X-Men/Fantastic Four #1 by Chip Zdarsky, Terry Dodson, and Laura Martin follows up on a thread first teased in House of X #1, when Cyclops told the Richards family he’d always have a home on Krakoa. In addition to major ramifications for the Marvel Universe, X-Men/Fantastic Four #1 combines elements from my favorite Fantastic Four series of the last 5 years (Marvel Two-In-One written by Chip Zdarsky) and my favorite ongoing Dawn of X title, Marauders, for a very strong opening issue.
The issue opens with a monologue from Franklin, now a 13 year old, reflecting on his history with the Fantastic Four and as an omega level mutant. Following 2015’s Secret Wars Franklin was in a position of literally creating universes (which as we’ll see is not the first time he’s done as much), but since Dan Slott’s Fantastic Four kicked off in 2018, Franklin’s powerset dwindles whenever he put it to use.
Today I’ll answer:
+ Why the X-Men are after Franklin Richards, and why the Fantastic Four are suspicious
+ The essential reading history of Franklin Richards!
By the time the X-Men come calling, wondering about the possibility of bringing Franklin “home” to Krakoa (and when I say wondering, I mean borderline storming the Richards’ home on Yancy Street and demanding an audience w/ flippin’ Magneto in tow!), he’s already in a place of sadness, anger, and confusion. Despite the fact that Franklin’s father, Reed, is arguably the smartest man alive, he can’t seem to find a cure for Franklin’s powers. This leads Franklin to question why it is that Ben Grimm and now himself are the only two “problems” that Reed seems historically unable to solve.
It’s a devastating line of thinking from Reed’s own son, but also very understandable, and something we know Ben’s worried about and fumed over in the past as well.
So when the X-Men decide it’s time to show and claim Franklin as their own, leveraging the debatable bond Kitty and Franklin share from a nice throwback connection to 1987’s Fantastic Four vs. X-Men miniseries, Franklin’s pretty primed to consider the offer!
It’s a nice choice to use Kitty as the voice of reason connecting with Franklin throughout, as it affords both connections to Marvel’s history and an excuse to primarily utilize Kate Pryde and her Marauders as our focus mutants.
History of Franklin Pt. 1 – Birth
Before going any deeper into this specific issue – and if all you’re here for is a review, I quite like this issue and am super excited about the 4 issue limited series. It’s a strong recommend from me, although I’d note to check my Dawn of X reading order on CBH for placement because it creates some conflicts with Marauders – I do also want to dig into Franklin’s history to explore why the character is such a crucial one for both the Krakoa era of X-Men and the Marvel Universe as a whole.
Franklin was born in 1968’s Fantastic Four Annual #6, approximately six full years into Marvel’s growing Silver Age superhero universe, and over 75 issues (plus annuals) into Fantastic Four. In true Marvel fashion, the only way to mitigate cosmic ray induced difficulties with Sue’s pregnancy is for Reed, Ben, and Johnny to venture into the Negative Zone, battle Annihilus, and return with something called element X to help Sue give birth to a happy healthy Franklin!
History of Franklin Pt. 2 – Power Creep
As this auspicious debut suggests, Franklin begins developing his mutant powers well before puberty, really as a toddler, which is quite atypical in the Marvel Universe, and chalked up to his parent’s own cosmically altered genetics. Throughout our My Marvelous Year reading club read through the Marvel Universe, we’ve seen various instances of Franklin’s true power. Likewise, we’ve seen an equal reaction of Reed and the family (although mostly the responsibility falls to Reed) trying to control or tame this power in the interests of their son.
For example, in Fantastic Four #150, Franklin wakes from a coma to take down a model of Ultron that literally the Avengers, Inhumans, and Fantastic Four were struggling to defeat. This use of Franklin’s power appears to “cure” him, but in reality his powers were just lying in wait.
The next major development that I think of comes during the John Byrne era of Fantastic Four, specifically issues #244 to #245, when we meet “adult” Franklin for the first time. Franklin the toddler more or less accidentally uses his suddenly untapped mutant reality warping abilities to turn himself into an adult, and in the confusion, he of course fights and defeats the Fantastic Four sans Sue.
It’s worth noting that although this is not a time traveling version of Franklin, the idea clearly sparked something in the Marvel creative fabric, as aging up Franklin and finding out what he could become has been a staple of the character’s stories ever since.
This all leads to an overextended period of the Fantastic Four assuming Franklin’s powers are on lockdown, only to be proven wrong time and time again, such as in their battle against Mephisto.
It’s hard to imagine what it would really be like as a parent of a toddler with such unimaginable power. There’s certainly a thread of Reed and Sue perhaps over-extending their reach to keep him under control – a theme that comes up in a major way in X-Men / Fantastic Four #1 – but a reality warping 4 year old is a genuine nightmare. If my toddler had these powers with no mindblocks, there’d be dinosaurs on every street in our neighborhood, and let’s just say he recently learned the word carnivore.
History of Franklin Pt 3 – Mutant
In terms of Franklin’s specific history with the X-Men, Franklin Richards is one of the surviving mutants in the Days of Future Past timeline (we see in these issues that his Fantastic Four family have been killed by Sentinels alongside the likes of many X-Men and Peter Parker). He’s in a romance with Rachel Summers, and part of the mutant resistance that sends Kate Pryde back in time to help prevent the Days of Future Past timeline. I find it interesting that even once his power inhibiting collar is disabled, Franklin is quickly and easily scragged by a sentinel during the mutant resistance’s last stand. It’s a minor role, but Franklin’s inclusion in this timeline is telling.
