Fantastic Friday: The Middle Years, part 3

Rereading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re making our way through the “middle years,” several issues at a time.

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Issue #113: In the last few issues, Ben developed the ability to turn back into a human, only for this “cure” to drive him mad. This led to a huge Thing/Hulk fight, resulting in Ben’s death! Reed, Johnny and Alicia are all at the battle scene, confirming that Ben is indeed dead. The Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner and runs off, pity-partying about having killed someone. Johnny and Reed argue while the police and the anti-superhero protestors from last issue chase them around New York. Reed takes Ben’s body back to the Baxter Building. Reed hooks up sensitive medical equipment to Ben, saying his heartbeat is impossible to detect by normal means.

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Reed and Johnny continue to argue (Reed calls Johnny a “brat” at one point) as a strange light appears in the sky over New York. Reed revives Ben, who is feeling better. Ben destroys the machine that “cured” him, so that he never loses control again. He says he likes being the Thing, and he’s done trying to save himself. Johnny is still ticked off, and he flies away. The light over the city intensifies, revealing it to be the Watcher, arriving at FF headquarters with a dire warning. He says “Beware the Over-Mind” and vanishes. Elsewhere, the NYC mayor issues an executive order to disband the FF. (Can he do that?) The big twist is that the mayor is being manipulated by a crazy-looking character, the Over-Mind!

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Issue #114: The FF are arrested because of damages to the city in their superhero fights, and this issue starts with them posting bail. Public opinion is still against them. The Over-Mind, meanwhile, goes out walking in New York, expositing about how much he hates Earthlings and can’t wait to conquer the planet. He coincidentally runs into the FF, and it’s several pages of fighting. The Over-Mind has “energy” powers, which deflects the FF’s attacks, and he has mental telepathy, erasing their memories of the fight.

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Then there’s some business with the FF’s landlord trying to evict them, while the Over-Mind goes to his ship, hidden in a junkyard. He mentions the “Eternals,” and he says there is a prophecy that he will someday rule the universe. Then Agatha Harkness shows up with more dire warnings for the FF. With Ben and Johnny’s help, Harnkess casts a spell to contact the Watcher, who promises to spill the beans about the Over-Mind.

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Issue #115: The Watcher tells the story of a faraway galaxy, home to advanced beings called Eternals. They got into wars, conquering lesser beings and staging gladiator games. A warrior named Grom was the Eternals’ greatest champion. One planet, Gigantus, fights back against the Eternals, forcing them to condense the minds of all Eternals into a single being, the Over-Mind who was cast into space in suspended hibernation, until now, when he’s made it to Earth. (How he ended in the NYC’s mayor’s office is anyone’s guess.)

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The Watcher clues the FF in that the Over-Mind messed with their memories. Reed says only a great intellect can defeat the Over-Mind, and wants to face him alone. Ben figures out the Reed’s mind has been taken over by the Over-Mind (how does he know this?) and we get a couple of pages of Reed fighting his teammates before escaping.

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Issue #116: Double-sized issue! To find Reed, Sue is the one who does the science thing, rigging a special Geiger counter to track him. Ben and Johnny follow the trail to where the Over-Mind is torturing Reed, erasing all the math and equations from Reed’s mind. Later joined by Sue, our heroes fight the Over-Mind, who is so powerful that he drives them off. Out in New York, there is rioting in the streets due to the Over-Mind’s influence. Sue flees to Avengers Mansion, but the Avengers are out of town. Harkness contacts Sue, telling her there is another great mind with the ability to challenge the Over-Mind: Dr. Doom!

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Sue breaks into the Latverian embassy confronts a cigarette-smoking Doom. She gets him to help with reverse psychology, calling him a coward. Doom joins the fight, back out in New York, fighting alongside the FF against the Over-Mind. It’s several pages of fighting, with Doom using a “psionic refractor” to turn the Over-Mind’s powers against him. Reed, still under the Over-Mind’s control, joins the fight, taking out Doom and Sue, and it looks like the Over-Mind has won. Then, another alien, the Stranger, shows up out of nowhere. Just as the Over-Mind is the sum of all the Eternals, it turns out the Stranger is the sum of all Gigantus. The Strange banishes the Over-Mind to another, empty dimension. This fulfills the prophecy that he will crush the universe, except that this is already dead universe for the Over-Mind to crush.

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Reed overcomes the Over-Mind’s programming by remembering his love for Sue and Franklin. Doom runs off saying that he and the FF are still enemies. The Watcher returns and says the FF made a difference, weakening the Over-Mind just enough for the Stranger to step in. Johnny is still ticked off, and he flies away, leaving his teammates to wonder where he’s gone.

Unstable molecule: Reed spends most of these issues under someone else’s control, meaning his teammates have to rescue him for once. He also shows he’s tough enough to fight all three of teammates at once.

Fade out: Sue the scientist! She whips up a device to track down Reed.

Clobberin’ time: Ben decides he’d rather be the Thing than be human again, except he already went through this a while back. It’s kind of a circular thing for him, I guess.

Flame on: OK, why is Johnny so angry? He spends this entire run of issues absolutely furious at Reed. One line of dialogue states that it’s because Crystal dumped him, but maybe it’s more than that.

Four and a half: Franklin spends these issues still being watched by Agatha Harkness, except that she keeps sticking her nose in the FF’s business with her magic. Maybe that shape-changing cat of hers is babysitting.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Strange but true, Dr. Doom has fought alongside the FF enough times that he’s often considered one of the team’s reserve members. This is the first time we see it happen.

Commercial break: Be taller!

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Trivia time: The Eternals introduced in this issue are not the same Eternals later created by Jack Kirby when returned to Marvel in the late ‘70s, although there are some similarities. The Over-Mind, in particular, is similar in concept the Kirby Eternals’ Unimind. Many have speculated that both are inspired by the concept of the Overmind from Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End.

Fantastic or frightful? These issues want to be all huge and dramatic, and the Over-Mind was created to be one of the biggest, baddest villains ever, but it just doesn’t work. We’ve just seen too much of this stuff already in the Lee/Kirby run, where it was done better. The Over-Mind is a generic baddie, and the novelty of Doom temporarily joining the team isn’t played up as much as it could be. The scene where Reed remembers his love for his family is a great character moment for him, but other than that, there’s not much here.

Next week: Domestic bliss.

****

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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