Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four #542: Civil War

All right, so The Revolution was under the mistaken belief that JMS’ last issue was going to be Fantastic Four #542. However, Dwayne McDuffie assumes the writing chores with Fantastic Four #542, so last issue was JMS’s final issue on this title. What a lame issue to end his run on the Fantastic Four. Anyway, I have never really been much of a fan of McDuffie’s writing, but I’m willing to give him a chance to keep me on this title. Let’s go ahead and hit this review.

Creative Team
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Penciler: Mike McKone
Inker: Andy Lanning & Cam Smith

Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10.
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10.
Overall Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10.

Synopsis: We begin with Human Torch hitting on the barista at a local Starbucks. Johnny gets his two coffees and goes and sits down at a table with Reed Richards. Reed asks Johnny why they are meeting here. Johnny asks Reed to give him a reason why he shouldn’t leave the Fantastic Four like Ben and Sue did. Johnny says that Reed has been making a lot of mistakes lately.

Reed says that Johnny doesn’t understand what is at stake. Reed says the Registration Act is not a bad law. That people like them have power that is inconceivable to most of humanity. That lack of understanding leads to fear. That fear without the law will cause something horrible to happen. That the law is absolutely necessary.

Reed says that to a mathematical certainty that it in this case ends justify the means. Though Reed agrees that it couldn’t hurt to have someone check his work. Reed tells Johnny that they need to go run an errand.

We cut to Reed and Johnny slipping past all the security measures protecting the Thinker’s secret base. Reed tells the Thinker that he is here for a favor. We shift to the Baxter Building where Reed leads the Thinker to his office.

We hop over to Paris where the Thing and Anais come across an underground Hydra base. Our heroes quickly take down the Hydra agents. The police come to clean up the scene and Johnny comes flying in on the Fantasti-Car. Johnny tells Ben that they need him and asks Ben to come back home. Ben says that he will thank about it. Johnny responds that he won’t push the issue and leaves one of the squares of the Fantasti-Car behind for Ben in case he wants to fly home.

We zip back to Reed and the Thinker in Reed’s private sanctuary. There are equations written all over the walls, ceiling and floor of the room. The Thinker notes that Reed has been working out one problem with all these equations: Social Dynamics. The Thinker says it is brilliant. Beyond anything he has ever achieved.

Reed says that when he was 12 he read “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov it made Reed curious about Psychohistory. Psychohistory was a fictional branch of science that used equations to predict future trends by mathematically modeling history. So, Reed invented this science.

Reed says he can predict societal trends to an extremely high degree of accuracy. That he has been able to do it for decades. Reed said he ran the numbers when Tony Stark approached him about the Registration Act. Reed’s equations predicted a series of societal earthquakes powerful enough to destroy humanity. Conflicts beyond anything that’s ever happened. The deaths of billions.

Reed ran the numbers attain and again. Every scenario was worse than the previous. Nothing could be applied to make a better outcome until the Superhuman Registration Act was inserted. That the Act was the only way to ensure that mankind survives.

The Thinker says that he sees no flaws in Reed’s equations. That Reed’s science is unassailable. That the Act is necessary. However, there are still many things that can go wrong. The Thinker comments that Reed was so naïve to think that he could make these moves without personal cost.

That Tony Stark has the gut instincts of a futurist and the political sense to know that his actions would make him reviled among his former friends in the super hero community. And that Stark is man enough to do what needs to be done even knowing full well what it will cost him. Few outside of this room will ever understand the sacrifice Stark has made even if he wins. However, Reed never realized the evil that he would have to do in order to prevent the destruction of mankind.

Suddenly, Sue Richards appears. Sure asks Reed how he could lie to her. Sue says that she doesn’t buy it. That they have beaten the odds before, just by doing the right thing. Sue says she is with Captain America and that they are going to beat the odds again. Sue then storms out of the room. Reed responds that she doesn’t get it. They won’t beat the odds. End of issue.

The Good: Wow. I’m surprised. I just finished a Fantastic Four Civil War tie-in issue and I didn’t throw up a little bit into my mouth. McDuffie actually did what I thought was impossible and delivered a well written and thought provoking Civil War tie-in issue. McDuffie absolutely crushed any Civil War tie-in issue that JMS ever wrote on this title. McDuffie presents the reader with a much more complex, nuanced and intriguing story than anything that JMS gave us.

Rather than employing JMS’ style of presenting Reed as a Nazi scientist blissfully ignoring what his work is leading to and making Tony Stark nothing more than Iron Dick Cheney, McDuffie decides to actually try and deliver an intelligent and multifaceted story.

McDuffie gives us the type of insight into Reed’s motivation for supporting the Registration Act that we simply have not gotten anywhere up to this point. It is ridiculous that it has taken this long into the Civil War storyline to finally delve deeply into what is going on inside Reed’s mind. McDuffie does a brilliant job showing how absolutely certain Reed’s science has predicted the doom of mankind without the Registration Act.

