Written by Grant Morrison with art provided by Jae Lee and Jose Villarrubia, this was a 4 part mini-series where Dr Doom tries once again to destroy the Fantastic Four. This time he uses a machine that can reshape reality to try and dismantle the group.
Fans of Grant Morrison will see familiar themes explored here. In particular the idea of being trapped within a game echoes similar concepts in ‘The Invisibles’ while the idea of the hero having to out-think a hidden, genius opponent foreshadows his later work on Batman.
Each of the four issues spotlights an individual member of the team, exploring their character even as Dr Doom attempts to neutralise them. By keeping them separate Grant Morrison makes them appear vulnerable. It is only when they come together that they are able to defeat their foe.
Jae Lee’s art is well suited to the dark tone of the story. His work has weight to it, making you believe that all the characters are real people, even if some of them are made of orange rock.
From here on in there are Spoilers. Only read on if you don’t mind learning the details of the story.
THE PRIME MOVER MACHINE
The key to Dr Doom’s plan is the Prime Mover machine. He claims that he recovered it from a drowned spaceship. Once he had examined the machine and mastered its secrets it gave Doom the ability to manipulate reality.
This took the form of a game, akin to moving pieces on a chess board. Unlike the Cosmic Cube the device couldn’t just rewrite reality. Ben Grimm had to be persuaded to give up his monstrous form with a well told lie and Sue had to be seduced by Namor.
It is likely that they were made more suggestible by the influence of the machine. The will of the operator would compel them to carry out his wishes but only if it doesn’t go against their character. Sue and Namor are able to resist because Doom does not understand them as well as he thinks.
Physically the Prime Mover machine resembles a series of floating glowing orbs. The machine that Doom found had these orbs arranged around a metal statue, possibly of the species that created it. When Reed Richards created his own version of the machine it only consists of the orbs and the cables, indicating that the rest was purely for decoration.
The operator must connect themselves to the machine via cables that attach to their skull. They perceive things at a higher level, able to see the pieces in play like panels of a comic book.
Subjects who are particularly intelligence and have keen awareness can recognise the artificial nature of their reality. They will have the sensation that they are being watched and that things don’t quite make sense.
By the conclusion of the story the origins of the Prime Mover are still unknown. Are an alien race responsible for its creation? Is so what happened to the crew of the drowned spaceship? Why would they have such a machine on board?
Potentially another group of heroes may encounter the aliens who created the Prime Mover machine. Was it unique and would they like it returned? Are their many machines like it and do the alien race use it to control their reality?
There is also the possibility that the machine originates from a higher dimension. At the conclusion of the story Reed Richards says that while connected to his own version of the device he became aware of a new reality he calls the Quintasphere.
He describes it as a realm made of superconducting living materials. Could this be one giant brain? Did the Prime Mover machine allow Reed to detect it because that is where it originates from?
Grant Morrison is fond of the concept of real life entering fictional worlds. The Prime Mover machine does give the operator the ability of a comic book writer, with Reed Richards even narrating the actions of Sue at one point. Could the machine come from a world like ours, where the Marvel universe is just a comic book?
Since Reed Richards was able to re-create the device, merely from the idea that such a device might exist, then other inventors might do the same. Characters such as the Mad Thinker and the Wizard are both good candidates for this task.
Lastly we can speculate on what happened to the machines that Doom and Richards had. Dr Dooms was partially destroyed but there is no reason he couldn’t fix it. While Reed Richards doesn’t desire power he does crave control, if only to protect the world.
Both might find reason to use the Prime Mover machine again. If you are running a game based on a major event, such as Civil War or Secret Invasion, you could have a untold adventure about either Doom or Richards using the Prime Mover machine to influence events in their favour.
Since a Time Machine was one of Dr Doom’s first inventions it isn’t that surprising that he would continue to develop the technology. The Time Tower is introduced in this story, a place where light is frozen, converting time into space.
A subject walking up the stairs is regressed through their own personal timeline. Here it is used to change the Thing back into Ben Grimm. The side effect is that their mind is also regressed to that earlier point, illustrated by Ben forgetting everything after Reed asked him to pilot the ship on the flight that would ultimately give them their powers.
This is a physical transformation, rather than an earlier version of Ben being snatched out of the time stream. The process can also be reversed, following the natural course of the events as they should have occurred. Here Ben looses an arm but when restored to the Thing the limb is restored.
It could be questioned why Dr Doom didn’t use the Time Tower to restore his face. It should be remembered that Doom has continually tried to improve himself over the years. His ego would never let him regress, even in the pursuit of curing his disfigurement.
There are some very interesting applications of the technology that makes up the Time Tower. It is the perfect opportunity to transform heroes into different incarnations. If the technology was placed in a tunnel or lift shaft, simply travelling through it would change the subject.
Many of the important characters in the Marvel universe have had dramatic transformations in their lives and a villain could use this to his advantage. For example changing the Hulk back to his mindless former self, Iron Man back into a drunk, Jean Grey into the Dark Phoenix or Spider-Man when he was changing into a human spider.
