Friday, January 1, 2010

Fantastic Four #267

Fantastic Four #267-"A Small Loss"
Cover Date: Jun. 1984 price $.60
Cover Tagline: "In the Arms of Octopus!"
Writer/ Artist: John Byrne

Story- The story opens in a hospital waiting room. A stubbled and distraught Reed Richards stands in shock as he catches me up on what must have been last issue's cliffhanger. It seems that Reed is in need of help, and his friend Dr. Langkowski suggest they get it from Dr. Otto Octavius, also known as the criminal Dr. Octopus.

Joining Reed and Langkowski are She-Hulk (who at this point replaced the Thing as the strong person on the team), Michael Morbius, and Bruce Banner. All of them are experts in radiation and/or geniuses, so they came to help Reed figure out what's wrong with Sue, who is ailing and in the hospital. It seems Sue is in danger of losing her child due to radiation poisoning from the negative zone. Let this be a lesson to all prospective parents, don't travel interdimensionally after the first tri-meseter! We peer into She Hulk's mind and she gives some exposition about what's been going on in the last few issues. This is a kinder, gentler She-Hulk than the current version, whose comic was often a mix of Sex in the City, Ally McBeal, and dirty limericks. I dare say that Shulkie is likable in this book, but I digress...

Anyway, Reed doesn't want to involve Octavius, who is the leading authority on irradiated blood, because Octavius is a dangerous criminal. Bruce Banner tells Reed to suck it up and appeal to the scientist in Octavius, not the criminal. Reed agrees, knowing that time is of the essence.

Reed tells Sue that he needs to go and find one last expert, and though she knows something's amiss, she tells him to be careful.

Reed goes and gets a Fantasticar, and heads over to the Brookyln Psychiatric Ward. He talks to the resident psychiatrist/ pill pusher Dr. Jefferson and tells him the sitch (I hate that word, by the way, the "Ch" sound really grates on me). Jefferson is reluctant, and tells Reed to follow him. They go to Octavius' cell and find him making paper cut-outs, having reverted to a child-like state of understanding. Otto is at the point when he doesn't really even know he is really the criminal known as Dr. Octopus. Reed tells Otto that his wife and baby need help, and Otto agrees to go. Dr. Jefferson is amazed that Richards can coax Octavius in a manner befitting only a specially trained mental health specialist, but this is Reed we're talking about, the guy can do anything. The two super beings leave and the nurse comments about how it's a miracle that Reed got through to Ock. The other male psych ward holds up Ock's aforementioned cut outs, and they are in the shape of an octopus. Foreshadowing, anyone?

So Reed and Ock are going across town in the Fantasticar, discussing Sue's case. As they're flying, Ock spots a "Daily Bugle" billboard decrying the menace that is local superhero Spider-Man. Ock sees Spidey's picture, and becomes a little mentally unhinged. When Doctor Octavius often commits crimes under the alias of Doctor Octopus, he is more often than not defeated by Spider-Man, and you know villains and their grudges....

So Octopus mentally calls his detachable robotic arms, which are being transported to a prison across town, to come find him. In a scene straight out of Spider-Man 2, the arms destroy a room full of people and leap to the command of their creator. After leaving the scene of that crime, the arms attack Reed, destorying the Fantasticar and throwing Ock onto a building. Ock just sits there, controlling the arms with his mind, telling them to fight Richards. Good old Reed figures this out, and tells Ock to stop fighting him. Ock tells Reed that he knows this is all a ploy for Reed to show off his intelligence. Reed struggles with Ock's arms, which are apparently infinitely long (?????). Reed then devises that the chest plate which is connected to the arms still has a manual control, so he grabs a hold of it and controls the arms.

Now with control of Ock, Reed tells him that they need to stop fighting, because his wife and baby's lives are on the line. As a show of good faith, Reed releases the controls of the arms, and Ock knows it's serious. Reed gives him the decision to help or not, and it's left at that.

We cut to a scene with young Jonathon Storm in tears and thinking to himself "It can't have ended like this!" Alicia Masters walks up to Johnny and asks what's wrong. He drags out some words about how they've traversed the universe, face monsters, etc. etc. without telling what happened. Then Reed shows up, and Johnny's fragile state of being tells him something is really wrong. Reed rushes in yelling for his wife, and the doctor stops him.

The doctor tells Reed that Sue is fine, but she lost the baby a little over 30 minutes ago.

What I thought- I knew going into this issue that this was one of John Byrne's more famous Fantastic Four stories. I knew the basic plot and ending of the issue already from years of reading Wizard magazine and "greatest stories" countdowns, etc., but none of them prepared me for how emotionally powerful this issue was. I think it all hinges on Reed's desperation for his wife and child. The fact that he would literally do anything he could and still it's not enough casts this huge sense of powerlessness over the entire story, making it that much more dramatic. Johnny sums all this up with his bit, really describing the incredible irony of the situation. Here are beings who fought off Galactus (more than once). yet they could do nothing for this innocent child.

There's not much more I can say about this issue, other than it was the perfect mix of emotion and superheroics. Anyone who doubts Reed Richards needs to read this issue, because it speaks volumes as to his character.