Fantastic Friday: Mighty orbits

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Here’s issue #289, and writer-artist John Byrne’s legendary run on the book is coming to a close. Before he leaves, he brings back a couple of classic villains.

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We begin at the construction site for the FF’s new headquarters, where there’s an old-fashioned excuse-for-our-heroes-use-their-powers-for-a-few-pages thing as Reed, Johnny and Sue work together to save a construction worker from falling. (Every time we’ve visited this site so far, someone has almost fallen to his or her death. Surprised the city hasn’t shut this place down.) Another worker, Danny, takes the FF on a tour of the new building’s sub-basement, fifteen stories down, 150 feet below the street. He mentions some cracking on one wall, but then Reed gets an emergency call from S.H.I.E.L.D. and the team takes off. Just after they do, some mysterious hands break through the cracks.

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Those hands belong to the Basilisk, a green-skinned villain who was last seen buried deep beneath the city in Marvel Team-Up #47. He blasts Danny with deadly eye lasers, and speechifies about reaching the surface. Just as he does, setting himself up as the main baddie for this issue, he’s shot in the back by a man whose face we don’t see, saying “Justice is served!” This guy is the Scourge, who had been running around all over the Marvel universe killing of B-list villains. The Scourge storyline was eventually (and disappointingly) resolved in a multi-part Captain America story. None of this has anything to do with anything else that happens in this issue.

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The Fantastic Four are teleported (beamed up, one might say) to a S.H.I.E.L.D. space station in orbit over Earth. Nick Fury is there, and he shows the FF an accretion disk, an astronomical phenomenon that forms around black holes. Only this is not a black hole, but the Negative Zone portal, left behind in Earth’s orbit after the destruction of the original Baxter Building. (Got all that?) Reed dons a gold spacesuit (!) and flies out into space to get a closer look at the disk. He fears that if something isn’t done about the Negative Zone portal, it might expand and devour the entire universe.

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Cut to a high-tech room somewhere (we’re not told where), where Blastaar the living bomb-burst gloats about Reed falling into his trap. He speaks to an unseen prisoner in a cage, gloating about he has (again) stolen Annihilus’ cosmic control rod. In space, Reed is pulled into the disk by some sort of tractor beam and disappears. The FF wants to go rescue him, but Fury cautions against taking unnecessary risks without knowing what’s happening out there. Sue, Johnny, She-Hulk and Fury take off in a space shuttle-type ship, into the disk, and then into the Negative Zone, complete with an old-school photo montage splash page.

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Inside Blastaar’s headquarters, now revealed to be a spaceship of some kind, he has taken Reed captive, and he continues gloating some more. Reed warns that he entered the Negative Zone unprotected, so if too much of the Negative Zone’s antimatter touches him, it’ll cause a massive explosion. The FF smash into the room, and there’s a big fight between them and Blastaar. He holds them off easily, until Sue invisibly snatches the control rod away from him. With a wide grin, Blastaar tells Sue not to throw the rod into the nearby atomic disintegrator. Johnny actually falls for this, and tosses the rod through the door. Blastaar gloats even more, saying even though he’s defeated, he’s still come up with a way to defeat the FF.

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The “disintegrator” is really the cage with Blastaar’s prisoner. It’s really Annihilus, now at full power with him reunited with the cosmic control rod. He easily knocks out the Fantastic Four. Back aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. satellite, we learn the Negative Zone portal is growing, and will destroy the earth in less than five hours.

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To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Where did Reed’s gold space suit come from? Is this S.H.I.E.L.D. tech or is it something he whipped up on his own?

Fade out: Sue’s new haircut is nearly identical to her brother’s, which is… odd. On the plus side, Sue is so awesome that she wield the unending power of the cosmic control rod.

Flame on: How on Earth does Johnny fall for Blastaar’s trick? It makes him look pretty dumb.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Continuity error! In this issue, She-Hulk says she’s never heard of the Negative Zone before, but she was there at the end of the last Negative Zone story, complete with a final confrontation with Annihilus.

Four and a half: This issue is referenced in Power Pack #22. Franklin is staying overnight with the Power family while his parents are in space.

Commercial break: Is this legal?

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Trivia time: Who’s the Basilisk? He’s a thief who got his powers after stealing a powerful alien Kree gem. Before this, he had only appeared off and on in Marvel Team-Up. He will later come back to life, along with a bunch of Scourge’s other victims, in a Punisher comic. As for the Scourge, he’s one of those characters whose origin gets rewritten every time he appears, and I’ve given up on trying to keep track of the Scourge really was.

Fantastic or Frightful? Kind of a slim issue, feeling more dumbed-down than the series has been. Many believe John Byrne had one foot out the door at this point, and I wonder if that’s true once this issue comes along.

Next week: Death! Or is it?

****

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Fantastic Friday: Time loopy

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. As Secret Wars II comes to an end, here’s issue #288, our third and final (or is it?) visit from the Beyonder, and we’re just resetting continuity and bringing characters back from the dead all over the place.

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To recap: Dr. Doom is still alive, having switched his brain with an innocent bystander at the time of his “death,” with his reappearance and death again during the first Secret Wars remaining a question mark. Now back in action, Doom has taken on the mantle of the Invincible Man, attacked the Latverian Embassy, taken Sue hostage, and is luring the rest of the FF into a trap. The issue begins with Johnny arriving at the embassy and fighting Doom’s security robots. He finds the neighbor lady from the previous issue, who fills him in what’s going on, and then he catches up with She-Hulk and the Wasp, for more robot fighting.

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Reed joins the fight, and everybody confronts Doom. He’s ready for them, knocking them all out with some sort of gravity machine. Our heroes wake up, each in a cage doom has designed for them. Reed and the Wasp are in a porous sphere that lets air in but no physical objects out. Sue is in an energy field precisely tuned to her force fields. Johnny submerged in “inert fluid,” which lets him breath but suppresses his flame, and She-Hulk is surrounded by invisible molecular chains that will slice through her otherwise impenetrable skin if she tries to move. Doom takes off his mask to reveal (again) that his mind is in the body of Norm the innocent bystander.

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Doom explains that when he died in the fight with Terrax, his original body was destroyed, broken down into subatomic dust and cast upon the solar wind. To re-form his original body, he says he must go beyond traditional science and into the realm of black magic. Down in the basement of the embassy, Doom has contained the Flames of Falroth, a source of ancient magic. Even this can’t restore his body, though. All it can do is summon to this place the most powerful being in existence. The FF immediately know what this refers to. It works, and Beyonder shows up, pulled into the room against his will.

