Monday, August 13, 2007

Retribution (Marvel comics)
Fantastic Four #6 When: April 1997
Why: Jim Lee & Brandon Choi How: Jim Lee

The story so far...
Reborn in a pocket universe created by Franklin Richards; the Fantastic Four are destined to relive their origins all over again as they unwittingly encounter familiar shadows of the past, also reborn in this new world.

Accosted by Victor Von Doom, a student from Reed Richards' days in college; the Fantastic Four and Black Panther find themselves the reluctant guests of castle Doomstadt. There, Doom is holding a mysterious chromed alien hostage, but this is not the limit of the extraterestrial presence.

Hidden within SHIELD and disguised as Agent Wyatt Wingfoot; a cosmically sleeper soldier of the Skrull empire has finally exploited his position, an alliance with Doom allowing him access to the herald of the Skrull Throneworld's destruction. Betraying Doom to use his machines, Kl'rt has absorbed the Surfer's cosmic power, and now prepares to turn his imitative Super-Skrull abilities against him.

Previous Form:
Fantastic Four [#3]: Victorious over Iconoclast, Frightful Four & Sinister Twelve.
Dr. Doom (#55): A Doombot successfully defeated Silver Surfer.
Super-Skrull (#113): A victory and defeat against Hulk and Thor respectively.
Black Panther: Making his first appearance in the Infinite Wars.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Thing 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Mr. Fantastic 6 (Genius)
Speed: Black Panther 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Super-Skrull 6 (Generator)
Agility: Mr. Fantastic 6 (Rubber)
Fighting Ability: Super-Skrull 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Human Torch 7 (Solar)

Okay, so let's try to clarify the situation here.
I'll go more into the depth of the scenario later, but for the time being let's at least distinguish the clear lines of battle.

The Fantastic Four and Black Panther formed amicable relations a few issues previous, before being abducted by Doom -- who beat them to discovering the Silver Surfer. Doom is holding the Surfer, unwittingly, with the help of a cover Kl'rt, who has used Doom's technology to realise his potential as the Super-Skrull. Kl'rt wants to be the Super-Skrull to gain revenge on Silver Surfer, and by extension, Galactus.

Dr. Doom, displeased with the unpredictable course of events, throws in with the FF and Black Panther against Super-Skrull, to vanquish his foe and regain some control and measure of vengenace of his own. The Silver Surfer, though present, is rendered incapacitated at the opening of our story, and therefore has not been rated.

Traditionally Super-Skrull is specifically enhanced by the Skrulls to possess the collective abilities of their greatest foes - the Fantastic Four. In this case, the Super-Skrull develops under more organic circumstances, using the power cosmic to enhance his natural biological adaptive and metamorphic abilities.

Something I particularly enjoy about this story is the threat level given to the Super-Skrull. Much of the recent Annihilation mini-series that thrust the character back into a spotlight was about the many defeats the character had suffered, rendering him a joke amongst his own people. Here, we see a Super-Skrull embued with status befitting of a warring alien specie's greatest soldier.

The battle takes place in Castle Doomstadt, so you'd have to pay the advantage to Dr. Doom, who essentially builds his argument on preperation. Taking him on literally in his backyard is like showing up to a garage with your best toolbelt, and challenging a mechanic to a repair-a-thon. You might do well, but the home team has all the tools and parts they need on-hand.

Off the back of newer issues of Fantastic Four, there's been some debate about whether or not Black Panther is playing too far above his weight. I tend to be pretty conservative in my assessment of the character, so I'd be pretty willing to write him off at this point. Black Panther's main contribution here is merely a numerical one. Of course, in a team-up that includes the Fantastic Four and Dr. Doom, numerical advantage starts to be a pretty big talking point.

Alone, I'm just not sure I can give it to Super-Skrull.
Even on his best day, I think it would take a considerable element of surprise and speed to overcome this particular alliance of powers. Then again, the math tells a very different story...

The Math: Fantastic Four (Total) Super-Skrull (Average)
The Pick: Fantastic Four/Black Panther/Dr. Doom

What went down...
Having revealed himself and taken the Surfer's power, the Super-Skrull stands as an impressive threat to Dr. Doom and those that would stand in the way of his revenge. Doom takes none too kindly to the turn of events.

The Super-Skrull demonstrates his power with a blast of energy that topples the mighty Dr. Doom. Furious with the Skrull's advantageous betrayal, Doom blasts as the alien with the intent of taking that which his machines bestowed, but the Super-Skrull's understanding of the power cosmic makes it difficult.

