Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Comic Books and Lost, Part I

I've been meaning to write about this for quite a while, but just haven't found the time until now. Having been a comic book buff all my life, it's difficult for me to watch the show and not be reminded of certain stories and themes from various comics, especially considering the fantastical nature of the show. In many ways, Lost reminds me of one of those "TWELVE ISSUE LIMITED MINI-SERIES" that DC and Marvel used to pump out with regularity back in the 80's. And the way the show is structured around flashbacks gives the show the sort of a "See ish 159 - ed.!" connectivity and history that comics used to traditionally provide.

I've already written on how the time travel aspect of Lost reminds me of "Days of Future Past" and, while there's been no indication from Darlton that that particular story has influenced the show, it's such a famous tale it would certainly be one of the more likely candidates. But I'd also like to talk about three comic book stories, much less well known than DofP, that remind me a bit of what's been going on in Lost the past few seasons. As I started writing this, it turned out to be a much larger post than I expected, so I'm breaking it up into three.

The common thread through all these is the Fantastic Four, not necessarily because they were one of my favorites (which they were), but more because the nature of their adventures involved quite a bit of time and interdimensional travel. Two of these stories also involve a character called the Beyonder, an omnipotent being who later turned out to be a rogue fragment of a Cosmic Cube, something which sounds suspiciously like Ben's famous magic box. All of these stories came out in the 80's and early 90's.

1. Fantastic Four Vol. 1, Issues 337-341

For six glorious years, famed comic book writer and artist John Byrne (the same artist coincidentally who drew the aforementioned DoFP story) inked and wrote Fantastic Four during the eighties. It's largely considered to be one of the best runs of the comic in its 45 year history. Following Byrne's time on the book, the FF comic entered a three-year period of turmoil, going through a variety of writers and artists, all of whom were pretty poor in comparison to Byrne and never really managed to capture the larger-than-life feel the comic had during his tenure.

Enter Walt Simonson. Starting in issue 337 (Click on the pics for biggie versions), Walt, who had single-handedly resurrected Thor as a Marvel title during the eighties, took full control over the FF, both writing and inking. Style-wise, his art is like no other, a helter-skelter sketchy style that on one hand is very simplistic, yet still filled with eye-popping details. Simonson, along with Byrne, actually used Reed Richards in the way he should be used, fueling FF stories with his brilliant inventions and making lots of very, very long words come out of his mouth. Comic readers sometimes hate Reed, because they think he's boring, but I only think he's boring when he isn't written well. If he is, he's the most versatile character in the Marvel Universe because he can create anything. Kinda of a stretchy deus ex machina, if you will.

Simonson's first tale was one of cosmic proportions: a five-issue, time travel story that contained one of the best holy crap, jaw-dropping shock endings of a comic book I've ever read (coming at the end of issue 338), very similar to a classic Lost ending. For those of you who may wish to read these comics in the future (and you can buy them very cheaply on eBay), I will not spoil that surprise. But here's the basic gist of the story...

The comic opens with an alarm sounding in FF headquarters. Someone has set a bomb, trying to destroy Reed's latest research project. The project is saved, but it turns out to be something secret Reed hasn't revealed to everyone else on the team. In fact, Reed has built his entire research area in a small pocket dimension inside Four Freedoms Plaza. While the entire sequence is too long to go into here, this little snippet gives you a taste of how Simonson wrote Reed. "Tesseract volume analog" may invite snickers from some, but 1) Simonson made no pretensions of sticking with actual science (or traditional science fiction) throughout his run as long as it sounded fantastic and cool and 2) it's certainly better than midichlorians, right? But I digress. Of course, everyone on the team wants to know what he's working on. Reed explains with the little time experiment below.

Basically, somewhere in the future, is a "time bubble" containing a Celestial, an ancient God in the Marvel Universe, who is creating a terrible weapon. The bubble protects this weapon and no one has been able to time travel inside the bubble or out. Furthermore the bubble is expanding, such that thirty-five years into the future time ceases to exist. Reed, with the help of Iron Man and Thor, construct a Time Sled with which they hope to penetrate the bubble and destroy the weapon. It's just a terrific tale with a terrific ending and, as I said before, the shocker in the middle of the story is one of the best I've ever read in a comic. (Note: at this time Ben Grimm, the Thing, is human and Ms. Marvel, Sharon Ventura, has been transformed into a She-Thing. Don't ask. It's a remnant of the regime before Simonson took over. 'Nuff said.)

