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Rays Week

How To Be A Good Friend: Do Not Expose Your Pals To Cosmic Rays

Screenshot: Marvel Comics Group

It is only natural to stare in slack-jawed amazement as the glories of the universe are made real, eyes struggling to keep pace under the weight of expanding wonders and the unfurling of an infinite and glittering tapestry. This week has given us yet another reminder of that ancient truism: Space is cool as hell.

There is, of course, another axiom we must observe, as mankind has peeled back one more thin layer of understanding in our universe: Do not expose your best friends to cosmic rays.

To be clear, I am not talking about the act of sharing the decadent images of light escaping from untold galaxies recently released from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. That’s simply an act of compassion. Nor am I talking about the single-minded desire of freely yeeting oneself into the man-made replica of the annihilating power of an actual star. That is a personal choice.

No, I am talking about packing up your best buddy, your special lady friend, and her kid brother for a casual joyride through a wash cycle of cosmic rays just for the hell of it. I am talking about the absent-minded, consequence-free, white dude thought-leaderism that fucks around and winds up with horrifying superpowers by accident and calls it heroism.

I am talking about The Fantastic Four.

The genesis of Marvel’s first family/superteam was always a space-race daydream, inspired in equal parts by the collected vapors of President John F. Kennedy’s moon rantings and and the combined creativity (or combativeness) of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Marvel’s earliest superheroes had plenty of goofy origins: Teenager gets bit by radioactive spider, boy gets blinded by radioactive goo; teenager gets injected with radioactive jingoistic steroids. It’s easy to shrug these off as mildly silly modern fairy tales, or the earnest reworking of Joseph Campbell’s teachings served up as ready-made intellectual content.

But the Fantastic Four has remained baffling to me since I was a kid. When I was somewhere between 9–12 years old, a friend of my mom’s lent me a liquor store-sized box of comics from the ’70s and ’80s, stories that would become the backbone of our current content apocalypse: Chris Claremont’s Days of Future Past run from X-Men, DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, Jim Starlin’s A Death In The Family Batman storyline (which, in hindsight, was maybe not the best thing for a kid to read). These stories opened up an actual multiverse to me, spurred my already deep devotion to reading and made a gawky, asthmatic little boy dream of writing comic books. There was also a stack of Fantastic Four books, stories about this cool weird-ass family that bickers a lot, but usually saves the day with a little bit of science. A guy who stretches, a guy constantly on fire, a surly dude who is a rock, and a woman who turns invisible? Fun times! This was incredibly cool to me, because on top of skipping across dimensions and punching robots they solved problems while constantly bitching at each other.

And then I found out how they came to be: Reed Richards somehow convinces his best friend, Ben Grimm, his fiancée, Sue Storm, and her brother Johnny, to tag along on a little upper-atmosphere science experiment that did not go as planned. This is a supremely fucked-up thing to do. This is like being convinced to commandeer a nuclear sub from the Chinese navy by that friend who dropped out of MIT, spends their days defending Elon Musk on Twitter, and can’t stop talking about the untapped potential power of the blockchain. (Would it be any surprise that this friend, upon getting powers that evoke a Stretch Armstrong doll, would choose to go by the name “Mr. Fantastic”? That is most definitely a Reddit handle that has posted on the foulest parts of the internet.)

How shitty of a friend must you be to trick your friends into a science experiment? This is worse than the friend who asks you to help move and doesn’t even spring for pizza. When you go to the monthly superhero networking event, what’s your story? Well, my friend said, “Get in loser, we’re going to get irradiated by an unrelenting shower of cosmic rays that will fundamentally alter our body chemistry in unknowable and gruesome ways.”

Aside from being a shitty pal who knowingly submits their friends to drastic mutation, there’s also the small problem of not knowing how your buddies will react to their terrible newfound abilities. Will they be forever pissed and stop speaking to you? Will they become a supervillain dedicated to ruining your life the way you ruined them? Or, are they in that five percent of people who will willingly don matching costumes to fight mole men and planet-eating beings of cosmic power? Fortunately for you, true believers, we do have a little glimpse into what would happen if your favorite Defector idiots went up in a rocket through the ionosphere and survived. After wondering aloud in Slack about the Fantastic Four and exposing your pals to cosmic rays, the following happened:

Kelsey McKinney [3:05 PM]
wtf is a cosmic ray

Barry Petchesky [3:05 PM]
well, they can make you stretchy, or invisible, or on fire, or rock

Justin [3:06 PM]
:points up:

Kelsey McKinney [3:07 PM]
that does seem bad

Lauren [3:07 PM]
honestly they’re all cool except rock imo
being the human torch would rock
(in a good way)

Kelsey McKinney [3:07 PM]
rock seems best. you can’t read if you’re a rock
just sitting all day

Lauren [3:08 PM]
this rock

David Roth [3:08 PM]
“Did you hear what the Supreme Court did?” “No, I am a rock.”

