From the Files of the Baxter Building comes Multiversity’s monthly deep dive into the comics and characters that inhabit the world of the First Family of superhero comics: The Fantastic Four!
This month: The biggest wedding to hit the Marvel Universe since…well, since the last one! Plus, we take a look back through the strange relationship between Ben Grimm and Susan Storm-Richards and ask such questions as “How many weddings is too many weddings?” and “Just how much retconning is too much retconning?”
Please note: there will be major spoilers for “Fantastic Four” #5 throughout this article.
Quick Question: how many times have members of the Fantastic Four gotten married? I’m not talking about extended members like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones or Black Panther and Storm either. Just the core, original four members. Well, up until this latest issue, there was only one married couple amongst them, so just the one marriage, right?
OK smarty pants, you and I both know that’s not exactly true. The first wedding, the one between Reed Richards and Sue Storm from “Fantastic Four” Annual #3 is by far the most obvious one, in part because it’s the only one (so far, at least) that’s lasted, and also because it was a big deal at the time it came out. It’s perhaps only surpassed by Lois and Clark and Peter Parker and Mary-Jane as the biggest wedding in comics history. It’s not the only one the Fantastic Four have had, though.
We’ve talked before about Alicia’s…complicated history with the FF. Back in “Fantastic Four” #300, Alicia married Johnny Storm, which seems a little gauche to mention seeing as she’s just married Ben, but fear not: twas just a Skrull! Yep, it was later revealed that Johnny married a Skrull called Lyja and not Alicia Masters after all. Phew, right? Well, kinda, but Johnny still fell in love with and – in his eyes at least – married Alicia, so you’d think that while the actual marriage didn’t count, the feelings were still there. 350 issues later though, that’s all water under the bridge.
Even that’s not the end of the weddings in “Fantastic Four” though. Aside from the time Doctor Doom became God Emperor Doom overseeing his patchwork Battleworld alongside his wife Susan Storm-Doom in 2015’s “Secret Wars,” back in the year 2000 in “Fantastic Four” volume 3 #27, Sue and Victor got married for realsies, with Doom even declaring that this was a new Fantastic Four for a new millennium! But wait, there’s a catch. Yep, you knew there would be, and, much like Johnny and ‘Fauxlicia’s’ wedding, Doom isn’t actually who he claimed to be. Inside that chiseled Latverian physique was actually the mind and consciousness of Reed Richards, who’d recently been body-swapped with Victor, because comics.
The whole body-swap debacle was known by the members of the FF, but they had to go along with it, despite the rest of the superhero community – not to mention the world – being confused and concerned in equal measure, wondering where Reed was and why Sue had seemingly fallen for an evil tin can. The ruse was essential, however, to stave off World War III, so for the safety of the entire planet, Sue had to marry Doctor Doom.
We’ve got the craziest weddings out of the way, but what about the ‘almost was?’ In “Fantastic Four” #562, Ben Grimm popped the question to school teacher and then-girlfriend Debbie Green. Cut to the big day in #569, however, and Ben got cold feet. He left Debbie at the altar, and after she tracked him down to a local bar, he told her the truth. Seeing Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Namor in the congregation reminded him that all of those men had lost the love of their lives because they were a superhero, and because he couldn’t do that to Debbie, he called off the wedding.
There must be something about Alicia that changed his mind, though, because as we bring ourselves right up to the present, “Fantastic Four” #5 (#650 in Legacy numbers) Ben and Alicia tie the knot. For real, this time. No Skrulls or body-swaps, no last-minute interruptions…well, actually, there was a little snafu in the form of the almighty Galactus: Devourer of Worlds landing in Latveria, and Doctor Doom threatening the entire planet if they interfere with his plans to defeat Galactus on his own, but y’see, Reed has a plan for that…Continued below
With the invention of a handy four-minute time bubble, Ben and Alicia were able to tie the knot in peace, with their closest friends and family watching on (although Reed didn’t create a bubble large enough to encompass the entire congregation, freezing them in time and causing them to miss the big moment, which must have been frustrating for them. Imagine the amount of money some of them must have paid to get there, only to be (literally) frozen out of the best moment?
