Rereading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We go back to basics, kicking off another multi-issue arc in #68.
We begin in a hospital room, where Alicia is recovering from her adventures with the Enclave and “Him” in the last two issues. A nurse snarks at our heroes, ordering them not to stay too long. Pretty presumptuous of her, ordering around the world’s smartest man and a giant rock monster. Alicia is appreciative of Ben, going on about how sweet she thinks she is, but Ben is back in “poor me” mode, saying that if she ever got her eyesight and saw what he looks like, she’d never love him. Everyone disagrees, but Ben won’t hear it, insisting that Reed make another attempt at turning Ben into a human. Reed agrees to do so.
Elsewhere, we meet a Dr. Santini, who has been abducted by strange men in green jumpsuits. He is forced into a locked room. A man on the other side of the room, who we only see by his eyes, uses “hypno-lenses” to mesmerize Santini and learn about his connection with Reed Richards. Under duress, Santini reveals that he’s an expert in chemistry and Reed wants his help in reversing the effects of cosmic radiation. We go from there to Reed’s lab, where Reed fills in the rest of the exposition, saying he’s sent for Santini to help find a cure for Ben. Then there’s a few pages of comedy slapstick in which Sue wants to show off her new miniskirt FF uniform, but turns invisible because she’s not ready for them to see it yet. The three of them chase each other around the building. This is evidently all an attempt to get Ben back in a good mood.
Then we catch up with Johnny, who is introducing Crystal to his pals at the garage, all working on his hot rod (not a euphemism). One guy, Blackie, threatens to steal Crystal away from Johnny, and Johnny starts a fight with him. Crystal uses her powers to break up the fight before it starts. She says she commands elemental powers, and that “Only I can wield a mystic influence over fire, water, and air – whenever the need arises!” After all this time, I’m afraid this is the best explanation we’re going to get as to what her powers are. In this scene, she summons a huge gust of wind to separate the two guys.
The mystery man who has kidnapped Santini continues his plan, disguising himself as Santini. He has a wig, fake mustache, and a “plasti-organic nose” of his own inventions. He says his ultimate plan is the ultimate destruction of the Fantastic Four. At FF headquarters, everyone’s preparing for Santini’s arrival, with Ben not wanting to wear a fancy suit. Santini arrives, but we the readers know it’s really the imposter in disguise. He’s raises some suspicion by showing more interest in Reed’s computers than in Ben’s chemistry, even though Santini is supposed to be a chemist.
While Reed and the imposter mess around in Reed’s lab, with Reed unknowingly stopping the imposter’s sabotage, Ben goes for a walk. Ben’s still in “pity party” mode, grousing about being a monster. The Yancy Street Gang tries to pull a prank on him, but he’s so down in the dumps he doesn’t even notice it. One prankster says, “If we can’t get ‘im mad at us any more, the Yancy Street Gang might as well go outta business!”
Ben returns to the Baxter Building just in time for the big experiment. We get several pages of Reed and the imposter hooking Ben up to all kinds of crazy-looking machines, with a lot of technobabble like “mesa-rays” and “the electro-board.” When it comes for the final step of the experiment, the imposter makes a few last-minute adjustments. Reed wants to check the adjustments, but it’s too late, as the imposter throws the switch. Ben is bombarded by the “mesa-rays.”
When the rays fade, Ben is still the Thing. He explodes with rage, trashing the lab equipment. Reed can tell something is wrong, thinking that Ben now has “sheer savagery” and “an air of mercilessness – total hatred.” Instead of changing Ben’s body, Ben’s mind has been transformed, into a creature of pure rage. “And now he’s coming to kill you,” the imposter thinks.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed seems more determined than ever to find Ben’s cure, bringing in outside help. His white lab coat stretches along with him.
Fade out: What are we to make of Sue’s miniskirt uniform? I don’t know, other than to shrug and say, “It was the ‘60s.”
Clobberin’ time: In past issues, we’ve seen Ben come to terms with who he is and his acceptance of being the Thing. In this issue, though, he’s back to hating himself and wanting a cure. It’s as if the character’s been re-set to the status of the first 10-20 issues, forgetting all his growth since then. This is a necessary evil, though. The whole issue is about establishing who Ben is, so the next chapters can have him acting wildly out of character.
Flame on: We meet the Torch’s friend, a guy named Blackie who’s into race cars. But wait, the original Human Torch from the 1940s also had a supporting character named Blackie who was a race car driver. Coincidence?
Commercial break: An ad for Saturday morning cartoons is a retro bonanza, but I especially like this one for the short-lived Beatles cartoon:
Trivia time: At one point, Ben mentions not wanting to be dressed up like Beau Brummell. I looked it up: Brummell was an early 19th century fashion expert, often credited with invented what is today known as the standard male suit-and-tie look. And comic fans think Brian K. Vaughuan makes obscure references.
Fantastic or frightful: This whole issue is a set-up for the next parts, which are the real meat of the story. With that in mind, it works, and might make a nice jumping-on point for new readers.
Next: Out of control!
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