Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Writer Chris Claremont has been establishing new characters and subplots since he took over the series, and in Vol. 3 #21 he starts to tie those threads together. Or… does he?
Who are these new characters again? Alyssa Moy is a super-genius and an old friend (or more?) of Reed’s. Alysande Stuart is the alter ego of barbarian swordswoman Caledonia, who recently traveled to Earth from another dimension. Puppy is Franklin’s new pet, a miniature version of the Inhumans’ teleporting dog Lockjaw. And then there’s teenage Valeria Richards, going by “Marvel Girl,” who says she has “time-danced” into this timeline. At the end of last issue, Franklin and these four newbies were attacked by an interdimensional bounty hunter named Bounty (convenient) and then attacked again by all-female cyber-ninjas called the Bacchae. This issue begins inside a Manhattan nightclub, where the Bacchae have brought the new heroes before Greek gods Hippolyta and Hades. (Remember that the Marvel Universe has both Norse and Greek gods running around.)
Hippolyta, with help from the captions, explains that the Bacchae are seeking revenge from when the FF and Caledonia interrupted a fight between the Bacchae and criminals named the G0-Gang. (This occurred in a single page, seemingly out of nowhere, in vol. 3 #7.) Caledonia fights Hippolyta and the Bacchae, while Alyssa and Valeria lead Franklin, Puppy, and a stunned Bounty to make a run for it.
Hades teleports himself, Caledonia, Hippolyta, and the Bacchae away, leaving the rest inside the now-empty nightclub. Bounty comes to and agrees to help the new team in finding Caledonia. Valeria convinces Puppy to track Caledonia’s scent and teleport them to where she went. (I guess it’s some kind of psychic “scent.”) The trail leads to Hades… and the Underworld.
Cut to Paris, where the Fantastic Four are arguing with French secret agent Reno. The French government continues to hold the humans who had been possessed by the Ruined, and the FF want them to go free. Before any resolution can be reached, Reed gets a message from Alyssa about everyone traveling to the Underworld. While Sue is perplexed as who this new Marvel Girl is, Reed asks for transportation, and says he’s going to call in an expert. Cut to Tanzania, where Hercules is fighting some raiders. The FF catch up with him, and he says that he is no match for Hades. The FF just ask for a way into the Underworld.
Franklin’s group arrive in the Underworld and are immediately confronted by Hela, the Norse goddess of the dead. Valeria introduces herself as “Valeria Von Doom, daughter and heir to the monarch of the Latveria.” She requests passage through the Underworld, while Hela says the group has transgressed and must pay a price. She says she will use the group as captives, bait to lure Thor into the Underworld on a rescue mission. Then, Bounty draws a gun on Hela, saying she’s killed gods before. Hela lets the group go, and they teleport elsewhere.
Franklin’s group arrives next in Tartarus, now the Greek portion of the Underworld. They are attacked by the Bacchae and they find Caledonia unconscious. They’re then confronted by Hippolyta and Hades, along with an army of creatures, including Cerberus, who is not a three-headed hound but a cyborg minotaur thing. A fight breaks out, with the new heroes fighting back all the monsters. Valeria confronts Hades, who says he’s impressed with her but he will not let the team leave.
Then Hercules arrives with the FF, alongside Hades’ wife Persephone. She tells him to call of the attack, and they retreat farther into the Underworld, taking Hippolyta with them. Then Sue and Reed meet Valeria for the first time. Johnny reminds everyone of the alternate future the FF witnessed during their fight with Ronan a while back, in which Reed was dead and Sue had married Dr. Doom with a daughter Valeria. As he wonders if this means that future will come to pass, Valeria ends the issue with a simple, “Hi, Mom.”
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed tells Reno not to treat people as outcasts and enemies, or else they will start acting the part, and creating the threat he hoped to avoid. But then the Ruined are pretty much forgotten after that.
Fade out: In this issue’s letters page, a reader suggests that Sue become the sixth Spice Girl, called Invisible Spice. Editor Bobbie Chase responds, saying, “We can pretty much guarantee that this will never happen.”
Clobberin’ time: Bounty is immediately impressed with Ben upon meeting him. She says Ben Grimm is “a strong name for a strong man.”
Flame on: For some reason, Johnny is exposition guy this issue, overly explaining the events of previous issues to everyone.
Four and a half: Franklin’s group is referred to as the “rascals” in bold several times in this issue. Are we meant to think that this team’s name is in fact the Rascals? If so, this makes the fourth super-team Franklin has been a member of, following Power Pack, Fantastic Force, and the Daydreamers.
Our gal Val: Although Valeria does a lot of fighting in this issue, there’s no indication of what powers this version of her might have. The Marvel Wiki is no help, saying this Valeria potentially has psionic powers, but no real answer.
Commercial break: Anybody know where this guitar is today? At the Hard Rock Café? In the store from Pawn Stars? In a box in somebody’s garage somewhere?
Trivia time: This is the first time Hades has shown up in Fantastic Four, but he’s been causing trouble in the Marvel Universe since the ‘60s, when he was a recurring Thor villain. He later became an adversary for Hercules in Herc’s various solo series, and also made several appearances in X-Factor.
Then there’s Hippolyta. She’s queen of the Amazons, operating out of Themiscrya. You might think that sounds like Wonder Woman’s mother, and yes they are both derived from the same Greek myth. She’s had a lot fewer appearances in the Marvel Universe, usually as a companion/sidekick to Hades. When she appeared in Fearless Defenders, Marvel tipped the hat to DC by giving Hippolyta the codename Warrior Woman, which she hated.
Once again, the Bacchae exit the story as soon as they enter it. When they next appear in X-Men, it’s revealed that they were created by Hippolyta in an attempt to create a new breed of Amazons.
Fantastic or frightful? You’d think that a journey into the Underworld to confront the gods of the dead would be a bigger deal than this is. The formation of a brand new superhero team should also be a bigger deal, but there’s only fleeting glimpses of how the Rascals (if that’s what they’re called) operate as a team. It’s just a lot of running around to get us to the Sue/Valeria confrontation on the last page, and not much more.
Next: Daughter world.
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