Saturday, March 30, 2013

1981: The FF Forays Into The 80s part V: Of Black Holes and Negative Zones

By Jef Willemsen (clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com)

In the fifth part of the Doug Moench / Bill Sienkiewicz FF retrospective, we're in the home stretch as the team meets the world threatening Ebon Seeker, Reed makes life and death decisions and yours truly finally learns how to properly spell Sien-kie-wicz. 

By the time Fantastic Four # 229 rolled off the presses, it was already common knowledge John Byrne would take over in three months time. That left Moench and Sienkiewicz with ample opportunity to wrap things up, maybe even going out with one, big blow out story.

And they did.

Kinda.


"His name is Moon Knight, Ben... and as a subject... 
He's fascinated me more than any other in years."

The issue opens with Alicia uttering what has to be a bit of meta-commentary from Moench, who at the time was also writing the much lauded Moon Knight, while his Fantastic Four stories didn't exactly thrill the fans.

On a side note: isn't it odd a blind sculptress is able to carve a perfect likeness of someone without having ever seen (obviously) or touched him? Ah, the suspension of disbelief... 

Other than that, it's a perfectly normal sunny Saturday afternoon in New York. Reed and Sue are even out of costume for a change, visiting Central Park zoo with Franklin.


"But let's think of something more pleasant... like cobras and pythons."

When Reed Richards tries to make a joke... Worry. Unless he actually meant spending time with deadly serpents was more fun than trying to think of ways to help his only child deal with his powers. Speaking of power, at 14.22 hours, the skies darkened and a massive, powerful black force made its presence known. 


The effect only lasted for a moment, but the looming presence drew ever closer, growing ebon tendrils that caused all sorts of mayhem. The FF rushed home to the Baxter Building in order to investigate this phenomenon, but before they could get on with it, they were accosted by local New Yorkers who figured this was all their fault. Now, surely, that's an unreasonable assumption, right? After all, the FF is dedicated to prevent incidents like this...


"Then the mob... in a way... they were... right. It IS our fault!"

Yup... Reed had invented a device that the mysterious alien presence now used as a homing beacon.

It was coming straight for the Baxter Building. Johnny's girlfriend Lorrie rushed Franklin to safety at Alicia's while the FF rushed out to face the creature calling itself Ebon Seeker... the living black hole. Let's see how the extended fight scene ended.


"Now the Fantastic Four ARE beaten. Completely, thoroughly beaten."

Disappearing into his black, erm, hole... The team didn't die. Much to their surprise, they encountered a bright presence in the opening pages of Fantastic Four # 230. 



Yeah, the dumb founded look on the FF's faces undoubtedly mirrored that of many a reader when they tried to wrap their head around the origin story of Firefrost and the Ebon Seeker.

All of this actually starts on an alien planet, described as being eons in Earth's future, while being ancient history to the Ebon Seeker at the same time. This highly advanced world had reached an evolutionary dead end and hoped that contact with alien races might be the answer.

That's why they sent out two astronauts, lovers Xanth and Shareen, on a deep space exploration mission. For forty years, they travelled in the vastness of space without even a hint of extraterrestial life. Until one day, they run into an ancient space probe that's about to get sucked into a black hole...


"We're going after that ship! We're going into the black hole!"

I suppose after 40+ years of fruitless searching, one tends to get a little obsessed... but actually flying into a black hole? Still, Xanth followed the probe into the hole and got himself, Shareen and the ship properly crushed.

But, they didn't die... there were strange and powerful voices in the void that spoke to the couple. Shareen listened to them and, as a result, was reborn as the pure, peaceful Firefrost. But Xanth was either unable or refused to listen to the voices, instead becoming the Ebon Seeker, a living black hole unto himself.



And here's where it really gets complex: when he finally escaped the black hole that changed him, Ebon Seeker emerged millennia in the past. Unaware of all of this, the nascient star creature's only drive was a dim memory of his former self's old mission statement: find new life.

So off he went, but because he's now a walking talking black hole, any life he encounters is bound to be destroyed by him, and here's the kicker: the encounter will destroy him as well!

The cloud of dark (negative) energies that surround him (remember the tendrils?) attacks positive matter, which are a drain on Ebon's lifeforce. Whenever he arrives on a planet, he slowly bleeds to death. And what happens to a black hole that collapses in on itself? It takes whatever is near it with him into oblivion.

Only, the Ebon Seeker doesn't really die. He slowly reforms and starts the whole search for life all over again. Think Galactus on a less full stomach...

That's not all, but considering all of this is hopefully a little less dry when accompanied by colourful pictures, let's have Firefrost fill us in. After all she helped free the FF from the black hole so this stuff ought to be old hat to her...


But wait, there's more!



So, not only is the Ebon Seeker's maddened wandering across the galaxy about to cause the destruction of Earth, if the FF fail to stop him, he will inevitably cause a premature big bang. 

The solution to so big a problem proved stupifyingly obvious in the end. If positive energy causes the Ebon Seeker to 'bleed' to death, having him feed off negatively charged energies ought to clear everything up. Reed asks Firefrost to lure Ebon Seeker to the Baxter Building while he rushes to prepare the portal to the Negative Zone to accomodate the creature's size.

Unfortunately, there is no time to either evacuate the surrounding cityblocks or fine tune the settings so only the Baxter Building itself will get drawn in... So Reed decides the lives of a few hundred New Yorkers don't measure up to saving untold billions and throws the switch...



Wouldnt'cha know it... the plan worked. The second he arrived in the Negative Zone, Ebon Seeker returned to his old, reasonable self and had a heart to heart with Firefrost. She managed to convince him to return with her to the black hole that spawned them, so he could listen to the same voices that shaped her... and by doing so, share an eternity of loving each other. 


"Watcha up to, Stretch?" - "Hm? Oh, just reading..."

That's our hero, folks... After stranding several square blocks of New York city real estate in the Negative Zone, Mr. Fantastic kicks back and indulges in a little light reading. He really ought to learn to prioritise... 

Reed went to the Baxter building's library to check a theory he had about the identity of the mysterious space probe... He figured it must have been one of NASA's two Voyager probes that were launched into space in 1977. After travelling for eons, that satellite would set in motion the chain of events that created the Ebon Seeker. 


"The very thought of it, Reed... It sends a chill through me.
It's so beautiful... and yet so frightening."

Beautiful, Sue? If it wás one of the Voyager probes that Xanth and Shareen chased into that black hole, that would make mankind a retroactive accomplice to the untold billions of deaths the creature caused since the dawn of time. Yay us!

And also... let's look at the story Moench told these past two issues: one of the Voyager probes causes the creation of an insanely powerful creature that obsessively roams the galaxy looking for something, cutting a wide swath of destruction along the way before arriving at Earth? With at the core of all this high concept sci-fi the romance between two space faring lovers?

Sound familiar? It should... I just recapped Moench's 1981 tale ánd the plot to 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And just like that movie, the first two parts of Moench's final arc were overly wordy, extremely drawn out, loaded with unnecessary wide angle shots of space and riddled with technobabble. Let's call it an homage.

But enough movie talk... how do we get home, Reed?



Are the FF really forever trapped in the Negative Zone? Find out next time if you dare... in the sixth and final part of The FF Forays Into The 80s: Legacies Of A Forgotten Run (or: Where's My Stygorr mini?!) 



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