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The Beyonder is not happy about this, asking who dares to jerk him around like this. Note that the Beyonder has gone through tough times since we last saw him, so he’s no longer the kind, altruistic Beyonder from a few issues back. Doom starts in with the arrogance, calling the Beyonder his “slave.” The big B is ticked off, making a speech about all the darkness and despair he’s found inside human souls. He says he’ll end that despair by killing all humans, starting with Doom. Reed stops the Beyonder, asking him why he doesn’t recognize Doom. Reed recaps the events of the first Secret War (in which Doom stole all of the Beyonder’s powers for a short while), but the Beyonder swears he has no memories of Doom. Doom, meanwhile, swears he has no memory at all of the Secret War.

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Reed asks the Beyonder to “look beyond this mortal form,” and only then does the Beyonder remember Doom stealing his power. The Beyonder is ready to kill Doom, saying he intended to banish Doom somewhere far out in time and space. Reed interrupts, deducing that when the Beyonder gathered all the heroes and villains for the Secret War, the Beyonder summoned Doom from a point in the future — this point in the future, in fact. Reed pleads with the Beyonder not to kill Doom, because if he does, it will sever the time loop the Beyonder initially created. Doing so would destroy all of time itself, an event that not even the all-powerful Beyonder could survive.

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The Beyonder then goes into “fix continuity” mode, restoring Doom’s original body, giving Norm the bystander his own brain back, and then sending Doom back in time to fight in the Secret War. The Beyonder vanishes, and Reed frees the FF from their cages (the Beyonder freed him during their talk). Reed says they’ve got to escape the embassy, because the time loop is about to complete, with Dr. Doom returning from banishment in time and space to fill the absent space he left behind at the start of all this. (Or something. It’s real confusing.) To protect the innocent bystanders, the FF leave seconds before Dr. Doom rematerializes. Reed promises that the next time the Fantastic Four faces Doom, it’ll be on their terms.

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Unstable molecule: Reed is so badass that he schools the all-knowing Beyonder on advanced physics.

Fade out: Sue’s hair is still all messed up and spikey from her interrupted haircut last issue. We’ll see how that turns out next time.

Flame on: I’m real curious about this “inert liquid” that suppresses Johnny’s fire, now that it’s been established that he’s powerful enough that getting him wet no longer renders him powerless.

Fantastic fifth wheel: A big deal is made about how this is the first time Dr. Doom meets She-Hulk (Secret Wars happens after this in his personal timeline, remember), and he describes her as “beautiful.” I wonder if writer-artist was setting up some future story here.

Commercial break: The Captain America Broadway musical! It never got made. I wonder if this ad had something to do with it never getting made.

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Trivia time: Whatever became of the Beyonder? In Secret Wars II #9, he tragically died while attempting to transform himself fully into a human. It was a sad yet somehow appropriate end for such a goofy character. It wasn’t truly the end, though, because every so often some writer at Marvel tries to bring him back, re-writing his origin each time. (Freakin’ Marvel.) We’ll eventually reunite with him in issues #318-319.

There’s no mention of young Kristoff, or all the trouble he caused while pretending to be Dr. Doom. Kristoff will return, though. Oh, boy, will he.

Fantastic or frightful? For someone who allegedly didn’t want to play ball with Secret Wars II, John Byrne writes the Beyonder better than most, making the character feel truly powerful and godlike, as opposed to jokey and childish. Other than that, though, the return of the one true Dr. Doom should be a lot bigger and more epic than it is. Instead, the whole thing taking place in a basement, with a lot of info dumping and not a lot of dramatic stakes.

Next week: Fury road.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Down on Embassy Row

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #287’s cover features a housewife looking afraid of something, and we have to read the comic to find out what. None of today’s comics would ever do this cover, right? Today’s comic covers all have to be wannabe movie posters. Also, Dr. Doom is back.

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The other big deal about this issue is that Joe Sinnott, one of Jack Kirby’s regular inkers, provides inks over writer-artist John Byrne’s pencils, giving the entire issue a definite old school look. Way to go, Joltin’ Joe! We begin with Reed in the Avengers mansion science lab (The FF is still living at the mansion after the destruction of the Baxter Building.) Reed and the Wasp have a chat. Reed says recently seeing Jean Grey come back from the dead has him thinking about all the times Dr. Doom has come back from the dead. Therefore, he’s whipped up a device to scan for Doom’s specific brainwave pattern, as a contingency plan if/when Doom reappears. But enough supervillain talk, because Sue shows up announcing that she’s changing her hairstyle again. She, Wasp, and She-Hulk are off for an afternoon of styling and girl-talk at the hair salon.

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We spend an entire page with the three ladies at the salon, a super-fancy one located in NYC’s Embassy Row. We spend an entire page with the Wasp going on about the finer things in life, until there’s an explosion outside. It’s the Invincible Man, in all his pink-and-yellow glory, firing energy blasts at the Latverian embassy. Sue is quick to point out that there is no Invincible Man, that it was just a disguise once used by the Super Skrull. Sue, Wasp, and She-Hulk fight the guy, who then reveals that he’s attacking because Dr. Doom has come back from the dead. Inside the embassy window, Sue sees what appears to be Doom, just standing there. Invincible Man says Doom has kidnapped his wife and young daughter. This is all She-Hulk needs to hear, willing to risk an international incident by storming the embassy for a rescue.

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We then cut to somewhere in the suburbs where the housewife from the cover, Peggy, is commiserating with a neighbor, talking about how strange her husband has been acting. The husband, Norm, was present the day Dr. Doom died in the FF’s fight with Terrax, and has since basically kept Peggy prisoner in her own home since then. A news report of the current fight comes on the TV, and Peggy recognizes Invincible Man as the costume her husband had been making.

Back at the embassy, there’s a lot of fighting and action as the heroes fight those purple Latverian guard robots. Invincible Man runs off by himself, and Sue follows invisibly. Peggy and the neighbor also show up at the embassy (how’d they get there so fast?) with Peggy saying she has to find Norm and help him, at any cost. Sue encounters Doom inside a room, but deduces quickly that it’s really a Doombot in disguise and she destroys it. She brags that this proves Doom is still dead, only for Invincible Man to attack her from behind, saying “Doom never dies!”

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Sue turns Invincible Man’s mask invisible, to show that this is Norm. He and Sue fight some more. Peggy interrupts the fight. She knocks Sue unconscious by hitting over the head with a vase, and then she reveals a Dr. Doom mask under Invincible Man’s mask. (I don’t know why Sue didn’t see this.) “Norm” claims that he is the real, original Dr. Doom. We then flash back to Dr. Doom’s death in issue #260. Remember that guy in the crowd who was rude to Aunt May? That was Norm from this issue. Dr. Doom used the ol’ mind switch technique from way, way back in issue #10 to take over Norm’s body at the last minute. Poor Norm was the one who died in Doom’s body. Doom steals Sue’s signal device and says he will contact her teammates, drawing them into his trap.

