Fantastic Friday: World’s greatest

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. After reading issue #100 last week, this week we’re taking a detour. In 2001, a whole slew of well-known comics pros collaborated on a 12-issue miniseries, Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.

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The story was intended to be a speculative “what if” there had been a proper finale to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s run on the title before Jack left Marvel. This series takes place between issues #100 and #101, with everyone writing and drawing in a pastiche of Stan and Jack’s styles.

Here’s the lineup. Artwork by: Bruce Timm, Erik Larsen, Keith Giffen, Jorge Lucas, Ron Frenz, Gordon Purcell, Tom Scioli, Shannon Denton, Mike Manley, Rick Veitch, Graham Nolan, Bill Wray, Paul Ryan, Frank Fosco, Dave Ross, Al Milgrom, Steve Rude, and Dan Jurgens. Written by: Erik Larsen, Eric Stephenson, Bruce Timm, Tom DeFalco, Kurt Busiek, Jeph Loeb, and… Stan Lee!

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The story begins with the FF returning to New York in the NATO plane they hitched a ride on in issue #100. They’re immediately attacked by a small robot sniper. Reed is obsessed with trying to find out who sent it, but the rest of the family drags him out of the lab so they can all go visit Franklin, who’s still with his witchcraft-y nanny Agatha Harkness. Along the way, they’re attacked again, by an unseen energy blast. We cut to Latveria, to learn that Dr. Doom is behind the attacks. He’s keeping the FF occupied as he travels to the US and orchestrates a break-in, stealing a ton of Reed’s equipment, not to mention all of Doom’s tech Reed had previously confiscated, including Doom’s time machine.

From here, the first half of the miniseries is Doom sending random threats the FF’s way, so they are distracted from what he’s up to. This gives us several issues on tour of the Marvel universe at the time. A visit to the X-Men has Johnny and Ben goofing around the mutants’ danger room, and then both teams fighting some Sentinels. In Harlem, the FF joins the Falcon and Captain America in a fight against M.O.D.O.K. and A.I.M. The team then fights a duplicate of the hulk, only for the real Hulk to join the battle. While this is happening, Doom uses the time machine to retrieve the Cosmic Cube from just before it was destroyed. The Cube, of course, grants its wielder godlike powers.

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Reed finally figures out that Doom is behind all this craziness, and that Doom’s next step to visit the moon and steal the Watcher’s “cache of galactic wonders.” Doom does just that, threatening the Watcher with the Cosmic Cube. The Watcher says that although he’s sworn not to interfere, there’s no way he’s letting Doom steal his stuff, so they battle. With the help of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Black Panther, and the Silver Surfer, the FF make it to the moon as well. Doom uses the cube to summon cosmic replicas of a bunch of the FF’s villains, and it’s a lot of fighting. Doom successfully steals the Watcher’s “ultimate machine.”

There’s a huge explosion, and Doom thinks he’s won. But, no, Sue saved everyone in an invisible force field. (If Doom’s so smart, why didn’t he think that might happen? His famous arrogance, I suppose.) While all this was going on, Crystal was whisked away back to the Inhumans’ city, to learn that a powerful Inhuman artifact was stolen. She returns to find Doom in Reed’s lab, helping himself to more of Reed’s science goodies. On a roll, Doom also steals Namor’s horn from Atlantis, and uses it summon all of those giant undersea monsters to attack New York, like they did way back in issue #4. The FF and the Inhumans are reunited, while the Avengers and the Silver Surfer battle the Atlantean monsters. (Note that this is the second group of Avengers, with Captain America, Goliath, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch.) Namor joins the battle, being mentally controlled by Doom, and there’s a great bit where Ben uses Captain America’s shield to knock him out.

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All this was but another distraction, though. While everyone was fighting in New York, Doom entered the Negative Zone for the next item on his list. Perennial superhero sidekick Rick Jones shows up at FF headquarters to tell them this. He knows because he’s psychically linked to Captain Marvel, who’s already on the case in the Negative Zone. Doom is after Annihilus, hoping to steal the big bug’s cosmic control rod. Reed, Ben, Johnny and Crystal join the fight. Sue stays behind at HQ, where a new version of the Frightful Four attacks, with Blastaar taking Medusa’s former place. There’s a lot more fighting, and it ends with Doom getting the rod, Sue abducted, and the rest of the FF trapped in the Negative Zone. The Frightful Four’s infighting gives Sue the opportunity to free her teammates and take out the baddies.

