Fantastic Friday: Some people call me the space cowboy

Rereading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The last issue was all set-up and character development, so in issue #272 we get down to some insane sci-fi action!

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Reed and the FF are visiting his childhood home, the Richards estate in California, to recover his lost memories. There, the team discovered that Reed’s father disappeared into an alternate reality via a time machine identical to Dr. Doom’s time machine. This issue begins with the FF and Wyatt Wingfoot about the enter the machine in search of Reed’s dad. Our heroes are outfitted for the adventure with cool white vests with tons of pouches. Note that this was years before the Image guys started drawing pouches on everything. They travel through the machine in a nifty two-page spread, only to find themselves in what looks like a war zone. There’s a village in the distance, with battle-damaged land all around it.

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Reed sends Sue off to explore invisibly. She reaches the village, which appears to be right out of the Old West. Some cowboys are fighting in the saloon, taking their slugfest into the street. The two then square off for a good ol’ fashioned shootout. They draw, only for humanitarian Sue to put an invisible force field between them. Only, these aren’t cowboy six-shooters but laser guns, with heat-seeking lasers that go around the force field to kill the other guy! The surviving cowboy, Colby, knows something is up. His high-tech gun has an infrared scanner that allows him to see Sue. She turns his gun invisible, but he can still pull the trigger. Sue surrounds herself with a spherical force field to keep out the heat-seeking lasers, and then rolls over Colby. She makes a run for it, and Colby says “Git th’ hosses!” Are you ready for what happens next? We got cowboys riding flying robot horses!

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Reed, Johnny, and She-Hulk jump into action, with She-Hulk delivering the “It’s clobberin’ time!” line. Fighting! The cowboys are no match for the FF, who smash up the flying horses real good. But it isn’t just a bunch of cowboys. A gigantic Martian tripod from War of the Worlds attacks next. It shorts out Johnny’s flame, but She-Hulk gets inside it and smashes it from within.

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Colby shows up again, and apologizes for picking the fight. He says he thought the FF were working for “the Warlord.” He and the others cowboys react with shock upon hearing the name “Richards” when Reed introduces himself. The two persons piloting the Martian tripod are like Neanderthals, their actions controlled through the tripod’s tech. Colby says they are the Warlord’s mutates, who do the Warlord’s evil bidding. He further explains that this was once a peaceful place, until the Warlord arrived ten years earlier. The dates match up, but Reed refuses to believe that his kind, pacifist father could have become the cruel Warlord.

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Cut to the inside of a high-tech fortress, where a woman and some of the mutates are spying on the FF. She’s cruel to the mutates, threatening to flog them. She then changes out of her cool green body armor and into a princess-style gown to tell “his lordship” the news. Turn the page, and there’s Reed’s dad, Nathaniel Richards. This woman is his wife, and they have a baby! He says he’s the happiest man on this troubled Earth.

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To be continued?

Unstable molecule: Reed is concerned about letting Sue go off by herself so soon after the miscarriage, but she shuts him down. He later gets into the Old West thing by stretching his arm into a lasso to stop one of the cowboys.

Fade out: Sue says that this is the first time she’s ever fully surrounded herself with a spherical force field, but I know that she did in one Kirby’s last FF issues, and she did it again in the Contest of Champions miniseries.

Flame on: Johnny says he’s used Dr. Doom’s time travel machine more than anyone else on the FF, which I believe is a reference to his solo adventures in Strange Tales back in the day.

Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk says she prefers action to data gathering, saying all the science stuff makes her feel like she’s back in school. This is more of the “fun-loving” She-Hulk we remember, rather than “lack of confidence” She-Hulk of her first few issues on the team.

Commercial break: This Mario ad attempts to create its own theme song… in print.

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Trivia time: I’m having a hard time sorting out the continuity of Dr. Doom’s time machine. (Wikipedia and the Marvel wiki have been no help.) The FF supposedly secured the machine from Doom’s castle and have kept it in the Baxter Building. But other comics have shown the machine still in Doom’s castle. The fan theory going around is that the one in Doom’s castle is the one Doom built, returned to the castle by Kang for some reason, while the one in the Baxter Building is the replica built by Gideon in issue #34. Reed’s father’s time machine was built independent of the other two, even though it looks just like it. The epilogue in issue #273 will confuse this even more. Freakin’ time travel, man.

Fantastic or frightful? Here’s an excuse for writer-artist John Byrne to go hog-wild with the over-the-top sci-fi visuals. The artwork is gorgeous and there’s a fun sense of high adventure throughout. It’s light on story, though, saving most of the plot for the next issue.

Next week: Daddy issues.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH. amazon.com/dp/B00859NDJ8
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