Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. If you’re a superhero, it’s probably best not to host a dinner party, because bad things will happen. This is demonstrated nicely in issue #276.
We begin with Johnny flying celebratory loop-de-loops over New York, happy because he’s in love. He says what he now has with Alicia (who, let’s not forget, is really Lyja the Skrull in disguise) means more to him than any of his previous girlfriends. At the Baxter Building, She-Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot are engaging in some sexy weightlifting, establishing that the she can lift 75 tons, putting her under the Thing’s weight class. Wyatt says Reed has theorized She-Hulk might become just as strong as the Hulk in time. They then head off to the sauna, where Wyatt offers to give her a massage (wha-hey!).
In Connecticut, where Reed and Sue are living with secret identities to raise their son, they’re having a dinner party to get to know their new neighbors. They’re being spied on by superstitious neighbor Alma Chalmers. Chalmers believes Reed and Sue are performing witchcraft, and she and a mysterious woman named Elspeth Cromwell discuss how a dark hour is about to befall the town. After the party, Franklin tells Sue about a dream he had, about an evil lady and the house being swallowed by a man with horns. Sue assures him that it was only a dream, but secretly she worries about whether Franklin’s mutant powers are returning after his encounter with the Spider-symbiote a while back. Reed is taking out the garbage when he is blasted with a white light. Sue is brushing her teeth while only in her undies (wha-hey!) and she gets blasted by the same light.
Reed and Sue head outside and find Cromwell at the center of the mysterious light. Reed has heard of her, saying she’s a world-renowned exorcist. She accuses them of witchcraft. Reed comes clean and tells her that they’re really the FF, but Cromwell doesn’t believe it. She zaps Reed with magic electricity. Sue tries trapping Cromwell in a force field, but Cromwell easily breaks through it. Cromwell then summons up the fires of Hell (!) and demonic hands burst through the ground, dragging Sue downward. Reed tries to stop them, and one of them, impossibly, breaks Reed’s arm. That gives us this terrifying panel:
Sue reemerges from underground, having fought her way out of there like the badass that she is. She keeps trying to reason with Cromwell, but Cromwell insists that the whole “Fantastic Four” thing is a lie, and that they’re witches trying to trick her. Cromwell then summons the Knights of Hades, a group of demonic monsters with flaming swords, to fight Reed and Sue. Franklin runs outside to see what the noise is, and gets hit in the head with a stray fireball. He’s knocked out, bleeding from the head.
The Knights of Hades go on a rampage, smashing up the neighborhood. Reed tells Cromwell that she’s been tricked. He says the forces of Hell are merely using her to return to the Earth so they can rampage. Cromwell tries to boss the Knights around, demanding that they’re under her control, but one of them dismissively smacks her to the ground. Franklin then comes to and meets up with his parents. Cromwell freaks out, seeing that the blood of an innocent has been spilled. This is when the Richards’ home gets totally destroyed by two giant hands coming up from underground. It’s Mephisto (a.k.a. the Marvel Universe’s version of Satan) who announces that the Earth is doomed.
In New York, Dr. Strange is meditating when he’s struck with pain. He can sense that the barrier between Earth and Hades has broken down, so he flies off to put a stop to it.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed stretches his face into his “Reed Benjamin” identity for the party, saying he has to concentrate the whole time to keep his face in that shape for so long.
Fade out: Sue says “survival” is what is what the FF does best. When was this established as a catch phrase?
Flame on: Johnny lists Dorrie Evans, Crystal, Frankie Raye, and Julie Angel as his previous girlfriends. There’s also a mention of how he lived with a secret identity back in his Strange Tales solo adventures.
Fantastic fifth wheel: We learn She-Hulk can lift/press approximately 75 tons. She expresses concern that if she gets stronger, she might also lose her humanity like the Hulk recently did. (The Hulk’s legendary “Crossroads” storyline was happening at this time).
Four and a half: Franklin’s prophetic dream is foreshadowing how his mutant powers will soon change. There’s also mention of the psychic dampeners keeping those powers in check.
The Alicia problem: While Johnny is flying around New York, Alicia is at home, cooking dinner for him. I guess learning to cook was part of her Skrull infiltration training.
Commercial break: Mental survival!
Trivia time: This issue has one of the most famous Easter eggs in all of comics history. The neighbors at Reed and Sue’s dinner party are all characters from classic newspaper comic strips. How many do you recognize? (You can find the definitive answers at writer-artist John Byrne official website.)
Fantastic or frightful? This issue is mostly set-up for the next one, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had. The big fight scene is nice melding of superhero action with demonic horror. I’ve always loved the black and white cover, as well.
Next week: Top and bottom.
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