Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. You guys like Dr. Who, right? Because this issue is as close as we’ve come (so far) to a Fantastic Four/Dr. Who crossover.
We’re continuing our multi-issue arc with our heroes exploring the Negative Zone. On an alien world, a golden-masked, black-robed figure named Taranith welcomes a young married couple into his gigantic citadel, in a celebratory, wedding-like. Deep inside the keep, a pair of doors open, and the young couple scream in terror. We cut from there to the FF, who are visiting this world incognito, dressed like the locals, in a vaguely Arabic style. Reed says the disguises are because he’s detected odd energy signals from the citadel.
Arriving in the city, the FF rent two rooms at a local inn/hotel-type place. Johnny and Ben explore the town, including peeping into a sexy “house of ill repute.” The whole time, Taranith and his spies are watching the FF from afar. Some bandits get the jump on Ben and Johnny, who blow their cover as they fight them off. At the hotel, Reed and Sue are in bed together (wha-hey!) when they, too are attacked. Taranith shows up to stop the fighting, welcoming the FF to the planet Mantracora.
Back in New York, Annihilus is still running around unchecked inside the Baxter Building. He throws a switch that causes all the office workers in the lower floors to be overcome with panic and flee the building. Outside, She-Hulk and the Wasp are out apartment-hunting (!) when the see the panicked mob. The two Avengers run into an invisible barrier surrounding part of the city, with the Baxter Building at its center.
In the Negative Zone, Taranith apologies for his actions and invites the FF inside his citadel. He treats them to a meal, which has been drugged. Reed passes out, and the rest of the team are placed in a featureless room. Ben rips up the floor to find curved metal underneath. Elsewhere, Reed wakes up, with his head attached to an alien device. He’s surrounded by dead bodies also attached to the device. Taranith explains that he is not originally from this world. He’s from a far more technogically advanced place, and his ship crash-landed on this barbaric planet some time ago. He says Reed is the key he needs to get his ship and running again, to get back into space. Also, underneath his robes, Taranith is a little lizard-lookin’ guy.
Sue, Johnny and Ben work together to escape, and find their way to Taranith. Acting without thinking, Ben pulls Reed off of the device, but Reed doesn’t wake up. Taranith explains that Reed’s mind has been transferred to his ship’s “matrix,” where his psionic energy will power the ship for takeoff. In true villain fashion, Taranith adds, “The man you once knew is forever dead!”
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Does Reed have heightened senses? His scanner didn’t pick up any evidence of drugs in the food, but then he’s able to taste the drug seconds before passing out.
Fade out: Hard to believe, but this is the first time in the comic’s history that Reed and Sue are shown in bed together. Their gettin’ it on in this issue will have serious consequences much later.
Clobberin’ time: To escape the featureless room, Ben uses just one finger. He sticks his finger in a tiny hole and uses its strength to peel up part of the floor. Ben also compares the planet to the movie Zardoz, which I find hilarious.
Flame on: Johnny is now able to focus his mega-powerful nova flame into a single, concentrated beam, which he uses as part of the escape. Sue comments that the nova flame is powerful enough to level an entire city.
Fantastic fourth wheel: Say hello to She-Hulk, everyone! Her appearance in this issue generated a lot of interest, mostly thanks to writer-artist John Byrne drawing her so she looks stunningly beautiful. This issue more or less begins her road to becoming the FF’s most well-known alternate fifth member.
Commercial break: This D&D artwork is interesting, but doesn’t quite capture the whole “fantasy adventure” thing, does it?
Trivia time: What’s the Dr. Who connection? This one explicitly references (some might say rips off) the 1976 episode, “The Mask of Mandragora,” featuring a gold-masked character like this issue. The scene where Taranith removes his helmet to show nothing underneath is direct shout-out to a nearly identical moment in the TV episode.
Fantastic or frightful? Another fun space opera romp, full of dazzling visuals. We get a great villain, Sue taking a leadership role during the escape, and a huge cliffhanger. I can’t think of anything bad to say about this one.
Next week: Insane in the mainframe.
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