe,” she says. Ben breathes.
FLASH: The glowing rectangle of Doom’s Time Platform descends over Ben. In the background, we see Karnak at the controls. The rectangle descends, and as the scene around Ben changes, so does Ben. Suddenly, he’s standing on a tropical beach, the ocean spreading before him. And he’s gone from his leathery hide to the rocky one. In the distance, a storm is raging. He sees sails on the horizon, shrugs, and walks off into the water.
CUT to Ben, still sitting in the cave, now covered in his rocky hide. A few stray cobwebs can be seen on his body.
FLASH: Ben swimming toward the Inhuman scout ship, then climbing up the side and plucking a crewman off the deck. In the background, we can see Doom slaughtering the rest.
FLASH: Ben places the rescued crewman carefully on the beach, away from the tide, and builds a crude lean-to to protect him. Looking back out to sea, he notices the ship drifting off-course. Shaking his head, he puts the crewman beneath the shelter and goes back out to sea.
FLASH: Ben on the deck, wrapping the anchor chain around his chest. He dives into the water, sinks to the bottom, and trudges back toward the island, towing the ship behind him.
FLASH: Ben, standing on the beach once again, one of Doom’s time remotes in his hand. “Sorry, Karnak ol’ buddy. But I still got more work to do.” He twists a dial, punches a button, and is gone.
FLASH: Ben, Karnak, and Alicia meet in Alicia’s studio. In the background, a hole in the floor is patched and roped off. “We know I do it,” Ben is saying. “At some point, I go get that pirate offa the ship so he can protect Repta, so she can survive to testify that it was Doom. It’s just a matter of making it happen. All I’ve gotta do is get to Doom’s time machine. I can’t ask Susie. She’s been through too much. And Johnny… She needs him, for as long as she’s got him. So… I’m askin’ you.”
FLASH: Ben, standing in the midst of a ruined New York, Doom’s time remote in his hand. In the distance, fighting can be seen, between a troop of ten-foot-tall Doombots and a small band of humans featuring a short, stocky man with one eye and clawed hands; a man in tattered chainmail, carrying a black sword; an archer; a man in green robes with a single glowing fist; and their leader, a stalwart figure in an old-fashioned army uniform, carrying a battered red white and blue shield. Though they fight valiantly, they are clearly losing. Ben smiles and strides toward them, cracking his knuckles. “Hey! Robot! YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?!”
CUT to the cave. Ben still sits, and the fire still burns. But now Ben’s rocky hide seems to be growing down into the floor of the cave, almost like he’s taking root. Lichen grows on his chin, forming a crude beard, and an Asian boy stands beside him, reverently dusting his head.
The Voice: “Good, Benjamin. Good. But you must go deeper. The body matters not. It is the MIND you must master. THE MIND…”
OPEN on Ben in the cave. The fire still burns, but now a small bed roll and some cooking supplies can be seen stored neatly on one wall. Ben’s rocky hide has changed color to match the cave floor, and he now seems almost to be growing up out of it. His lichen beard has grown longer and more luxurious, and the same Asian boy, now a few years older, stands beside him grooming it.
FLASH: Ben and Captain Rogers (the man with the shield) stand in a darkened basement looking over a schematic of Doom Tower, with the defenses marked on it by hand. A protective energy shield is indicated, with a heavily-guarded position marked “Shield Generator” around the center of the building. Arrayed around the table are the rest of Rogers’ men, a figure wrapped head to toe in bandages, and Prince Namor the Submariner of Atlantis. “Alright, then,” Ben says. “Time ta start makin’ some noise.”
FLASH: Ben in a series of quick shots, stopping black-uniformed Doomcops from oppressing the downtrodden, delivering food to starving orphans, and other altruistic acts, interspersed with shots of him speaking before a series of ever-growing crowds in the street. And over all of it, a voice-over of his speech: “I know I went away for a while. And I’m sorry for that. But ya gotta understand. Me and my family, we made the same mistake alla you did: trusting Victor von Doom. But I finally made it back. And that ain’t a mistake I’m ever gonna make again. Things are changin’. And pretty soon, it’s all gonna get better. On that, you got my word. The word of the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing!”
