Green Day: Reed Richards is a C**T! (or, Karmic Imbalance in the Fantastic Four)

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Editor's Note: In antipication of tomorrow's debut of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch on Fantastic Four we're re-posting an SBC classic: Kelvin Green's skewering of Reed Richards. Now with pictures!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that excessive hubris on the part of comic-book characters is swiftly and brutally punished, usually via some sort of industrial and/or scientific accident. Or your kindly old uncle getting shot in the face. Something suitably horrible anyway. Perhaps the best example is that of the Fantastic Four's nemesis Doctor Doom, an individual scarred both physically and mentally as a result of being too proud to accept help from his buddy Reed Richards, he of the prematurely greying hair. It's arrogant enough that Doom sought to breach the barriers of reality and bring back his deceased mother, as a college project (I wrote a dissertation about freedom and happiness, and I donít have to wear a mask to hide my grossly deformed face. Go humanities!), but his calculations were wrong, and he just wouldn't listen to Richards when he pointed out the error in Doom's maths (curse that Imperial/metric divide!); as a result, the experiment literally blew up in his face, and Doom got chucked out of university. Luckily, as a monarch, a job at the local burger emporium did not beckon, but nonetheless Doom's arrogance was rewarded in full.

That's just one example from many in the Marvel Universe and beyond; it's very much a basic law of most fictional universes, and yet there is one whose arrogance is just as prevalent as Doom's, but who has so far been suspiciously overlooked by this fundamental axiom: Reed bloody Richards.

I've long wondered why, as a Marvel fan through and through, I've never really warmed to the Fantastic Four comic; it's the "World's Greatest Comics Magazine" after all, so surely I should like it? It was while reading issues from Mark Waid's run on the main Fantastic Four title that I came to a grim realisation: it's because Reed Richards, by all rights, should be just as screwed up as Doom, but somehow isn't. As a direct result, my sense of karmic justice screams like a girl at the very sight of the bendy brainbox and his incessantly smug attitude. He calls himself "Mr. Fantastic" for crying out loud; anyone else would get a swift karmic thwack for such an attitude, but not our Reed. Oh no, the universe likes him.

As I was always taught to in school, I shall now illustrate this point with vividly realised examples. These are, for the most part, from Waid's run, which is not to single Waid out for particular criticism, but just because they were the issues I had read most recently, and the ones that clarified why I dislike Richards so very, very, much. Trust me, he's always been like this.

Now Doom, he's a smart cookie; he is after all the second-most intelligent man in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps the most intelligent, if his supreme arrogance didn't get in the way, etc., etc. Anyway, in the "Unthinkable" story arc (#496-500) he works out that Reed always outdoes him in battles due to his greater scientific knowledge (you know, this realisation is itself a bit of a minor redemption for Doom, but no karmic reward for that, no siree) so he turns to magic, correctly surmising that Reed won't know what to do in the face of forces he can't understand with graphs and a slide rule. The Smug Four get resoundingly thrashed, and the crowd (i.e. me) cheers for the Latverian Legendô. Up pops Doctor Strange, who tells Reed that he needs to respond using magic himself, and that using magic is not a case of simply learning principles and rules and making them work for you. This whole sequence is intended to humble Reed and thus develop his character, but such arbitrary conceits aren't for Reed Richards! No, instead of seeing the truth in Strange's words, because as Sorcerer Supreme Strange probably knows what he's talking about when it comes to magic (not counting that embarrassing Wanda/Chaos Magic incident), Reed instead decides that magic is exactly about learning principles and rules and making them work for you. In order to prove his mastery over all things, he pinpoints the exact magic keywords which will allow him to use a set of magic knuckledusters (why Strange has taken to handing out bejewelled enchanted street weapons is not revealed) to give Doom a good thrashing. Later, where you'd expect Reed to muse on how he's been taught a valuable lesson about how he views the world, you get nothing of the sort; what is intended as a humbling experience for the rubbery Napoleon becomes merely a minor hindrance to his vast and unstoppable intellect.

And that's the problem in a nutshell; Reed is almost always right about everything, and even when he's not, events mysteriously conspire to make it so. I can only assume that there's an Untold Tale in which Richards hops in the Fantasticar and zooms off to catch the Marvel Universe's manifestation of karma (no, not the New Mutant) in flagrante with some Rigellian ladyboys, because I really don't see why he should consistently get away with this shit.

In order to further flaunt his casual disregard for universal moral justice, he decides to repeat Doom's original experiment in the "Hereafter" arc (#509-511). Whereas Doom got a free atomic facial as his reward for such an affront to the Almighty, Reed's "punishment" is the healing of his grievous wounds and a personal audience with God, who tells Reed that he really likes him a lot. Gee whiz and shucks. As a bonus, it's revealed that it's not Reed that's holding Ben Grimm back from the afterlife but Grimm himself, who really doesn't want to leave the side of such a swell guy, and so returns home with the gang. It should be noted here that the very reason why the Thing is dead at this point is because Reed shot him in the chest with a big chuffing plasma cannon. I'm pretty sure that randomly gunning down your best friend shouldn't end quite so happily for all concerned, although apparently, unstable molecules mean that the shit never sticks.

And it's not just close friends and colleagues who get the short end of Reedís ego stick; prompted by Reed's rather creepy paternalistic and chauvinist attitude towards her, Sue went mental in Fantastic Four #281, becoming the supervillain Malice. Obviously, one can't really condone getting dressed up in an elaborate set of spiked leather thongs and trying to kill your family, but Reed did play a significant part in it (refusing to acknowledge your superhero wife as anything more than a sidekick could conceivably be regarded in some circles as "a bit shitty"), and yet there's no acknowledgement of such. Reed starts off by engaging in a st