Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Thirty issues in, and things are about to get diabolical.
The issue begins our heroes on vacation… in Transylvania. Ben wonders why they can’t just go to the beach like everyone else, and I’m thinking that’s a damn good question. The FF are lost in the woods, after villagers have warned them not to go wandering off. It’s as if the forest is alive, trying to trap them. They come across a giant abandoned castle. A fellow named Baron Hugo arrives, and exposits that this is the castle of Diablo, a local legend.
Hugo explains that Diablo was an alchemist, obsessed with finding the secret to prolonging human life. The castle is now under Hugo’s protection, and he invites the FF to stay the night. In the dark of night, a strange voice calls out to Ben. He follows it, not sure why, and comes face to face with a cloaked figure, Diablo.
The next morning, Reed, Sue and Johnny investigate the disappearance, and find Diablo transforming Ben into a new form that is half Thing, half human. Reed is suspicious, fearing that Diablo’s chemicals have affected Ben’s mind, making him perfectly loyal to Diablo. This proves to be correct, as Ben attacks Reed for besmirching Diablo. Rather than keep fighting, Diablo allows Reed, Sue, and Johnny to leave, as Ben stays behind. Reed manages to secretly swipe one of Diablo’s potions on the way out.
Word about Diablo’s prowess spreads fast, and people from all over the world come to him seeking his anti-aging formula. He makes plants grow in the desert, and he gives the military an impenetrable substance for defense. Back at Hugo’s castle, Reed experiments on Diablo’s formula and discovers it is a fraud. Hugo arrives, and admits that his ancestors sealed Diablo away in the castle for a reason all those years ago.
Ben sees Diablo meeting with generals and raising an army. Then, the potion wears off, and he becomes the Thing again. He tries to attack Diablo, but Diablo uses a sleeping potion and knocks Ben out.
Word gets out throughout the world that the effects of Diablo’s potions are only temporary, and everyone is outraged. Reed decides to move in before a full-blown world war breaks out. Fighting! First, Reed, Sue, and Johnny get past Diablo’s troops, and then past Diablo’s deadly chemicals. They make it past Diablo and find Ben, sealed up and trapped in an unbreakable glass cage. Diablo shows up again and knocks everyone out with more sleeping gas.
Ben wakes up, and summons all his strength to break free of the glass cage. (Hero moment!) Ben totally trashes the place, with Diablo on the run the whole time. He eventually destroys the entire castle, trapping Diablo under it and freeing his teammates at the same time. Johnny uses his flame to seal Diablo away from the rest of the world once more. (We’re not told what happened to Hugo and his crew. Hope they’re not dead.) As Ben apologizes to his teammates, there’s a laugh as they got lost in the woods again.
Unstable molecule: Reed gets beaten up a lot in this one, both by Ben and Diablo. He figures out Diablo’s trick, but so does everyone shortly afterward.
Fade out: There’s a funny bit where Sue turns Diablo invisible, and he nearly gets trampled by his own soldiers another example of Lee and Kirby always thinking of new ways for the characters to use their powers.
Clobberin’ time: This one’s a showcase for Ben. Although Diablo defeats the other three, he’s no match for Ben when Ben really cuts loose.
Flame on: When under attack by Diablo’s army, Johnny does the old “outfly-the-heat-seeking-missiles-by-making-them-fly-into-a-cliff-at-the-last-minute” gag.
Trivia time: This is the first appearance of Diablo. He’s appeared sporadically throughout Marvel history, but never became a major player.
Fantastic or frightful? It’s frustrating how sometimes Diablo’s potions work and sometimes they don’t, which caused for a “Hey, wait a minute” moment every couple of pages. On the plus side, though, the whole issue has this great Universal monster movie feel to it, which makes for a fun change of pace.
Next week: Not all origin stories are created equal.
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