Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Reed’s search for his long-lost father comes to a head in issue #273. Also, robot pterodactyls!
OK, let’s try to recap all this: The FF have followed Reed’s long-lost father through a time machine into an alternate reality with high-tech cowboys and Neanderthals, where everyone is afraid of someone called “the Warlord.” The previous issue gave us a glimpse of the still-alive Nathaniel Richards, living in this world with a wife and son. Got all that? This issue begins with the FF, along with Wyatt Wingfoot and the cowboy Colby overlook the Warlord’s “fort,” which is a high-tech castle. Another War of the Worlds-inspired tripod attacks, so Johnny confuses it by created a bunch of fire “duplicates” of himself, and then brings the machine down. She-Hulk smashes open the tripod to discover it was operated by remote control.
The Warlord’s wife, who we’ll learn later is named Cassandra, is furious at her Neanderthal servants for failing to defeat the FF. Outside, the FF spot flying machines approaching them. Get this: It’s a bunch of Valkyries riding robot pterodactyls! One of them attacks Reed upon learning his name is Richards, but the Valkyries’ leader stops the fight. She gives a brief history of this world, that it survived disaster and war, only to be united by a wandering stranger, the Warlord. There was peace and huge technological advances, but then the Warlord withdrew into his castle never to be seen again, and the world collapsed into chaos.
Assuming the Warlord is his father, Reed approaches the castle on foot. A hologram of the Warlord, his face covered by a helmet, appears before Reed. Reed makes a passionate speech about how much his father inspired him to pursue the wonders of science, and his disappointment in how his father let this other world fall into disarray. The Warlord responds by summoning more flying machines, and there’s a big fight where the FF, the Valkyries, and the cowboys all fight the Warlord’s robots.
The battle out of his league, Wyatt sneaks off to get closer to the castle. He finds the Warlord and some Neanderthal grunts setting up a deadly anti-matter cannon. Wyatt, the former football star, throws a rock into the cannon with perfect aim. The resulting explosion is an all-white panel with the word “oblivion” in tiny letters at the center. Wyatt wakes up some time later inside the castle. Reed says the Warlord is gone, and his father is all right. Nathaniel is there, and reveals that his wife Cassandra is the true Warlord, and that she was manipulating him the whole time. Nathaniel says he’s going to stay behind, despite his desire to see Earth again, because he has to repair the damage done to this other world, so his new son (who we don’t see in this issue) can have a decent home to grow up in.
Then… THEN… in a one-page epilogue, we get a near-perfect recreation of Kang’s origin from way back in Fantastic Four #19, where in the distant future, the man who would be Kang (then calling himself Rama-Tut) found a Sphinx-shaped time machine in a “national shrine,” and here we learn that the “national shrine” is the same building as the Warlord’s castle in this issue. We were originally taught that Kang is Dr. Doom’s descendant from the future, but this issue suggests that Kang is actually Reed’s future descendant. So, what the heck is this about?!? The issue ends by teasing us that all will be explained in a future Avengers story. That tale came out almost two years later, in Avengers #269-272. I went and tracked down those issues (you’re welcome!) and they are bafflingly confusing. There’s a whole council of Kangs taken from different points in Kang’s lifetime, who all get killed off so there’s only one Kang left. How does this explain the Richards/Doom thing? You know what? Screw Kang.
One more note: It was during this time that the historic Amazing Spider-Man #258 happened. Spidey took Reed up on his suggestion of stopping by the Baxter Building to check out the cool new costume he got during Secret Wars. Reed deduced that the costume is a living creature — a symbiote — living off of Spidey. Reed used a sonic weapon to separate the costume from Spider-Man. This is important for the Fantastic Four series, because from here on, the symbiote is living at the Baxter Building, confined to Reed’s lab. This will come up in future FF issues.
Unstable molecule: Reed credits his love of all things science and his desire to do good to his father. His big speech is a terrific piece of writing, one that drama students could be/should be performing.
Fade out: Sue is barely in this issue. She uses her force fields to protect her team from the Valkyries, and again during the big fight, but she hardly says or does anything else.
Flame on: Johnny uses his flame to create illusion duplicates of himself, showing that he’s using his smarts to defeat his enemies, and not just throwing fireballs at them.
Fantastic fifth wheel: There are a couple of references to She-Hulk being an Avenger and an FF-er simultaneously. It’s true: Even though She-Hulk announced she was leaving the Avengers in Avengers #265, she keeps hanging around with them on their adventures throughout this time.
Commercial break: CBS was really banking on Richard Pryor’s celebrity to sell cartoons:
Trivia time: Nathaniel Richards will return much, much later for all kinds of time travel craziness. The real question mark is whatever happened to his infant son seen in the last issue. I’ve googled and googled and googled, and I can find no other appearances or even mentions of the kid in Marvel history. We never learn what became of him — not even his name!
Fantastic or frightful? The super-abrupt ending kind of brings this issue down, and then the continuity headache created with the Kang epilogue just makes things worse. On the plus side, the fight scene is depicted with neat long vertical panels, which looks cool. The Valkyries build on the imaginative sci-fi from the previous issue. So, it’s all a mixed bag, I suppose.
Next week: The Thing from another world.
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