Friday, April 11, 2008

The Cross-Time Express! (Marvel)
Fantastic Four #354 When: July 1991
Why: Walter Simonson How: Walter Simonson

The Story So Far...
Few men have experienced the ebb and flow of time as much as Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom. Their many strange adventures have taken them through time and space, but even as their latest confrontation results in a battle between minutes, their actions are observed and recorded by those policing the timestream.

For their many indescretions, Doom and Richards garner the attentions of the Time Variance Authority: An intergalactic organization dedicated to monitoring and policing the multi-verse and it's many refractions as a result of time travel and manipulation. Though immensly powerful, the bureaucratic organization is anything but thorough, further emphasising the severity of Richards' actions.

The TVA send Justice Peace, a mercenary member of the TVA Police Department with full powers to detain and destroy time criminals. Though Doom escapes his clutches, Justice Peace is able to detain the Fantastic Four to be tried by Mr. Mobius, a member of the TVA bureaucracy intent on eliminating the FF's reality. The race is on to escape the TVA's clutches and protect existence, but with Justice Peace on their tail, can even the world's greatest heroes succeed?...

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Walt SimonsonARTWORK: Alan DavisStrength: Thing 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Mr. Fantastic 6 (Genius)
Speed: Human Torch 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Thing 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Mr. Fantastic 6 (Rubber)
Fighting Ability: Invisible Woman 4 (Trained)
Energy Power: Human Torch 7 (Cosmic)

- Justice Peace is a member of the Time Variance Authority Police Department. The law enforcement branch for the bureaucratic TVA grants Justice Peace powers to hunt and destroy those that would commit infractions against timelaw.
Justice Peace carries with him an extensive arsenal housed largely in a single projectile weapon. The weapon is capable of adapting it's ammunition to a range of practical uses, the most prominent being lethal energy blasts.

- The Fantastic Four are: Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and Thing.

The original Fantastic Four were exposed to cosmic rays when Reed Richards led the team in a race to beat the Russians to space. Without sufficient preperation time, the shuttle lacked the shielding needed to filter the cosmic radiation, resulting in unique transformations in each member.

The team's adventures take them through time and space, where they regularly do combat with entities and individuals capable of cosmic manipulation. Their amassed allies and enemies exist throughout different galaxies and dimensions.

The team's line-up is typified by Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, and Thing, but has been expanded to include the likes of; Crystal, Sub-Mariner, She-Hulk, Medusa, Black Panther, and Storm; among others.

The Math: Fantastic Four Ranking: Mr. Fantastic (#8)

What Went Down...
Mobius M. Mobius, a bureaucrat with the TVA, focuses his attention on seeing the arrest of Thing (and Human Torch) after an outburst that reduced the TVA Halls of Chronometry to rubble. Autonomous agent of the TVAPD, Justice Peace, leaves the pursuit to clone soldiers, recognising the greater threat of an unaccounted for Reed Richards, and his wife Susan Storm; better known as Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman, respectively.

JP's suspicions prove valid when, in the destroyed Hall, he is able to discover an invisible forcefield obscuring Sue and Reed Richards as the latter hacks into the hi-tech TVA computer network in an effort to build a makeshift virus!

Justice Peace gives it both barrels, prompting Invisible Woman to refocus her energies into defense, rather than concealment. Mr. Fantastic begs his wife for precious seconds as he races to produce a solution while she suffers the physical strain of maintaining her field under such intense pressure.

Results come in the nick of time as Richards' virus distrupts the linear flow of time within the TVA establishment, resulting in bubbling pockets of reality! The bubbles prove distraction enough to allow the Fantastic twosome to make an escape for the exit: The Cross-Time Central Railroad!

The Torch and Thing converge with the rest of the team, having escaped their own perils with the aid of the viral time bubbles. Richards is able to barter for the group a driver willing to take he and his team back to their appropriate timeline and reality.

Just as escape seems all but assured, Justice Peace arrives at the station with a small army of clone soldiers! The TVAPD soldiers make pursuit as the train bursts from the station into the cold vaccum of space.