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Cut to Johnny and Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) enjoying a horse-drawn carriage ride in Central Park. Alicia/Lyja says she’s never been happier, but still feels some sadness for Ben, who is out there somewhere all alone. He gets the signal that Sue is trouble and flies off. Alicia/Lyja says there is nothing she can do now but go home… and pray.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed says he managed to make a recording of Dr. Doom’s brainwaves some time ago, but we’re not told when, exactly, this happened.

Fade out: Sue gets another new haircut, super-short this time. The big question is whether her hair is all spikey and messed up because she was interrupted mid-styling, or if her hair is that way because it’s the late ‘80s.

Flame on: Just before Johnny is called away, he says there’s very something important he wants to ask Alicia. I think we all know where this is headed.

Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk uses Ben’s “It’s clobberin’ time” catch phrase in this issue, with Sue joking that it just doesn’t feel like the Fantastic Four without someone saying it.

The Alicia problem: Lyja says her nostalgic feelings about Ben are nostalgia for something “that never really was,” which has new meaning now that we know she’s a Skrull. Also, there’s a reference to the Skrull empire collapsing in a recent Avengers action epic, so it’s a safe bet that whatever superior officer Lyja may have once reported to is no longer around.

Commercial break: Star Comics! I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the way Lion-O is holding that sword next to Misty. Misty, by the way, is not a ripoff of The Wizard of Oz, but “the soap opera superstar who’s setting the world on fire.” Good for her.

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Trivia time: Interesting how Invincible Man is not a character, but a costume worn by a variety of characters for whatever reason, including the Super-Skrull, Dr. Doom, and even Reed. Years later, Marvel would introduce Ronin, a similar concept, with Hawkeye, Moon Knight, and Echo all taking on the Ronin costume and persona at different times.

Wait, does New York City have an actual Embassy Row? I just did some surface-level googling, and could only find the one in Washington D.C.

Fantastic or frightful? You have to hand it to John Byrne for setting up this issue 30 issues back, but Dr. Doom’s big return feels kind of rushed. Beyond that, the rest of the issue is set up for the next one, so brace yourself for one more go-around with the Beyonder.

Next week: Time loops and paradoxes, paradoxes and time loops.

****

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Fantastic Friday: I dream of Jean

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #286 finds a big X-Men crossover getting in the way of our FF action, something that’s probably going to happen a lot once the ‘80s start becoming the ‘90s.

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We begin with the FF in space, returning to the Earth after several weeks away. We’re not told why they went to space, only the detail that they’ve had some unexpected detours on the way home. (A lot of Marvel fans have scoured the comics to try to find what issues these space adventures have occurred in, with no luck. I for one like the idea that these unseen stories are just another day in the office for our heroes.) There’s an entire page of dialogue devoted on whether to land the spaceship at JFK airport or LaGuardia airport. The FF must land a LaGuardia because the Avengers have JFK on lockdown due to a crisis. The FF land and take a NYC cab (!) to Avengers Mansion.

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Captain America and Hercules are the only Avengers present, and they fill the FF in on what just went down in Avengers #263, where, after preventing a plane crash, they recovered a mysterious pod from the bottom of the ocean. The pod is impenetrable, but Sue turns it invisible to reveal a human redheaded woman inside. Later that night, while Reed, Cap and Hercules stay up late to research the pod, freaky stuff starts happening with objects and then people floating around in the air. The pod breaks open, and the woman inside unleashes telekinetic fury on everyone, spouting angry gibberish about “X-sentinels” and a S.H.I.E.L.D. Even though it takes the characters some time to figure it out, I’ll spill it right now: This is Jean Grey, back from the dead.

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A short-ish history: Jean Grey, formerly Marvel Girl of the X-Men, once saved her teammates by crash landing a space shuttle into the ocean in Uncanny X-Men #100. This event transformed her into the all-powerful Phoenix. The power corrupted her, though, turning her into the mass-murdering Dark Phoenix. Jean purged the evil from her system, and then sacrificed her life so that Dark Phoenix would never again endanger the universe. The death of Jean Grey in Uncanny X-Men #137 is considered by many to be one of the greatest, and most tragic, comic books ever produced. And now Jean is back.

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Jean freaks out with confusion, fighting Reed, Cap and Hercules. Sue stops the fight because Jean’s telekinesis has no effect on Sue’s force fields. (!) It finally dawns on the heroes that this is Jean, who hasn’t been seen or heard from in years. Jean offers a flashback to the space shuttle crash, saying she doesn’t remember anything that happened afterward. Reed wants to call the X-Men, but Cap cautions against that, because at this time Magneto was serving as headmaster of Xavier’s school. Jean does not like this information (Cap’s not thrilled about it, either) and refuses contact with the X-Men. She asks to visit her parents’ home. It takes some convincing, but the heroes agree to it.

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The FF and Jean arrive at the Grey house, and no one is at home. (Jean is still wearing her torn-up evening gown from the shuttle crash, because of ‘80s-era comic book sexiness.) Inside, they find a Shi’ar crystal where Jean, as Phoenix, left behind some of her psychic essence. Reed says this could unlock Jean’s missing memories, but Jean is too nervous to try it. We get a scene of Captain American talking to the Beast on the phone, so Beast call tell him (and the readers) about the whole Dark Phoenix/death of Jean story. Back at the house, Jean tries out the crystal, and all her memories come flooding back.

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We then get the full story of what happened during the space shuttle crash in Uncanny X-Men #100. At the last second, an alien called the Phoenix stepped in and took over Jean’s life, with the real Jean sealed in a pod, ending up in the ocean. Note that the alien wasn’t merely impersonating Jean, it became her, fully and completely. Jean is distraught to learn all this, but then Captain America shows up and gives her a pep talk. He says that when Jean/Phoenix died in noble sacrifice that was the influence of the real Jean’s goodness and humanity and whatnot.

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Back at Avengers Mansion, there’s a brief mention of how Jean is now only telekinetic and no longer telepathic (this breezed over pretty quick, but would go on to be a big deal with the X-books). Jean says she doesn’t want to contact her friends or family yet until she sorts out what’s become of her. Reed says he knows just the right person to call, and that’s the issue’s cliffhanger. (I’ll spoil it: He calls the Defenders, who get the next chapter in this crossover. It all leads up to Jean reuniting with the original X-Men in the historic X-Factor #1.)