McDuffie then makes the situation even grayer by having the Thinker call Reed out for his naivety about having to perform distasteful and “evil” acts in order to prevent this horrible decimation of mankind. Sue’s response that they have always beaten the odds by doing the “right” thing further makes Reed’s decision even grayer. However, Reed’s unassailable science does give more weight to Reed’s position and that Sue is simply engaging in blind wishful thinking and that the odds cannot be beaten without the Registration Act.

Finally, I completely get why Reed supports the Act. And Reed doesn’t look like some Nazi scientist in a complete state of denial. No, Reed comes across as the brilliant man of science who can see things that no other man can even begin to possibly comprehend. McDuffie sues the Thinker as a literary tool to show how even the brightest minds in the Marvel Universe pale in comparison to Reed Richards.

Reed is portrayed as more of a tragic character whose brilliance is a blessing and a curse. Reed’s genius has allowed him to create a science that can predict societal trends. However, this genius has enabled him to see a future that involves the death of billions and it cannot be avoided without the Registration Act. Unfortunately for Reed, no one else on the planet will ever be able to understand his science. No one else on the planet will know what he knows and see what he sees.

This heavy burden is placed up on Reed’s shoulders alone. However, Reed’s genius also gives him the confidence that his calculations are absolutely correct. That Reed has no other choice but to support the Registration Act. Reed is a good man who is guided by the principles of science. Reed is being torn up inside since he knows what he must do however, unlike Tony Stark, he doesn’t possess the necessary mental toughness to do the dirty work necessary to save mankind.

And that leads me to my next point. McDuffie does an excellent job describing the motivation behind Tony Stark’s action. Rather than taking the easy way out and performing character assassination on Tony Stark by making him Iron Dick Cheney, McDuffie delves deeply into Tony Stark’s core beliefs and personality to explain Tony’s actions during the Civil War.

McDuffie portrays Tony as man with an extremely strong will and incredible intestinal fortitude that allows him the strength to do what must be done no matter how unpopular it may be with his former super hero friends. Tony is a man of convictions who is doing exactly what he feels is the only option to prevent further deaths and chaos. McDuffie portrays Tony as a true hero who is man enough to do what is necessary to save mankind no matter what it costs him. That Tony has certainly sacrificed more than absolutely any other character in the Marvel Universe even if he manages to win.

What has Captain America sacrificed? Nothing. Captain America has fed into his own egotistical belief system that he is right and everyone who disagrees is wrong. That Captain America is free to willfully disobey any law or belief that runs contrary to his own and that this makes him a true Patriot. Captain America is taking the easy way out. Win or lose, there is no sacrifice in what Captain America is doing.

Win or lose; Tony has sacrificed so much in his life. And we are beginning to see how that is starting to take a toll on Tony over in his own title. That win or lose, Tony will have suffered emotional wounds that will probably never heal. And yet, Tony is willing to sacrifice his own personal life and happiness in order to do what he firmly believes is necessary to prevent the destruction of mankind.

McDuffie really impressed me with his efforts to try and make these horribly shallow and one-sided Civil War tie-in issues a bit more compelling and complex. If McDuffie can keep up this level of writing on the Fantastic Four then I may just stay on for his run on this title.

I thought McKone’s artwork was better than average. It wasn’t anything incredible, but to be fair, this issue didn’t sport much action that would lend to some impressive panel shots.

The Bad: Ben needs to leave Paris immediately. The entire Ben Grimm in Paris plotline is already boring me to tears.

Overall: Fantastic Four #542 was one of the better Civil War tie-in issues I have read. It was certainly better than anything that JMS gave us during his run on this title. I have high hopes that McDuffie just might be able to make Fantastic Four an interesting read once again. It certainly has been a long time since I really looked forward to reading this title. If you haven’t read this title in a while, then the change at the writer position makes this a good time to give the Fantastic Four a try.

3 thoughts on “Comic Book Review: Fantastic Four #542: Civil War

  1. I agree with you, I thought this was a great issue. I didn’t think it was possible, after the drubbing that JMS gave Reed Richards character over the past several months, but with just one issue Dwayne McDuffie has managed to redeem Mister Fantastic and explain his support of the SRA as rational and thought-out.

    McDuffie is a very underrated writer. I’m glad to see him get this assignment, and I hope he stays on FF for a good long run.

    By the way, I strongly urge you to pick up the Iron Man/Captain America: Casualties of War one-shot. It’s a great story that does for Tony Stark’s character what this issue of FF did for Reed.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. Ummm…

    Cap did sacrifice his whole life, his ability to walk around in public, his previous status of not being hunted down as a fugitive, his standing with SHIELD…

  3. I think what happened is that amrvel realized that it wasn’t all that smart to make heros look bad who also had movies comming out. Come summer, the FF have to be in good shape to conform with the movie. Iron Man might take a little while longer, as his movie is still in production, but mark my words, soon enough he’s going to come out smelling like a rose. Whatever the power of a story is, it’s nothing comapred to the power of a well planned marketing campain

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