FLASH: Ben and Patch (the clawed man) outside Doom Tower, in pitched combat with Doombots. There’s at least one Fastball Special involved here, and a spectacular amount of robot carnage. Patch continually suffers horrendous injuries that heal with lightning speed. Finally, he gets blasted with a huge gout of energy from above…
…and most of the flesh is burned from his bones. It’s Doom, in full armor, flying down from the pinnacle of the tower. “Grimm, you have vexed me for the last time!” Ben smiles, taps a communicator he’s wearing on his wrist, and says, “Now.”
FLASH: The shield momentarily down so that Doom can exit to fight Ben, Rogers and the rest of his men, accompanied by the bandaged man, rush the Tower through a side entrance. We can see Ben taking a blast from Doom’s gauntlets in the background.
(Note: This, and all following shots that aren’t from Ben’s perspective, are drawn in a different, sketchier style. They’re not real memories, but what Ben imagines from being told about it later.)
FLASH: Ben picking up a Doombot head and chunking it into the sky, knocking Doom from the air. He leaps on the fallen dictator with both feet, then reaches down and crushes both gauntlets, short-circuiting the blasters. “Alright. Now we can settle this man ta man!”
FLASH: Rogers and his men fighting a pitched battle through the halls of Doom Tower, dead guards and smashed robots littering the floor in their wake. Rogers looks to the bandaged man and points at a heavy vaulted door down the corridor. “There! Johnny, GO!”
FLASH: Ben and Doom in pitched combat! Full-page, Kirby-style, trading blows!
FLASH: Johnny (the bandaged man) unwraps one scarred hand, stares at it, and it flashes with a burning white-hot flame. He points at the vault door, and starts cutting it open.
FLASH: Ben landing a haymaker on Doom, knocking his mask off. Doom staggers and, horrified, realizes that his mask is off. Face obscured by his hood, he scrambles for the mask and desperately tries to put it back on, to no avail. “No,” he mutters, “must… no… cover it… he mustn’t see…” Ben stands watching, stunned. Doom seems to have forgotten the fight. Ben, calm now, walks up, grabs the mask out of Doom’s numb hands, and thumps him in the forehead. Doom crumples to the ground, unconscious, and it’s only now that we see his face. Ben gasps. Though horribly scarred, it’s the face of Reed Richards!
CUT to Ben in the cave. Chunks of his rocky hide are starting to fall out, and we can see glimpses of something white beneath. The Asian boy (now a teenager) dutifully sweeps up around him, keeping the floor tidy.
FLASH: Johnny having cut through the vault door, Randall (the green-robed man) steps forward and punches it with his glowing fist. The door flies inward, striking a figure inside the room and knocking it to the floor. It’s a woman, dressed in a hood and mask similar to Doom’s. As Rogers’ men rush in, she scrambles to her feet and leaps for a machine in one corner. Tiles above and below her head start to glow, then move toward each other in a flash. They pass through each other, and at the moment of their intersection, she vanishes.
FLASH: Ben, staring down at Doom/Reed in horror and confusion. Rogers’ voice comes over the communicator. “Shield’s down. Time lab secure. You better get in here fast, Ben. Namor’s going to be blowing this place to kingdom come any minute.” Off in the distance, Atlantean attack craft rise up out of Hudson Bay.
FLASH: In the lab, Ben and Johnny hug.
BEN: Ya know, the only reason I came here was to save your sorry ass.
JOHNNY: Got here too late, ya ugly lug.
BEN: Yeah… Turns out, I ain’t as good at this time travel thing as I thought.
JOHNNY: Big surprise there. Lucky thing all that needed saving was my good looks.
BEN: Yeah… I’m sorry about that, kid.
JOHNNY: Eh. I’ll get by. But, hey. Don’t go beating yourself up, man. You did good! You saved the future!
BEN: Guess I did. Now all I gotta do is save the past.
JOHNNY: Want some help with that?
BEN: Nah. Nah, if I learned anything here, it’s that I gotta get a lot better at time management. No sense in you waitin’ around for me to do that. Besides… They’re gonna need you here for the rebuilding. JOHNNY: I don’t know, Ben. I think Steve and Namor probably have that under control.
BEN: Well, yeah. But there’s a lotta welding to be done.
JOHNNY: Hah! You got me there, buddy!
ROGERS: Ben… Namor is not a patient man.