Unstable molecule: Check out the cool watch built into Reed’s glove!

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Fade out: After having gone through hell and back in the last 20 issues or so, Sue is more or less back to her old self, being flirty with Reed and awesome in a fight. She does stand up for Jean, though, by reminding all the men that she too had just gone through some traumatic experiences.

Flame on: Johnny makes a joke about not telling comic publishers about the FF’s space adventures, saying the publishers told him “Cosmic doesn’t sell.” This has got to be a meta thing, right?

Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk is really, really flirty with Hercules, but she says it’s just flirting and that she and Wyatt Wingfoot are still a couple. Her solo comics hinted for years about a possible relationship with Herc. They eventually got together, but only for a short while, with She-Hulk deciding that the fantasy of being with Herc was better than the real thing.

Commercial break: This was a deluxe 30-page comic… with no ads!

Trivia time: Yes, this sets the stage for X-Factor, which was the hottest, most-talked-about Marvel comic when it debuted, and again a few months later under writer Chris Claremont and artist Walt Simonson, who delivered big action and big, big soap opera drama.

Speaking of soap operas, this issue’s writing credit is, “You know who.” There’s a whole lot of he-said-she-said going on about how this story came about behind the scenes. The gist of seems to be that Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter wanted to bring Jean back and reunite the original X-Men. John Byrne and Claremont were against this, but Shooter was the boss. The issue was written, allegedly with help by up-and-coming writer Kurt Busiek, as a way to bring Jean back but not have to deal with all the people she murdered as Dark Phoenix. Some sources say writer Bob Layton also allegedly had a hand in writing this issue as well. Whew.

Fantastic or frightful? Does this lessen the impact of Jean’s death in Uncanny X-Men #137? Maybe a little. But dying and coming back has since become a big part of Jean’s identity, what with the whole “Phoenix” name getting thrown about. Sure, every comic book character comes back from the dead, but for Jean it’s a bona fide character trait. This issue is one of those big ones where everything in the Marvel universe changed, so it’s worth reading for that alone.

Next week: Not so invincible.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Tommy doesn’t know what day it is

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #285 is the second of the FF’s three Secret Wars II crossovers. Secret Wars II is oft-hated for how goofy and cheesy it was, but this issue is one of the event’s high points.

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We begin in an office, where a woman named Janet is writing what appears to be a death certificate. The victim is Tommy Hanson, age 13, and the cause of death is third-degree burns. (So, a different Tom Hanson than the one from 21 Jump Street, then.) She then tears the paper out her typewriter and says this won’t be easy. We then flashback to earlier, to meet 13-year-old Tommy Hanson at school. He’s shorter and chubbier than the other kids, and he has a ton of photos of the Human Torch inside his locker. A bunch of (of course) bullies come up with an issue of Celebrity containing an article about the Torch. The bully lets Tommy have the magazine in exchange for doing all his homework until Christmas. A teacher later confiscates the magazine and asks Tommy to stay after class.

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The teacher, Miss Welch, and Tommy have a heart-to-heart. She says his hero worship of the Torch is a form of fantasy, and that he needs to focus on the real world. Tommy argues that the Torch is the greatest hero ever. Miss Welch asks to talk to Tommy’s parents, but he says they’re so busy that they’re practically never home. Then things get really sad when Tommy goes home. It’s a couple of pages of just him being alone at home, with nothing to do and no one to talk to. He actually calls Avengers Mansion, where Jarvis the butler answers the phone (!) while serving lemonade to Hercules and the Wasp (!!). Tommy leaves a message for the Human Torch, saying, “I just wanted him to know my name.”

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After some time, Tommy hears a noise and goes up to the roof, where we meet a hippy-type guy named Joss. Joss has a remote control model airplane that he’s souped up with some special jet fuel he has concocted. He warns Tommy not to mess with the fuel because of how flammable it is. He adds, “It could turn ya into another Human Torch.” Uh oh…

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Cut to later, where Johnny and Reed are at the construction site for the FF’s new headquarters, on the site of the former Baxter Building. They talk some about the all-powerful, godlike Beyonder, still wandering around on Earth. Reed says that although the Beyonder acts childlike, he is above good and evil and should not be judged by human standards. The woman from the opening scene, Dr. Janet Darling, comes clumsily walking into the construction site and nearly falls to her death, only for Reed to save her. She says she works in the burn unit at Children’s Hospital in Queens, and she wants to Johnny visit a fan of his there. He agrees to this without any hesitation.

Johnny flies Dr. Darling straight the hospital, and, as you can guess, the patient is Tommy, burned from head to toe. Tommy is amazed to meet the Torch in person. He says, “I only did it to be like you.” Then he dies, right there in front of Johnny. Tommy’s parents flip out, blaming him for their son’s death. Johnny walks, not flies, out of the hospital. He calls for a cab home instead of using his powers.

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At Johnny and Alicia’s apartment, Sue, She-Hulk and Alicia (who is really Lyja the Skrull in disguise) are admiring Alicia/Lyja’s statue of She-Hulk. Johnny enters, emotionally devastated. He tells them about Tommy, revealing that Tommy poured the fuel all over himself and lit a match, in the hopes of becoming another Human Torch. Taking this death seriously, Johnny says he’s decided to give up using his powers.

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Then the Beyonder appears, saying he sensed Johnny’s distress, and such strong emotions caught his interest. At this point in Secret Wars II, the Beyonder is going through an altruistic phase, running around Earth attempting to do good deeds for people. Sue and She-Hulk don’t know that, though. She-Hulk grabs the Beyonder while Sue surrounds them both with a force field. The Beyonder doesn’t bother with either of them, teleporting himself and Johnny out of there.

From here, it’s a variation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, as the Beyonder shows Johnny Tommy in the past. Johnny and the Beyonder are like ghosts, able only to observe. Johnny is again wracked with grief, but the Beyonder encourages Johnny to see how much joy he brought into the lonely kid’s life. “He did not die because of you,” the Beyonder says. “It was through you that Tommy Hanson lived.”

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Cut to later, where Dr. Darling has turned in her report. She says Joss is in jail for his illegal jet fuel concoction, and she and her boss are both perplexed as to who this Beyonder character is. She concludes with a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Show me a hero, and I’ll show you a tragedy.” The final page is Johnny, flying through the air, having grown from this experience.

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Unstable molecule: Reed says his plans for the FF’s new headquarters will go down three times deeper into the Manhattan bedrock, and will be three times taller than the previous Baxter Building.

Fade out: Like almost every Marvel character during this time, Sue dumbly thinks brute force can stop the Beyonder, believing that Reed will be impressed once he sees she’s one who successfully caught him.

