Have Them Fight God: The Second Time Doom was Santa

I’m reading every Fantastic Four comic and posting four thoughts about each.  This one’s a little dry at the start, to be honest, but I promise we’ll all be having fun by the end.

Today it’s…

A-Next #5

cover

… supposedly from February 1998, but since it’s a Christmas issue I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you told me that cover date was a tissue of lies. This is the comic in which the MC2 begins to directly sequalise material from Tom DeFalco’s Fantastic Four run.

Words/Plot/Pencils by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz. Finishes by Al Milgrom. Letters by Dave Sharpe. Colours by Bob Sharen.

GLOSSARY

The MC2:  A Tom DeFalco-written late nineties imprint. It dealt with a new generation of Marvel heroes and, with its fresh start and its gestures at Silver Age storytelling, offered relief from the hellscape of narrative convolution and misapplied EXTREME aesthetics that had constituted much of mid-nineties Marvel.

Tom DeFalco’s Fantastic Four Run: A  hellscape of narrative convolution and misapplied EXTREME aesthetics such as constituted much of mid-nineties Marvel.

ONE

Across the three MC2 launch books, Spider-Girl, A-Next and J2: The Son of the Original Juggernaut, DeFalco constructed a new future for the Marvel universe. As we saw in What If? #105 and Spider-Girl #3 then this universe came to exist on the scale it did because of a creative drive towards worldbuilding, while many of its eccentricities came to exist because of the areas where DeFalco resisted that drive. From the perspective of Spider-Girl, we’ve looked at the culture and society of the America that Spider-Girl inhabits. This comic lets us go bigger.

How does this new world work on a global level? How do the Great Houses of the Superheroes relate to each other, to their governments, and to international political institutions? Now we’ve got an idea of what this world is like, we need to have a think about who’s in charge.How does power work around here? Where are the swells who run this show?

A-Next #3 provides a case study in exactly that by showing us how the international and superheroic establishment deals with one specific humanitarian crisis; the reconstruction of Latveria.

Let’s briefly run through the agencies involved:

Doctor Doom was the former monarch of Latveria. He disappeared several years ago, following the horrific devastation of his kingdom.   

Namor was the one who devastated Latveria. Typical. Absolutely typical. In A-Next #3 this ‘devastation’ was presented as having been a massacre, but this issue paints him less harshly. Here it just seems that the infrastructure of the country got smashed up a bit in a scrap between him and Doom.

Whatever it was Namor did, it caused him to regrow his hair and beard to his old soup kitchen look, team some frayed green rags with some jumbo gold accessories and mope around the coast of Hawaii in a big smelly sulk. Or, as he puts it, “alone with my torment.”

A-Next #3 saw him brought out of this torpor by Doctor Strange, who employed a moderately complex series of psychological manipulations to “prod Namor back into proactivity.” We often see Strange take on the role of Namor’s therapist, sometimes even with Namor’s consent, but his actions seem ill advised here. If literally the last proactive thing someone did was destroy a country then I’m not sure I’d have returning that person to proactivity at the top of my To Do list of unsolicited meddling. Nevertheless, Namor doesn’t do anything in the issue at hand. I just mention this stuff because it’s fun.     

SHIELD appear here in two aspects; As peacekeeping troops on the ground and as an agency capable of calling in superheroes to act on their behalf. They are either maintaining a persistent presence in post-Namor Latveria or have gone there on a specific mission to look for one missing child. The first seems the more plausible but you never know.

The United Nations is the framework through which the world powers are approaching the Latverian reconstruction, seemingly ineffectively. The UN is described as having been “bickering over it for years, debating the best way to rebuild.”

The Great Houses now all stand active. We know little yet of ‘the X-People’ except that members seem to be able to move freely between them and the Avengers, so they are likely not considered a criminal organisation. The Fantastic Five have remained continuously operational since they were the Fantastic Four. A new team calling themselves ‘The Avengers’  has formed and been legitimised as indeed being the actual Avengers by dint of the approval of the old team’s butler and the nonprofit that funded them. Their relationship to the state has yet to be formalised, all official Avengers clearances having long expired according to A-Next #2.

The US government has an interest in Latveria evidenced by its tight control over the conditions under which its citizens may travel there. It is implicitly one of the parties using “the poor country [as] a political football.”

