Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Here’s issue #289, and writer-artist John Byrne’s legendary run on the book is coming to a close. Before he leaves, he brings back a couple of classic villains.
We begin at the construction site for the FF’s new headquarters, where there’s an old-fashioned excuse-for-our-heroes-use-their-powers-for-a-few-pages thing as Reed, Johnny and Sue work together to save a construction worker from falling. (Every time we’ve visited this site so far, someone has almost fallen to his or her death. Surprised the city hasn’t shut this place down.) Another worker, Danny, takes the FF on a tour of the new building’s sub-basement, fifteen stories down, 150 feet below the street. He mentions some cracking on one wall, but then Reed gets an emergency call from S.H.I.E.L.D. and the team takes off. Just after they do, some mysterious hands break through the cracks.
Those hands belong to the Basilisk, a green-skinned villain who was last seen buried deep beneath the city in Marvel Team-Up #47. He blasts Danny with deadly eye lasers, and speechifies about reaching the surface. Just as he does, setting himself up as the main baddie for this issue, he’s shot in the back by a man whose face we don’t see, saying “Justice is served!” This guy is the Scourge, who had been running around all over the Marvel universe killing of B-list villains. The Scourge storyline was eventually (and disappointingly) resolved in a multi-part Captain America story. None of this has anything to do with anything else that happens in this issue.
The Fantastic Four are teleported (beamed up, one might say) to a S.H.I.E.L.D. space station in orbit over Earth. Nick Fury is there, and he shows the FF an accretion disk, an astronomical phenomenon that forms around black holes. Only this is not a black hole, but the Negative Zone portal, left behind in Earth’s orbit after the destruction of the original Baxter Building. (Got all that?) Reed dons a gold spacesuit (!) and flies out into space to get a closer look at the disk. He fears that if something isn’t done about the Negative Zone portal, it might expand and devour the entire universe.
Cut to a high-tech room somewhere (we’re not told where), where Blastaar the living bomb-burst gloats about Reed falling into his trap. He speaks to an unseen prisoner in a cage, gloating about he has (again) stolen Annihilus’ cosmic control rod. In space, Reed is pulled into the disk by some sort of tractor beam and disappears. The FF wants to go rescue him, but Fury cautions against taking unnecessary risks without knowing what’s happening out there. Sue, Johnny, She-Hulk and Fury take off in a space shuttle-type ship, into the disk, and then into the Negative Zone, complete with an old-school photo montage splash page.
Inside Blastaar’s headquarters, now revealed to be a spaceship of some kind, he has taken Reed captive, and he continues gloating some more. Reed warns that he entered the Negative Zone unprotected, so if too much of the Negative Zone’s antimatter touches him, it’ll cause a massive explosion. The FF smash into the room, and there’s a big fight between them and Blastaar. He holds them off easily, until Sue invisibly snatches the control rod away from him. With a wide grin, Blastaar tells Sue not to throw the rod into the nearby atomic disintegrator. Johnny actually falls for this, and tosses the rod through the door. Blastaar gloats even more, saying even though he’s defeated, he’s still come up with a way to defeat the FF.
The “disintegrator” is really the cage with Blastaar’s prisoner. It’s really Annihilus, now at full power with him reunited with the cosmic control rod. He easily knocks out the Fantastic Four. Back aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. satellite, we learn the Negative Zone portal is growing, and will destroy the earth in less than five hours.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Where did Reed’s gold space suit come from? Is this S.H.I.E.L.D. tech or is it something he whipped up on his own?
Fade out: Sue’s new haircut is nearly identical to her brother’s, which is… odd. On the plus side, Sue is so awesome that she wield the unending power of the cosmic control rod.
Flame on: How on Earth does Johnny fall for Blastaar’s trick? It makes him look pretty dumb.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Continuity error! In this issue, She-Hulk says she’s never heard of the Negative Zone before, but she was there at the end of the last Negative Zone story, complete with a final confrontation with Annihilus.
Four and a half: This issue is referenced in Power Pack #22. Franklin is staying overnight with the Power family while his parents are in space.
Commercial break: Is this legal?
Trivia time: Who’s the Basilisk? He’s a thief who got his powers after stealing a powerful alien Kree gem. Before this, he had only appeared off and on in Marvel Team-Up. He will later come back to life, along with a bunch of Scourge’s other victims, in a Punisher comic. As for the Scourge, he’s one of those characters whose origin gets rewritten every time he appears, and I’ve given up on trying to keep track of the Scourge really was.
Fantastic or Frightful? Kind of a slim issue, feeling more dumbed-down than the series has been. Many believe John Byrne had one foot out the door at this point, and I wonder if that’s true once this issue comes along.
Next week: Death! Or is it?
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