BEN: Yeah, yeah… Story of my damn life. Tell him to just gimme a minute…
Ben grabs two more-advanced time remotes from the lab, puts them into a backpack, and then steps over to the new improved Time Platform. He sets a date for the distant past, and vanishes…
FLASH: …reappearing on a mountainside in Tibet, now the fully-human Ben Grimm again. He looks around, sees that no one else is there, and pulls a bloody sack out of the backpack. Inside is the scarred head of Reed/Doom, messily removed from the body. “No sense confusin’ the future any more than it’s gotta be,” he says, and tosses the head down the mountain.
FLASH: Ben sitting cross-legged in the cave. An aged man sits across the fire from him. He speaks, and we realize that he is the source of the Voice. “THINK, Benjamin. Do not feel. Let the body wash away. Let the mind go where it will.”
FLASH: Ben, still sitting in the cave, now covered in his rocky hide. The old man lies dying nearby. A small boy tends to him. “Genghis,” the old man says. “Our friend is on a great journey. Learn from his example. Care for Wise Grimm as you would for me…”
CUT to Genghis, now a young man, outside the cave. He sits in a pose mimicking Ben’s, but floating in mid-air. A flash of light illuminates his face, and he opens his eyes to see LADY DOOM, the woman from Doom Tower, appear nearby. She points one gloved hand toward him, and Genghis is lifted by the neck with some invisible force. He hangs, choking, as she strides commandingly toward him. “WHERE is he?” she demands. “Where is Ben Grimm?!”
A voice comes from off-camera: “I’m right here, lady.”
CUT to the cave mouth, where Ben is emerging. His rocky hide has fallen completely away, replaced by a dazzling array of beautifully shining gems, revealed in his latest new and improved form: CRYSTAL THING.
BEN: Now how’s about you put the kid down, and we’ll talk?
TO BE CONTINUED!!
OPEN in the midst of a raging storm, high in the clouds. Doctor Doom and Lady Doom stand in a protective bubble, lightning flashing all around them. A second woman is with them, concentrating. Though her orange hair is cropped close, we can see that it’s a middle-aged Crystal.
CRYSTAL (eyes closed): We’re there. Do it if you’re going to do it.
DOOM: It has to happen. You know that.
CRYSTAL: I know. But you’re enjoying it, anyway.
DOOM: I am removing a menace from the timestream. Nothing more.
CRYSTAL: Just do it.
LADY DOOM: If we don’t do it, he will. And you know he can’t live with that.
CRYSTAL: I’ve seen as much. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.
DOOM: ENOUGH of this hand-wringing! The pirates must die, and Grimm must take the fall!
CRYSTAL: Just GO, you monster. Before I change my mind…
FADE to Lady Doom, standing in Ben’s cave. Ben sits in his usual spot, cross-legged, eating a bowl of rice. Genghis hovers nearby, rubbing his throat.
LADY DOOM: And so it was done. To preserve the sanctity of the timestream. And your soul.
BEN: So… You’re from a timeline where I really did kill the crew.
LADY DOOM: One of many. You’re a dangerous man, Benjamin.
BEN: Yeah, I’m startin’ ta see that. So why ain’t you blasting away right now?
LADY DOOM: Because this… (she gestures at Ben’s CRYSTAL THING form) This is new.
BEN: What, this old thing? I been growin’ this for years. Ain’t that right, Genghis?
GENGHIS: My entire life, Wise Grimm.
LADY DOOM: Well, it is new to me. And I am… intrigued.
BEN: Can’t quite figure me, huh?
LADY DOOM (pauses): You’re out to save Richards, aren’t you?
BEN: And here I thought you didn’t understand.
LADY DOOM: He’s a dangerous man, too.
BEN: Yeah, I think I saw that. That wasn’t my Reed behind Doom’s mask, though. Was it?
LADY DOOM (pauses again): It could be.
BEN: But it wasn’t. And it ain’t gonna be. See, I been sittin’ here and thinkin’. I been sittin’ and thinkin’ and nothin’ else. For a good long time. And I think I got a few things figured. Myself, for one. But this whole time travel thing. I can see how it works now. Not the science of it. But the angles. How you change one thing, and a hundred more change in your wake. People live, people die, people never meet, never get born… Goin’ forward ain’t a problem, so much. But goin’ back…
LADY DOOM: Going back could make you a mass murderer.