Those are our players.  How do they relate to each other, how do they interact, and how do those interactions shape the response to the Latveria situation?

SHIELD is always slippery. Dependant on the needs of the story, it swings between being an international organisation and being subject to unilateral whims of the US executive. We should never take for granted that we know what SHIELD is, what they’re doing, or who they work for. Even before you start using the concept to tell stories about conspiracies, infiltrators and inter-agency rivalries, SHIELD is a conceptual muddle due to successive writers treating ‘the US’ and ‘some vague notion of a world government’ as effectively interchangeable. The version in the films, for example, ends up as a  global organisation where nobody minds the ‘H’ standing for ‘Homeland.’

Their connection to the UN is probably the most useful thing to watch, and there are a few clues here as to how that connection works in the MC2. The request for the Fantastic Five to intervene in Latveria is made by “the UN and SHIELD” which suggests a functional distinction; A request from one is not automatically understood to be a request from the other. We also see that the UN is capable of putting restrictions on SHIELD, who are permitted to operate in Latveria but not to go near the spooky ruins of Doom’s castle. That particular restriction is telling as it seems to come not from a concern for the safety of SHIELD personnel but from a desire to stop them obtaining the castle’s dark secrets. The picture we come away with is that SHIELD aren’t understood as a fully integrated arm of the United Nations but that they act in concert, are subject to their authority, and are not entirely trusted by them. The dark secrets of Castle Doom can’t be protected by having them taken into SHIELD custody. The dark secrets of Castle Doom can only be protected by keeping SHIELD away.

How do these organisations interface with superheroes? Well, the thing that obligates the Fantastic Five to act is that they were asked to directly by “the big guy.” That could mean anyone, I suppose, but contextually it makes most sense that it be the Director of SHIELD. It’s written as if the reader is supposed to know who this big guy is, and ‘the director of SHIELD’ is the slot which we immediately have a ‘big guy’ character in mind to fill. So SHIELD can exert a level of compulsion on the Fantastic Five. That they have been asked means that they have to go.

They don’t though. They pass the mission on to the new Avengers at their request. That needs squaring, certainly, but not with SHIELD. The Fantastic Five need to have the transfer of the mission to the Avengers approved by the UN. It’s one organisation that mandated the mission, but another with whom the details must be resolved.    

One further authority needs to give their approval; the US Government. They have a stipulation. They’ll only allow the mission if the American Dream is part of the team that goes. At this point the motivations and position on the team of Shannon Carter, the American Dream, are still a source of mystery and drama. So it’s unclear to the reader why the US are adamant that she must be deployed. Are they briefing her and she reporting to them? Or is it merely for propagandistic value? We don’t know. We just know that the Avengers can’t go to Latveria unless someone goes with them dressed in the US flag.

The Avengers, who have still to arrive at a sense of their overall mission, have no shared interest in Latveria. One of them is motivated by the financial opportunity; a successful mission there would enhance their reputations in ways that could be commercially exploited. Another is concerned for the individual child whose disappearance prompted the mission. One, the Avenger who requested the mission, is using it as a pretext to get into Latveria, something she’s been trying to do for years. ‘The Avengers’ here is an entity that acts as a single agency but shares no common purpose.

The Fantastic Five’s common purpose, under its new leadership, remains ambiguous. The real function of the FF is always to meet the emotional needs of its members, but its strategy for doing so necessitates more outward-looking mission statements. The FF are the FF so they can be the FF, but to be the FF they need something to do all day. How, in the MC2, do they keep themselves busy?

We’re no closer here to answering that than we were in Spider-Girl #3, but at least here we get a sense of what the Fantastic Five consider the limits of their sphere of interest. According to their leader there is “no good reason” for the FF to go to Latveria as “No way is Doom back.” That’s the circumstance that would make their involvement appropriate. The search for the missing child and the wider plight of the Latverian people are taken to be inappropriate organisational concerns for the Fantastic Five.      

So, acting on Latveria we’ve got individual governments operating through the United Nations, a SHIELD that’s answerable to the UN but understood as an interest in it’s own right, and the superheroic Great Houses who have no real agenda but are willing to act at the behest of the UN/SHIELD and answer to their own governments.

We’ve also got a figure who, for now, we’ll call Santa Claus.  