Flame on: This story calls back to the urban legend about the Human Torch not appearing in the ‘70s FF cartoon for fear of children lighting themselves on fire to imitate him. This story has been proven false many times over the years (it was really a licensing issue).

Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk mentions losing the ability to turn back into a human, with a convenient footnote reminding readers to go buy the Sensational She-Hulk graphic novel.

The Alicia problem: Alicia/Lyja suggests giving Johnny a cup of tea, “black with two sugars.” Is she confusing tea and coffee because she’s really an alien in disguise?

Commercial break: M.A.S.K. worked better in theory than in execution, really:

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Trivia time: The Marvel wiki alleges that this story was never revisited, in the way that Spider-Man writers kept coming up with excuses to revisit “The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man,” by bringing in the kid’s siblings and whatnot. It’s probably for the best.

Fantastic or frightful? This really is one of the best uses of the Beyonder character. Most of his appearances were comedic, with him learning to roller skate or some crap, but in this one he actually comes across as this all-powerful reality-bending alien. So, even though there’s a lot of sadness in this issue, there’s also a lot of Spielberg-style sense of wonder, making this one work terrifically.

Next week: I dream of Jean.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Fantastic Friday: All about the stats

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It was right around this time in the re-read that The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition was published, so let’s take a look at how what it has to say about the FF.

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This deluxe edition is a longer, more detailed version of a previous Handbook published a few years earlier. The Deluxe Handbook is the one most fans are familiar with. Each issue was 62 pages with no ads, and had a huge amount of text describing Marvel characters both famous and obscure. Allegedly influenced by role-playing game manuals, there’s a lot of space devoted to each character’s “stats,” and convoluted explanations for how superpowers work. One of the best things about the series is a meta-narrative going in the inside-back-cover editorials, where writer-editor Mark Gruenwald and his team frantically tries to get this insane amount of text researched and written on a monthly comic’s schedule. Also of note to FF fans is that writer-artist John Byrne is all over the Handbook, drawing all the covers, and providing a lot of the interior art. So, what does the Handbook have to say about our heroes the Fantastic Four?

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Mr. Fantastic

Reed’s birthplace is given as “Central City, California.” He is 6’1’’, and 180 lbs. Reed started attending college at age 14, earning multiple science degrees from the California Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Harvard University, and New York State University. The Handbook explains in detail the whole incident with Reed’s father becoming the Warlord, and then the spaceflight that gave the FF their powers. As for his powers, he can stretch a body part as far as 1,500 feet before it becomes painful, and he can assume a shape of no greater than 1.7 cubic yards. He can assume a thinness relative to typing paper (which was different from regular paper, kids). The Handbook states that it is unknown how his organs and circulatory system operates when in this paper-thin state.

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Invisible Woman

Sue’s birthplace is Long Island, New York. She’s 5’6’’, 120 lbs. We’re told she first met Reed when he was staying at his aunt’s boarding house in NYC (!). Sue later moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career (!!) where she reunited with Reed and their relationship began. Her history is then just the FF’s origin, followed by one paragraph about her transformation into Malice and back. A lot of writers over years have struggled with how to explain Sue’s powers scientifically, and the Handbook is no exception. The writers just shrug and say “energy” is what turns her invisible and gives her force fields. Then there’s an exhausting ten paragraphs describing all the sizes and shapes of her force fields over the years.

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Human Torch

Johnny was also born in Long Island. He’s 5’10’’, 170 lbs. We’re told that his mother died in a car crash at a young age, and the book hints that this has something do with his interest in race cars. His solo adventures in Strange Tales gets a mention, and then it repeats the FF’s origin again. There are a lot of interesting tidbits about Johnny’s powers. We’re told that he draws his fire from ambient heat in the atmosphere and from plasma, which the book describes as “a super-heated state of matter that exists in the atmosphere of stars.” When he is flamed on, he burns at 780 degrees Fahrenheit (isn’t that, like, a lot?). His light output when flamed on is only 10 percent, which I guess explains why people can stand near him without having to shield their eyes. The shapes and constructs that he creates with his flame will disperse after three minutes without him giving them more energy. Johnny’s entry is the only one that describes how his costume is made of unstable molecules, even though the whole team wears them.

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The Thing

Ben’s occupation is “adventurer, pilot, and wrestler.” (His teammates just get “adventurer.”) He’s 6 feet tall, and 500 lbs. (A lot of artists draw him really huge, in the 7-foot range, so who knows?) We get a long description of Ben growing up in poverty and his family, a lot of which was established in the early issues of The Thing solo series. Then it’s the FF origin again, followed by Ben’s time in Battleworld, his quitting the team, and even a mention of his membership in the very goofy Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation. Ben can lift or press 85 tons, putting him 15 tons beneath the Hulk’s 100-plus category. There’s a description of his great endurance to physical harm, with quick mentions of his piloting skills and hand-to-hand combat training.

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She-Hulk

Here we learn that She-Hulk’s father is a sheriff, Morris Walters, and her mom Elaine is deceased. Through her cousin Bruce, she also has an uncle Brian and a deceased aunt Rebecca. She graduated from law school at the University of California in Los Angeles. Then we get the whole blood-transfusion-with-the-Hulk that gave her powers, and summaries of her times with the Avengers and the FF. She is 6’7’’, and she weighs 750 pounds — 150 pounds more than the Thing! She can lift or press 75 tons, and she can jump to height of 600 feet and a distance of 1,000 feet. There’s also a description of her invulnerability, specifying that she is immune to all known diseases.

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Tattletale

Franklin is a full-time member of Power Pack now, so the Handbook insists on calling him by his rarely-used and hugely unfortunate superhero codename “Tattletale.” He’s 3’10’’, and 40 lbs. His occupation is “occasional adventurer” while the other Power Pack kids get “student” occupations, suggesting that Franklin is not yet enrolled in school. There’s a lengthy description of Franklin being born amid Annihilus’s first appearance, and the psychic dampers put on his powers. Then his time with the Pack is summarized. By now, it seems, the writers are giving up on the scientific explanations, flat-out saying it is unknown how Franklin’s new dream-based abilities work, except to specify that his astral projection is not the same method that Dr. Strange uses to astral project. Also note that while John Byrne drew all the FF’s portraits, Franklin was drawn by Power Pack artist June Brigman.