Deflecting Doom's gauntlet blast, Super-Skrull returns the favour with the full fury of the power cosmic. Even the mighty Dr. Doom suffers considerably at the hands of the green alien creature, his armor struggling to cope.

The true Wyatt Wingfoot, agent of SHIELD, suggests the necessity of an alliance with Doom to use his machines to return the power cosmic from whence it came, back to the limp and lame body of the Silver Surfer. Doom quickly shifts his weight into the favour of his arch-rival Reed Richards, and his accompanying bed fellows, clearly recognising the unfavourable shift in the game.

At Reed Richards' request, Kl'rt reveals his motivations and the history of Galactus' involvement in his people's destruction, revealing base motivations for what is actually a plot potentially beneficial to the human race. Never the less, the unwitting humans see the benevolent unknown quantity of the Silver Surfer to be far less threatening than the Skrull, who had previously murdered several Wakandans prior to the Surfer's retrieval.

The Super-Skrull's history lecture is ended when Skrull agents send word of an incoming SHIELD extraction team requested by the real Wingfoot.
With his increased abilities and cosmic awareness, the Super-Skrull creates a giant invisible force field around Castle Doomstadt, destroying the incoming aircrafts in an instant.

With the stakes raised, Thing checks his watch to discover it's clobberin' time, opening up with his own cosmically charged super strength sufficient enough to topple the mighty Super-Skrull.

Enraged by the attack, Kl'rt uses his cosmic abilities to shift his fist into a mirror image of Thing's own, striking back with force considerable enough to launch Thing into a forced retreat. The blow sending Ben Grimm airborne!

Happy to take the fight airborne is the Human Torch, who takes to the air in a dazzling blaze of flames.
Looking to capitalize on a range advantage, the Human Torch fires off jets of flame at the Super-Skrull, who quickly dispells any illusions the hothead may have about his advantages.

Imitating Mr. Fantastic's elastine capabilities, Super-Skrull closes the distance gap with a stretched rocky fist that makes light work of the Human Torch.

With his flame put out, the Human Torch is rendered unconscious in the Super-Skrull's arms, while Doom, Richards and T'Challa [Black Panther] begin formulating their plan of attack to return the power to the Surfer.

While Doom demands total cooperation of his unlikely allies, the Black Panther jumps into the fray to buy them some time, as options of physical distraction begin to wear thin.

Launching at the alien with a stiff martial arts kick, the Black Panther knocks Super-Skrull back with surprising efficiency for the most human of all present.

The Panther provokes the Super-Skrull's most lethal intentions, narrowly leaping over a cosmic power blast in an effort to spring the heroes' plot to channel the energies back to their source. Invisible Woman uses her invisible force fields to divert the energies back to the Silver Surfer's shackled body.

With Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom manning the machines, they ensure the appropriate processes are in action for the gambit. An explosion throws cosmic vapor and smoke into the castle room, but Doom is certain of the result.
Emerging from the smokey frost, a solitary and uncomplicated figure -- the Silver Surfer, embued once more with his Galactus-given cosmic power.

The Surfer's resurrection allows the powerful Super-Skrull to refocus his priorities back to revenge. Stepping up to the Silver Surfer, he prepares to unleash the remaining power cosmic stored within him in a final attack on the Surfer.

Though weakened, the source of the syphoned power cosmic proves to be far more capable and powerful than even the Super-Skrull could imagine. For all the knowledge of the Surfer's humane past, the Skrull is soon privvy first-hand to the matter of fact that the Silver Surfer is anything but human.

With each extra-terrestrial influence unleashing their powers to their fullest extent, the heroes and Dr. Doom are forced to flee the scene. As the power cosmic tears Castle Doomstadt asunder, Doom recognises a new threat arising, as their energy threaten to compromise the integrity of his own nuclear fusion power sources.

Ever the survivalist, Doom takes advantage of his homeground preperations and leaves the Fantastic Four and their allies to fend for themselves as the castle crumbles. Fortunately, the FF reach their transport in time, but mysteriously the threat of explosive vaporizing never arises.

As they take leave, from somewhere amongst the rubble stands a stoic Silver Surfer. Though unfeeling, the cosmic herald grants the heroes some shred of gratitude for saving his life by diffusing the threat of the reactor.

The hammer...
Though he is destined to bring about their destruction, on this day, the Silver Surfer saves the lives of the Fantastic Four, Black Panther and Dr. Doom -- victorious over the Super-Skrull!