So what does this story have to do with Lost? Well, the time bubble is the obvious connection, given that we've never gotten a real explanation for the barrier surrounding the Island. Plus, now that time seems to be moving differently between the two zones, it makes me think of it even more. In addition, the bubble in the comic was artificially created to protect the Celestial's weapon. I think I've always assumed that the bubble surrounding the Island was a natural thing, i.e. a by-product of the Island's mysterious properties. But what if the bubble was actually artificial, something erected to protect the Island and the black box at its center? And, even more importantly, what if the bubble was something that could be turned off or even destroyed? And, and... what happens if the Island's barrier starts to expand? Makes you think, eh?

Another connection to Lost was in the way Reed and company entered the bubble, navigating its perimeter at a very precise trajectory, much like Frank and Michael were instructed to do with the Island barrier. But what happens if you don't? Do you just get bounced back like Desmond did? Or can something worse happen if you get trapped in the barrier around the island? I was honestly surprised when Michael did actually make it through the barrier okay. Part of me thought that he might have been trapped in the bubble and he and Walt were both spit out years older. Obviously we now know that's not the case, but the nature of the barrier has never been fully explained.

In the comic, as Reed penetrated the bubble, an infinite number of copies of the sled were created, representing an infinite number of possible futures. Reed says he has to find the one, true timeline in the bubble's center and must enter into a turbulence-filled, wormhole-like"vortex" in order to do so. Now Lost doesn't seem to subscribe to an infinite probability-type future, given that everyone seems to have a specific fate on the show (or at least we've been led to believe so far). But given the theory that Ben and Charles are one and the same, an infinite number of copies makes me go hmmm...

When Reed finally emerges in the bubble's center, he found he and the sled were out of phase with the time inside, moving at a much faster speed than its inhabitants. Reed's explanation for this is that the bubble, since it was growing, was creating a "time-dilation effect," slowing down time inside. This effect is obviously very similar to what's happening to time on the Island, though not to the same degree that it's happening in the comic. But I do think that an "out-of-phase" effect to that degree could be something the show visits in the future. I've long thought that one of the explanations to all the coincidences between the characters was that someone we know (likely Desmond) who goes back in time to coordinate everything and make sure everyone gets on the plane. Of course, it would be helpful if he could go back and move around unseen, something this effect would allow him to do.

So that's all I'll talk about this tale, one which I highly recommend, especially if you're a Marvel fan. Chances are, Darlton has never even heard of this story, given that, as far as I know, it largely flew under the radar to anyone but the geekiest of comic book geeks *ahem*. But as the show has progressed with more and more of a time travel storyline, I keep being reminded of it and I thought it would be fun to share it with everyone. In the next installment, I'll talk a bit about the Marvel Secret Wars and how that tale (which WAS a Marvel classic) might relate to Ben's black box. :)


Imperceptible Me said...

Oh gosh your post brings back memories. My husband was a huge Marvel comic fan when I married him and he got me hook on those things. haha. We subscribed to about 15 titles during the late 70's through the 80's. I came to love the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, New Mutants, Iron Man, Silver Surfer, Conan the Barbarian and so many others. I remember the Beyonder and Reed's sled but I can only vaguely remember the story.

Eventually we stopped buying comics because they started being 2.50 or 3.00 dollars for single fancy covered issues. Do you remember them? Shiny foil or glossy covered comics. And you had to buy different comics to finish up story lines (cross overs) and frankly it just became too expensive for us to continue.

Great post Jay, Lost tonight!!!! Woot!

Jay said...

Oh yeah - I certainly remember them. The comics industry really shot itself in the foot during the eighties, relying on cheap gimmicks to try and get people to buy them instead of stories and art.

I pretty much stopped buying comics when Marvel rebooted everything and started introducing the "hip, new" Ultimates - updated comics made to appeal to a "younger generation." That was really the final straw for my rapidly aging inner curmudgeon. :)

I'll still pick up a graphic novel or two once in a while - the Top Ten miniseries, a "Hill Street Blues" type story about a police precinct in a city full of super powered people was particularly excellent - but otherwise I really haven't bought anything new in years. :(

Capcom said...

Very interesting, thanks for posting that! :-)