Santa Claus is the one person in the story in possession of all the information. Towards the end of the issue he asks the Avengers a question. “Do you know why the politicians have not rushed to rebuild Latveria?” he asks.

He answers his own question by revealing a dark secret. But it is illuminating that that question needs a dark secret to answer it, because that presupposes that without one the world’s politicians would have rushed to rebuild Latveria. Foreign powers wouldn’t just have rebuilt a nation levelled by Namor the Sub-Mariner, they’d have rushed to do so. They’d have been keen as mustard.  Sadly we don’t get much evidence as to why they’d have been in such a rush, be it from altruism, to stabilise the region, to cash in on construction contracts, or to mitigate a refugee crisis, because they didn’t. Because of the dark secret.

Castle Doom is full of Doom’s “nightmarish weapons of mass destruction” and everyone wants a bit of that action. It’s also full of Doombots though, all set to ‘patrol/destroy intruders’ mode. The interested powers are all waiting for the Doombots to run out of batteries so that they can divide the spoils. Latveria’s reconstruction has not begun because the world’s governments are waiting for killer robots to run out of batteries.   

The MC2 presents a Silver Age face to the world – the first page of A-Next’s first issue cautioned us not to turn it over unless we felt “FULLY PREPARED TO EMBARK ON THE WILDEST THRILL RIDE IN THE HISTORY OF COMICS!” – but a huge distinction between these comics and the comics they’re impersonating is to be found in how they view authority. The MC2 is a long way from Smilin’ Stan’s Cold War paternalism. People would be very quick to talk about how post-9/11 this comic was if it wasn’t from Nineteen Ninety-Eight.     

Power in the MC2, as it acts to prolong and to eventually resolve the situation in Latveria, is about self-interest, sentimentality, and waiting for Doombots to run out of batteries.

TWO

This issue’s cover promises a “Don’t blink appearance by the Fantastic Five!” That’s what we’re here for. Though the appearance is two pages long. By the standards of this project, that’s practically Cerberus. We’ll be back to looking at a silent one panel glimpse next week.

Those two pages are mostly given over to a conversation between Scott Lang and the character we’ve been told is now called John Storm. It’s our first clear look at John in his not-on-fire form., which we’d previously only seen for a couple of panels in Spider-Girl #3, where the colouring and lack of an introduction kind of made him look like Ozymandias.  

ozy

Spider-Girl #3

While we now have a definitive visual for adult John Storm, one that’s had him change to a red costume and abandon his fleeting regal pretensions, what we still don’t have is any evidence of a single person in this universe ever calling him ‘John.’ He’s been ‘Johnny’ to everyone who has addressed him so far and is ‘Johnny’ here to Scott and ‘Uncle Johnny’ to Cassie Lang.

Then again, Scott here is ‘Scotty’ to both John and Ben. That’s unusual for Scott and unlike how we’ve previously seen those characters address him. It seems that the sixteen or so years between the DeFalco Fantastic Four run and the MC2 have seen a more relaxed affability develop between between the Fantastic Five and the Langs.

Relaxed affability is very much the tone of Johnny and Scotty’s conversation, as Scott wants to do a sort of “I can’t believe how much my little angel has grown” dadchat. Myself, I find it a little insensitive for him to be listing the Joys of Fatherhood at someone whose only child was a laser-powered alien egg, but Johnny seems happy enough to indulge it. He is visibly enjoying the conversation so perhaps his forestalled experience of fatherhood didn’t leave any scars. After all, his sister has never been seen to worry about that time she gave birth to a clutch of brain-eating parasites. The Storms, as a family, might just not be that stressed about occasionally begetting sinister eggs.     

John alludes to Peter Parker in a way that lets us know that they’ve been in touch and that Peter went for a similar dadchat. I really want to see the three of them down the pub together now.

PETEY: So, Scotty, how’s your daughter doing?

SCOTTY: Good, good. They grow up so fast don’t they? She’s a superhero now. Where do the years go, eh?

PETEY: Best not think about it.

SCOTTY: And how’s May?

PETEY: Good, good. They grow up so fast don’t they? She’s a superhero now.

SCOTTY: What about your little one, Johnny? Not so little now, I expect!

JOHN: Good, good. Still a laser-powered egg not spoken of since 1994. They grow up so fast don’t they?

SCOTTY: And how’re your sister’s three?

