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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

X-amining Fantastic Four Annual #23

"When Franklin Comes Marching Home"
1990

In a Nutshell 
Adult Franklin Richards appears in the present, attracting the attention of the Fantastic Four, Forge & Banshee, and the villainous Ahab.  

Writer: Walter Simoson
Penciler: Jackson Guice
Inker: Geof Isherwood
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Colorist: Richard Rasche
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Returning from a picnic, the Fantastic Four are stunned to discover their Four Freedoms Plaza headquarters replaced by their old Baxter Building. Going inside, they're attacked by the building's defenses, followed by past versions of themselves. Just then, an adult Franklin Richards appears, looking for someone named Rachel. Realizing Franklin is responsible for the changes, Mr. Fantastic tries to convince him everything he's created is an illusion, which prompts a disturbed Franklin to fly off. Everything then returns to normal, but a force field appears trapping the Fantastic Four inside the building. At Excalibur's lighthouse, Rachel Summers experiences a telepathic sensation she thought she'd never feel again, then flies off, telling Meggan this is something she has to do alone. In New York, adult Franklin appears before Banshee and Forge, but realizing they're younger than he remembers, he gets upsets and disappears again.


Meanwhile, in a hidden crypt between here and now, Ahab is awakened by reports of Franklin's activities in the past, and dispatches a Sentinel warp attack to stop him. Back in New York, adult Franklin plays with the Power children, while Banshee and Forge make their way to Four Freedoms Plaza. Just then, a squad of small drone missiles appear inside the building, targeting young Franklin. The FF fight them off and destroy the force field to find Banshee and Forge waiting outside. Comparing notes, they realize that adult Franklin is yearning for his childhood, and head to the Powers'. There, Invisible Woman promises to help Franklin, but en route back to Four Freedoms Plaza, he spots X-Factor's Ship. Saying it isn't right, he disappears, forcing the Fantastic Four, Forge and Banshee to split up to find him, and leaving them no closer to discovering who sent the missiles after them or why Franklin came back in time.

Firsts and Other Notables
After two consecutive years in which Marvel turned over the majority of their annuals to a large, line-wide storyline, the 1990 annuals take a different approach: breaking the annuals into smaller groups (when possible, into the existing "family" group, like all the Avengers books or all the X-books), with each group responsible for telling its own story. Same general concept as the bigger crossover stories (if you buy one annual, you'll need to buy more to get the full story), but on a somewhat smaller scale, the end result being a wider variety in stories and quality. It's a model Marvel will continue to use for their 1991 and 1992 annuals, before returning to the "every man for himself" annuals of old with the 1993 books and their "every annual features the debut of a new character (with their own trading card)!" gimmick.

But some series didn't automatically slot into a family of titles (come the mid-90s, Marvel was all about grouping its series into these families, but that was still a work in progress in 1990) and so there's a few odd pairings scattered amongst the four and five part stories. To wit, Fantastic Four gets lumped in with X-Men, New Mutants and X-Factor (because Wolverine and Excalibur, being the more costly "prestige" series, do their own thing for annuals at this point), to round out the X-quartet and give FF somewhere to go. I'm curious if the overall plot of "Days of Future Present", involving an adult Franklin Richards from the "Days of Future Past" alternate future coming to the present was always the plan for the '90 annuals, making Fantastic Four's involvement a no-brainer, or if the story was developed as a way to justify the inclusion of Fantastic Four after it was decided that series' annual would be grouped with the X-books'.

However it came about, "Days of Future Present" marks the first formal sequel to "Days of Future Past". Plenty of elements from that storyline have been revisited since its initial publication, of course (ad naseum, in some cases), most notably the continued presence of Rachel Summers in the present day in Excalibur, but this is the first story to present itself as a direct sequel to it, bringing elements of that future timeline to the present day and expanding our understanding of the world as presented by the original story.

To that end, this issue marks the return of Adult Franklin Richards, who in "Days of Future Past" was a member of the surviving X-Men who escaped the Sentinel concentration camp and was romantically involved with Rachel, but who died en route to the assault on the Baxter Building (which led to the deaths of the remaining X-Men, save Kate Pryde and Rachel).