BEN: And that’s you, ain’t it?
LADY DOOM: (silence)
BEN: Yeah. Yeah, I think it is. You went back ta change somethin’, but you didn’t figure all the angles. And somethin’ went wrong. It went bad wrong. Reed Richards in a Doom mask wrong.
LADY DOOM: You have no idea.
BEN: So Doom. The real Doom, I mean. What happened ta him?
LADY DOOM: Dead.
LADY DOOM: Is he dead in the time you came from, you mean?
BEN: Yeah. Yeah, I guess that’s really all I need ta know.
LADY DOOM: Very well. Your Doom is still Victor. Victor, before it all went so terribly wrong.
BEN: Good. Then it ain’t too late.
LADY DOOM: I warn you, Benjamin. If you attempt to erase my past, we will be exchanging more than words this day.
BEN: I don’t give a rat’s ass about your past, lady. If I do things right, you can go right back ta your dictatorship like this little talk never happened.
LADY DOOM: I fear you didn’t leave me with much of a dictatorship to return to.
BEN (shrugs): Yeah, well. Sorry about that. It didn’t look like you were doin’ such a great job with it, anyway. But you’re welcome ta go back ta whatever’s left. I’m sure Namor’ll be happy ta see ya.
LADY DOOM (pause): All this time hasn’t made you any less infuriating.
BEN: Figure I should stick with what I’m good at.
CUT to Young Genghis, scowling. A light nimbus of red energy can be seen around his hands.
BEN: So. We good here? Or do we gotta scrap?
LADY DOOM: We are good. You can tell your caretaker to release his cantrip. I think he’d find that Cyttorak’s bands would have little effect on me, anyway.
Genghis looks shocked, but at Ben’s nod, does as she says.
They exit the cave and she leaves, stepping out into a portal similar to the one we saw Reed and Sue use in their arrival at Ben’s trial. Ben turns to Genghis and laughs. “Bet that ain’t the last I see of that broad.”
Ben then prepares to leave. He thanks Genghis for his service, but Genghis waves it off.
GENGHIS: Your example, Wise Grimm, has taught me more than you know. Your determination, your devotion to enlightenment, to spiritual perfection… They are an inspiration. It has been my honor to aid in such a quest. I only hope that one day I can attain even a fraction of what you have done.
BEN: You’ll do okay, I think. Just… Work on that sense of humor, alright? If these last 20 years have taught me anything, it’s not to take myself so damn serious all the time.
He brandishes Doom’s time remote.
BEN: Well… That, and hopefully a few other things. Bye, kid. If I do this right, you’ll never see me again.
He turns a dial, punches a button, and is gone.
TO BE CONTINUED!!
(Note: This is a silent issue, all the action conveyed through pictures only.)
OPEN in the roiling maelstrom outside of time. Ben (still in the form of CRYSTAL THING) hangs serenely in the midst of the chaos, floating, cross-legged, his eyes closed, the time remote held gently in his lap. He opens clear blue eyes, and four windows open in the colorful swirls around him, each showing possible avenues he could pursue to change history.
ONE: Crystal Thing appears to Reed Richards before the team takes the Breach Craft out on its maiden voyage. Reed improves the shielding, and the team never gets exposed to THE POWER COSMIC. They return fully human, and continue their explorations without super powers. Sue and Ben’s romance continues, but turns sour, leaving both them and Reed bitter and estranged. The team disintegrates. Johnny dies in a fiery car crash on the underground racing circuit. Sue becomes a conspiracy nut, writing on-line screeds about the supposed Skrull invasion before disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Ben, in a depressive fit, shoots himself. Reed disappears into the Negative Zone, never to be seen again. Doom and Nick Fury attempt to stop the Skrull invasion by locking the world down under martial law, but humanity ultimately tears itself apart in a paranoid frenzy, allowing the Skrull to easily subdue the planet. A shadow falls over the Earth, and it disappears in a burst of Kirby Krackle.
Ben sighs, gives a rueful smile, and closes the window with a wave of his hand.