JOHN: Good, good. Yeah. Really good, yeah. Valeria still doesn’t exist in this continuity and the brain-eating parasite has still not been spoken of since 1981. They grow up so fast don’t they?

PETEY: Franklin still calling himself ‘Psi-Lord’?

JOHN: Yeah.

Also calling Franklin ‘Psi-lord’ is Lyja, his aunt. Just while they go about their day-to-day business around their home. ‘Psi-Lord’ she calls him. “Don’t strain yourself, Psi-lord!” she says.

Now, this sort of thing is perfectly normal in the Silver and Bronze Age styles that the MC2 books intermittently affect. When reading pre-Claremont X-Men material we’d be wasting our time stressing about why people are calling their family members by superhero names over breakfast. Pass the butter, Human Torch.That’s just how they live their lives. Even it if it seems weird to revisit after so many years of modern Marvel that read like…

CAPTAIN AMERICA: Tony?

IRON MAN: Steve.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: Tony.

IRON MAN: Steve.  

The reasons why the Fantastic Five are all talking to each other so impersonally in this comic are stylistic and expository. But the thing is… they’re all doing this off to the side in the same panel as the ongoing chat between Johnny and ‘Scotty.’

chatsThe contrast between the naturalism-lite of one conversation and the genre tropes of the other forces you to think about why these people might be calling each other these things.

Let’s run through them.

Ben is lifting a heavy object for Reed. This happens so often I honestly suspect that Reed occasionally constructs heavy objects for no reason other than for Ben to lift, that he may feel special and proud.

“My telekinesis will help lighten your load, Uncle Ben” says Franklin. The conversation then begins with use of given names set as the default. Whoever now uses anything else will be conspicuously breaking that precedent.   

“Don’t strain yourself, Psi-lord!” says Lyja. Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa! Formalising the mode of address at the same time as admonishing really turbo-charges the admonition. What’re you doing there, Lyja? What’s your relationship with your nephew like? It comes across as protective but weirdly hostile and I wish to learn more.

Once Lyja’s established that action names are the appropriate mode of address to use while lifting heavy objects, everyone else follows suit. Though Ben subverts it slightly by calling her ‘Ms Fantastic’ and Franklin ‘Franklin.’

Reed, who let us not forget is now a brain inside a little flying robot, says “Careful, Thing! That generator is very delicate!” which is typical Reed behaviour. It reads as fussier than normal though just because he’s now a little flying robot, buzzing about the place impotently. The shadow of C3P0 falls upon all fussy robots, and you’re as likely to read that line in his voice as any you’ve previously imagined for Reed. Also, there’s a new weight to hearing him urge caution and care given that we don’t yet know why Reed is a brain inside a robot or what life is like for him now.  

You can imagine it involves a real struggle to hang on to a sense of self. The climactic drama of the then-current Chris Claremont Fantastic Four run was Reed Richards’ fight to understand that he was still Richard Richards despite having to cosplay Doctor Doom for a bit. That proved difficult for him. In the Earth X continuity it proved impossible, as a different Reed fully became Doctor Doom while cosplaying him for different reasons. The late Nineties teemed with versions of Reed Richards forgetting that they were Reed Richards because they were wearing someone else’s clothes. I put it to you that caring for the mental health of a Reed Richards who is just a disembodied brain probably requires a delicate touch.

So, anyway, Ben addresses him as “Big Brain.”

This is his new action name. Big Brain. Its adoption at first seems like a terrible strategy. Abandoning the action name “Mister Fantastic” seems like conceding that you are no longer fantastic, and adopting any name other than your own at a point where you need to be reminded of who you are seems like emotional risk without prospect of reward. Everything about ‘Big Brain’ feels defeatist. Why would Reed call himself this, and why (when ‘Reed’ is still an acceptable alternative) would anyone else go along with it?  

Then you remember that Ben has always called Reed ‘Big Brain.’ And that’s what Reed, in his current circumstances, needs to hear. That something that was previously true about him  remains true. That something that was true about his friendship with Ben remains true. Reed needs something to connect the identity he has now with the identity he had before. What he’s using is his most stable relationship. Reed knows he is still himself because he is still who his best friend always said he was.  

THREE

History works differently for the Avengers.