An adventure could begin with a group of superheroes from different time periods finding themselves in the modern day. Players might initially believe that they’ve been brought forward in time only to discover that they passed through a Time Tower and were regressed. It would then be a matter of trying to re-find the Time Tower and reverse the process.
This is particularly suited to the Avengers. Would Spider-Man, Hawk-Eye, Luke Cage and Dr Strange ever believe that they were on the same team together, if regressed to earlier points in their career?
‘Fantastic Four: 1,2,3,4’ creates pathos by highlighting that Ben is giving up his humanity by changing back into the Thing. Even Sue doesn’t tell her old friend what awaits him if he goes back to his normal self.
This illustrates how regressing a character can highlight the important events in their life. Would heroes want to be changed back if they knew what awaited them? Would their allies tell them or would their goal remain turning their friend back to normal?
Reed Richards secretly possessed a violent temper and dark tendencies.While still in university he killed a women named Stacey Valetine, telling himself he had to in order to destroy a micro-universe that would have consumed everything. He suspected he was lying to himself.
Recognising the darkness within him Reed turned to Necro-Technology. Although it caused an explosion that prompted the university to expel him he had confirmed that there was something wrong inside.
Travelling to Tibet he worked with Bon Priests to expel the corruption into a living form, a Tulpa. This was either an entity from a heavy gravity super-inverted universe or just the dark part of his psyche.
The Tulpa physically resembled Reed Richards, save for its blank eyes (possibly an indication it had no soul). He named it Victor, in homage to Frankenstein’s Monster. Victor was chained and placed in an iron mask while Reed returned to America.
Eventually Victor escaped, becoming Dr Doom. That is the reason that the two have clashed over the years, Victor wished either to return to Reed or destroy him for casting him out.
At least that is the lie. Doom was using the Prime Mover machine to make this the truth. Reed was aware of this process, alerted by the flaws in the story, since Victor was a fellow student at the university but in his lie he didn’t come into existence until afterwards.
This still makes an interesting ‘What-If’ scenario and can be duplicated throughout the Marvel universe. So many characters have dark counter-parts that it wouldn’t be hard to use this lie as the basis of their origin story. Maybe Sabretooth is Wolverine’s Tupla or Venom is Spider-Man’s.
Doom could be basing the lie on an actual mystical process that he is aware of. This could be the basis of an adventure. Bruce Banner could try to free himself of the Hulk, travelling to Tibet to seek out the monks. Would the Hulk try to stop him and what form of Tulpa would he take?
Someone might decide the best way to deal with a villain is to kidnap them and carry out the ceremony. The player characters could either be trying to help them or prevent them because they believe that it is wrong to transform someone in this way or they fear what their Tulpa would be like.
NAMOR AND MOLE MAN
Doom uses two other Fantastic Four foes to help in his plan. To both he offers them power and women. This fails as Namor is insulted at being placed on the same level as the lowly Mole Man.
In this story Namor displays new powers. Sue finds that she can’t use her Force Fields and Namor says that his bio-electric aura can short-circuit her powers. He does, however, also suggest that this is just an excuse that she wants to believe.
If it was true this would make an interesting addition to Namor’s powers. I’d probably model it as an attack power that specifically targets powers (OM54). Having it at D10 seems reasonable since he neutralises Invisible Woman who has D12 on Godlike Durability and Invisibility (so he used the D10 as the effect dice and was able to step it up to a D12 thanks to a great success).
If he can use this on anyone it would act as a neat surprise for heroes. In the middle of combat they would find that they were suddenly not able to use their powers, giving Namor the upper hand.
Namor also seems able to control the rain in this story. It is established that there is a storm but he is seen to gesture towards the Human Torch who talks about the rain drowning him before his flame goes off. It could just be a coincidence but Sue pleads with Namor to stop while he is doing this, suggesting that he is responsible.
Elemental Influence (D6) or Elemental Control (D8) would seem appropriate for this level of power. It also might just be a further demonstration of his Bio-electrical aura. He could have taken advantage of a Scene Distinction (Heavy Rain) to add to his pool and extinguish the Human Torch’s flame.
Mole Man doesn’t demonstrate any new powers but it is interesting that he wishes to take Alicia Masters as his bride. Her blindness appeals to him, since she can’t see how ugly he is.
To convince her that they are a perfect match he tells her that she is ugly as well, which is why the Thing, a monster, is the only one who loved her. This of course ignores the fact that Johnny Storm dated Alicia, or at least a Skrull impersonating her.
This still lays the seed for further adventures. Might the Mole Man try to claim Alicia again? A group of heroes may have to descend into his underground kingdom to reclaim her.
Although a strong woman Alicia could be stung by the Mole Man’s words. An adventure might touch upon her own self-loathing and doubt about her image.She could shun the Thing, reminded of the cruel words. This might also tie into her concerns about her step-father, the Puppet Master, worried that she is fated to become like him.