Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #19 features freaky time travel craziness and Egyptian wildness.
The tale begins with Reed, Sue and Johnny tooling around the city in the Fantasticar, looking for Ben. They stop by Alicia’s apartment, but no one’s there. Johnny finds Ben and Alicia walking in the park. Ben is about to light a cigar, but Johnny burns it away for a cheap laugh. At this point, modern-day audiences respond, “Ben smokes?!?”
With Ben back at headquarters, Reed explains what was so important. He says that during a recent museum visit, he noticed something interesting in some ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. It looks ambiguous to me, but Reed deduces that the Egyptians had a radioactive herb that could cure blindness. (That’s awfully specific for a hieroglyphic.) How did the Egyptians have radioactive tech? Reed further deduces that when Dr. Doom abandoned his castle, he must have left his time machine still operational.
At Doom’s empty castle, the time machine is indeed still operational. The four head into the past, leaving Alicia behind with instructions to bring them back in 24 hours. Alicia says she can operate the machine solely by touch. The four end up right at the base of the Sphinx, which looks brand new. A bunch of Egyptians, wearing horned helmets for some reason, attack. Ben says to them, “Who do you think you are, Christian Dior?” The fight is over pretty quick, with the FF using their powers handily against their attackers spears and swords. Just as it looks like they’ve won, suddenly the four lose their powers and pass out.
They awake in the throne room of our villain du jour, Pharaoh Rama-Tut! Not only does Rama-Tut know who the FF are, but he has sapped their powers with his high-tech diode ray gun. He’s actually from the year 3000. In flashback, he explains that the future is the perfect civilization, an era of peace. This bored him, though, as he longed for days of excitement and adventure in the past. Knowing the superstitions of ancient cultures, he built a time machine in the shape of the Sphinx, and went back to ol’ Egypt to become ruler of all mankind.
Rama-Tut’s ray gun continues to make the FF powerless. He makes Reed, Ben and Johnny his slaves, while deciding to make Sue his queen. (Sigh…) Ben is put to use rowing a giant boat, Reed is a lookout on the city walls, and Johnny is Rama-Tut’s new court jester. The ray gun is also mind control, apparently, as Sue is unable to fight back as she’s dressed in Egyptian finery.
Aboard the boat, the ray gun further affects Ben, transforming him from the Thing back into a human. This somehow also frees him from the mind control. He fights his way off the boat and then does the Ben-Hur thing by riding a chariot through the city back to Rama-Tut’s palace. (Ben was in the Air Force, right? Do they teach chariot racing in the Air Force?)
While Rama-Tut does the “gloating villain” thing in front of Sue, Ben sneaks in and snags the ray gun. He gives it to Sue after turning back into the Thing, and she uses it to free Johnny. Rama-Tut escapes through a secret passage as his guards attack. More fighting! Reed is freed from the ray’s influence during the battle, and our heroes head straight for the Sphinx.
Inside the Sphinx, the FF fight through a bunch of booby traps and make it to the control room. Rama-Tut escapes in a “satellite pod,” which he says will take him to another dimension, and off to more adventure. He further says he’ll leave the Sphinx behind to forever mystify mankind. (That was thoughtful of him.) Inside the Sphinx, Reed finds the radioactive device that can cure eyesight. It disappears, however, on their trip back to the present, where Reed exposits that the time machine is unable to transport radioactive materials. Everyone’s sad that Alicia is still blind, but Reed says every adventure is a learning experience, and Alicia is thankful they put their lives on the line for her. So, kind of a happy ending, I guess?
Unstable Molecule: How Reed figured out the whole plot from that one hieroglyphic, I’ll never know. His stretching is put to use atop the city’s guard towers.
Fade Out: Sue gets taken captive, so ugh. Wearing her Egyptian gown, she’s not able to turn it invisible, so by this point in the book’s run, she can only turn herself invisible, and not anything else. (Remember, her costume turns invisible too, thanks to those pesky unstable molecules.)
Clobberin’ Time: Ben saves the day and fights off a bunch of bad guys, Spartacus-style, all after temporarily transforming back into a human.
Flame On: Johnny is humiliated as Rama-Tut’s jester. He later gets around a lot of the Sphinx’s booby traps by burning through the walls.
Trivia Time: Rama-Tut drops a hint that an ancestor of his built the time machine. This is a mystery that won’t be resolved for many, many issues to come. Rama-Tut further adventures will introduce Kang the Conqueror into the Marvel Universe, who becomes a major adversary for the Avengers.
There are a lot of callbacks to previous issues in this one. Doom’s time machine was last seen in issue #5, and Reed’s promise to cure Alicia of her blindness was first mentioned in #16.
Fantastic or Frightful: Rama-Tut is an interesting villain. Mind-control aside, is he really that evil? All he wants is exploration and adventure. Similarly, that’s just what he gets in the end, so you could say he wins. The Egyptian setting gives artist Jack Kirby a chance to try something new, and the big fight scenes are a lot of fun. Overall, this one’s a great read.
Next week: A nerd… with the power of the gods!
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