Spider-Girl takes Amazing Spider-Man #418 as its starting point, rewrites it, and then imagines a future sixteen years hence. ‘The Fantastic Five’ takes Fantastic Four #414 and imagines the characters and concerns of that issue not being swept clean by Onslaught and Heroes Reborn, but rather continuing to matter for a further sixteen years. The FF and the Spider-Families get futures based on them having been allowed to progress invisibly forwards through time without a reset. Peter has been allowed to take off the costume and leave it off, without external market forces forcing him to fish it out of a dumpster. Ben, free of the pull that always snaps him back to his classic design, has been allowed to keep any metal bits he’s acquired.

Whatever Matt Murdock may get up to in main continuity then something will always happen to snap him back to being a Hell’s Kitchen lawyer. Come death or disbarment, there’ll always be something to eventually restore him to that status quo, no matter how vast a leap backwards must be made to reach that Point A from whatever Point C,D, or E he has advanced to.

In the MC2,  Matt Murdock has been allowed to die. He is now some sort of ghost who co-habits with the demon Zathros inside the body of Peter Parker’s clone’s son.

SCOTTY: And how’s the rest of the family?

PETEY: Good, good.  

 

Most MC2 characters we’ve met so far have histories that have been seen to function something like this:

  • Things happen.
  • Those things stay happened.
  • Subsequent things happen as a consequence.

This is a popular idea of how a reality might function. Many have even suggested that ours is a little bit like that. It’s unusual for superhero universes though.

And even in the MC2 it is not consistent. The FF and the Spider-Family might be inhabiting personal futures generated by supposing that their lives have ticked along sequentially from a given point, but the Avengers are not.        

The first, and least spooky, thing to note is that the Avengers have undergone a reset. The premise of A-Next is that the original Avengers disbanded ages ago, and now a new team have come together to give it whirl. The Avengers haven’t trundled along like the FF. This is a punctuated history.  

One effect of this is to make A-Next a sequel to a non-specific idea of ‘the Avengers’. Amazing Spider-Man #418 and Fantastic Four #414 are the effective end points of the Spider-Man and Fantastic Four to which Spider-Girl and Fantastic Five provide sequels, but there is no interest in being so precise here. This doesn’t “come after” the Avengers of the then current Busiek/Perez run. This doesn’t “come after” the pre-Heroes Reborn Avengers that were contemporaries of the departure points for Spidey and the FF. This just comes after ‘The Avengers.’ We’re not dealing with the legacy of a specific iteration. We’re dealing with the legacy of the concept. Events are not proceeding from previous events but from ideas.   

That has implications for the spookier way in which A-Next’s history works differently.

Nowadays we all think of Neil Gaiman’s 1602 miniseries as depicting an alternate universe. We’ve seen later miniseries set there. It’s got its own special number. It was part of Secret Wars IV. It’s an alternate universe, right?

Well, certainly. It is now.

But back when it was originally being promoted then Marvel were very keen for us to know that it was neither dream, hoax nor imaginary story but that the 1602 in which it was set was the actual honest-to-gosh 1602 of the main Marvel universe. The comic bears that out. Its conceit is that a Captain America from the future falls back into history and that his presence there distorts reality such as to cause it to grow its own Tudor versions of the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, et al. The addition of one element of Marvel’s superhero mythos to a different period causes that period to rewrite itself and produce its own version of the Silver Age.

That represents a conception of history on the other end of a spectrum from “things happen, those things stay happened, and then subsequent things happen as a result.” 1602’s 1602 doesn’t have a Matt Murdock because of a succession of material events within a universe but because reality has shaped itself to tell a story. In the work of Gaiman’s friend and collaborator Terry Pratchett this is called ‘narrative causality’, and narrative causality is a very apt description of the model 1602 proposes for superhero universes.     

Locked in Doom’s darkest dungeons, with no distractions and plenty of time to think, 1602’s Reed Richards rejects atoms as the fundamental constituents of his universe. He proposes ‘stories’ instead. “I posit we are in a universe which favours stories. A universe in which no story can ever truly end; in which there can be only continuances.”

This is a very superhero-specific version of narrative causality. In the universes where there’s a Granny Weatherwax then there’s no suggestion that the principle works to eternally prolong stories, only that it works to tell them. But in the universes where there’s a Reed Richards then a story is something with a beginning, a middle and a cosmological prohibition against ends.       

