WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Marvel 2-In-One #4 by Chip Zdarsky and Valerio Schiti, on sale now.
Reed Richards is a broken man.
Don't worry, though -- this isn't our Mr. Fantastic, the one who took off to explore and rebuild the Multiverse at the end of Secret Wars. No, this Reed belongs to an alternate reality that diverged from the main Marvel Universe in one crucial way.
Writer Chip Zdarsky's Marvel 2-in-One has been a nostalgia trip from day one. He and artist Jim Cheung have already taken us back to Fantastic Four #1, revisiting Monster Island and the Mole Man. In this fourth issue, illustrated by Valerio Schiti, he returns to another milestone: "The Coming of Galactus."
The Devourer of Worlds made his debut in the March 1966 issue of Fantastic Four where, after a scuffle with Inhumans in Attilan, our heroes returned to New York to find the sky on fire. What they saw is not the end of the world, however, but an effort to prevent it. Violating his oath of non-interference, Oatu the Watcher had created the conflagration in an attempt to hide the Earth from the Silver Surfer, the Herald of Galactus, who was seeking out planets for his master to, well, eat.
Over the next two issues, Reed and the FF fought hard to keep Galactus from chowing down on Earth. They finally prevailed, with the help of the Surfer and the Watcher. When Mr. Fantastic wielded the Ultimate Nullifier against the cosmic entity, the planet-eating behemoth conceded, leaving our planet unmolested. Of course, he also stripped the Surfer of the Power Cosmic, thus confining him to Earth for years.
Marvel 2-in-One #4 pays tribute to this beloved story, while putting its own vicious twist on it. When Ben and Johnny arrive on an alternate Earth, they are greeted by a surprised Wolverine and She-Hulk, both duly authorized agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The latter assumes the new arrivals are Skrulls, and a melee ensues. We soon find out that on this world, The Thing is dead, and the Human Torch is persona non-grata.
It turns out Galactus showed up on this Earth just as he did on ours in Fantastic Four #48, but the outcome here was different. Very different. Like our Ben, this reality's Thing leapt up at Galactus with no fear of the consequences; unlike our Ben, however, this incarnation of the Thing was instantly vaporized.
Johnny seems to have played some part in this tragedy. "If Johnny we're here, we'd all be dead," not-our-Reed screams at the multiversal travelers. We don't know what happened, but the flashback shows the Torch's flames circling Galactus during the fight. We may not yet know where he is, but he was present at that fateful moment, and obviously played a crucial role in whatever it was that ultimately led to this Reed breaking.
If we consider the events of Fantastic Four #48, this Johnny may be carrying a torch for his Inhuman girlfriend, Crystal. Is this world's Attilan also trapped in the Negative Zone? If so, did the love-struck teenager make a deal with Galactus to save the object of his affection? The flames that trail around the Devourer of Worlds suggest that the Human Torch may have become be one of his heralds indicating a rather troubling turn by the hotheaded hero.
Zdarsky and Schiti give us a Reed who is haggard, unshaved and obsessed with his work. He is an echo of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee's rendition during the original Galactus arc, but there is a difference. Whereas the '60s Reed was chastised by Sue for overwork, this version is left alone to his obsessions, Sue long ago leaving her workaholic husband to become the head of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Not only was this Reed broken by the outcome of the battle with Galactus, in another nod to the classic tale from the 1960s, this reality’s Devourer of Worlds was defeated by the introduction of another Deus ex machina. Instead of the Watcher handing Reed the Ultimate Nullifier, forcing Galactus to concede, victory was achieved when Doctor Doom merged with the invader, thus preventing Galactus from consuming the Earth.
Of course, none of this could prepare readers for the shocking splash page that ends the issue. Rather than saving the day, Doom's hunger for power consumed Galactus. Then, in an act of ultimate nullification, Doom consumed the rest of the universe.
In a reversal of 2015's Secret Wars, Reed is the one who is keeping reality -- or what's left of it -- together. But what of our own Richards and Doom? The two may end up squaring off, but will Doom continue to be a force of good, or will he revert to his villainous ways?
Marvel's greatest rivalry is back, and a universe -- if not the entire multiverse -- is at stake.