Still, it’s nice to be able to simultaneously acknowledge the trope of “wedding gets interrupted by supervillain shenanigans,” embrace that trope and somehow subvert it all at the same time. Writer Dan Slott is sorta having his narrative cake and eating it, but the end result is the same: Ben and Alicia are officially man and wife!
While this is the biggest moment of the issue, it’s by far the most surprising. Yes, there’s the bachelor party (which has a great throwback to “Marvel Two-in-One” Annual #7 – one of the greatest Ben Grimm stories in history) –
– but I’m not talking about that. There’s also the Bachelorette party, which we already saw in last month’s “Fantastic Four Wedding Special,” (but which apparently needed mentioning again here) –
– but I’m not talking about that either. There’s also the rare appearance of the infamous and elusive Aunt Petunia, but I’m not talking about that either.
No, I’m talking about the strange and somewhat unnecessary retcons that take place in the large section of the story dedicated to the relationship between Ben and Sue. Surely I mean between Ben and Alicia, right? After all, this is their wedding issue? Nope, Slott spends a strange amount of time going over Ben and Sue’s history, in order to try and explain certain aspects of their early adventures.
Now, this is something that happens in comics from time to time. It’s an inevitable side-effect of having an unbroken continuity in a massive shared universe spanning nearly 60 years. From time to time there’s bound to be some continuity errors requiring a little narrative clean-up. There have been whole books dedicated to explaining away these mistakes (like 1998’s “Avengers Forever”), but oftentimes it’s just cumbersome and unnecessary (like 1998’s “Avengers Forever”). Readers know that a book written in 1961 is not necessarily going to contain the same characters as one written 57 years and 650 issues later, but nevertheless, Dan Slott goes out of his way to explain things that happened way back in “Fantastic Four” #1, things that didn’t really need explaining.
There aren’t any glaring retcons here, more like expansions of scenes and explanations of character motivations, but Sue discusses why, in “Fantastic Four” #1 (again, a book from 57 years ago and written back when the characters weren’t even fully formed in Stan and Jack’s minds) she called Ben a coward and inadvertently gave him the nickname of “Thing.” Back in those early issues, before things were solidified, there were times when Stan would write Ben as somewhat jealous of Reed and Sue’s relationship. It’s never really been mentioned in the years since, but here Slott explains that it’s because Ben took Sue on a date – before the accident – when Reed was too busy to.
It adds a little context to the following scenes which, to Slott and artist Mike Allred’s credit, are recreated beautifully from the originals:
The purpose of all of this is apparently to not only explain why Ben would come out with all that stuff about Sue being with the wrong man (which always reads a little strange looking back, but again, this is before the birth of the modern Marvel Universe, these things happen), but it also adds a layer of guilt onto Sue’s character that really didn’t need to be there.
This is often the problem with attempts at retconning/justifying past stories. Yes, if you read issue #1 and then read issue #5/650 (seriously, this numbering is so confusing) then there’s a path that leads directly between action and explanation. But that’s ignoring the 648 issues between these two events. If we dive into the fiction for a second, it’s entirely possible that both Sue and Ben would have said things all those years ago that not only did they not mean, but that was completely out of character for them. They were in a very traumatic and life-changing time, things get said that people don’t mean. But they’ve also been on hundreds upon hundreds of adventures since then (insert amount of years that compensates for the sliding timescale of comics), and things like this would have naturally been resolved or forgotten about years and years ago. Their relationship has long since been shown – again, countless dozens of times – as being that of a brother and sister, nothing more. We didn’t need a weird exercise in retcon-maintenance in order to show Sue awkwardly handing the ‘Ben Grimm baton’ to Alicia.Continued below
I don’t like to end things on a rant though, so instead let’s all appreciate the funniest moment in “Fantastic Four” #5, where Thundra takes part in a friendly boys-only poker game that ends with her hustling the clothes off each and every one of them, leading to the finest display of beefcake this side of a swimsuit special. Even Rocket has lost the shirt off his back!