Friday, February 15, 2013

Fantastic Four #1: Reed Richards, you maniac!

I'm guessing Reed Richards has at least one doctorate.  Probably several.  He's a genius, highly though of by the United States government.  But for some reason this miracle mind, this all-American Einstein, this pipe-smoking prodigy, decided to take his girlfriend and her kid brother on a rocket joy-ride.  That alone would be enough for the Fed to revoke all his security clearances and toss him in a metal box six by eight feet, surrounded by concrete and stone.  While his real-life brainiac counterparts at NASA occasionally evinced "go-fever" and a kind of engineer-mind tunnel vision that led to disasters and deaths, it's hard to reconcile Richards's genius with the kind of recklessness involved in subjecting himself and his loved ones to cosmic rays and crashing America's most advanced spacecraft.

Think about it one more time.  Reed Richards took his civilian girlfriend and a teenager with him on an unauthorized flight of an experimental rocket, even after the more cautious (but not cautious enough) test pilot Benjamin Grimm warned him the ship wasn't adequately shielded against radiation.  And that was the least of the reasons why this was a terrible idea.  This isn't "we've gotta beat those Reds into space" derring-do.  This is "wearing diapers and driving across the country to shoot someone" multi-layered criminal insanity.

What was he thinking?  Certainly, the lack of shielding represents a calculated risk for Richards and Grimm in their attempt to give the U.S. a Space Race victory.  But to involve outsiders, one of whom Richards is involved in a romantic relationship with, gives one pause.  J. Robert Oppenheimer (perhaps an inspiration for Richards) similarly allowed his personal life to intrude on his national security obligations.  But while Oppenheimer married a former member of the Communist Party and carried on a secret affair with someone who wrote for the Western Worker, a Communist newspaper, he didn't strap either of them to the atomic bomb at Trinity.  But his involvement with radical causes led the government to revoke his security clearances in the early 1950s.  Richards's deed is arguably worse and he doesn't receive so much as a slap on the wrist.

Reckless endangerment.  The failure of this flight could have set the United States back decades in the exploration of space.  The 1967 Apollo 1 fire, for example, caused a twenty-month delay at a crucial time during our moon landing program.  The loss of space shuttles Challenger and Columbia both halted American space flights.  After the 1986 Challenger explosion, NASA grounded their shuttles for three years.  After the 2003 Columbia re-entry disaster, crewed spaceflight via shuttle didn't resume for more than two.  Imagine, then, the catastrophic results of Richards's rash, idiotic act.

The man should be under the jail.  Well, actually, he shouldn't have even survived the crash.  But the bulk of Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961) post-accident should have consisted of Reed Richards on trial as the traitor of the decade. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg?  Bah!  Pikers!  The Cambridge Five?  Rank amateurs by comparison.  Richards's alma mater should have demanded he return his degrees, Grimm and Sue Storm should have been jailed as accomplices (the government could have granted them immunity or at least reduced sentences in return for testimony, however).  A life sentence for ex-Dr. Richards.

Instead, Richards is one lucky devil.  He gets rewarded with neat powers (unlike Grimm, who turns into an embittered monstrosity), Sue thinks nothing of the risks he put her and brother Johnny through and everything is just peachy.

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