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Way out in space, Dr. Doom confronts Galactus, who has just successfully devoured a planet. Doom uses all his stolen goodies to steal the power cosmic from Galactus. Reed has figured out what Doom is up to, so the team goes to Thor for help, saying that the raw power of Galactus can only be matched by the gods of Asgard. After some back and forth, Odin and the Asgardians (band name!) agree to help. Using Asgardian tech, Reed sends a message to everyone — the Avengers, the X-Men, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Inhumans, Atlantis, and even the U.S. army. Doom appears in the sky over New York, and you know where this is going: Everybody fights!

The combined might of heroes from all over the Marvel universe put up a good fight, but Doom swats them all away, one by one. He convinces the army guys to lay down their weapons, and, just like that, Doom proclaims himself the ruler of the Earth, as no force in existence can stop him.

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The FF hide out in their headquarters, trying to find some way to undo what’s been done. Reed looks at a bunch of old comic book covers and gets an idea. Reed sends Johnny out to look for Galactus, who is in a weakened, human-like state without his powers. Everyone then gathers in Latveria, with the human Galactus. Doom is there, and he gets attacked by giant monsters from the comics. These would be from the monster comics Marvel once published before getting into superheroes, giant beasts with names like Fing Fang Foom, Sporr, and the Living Colossus. (Sorry, Guardians of the Galaxy fans, but the original Groot does not make an appearance.)

The FF are mentally controlling the monsters, using the same tech that Doom used to control Namor earlier. Basically, Reed is using Doom’s own tactics against him. Doom wins the fight, but loses the Cosmic Cube. He then begins to feel the same hunger that Galactus once felt, so he decides he has no choice but to devour the Earth. Reed recovers the Cosmic Cube and steals away all of Doom’s powers, shouting “Sic Semper Tyrannis!”

Reed uses the power of the cube to restore everything back to the way it was. This means repairing all the damage done to New York and elsewhere, but it also means returning Doom to Latveria and giving Galactus his powers back. Galactus admits feeling “something akin to what men call gratitude,” and he returns to space. Reed gets the final speech, of course, saying, “In the vast and endless universe, does a world exist where we all can live in peace?”

The miniseries doesn’t have a “The End,” but a “to be continued” in issue #101, which was published about 40 years earlier.

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Unstable molecule: Reed says Doom’s nanotech is to blame for why it took him so long to realize Doom is behind all this. Uh-huh, sure. His one-time catch phrase “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” is Latin for “Thus always to tyrants,” commonly misinterpreted as “Death to tyrants.” It’s odd that they would use it here, because it’s a phrase most associated with not-nice people like John Wilkes Booth and Crazy Joe Davola.

Fade out: There are a lot of references in this series to how Sue might be the FF’s most powerful member, which we’ll later see in the John Byrne years and beyond. It’s true that she gets left behind during the Negative Zone chapter, but she saves her teammates just as well.

Clobberin’ time: Ben picking up Captain America’s shield and using it in a fight. So cool.

Flame on: Johnny doesn’t do a whole lot except fret about Crystal every time she goes off on her own. Clingy, much? He uses his super-powerful nova flame against both the Hulk and Namor.

Four and a half: Franklin puts in only one appearance, showing that he’s still being cared for by Agatha Harkness. If we’re to take this miniseries as continuity, this is the first time he has blonde hair instead of brown.

Fantastic Fifth Wheel: When Crystal finds Doom alone inside Reed’s lab, she first attacks him, and then tries to reason with him. One thing’s for sure, she never once shows any fear of him.

Trivia time: The creators really did their research to make sure the whole series lines up with what Marvel was doing in 1970. This is when Dr. Strange was wearing the costume with that blue mask, and the Falcon had that weird one-gloved green and yellow costume. This was also the time when the Avengers headquarters wasn’t a mansion, but a nondescript Fifth Avenue apartment, and we see that as well.

Fantastic or Frightful? As part of the ongoing FF saga, there’s not much here — just a lot of running around and fighting. As a pastiche, however, it’s great. The artists and writers to a great job of aping Stan and Jack’s style, including Stan himself, who wrote the script for the final issue. The whole series is a fun and charming love letter to early Marvel, which why I wanted to spotlight it here.

Next week: Bedlam… again!

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Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH. amazon.com/dp/B00859NDJ8
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