It’s a metafictional move, taking a fact that’s true about the fiction and asserting it as true within the fiction, but it is one almost necessitated by the strangeness of superhero narratives. Any conventional causal model would collapse if forced to account for Matt Murdock’s ability to revert to being a Hell’s Kitchen lawyer whenever required, but a model that can account for that being the natural resting point of his story is onto a winner.

thing

1602 #7

It is materially possible for Ben to stop being a monster, but the reality of narrative trumps the illusion of materiality.

Back in the MC2, our new Avengers are tightly in the grip of narrative causality. Reforming the Avengers is causing the Avengers story to retell itself through them. Jubilee and Speedball are supposed to be members of the team according to what we saw in What If? #105, but when A-Next #1 tells the story of the team’s formation then they are quickly dropped and the continuity fudged, so that the new founding members are analogues of the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Ant Man/The Wasp (Stinger covers both of those). The story literally rearranges itself in from of our eyes so that these founders can directly correspond to the founders of the Nineteen Sixty-three team.

“Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside. And every time fresh actors tread the path of the story, the groove runs deeper” writes Pratchett in Witches Abroad. “Stories don’t care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats. Or, if you prefer to think of it like this: stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service only of the story itself.”

And A-Next’s Avengers continued to follow the Silver Age team’s groove downhill to ‘Cap’s Kooky Quartet’…  

kooks

…Where the A-Next founders are displaced by analogues of the Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye, all summoned into being by the same logic that caused the Elizabethan age to grow a Matt Murdock. Add Captain America to 1602 and that’s how history responds. Reform the Avengers in the MC2 and this is how history responds. By reshaping lives to fit the patterns.  

Somewhere laughing at all this is the God that the 1963 Avengers formed to fight. The same God that the A-Next Avengers, in their cycle of the pattern, formed to fight. The God that always makes them Avengers.

storytime

Loki: Agent of Asgard #13

FOUR

Where things get interesting is where the MC2’s idea of history as continuous lived experience intersects with the MC2’s idea of history as repeated patterns subject to narrative causality. Where the world that’s a linear continuation of the Fantastic Four intersects with the world that’s a cyclical retelling of the Avengers. The name for that intersection is ‘Cassie Lang.’

The Cassie Lang of the MC2 is a superhero called Stinger. I’ve got people in my ear right now telling me that the Cassie Lang in the current main Marvel continuity is also a superhero called Stinger. That sounds fascinating in terms of pre-existing patterns imposing themselves on lives, but sadly I think that happened after Secret Wars IV and so is outside the bounds of the comics that Have Them Fight God considers. I ask that this paragraph be stricken from the record.

The Cassie Lang of the MC2 is a superhero called Stinger. She’s our viewpoint character for A-Next and our direct through-line from DeFalco’s Fantastic Four run. She was there for its final scene, an epilogue in Tales of the Marvel Universe. If you go from DeFalco’s Fantastic Four to A-Next then the curtain falls and rises on Cassie Lang. As with the Fantastic Five, what mattered to her then is what matters to her now.

What mattered to the young Cassie of Fantastic Four was Kristoff Vernard, the other kid living in Four Freedoms Plaza at the time. She was staying there with her scientist dad. He was the estranged ward of Doom. Could I make it any more obvious? The DeFalco run was loathe to leave any possible heterosexual pairing unpaired; Five adult men lived in that building and the only one who wasn’t actively trying to cop off with Sue was her brother. So Cassie developed a crush on Kristoff. He was twelve and her age was a sometimes uncomfortable matter of disagreement between the writing and the art.

Shortly before the time came for the vaudeville hook of Onslaught to drag DeFalco’s cast off-stage, the ballad of Cassie and Kristy had reached an interesting verse. Their story became about her teaching Kristoff to integrate with the world, from a position hindered by her being very much his junior and helped by her very much not have been raised by Doom and imprinted with his brainwaves.

The test case for both Cassie’s attempts to get Kristoff to behave reasonably, and for how Cassie was to see herself in relation to him, was their differing approaches to Donny, a boy from Cassie’s school. Donny was concealing the physical abuse he was suffering at the hands of his father. Cassie’s solution was to gently encourage him to talk to a teacher and have the school orchestrate a process that would see him and his mother taken into a shelter and the father provided with counselling. Kristoff’s solution was to unleash the wrath of the Von Doom’s upon the lying whelp until he was compelled to speak true. A rushed conclusion revealed that Cassie’s strategy was probably most helpful for Donny. It also saw her reach the settled opinion that Kristoff was kinda cute but a bit of a dweeb.      

