Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #266, just after She-Hulk has replaced Ben on the team, we get… an entire issue devoted to Ben?
She-Hulk is at the hospital, where a pregnant Sue has been taken after she was afflicted with deadly radiation. Reed has gathered a group of radiation experts for help — Dr. Bruce Banner (a.k.a. the Hulk) Walter Langkowski (a.k.a. Sasquatch of Alpha Flight) and Michael Morbius (a.k.a Morbius the Living Vampire, a Spider-Man villain). Sue is sleeping now, while the experts try to sort out what’s wrong.
She-Hulk and Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise, let’s not forget) chat in the hallway outside Sue’s room. Alicia/Lyja says she’s not hurt by Ben staying behind on Battleworld, because Ben’s happiness is what’s important. She says her mind keeps flashing back to an incident involving Ben and Sue, and how the two of them are “connected” Somehow.
From there, the majority of this issue is a flashback to “a time not long ago” when Ben was still on the team. He and Alicia enjoy a walk in Central Park one summer day, enjoying ice cream cones (aww…). This is a Marvel comic book, so you know there’s going to be trouble. A woman whose face is obscured by a black veil, stops an armored truck nearby and robs it with a group of men working for her. Ben puts a stop to it, but the woman raises her veil and shows him her face. He is immediately hypnotized to do her bidding. The woman calls herself Karisma. She commands Ben to help with the robbery. He does, acting like he’s never met Alicia before.
Sue is just down the street, wig-shopping (!) and she jumps into action when she sees police cars go by. She finds the police fighting Ben, and convinces them to stand down so she can confront him. Ben thinks Sue is out to get Karisma, so he attacks. Big fight! Ben knows how Sue’s force fields work, so he comes up with all sorts of ways to get around them. This forces her to come up with new ways to use them to keep Ben off guard. It’s a terrific fight, and you get the sense that Ben and Sue are evenly matched. Ben has a moment of weakness as Karisma’s influence starts to wear off. This gives Sue just enough time for her to turn invisible and get away from him.
Karisma shows her face to Ben again, putting him back under her control. There’s a flashback (within the flashback???) that reveals she was once a cosmetics scientist who created makeup so alluring that it possessed men’s minds. When her male-pig bosses wouldn’t fund her experiments, she turned to a life of crime. Ben and Sue fight some more, and just when it looks like he’s won, Sue turns Karisma’s veil invisible. We see her makeup is not alluring, but a total mess.
This doesn’t have the effect Sue wanted, though, because it puts all the men in the area Karisma’s control. They become a mindless mob, about to kill Sue. She then turns Karisma’s entire head invisible (!), giving the men their minds back. Sue wraps up Karisma’s head in her cape, and the cops haul her away with the promise that a female police officer will remove the makeup. Sue makes a joke about Karisma being “cosmetically aware” and that’s that.
Back in the present, Reed meets with She-Hulk and Alicia/Lyja. He says there’s no good news. Sue is dying, and the experts have come up with nothing. Then Langkowski says there’s one more person they haven’t reached out to yet, someone who knows radiation better than anyone. That someone is Otto Octavius, a.k.a. Dr. Octopus.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: There’s a goof in this issue that has Bruce Banner saying “My wife is at death’s door,” when this was clearly supposed to be Reed saying it.
Fade out: It’s assumed that Sue was shopping for wigs for use in her and Reed’s new secret identities in Connecticut. She uses her force fields to trap Ben, to use as a battering ram against him, and she makes tiny ones to trip him up.
Clobberin’ time: Ben is so familiar with Sue’s force fields that he can tell she’s weakened just by touching one of them.
Flame on: Johnny is a no-show in this issue. We’re told he’s flying around in hopes of contacting other radiation experts.
Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk frets about how she’s unable to help, despite her awesome strength.
The Alicia problem: How does Lyja know all this? It’ll eventually be revealed that she studied the FF’s lives in detail. The better question is why does she tell this story? Let’s speculate that with Ben away, she turned her attention to the weakened Sue.
Commercial break: Nightmare fuel!
Trivia time: It’s pretty obvious that this is an inventory issue, written and drawn ahead of time as filler in case the book falls behind deadline. There’s some mystery online as to whether it was used this time because of deadlines, or if writer-artist John Byrne just up and decided to use it because he liked it.
Karisma would eventually return in a Captain America story, where she joined a group of female villains, the Femizons.
Why didn’t Reed contact Dr. Strange for help? The comic doesn’t say, but the concurrent issue of Dr. Strange from this time has the doc receiving a serious blow to the head when fighting a guy named Pohldahk.
Fantastic or frightful? A fun issue, but an inconsequential one. I like the Sue/Ben fight a lot, but it remains frustrating to have this placeholder after all the momentum built up from the Secret Wars.
Next week: The sadness begins.
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.