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Fantastic Four

There’s an entry on the Fantastic Four as a team, which once again repeats the origin, followed by a description of the Baxter Building and how it was recently destroyed. Alicia, Franklin, Wyatt Wingfoot, and Agatha Harkness are listed as “allies” while She-Hulk, Crystal, Power Man, and Medusa are listed as alternate members. (By my count, the alternate members not mentioned are Tigra, Thundra, Impossible Man, and, on rare occasions, Dr. Doom.) Agatha Harkness is designated “deceased,” because in the Vision and Scarlet Witch miniseries, she burned to death at the stake! She’ll later return from the dead in West Coast Avengers. As for Alicia, she gets a lot of mentions in the Handbook, each time referring us to see her entry in the Handbook’s appendix, except that the appendix was never actually published.

Fantastic or frightful? What to make of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition? Despite its intention, it is not the definitive resource on all things Marvel. The Marvel Wiki isn’t even that. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, though, to flip through it and read about all the various Marvel characters, and the unintentionally goofy descriptions of their powers. It’s a perfect snapshot of Marvel in the late ‘80s, and a great nostalgia item for those who think regular comics just aren’t nerdy enough.

Next week: Ooh, sick burn!

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Fantastic Friday: It IS easy being green

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Today we’re taking a side trip to the land of prestige comics for Marvel Graphic Novel #18: The Sensational She-Hulk.

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The Marvel Graphic Novel line was a mixed bag. They weren’t what we consider graphic novels today, but were oversized comics at about 70-80 pages each. Some were tied into the Marvel universe, such as The Death of Captain Marvel, The New Mutants, Cloak and Dagger, and Revenge of the Living Monolith. Others were creator-driven, such as The Futurians, Swords of the Swashbucklers, Void Indigo, and Marada the She-Wolf. Amid these came Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk, which ties into her time as a member of the Fantastic Four.

We begin with Nick Fury, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., addressing the shadowy Council that bosses him around (surprisingly similar to Nick Fury addressing the Council in the Avengers movie). We get a short retelling of She-Hulk’s origin, and the council expresses concern that She-Hulk is just as dangerous as her big green cousin the Hulk, who had recently lost all his humanity, becoming a total monster. Fury disagrees, putting his trust in Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four.

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At She-Hulk luxurious NYC apartment, Wyatt Wingfoot shows up for a date, but she is feeling down, worried about the Hulk. Wyatt cheers her up by saying that without the Hulk, there would be no She-Hulk. In better spirits, she promises him a fun night out on the town. She dresses up an outfit that’s… interesting. From the waist up, it’s an all-white tuxedo. From the waist down, it’s a one-piece swimsuit. I guess when you’re a 7-foot-tall superhuman green woman, you can get away with this.

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She-Hulk and Wyatt head to the East Village to see a show at the Orpheum Theater, when they are attacked by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in gold mech armor. There’s several pages of fighting, in which She-Hulk overpowers the agents. Knowing they’re defeated, the agents call for a full-quadrant teleport. Everyone is beamed, Star Trek-like, aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, including Wyatt and some pedestrian onlookers. She-Hulk keeps fighting, smashing her way into a side corridor looking for an escape. One of the pedestrians removes a fake beard, secretly revealing a zombie-like face.

She-Hulk and the others find an exit, only to realize that this helicarrier is in outer space, so there’s nowhere to escape to. An especially thuggish S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Dooley says She-Hulk must be strip-searched and threatens to shoot Wyatt if she doesn’t comply. She goes ahead and gets naked in front of everyone, while making a speech about how S.H.I.E.L.D. used to be the good guys, but have now become villains. Dum Dum Dugan, who is Nick Fury’s right hand man, comes in and is shocked at the public nudity.

Dum Dum sends Dooley off to quarters and meets with She-Hulk and Wyatt. He says S.H.I.E.L.D. is concerned about She-Hulk going savage like her cousin, while she continues to criticize S.H.I.E.L.D. for acting outside of the law. Dum Dum gets a phone call from Washington, saying he’s been reassigned and that Dooley is in charge of the helicarrier. Dooley takes She-Hulk to a lab, where she’s forced to undress again, and is experimented on. She and Wyatt are then locked up in a cell.

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She-Hulk can’t bust out of the cell without security devices filling the room with cyanide gas. Instead, she transforms back into human Jennifer Walters, and easily fits through the bars. Elsewhere, Dooley encounters the zombie-like man who kisses him on the mouth, and then dies. Dooley gains a similar zombie-like complexion and demeanor, plus he hears a voice in his head telling him to go to the control room. Jen transforms back into She-Hulk and destroys the footage of her being experimented on. Dooley spins the helicarrier out of control, sending into Earth’s atmosphere. A bunch of aircraft fall from the helicarrier and crash down on the surface so we can have action movie explosions.

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She-Hulk fights her way to the bridge, where she encounters Dooley. Turns out his body had been taken over by super-intelligent cockroaches. They want to inhabit She-Hulk next. She throws Dooley against a wall, where he explodes into a small army of roaches. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents manage to crash land the ship away from a population center while She-Hulk goes back for Wyatt. It’s not over yet, because the carrier’s atomic core is about to blow, vaporizing the area for hundreds of miles. She-Hulk must enter the core and absorb the radiation to prevent this from happening. Inside the core, She-Hulk is attacked by the cockroaches. We don’t see the battle, because instead it cuts to later, where she emerges from the now-safe core, covered with dead roaches. “I’d say we won,” she says.

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Three days later, in the Avengers Mansion science lab, Reed says She-Hulk shows no signs of roach infestation, which is good. He theorizes the roaches are some sort of mutant life form. The he delivers what he says is the bad news: She-Hulk absorbed so much radiation that she’ll never transform back into human Jennifer Walters again. There’s a long pause, and She-Hulk responds, “So what’s the bad news?” She-Hulk later hangs out with Wyatt some more, where she admits she’s always preferred being She-Hulk. She then speculates that it was no coincidence that the roaches ended up aboard the carrier. She says they must have known what S.H.I.E.L.D. was up to and when, and she wonders if there are more of them out there.

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Unstable molecule: Reed and She-Hulk have worked together long enough now that she can tell when he’s about to deliver bad news.

Fantastic fifth wheel: The big deal here is that She-Hulk loses the ability to turn human. While the Thing always mopes about this, She-Hulk is glad for it. We also learn She-Hulk weighs 650 pounds.

Trivia time: The whole “S.H.I.E.L.D. are the villains now” thing comes from the pages of Incredible Hulk, where they were aggressively pursuing ol’ greenskin.

The last time She-Hulk turned into Jennifer before this was in Fantastic Four issue #275, about 10 issues back.

A lot of Marvel fan sites call the cockroaches’ human host “the Bag-Man.” To my knowledge, he/they never appear again.

Fantastic or frightful? This is a nice romp, with a lot of action and terrific art. Plus it really shows off She-Hulk’s fun-loving adventurous nature. Unfortunately, it’s also really exploitative, with her being either nude or semi-nude throughout the whole book. Sexiness is good, but this is just too much. The good outweighs the bad, though, so this is a lot of fun.

