Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’ve reached issue #267 and ooohh, this one’s going to be hard to write about.
Pregnant Sue is in the hospital, dying of radiation poisoning. Fellow scientist Walter Langkowski (a.k.a. Sasquatch from Alpha Flight) says only the genius of Dr. Octopus can save her. Bruce Banner (a.k.a. the Hulk) retells the origin of Doc Ock for Reed (and the readers). Otto Octavius was once a brilliant scientist who built some metal arms to help with dangerous experiments. After an explosion, the arms were fused to his mind so can control them with his thoughts. Also, he became psycho evil. Sue wakes, and says she can tell Reed is up to something — something possibly dangerous. Reed says nothing will stop him from returning to her and their child.
Reed takes a Fantasticar to the South Brooklyn Psychiatric Facility, where the administrator lets him see Doc Ock. Ock is not the mad genius that we last saw, but meek and childlike inside his room, separated from his metal arms. Reed appeals to Ock’s early days as a doctor, emphasizing that only he can save Reed’s wife. Ock sheds a tear, and agrees to help. The psychiatrists say that Reed has accomplished months of therapy in this one conversation.
Reed takes Ock back to the hospital in the Fantasticar. They pass a Daily Bugle billboard with the classic “Spider-Man: Hero or menace?” headline. Doc Ock sees the billboard and starts to freak out. Cut to a secret NYPD facility where armed guards are transporting Ock’s metal arms. The arms spring to life, fighting all the guards. The arms make it up to the street and quickly find the Fantasticar, attacking Reed. The arms are quick and bendy, making them an even match for Reed’s stretching. The arms force Reed into a building and pin him against a wall.
Ock seems in a daze at first, but then reunites with the arms, acting like the good ol’ Dr. Octopus we all know from Spider-Man comics. He does a big villain speech about wanting to kill Reed. Reed then notices the manual controls for the arms are still moving, even though Ock controls them with his mind. Reed stretches his fingers into the controls, so that the arms cannot move. He then pleads with Ock again to help Sue. Reed then releases the arms as a show of trust.
We don’t learn Ock’s reaction, instead cutting back to the hospital, where Johnny and Alicia, who is really Lyja the Skrull in disguise, are both in tears. Johnny thinks “It can’t have ended like this,” and he says he can’t believe that they could be undone by something so normal after all their cosmic adventures. Lyja begs him to stay strong for the sake of his family. Reed arrives with Dr. Octopus, who has agreed to help. Reed asks Johnny what’s wrong, but Johnny’s so distraught that he cannot answer. Reed asks Sue’s doctor what’s wrong. And then… and then…
We turn the page, and there’s one small panel surrounded by all blacks. The doctor says Sue is doing well, but “she lost the baby a little over thirty minutes ago…”
Unstable molecule: A lot of folks over the years have used this issue to criticize Reed, arguing that he shouldn’t have run off to have a superhero battle while his wife and baby were sick. The counterargument is that he’s doing this for Sue and the baby, a last-minute act of desperation to save them. I’m in the “there’s no right or wrong answer” camp, and it’s my opinion that not even Mr. Fantastic could have stopped the inevitable.
Fade out: It’s officially established in this issue that radiation is afflicting Sue because the baby was conceived when she and Reed were in the Negative Zone.
Flame on: Johnny is especially heartbroken, presciently predicting how much this has cost the team.
Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk again frets about not being able to help despite all her awesome strength. She says she hopes being a member of the FF will give her some respectability, in the hopes that people won’t see her as a joke.
The Alicia problem: The story goes that with Ben away, Lyja turned her attention to Johnny instead. We see this in action as she stays by his side at the hospital. Although her mission is to infiltrate and then destroy the FF from within, she encourages Johnny to keep the team together. I guess she didn’t want her cover blown so soon.
Commercial Break: Home computers!
Trivia time: How did Dr. Octopus get into a psychiatric hospital so soon after Secret Wars? In a lengthy Spectacular Spider-Man story arc that happened before Secret Wars, Ock lost his mind in a big way. This issue and Secret Wars are merely building off of that. He gets over his fears of Spider-Man in Web of Spider-Man #4-5, and he’s back to full-on mad scientist/criminal mode by the time we get to the Sinister Six reunion in Amazing Spider-Man #334.
When retelling Ock’s origin story, writer-artist John Byrne faithfully recreates several panels from Ock’s first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #3.
Fantastic or frightful? To begin, the fight between Reed and Ock is great, emphasizing how similar their powers are. But seriously, the important thing here is Sue’s miscarriage. This is a major event that’ll affect the course of these characters’ lives for years to come. I’m still not sure what to think.
Next week: Face the face.
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