Barry Petchesky [3:08 PM]
sorta his whole thing is that he’s not happy about being rock, right

Lauren [3:08 PM]
well yeah like i said, it sucks

Barry Petchesky [3:08 PM]
i mean i get it
i’d be stretchy imo
seems like it could come in handy

Chris Thompson [3:09 PM]
what?? you gotta go invisible

Lauren [3:09 PM]

Kelsey McKinney [3:09 PM]
being invisible would ruin my life

Barry Petchesky [3:09 PM]
only people who want to do crimes would choose invisible!

Kelsey McKinney [3:09 PM]
i would never sleep

Barry Petchesky [3:09 PM]
well you can turn it on and off kelsey

Kelsey McKinney [3:09 PM]
i would never turn it off

Barry Petchesky [3:10 PM]
does paste-pot pete have a glue gun

Justin [3:10 PM]
This blog is writing itself

Lauren [3:10 PM]
yes, attached to the paste pot

Chris Thompson [3:10 PM]
i mean i would def use it to do crimes, but i would also use it to play pranks

David Roth [3:10 PM]
The ability to become invisible would be the thing that allows Kelsey’s gossip habit to overwhelm her completely.

Kelsey McKinney [3:10 PM]
i would use it to do crimes for sure but also like imagine going to a big museum all by yourself

Chris Thompson [3:10 PM]
yeah!

Kelsey McKinney [3:10 PM]
imagine sitting a table with people who don’t know you’re there

Barry Petchesky [3:10 PM]
you’d steal the art!!

Kelsey McKinney [3:10 PM]
it would ruin my life
i absolutely would not. i believe art is a public good

Justin [3:11 PM]
People these powers are meant to stop mole men and whatnot

Kelsey McKinney [3:11 PM]
i would light things on fire probably

David Roth [3:11 PM]
Would you steal some of the food?

Chris Thompson [3:11 PM]
i wouldn’t steal the art, but i would for sure steal so much cash

David Roth [3:11 PM]
Yoinking some olives off the table.

Chris Thompson [3:11 PM]
and like i would clean out the gem hall of the natural history museum

Lauren [3:11 PM]
people would just be constantly walking into you

Justin [3:13 PM]
Who will protect the city from giant space dragons when mayor Adams calls?

Wags [3:13 PM]
is flying an option?

Justin [3:13 PM]
Too busy stealing ass

Barry Petchesky [3:14 PM]
on fire guy can fly
also invisible woman can fly i think, for some reason?

Wags [3:14 PM]
wow 2 for 1

Samer [3:14 PM]
but he has to say “flame on”

Barry Petchesky [3:14 PM]
i think she just like makes a bubble of invisibility(?) that floats her around

Wags [3:14 PM]
he’s a 10 but he has to say flame on

David Roth [3:14 PM]
lol

Samer [3:15 PM]
also the rock guy says “it’s clobberin’ time” but he doesn’t have to for power activation, he just likes saying it

Chris Thompson [3:16 PM]
lol

David Roth [3:16 PM]
It’s nice to be reminded that these properties, which are now the most valuable IP in the world, were built around a big rock guy saying “it’s clobberin’ time.”

Barry Petchesky [3:16 PM]
wait does he have to say flame on to flame on?
or does he just like saying it

Lauren [3:17 PM]
he just likes it!

Wags [3:17 PM]
what are the other mottos?
“lets get stretchy”

Samer [3:17 PM]
Like the rest of the Fantastic Four, Johnny gained his powers on a spacecraft bombarded by cosmic rays. He can engulf his entire body in flames, fly, absorb fire harmlessly into his own body, and control any nearby fire by sheer force of will. “Flame on!”, which the Torch customarily shouts when activating his full-body flame effect, has become his catchphrase.

Barry Petchesky [3:17 PM]
“stretch mode!”

Samer [3:17 PM]
hm i guess so. but i feel like he says it so much
more than “it’s clobberin time”

dave mckenna [3:18 PM]
flames is ass

Wags [3:18 PM]
does he say flame off

Chris Thompson [3:18 PM]
jeez it’s a shame to waste those powers on a guy who likes saying “flame on”