Friday, June 08, 2007

Be It Ever So Humble... (Marvel comics)
Fantastic Four #2 When: February 1998
Why: Scott Lobdell How: Alan Davis

The story so far...
After the battle with Onslaught, the world believed the Fantastic Four and Avengers had perished, but to the delight of the world, the heroes returned a year later to the world they had left behind.

Unfortunately for the Fantastic Four, life had moved on in their absence, and their base of operations had been liquidated and revamped as the headquarters for the new team of super heroes: The Thunderbolts.

In need of a home, Reed Richards moves his family to his storage facility on the highliy appropriate Pier 4, but even as he gives his loving wife a new tour of their base of operations - something sinister is lurking in the shadows. Peril waits not for the Fantastic Four, as the Invisible Woman finds herself targetted by a mysterious assassin from another world!

Previous Form:
Fantastic Four [#3]: Victories over Frightful Four, Secret Avengers & Sinister Twelve.
Invisible Woman (#32): Unsuccesful against Wolverine and Death's Head, away from the FF.
Iconoclast: Has not yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Iconoclast 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Invisible Woman 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Iconcolast 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Invisible Woman 4 (Athlete)
Agility: Iconoclast 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Draw 4 (Trained Fighter)
Energy Powers: Iconoclast 3 (Explosives)

Iconoclast represents an incredibly interesting and rare phenomenon in modern comics. That's the introduction of a character who is relatively interesting with allusions to an established motivation and history, but lacks any real definition.
What makes this particularly unique is that the character, as far as I know, and as far as I could find out, has never been followed up on.

In fact, even browsing Marvel's own Wiki-formatted database, there are not even any apparent references to the character, to be found. So, how to we measure such a character? Well, with some license, I suppose you could say.

It's not the first time we've analysed a character that hasn't appeared again in the broader medium, and as is always the case, we draw what we can from the pages in which they have appeared.

Perhaps the most distinctive technique exhibited by Iconoclast is his ability to exist somehow on two planes of existence. While he remains invisible and intangible to those of us in the regular realm, a character such as the Invisible Woman represents someone able to see and interact with that plane of being.

Hmph. Just like a man to doubt the woman's fears... ...Hey! Wait a second... What kind of a blog is this?!...In that respect both Invisible Woman and Iconoclast are on relatively equal terms. Working in the Invisible Woman's favour are a few factors:
The Invisible Woman has the back-up support of one of the most seasoned teams in the Marvel Universe, which includes the brilliant mind of Reed Richards, inventor and thinker extraordinaire.

Invisible Woman also carries with her an inherent range of abilities thanks to her versatile application of forcefields and tactile invisibility. While she cannot fade from Iconoclast's sight, she can certainly rough him up with forcefield backed punches!

The Iconoclast appears to come, if not naturally, equipped with energy based "bio-blasts" with explosive results. Also working for the Iconoclast is an impressive degree of agility, and fighting skills that clearly rival the moderately trained Invisible Woman's.

If Reed Richards can get the rest of the team into the fight, then this becomes decidedly one-sided, but without the assistance of her team, it becomes much more difficult to say for sure that Invisible Woman would win. I'd like to think she has the broad tools, but Iconoclast makes for a convincing threat!

The Math: Iconoclast (Champion Class)
The Pick: Invisible Woman (Champion Class)

What went down...
Sue and Reed Richards share a hug in their son's bedroom when the Iconoclast makes himself known to Sue. He declares his intentions to "null" her before she can null him and his people. His hand begins to glow as energy builds in it, released in a massive explosion!

The Invisible Woman is able to protect her and her family with an invisible forefield, and while Mr. Fantastic consoles his son, Sue Richards' motherly instincts tell her to kick the Iconcoclast's arse!

Invisible Woman propels herself at Iconoclast with an invisible shield, extending beyond her fist to knock him through the window!

Mr. Fantastic quickly follows, initiating the appropriate security measures to see the broken window sealed, and his son protected from any other would-be invaders of the Pier-4 facility.

Out in the snow, Invisible Woman is knocked about by the Iconoclast, who not only remains invisible to Mr. Fantastic, but who also appears to have no effect on their surroundings, either. As he trails his wife's footsteps, he notes that there are no such accompanying imprints.

Mr. Fantastic leaps into the air stretching himself out to blanket the area in the hopes of ensuring physical contact with the Iconoclast so he can restrain him. Unfortunately he remains intangible to all but the Invisible Woman, thus provoking a more developed theory from Richards.
While he ponders the situation, a concerned Franklin Richards triggers the Fantasti-flare, alerting the attentions of the rest of the team who are busy messing around in the city.

As Reed begins to postulate, Sue continues to fend off the flaming attacks of the Iconoclast. Richards scoops his wife up and makes a stretched leap to put some distance between them, enquiring about any potentially valuable information.
As Richards reaches an epiphany, the Iconoclast makes contact, stretching Mr. Fantastic's stretchy gut out and around, before flattening him with a blow to the face.

As his own jaw stretches away from his face, Mr. Fantastic makes an intellectual note, "Apparently even though I am unable to "see" him -- or to affect him -- he has no such limitations -- OWNLPHN! -- in regards to harming me!

If I didn't know better, I would've thought Mr. Fantastic had just recalled his trumph seen in last week's Fantastic Friday entry against Sub-Mariner. OWNLPHN! [Fantastic Four #412]

Tired of the assault, Invisible Woman slams the Iconoclast with an invisible battering ram! Iconoclast, on the back foot, concedes his conflicted state, but reveals the stakes of too many millions of his people's lives.
Susan tries to stem his concerns, assuring him that he wishes for noone to die, but the word of a would-be tyrant means little to one so afraid. He slices through her invisible construct, and then shatters a defensive field she forms.

