Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Here it is, folks, issue #265, the comic where everything changes — in more ways than you might know.
This is the big post-Secret Wars issue, but we have to wait to get to that, because the first part of the issue is a short story about Paste-Pot Pete, um I mean the Trapster breaking into the Baxter Building. No one’s home, so it’s a fight between the Trapster and the building’s security. He doesn’t stand a chance, bumbling his way around, and eventually getting knocked out by the robot receptionist Roberta (remember her?). What makes this interesting is that the whole story is told from first person through the Trapster’s eyes, like a first-person shooter. It’s a really neat experiment by John Byrne.
Then the issue proper begins. It’s been one week since Reed, Ben, and Johnny mysteriously vanished, along with most of the Avengers and a bunch of other Marvel heroes. A very pregnant Sue has been staying at Avengers Mansion during the week, messing around in the kitchen with Jarvis the butler. Then there’s an extended flashback to her teammates’ disappearances from her point of view. Sue was with Alicia at the time of the disappearance. There was a blast of light over all of New York, so powerful even Alicia could see it. She says she can sense a terrible consuming light, like something alive… and hungry. Sue takes a Fantasticar to Central Park, with Alicia tagging along. They meet up with the Avengers left behind. Mockingbird is freaking out because Hawkeye was taken, and the Vision confirms that the heroes are no longer on Earth.
It’s at this point we reach… the Alicia problem. Do I spoil this, or don’t I? Well, this is a Fantastic Four re-read and not a first time read, so I’ll do the big reveal right here. Not counting flashbacks, that previous scene was the last time we’ll see Alicia for about a hundred issues. While all the heroes were away at the Secret Wars, Alicia was abducted by Skrulls and replaced with a Skrull named Lyja, disguised as Alicia. Lyja was tasked with infiltrating the FF and destroying them from within. Now, this was not the intent of the creators at the time, but a retcon that came up years later. Still, on this re-read, it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on Alicia and see how we can interpret (re-interpret?) her actions in the issues to come.
Case in point, it’s our first appearance of Alicia/Lyja, who approaches Sue about going on a walk with her and Franklin. She says she has a funny sensation in the back of her mind, and feels something momentous is about to happen. (See what I mean? Lines like this read a lot differently know that you know she’s a Skrull!) They go for their walk in Central Park, where there’s another flash of light. Sue approaches invisibly. She sees Iron Man fly overhead, so she knows the Avengers have returned. There’s yet another flash of light, and Ben and Johnny appear with a third person. It’s She-Hulk, wearing an FF uniform!
(This is all happening as a result of the big Secret Wars event. Why am I writing about this before Secret Wars? Because that’s how this issue came out. It’s all about setting up a mystery of what happened while the heroes were away. Along with She-Hulk in the FF, we got Spider-Man’s mysterious black costume, new leadership for the X-Men, the Hulk with a broken leg, and more. It worked, because at the time, we all couldn’t wait to pick up Secret Wars and find out what event was so big that it changed the lives of our favorite Marvel characters.)
She-Hulk, Reed, and Johnny are all happy and celebratory to be back on Earth. Reed greets Sue with a kiss, and Johnny is happy to see Franklin. Alicia/Lyja asks where Ben is. Johnny starts with an ominous, “I’d give anything not to have to tell you this, but…” He doesn’t get to finish that sentence, because Sue is zapped by deadly radiation. She says it came from the baby, who is somehow lashing out at her. She-Hulk’s awesome strength gives her resistance to radiation, so she carries Sue to the hospital.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed has a line about how he promised everyone he could get them back home, a direct reference to a memorable line of his during one of Secret Wars’ most dramatic moments.
Fade out: Sue passes the time by messing around the Avengers’ kitchen, where Jarvis has prepared more and more elaborate meals to keep everyone distracted from the crisis.
Clobberin’ time: Where’s Ben? He decided to stay behind on Battleworld, where Secret Wars took place, because he could transform back into a human there. If you ever get a chance to read those issues of The Thing where he’s on that planet, check them out. They’re really weird and trippy sci-fi.
Flame on: Johnny wonders if the radiation attack on Sue is something too much for even Reed to handle. This is uncharacteristic considering everything he’s seen Reed do. I guess we can chalk this up to just-got-back-from-space exhaustion.
Fantastic fifth wheel: A quick backstory: She-Hulk is attorney-at-law Jennifer Walters, cousin to Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk. There was a blood transfusion, and now she’s big and strong and green. She’s way more upbeat and fun-loving than her cousin, and she’s been an Avenger up ’til now.
Four and a half: Franklin calls She-Hulk the “pretty lady.” (Wha-hey!) He wants to eat at “Rumpy-mayers” which is kid speak for Rumplemeyer’s ice cream. The internet informs me that you can still get Rumplemeyer’s in some parts of the country.
The Alicia problem: In addition to her ominous prediction, Alicia/Lyja tells Mockingbird that the life of a superhero is a never-ending war, and that those at home must console themselves about those on the front lines. Sounds Skrull-ish to me.
Commercial break: OK, who is this character, and where can I see more of her?
Trivia time: On his website, John Byrne says the reason for leaving Ben on Battleworld was to come up with new story ideas for Ben. The problem with Thing solo stories, Byrne says, is finding a way to write them so they’re not just variations on Fantastic Four stories.
Fantastic or frightful? For a historically important issue, not a lot happens. The Trapster story is fun but inconsequential, and there’s real no sense of what She-Hulk will be like on the team. The comic does a great job of setting up Secret Wars, but that’s about it.
Next week: I am from beyond!
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