The Human Torch steps up to scorch the team's pursuers, but not wanting to harm them, Invisible Woman instead uses a barrage of invisible forcefields to stem their flow. The attack successfully knocks back the clone soldiers, but Justice Peace proves a more compelling adversary.

JP returns fire, buying him the time to attach himself to the Cross-Time Express. The Human Torch proves impossible to pacify when he leaps out of the train, launching himself onto the train with a spray of warning shots from his flaming fist. Justice Peace indulges the compromise of the Torch's attack, using his hi-tech gun to fire back a smothering foam that douses the youngster's flame!

Thing leaps to his teammate's aid, scoring an impressive blow on an unsuspecting Justice Peace! The punch, however, fails to sufficiently flaw the TVA lawman, who again retaliates with the use of his oh-so versatile gun, which easily sabotages the coach roof beneath the burly Thing's footing, in substitute for any futile assault on the rocky hero's own hide.

With Thing momentarily demolished it looks like all hope is loss for the FF, until Justice Peace again finds himself airborne as a result of a surprise assault...

Like a stellar apparition, Susan Richards appears from nothingness to form atop the raging express. She tosses Justice Peace around like a ragdoll, disarming him with a barrage of spherical invisible forcefields.

The lawman's assessment of the woman proves correct as she dangles his helpless form over the edge of the train, where the gulf of nothingness threatens to destroy him forever. Mr. Fantastic lets loose warnings of mercy, for the protective older sister of the Human Torch is blissfully unaware that the express is now under threat of a wave created by Reed Richards' virus!

With Justice Peace captive, the Fantastic Four learn that Mr. Fantastic's ploy to overwrite their reality with a new one devoid of reference to their presence means TVA jurisdiction must adjust accordingly. No loner intent on hunting the Fantastic Four, the lawman opts to return to his own timeline, just as the team manage to outrun the threat of the wave by extreme combustion courtesy of the Human Torch. With that, the FF return similarly to their own time - victorious!

ARTWORK: Alan DavisThe Hammer...
Well, after defeating and capturing Justice Peace, and clearing their names with a little quantum editing, I think it's pretty safe to say this is another victory for the Fantastic Four!
[NOTE: Thing and Human Torch only get the assist for their contributions, although, we might revisit their solo adventures in a future timeline. Train conductor Casey also gets the assist.]

You might also describe it as a minor victory for the Infinite Wars after a busy weak of other distractions and complacency! After all those team entries, it might have been a fool's errand to get involved with a timetravel caper... Still, I chose this entry because it lept out at me as not only an interesting review, but a great opportunity to talk a little bit about recent developments for the fantastic foursome in Secret Invasion.

Unless you're so deep under cover you don't even know you're a Skrull -- you'll no doubt have heard that among the many characters revealed to be impostors, the most prominent was probably Invisible Woman!

The pages of Secret Invasion #1 saw the phony Susan Richards reveal herself in a staggering plot that involved the cosmic implosion of the Baxter Building headquarters of the Fantastic Four! The multi-pronged assault also came with the reveal of Hank Pym as a Skrull, who in turn turned a weapon on Mr. Fantastic that reduced the bitter enemy of the Skrull to a formless tangle of rubbery-humanity!

It's impossible to deny that the implications of this series are going to be incredibly fun to watch, but there are still a lot of questions looming over the event. Implications of duty are a big part of a book like this, and while many readers deserve credit for predicting an invasion off the back of multiple Skrull-related events over the past few years, the exact history remains murky.

Exactly how and when characters were replaced is going to be a major point of intrigue for this paranoia fuelled series. Though not always the most reliable source in the woods, writer Brian Bendis has promised clarification for issues such as these, as well as much more, in future issues of the series. Not to be a cynic, but I think it's safe to assume some answers are likely to be found in the inevitable slew of tie-ins, including the three-issue, Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four!

