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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

X-amining Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4

"Madrox the Multiple Man!"
February 1975

In a Nutshell
The first appearance of Madrox the Multiple Man

Writer/Editor: Len Wein
Co-Writer: Chris Claremont
Illustrators: J. Buscema, C. Stone & J. Sinnot
Letterer: J. Constanza
Colorist: Glynis Wein

Plot
On his way to a football game with Alicia Masters, Thing's train is stopped due to man in a strange suit standing on the tracks, calling himself Madrox. When Thing punches him, a duplicate of Madrox is created, and with each ensuing blow, more Madrox are created, until Thing is overwhelmed. He wakes up at the Baxter building, where Reed Richards detects a series of power outages drawing nearer to the building. The outages are caused by Madrox, whose suit is absorbing the power and fueling his anger, and the Fantastic Four attack him. Madrox' duplication power proves to be too much for the Fantastic Four, until Professor Xavier arrives. He tells the Fantastic Four of how he gave Madrox' parents a suit to help control his power, but after his parents died, the suit malfunctioned and began absorbing energy, driving Madrox mad. Working together, Mr. Fantastic and Professor X are able to repair and improve Madrox' suit and knock him out, after which his duplicates disappear. Professor X then departs with Madrox, in order to help repair his mind.

Firsts and Other Notables
Madrox the Multiple Man makes his first appearance this issue, as a rather random opponent of the Fantastic Four (he's drawn to the power of the city by his malfunctioning costume, but there's no plot or thematic reason he had to fight the FF over any of the other various NY-based Marvel heroes). He disappears mostly into obscurity after this, until Claremont picks him back up and makes him a fixture (albeit a rarely-appearing one) of his Muir Island setting for the next couple decades, which in turn opens the door for getting drafted into the "All New, All Different" X-Factor by Peter David, which is when his star really starts to shine.


During Madrox' origin, his power is shown manifesting while he's an infant, when he's slapped on the butt by the delivering doctor and he multiplies. Most stories suggest that mutants don't develop their powers until puberty, though there are some cases (usually physical mutations) in which powers are present from birth. Most likely, this was done just for the gag of the doctor slapping the newborn and a double being created, but some later stories will use this apparent contradiction in usual mutant protocol to question whether Madrox really is a mutant, or something else entirely.


This issue was published during Marvel's brief dalliance with a regular "Giant-Size" format, that saw thicker comics sold for a higher price point, presumably to make them more attractive options to newsstands (a comic book eats up as much newsstand space as a magazine but costs less, and thus the profit margin for the newsstand is smaller; the higher price makes it more attractive to the newsstand to stock, the increased pages justifies the added expense to the reader). Originally cited as being a return to the annuals that started in the 60s (with the two often referred to interchangeably by footnotes), theses issues were in fact published more than once a year, and tended to tie-in to ongoing stories (such that a Giant-Size issue could be a chapter in an ongoing story started or continued in a character's regular-sized series) more frequently than annuals usually did (though not always; this issue is entirely standalone, of course).

In addition to the main story, this issue includes a reprint of Fantastic Four #28 (an early encounter between the X-Men and the Fantastic Four that might get its own Retro X-amination someday) and a series of seven pinups featuring the FF's "most famous foes" to round out its higher page count.

This issue also occurred during one of the Fantastic Four's occasional status quo shakeups; in this case, Invisible Girl has retired from the team, with the Inhuman queen Medusa filling her spot on the roster. This is also during the time when the Human Torch was wearing a red version of the usually-blue FF costume. The in-story explanation is that the red look is meant to honor the original Golden Age Human Torch, but I'm not sure what the behind-the-scenes reasoning was  (maybe so that each member of this iteration of the FF is wearing a different costume - Thing is Thing, Medusa has her own look, and so Human Torch gets a red suit and Mr. Fantastic the classic blue - instead of just having two members wearing the same thing?).

Creator Central 
Chris Claremont is credited as co-writer on this issue, thus giving him claim to a co-creator credit for Madrox (not that he does much with the character in subsquent years, and I believe it is Wein alone who is officially cited as Madrox creator).

The Chronology Corner
Professor X appears here between pages of X-Men #94, though the issue was on sale at the same time as X-Men #92 in November of '74, a full six months before Giant-Size X-Men #1 and eight months before X-Men #94).

A Work in Progress
Madrox seems more or less impervious to any attack which causes him duplicate (ie he is unfazed by the Thing's strongest blows), a facet of his powers that doesn't really stick around (punch him, and he'll duplicate, but the punch still hurts/has a physical impact on him).


