Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The Thing has officially rejoined the team, but the issues that originally drove him away are still there in issue #297.
We begin on an alien planet, where the ruthless warlord Umbra is plotting to defeat a rival army, run by his brother Jaagur. Umbra has a high-tech weapon called the syphon built into his armor. With him properly introduced with catch up with the FF and Alicia, who are staying at a military base in the South Pacific following the fight with the Mole Man in the previous issue. She-Hulk, Wyatt, and Franklin arrive to be reunited with the team. Ben is there, but he’s keeping his face covered. Reed explains that recent events have made him more upset about his appearance than he’s ever been. He dons a new uniform with a big metal helmet covering his whole head.
Reed further explains that he’s working with the government, investigating a mysterious syphon out in space, causing mass disruptions in a sun. She-Hulk says she’s more concerned about Ben, but she’ll go along with whatever Reed needs her to do. Reed is inventing a counter-phase beam which can disrupt the syphon. They need to hurry, he says, because if the syphon enters Earth’s atmosphere, it could mean the end to life on Earth.
Johnny meets Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) at a nearby beach. He says the mission is being rushed, with equipment and a whole spaceship thrown together at the last minute. He says they might not make it back. But, if they do… he asks her to marry him! And she says yes! It should be the big happy moment, but then we see Ben is hiding behind a nearby rock, eavesdropping and feeling miserable about himself.
The ship takes off and reaches outer space. Ben, Johnny, and She-Hulk don space suits and float outside the ship to construct the phase cannon. Reed says the alien sun’s power is depleting more rapidly. We cut to Umbra’s planet, where Jaagur’s forces have launched their attack. Jaguar, wearing high-tech battle armor, fights his way through Umrba’s soldiers and confronts Umbra. Jaguar says it’s time for their final battle, but we don’t see that, instead cutting back to the FF.
Ben sees how well She-Hulk works alongside Reed and Johnny, and he’s decided he’s had enough. He fires his spacesuit’s rocket jet and floats off into the vacuum of space, saying he doesn’t want to be rescued. Johnny tries to talk sense into him, burning his rocket so he can’t go father. Johnny’s flame then starts to burn out, so Reed and Sue rescue them. Reed fires the phase cannon. On the alien world, the phase cannon causes the syphon to go haywire, sucking Umbra and Jaguar into an infinity vortex (science!).
Back aboard the ship, a still-depressed Ben takes the controls, saying the ship is damaged and they might not make it back to Earth. Then we see a creature appear. Umbra and Jaguar have fused into a single being (Just like Stevonnie!) and is headed toward Earth, furiously angry.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: We’re told that the new supersonic jet Reed invented can fly from New York to the South Pacific in mere minutes. You can bet I’ll be reading future issues carefully, looking for an explanation why this hasn’t changed the entire aviation industry.
Fade out: It seems as if not much time has passed between the last issue and this one, but Sue’s long hair is back. I guess somebody at Marvel editorial didn’t like the bowl cut.
Clobberin’ time: Ben’s face is either hidden or partially obscured throughout this entire issue, which I believe is to represent his suicidal state of mind.
Flame on: While in space, Johnny wears an “atmo-web suit” which allows his flames to burn in the vacuum of space. This is limiting, though, as he’s powers short out quicker than normal in space.
Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk refers to one of the military men as “Steve Canyon” referencing a long-running newspaper comic strip about a heroic Air Force pilot.
Four and a half: Franklin is frightened by Ben’s appearance, after having not seen Ben in so long. This only heightens Ben’s depression.
The Alicia problem: Lyja is quick to accept Johnny’s marriage proposal. She’s gotten to know Johnny well enough to know when he’s about to talk seriously.
Commercial break: One of my greatest regrets in life is that I never got around to trying chocolate-flavored Bonkers. Do I dare hope that Nabisco will bring them back someday?
Trivia time: Ben’s new outfit is based on the one he wore briefly way, way back in issue #3. Similarly, Johnny’s atmo-web suit is based on one he wore in way back in issue #13.
Fantastic or frightful? Here we find Ben at his lowest point — or, at least, one of his lowest points. That makes this issue a bummer, but knowing where the series is heading, with him about to become the new team leader, it tracks for his overall character progression. So, I suppose this issue only works when viewed as part of a larger whole.
Next week: Blood brothers.
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