Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Johnny has proposed to Alicia, and Ben has rejoined the team. Issue #299 deals with all the soap opera awkwardness that comes with this.
We begin with an old-school throwback to the Lee/Kirby days, where Ben and Johnny are running and fighting inside the FF’s new headquarters, as the excuse-for-the-characters-to-show-off-their-powers-for-a-few-pages thing. In a bad mood, Ben goes outside, where he’s pursued by reporters asking whether he’s officially rejoined the team, and what will become of She-Hulk if he does. Among the reporters is photographer Peter Parker.
The rest of the FF regroup, and Johnny reveals that he asked Ben to best man at Johnny’s upcoming wedding to Alicia. Also, today is the dedication ceremony for the FF’s new HQ, which I guess explains the reporters outside. She-Hulk follows Ben to a local bar, and Ben retells the story of how he and Alicia met. When Ben starts losing his temper and threatens to trash the place, She-Hulk offers to take him to a better, less sleazy bar elsewhere in town.
At the ceremony, Reed announces that the new Headquarters is to be named Four Freedoms Plaza. Peter Parker sees Johnny abruptly leave the ceremony, and follows him by changing into… the amazing Spider-Man! Spidey and Johnny have a heart to heart on a nearby rooftop, where Johnny tells him about the wedding. Johnny says he wants to find Ben and apologize about the whole “best man” thing. A lady hears this conversation through a window and calls the Daily Bugle’s tip line.
She-Hulk takes Ben to Al’s Bar, which is filled with construction workers at the end of their shifts. There are a lot of flashbacks as Ben reminisces about the Secret War, his break up with Alicia, his solo adventures with the super-powered wrestlers in Unlimited Class Wrestling, and his time spent with the Mole Man. (Ben’s ladyfriend from UCW, Sharon Ventura, who briefly went by the name Ms. Marvel, gets a mention during this. We’ll be seeing a lot of her in the near future.)
Ben starts losing his cool again, so She-Hulk suggests they take it outside. They start fighting in the construction site next door, with her egging him on. The construction workers all place bets on who they think will win. Ben sees the workers cheering for him on, and this perks him up, saying that a good workout was just what he needed, and this was She-Hulk’s plan all along. Johnny and Spider-Man show up, and Ben says he’ll be Johnny’s best man.
Unstable molecule: Reed is the one who names the new building Four Freedoms Plaza, saying the name represents “principles older and more cherished than the republic itself.” (I personally have never liked the name. It’s too hokey and lacks the realistic-sounding simplicity of “Baxter Building.”)
Fade out: Sue barely appears in this issue, catching a piece of falling equipment with an invisible force field cushion during the opening scene.
Clobberin’ time: Ben is still wearing the full FF uniform from issue #3, rather than his usual “just shorts” look.
Flame on: Johnny and Spider-Man had developed a strong friendship by this point, thanks to guest appearances in Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up. This issue was written by longtime Spidey writer Roger Stern, so it’s a given that their friendship would feature in Fantastic Four.
Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk is able to read Ben well enough to know that a good ol’ fashioned slugfest is what he needs to get him out of his depressed funk. She-Hulk also agrees to pay personally for the damages Ben does to the two bars.
Commercial break: Laser tag! I actually had some friends with this setup, and those things never worked unless you held the gun right up to the other person’s chest.
Trivia time: Spider-Man is wearing his classic red and blue costume on the cover, but his black costume inside the comic. At this time, he was running around wearing both versions of the costume, alternating between the two, in a trying-to-please-everybody move. Note that this was an ordinary cloth replica of the black costume, and not the alien symbiote.
Fantastic or frightful? A fun issue, even if it only serves to set up the wedding in the next one. Still, the low-stakes fight is amusing, and it’s always great to have some Human Torch/Spider-Man interaction.
Next week: It’s a nice day for a white wedding. It’s a nice day to… start again!!!
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