Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Time to wrap up some ongoing subplots and start a few new ones in issue #61.
At the end of the last issue, Dr. Doom had stolen the Silver Surfer’s powers, but then lost them again after being outsmarted by the FF. This issue begins with Reed, Sue, and Ben back at the Baxter Building. One dialogue caption from Sue about how it’s nice to be home is all the respite our heroes get before Reed’s newest invention, an “atom igniter,” goes haywire and starts shooting up the place. (Doesn’t Reed know better than to leave this stuff lying around?) This is the issue’s excuse-for-the-characters-to-show-off-their-powers-for-few-pages thing, until Sue traps the device in a force field and lets its energy burn up so that it destroys itself. So that’s over.
Except it’s not, because Ben is immediately struck by anti-grav device and spends a page floating around. Reed deduces that these are not accidents, but that the FF are under attack by someone hiding inside their own HQ.
Back in Latveria, a still-powerless Silver Surfer is being tormented by a couple of cruel guards. Then, his surfboard flies back to him, and he once again has the power of the cosmos. He escapes, trashing Doom’s castle in the process. (Is he killing all the people inside?)
Cut to the FF, as Reed, Sue, and Ben search headquarters for their mysterious attacker. They get caught in a hallway filled with rising sand, threatening to drown them. You’d think right about here they’d realize it’s the Sandman, but the thought doesn’t occur to them until after escaping and then confronting him, taking a moment to be impressed with his new costume. He claims to be the “superior” to the Fantastic Four. (I’d call that debatable.)
Sandman turns out to be a good match for our heroes, with a new power. He can now mix various chemicals with his sand, for various results, such as oily sand that trips Sue while she’s invisible. During the fight, Sandman knocks Ben against the “space-time generator lever,” and Reed states that this is a bad thing. “It could destroy the city!” he says.
We then catch up to the Inhumans, hiding out in a “secret shelter” somewhere in Europe. Crystal wants to continue searching for Johnny, but Black Bolt apparently wants them to stay hidden. Crystal urges him to let her go and continue the search. Crystal uses Lockjaw, the Inhumans’ giant teleporting dog, to transport to Metro College, in the middle of a football game no less. Wyatt Wingfoot is there, on the bench for some reason (put him in, coach!), and he tells Crystal that Johnny is on his way to the Baxter Building.
Sure enough, we then see Johnny flying toward FF headquarters, the outside of which is crackling with “spectrum beams.” Inside, Johnny fights the Sandman while Reed tries to repair the space-time generator before it destroys all of New York. Sandman’s chemical sand now includes freezing sand and poisonous gas sand.
The room filling up with poisonous gas, Reed figures his only way out of this situation is to open the doorway to the Negative Zone (previously referred to as merely “subspace”). This causes a vortex-like effect, sucking everything into the Negative Zone, with our heroes barely hanging on. Sandman conveniently escapes by jumping out a window (!), but Reed isn’t so lucky, being drawn into the Negative Zone. Floating in the apparently breathable space, he frets about being flung into another dimension, but is glad his sacrifice means he saved Sue, Ben, and Johnny.
At the Baxter Building, Ben says he “shut off the current” which I guess stopped the vortex. Johnny wants to open the doorway back up and bring Reed back, but Ben argues that they’d get trapped in the Negative Zone just like Reed. With a sense of finality, Ben glumly states, “He’s gone!”
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: This issue is all about Reed’s dangerous inventions being used against him, something I’m surprised we don’t see more of.
Fade out: Sue almost escapes from Sandman while invisible, but her footprints in his sand gives her away. When she learns Reed is trapped in the Negative Zone, she lets out a Vader-style “Noooooooooo!” That’s ten Os.
Clobbeirn’ time: Ben is kind of a wimp in this issue, as he’s the first one taken out by the Sandman. He does survive taking the full force of the atom igniter’s blast, though.
Flame on: After Johnny’s fire is snuffed out by the Sandman’s sand, Johnny flames back on just a few panels later. Perhaps this shows he’s gaining better control of his powers?
Trivia time: The last time we saw Sandman was in issue #57, where he stole a still-unidentified device from Reed’s lab. Would it be safe to assume that’s the device his using to chemically alter his sand in this one?
The football game mentions the world-weary verge-of-retirement Coach Thorpe, so that subplot is still hovering somewhere in the background. Speaking of the football game, in the stands there’s a photographer and a girl sitting to him – this is Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, correct?
This is the first appearance of Crystal’s all-yellow costume, probably the outfit she’s most famous for. We still haven’t received a full explanation as to what her powers are.
Fantastic or Frightful? Sandman has no plan or evil plot in this issue. He’s only here to pick a fight. All this issue does is set up the next couple of ones, where the Negative Zone fun really begins.
Next week: Reunion!
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