This issue is also the first appearance of Ahab (though he is unnamed here), the cybernetic master of the Hounds, who, we will soon find out, is also tasked with preventing any additional time traveling mutants from altering the past. He is missing one leg and uses harpoons as his weapon of choice. His true identity remains unknown, and will become a minor mystery in the X-books throughout the 90s, with this story later suggesting that he's a possible incarnation of Cable, while Excalibur will do a lot to tease that Rory Campbell (a future member of that book's supporting case), eventually becomes Ahab. For all that, he's a fairly forgotten member of the X-Men rogues gallery today, though that didn't stop him from getting an action figure at one point.


Coming out of the Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman-less lineup circa "Inferno", the original Fantastic Four at this point in time have been reunited, though Thing is a powerless Ben Grimm, while She-Thing remains a member of the team (making them, technically, the Fantastic Five, though I suppose the powerless Grimm is considered more of an honorary member at this point).

The Power family (aka Power Pack, whom Franklin is friendly with) appear in this issue as well. 


Each issue of this story features a masthead listing all the parts, though each issue erroneously lists New Mutants Annual #6 as being the third part of the story and X-Factor Annual #5 being the second when, in fact, the opposite is true.

In addition to the main story, this issue includes two additional stories, one involving Dr. Doom and Volcana, another Molecule Man and Kosmos.

Creator Central
A pair of former X-Factor pencillers wrote and drew this issue, with Walt Simonson, in the midst of his run as writer on Fantastic Four writing it and Jackson Guice drawing it.

John Byrne provides the cover to this issue. 

The Chronology Corner
Forge and Banshee appear in this story between X-Factor #58 and the start of "X-Tinction Agenda" in Uncanny X-Men #270.

Rachel appears here following Excalibur #26 (which itself is set after Excalibur #34) and prior to Excalibur's guest-appearance in Thor #427-429.

A Work in Progress
At this point in time, the Fantastic Four operate out of Four Freedoms Plaza, which replaced the old Baxter Building after it was destroyed by Dr. Doom's adopted son, Kristoff Vernard, in Fantastic Four #278.. 

Rachel notes that her memories are jumbled, a result of her trip through Mojoworld prior to Excalibur #1.


In order to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Adult Franklin, Mr. Fantastic removes the mindlocks holding Franklin's power in check.


Teebore's Take
I've probably only read the entirety of "Days of Future Present" once before, so I'm not as familiar with this story as with most of the others around this time. To that end, it was surprising just how much of a genuine "chapter one" this issue is - it's almost entirely all set up for the rest of the story, introducing the initial mystery (adult Franklin), the overall villain (Ahab) and laying the groundwork for the expansion of the story (Phoenix flying off to New York, Adult Frankling targeting X-Factor's ship). Which, of course, is what a good first chapter should do, but it's still surprising just how much of this issue is handed over to setting up a story that will unfold in three other books with only the most tangential of connections to Fantastic Four.

Granted, the FF will continue to appear in those chapters, and any story involving an alternate future version of their son should feature their involvement, but this issue represents their biggest chance to shine, and aside from a fairly routine "new FF vs. old FF" fight scene, there's not a whole lot here for Fantastic Four fans - the issue doesn't even end on much of cliffhanger. Just the FF saying "yep, we sure are going to figure out what's going on" after Adult Franklin disappears. As the first chapter of "Days of Future Present", this works just fine, then. As a Fantastic Four annual in and of it's own right, probably not so much.

Maybe at this point Marvel figured the bump they'd get from X-book readers picking this up was greater than or equal to the FF fans who could care less about seeing their characters get roped into a story to which they're only tangentially connected in the first place. In terms of serving the story, diving in and not worrying about placating those fans is probably the right decision, but it's still, for 1990 at least, a bit of a curious one nonetheless, a decision that somewhat heralds the upcoming era in which everything is subservient to the whims of the crossover du jour.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Franklin visits the New Mutants in New Mutants Annual #6. Friday, he visits X-Factor in X-Factor Annual #5. Next week, "Days of Future Present" wraps in X-Men Annual #14.

Collected Editions

 

8 comments:

  1. "(Come the mid-90s, Marvel was all about grouping its series into these families, but that was still a work in progress in 1990)"

    Funny story - DC had done this for years with the Batman Family under one editor, Superman Family under one, etc. When Marvel decided to do a similar thing, DC decided at the same time to drop this model because it created confusion & overall bad feelings/morale when planning stories. Once I found out about this (it was detailed at Life of Reilly), it made what happened to Marvel during the back half of the 90s make more sense.

