Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Back and Forth: Stretch's Story

Hey. Let's gab. You and I. Let's have a chinwag about the single best issue of Fantastic Four. I'm talking about issue number 352, written and drawn by Walt Simonson. Now, to be fair, I haven't read every single issue of Fantastic Four, but I have read a lot, including the entire Kirby/Lee run and the entire Byrne run, and of course, the entire Simonson run.

Walt Simonson's run on Fantastic Four was relatively short, spanning only from issue 334 to 354 (not even twenty issues because there's two filler issues). The overall story is about time and time travel. Spinning out of events from Simonson's short Avengers run, we follow the Fantastic Four plus a humanized Ben Grimm (and special guests Iron Man and Thor) as they travel to a time bubble where Galactus is going to eat the entire universe or something like that. Just like other Simonson stories, this is epic rock n roll stuff just barreling along like a stern-faced freight train with pointy feet

Near the end of the run, Sharon Ventura, the "she-thing" has gone to Doctor Doom to try and have him reverse the horrible mutation she's gone through. Doom is successful only because he merges science with sorcery (a bad combo like ketchup and rice). The remaining Four attack Doom's castle in Latveria, but Doom is ready for them, and takes them each out. The important one is that Reed gets trapped in a room with no openings that gets progressively smaller.

But somehow he escapes very mysteriously, and he confronts Doom who challenges him to a final duel, using time-sequencers that allow them to slip between the seconds. And that ends issue 350 and the next issue is a craptacular filler issue, and then we come to 352.

You've never read a comic book like this. Ever. Simonson does something so interesting that it's hard to describe. The first three pages of the story set up the duel. Doom explains what is going to happen and then demonstrates by moving forward in time and displacing himself, so in a split second he's behind Reed, but Reed ain't no dummy and adapts to the new method of battle quickly.
So that's how it works. Reed and Doom begin fighting through time, through the space of about 40 minutes. The page is split in two for the remaining book. On the left is regular time, in colour, of the Fantastic Four waking up from their traps and wondering what the heck is going on. The other half of the page is displaced time, in sketchy black and white, of Doom and Reed duking it out. Here's what it looks like. But that's not all. Notice on the page that there are two different time stamps. The left side of the page runs in linear time, so the next page is 1:33 am, but only on the left side. On the next page, the displaced time might be 1:08 am. The trick here is to NOT read the comic book from beginning to end as normal. You read the left side first, then go back to the beginning of the book and read the right side starting normal, but when Reed and Doom fight at 1:33 am and then jump to 1:08 am, you have to flip back to the page where on the left side, it says 1:08 am. Get it? Reed and Doom's fight does not take them in a linear fashion through the comic. If you try to read it like a normal book, you will be confused.

This book is so awesome, that the cover is even part of the fight. At 1:34 am, Doom blasts Reed with a "full power thermo-blast", but Reed deflects the energy to 12:33 am, which is the instance in which Reed is freed from his ever-shrinking room and is in a whole other comic book - issue 350!
Oh. My. God. That's frigging genius. Remember that I said it was a mystery how he escaped? Yeah, a blast of energy from the future freed him, which is the scene on the cover. So think about that for a second. Reed is trapped in this tiny room about to die, then a strange energy blast saves him. Normally Reed would be thinking, "Why did that happen? Why did Doom allow me to escape?" and then he goes to confront Doom. Reed is so frigging smart that he chooses not to ask Doom why he escaped, or tell Doom at all how he escaped. So Reed had to have planned it exactly that he would have to send the blast back in time. It's a self-contained causality loop that makes my brains leak out of my ears. Awesome.

Doom is defeated eventually and it turns out to be not Doom, but Kristoff who is blasted by the Time Variance Authority, an eternal and infinite office that keeps an eye on time's delicate state. It seems that the Fantastic Four are guilty of f*&$ing with the timestream and are to be placed on trial. They're whisked off to the offices for the trial and that's the end of the issue.

This sh*t is off the hook. Only Simonson could have drawn this crazed back and forth non-linear epic battle between Earth-616's greatest minds. Can you imagine Mister Terrific and Reed Richards getting together? Not even Doom would be able to keep up. Anyway...
So that's the story of issue 352 of the "world's most confusing comic magazine"

Here's Bully The Little Stuffed Bull's post on Friday Night Fights and here's a Time magazine article on 352 and here's Dave Campbell's post on issue 350.


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