Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. You want alternate what-if timelines? Issue #303 has alternate what-if timelines.
We begin with Ben, moping around Four Freedoms Plaza, still dreary and bummed out about Johnny and Alicia’s recent wedding. He goes for a walk in the rain, where Thundra teleports right in front of him. Thundra, a former alternate member of the FF, reminds us that she’s from an alternate future where the women are literally at war with the men. Ben reminds us that she’s 7 feet tall and has superhuman strength. Thundra says a group of rebels named the Warriors of Machus have taken over a prison, holding the guards hostage. Thundra needs Ben’s help because the rebels also have an android which sends out “alpha waves,” incapacitating women but not men.
With the help of a high-tech “D-belt,” Ben and Thundra travel to her timeline. They teleport right into the middle of the prison and immediately fight the rebels, including a big bearded six-armed guy who puts up quite a fight for a few pages. (This guy is the android, it turns out.) After the fight, Ben discovers that Thundra has been named empress of her people. She then asks Ben to marry her, saying her respect for him has turned into something resembling love. Ben considers her offer, but finally says no, that his home is on Earth, not her world.
Ben then says that he wishes he could have lived his life differently, and Thundra says it is possible. She says her world’s scientists are able to send him back to just before the Secret War, where he can stay on Earth this time. After a bunch of sci-fi techno jargon, they do this, and Ben finds himself back in time. He jumps out of the Beyonder’s machine just before it teleports Reed and Johnny to Battleworld. With all of Earth’s greatest superheroes in space for the Secret War, Ben goes running back to Alicia.
Remembering that Ben and Alicia broke up just before the Secret War, Ben tells Alicia “scratch that,” and he asks her to marry him, right then and there. She says yes. (There is, obviously, no reference to Alicia being secretly replaced by Lyja the Skrull during this time.) From there, the timeline flashes forward to Reed and Johnny returning from the Secret War to get the big news, and no reaction from Johnny. This has Ben thinking, “I won!”
We flash forward again, this time to the wedding from issue #300, only this time Ben is marrying Alicia. He sees a look of sadness on Alicia’s face, and it dawns on him that this timeline is not the way history was meant to go. Ben bails on the wedding. Thundra reappears with a more tech jargon about how she can only return Ben back to the original timeline, and not hers. She does this, and Ben is back where the issue began.
Ben watches over Franklin while Franklin sleeps. Ben muses to himself that this is where he belongs. He says it’s up to him to solve his own problems and not run from them, even if part of him will always be in love with Alicia.
Unstable molecule/Fade out: Reed begins to say “About that invitation…” to Sue, and we never learn what the invitation is. Perhaps this is setting up the big shakeup next issue.
Clobberin’ time: Just before going back in time, Ben thinks to himself that yes, he does love Thundra as well. This is an emotionally confused time for ol’ Benjy.
Flame on: After Ben leaves the wedding, Johnny consoles Alicia with a big hug, suggesting that their romance might have still occurred in this timeline.
Fantastic fifth wheel: After her short membership in the FF, Thundra made a bunch of appearances in Marvel Two-in-One, where she and Hyperion (leader of the Squadron Supreme) had a partnership of sorts. She also had a brief involvement in the all-female super-powered wrestling group, the Grapplers. She returned to her home timeline in Marvel Two-in-One #67. She’ll next appear in Captain America #392 as part of a mass gathering of superhuman women, and then in West Coast Avengers #75, for a battle against Arkon.
She-Hulk appears as a guest at Ben’s wedding, with Ben commenting that even in the alternate timeline, she and Wyatt Wingfoot became a couple.
Four and a half: Franklin is shown sleeping with one teddy bear at the start of the issue, but a completely different teddy bear at the end. Oh no, Ben really did change the timeline!
The Alicia problem: Are we to assume that, in the alternate timeline, Lyja succeeded with her plot to replace Alicia and infiltrate the FF through Ben? If so, does that mean she never had her change of heart, which could also explain her look of sadness at the wedding?
Commercial break: Young Josh Brolin! Young Pamela Gidley! On videocassette!
Trivia time: Ben begins the issue hanging out in the trophy room in Four Freedoms Plaza. In the old Baxter Building, the trophy room was where the FF kept various oddities they collected on their travels. In this issue, the trophy room contains a glowing red rock, a model of the Fantasticar, puppets of the FF, and a newspaper headline reading “The FF go bad.” There’s much debate online as to what previous stories these items are referencing, with no definitive answers.
Fantastic or frightful? An interesting issue, even though we’ve been doing the Ben-is-heartbroken-about-Johnny-and-Alicia thing for several issues now, so it’s starting to feel awfully repetitive. It’s also nice to see Thundra again, even though she’s not given much to do. So, it’s a decent read, but inconsequential.
Next week: Quickly, now.
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.