Madrox is shown to have been raised more or less in isolation, left alone first just with his parents, then by himself after his parents die, circumstances that will be mined by later writers when developing his character.


Madrox' duplicates disappear when he's knocked out, a facet of his power that has, a few intentional exceptions aside, stayed consistent through the years.


The issue ends with Madrox leaving with Xavier, though when Madrox next appears, he'll be on Muir Island, and it will be quite some time before he interacts with Professor X again.

That 70s Comic 
Jamie's father is said to have worked at the Los Alamos nuclear facility, a holdover from the occasionally-referenced Silver Age idea that mutants were caused by their parents' being in close proximity to radioactivity.

Professor X is lowered from a passing helicopter to the rooftop via "vortex beam", because the helicopter couldn't just land or he couldn't arrive via more ordinary means.


Xavier is also referred to as being the "dean" of the X-Men's school.

Austin's Analysis
Like Wolverine, Madrox's first appearance occurs outside an X-book, and he serves as an antagonist fighting a classic Marvel hero (or heroes, here), despite going on to become a superhero himself. And like Wolverine, much of the character's later hallmarks are absent from his first appearance, as the Madrox presented here is a fairly bland character (even "one-note" seems too generous). But unlike Wolverine, that can't be blamed on the absence of Chris Claremont, as the writer is on hand as co-writer of this issue.

But whereas Claremont, upon receiving stewardship of Wolverine from Len Wein, would, over time and with many collaborators, steadily develop Wolverine into a complex, multi-faceted and extremely popular character, Madrox would be relegated to a handful of background appearances after this, serving mostly as cannon (and Proteus) fodder for a solid two decades. An appearance in Fallen Angels aside, it wouldn't be until the linewide relaunch of the X-books in 1991 and writer Peter David that Madrox really became a character in his own right, that he became distinctive beyond just his (admittedly cool) power and developed a personality.

As a result, this issue is less of a curiosity than Wolverine's appearances in Hulk. It reads less like an attempt to create an interesting new character as it does an attempt to build a character around a strong hook: "hey, let's have the FF fight a guy who makes duplicates of himself! Sounds good, what's his personality? Who cares!" That hook is thus all the character has to hang from in his subsequent appearances, admirably kept alive by Claremont (who rarely lets a character go to waste entirely, no matter how undeveloped he may be or how little Claremont actually uses him) until someone else came along, saw the character's potential, and actually did something with him.

Next Issue
Captain Britain makes his first (American) appearance in Marvel Team-Up #65-66!

12 comments:

  1. Yeah, this issue is kind of an odd duck. It's also odd how much of a powerhouse Madrox is here, in contrast to subsequent appearances.
    -Pushpaw

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    1. Shrugging off blows from Thing certainly raised an eyebrow.

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  2. I didn't get much of Peter David's All-New, All-Different Madrox back in the day, but his take on the character has always felt like completely off. Jamie hanging around in Muir Island, stating that he's just a farm boy from Kansas when asked to join the X-Men is to me a best singular selling point of the pointer that those choosing to be superheroes are a very special breed of people willing to go the extra mile and daily risk their lives because of the Spider-Man maxim about great responsibility. Every superpowered fringe X-mythos character (like Siren) joining one of the superteams in the 90's relaunch undermines that thematic which was I think bubbling under throughout Claremont's run on UNCANNY with some of the core characters questioning the sensibility of being an X-Man.

    UNCANNY #201 thusly represents the forced-on total character assassination of Cyclops, who turns from a voluntarily retired X-Man to someone incapable of letting go of that life.

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    1. Don't mention that issue. Despite the wonderful art by Rick Leonardi, one of my favorite pencilers, I still can't accept that Cyclops, who singlehanded defeated the X-Men when they fought he was Phoenix, was defeated by a powerless Storm. Not only that, he was treated by the other X-Men as an unwelcome figure. And then we have X-Factor #1... Argh...

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    2. Whereas I more or less encountered Madrox first and foremost via Peter David's X-FACTOR, so the earlier "just a simple farm boy" stuff always seemed anachronistic and out-of-character to me. The idea that he doesn't want to be a superhero isn't entirely anachronistic though; aside from his (relatively brief, ultimately) role on the government-sanctioned X-Factor team, he pretty much does stay out of that biz; during David's second X-FACTOR run, Madrox is a detective, and David gets some mileage out of the idea that the group he builds around himself isn't technically a superhero team (even if, in function, story-wise, it essentially operates as one).

