the Road to Infinity: This Man… This Monster!
The Road to Infinity continues!
(And, if you don’t know what this all means, just jump back to this first post and all will be explained.)
I was not expecting to find another ‘Infinity’ reference so soon, especially not within the pages of the classic story “This Man…This Monster!” from Fantastic Four #51 (1966)! Upon reading this issue for the first time ever, it is easy to see why it has a place among iconic Marvel stories. I expected it to be a woeful tale of Ben Grimm as he laments his own human (monster?) condition. And, while that is where the story kicks off, to my surprise, the rest of this “illustrated epic” is Marvel Cosmic/sci-fi at its finest. Not only do we get another ‘Infinity’ mention, but we also get the first official appearance of the Negative Zone! Huzzah!
A quick issue summary: hot off the heels of “the Galactus Trilogy”, Reed is at work to protect his family and Earth from any future incursions from powerful cosmic beings by seeking the ability to break the space-time principle. Watching this experiment is a man who has replicated the power and appearance of the rocky Thing. This imposter has managed to gain the team’s trust even though the real Thing, restored back to being Ben Grimm, has come to warn them that there’s a fake in their midst.The imposter is out to expose Reed Richards for a fraud, to show that he’s just a “glamor-pants” out for glory, and that his own scientific mind is far superior. Fake Thing helps Mr. Fantastic in his experiment, figuring that he could easily sabotage Reed’s plans, but the outcome takes a different turn and becomes an instant classic for Marvel all while adding another stop on the Road to Infinity.
003: “I’ve shredded the very fabric of Infinity–“
Reed has built a huge, radical Cube (dizzyingly designed in a way only Kirby can manage), which he will use to create “a dimensional entrance into sub-space”. Using Fake Thing as an anchor back to the Baxter Building, Reed is determined to enter the Cube and explore and conquer sub-space for the good of mankind:
In “the Galactus Trilogy”, Johnny was traveling along Infinity – physically moving to the center and the other side to help in the battle against Galactus. It’s a physical trip through space and time and the wonders in between. In this instance, Reed has found a different method – by breaking through the barriers beyond and outside of Infinity – and creating a void where positive becomes negative. It’s interesting to note that Kirby and company design this passage in a similar manner to Johnny’s journey. Also, that red coloring is super reminiscent of how DC’s the Bleed is depicted, especially considering the Bleed is usually defined as ‘the space between parallel universes’.
Once Reed has moved beyond this void, he finds himself in a distortion area, where his senses adjust to the strange landscape. Notice his language is very similar to Johnny’s in previous issues:
Which leads the reader to Kirby’s trippiest design yet of this issue.
004: “It’s the Crossroads of Infinity— the junction to everywhere!“
Upside down mountains. Mixed media art. Zipatone. The Negative Zone is born! Reed’s description of sub-space as a ‘junction to everywhere’ can also be seen as having weight for future stories surrounding the Negative Zone and alternate universes. Subsequent Marvel continuity states that there is only one Negative Zone and that it is connected to all the various parallel Marvel Universes, most notably the 616 and Ultimate Universes. Therefore, if you enter the Negative Zone from one universe, you could possibly exit into another.
While the phrase “Negative Zone” isn’t actually used in this issue, all the elements are here: the Kirby design, negative matter, and a powerful vortex at its center where negative and positive matter are pulled and collide into a barrier of deadly force. It’s an image that is used often in Fantastic Four lore and it finds its origins in this issue.
Certainly the Negative Zone is a huge part of Jonathan Hickman’s FF run and to realize that it all began in this issue shows just how powerful a foundation Kirby and company were build during the Marvel Age of Comics.
By the way, for the past several FF issues (and for a bunch more after this issue) the Inhumans have been trapped in their Himalayan refuge under a dome also described as a “Negative Zone”. Created by Black Bolt’s mad brother Maximus, this use of the Negative Zone phrase in Fantastic Four #48 has nothing to do with Reed’s discovery in this issue – although you have to wonder if maybe they decided to co-opt the name when they wanted to rename the sub-space universe depicted in this issue.
When we return, we’ll take two side-street tangents featuring a return of the Silver Surfer and the first appearance of a new cosmic being to add to…
…the Road to Infinity!