Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. What is Dr. Doom’s master plan? Let’s find out. (Note: I’ll be doing a bunch of these FF posts throughout February to make up for weeks I’ve missed. If all goes according to plan, that’ll put the blog on track to reach Galactus at the one-year mark!)
Everyone say it with me: This issue’s story begins with a mishap in Reed’s lab. A baby dinosaur is on the loose! Turns out Reed stepped out for a while, leaving Johnny and Ben in charge. They turned their backs on Dr. Doom’s time machine for a second, and the dinosaur came bumbling out. After catching it and returning it to its own time, Reed takes a second to exposit that they’ve relocated the time machine to the Baxter Building after that Rama-Tut business in issue #19. He then reads Ben and Johnny the riot act, calling them “childish” and “my so-called partners.” He then lays it real thick, saying, “In case it’s slipped your alleged minds, the work we do here means something,” and, “Stop flapping your lips and get back to work!” This encounter has Ben, Johnny and Sue saying it’s time the team had a new leader.
Elsewhere, in a courthouse, a criminal is being sentenced to jail, but a mysterious stranger intercepts, putting the guy in a limo and driving him to a secret location, where two other crooks are waiting. The spectator is revealed to be a robot in disguise, and a voice over the intercom provides exposition. Our three baddies are tough guy brawler Bull Brogin, studly con artist “Handsome Harry” Phillips, and circus performer Yogi Dakor, known as “The Fireproof Man.” A door slides open to reveal that the ringleader is none other than Dr. Doom. This would be a shocker if it wasn’t on the cover.
At the Baxter Building, Sue, Ben and Johnny hold an impromptu election for a new leader. They of course each vote for themselves, solving nothing. Ben and Johnny start fighting, and we get a tiresome three pages of them duking out, all while trashing everything in the room. Reed steps in and breaks up the fight. Still Mr. Attitude, he says, “If you think I like being the leader of this group of temperamental prima donnas, you’re crazy! But someone’s got to do it, and I’m the only one who can stand you!”
Back in Doom’s lab, he exposes his three new cohorts to his “XZ-12 Device,” which enhances their powers. Handsome Harry now has super-hearing, Yogi is truly fireproof, and Brogin has superhuman strength levels. Each is now equipped to take out a member of the Fantastic Four, while Doom himself says he will defeat Reed personally.
Johnny gets word that a visiting Maharajah is in town and wants to give him a new, high-tech car as a gift. The Maharajah is Yogi in disguise, and they take off in the car. Yogi traps Johnny inside an airtight compartment inside the car. Johnny tries to burn his way out, but his flame eventually extinguishes and he passes out.
Elsewhere, the Thing heads to Yancy Street, looking for trouble, where Brogin is waiting for him. They fight, with much collateral damage, until Brogin zaps the Thing with a ray that turns him back into a human. Back at the Baxter Building, Handsome Harry shows up looking for Sue claiming to be an admirer of hers. He gives her flowers that are drugged. Sensing something is wrong, Sue turns invisible and tries to escape. Thanks to his super-hearing, Handsome Harry knows exactly where she is, and he captures her. In the city, we see what looks like the Thing firing the “4” signal into the sky. Reed responds, only to have Ben and Dr. Doom trap him inside a glass box. It’s not really Ben, but a robot Ben lookalike.
Now with all four heroes trapped in his hideout, Doom gives his three partners envelopes, which they believe are filled with cash. Instead, they’re booby-trapped (hehe, “booby”), and they transport all three to another dimension. (Harsh, Doom, harsh.) Using her new force field powers, Sue helps free the others. Doom fights back with some automated defenses he’s set up in his base. He has a battering ram for Ben and a freezing device to prevent Reed from stretching. Johnny frees Reed and the four work together and start to get the upper hand on Doom. Doom escapes into an adjacent chamber.
Here’s where things get just a little kooky. Doom has picked this particular building as his hideout, he explains, because a solar wave is about to hit it, transporting the entire building into outer space. (“I should have guessed!” Reed says. How, exactly does one guess something like this?) Sue extends her force fields to the other side of the wall, trapping Doom along with them. Desperate to escape, Doom falls through the floor and is sucked away into the vastness of space. With him gone, the FF hurries through Doom’s escape route and finds their way to safety. Johnny and Ben say they’re glad Reed is the FF’s leader, but Ben is still not so sure.
Unstable molecule: This issue reveals that Reed’s stretching is weakened by extreme cold. His surly attitude toward the other three is never really resolved, but that’s kind of realistic isn’t it? The whole “family that bickers but still cares about each other” thing is one of the more endearing things about these characters, and it’s in full force in this issue.
Fade Out: Sue continues to prove how versatile her invisible force fields can be, using them in a telekinetic-like way several times this issue.
Clobberin’ Time: Ben goes to Yancy Street looking for a fight because the Yancy Street Gang sent him a letter asking where he buys his “ugly pills.” If this sets Ben off, just imagine how irate he’d be if they had internet comment threads back in the day.
Flame On: Johnny’s powers come in handy when Reed gets frozen. He enjoys his celebrity status when meeting with press and his adoring fans during the car incident.
Trivia Time: Doom’s three cohorts would reappear on occasion, calling themselves the Terrible Trio, but never really received superstar status. Too bad, because they’re fun characters. It seems they’re a trial run for the Frightful Four, which we’ll get to in a few issues.
Fantastic or Frightful? Fun stuff! It’s often been argued that Doom is secretly a coward beneath all his bluster, and his actions in this issue prove it. He’s always running off and hiding when things get to be too much for him. The “solar wave” business comes out of nowhere, but it gives Doom a great send-off.
Next time: Evil space baby!
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