      Which makes his stint in the "All New" X-Factor really more of an outlier, but then, no one said character development had to be a straight line or that characters couldn't change and then change back. With Muir Island destroyed, who's to say Jamie didn't decide maybe he should finally give the hero thing a try, only to then find it not to his liking (in part because he, you know, died while doing it)?

      @Licino: Don't worry, we now know that Cyclops was being affected by Madelyne's power, so he has an excuse for his poor showing. :)

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    3. @Licinio, it's my third ever issue and a cornerstone of my Marveldom. That is a request I shall have to respectably deny. :) Reagan! Baseball! Nathan Christopher Charles Summers!

      @Austin: I kind of glossed over the Muir Island having been destroyed. I guess that (and the reasons leading to it) is a valid reason for stopping the previous inactivity for all the mutants who were previously hanging around there... except of course at any time something, anything, was actually happening there.

      But, sorry, but claiming that dying in duty once or twice would jolt a mutant away from X-action... that would be the first. Won't buy. :)

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    4. And of course, it could just be Guido reasoning in action. :-)

      Also, while Madrox said he was just a "simple farm boy" he didn't vehemently protest the idea either (the way, say, Cecilia Reyes would. Or even Dazzler) I don't think he wanted to be a super-hero that strongly, but he wasn't against the idea. And being a goverment-sponsored team probably made it "different" enough to make the proposition more attractive than usual.
      Finally, in order for Jamie to be "out of character" he'd have to have one to begin with (which is where the magnificence of Peter David comes in.)

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    5. @Jonathan, I always took his lack of character as part of his character. :)

      Colossus is a poet in Russian farm boy's body, Jamie Madrox was just a farm boy in a Kansas farm boy's body. Or, several, as it may occasionally be. A Clark Kent with no big town aspirations.

      Not having enough personality for even one body is just great for someone with multiple.

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  3. As a kid, it always slightly annoyed me that Professor X takes Madrox away here to the X-mansion, but we never actually see him interact with any of the X-Men until years later. I remember there was a prose anthology, X-Men Legends, where one story showed the aftermath of this issue. Madrox goes to the mansion, meets the X-Men, but is too shy/socially awkward to really hit it off with them. I seem to recall he accidentally awakens the Super-Adaptoid (still in the X-Men's lake from way back when Mimic fought him), helps defeat it, but decides super heroing isn't for him and goes to Muir instead. For a gap-filling anthology story, not bad at all.

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    1. That doesn't sound bad at all. I'd have to loved to have seen something like that in a comic, just to bridge the gap between this and his subsequent appearances on Muir Island. Especially since if, back in the day, you read this issue, then heard about the relaunch of the X-Men with a new team a few months later, you'd probably have some expectation that Madrox might show up on that team.

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  4. I only knew Madrox as the background character (without, like folks are saying, any real character) on Muir Island until the new X-Factor and, yeah, that iteration kinda surprised me. Not as much as his introduction here does, though. I’d never sought it out to read until now, so his massive strength and (nigh!) imperviousness to punches from the freakin’ Thing were a shock.

    Other, non-Madrox-related, thoughts:

    Thing’s outfit at the start of the story is hilarious. Alicia has bare legs but, hey, Ben gotta pimp in a fur coat.

    Ben says they “ain’t hadda use” the Metropolitan Power Alarm “since the Big Blackout of ’65!” So at this point the FF’s been around for about 10 years if not their entire actual publication life. Which isn’t entirely unusual in the mid-'70s at Marvel — some writers, notably Steve Englehart on Avengers, would reference dates as if Marvel Time and real-world time were equivalent, but that would soon be put to bed for good.

    My oldest issue of FF as a kid had Johnny in the red costume, but although I have a distinct memory of reading it fairly young it must have been a trade or flea-market acquisition since it was published before my first birthday. I realized that the costume was unusual, and that it was an homage to the original Torch’s outfit (which I knew from Invaders), both reasons for me to like it. Especially since it came during the long period when, as was discussed in Matt’s look at Byrne’s FF on his blog, the standard FF costumes were rendered pretty much as blue throughout rather than having darker, (nigh?) black accents like the early days (and my beloved Mego figures). I’ve grown to appreciate Daredevil’s entirely red costume, even though I found it weird as a kid, but these entirely blue suits are boring as heck.

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  5. I feel like this was a wind-up for a pitch that failed to follow through. Looking at the timing and the creative team, Madrox seems to have been created with the idea that he would be part of the All-New, All-Different X-Men team that would materialize later that year -- he even has Wein and Claremont co-writing him.

    It would be interesting to see how he would have developed alongside the likes of Banshee, Nightcrawler, and Storm in the team's early incarnation. Sounds like prime "What If?" material.

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