Thursday, July 24, 2014

SuperSoundtracks #7: Reed Richards & Deadmau5

Reed Richards a.k.a. "Mr. Fantastic" is without question my favourite comic character. I like him because first and foremost, he's very smart, quite probably the smartest character in the Marvel Universe. But he's also a family man, a good and loyal friend but flawed and imperfect in a lot of ways too. Simply put, he's one of Marvel's most interesting and well-rounded characters. This is why it has been so difficult figuring out a SuperSoundtrack for him. If you can't remember, a SuperSoundtrack is a re-occurring feature on WGTB where we pair a song with a comic book superhero and explain why the two fit together. It's basically a fun way to talk about both comics and music, two things we love here!  

Reed Richards in Marvel's New Avengers Vol. 3 #1 (March 2013) Written by Jonathan Hickman with pencils by Steve Epting and inks by Rick Magyar & Rank D'Armata
Reed Richards was created in the early 1960s. You might remember the (likely apocryphal) story: Martin Goodman, publisher Marvel Comics was playing golf with National Periodical Publications' (DC Comics) Jack Liebowitz or Irwin Donenfeld when the DC boss boasted about the success of the new Justice League of America title. Goodman, seeing an opportunity for Marvel to return to superheroes, went back to the office and instructed Stan Lee to come up with a new team of science-fiction themed characters. The result was The Fantastic Four #1, released in November 1961 and co-created with artist Jack Kirby

Cover of Marvel's The Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #1 (November 1961)
Although the Fantastic Four owed their creation to the Justice League, they were unlike them in many ways. Having acquired their powers from bombarding cosmic rays while on a spaceship of Reed Richards' design, they brought to their stories pre-existing relationships and were a family. Reed's girlfriend and eventual wife was Susan Storm, the lone female member of the team, and her brother Johnny, was a hot-headed teenager. The team also featured Reed's best friend from college, Ben Grimm. Ben's power was that he had permanently turned into a rock-like "Thing". Reed's was that he could stretch and change in an elastic-like manner; Sue's was that she could turn invisible; and Johnny became the Human Torch. The Fantastic Four, also in stark contrast to their Justice League counterparts, didn't keep secret identities and were celebrities in their own right. 

Image from Marvel's The Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #47 (February 1966) by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
From The Fantastic Four #1, the book would proceed for 611 issues and included some of the most highly acclaimed runs in all of comics. Indeed, Stan and Jack's run of 102 (with 6 Annuals) in so many ways stands atop the podium of the Silver Age and introduced to the Marvel Universe such stalwart characters as the Skrulls, the Watcher, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, the Black Panther, the Kree and so many others. Stan and Jack's collaborative effort also gave birth to what became the "Marvel Method", a teamwork focused way of comic story writing. 

Image from Marvel's The Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #358 (November 1991) Story by Tom DeFalco, pencils by Paul Ryan & inks by Danny Bulanadi.  
As the Silver Age turned to Bronze, The Fantastic Four lost much of their lustre. It still sold well and kept the self-proclaimed "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine" but it would take British-Canadian creator John Byrne to really revive the franchise. Byrne, stepping-up in the summer of 1981, gave us another long and enjoyable run of the venerable title. Byrnes' run was five years long and had much of the science-fiction that Lee and Kirby's did, but also gave it a more modern feel, reaching its height (in this blogger's opinion) with "The Trial of Reed Richards" arch. Here Reed Richards faced prosecution for saving the life of world devouring Galactus. In his defence Richards offered up this rationale: 

Image from Marvel's The Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #262 (January 1984) Here Byrne's unique storytelling comes to a fore with Reed facing criminal charges of a galactic scale.
Byrnes' enjoyable run was followed by subsequent creators who were met with mixed success and gradually the Fantastic Four were eclipsed by the likes of the Uncanny X-Men and the Avengers. However, when speaking of creators, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the great run that Jonathan Hickman put together in the latter portion of the first volume of The Fantastic Four. In this run Richards founded the Future Foundation, the core members being the two children he and Sue had together and a mix of other eclectic personalities. Brian Michael Bendis and Hickman would later introduced us to Reed as a core member of the Illuminati in the New Avengers. This group brought Mr. Fantastic together with Ironman, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Namor, and Professor X (and later Beast) to deal with threats that only the brightest on Earth could handle. 

Of late, there has been some unfortunate talk of Marvel cancelling the The Fantastic Four comic book. I know the numbers haven't been great recently, but from what I've read, this has more to do with 20th Century Fox owning the movie rights to the characters and Marvel/Disney not wanting to cross-promote another company's product. What comes of this we will have to wait and see.

The final appearance of Reed Richards in the first volume. From Marvel's The Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #611 (December 2012)  Written by Jonathan Hickman with pencils and inks by Ryan Stegman. Pictured here with his father Nathaniel Richards.
For Reed Richards' SuperSoundtrack I’ve selected some progressive house by Canadian artist Deadmau5. The track is "Strobe" off Deadmau5’s 2009 album For Lack of a Better Name and while I know it might seem a little strange to go with progressive house when there is a plethora of older music that could be used for the elder statesmen of the Marvel Universe, (here I'm thinking specifically of J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor) I still think there are good reasons to do so. 

Cover of Deadmau5's For Lack of a Better Name. This was the Canadian recording artist's fourth studio album. 
Listening to Strobe, it starts with an ambient piano-infused progression which really allows you to picture Reed in his laboratory, where he is the most happy and effective. At about minute four of the ten minute track, the beat kicks in and it's here where we can envision Mr. Fantastic as a man of action: a scientist who is not above getting his hands dirty and using his towering intelligence to do what his family, friends or the planet Earth needs. By the end, the melody transitions again into an almost hypnotic place and then closes in a final wind-down with a chain of mysterious ethereal and space-like sounds. This is where I've always felt Reed Richards is at home and is best placed to do his work: in outer space. Just as long has he has his family with him, of course! 

Reed Richards in his lab. Image from The Fantastic Four Vol. 4 #1 (January 2013) written by Matt Fraction with pencils by Mark Bagley and inks by Mark Farmer
Although I went with Strobe for Reed Richards, there are some runners-up to be mentioned. The first is the above mentioned organ masterpiece by J.S. Bach, which I think is a direct ancestor of music like progressive house. But more recently Deadmau5's track Errors in my Bread from his June 2014 album While (1<2) also captures a scientist at work. Have a listen to all of the above mentioned music and if you can picture the great Reed Richards talking to Norrin Radd or Black Bolt while doing it, then I've accomplished my goal. Of course, if you have any suggestions about Reed Richards, Deadmau5 or any other SuperSoundtrack then please comment below. Thanks for reading! 

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