Rereading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’ve got a new villain in issue #263, a combination of Walt Disney and Howard Hughes, with maybe a little bit of Lex Luthor thrown in there.
Several months have passed since the last issue. Reed and Sue are living in their suburban house under their secret identities, and Sue pregnancy belly (I don’t think that’s a medically accurate term) is coming along nicely. We get a little bit of excuse-for-the-characters-to-show-off-their-powers-in-the-first-few-pages thing when Sue catches some spilled paint in an invisible force field, and Reed shows he can stretch his face to like someone else to maintain his new secret identity. Reed heads to a bus stop to take him to “work,” which is really a rented garage where the Fantasticar is hidden. He takes it back to New York, to the Baxter Building. Reed calls the Vision, to check in on how the Vision’s injuries have come along since the fight with Annihilus. The Vision is feeling better, but still not mobile. His brain is hooked up to the Avengers Mansion computer, so he’s running the whole building. Their conversation is cut short when Reed’s automatic scanners start going off like crazy.
We cut to Los Angeles, at the “internationally renowned” amusement park Wonderworld. Johnny is driving a race car in the first Wonderworld invitational grand prix. Ben doesn’t like that all the racers, who are celebrities, won’t be revealed until after the race. Johnny, who’s wearing a super-cool black and silver racing suit by the way, runs into love interest Julie Angel, who happens to be there. Turns out she’s now the ex-girlfriend, having moved to L.A. with fellow actor Grey Landers, and now she has a modeling gig at the racetrack. She kisses Johnny as he leaves for the race, so maybe there’s still some romance there.
The race begins, and Johnny’s car takes an early lead. The car enters a tunnel (this is apparently a Speed Racer-style race track) and crashes as soon as it comes out of the tunnel. The car explodes in a big fireball. Ben, watching from the stands, doesn’t see Johnny fly from the fire, so he runs out to it. Ben dives into the fire and tears the car apart, finding a body inside that is burned beyond recognition.
Later, a doctor bandages Ben’s arms while a racetrack guy (He’s not identified, I assume he works there) insists that no one could have survived and that the Human Torch is dead. Ben refuses to believe it, saying he’s seen Johnny fly through exploding fighter jets without a scratch. Ben meets up Julie, further insisting that Johnny isn’t really dead. He says he wants to find who’s in charge of the place. Julie says that would be Alden Maas, a billionaire recluse who hasn’t been seen in public in years. She says Maas lives on the star-shaped island off the coast.
Ben takes his Fantasicar (different from Reed’s) to the island, where he’s met by a bunch of executives in suits. They escort him into a big gold building. Inside, a hologram appears before Ben, explaining something called “Project Worldcore,” in a cartoony style. The gist of it is that the Earth’s surface has cooled and all the continents are overpopulated. The Earth then needs a massive amount of heat to expand the planet’s core and create more space for everyone. The hologram then drops the bomb, revealing that the heat source used to accomplish this is… Johnny! He’s hooked up to a big machine that’s forcing him to generate fire and blast it deep down into the Earth. This causes him a lot of pain for some reason.
Ben is about to rescue Johnny, when Alden Maas shows up. He says that Johnny’s life must be sacrificed in order to save all of humanity. Maas takes great pride in his work, calling himself the Messiah. Ben won’t have it, and tries to rescue Johnny. Johnny’s appearance was just another hologram, though, and Ben finds himself falling down a huge shaft, deep into the Earth. At the bottom, while he catches his breath, he’s shocked by a weapon. It belongs to the Mole Man, who says it’s time for the surface world to pay for its crimes.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed using his powers to disguise his face was also used in the 2015 Fantastic Four movie. See, they did read the comics.
Fade out: This issue’s letters page makes a big fuss about “Sue’s Coiffure Contest,” in which readers could submit designs for Sue’s new hairstyle. John Byrne got into the act by drawing this:
Clobberin’ time: The bandages on Ben’s arms look kind of cool, but it’s ambiguous as to how badly he was burned in the fire. He himself says that he’s been through a lot worse.
Flame on: We’re told that Johnny can only burn his super-hot nova flame a few seconds at a time or it will kill him. This would appear to contradict issue #249, which told us he has greater control of his nova flame.
Four and a half: Franklin is back, and we see he’s fully recovered from his injuries during the Negative Zone story.
Commercial break: I want one!
Trivia time: Alden Maas’ plan is based on the expanded Earth theory, which is one heck of a well to fall into on the internet. Comic book legend Neal Adams is allegedly a believer in this theory, so the character Alden Maas is allegedly named after him. (I’m throwing around the word “allegedly” again, because this is all based on iffy internet info.)
Fantastic or frightful? After all those cosmic/space stories, it’s fun to see our face a more earthbound menace. The car race is an exciting scene, and the Disney/hologram weirdness makes this issue a lot of fun.
Next week: Way down in the underground.
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