Next week: All about the stats.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Fantastic Friday: Girl, you’ll be a woman soon

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #273 is famous for its female empowerment themes, yet it also has She-Hulk getting kicked in the face on the cover. Let’s all prepare ourselves for some mixed messages.

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To recap: The FF have traveled into the Microverse so Sue can enact revenge against Psycho-Man for him taking over her mind. They defeated the villain, but not before She-Hulk got zapped by Psycho-Man’s fear ray. Overcome with fear, She-Hulk gets sentenced to work in a Microverse mine. That’s where we begin, where she’s using her strength to pull a gigantic wagon full of boulders. She has apparently lost her strength as well, because her new masters are beating on her, and denying her food and water. This goes on for a few pages, and it’s pretty harsh.

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She-Hulk is contacted by Princess Pearla, former ruler of this part of the Microverse. Pearla explains how she escaped when Psycho-Man showed up and conquered her realm. Pearla wants She-Hulk to join the revolution against Psycho-Man, but She-Hulk is too petrified with fear. One of the guards, a guy named Dutta, finds them and captures Pearla. She pleads to She-Hulk for She-Hulk to overcome the fear and remember who she really is. It works, and She-Hulk punches Dutta out, and proceeds to fight the rest of the guards.

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Back in Psycho-Man’s lab, Reed is using the computers to search for She-Hulk, when Johnny reveals that Psycho-Man just escaped. (That was quick.) Sue is still hell-bent on revenge, insisting on finding him immediately. Reed collapses with worry that Psycho-Man might go on to hurt someone else. It’s all a trick, as Psycho-Man is right around the corner zapping him with the fear ray. Sue sneaks up on Psycho-Man invisibly and snatches the emotion-manipulating machine out of his hands. Sue pins him against a wall with a force field, and says he will pay.

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She-Hulk and Pearla catch up with the rest of the FF by smashing through a wall. Johnny and She-Hulk catch each other up to speed. Then they hear Psycho-Man screaming. We don’t see what happens, but Sue steps out of the shadows, ominously saying that Psycho-Man will never bother anyone ever again. Ever.

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Later, Pearla’s people have this big celebration now that they’re no longer under Psycho-Man’s reign. Sue steps out saying that she’s grown up a lot from this experience. In a big dramatic speech, she announces that from now on, her FF codename is no longer the Invisible Girl. She is now the Invisible Woman.

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Unstable molecule: Reed admits he didn’t properly check Psycho-Man’s cell to be certain it was escape-proof. Could this be him secretly trying to protect Psycho Man from Sue’s vengeance?

Fade out: It’s a rare, rare thing when a comic book character changes permanently, but Sue’s new Invisible Woman moniker has indeed lasted, even in the many reboots and other media that later came along.

Flame on: Johnny and Pearla met previously in Fantastic Four annual #5, where they had a hint of a romance. They talk things over in this issue, and agree to remain just friends.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Dutta, the guard She-Hulk punches, is named after Barry Dutter. Back in the day, this guy wrote tons of letters to Marvel and to various fanzines in the hopes of getting She-Hulk out of the FF. He got the last laugh, though, because years later he landed a bona fide writing job at Marvel.

Commercial break: Bonk!

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Trivia time: It’ll later be revealed that Psycho-Man survived Sue’s vengeance, and he’ll go on to menace Spider-Man and Captain Marvel before encountering the FF again.

Fantastic or frightful? What to make of this one? It’s the payoff to a good 20 issues of character development for Sue, which is good, but it’s the “female character becomes stronger only after a traumatic experience” which can be a problematic trope. The good outweighs the bad, I guess, with some great art and high drama.

Next week: A.I.M. to misbehave.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Fantastic Friday: Totally psycho

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Comics in the mid-to-late ‘80s were often accused of “going dark,” and, yeesh, that’s certainly true for issue #283.

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To recap: Psycho-Man recently attacked New York, inciting hate-fueled riots and taking over Sue’s mind, turning her into the villain Malice. Now the FF have traveled to Psycho-Man’s home in the Microverse, with Sue determined to enact vengeance. Also a refresher on Psycho-Man: He’s a microscopic-sized guy inside a human-sized suit of armor (human-sized to us, epically gigantic to him). He has technology that can manipulate people’s emotions — he can make lovers become enemies, turn enemies to friends, etc. Got all that?

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The previous issue ended with everyone’s sizes messed up in the Microverse, so a gigantic Psycho-Man trapped the tiny FF in glass tubes. As this issue begins, it’s as if we’ve skipped a big chunk of the story, with our heroes wandering around outside the Microverse. Only, something is wrong. Reed is older and grey-haired, Johnny is a little kid, and Ben is back in place of She-Hulk, in a half-human, half-Thing form. It gets clearer that something is wrong as we see Johnny, Ben, and Reed die horrifically at the dangers of the Microverse. All alone, Sue breaks down in tears, and then sees the ghosts of her parents, chiding her for being a quitter. Yep, it’s all a dream. Sue wakes up in Psycho-Man’s laboratory, screaming in anguish.

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We get a lot of exposition recapping the last few issues, with Psycho-Man boasting to Reed, Sue, and Johnny, still trapped in their glass tubes, about how he has become master of all the Microverse. (Does Baron Karza know about this?) Psycho-Man has been monitoring the FF, so he knows about Sue’s drive for revenge, and he set up a trap for them, making them shrink too much upon entry into the Microverse. This allows him to be a giant compared to them. Although Psycho-Man failed to conquer Earth, he says he will be satisfied instead by breaking Sue’s will, psychologically torturing her by bombarding her mind with doubt and fear.

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We then check in with She-Hulk, who is locked up in an old-timey dungeon, all made of wood and stone. She says Psycho-Man separated her from her teammates and locked her up down here. She threatens to beat up two guards, who are kinda/sorta dressed like Spanish conquistadors. All they have to do is say “Boo,” and She-Hulk falls to the ground in terror. They explain that Psycho-Man hit her with his fear ray, making her subservient to them. Then they say she will be sent to the Mines of Nuvidia.

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Back in Psycho-Man’s lab, Reed says their powers cannot break through the impenetrable glass material of their cages, but air is able to get in. Reed uses advanced relaxation techniques to lower his stretching powers to minimum molecular cohesion, so his body is almost like a liquid. This allows him to flow out the tube’s tiny air hole.