As the Invisible Woman falls to another blow, the Human Torch and Thing arrive on the scene. For the first time during the battle a footprint emerges in the snow, allowing Mr. Fantastic to deduce the effects of heat on the Iconoclast.

He instructs the Human Torch to send his heat in the direction of the print, resulting in the emergance of a shimmering figure that is the Iconoclast!
Visible to everyone, the Thing charges at their mysterious foe, but his fists find nothing but air. The ghostly apparition flings Thing into the air, and turns to meet Johnny Storm, who flames his way through the air in retort.

The Iconoclast's ghostly hand plunges into the Human Torch, seemingly intangible, but still capable of inflicting great pain on the flaming hero.

The Invisible Woman comes to the desperate aid of her brother, again the only member of the team able to see the threat.

She uses her invisible powers to yank the Iconoclast from her brother!
The Iconoclast voices his conflict again, as the Invisible Woman questions the necessity of the death of herself, or others. Despite his reluctance, the Iconoclast remains vigilant in his goals.

Again he punches his way through an invisible barrier with a glowing fist. Invisible Woman backs up, noting that with every field Iconoclast breaks, the weaker her efforts seem to become. She continues to back up, reaching the edge of the pier as the Iconclast smashes wall after wall.

Finally, Sue Richards springs her final gambit. Having retreated far beyond the edge of the pier to over the water, she peels back her invisible platform, leaving the Iconoclast to drop into the icey waters below. The Iconoclast plunges into the water with a spectacular explosion of steam and energy!

On the pier, Mr. Fantastic reveals he theory he shared with his wife while Human Torch and Thing provided a distraction. A theory that Iconoclast himself was not manipulating his existence on our plane of reality, instead he employed a technology in-built into his suit, that could presumably be shortcircuited with water.

Though the Fantastic Four make efforts to find and retrieve the Iconoclast from the river, Reed Richards' most advanced scanning technology cannot find him. And as someone or something watches their heat signatures, Richards predicts that eventually their invisible menace will return.

The hammer...
Of course, Mr. Fantastic was thus-far wrong, as the Iconoclast never returned after his defeat at the hands of Invisible Woman! Full assist to the rest of the team, too.

I don't think we've loitered too much around this period of history, but I have to admit that I really enjoyed this era of Fantastic Four. It represents a large chunk of an otherwise modest collection, following the heights of the Heroes Reborn storyline into something more familiar.

Heroes Reborn was the Ultimate line before the Ultimate line, without the benefit of long term commitment. In that respect it was a condensed retelling of the character's origins, and their first encounters with many of their most recognisable villains, all put under a microscope of thirteen issues in four different series. In it's own way, it was actually very good, and Ultimate fans will note many simiarlities with one or two ideas developed in those books.

Things had become pretty garbled and distracted by the mid-nineties, so apart from streamlining the major Marvel properties, this was an opportunity to take a good look again at the classics, and put them all back in the spotlight.

When the heroes returned [as part of Heroes Return], it was a chance to move away from that magnifying glass and come out fresh. This is where we arrive at Lobdell and Davis on the new Fantastic Four; a delightful take that clearly takes inspiration from the classic intrepretations of Lee/Kirby and beyond, but brings it to readers with what was a contemporary sensibility.

Heroes Reborn was perpetrated by Image founders Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld (and others), so it had it's own version of the gaudy of the nineties, complete with trimmings and gimmicks. While FF post-Heroes Reborn appeared to be moving away from that, it was only a year later. Only so much could change.

It's almost hard to look at Iconoclast without a little bit of cynicism.
Granted, he provided some positive creative decisions. It cast a spotlight on Invisible Woman as an individual, something that happened with some of the team on and off during this run [like Mr. Fantastic in issue #3].

He also made for a convenient villain in a story that was very much establishing the team's new base on Pier-4, that could provide action, without taking the story away from the new HQ, and without demanding the destruction of it. It's probably not the kind of story you could have told with Annihilus.

Even so, there's something about Iconoclast that almost reads like an opportunity to explore with the technology becoming available. It's almost like someone sat down in editorial, and proposed the idea of experimenting with creating a Predator-style invisible character, who can be seen as an exciting computer-generated silhouette of distortion.

Granted, I say that with cynicism, but not outright negativity, because I think it's a great thing to do. This was an application of the computer technology becoming available that far outshined experiments with colouring, and special effects, ala some of the less attractive issues of Steel that spring to mind.

Ultimately the Iconoclast ball gets completely dropped, and certainly there's still potential for that concept to be picked up and run with. The basic ideas speak for themselves, but there's room for a lot of interpretation there.

What's clear is Invisible Woman's potential threat to the millions of people that exist in Iconoclast's world. I know a lot of popular interpretations take that to be something along the lines of Joss Whedon's Breakworld story in Astonishing X-Men, but I've always felt it might be a bit more indirect than that.
Rather than imagining some grim future where Invisible Woman gives in to malice, or anything like that, I thought it might have been something far more innocent.

I like to think Iconoclast hails from a sub-dimension along the lines of the Microverse, and that Invisible Woman's powers somehow impact on their way of being. Something that subtly ties her to them and explains her ability to see and interact with Iconoclast, beyond just invisible people seeing invisible people.
Something more along the lines of a human unwittingly stepping on a family of tiny bugs, or something.

Anyway, we're still over a week behind (today being the 18th), so I'll shut it down here. Next week we continue Fantastic Fridays with a special look at the Human Torch! Stay tuned, folks!

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 5

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