By the time of the MC2’s “sixteen years later” present then Kristoff seems to be understood as the great love of Cassie’s life. It is to find him that she’s been trying to get into Latveria, and Ben judges that anyone who knows her will know that nothing can stop her. They were in a relationship when Namor attacked Latveria  and have not seen each other since. As with almost everything related to the Fantastic Five that we’ve seen so far, it’s a concept from the DeFalco Fantastic Four run allowed to grow in timelapsed soil. Lyja is Ms Fantastic. Ben has more metal bits. Cassie and Kristoff are war torn lovers.  

The other thing that Cassie has been doing in between where DeFalco left her and now is becoming a superhero, a process she has approached eccentrically. A-Next #1 sees her and her father working on ‘Project Stinger,’ a propulsion unit based on Hank Pym’s old designs. She’s got a super-costume, super-powers and a super-name good to go, but what doesn’t seem to be in place is any expectation that what she’s becoming is a superhero. She decides to become one impulsively and Scott is mortified when he finds out.

What, I wonder, did he think ‘Project Stinger’ was for if not to produce a superhero called Stinger? Project Stinger involved building superhero stuff and having Cassie fly around in it. What was its goal if not to help Cassie become someone who flies around calling herself Stinger? My suspicion, based on Cassie’s dialogue in A-Next #2 about stepping out from Scott’s shadow, is that ‘Project Stinger’ was about developing new tech for him to use as Ant-Man.

Anyway, she’s not having that. And Scott’s initially not having her decision. In his indignation he brings up an old argument and produces my favourite line in any DeFalco comic I’ve read ever.

“I don’t like this, Cassie! It was bad enough when you employed Dr Pym’s work to implant wings on yourself — but now you expect me to sit back while you play at being a super hero!”

Think through the sequence of events here and you, like me, will love Cassie Lang more than you ever have before.

She develops her superhero tech before there’s an expectation or resolution for her to become a superhero. But BEFORE EVEN THAT then she grafts wings to herself. This is a separate matter from her being a superhero. Cassie Lang has not grafted wings to herself for the sake of fighting crime, she has done so for the sake of grafting wings to herself. How cool is that?

So the formula for MC2 Cassie is very much “Where DeFalco left the material + Imaginary Time.” She has been subject to the sequential model of history but, on joining the new Avengers in a format slot that combines the role of Wasp and Ant Man, she has stepped into the cyclical model. It’s an interesting position to be in. The son of Thunderstrike is in sort of the same boat, but I don’t care about him. What’s Cassie going to do? Is her story still as much her own as when she was making weird offscreen body mod choices, or has stepping into the Avengers myth handed her over to Pratchett’s parasites?

She and Kristoff have a lot to talk about. This sort of shit is very much the central dilemma of his life. Adopted by Doom and neurologically rewritten by Doom, the purpose that has been foisted upon his life is to replicate Doom. To be a retelling of a story. He goes back and forth on how he feels about that.

In this comic Kristoff is especially ambivalent in how he responds to what he calls the “mixed blessing” of being Doom Two. He’s voluntarily wearing the mask and the robe. He’s stepped into his role as heir to the throne of Latveria. Kristoff is committed to being the Doctor Doom of this comic that promises Doctor Doom.

His projects are at odds with that identity however. We see him destroy Doom’s arsenal, breaking the political deadlock and allowing the reconstruction of Latveria to begin. We see him sensitively working to protect vulnerable children, the very thing we saw Baby Cassie teaching him to do the last time DeFalco wrote them. What are we to make of this man who both is and is not trapped inside Doom’s story?   

The bonny moppet whose disappearance precipitated this adventure proposes an answer. Who was Kristoff?

A-Next 005-022

The Avengers, perhaps endeared by her lack of exposure to Coca-Cola’s marketing, agree. “Like the kid says,” American Dream reports, “Santa Claus!”

Kristoff has managed to escape being a repetition of Victor von Doom’s story by becoming a repetition of an older one.  The paths may run down the mountainside, but at least one may switch tracks.

And this path, at least, is one Doctor Doom has surely never walked.

santadoom

What The!? #10

Oh. Except that one time.