Fantastic Friday: The middle years, part 8

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re trudging our way through the slog that is the “middle years,” after Jack Kirby but before John Byrne.

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Issue #138: Johnny’s pal Wyatt Wingfoot shows up at the Baxter Building, announcing that he’s graduating from college and he wants the FF to attend as his guests. This leads to a lot of “passage of time” stuff, as Johnny frets about how out-of-date his hairstyle is, while Ben reminisces about his days as a WWII pilot. Right after the graduation ceremony, Wyatt is contacted by his tribespeople out west, who say a mountain has come to life and is attacking the land, so Wyatt, Johnny, Ben and Medusa head off to investigate. Reed stays behind in case Sue decides to return.

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The cause of the disturbances is the Miracle Man, last seen way, way back in issue #3. Johnny and Ben laugh it off, saying he’s a phony, but Miracle Man insists things have changed, and that he has real supernatural powers now. After fighting Miracle Man’s rock monsters for a while, M.M. explains that after getting out of prison, he traveled to the West and learned the mystic arts from some ghosts of Native American mystics. He betrayed his mentors and is now mad with power. The cliffhanger has him burying the FF, Wyatt, and Wyatt’s people under a mountain of rubble.

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Issue #139: Our heroes survive, but are sealed in a giant underground chamber with no hope of escape. Miracle Man gets even more mad with power, reshaping reality to his will, creating a gleaming futuristic city of his own, out there in the desert. The FF escape their prison by punching their way out. Miracle Man creates a bunch of mindless slaves out of thin air, and… fighting! The FF defeat the slaves, but Miracle Man sends them flying with a hurricane. They build a raft and head up river to rejoin the fight. Then things get really uncomfortable when Miracle Man uses his godlike powers to create his own master race (“A little pale” is how he describes them).

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We check in with the army, who says Miracle Man’s tampering with nature is causing all the world’s nuclear weapons to be on the verge of simultaneous meltdown. The FF return to the city, for more fighting. Ben beats the crap out of Miracle Man, who finally vanishes. The Native spirits return, saying they’ve taken Miracle Man away, and will teach him to change his ways.

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Issue #140: We begin in the Negative Zone, where Annihilus speechifies about taking revenge against the FF. At the Baxter Building, the team reunites with Reed, who is fretting because his latest experiment didn’t work. He’s contacted by Sue, who says Franklin has been acting odd, going into fits. The call is cut off unexpectedly, and Reed is so upset with worry that Medusa has to knock him out with a wrench (!) to keep things under control. Sue is then contacted by supernatural nanny Agatha Harkness, who says she is the reason for Franklin’s fits. She uses her magic to teleport Sue and Franklin far away.

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Reed and company find Sue’s car, and investigate her disappearance. Reed finds traces of anti-matter radiation, saying it could only come from the Negative Zone. They return to headquarters, to find Annihilus there, waiting for them. And… fighting! The FF put up a good fight, but Annihilus knocks them all out. Wyatt Wingfoot is still with everyone, so Annihilus takes him captive and tells the story of his origin. Annihilus was originally an insect-like creature, the only intelligent being on a planet filled with dinosaur-like predators. He discovered a crashed spaceship with everyone dead on board, which is where he learned the secrets of the universe and ultimately created his all-powerful cosmic control rod. The issue ends with Annihilus tossing the FF into the Negative Zone portal.

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Issue #141: Annihilus joins the FF on a planet in the Negative Zone, where he has Sue, Franklin, and Agatha Harkness trapped in a “stasis cylinder.” Annihilus recounts the story of annual #6, in which Reed swiped the cosmic control rod to save Franklin’s birth, and everyone’s wondering if Franklin will grow up to be a prodigy or a monster. Annihilus says, “Monster.” Annihilus, in a talkative mood, further explains that he’s the reason Agatha abruptly stopped being Franklin’s nanny, because she could sense Annihilus’s influence. He eventually exerted psychic control of her and forced her to kidnap Sue and Franklin.