Bendis is notorious for being lazy with his history and external references, so it will be interesting to see how he manages a series so intrinsically dependent on the baggage of details. The when and where are sure to become a hot talking point amongst the fanbase, even moreso now that we know the identities of more impostor heroes, including largely inconspicuous contributors like Jarvis!
A looming concern will be the relationship between Secret Invasion and recent series such as Civil War, which went to dramatic lengths to shake up the fabric of the Marvel Universe with seemingly lasting results. Malformed series; like One More Day; have already seen the systematic dismantling of repercussons for Spider-man that were widely critiqued by fans who were subdued by promise of dedication to moves such as the reveal of Peter Parker's identity.

Something that really attracted me to the opportunity to talk about the FF here was the involvement of Reed and Sue Richards during Civil War.
At the time, series-writer Mark Millar came under heavy criticism for mischaracterizing, among others, Reed Richards, who became a staunch supporter of the pro-registration side of the event. Personally I didn't have quabbles quite to the same extent, and with much of what's done being done, I tend to think the greater concern would be widespread opportunity for cop-outs and sloppy revisionist retcons.

To Marvel's credit, they've put their best foot forward in promising integrity where the actions of the Civil War heroes are concerned. Spokespeople for the company have given strong indications that characters like Iron Man are fairly safe, despite their radical involvement in the universe-changing events. Bendis describes the Civil War more as a matter of convenience for the invading Skrull, rather than a symptom of their sinister designs. That said, the two events are sure to have a lot of overlap as we learn more about the secret past of recent history.

Bendis also describes the series as something foreshadowed in much of his early writing on New Avengers, as well as other avenues, perhaps even the already mentioned slew of titles featuring Skrull-related events, such as; Young Avengers, Runaways, Annihilation, Marvel Team-Up, and other.

Keen observers have already noted that a somewhat suspicious Jarvis returned to service after a 'holiday' in the pages of New Avengers, a series that also featured a slew of cagey and vague influences that harken back to long forgotten conspiracy plotlines from Ultimate Spider-man. Of course, on that side of things, Bendis also looks to finally make good with events in Ultimate Origin, but I digress.

Having just been bitten by a radioactive retcon [Brand New Day], concerns of continuity are fresh in mind. I don't really think there's any cause for concern just yet, but I'm very weary of the prospect of revisions that drift back several decades, if for no other reason than the necessity to retag previous entries!

Naked Fantastic Four orgy. Heroes with feet of clay, or sick Skrull rituals? U-DECIDE!But seriously, I want to take a little bit of comfort in recent history.
I agree with, and expect Marvel to live up to, the theory that it would be weak to try to completely recast the defining storytelling of Civil War. That said, I think there are plenty of very welcome gaps that help contain Secret Invasion to that recent history.

During and after the event, Reed and Sue Richards confronted marital issues as a result of their eventual split over the Superhero Registration Act. It's here that we see perhaps the most obvious opportunity for the Invisible Woman to have been replaced, during a period where Black Panther and Storm become involved in the team, and adventures for all six members included division, space, and yes, even the presence of super-powered Skrulls!

Plenty of opportunities no doubt arose for a switch, and a moment of separation perhaps even on Reed and Sue's interplanetary second honeymoon could be the perfect transition free from contradiction or confuddlement. Because, yes. With continuity, mystery, and Bendis, one has come to expect disappointment and disaster. The fact that this is a universe event only encourages further reticence...

So, how does Secret Invasion relate to Fantastic Four #354?
Well, I guess if worse comes to worse, someone can eventually get around to another TVA time virus... And if you want more on the 1990 time travelling antics of Reed Richards and Dr. Doom, you don't want to miss Bully's brilliant recap of Fantastic Four #351, and for completions sake, you might like to check out our brief look at relating events from Fantastic Four #350. Mmm, fun!

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 4.5

It's worth mentioning that Justice Peace bares a none-too-subtle resemblance to popular law enforcement zealot, Judge Dread! To the best of my knowledge these issues haven't yet been collected, but you'll find work just as good in the Infinite Wars Amazonian Gift Shoppe! By using purchase links provided you help fund future entries in the Infinite Wars, and saved a buck on purchases you were probably already going to make. Online retaliers; got a way for Infinite Wars readers to order their weekly books through you? Get in touch about sponsorship!

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