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Reed attacks Psycho-Man, stretching himself around the villain’s neck. Psycho-Man fights back by flipping a switch that causes Sue to experience ultimate agony. Reed tells Sue to fight, and resist it, while he squeezes of Psycho-Man’s armor’s head. He pulls out the real Psycho-Man, who looks just like his armor. Without his tech, Psycho-Man is helpless against the FF.

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Then there’s a whole bunch of sci-fi technobabble about how Reed figured out Psycho-Man was lying to them. The gist of it is that the FF did not shrink down too far, but Psycho-Man built an oversized armor and ridiculously huge lab as a “set,” to make them think they’d shrunk down too far. It makes no sense. A still-distraught Sue asks, “Where’s Jennifer?” Then we turn the page to see She-Hulk working in the mines as a slave, hauling huge rocks and being whipped the guards, who tell her, “You work until you die!”

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed turning into an almost-liquid state is neat, never-before-seen use of his powers. The question is, did he already know he could do this, or was this a first-try act of desperation?

Fade out: I believe this issue and the next is Sue at her lowest point, as the misery and anguish just keeps piling on top of her. More on this next week.

Clobberin’ time: No reason is given why Ben is half-human in Sue’s dream. Maybe this is how her subconscious has always seen him?

Flame on: For as dark and intense as this story is, Johnny maintains his sense of humor, playfully calling Reed “fearless leader” at one point.

Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk’s fear subplot would appear to mirror Sue’s fear and doubt in the main story. Why isn’t Psycho-Man manipulating the dudes’ emotions?

Commercial break: What could be better?

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Trivia time: In between his first appearance in Fantastic Four and this story arc, Psycho-Man appeared only one other time, in Micronauts #14-17, which also guest-starred the FF.

Fantastic or frightful? A challenging read, because of how hard and brutal all this is. Sue just keeps getting emotionally tortured, and now She-Hulk does too. It’s always darkest before the dawn, right? Right?!?

Next week: Girl, you’ll be a woman soon.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Fantastic Friday: Micro, not

Rereading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #282, we’ve got anger issues, a journey to innerspace, and a crossover that’s not a crossover.

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We begin with Franklin, who is having another one of his prophetic dreams. If you’d been reading Power Pack during this time, you’d know that Franklin has new, dream-based superpowers. This dream is a mini-Power Pack issue, with Franklin fighting a Snark alien, befriending the Pack’s alien pal Kofi, and then meeting the Power kids themselves. This would seem to take place before Franklin joins the team, an event occurring simultaneously to this FF story arc. Oh, Marvel continuity, you and your confusing timelines.

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Franklin wakes from the dream, to a reminder that the FF are now living at Avengers mansion. He makes his way to the lab, where Reed has rebuilt the FF’s reducto-craft, for traveling to and from the Microverse. Reed is unsure whether travelling to the Microverse right now is the right thing to do, knowing that the godlike Beyonder is currently walking around Earth unchecked. She-Hulk says there’s not much the FF can do in comparison to the Beyonder’s omnipotent power, but Reed wonders if he can reach the Beyonder on an emotional level and direct him toward doing good things with his power.

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The debate pretty much ends when Sue shows up, because she is furious. She doesn’t care at all about the Beyonder, only about getting revenge for her being transformed into the villain Malice in the last few issues. It’s at this moment that comic finally, FINALLY reveals that Psycho-Man is the one behind Sue’s transformation and the attack on New York. It’s not treated as a big reveal, just dropped into the dialogue. Psycho-Man had fled to the Microverse, and Sue insists the FF go there to confront him, bringing him to justice for what he did. She goes on a three-page rant about she doesn’t want justice, but vengeance. Reed agrees to go along with her.

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She-Hulk uses her awesome strength to move the reducto-craft into place, where everyone boards it. We see it shrink down into apparent nothingness, as our heroes enter the microverse. They fly through the trippy-looking mircoverse atmosphere, landing on some sort of planetoid. Reed encourages everyone to spread out, suspecting that Psycho-Man is likely already alerted to their presence. Johnny and Reed have an aside, where Reed says helping Sue work through her issues must be a priority, but he admits he’s still worried about the Beyonder running around unchecked.

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Can we talk about Secret Wars II? Let’s talk about Secret Wars II. The gimmick was that during the event’s nine-month running time, the series would cross over into every other Marvel comic. The ambition is admirable, but it was not wholly successful. Some of the Marvel writers and artists managed some interesting stuff with the Beyonder character outside the main SWII series, but others did practically nothing with the Beyonder. Often, fans bought a comic with the Secret Wars II logo on the cover, only to find they’d spent money on something unnecessary to the Beyonder’s story. That’s the case with this issue, because as Reed mentions the Beyonder here, we get one measly panel of what the Beyonder is doing on Earth, a recreation of a scene from SWII #3. That is it for this crossover. (To be fair, though, writer-artist John Byrne will use the Beyonder to much better effect in issues 285 and 288.)

After some discussion about the nature of the microverse, Reed says it seems different somehow than before. Johnny flies off to do reconnaissance, only for a giant pair of hands to trap him and seal him in a glass tube. The others rush in, only to also be trapped in glass tubes. It’s Psycho-Man, who is towering over them as a giant, hundreds of feet taller than them. She-Hulk exposits why this is important by exclaiming, “He’s supposed to be the same size as us!”

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To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed is so good at science that he not only rebuilt the reducto-craft from memory, but he did it all in only six hours.

Fade out: Sue’s three-page angry rant is pretty tough to get through, though she makes a point of how instead of following Reed into battle so many times, this time he’s going to follow her. I wonder if they were setting her up for taking over as team leader, with Reed merely being the brains of the group.

Flame on: Upon being captured, Johnny uses quick thinking to signal his teammates at the last second, before getting sealed away.

Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk is astonished how the FF treat a dangerous journey into the microverse as if it’s another day at the office.

Four and a half: Franklin’s dream takes place in a destroyed New York. I guess we’re to think this is what would’ve happened if Power Pack hadn’t stopped those evil Snarks. Franklin’s “4 1/2” sweater makes a reappearance, and his pajamas have a fancy “F” monogram.

Commercial break: “You want Reese’s Pieces, do ya?”

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Trivia time: This issue establishes that the microverse does not actually exist on a microscopic size. Instead, it’s merely an alternate dimension that can only be accessed by shrinking. A lot of fans over the years have debated the validity of this, apparently not knowing the difference between comic book astrophysics and real world astrophysics.

Fantastic or frightful? This is another in between issue, picking up where the last one left off and then setting up the next one. Although the Beyonder ended up not being all that great of a character, it’s still a disappointment to have this be part of the big crossover and not cross over at all. So, a mixed bag of an issue.

Next week: Kick ‘em while they’re down.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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