Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #35 is mostly silly, but brings about a major change for our heroes.
The tale begins with the Fantasticar landing at State University, which, we quickly learn, is Reed’s alma mater. Reed is there to give a lecture and his three teammates are tagging along. There’s a funny bit where lthe hot college girls swarm around Reed, asking for his autograph, while Johnny mopes because he’s too young for the coeds. He thinks, “I guess a high school kid is like nowhere with ‘em!”
We’re treated to a two-page bit where the FF run into Professor Charles Xavier, and one of Xavier’s students, Scott Summers. Reed is in admiration of the professor, and wonders what Xavier is up to in that school of his upstate. If it wasn’t for one reference Scott makes to looking for mutants, there’s little indication to give readers any sense that this is a crossover with Uncanny X-Men. Folks who’d never read X-Men might’ve had no idea who these two were.
Johnny flips out when he sees a scary shadow, but it’s just some artist’s statue. The artist says he’s imaging a superior life form. Forebodingly, we cut from there to Transylvania, where an explosion rocks the forest. Sinister masked chemist Diablo, last seen in issue #30, steps out of the destruction. He pulls a pellet from his glove, which somehow teleports him to America, so he can seek revenge against the FF. (Where this pellet came from and how it works is conveniently never explained.)
Back at the college, we get several pages of comedy shtick. Ben and Johnny bump into Peter Parker, but this time, there’s a caption letting readers know that Peter is really Spider-Man. Why didn’t Scott and Xavier get a caption? (Also, Peter is sporting a mean widow’s peak. He looks more like Eddie Munster than Peter Parker.)
Ben heads out onto the football field to teach some kids some moves, and Sue explores while invisible. She sees Diablo’s car drive past, and her, ugh, women’s intuition tells her to follow it. Diablo tracks down the artist from earlier, saying senses power in the artist’s creation. (Note that Diablo no longer wears his supervillain tights but is instead in plain clothes, although he’s still clearly the baddie thanks to his evil facial hair.) Diablo has a potion on him which he says can bring inanimate objects to life. It works, and we finally get to see this sculpture – it’s the Dragon Man, a big, scaly, winged monster. (In the great, grand tradition of Jack Kirby’s giant monsters, Dragon Man wears tiny shorts.)
Purely by coincidence, Ben wanders into the room at that moment, to encounter Diablo and Dragon Man. Dragon Man attacks, and Ben is no match. The monster throws him all over the place before flying off. Reed, Sue and Johnny join the pursuit. Dragon Man breathes fire at Johnny, which is too much for him to absorb. Reed and Sue work together to calm the monster down, discovering it’s a misunderstood beastie, and is a simple animal at heart. While she and Dragon Man do the King Kong/Fay Wray thing, Diablo attacks with a freeze potion, which Johnny overcomes with his flames. More fighting! Diablo is a pretty good match for our heroes, with a potion for every occasion. But then it’s poetic justice time as Dragon Man chases Diablo out onto a frozen lake and they both plunge beneath the surface.
The issue’s most famous scene comes on the last page, where Reed takes Sue on a walk down “Lover’s Lane” to see the “Sweetheart Tree.” Both of these locales are right on campus, we’re told. Reed gives a speech about how any couple who hold hands within sight of the Sweetheart Tree will be married within a year. (What is this thing, the Chteah?) Reed and Sue profess their love for each other. Although no question is actually popped, we’ll soon learn that this scene means these two are now engaged.
Unstable molecule: Within seconds of seeing Dragon Man for the first time, Reed immediately deduces that Diablo is behind all this. Wha-huh?
Fade out: Sue seems to have some trouble controlling her invisibility as she strolls around campus, strangely. Her beauty and the beast act with Dragon Man is cliché, but still kind of sweet.
Clobberin’ time: Ben does nothing but complain and then get his butt kicked all issue. Reed has to save him from falling in the frigid lake at the end.
Flame on: Johnny absorbs Dragon Man’s flames, only to discover they are too hot for him. He has to fly up into space to burn off the excess heat. It’s a very rare thing for temperatures to be too hot for the torch.
Trivia time: Dragon Man shows up quite often throughout Marvel history, usually as a gentle giant manipulated by someone else to fight heroes. He’s recently graduated to a full-on FF member in the current run, as part of the so-called “Future Foundation.”
Johnny knows Peter Parker as a young photographer, because the two had met just recently in Amazing Spider-Man #21.
Fantastic or frightful: Reed and Sue are engaged now, and a famous monster is introduced, but other than that, the story is a little ho-hum. The college setting is amusing, but there are all kinds of goofy coincidences that happen only to further the plot along. Not Stan and Jack’s best.
Next week: Party crashers!
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