Rereading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re still hula-hooping our way through the “middle years,” after Jack Kirby but before John Byrne. This batch of issues finds the series in an interesting place, with writer Doug Moench and artist Bill Sienkiewicz taking over the book.
Issue #219: There’s tension among our heroes as they bicker while trying to work together in Reed’s lab. Sue blames it on stress. Meanwhile, down in Atlantis, Namor is attacked and a bunch of guys steal the horn he uses to control sea creatures. The thief is Captain Barracuda, high-tech pirate. He summons Giganto, the whale-like monster from way back in issue #4, and a bunch of other giant sea monsters to attack New York. Namor and the FF agree to set aside their differences and work together.
Everybody fights the monsters, eventually breaking into Barracuda’s submarine. Sue uses her force fields to prevent him from using the horn again, and he admits that he’s doing all this just to steal money from all the New Yorkers. Namor punches him out. Namor returns to Atlantis and the FF reaffirm their friendship.
Issue #220: Our heroes are out and about in New York when they come across a bunch of strange power outages. The Avengers contact the FF. Iron Man says he just got off the phone with the president (!) who informed him that the power outages are happening worldwide. To investigate, the FF take off in their private rocket, blasting off into space.
There’s a two-page flashback to the FF’s origin. Then they experience another power outage, bringing them in for a landing near the North Pole, in a frozen wasteland. There, they discover a giant alien device, crawling with aliens. The device causes a giant crystalline tower to emerge from beneath the ice.
Issue #221: Reed, Ben, and Johnny fight the aliens while Sue invisibly tries to sneak inside their tower. The aliens are able to adapt instantly to the heroes’ powers, able to counterattack anything the FF throws at them.
Inside, Sue confronts the aliens’ leaders, who can sense she’s there even when invisible. Turns out the aliens crash-landed on Earth millions of years earlier, and needed to reverse the planet’s polarity in order to go back home. Now, their drones (the ones doing the fighting) have found a way to reverse the polarity, so the leaders have woken up. When they learn intelligent life has evolved while they slept, they call off the fight and stop the polarity. This also stops all the blackouts. Reed repairs their ship, because of course he does, and the aliens depart as friends.
Issue #222: After a couple of pages of the FF horsing around at home, we cut to Nicholas Scratch, evil sorcerer and former mayor of New Salem, a hidden town of magic-users. He’s been exiled to the “Dark Realm” but he finds a link back to Earth. At the Baxter Building, Sue and Franklin play hide and seek, only for him to wander to close to the Negative Zone portal. He gets zapped, suspended in mid-air in some sort of energy field. Sue fires one of those “4” flares into the sky, and the other FFers make their way through New York to join her.
Turns out Franklin has been possessed by Nicholas Scratch, with Scratch manipulating him from the Dark Realm. Franklin/Scratch uses magic to make all the contraptions in Reed’s lab come to life for some fighting and action. Johnny flies to Dr. Strange’s place for help, but the Doc isn’t home. This, however, draws the attention of one Gabriel the Devil-Hunter. The FF travel to Whisper Hill seeking advice from supernatural nanny Agatha Harkness, and Gabriel arrives to join them. Gabriel performs what he calls an exorcism, which allows Scratch to speak to our heroes. He says Franklin’s soul is trapped in the Negative Zone with him, and the portal can only be reopened from his side.
Issue #223: After a tiresome five pages recapping the previous issue, we rejoin the FF en route to New Salem, with Sue using her force fields to keep Franklin/Scratch’s powers in check. In New Salem, we’re reunited with the Salem’s Seven, a team of super-powered magic types, who are still loyal to Scratch. They get loose and run amok. The FF arrive in town, to find the townsfolk all knocked out from a plague of Scratch’s doing, and then our heroes fight the Salem’s Seven.
Then there’s a bunch of weird magic mumbo-jumbo where Harkness and Gabriel allow the FF to enter Franklin’s mind and confront Scratch. They are able to free Franklin thanks to the power of love. Harkness removes all of Scratch’s powers somehow, and then says she’s going to stay behind in New Salem, and no longer be Franklin’s nanny. Everyone says goodbye, and goes their separate ways.
Issue #224: A strange pink mist flows through the sky in New York, causing the FF’s powers to go haywire. Reed deduces that the cause is an unknown isotope located at the North Pole, so everyone travels back to the arctic. There, they are attacked by a bunch of high tech Vikings (!) driving motorcycles armed with laser weapons (!!).
Reed tries to reason with the Vikings, learning that the mist is affecting them as well. To learn more, the FF let the Vikings take them hostage. The Vikings introduce the team to their leader, Korgon, the blind god of fire, who is dying. Korgon says the mist was caused by him trying to replenish the energy that keeps the Vikings alive in the snowy wastes. He further explains that he was once a Viking many centuries ago, who was struck by a meteor, gaining super-powers and immortality from its radiation. Now his immortality is failing, so he tells the FF that they must cure him… and if they refuse, he will kill them!
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed stretches to giant size to act a big ramp for people to slide out of a building during the craziness in New York. Marvel artists are usually pretty good in keeping Reed’s mass fairly consistent (in comic book terms, at least), but here’s almost Godzilla-sized.
Fade out: Sue practices using her force fields in the shape of pincers, so she can grab objects and move them around, as if with telekinesis.
Clobberin’ time: With everyone’s powers going nuts, Ben doesn’t become human again. Instead, he gets small patches of skin in place of his usual rocks. It’s kind of gross. Also, Ben’s skills as a pilot come back into play when he brings the team’s crashing rocket down for a safe landing.
Flame on: While at a racetrack, Johnny flirts with a pretty girl named Lorrie, who invites him back to her place to join him in her Jacuzzi. Wa-hey! Too bad he has to fly off and battle evil instead.
Five and a half: Franklin has gotten a lot older now (they grow up so fast) and he’s speaking complete sentences instead of toddler gibberish. One scene has him reading a Marvel Moon Knight comic.
Commercial break: Hulk slippers!
Trivia time: Gabriel the Devil-Hunter previously appeared in Marvel’s black-and-white magazines, Haunt of Horror and Monsters Unleashed. Writer Warren Ellis tried bringing him back during his Hellstorm revival in the ‘90s. That story ended with Gabriel’s mind getting wiped and leaving him a drooling vegetable, and to my knowledge he hasn’t been seen since. Here’s hoping somebody at Marvel can bring him back to his ol’ devil-hunting ways.
Captain Barracuda was a recurring character in the Sub-Mariner solo comic. He talks in old-timey pirate speech, yarr.
Fantastic or frightful? Sienkiewicz’s art isn’t that crazy experimental style he had in New Mutants, but he does some interesting stuff here, with a lot of shadows and rounded, organic shapes. After several regime changes at Marvel, there seems to be an interest in giving a damn about the Fantastic Four again. The early Sienkiewicz art is really good, but the stories continue to be generic. The best moments are the FF hanging out at home or messing around in New York, before the adventure starts. The adventures themselves are a mishmash of sci-fi/fantasy silliness that’s more confusing than cool.
Next week: Brain parasites and ego-spawn!
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.