Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Here we are, folks. John Byrne’s final issue. The story goes that he had one too many disagreements with Marvel editorial, so when DC offered him Superman, he went for it. He writes and draws issue #293, gets a plotting credit for #294, and a “special thanks” credit in #295, and that’s all we get. No finale, no big goodbye, no thanks for reading, nothing.
Some time has passed since last issue, as we begin with several pages of catching up on subplots. She-Hulk is traveling across the country in search of Ben, who mutated into a new form and then disappeared in The Thing #36. She has enlisted the West Coast Avengers — Iron Man, Tigra, and Wonder Man specifically — to help. Meanwhile, at Avengers Mansion, where the FF are temporarily living, young Kristoff is living in a padded cell (the mansion has those?). Kristoff still believes he is Dr. Doom, and Reed says the brainwashing is so permanent that there’s nothing left of young Kristoff, just Doom’s personality. She-Hulk calls, saying that Central City has disappeared.
Central City, the home of the FF for the series’ first few issues, is apparently located in California. A giant black dome has covered the entire city. The FF and Wyatt Wingfoot (he and She-Hulk are still a couple) take off in their new long-range Fantasticar, breaking the sound barrier on the way. At the dome, we’re told that nothing can penetrate it, not even light (hence the blackness). Iron Man tries to break inside the dome with high-tech doodad. He enters the dome and then emerges right back out with damaged armor, saying that he was trapped in there for two weeks. Wonder Man takes Iron Man to get medical aid, and to prevent anyone from learning his secret identity.
She-Hulk goes ahead and touches the dome, only for it to start absorbing her. Her awesome strength is no help, and the dome swallows her. The FF and Wyatt arrive, and Reed deduces that the dome is a “temporal interface,” with time moving faster on the inside than the outside. After much discussion of the danger involved, it’s decided that Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Wyatt will enter the dome, with Tigra staying behind to keep the Avengers informed. Our heroes disappear into the dome. Tigra then sees something come out of the dome, but we don’t see what.
The FF float through darkness for a while before arriving in a huge underground chamber. Sue recognizes it as the remains of Central City. They make their way up through the structure and find a futuristic city built on top of the old one, with buildings made of a glass-like substance that Reed can’t identify. Upon further investigation, they find a building that’s an almost exact replica of the Baxter Building, and then a giant monument made to the four of them — the Fantastic Four!
Let’s go ahead and wrap up this arc. In issue #294, after a multi-page recap, our heroes grouse about how much time has passed inside the dome and whether She-Hulk could still be alive. They travel farther into the city where they are attacked by hideous freaks with similar powers to theirs. The FF is captured and taken to the dome’s leader, Princess Livia. She declares that this is the one true Fantastic Four, and inside the dome, the FF are worshipped as gods. Livia explains that the dome was created back in the ‘60s by a Dr. Jessup, who was inspired by the FF to create to a deterrent to nuclear power (it’s confusing). Jessup is still alive, now an old man calling himself the Coordinator. He declares the FF to be frauds and fires at them with his weapon, the Ultimate Adjudicator. The FF appear to disintegrate right in front of everyone.
Issue #295 begins by revealing that Sue turned everyone invisible layer by layer, to make it look like they were disintegrating. An old woman with “second sight” is able to see the team in hiding and offers to help them. The woman, Murna, is old enough to remember the time when She-Hulk invaded the city and was jailed for being a heretic. Wyatt insists on finding out what happened to her, so the team fights their way into the temple in the center of the city. Reed and Sue confront Jessup and try to convince him that there have been no nuclear wars outside the dome.
Wyatt and Johnny find She-Hulk in stasis, along with the entire original population of Central City. Murna links Reed’s mind with Jessup’s so Jessup can see the truth. Reed then reverses the temporal interface, returning the FF and the city’s inhabitants back to the present, with a warning that the Jessup and the city will reappear thousands of years in the future. Reed then learns that Ben has vanished, and wants to find him.
Unstable molecule: Reed says the supersonic Fantasticar is “nothing” compared some of his other inventions. He builds giant flying vehicles by hand, people.
Fade out: At one point, Sue creates an invisible staircase for her teammates to walk up. Seems like this would be tricky if they can’t see the steps, but maybe they’re used to her doing stuff like this.
Clobbering time: What’s the deal with Ben disappearing? In The Thing solo series, he took some superpower-enhancing pills which mutated him somehow (we don’t see exactly how, because he hides in the shadows). He wandered off, saying he’ll go to a place far, far away where he’ll finally find peace. This is where we’ll meet up with him next time.
Flame on: Johnny’s equivalents inside the dome have lava based powers. The lava doesn’t burn him, but it weighs him down so he can’t fly, and that’s what got him captured.
Fantastic fifth wheel: There’s another reference to She-Hulk being just as strong as the Hulk, so the writers were definitely attempting to build her up as one of Marvel’s most powerful characters.
Four and a half: Reed and Sue have another discussion about how they can be there for Franklin when they’re always going off on life-threatening adventures. What they don’t know is that while this story was happening, Franklin was in space for the epic finale of the Snark Wars storyline in Power Pack.
The Alicia problem: When viewing Kristoff, Alicia, who is really Lyja the Skrull in disguise, says she can’t imagine replacing one person’s identity with another. The irony writes itself.
Commercial break: Whatever happened to The A.I. Gang?
Trivia time: Iron Man is wearing the red and white “centurion” armor during this period. This is the armor he developed to defeat Obidiah Stane when Stane became the Iron Monger. I love that this era of Iron Man so heavily influenced the first two Iron Man movies.
The Marvel wiki puts a lot of FF guest appearances happening between the previous issues and this one. Reed helped Iron Man befriend a young mutant, Johnny teamed up with Captain America to fight the Yellow Claw, She-Hulk helped save the Hulk’s life, and, weirdest of all, Sue attended Iron Fist’s funeral — by herself! (Does she and Iron Fist have some history I don’t know about?)
Fantastic or frightful? This story is a total mess, full of big ideas that go nowhere. It’s a sadly unceremonious end for John Byrne, who brought so much talent and care to these characters, breathing new life into them and securing their place as Marvel’s top heroes. At least for a while.
The real question is what will become of the Fantastic Four moving forward. We’re into the late ‘80s now, on the verge of insanity of ‘90s comics. Most fans believe the FF lost its way during this time, but we do get heavy hitters like Walt Simonson and Chris Claremont taking a stab at our heroes. So I’m hopeful this blog will unearth some hidden gems in the months to come.
Next week: The all-star game.
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