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Reed, Ben, and Medusa escape from their prison when Medusa suggests using her hair like Rapunzel. They fight a bunch of monsters on the planet’s surface, discovering the creatures are telepathic. One of them informs Reed that Annihilus has been losing energy over the last few months. Inside, Annihilus hooks Franklin up to this weird machine, saying Franklin is filled with cosmic energy, which Annihilus is absorbing back into himself. The FF return to attack Annihilus, and Reed finds that Franklin’s mind is reaching out across the universe, seeing planets and galaxies as if they are his toys. Ben and Medusa defeat Annihilus, and then Harkness teleports everyone back to the Baxter Building. Franklin, infused with cosmic rays, gets more and more powerful, threating to unknowingly destroy the universe. Reed fires a high-tech gun of some sort at Franklin, leaving him catatonic, but also saving his life and the life of the entire universe. Sue is not happy to have her son in a coma, and announces that she’s leaving Reed for good this time.

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Issue #142: The team has broken up, so Ben leaves to visit Alicia, who has flown to the Balkans for a medical procedure. There, a Dr. Stutgart says he might be able to restore her sight. At home, Reed is distraught over losing Sue, but Medusa insists that he go out for an alumni association event to get on with his life. In the Balkans, Ben ignores local superstition that no one dares go out at night, and he goes for a walk after sundown. He’s attacked by a purple monster calling himself Darkoth the Death-Demon.

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In addition to super-strength, Darkoth has psychic powers, able to reduce the human mind to hysteria. He mysteriously disappears just as Alicia and Stutgart arrive on the scene. The next day, while Alicia is in surgery, Darkoth appears again, fighting Ben in the hospital. They fight their way into an underground cavern, which leads to a funky high-tech lab. Darkoth manages to poison Ben so that he falls asleep, all while Darkoth’s mysterious “master” watches from the shadows. Elsewhere, Reed and Medusa attend the alumni function, only to be confronted by… Doctor Doom! He says he’s there to talk about the upcoming “end of the world.”

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Issue #143: Reed doesn’t want to talk, so he and Medusa immediately attack Doom, but aren’t able to break through his personal force field. A caption anticlimactically informs us that Doom is also Darkoth’s “master.” Doom traps Reed and Medusa. Johnny and Wyatt’s old football coach, Coach Thorne (remember him?) is there, and tries to fight Doom. Doom stuns him and takes his wife hostage. (Mrs. Thorne doesn’t seem to have a problem with this.) Doom says that he has an entire city block of NYC built to his specifications as his “secret refuge” in the US. There, he has both Ben and Darkoth trapped.

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Doom has constructed a “vibration bomb,” which he says will alter the emotions of all mankind, rewriting their mental states so they are loyal to him. Out in the city, Johnny and Wyatt are arrested (!) while horsing around on a rooftop. While they’re in lockup, Doom’s henchmen attack, hoping to capture Johnny. Cue fighting! Doom shows up on the scene and stuns both Johnny and Wyatt. Back in the refuge, Darkoth comes to, realizing that he’s not a demon, but one of Doom’s aides, who had recently been transformed by the vibration bomb. He lets the FF go free, with Reed saying he thinks he knows how to stop Doom.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: What to make of Reed shooting Franklin? He saves Franklin’s life and keeps the kid from accidentally destroying the universe, so that’s a good thing, right? But he leaves Franklin in a coma, so not so much?

Fade out: When captured by Annihilus, Sue makes no attempt to use her powers to escape or fight back. No attempt!

Clobberin’ time: We get a look at Ben’s bedroom in the Baxter Building, complete with a huge poster of Humphrey Bogart on the wall.

Flame on: Johnny really suffers a quarter-life crisis in these issues. Upon not graduating from college, he changes his hairstyle in an attempt to stay young and hip.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Medusa gets in on the action in a big way, using her super-hair in all the fight scenes. She even shows a sense of humor comparing herself to Rapunzel.

Four and a half: Annihilus not only confirms that Franklin has super-powers, but that Franklin’s super-powers could possibly re-write the entire universe! Heavy. This is foreshadowed when Franklin starts having fits upon sensing Annihilus’s imminent arrival.

Commercial break: Wow, the Menonomee Falls Gazette really wanted to sell papers:

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Trivia time: In between pages 11 and 12 of issue #140, the FF went and had a whole other adventure! Their encounter with Namor in Sub-Mariner #67 took place while Reed, Ben and Johnny were en route to rescue Sue in this issue.

Fantastic or frightful? These ‘70s Fantastic Four comics are just painfully mediocre. The relationship dramas are forced, the formerly great villains have become generic monologists, and the plot holes flow like wine. The worst part: It’s going to be like this for quite a while.

Next week: Abominable.

****

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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