For what is essentially a pretty simple comic, there's a lot of moving parts at work here. The two issues preceding lay the immediate groundwork for this story, while plotlines like the traitorous Wyatt Wingfoot are the culmination of the entire six issues of this volume.

[In FF #4]; the Fantastic Four travelled to Wakanda and met with Black Panther, and developed relations there whilst searching for an anomaly Reed Richards tracked from space -- the Silver Surfer. Way back at the beginning of all this [FF #1], Wyatt Wingfoot turned out to be a turncoat, sabotaging the space mission that leads to the creation of the Fantastic Four [in the Heroes Reborn world].

That Wyatt Wingfoot is in actuality Kl'rt the Super-Skrull, presumably posing as a SHIELD agent in an effort to use our destination point as a means of locating the Silver Surfer. As Wingfoot, he falls in with Doom, who no doubt represents one of the most likely technological influences to discover the Surfer, and so we begin to understand his motivations for interfering in previous events.

Having knocked the Silver Surfer from orbit, Doom's forces race to recover the herald to Galactus while he leaks cosmic energy in a Wakandan jungle.
This provides some level of confusion, while Kl'rt covertly uses his Skrull abilities to operate not unlike the Predator, picking off Wakandan warriors and preventing their interference in the efforts of Doom.

The Fantastic Four and Black Panther, disturbed and uncertain about the developing events, force themselves on the situation and are quickly neutralized and caught by Kl'rt, who takes them (with the Surfer) to Dr. Doom.

Collectively abducted, the FF (with the crucial addition of the Black Panther) maneuver their way through the stock standard series of traps and holding cells typcial in classic Dr. Doom stories, to finally confont the man himself.
With no memory of their past lives, this serves as a second first-time meeting of old rivals in Richards and Doom, who were perhaps even more intertwined in this world's history than ever before, as part of the collegette 'Atomic Knights.'

Doom is generally content to play games with his arch-foe and Reed's fantastic allies, while also undertaking the personal project task of syphoning the Surfer's energies. [Nothing new there. See; Silver Surfer #107]

Which finally brings us to the issue reviewed here, where Kl'rt uses Doom's machines to absorb the Silver Surfer's powers himself, thus reawakening his Super-Skrull abilities from his previous life (with a little something extra!), and so we have our issue-long battle!

The issue then includes an introduction to the line-wide Industrial Revolution crossover, where Doom witnesses the aftermath of the siege on Avengers Island [Avengers #4 & #5], and makes the shocking discovery that Bruce Banner -- young optemist of the Atomic Knights -- has becoming the raging Hulk!

So, if knowing is half the battle, and now you know, you should have a pretty good edge in a fight against any of your friends who are buying Onslaught Reborn, but didn't read Heroes Reborn. Which has been a recurring theme for us here on Secret Earths for no real good reason.

I have to admit, I've been quite content flicking back through these issues, which I actually enjoy on the level they are intended. The Fantastic Four was definitely, I believe, the strongest series of the lot, anchoring much of the broader stories with it's mythology. Of particular note are the increasing recurring references to Galactus, which become of greater importance in the later half of the Heroes Reborn year, and build to a really epic event that puts the "Ultimate Gah-Lak-Tus Trilogy" to embarassing shame. Ouch, Ellis! Very ouch!

Like I've said through discussing a lot of these issues, as simple and naff as they are, there's a lot of good in these pages. I think we see here an illustrated argument for Jim Lee's involvement in the industry, and a creative potential that's easily forgotten on the basis of his flashy pin-up style and involvement in projects like the increasingly late All-Star Batman and Robin, and WildCATS.

I like what they've done here, and again, to put today's Ultimate books to shame, read the first six issues of this, and then browse the pancreatic team-up of Bendis and Millar on the first six of the Ultimate book. Heck, read through the first twelve issues of the Ultimate books, and witness good books gone bad.

Dr. Doom gets the classic treatment here, versus the embarassing bastardization of one of the most prevelant villains in popular culture. While Super-Skrull shows the potential improvement to be made with reinvention of classic ideas.
Also something I've long considered an interesting concept, tying the 'cosmic rays' that gave birth to the FF, to the cosmic influences of a character like Galactus. This has, as long as I can remember, struck me as a no-brainer.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 6
[If you saw the movie and then wanted to check out the comics, the complete Heroes Reborn FF might just be the penultimate purchase! Classic interpretations through a contemporary filter, and fun aplenty!]

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