This apparent downgrade of powers is dramatically course corrected in a sequel crossover event known as “Days of Future Tense.”
The apparent downgrade of powers is dramatically course corrected in a sequel crossover event known as “Days of Future Present.” The crossover spans four 1986 annuals – Fantastic Four, New Mutants, X-Factor, and Uncanny X-Men – and tells a story where the Franklin from the “Days of Future Past” timeline escapes through time back to Marvel’s present day. Franklin’s deeply scarred by the trauma of his home timeline, and lashes out against everyone, using his reality warping abilities to try to regain some semblance of his past before the Sentinels took over.
Generally, the idea of a “Dark Franklin” isn’t explored in too much detail, but “Days of Future Present” definitely gives a glimpse of what Franklin’s omega level abilities could do when the character has been traumatized.
Skipping ahead a beat in the 90’s, Franklin plays a crucial role during the X-Men “Onslaught” saga, with the villainous hybrid of Professor X and Magneto coercing Franklin’s reality warping powers to his own ends.
Appropriately, it’s Franklin’s vast abilities that create a pocket universe in the aftermath of Onslaught where Marvel could reboot heroes like the Avengers and Iron Man in their “Heroes Reborn” initiative. It’s Franklin yet again, who brings all these characters back to Earth-616 proper during “Heroes Return.” His powers at this point are so off the charts, the Celestials even get involved to consider what to do with him. This is definitely the point in time where Franklin’s reputation becomes that of the retcon-given-life, or little more than a Marvel editorial deus-ex-machina. As we’ll see, this reputation has dampened slightly, but it still lingers to this day.
Certainly there are other very good stories involving Franklin prior – again, I’d recommend checking out my essential reading guide to the character in the show notes, or Dig into the Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo run on Fantastic Four from the early parts of the 2000’s – but the next major level up for Franklin comes during Jonathan Hickman’s extended run on Fantastic Four and FF.
Hickman manages the impressive blend of a time-traveling ultra-powerful Franklin who wields Galactus as his Herald – you heard that right – and fights Mad Celestials, alongside the present day’s adorable child Franklin who befriends Leech and threatens Norman Osborn with a Nerf gun.
In Avengers, this concepts is expanded, as Hickman uses Franklin as a near eternal lifeforce, available for conversation with the Avengers as the time stone exponentially hurls them through the timestream.
This idea is particularly important for X-Men/Fantastic Four and the Krakoa era because Powers of X shows us how the X-Men are all about the long game of a future for mutants thousands of years into the future. Franklin has the potential to aid them here in a way that very other mutants ever could.
It’s a small note, but this concept of eternal Franklin is backed up in the recent History of the Marvel Universe by Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez. The framing device for retelling all this history is Galactus and Franklin chilling at the end of the universe, and Franklin more or less asking the Big G for story time!
Given all this power and potential, it’s not surprising the X-Men are deeply invested in bringing Franklin to Krakoa. Obviously, Professor X and Magneto have a concentrated plan centered around omega level mutants, but it’s not just them. If you remember from the pages of Marvel’s Incoming we’ve also seen a briefly teased scene of Mister Sinister’s desperate need to accumulate Franklin’s DNA as part of his mutant genome project.
In one of his best moments, Reed Richards questions Professor X’s suddenly urgent timetable with deep suspicion, and just looking at the smile on Sinister’s face as he drools over Franklin’s potential, Reed’s not wrong.
Of course, Reed being Reed, he can’t help but scientifically overstep with a technology inserted into Franklin that masks his mutant gene and prevents him from using Krakoan gates. It’s an ultimate betrayal, not only because it’s invasive, but because it validates Franklin’s own concerns that his father is working on solving a million problems except the one that actually matters to him.
Likewise, this moment, and the tenor of the issue solidify that this is ultimately more of a Fantastic Four story than X-Men. After all, this book is not edited in the X-Office, nor are the design pages a part of Tom Muller’s work across Dawn of X (I believe the credits was actually the work of Chip Zdarsky, looking to mimic the feel of the X-Line but in a way that fits within the Fantastic Four). This is particularly notable because since House of X, Marvel has been pretty careful about any crossover between Krakoa and the rest of the Marvel Universe. You get references here and there (in the pages of Invaders, Gwenpool, that wild “Brute Force” short story in the back of a Weapon Plus one-shot), but this is by far the most integrated Marvel U crossover involving the new World of X.
While I’m beyond excited about the issue’s final villain reveal – I won’t spoil here but expect plenty of discussion in my next issue review – Chip Zdarsky’s take on a Fantastic Four data page is wonderful. In the entry from Reed’s files, he explores the concept of “Godpower” and whether or not it’s where the Fantastic Four get their abilities from. The reduction of Franklin’s powers suggests he may be running out of energy from this “Godpower.” In their conversation, we hear Professor X particularly curious about why Franklin’s abilities might be fading as well.
In both cases, Franklin’s Patient Zero for a future that could affect either the Fantastic Four or mutantkind. If he’s losing his powers, who could be next?