TWO: Crystal Thing wrecks Doom’s time machine before he ever contacts the FF about testing it. He also kills Doom, snapping his neck in his sleep. Reed never encounters his old rival again, and without that negative example to nudge him outward, falls prey to his obsessions. He leads the team on continual trips into the Negative Zone, leaving the world to its own devices. We see them emerging from the Breach Craft over and over, slightly changed each time, looking increasingly haggard even as their powers warp and increase. Johnny burns white-hot. Reed’s cranium becomes permanently engorged. Ben’s monstrous hide takes on a new form every time they return (good opportunity to homage some of Ben’s various alternate looks from over the years).
Sue remains physically unchanged, but looks increasingly withdrawn, standing further apart from the others on each successive trip. Eventually, she’s just not there anymore. Then Johnny. Then Ben. Finally, Reed is left alone, his form nearly as misshapen as Ben’s, his face an emotionless mask. He sets one finger aflame to light his way through the darkened corridors of the Baxter Building, dousing the light and disappearing as he passes Bob Baxter’s door, only to reappear in a burning light flooding the lobby from outside. He steps out into the street, holds up a strange apparatus, and presses a button. The window goes blank, and Ben closes it.
THREE: Crystal Thing confronts Doom on the deck of the Inhuman pirate ship, and the two fight amidst the storm. Ben seems to be gaining the upper hand, but then LADY DOOM appears behind him. Ben clutches his throat, gasping. He stumbles around the deck, crashing into the wall of the captain’s quarters. The young Repta’s hiding place is revealed, and as Ben falls to the deck, breathing his last, he sees Doom blast the girl to a cinder. In Attilan, centuries later, Black Bolt sentences Ben to an execution that he faces gladly. Outside of time, Ben’s crystal hand lingers over the scene as he ponders its merits. But then he shakes his head and closes the window.
FOUR: Reed and Sue appear in the maelstrom outside of time, having been just cast adrift by Doom.
Just over the edge of the window, the same thing happens in reality. Reed pulls out his time remote, and Ben presses a button on the matching device in his lap. Reed and Sue freeze, Reed’s finger poised over the buttons of his own remote. Unfolding his legs, Ben dives through the window (which still shows the same frozen scene), and “flies” over to Reed. He takes the remote from Reed’s hand, makes some adjustments, and returns it. Then he presses a button on his own remote, and vanishes. Reed starts moving again, hits the button…
…and he and Sue step out into the court room in Attilan, still young and vital, their years of wandering having been erased. Sue brings out the captain’s log book, and reveals the still-young Repta to the court.
CUT to the jungles of Africa. A pack of velociraptors stalks a group of freed Wakandan slaves. The Black Panther prepares to fight, when suddenly CRYSTAL THING appears out of the darkness, quickly smashing the raptors beneath his fists. Standing, he extends a hand to the Panther, who takes it in friendship. They walk off together, and eventually enter Wakanda as the sun sets behind them.
In Attilan, a grand celebration is happening, welcoming Repta home after so long away. The FF is reunited and happy… except for Ben, who stands alone in a doorway, watching the festivities with a grim expression. Afterwards, Our Heroes prepare to leave. But Ben’s not there. He enters, with the first words spoken in the issue:
SUE: Ben! There you are! Ready to go?
BEN: Nah, Suzie. I’m afraid not.
REED: What do you mean?
BEN: I mean I ain’t goin’. I’m stayin’ here! In Attilan!
TO BE CONTINUED!!!
ARC FIFTEEN NOTES: Whew. That was, by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever written. What seemed like a simple idea at first became increasingly complex as I really thought things through, and got worse as perfect images occurred to me along the way that only made things more complicated. I wish I could tell you, for instance, that Future Doom having Reed Richards’ face was planned all along, but no. It was just something that fell out of my fingers as I wrote that part of the story, and once I’d had the idea, I loved it too much to take it out. Sometimes, “kill your babies” is the best advice a writer can take. Other times, those babies are just too perfect to let them go. And from Reed-Doom came Lady Doom, and from that came… a future story arc that I hadn’t planned on at all, but that ties together some of my original Reed themes far better than anything I’d thought of before.
But all that stretched the writing process out far longer than I wanted. I had to pause for days on end with virtually every chapter this time out, just to process and problem-solve. Granted, the day job got exhausting through the middle of that, too, as it does every so often, and that caused further delays. But, damn! This was ridiculous! In future installments, as I said at the outset, I really do hope to get back to shorter plot synopses. I’d really like to wrap up the Re-Mix before the new FF series launches in August, after all…