Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #355 finds us still in the middle of the Acts of Vengeance crossover, in which our heroes face both politicians and villains. There’s a joke somewhere in that, isn’t there?
The FF are on their way to Washington DC so Reed can testify regarding the government’s hotly-debated superhero registration bill. Meanwhile, this is Acts of Vengeance, in which all the supervillains are working together to attack heroes they don’t normally fight. We begin with three pages of the FF landing at the airport in Washington DC, being followed around by reporters, and then making their way to the Capital Building. The small electronic device that a stranger planted on the Fantasticar by a mysterious stranger last issue is still with the team, able to fly around and follow them in secret.
The FF make it to the Capital to testify before the committee. That’s the wording the comic uses, making it unclear just what this committee is or what the nature of this testimony is. The words “congress” and “congressman” get thrown around a lot as well. Basically, this is debate class, where a bunch of characters arguing different sides of superhero registration. Oh, and the mysterious electronic device flies into the room and attaches itself to the ceiling and no one notices.
The first person to speak is a General Nettington, who argues in favor of registration for the safety of all Americans, saying that superhumans have great potential military applications. Next up is a guy named Hamilton Nathanson, representative for the NRA, who says that registration could lead to a ban on superhumans, which would force superhumans underground and into criminal activity.
At this point, an alarm goes off. The X-Men’s villain Apocalypse is flying straight for Washington DC. The FF rush into the nearest bathroom (!) to change into their uniforms. By the time they do, however, Apocalypse flies right over the city and out beyond Chesapeake. The meeting is about to resume, when it is interrupted by Ramrod, a Daredevil villain with skin as hard as steel. I guess it’s not that hard, because as he leaps into action, he trips and knocks himself unconscious before our heroes can do anything.
The next person to testify is Henry Peter Gyrich, a government stooge who often made life miserable for the Avengers and others. He is in favor of registration, just as he was in favor of the mutant registration controversy a few years earlier in all the X-Men comics. He says superhumans in government employ can track down the criminal ones. To remind us that he’s a jerk, he adds that mutants aren’t human, so he believes the constitution doesn’t apply to them.
Just as Reed is about to begin his testimony, the room is attacked by two more supervillains, the Quill and Plant-Man. The Quill is a mutant covered with tiny sharp spikes and a member of a group called the Resistants, hence the “R” on his costume. Plant-Man, with his Poison Ivy rip-off powers, has been around since the ‘60s, even fighting the Human Torch a bunch of times back in Strange Tales. As they both leap into action, they clumsily crash into each other, knocking each other out.
Reed finally gets a chance to speak. He says that most superhumans, including the FF, have received their superpowers through accidental means. To show the usefulness of superheroes, he pulls a Miracle on 34th Street by producing stacks of files showing all the good superheroes have done over the years.
Then there’s another villain attack, the Flying Tiger, a half-man half-tiger who often fought Spider-Woman. He gets punched out by Sharon. She says that all the attackers have been hiding in the backrow in hats and trenchcoats, and there are still three guys back there wearing hats and trenchcoats. On cue, three more villains attack — Thunderball (of the Wrecking Crew), the Eel (a Power Man and Iron Fist villain), and Mad Dog (a Defenders villain). This fight lasts a little longer, with the Eel able to electrocute Johnny. But the three villains go down easy.
Before the meeting can resume, the electric device on the ceiling goes off, mind-controlling a security guard, who pulls his gun on Reed. Ben tackles the guy, and Sue notices the electric device. Reed fiddles with the device, hoping to track it back to its creator. Then a Congressman Pertierra interrupts, accusing Reed of planting the device in the room. Pertierra says Reed orchestrated all the supervillain attacks just to convince the committee of the value of superheroes. And that’s the cliffhanger.
Unstable molecule: As part of his Miracle on 34 Street routine, Reed regales the committee with the story of when the FF stopped the Mole Man from hitting NYC with blindness rays. This happened way back in issue #89.
Fade out: Sue, Ben, and Johnny also give testimony for one panel each. Sue says she is against registration because wants her son to grow up in a country of freedom.
Clobberin’ time: Ben says ID cards aren’t going to matter much when two superhumans start opening fire on each other.
Flame on: Johnny says the government won’t have any luck trying to register the likes of Dr. Doom or Annihilus. This is the only time in the debate that magic-users and aliens are mentioned. Also, neither of those characters are Americans.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon called herself “She-Thing” for the first time in this issue, correcting a congressman who calls her “Ms. Thing.”
Four and a half: During the Apocalypse fly-over, Franklin dutifully stays in his seat while everyone else runs for cover. (Why did they even bring him to this meeting?)
Commercial break: The winner got a free trip to Disney World. Did Disney even know about this?
Trivia time: The Eel in this issue is the second Eel, Edward Lavell. This is a different character from the first Eel, Leopold Strike, who fought the Human Torch a couple of times in Strange Tales.
I’m not sure why Apocalypse is in this issue, or what he’s up to. His next appearance after this was in X-Factor #51, where he was spying on X-Factor after they returned from space. So, I guess he flew over Washington on his way to do that.
Fantastic or frightful? If you’re going to introduce real-world issues into your fantasy superhero comic, it’s best done with a light hand. This issue, however, is the heavy hand. In addition to what I’ve summarized above, the issue also comments on racism, sexual harassment, gun control, and even the Vietnam draft. All this talk adds up to very little. I’m also not digging these villains being portrayed as bumbling losers. They may seem silly, but any one of them could be a credible threat if written well. I want this story arc to be over so we can back to some good stuff.
Next week: …and I’m hoping that they’ll ratify me.
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