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  2. Look, Banshee and Forge "find" another X-Man, it's Franklin Richards from the future!

    I like these issues, most likely my favorite all time annuals. I think these were some of the first back issues I bought, so nostalgia probably plays a role in that. The chronology is a bit weird and the art isn't great, but its a pretty interesting storyline.

    Not being much of an FF fan unless the were appearing in an X-Men related comic, I thought their actions were cool. This is probably my second favorite of the four based on its introductory nature, easy to follow moments and decent art.

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  3. // Walter Simoson //

    Vanna missed the first “n”.

    Also: Bob Harras scripted the last 7 pages according to Pg. 19 (of the story). I’m curious whether that was due to (1) deadline pressure on Simonson, like if Guice was turning in pages so late that both Simonson and Harras were scripting over his pencils at the same time, coordinating, or (b) Harras taking over to align the end of this first chapter more with what was unfolding in the later chapters he edited. Not that those are the only two options, nor that either is anything more than speculation.

    I've said her before that I remember liking Guice's stuff way back when X-Men and the Micronauts came out, then being really, really disappointed with it on later projects. Here it’s pretty unsightly.

    // Fantastic Four gets lumped in with X-Men //

    Kind-of ironic, or amusingly prescient, given the breakdown of the Marvel characters’ movie rights today. Like you say, though, Franklin was part of the original “Days of Future Past” (alternate) future.

    // This issue is also the first appearance of Ahab … He is missing one leg and uses harpoons as his weapon of choice. //

    I’m curious, again, this time about the order of him losing his leg, taking up harpoons, and getting dubbed Ahab, like whether he enjoyed harpoons, then lost his leg, and the name came after he just decided to roll with the curve, or whether the name came first and destiny is once again being a fickle bitch.

    Were I writing a Marvel/DC crossover, I’d totally have Ahab hell-bent on finding Metron’s Möbius Chair and Dick Grayson.

    John Byrne created Ahab. I have no idea whether it was just some random assignment, like he was recruited for the cover and nobody had drawn Ahab yet, or if Simonson (no slouch himself in doing the same) asked Byrne given his affinity for cosmic/futuristic characters, or even if Simonson or Macchio or DeFalco or Harras expected Ahab to be a big deal and was giving Byrne the opportunity to create his look for reprint and merchandising points down the road.

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  4. Blam: Were I writing a Marvel/DC crossover, I’d totally have Ahab hell-bent on finding Metron’s Möbius Chair and Dick Grayson.

    Your editor would be yelling at you like they were at Starlin (if memory serves me right) back in the day: if you're going to do a New God, at least do the good one! And then they would show you the concurrent Thanos stories' sales figures.

    But other than that, lol.

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  5. @Teemu: // Your editor would be yelling at you like they were at Starlin (if memory serves me right) back in the day //

    Ha! Starlin was indeed the creator, Roy Thomas was the editor, and per Starlin at least it did happen. Plug: The oft-told tale is actually touched upon yet again in a Thanos retrospective I wrote for last month’s ACE: All Comics Evaluated #3; both gentlemen were kind enough to trod down that branch of memory lane yet again, despite Starlin understandably preferring to look ahead. I’ve no idea what overseas distribution was/is like, nor what the future holds for the mag, but I also put together an exhaustive look at Henry Pym for the July issue.

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  6. Blam: I also put together an exhaustive look at Henry Pym for the July issue.

    Should it be done by nearly anyone else, I would expect that to be composed mostly of a two-page splash of different artists' depictions of The Slap. Liefeld's would have a horrible grimace on Janet's face and a strike going about a feet off but the text would claim it hit.

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  7. I've somehow never read this crossover. And probably because of the era in which it was produced, I've never had interest in seeking it out.

    Mela -- Re: editorial families: That's so weird. I can't imagine why you wouldn't want families of books under the same editor. Seems to me that coordination between the books in a family should be the most important factor when producing them.

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  8. Jackson Guice is usually a good artist. Not sure what happened to his art here. Maybe the inking?

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