Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #311, two of our heroes have just gone through a shocking transformation and, if you’ll pardon the expression, it won’t be pretty.
To recap: Ben and Sharon Ventura (the second Ms. Marvel) were exposed to cosmic rays during a space battle. He got transformed from a rocky form into a stronger spikey form, and she got transformed into a female Thing. At this point, the reader is thinking “How are they going to play this?” Then the first page is Sharon yelling “I want to die!” as she jumps off a cliff, and the reader thinks, “Ohh, that’s how they’re going to play this.” After crash-landing their spaceship in a jungle, Sharon spends the first few pages of this issue attempting suicide, only for it not to work because of her new super-strong form. It’s really, really disturbing. Ben tries to console her, saying he’s been through what she’s going through, but she says it’s different because he’s a man and she’s a woman. Along the way, Ben also comments on how much stronger he’s become, and there’s a short flashback retelling of the Fantastic Four’s origin story from Ben’s point of view.
In New York, Crystal is visited by Norman, the man she slept with in the Vision and Scarlet Witch miniseries. She tells him that she and Quicksilver are no longer married, so she and Norman can be a couple now. He rejects her, fearing that she’s back in a relationship with Johnny now. (He drove all the way from Jersey to tell her that?) In the Middle Eastern nation of Aqiria, Johnny investigates Ben and Sharon’s disappearance. The king and the U.S. ambassador, who were secretly working alongside the villain Fasaud, tell Johnny they have no idea where Ben and Sharon are.
Back in the jungle, Sharon has retreated into silence, while Ben tries to cheer her up. They’re abruptly attacked by a big red robot. The robot gets stronger the harder Ben hits it, and Sharon sees this as way to end her life, as the robot could get strong enough to kill her. Ben won’t have that, and gets between her and the robot. He hits it harder and harder, until it starts to leak energy.
The Black Panther leaps out of the jungle, revealing that this is Wakanda. He helps dissipate the robot’s energy. He explains that the robot is a Throb, which stands for “Trans-Human Robot.” With the Panther’s help, Ben contacts Crystal and catches her up to speed. Then, the Panther reveals that Wakanda has another high-profile visitor… Dr. Doom! Doom, who is coincidentally just standing there in the jungle, explains that he built the Throb in exchange for Black Panther’s help, so Doom can eventually take the Latverian throne back from Kristoff. Ben asks why the Black Panther would go along with this, and the Panther says, “Monarchs do share a special bond.”
Doom approaches Sharon, offering to cure her in exchange for her leaving the FF and joining him. She refuses, taking a swing at Doom. She says she made a promise to earn the honor of being a member of the FF, and despite what’s happened, she means to keep that promise. Ben thinks that maybe this means Sharon will be okay after all.
Clobberin’ time: Ben remarks that he’s as strong as the Hulk now, which I guess we’re to take as being official, even though this was not tested in the lab or anything.
Flame on: We’re told that Johnny made a “transatlantic flight” from New York to Aqiria, but we’re not told if it was using his powers or a Fantasticar or what.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Although fans often refer to this version of Sharon as “She-Thing,” this issue makes it a point to say her codename will still be Ms. Marvel. We’ll see whether that changes. This is the final appearance of Crystal’s fling Norman.
Commercial break: Captain Power! I never got a chance to see the TV/toys combo in action, but I’m guessing they didn’t work as well as did in the ads.
Trivia time: Roberta, the FF’s robot receptionist, makes a return in this issue, during the scene between Crystal and Norman. Roberta mentions that Reed rebuilt her after the original Baxter Building blew up. This kind of makes it seem like she remembers getting blown up, which is strange.
The Throb never appeared again, probably because the “leaking deadly energy” thing was a serious design flaw. Also probably because its name is “the Throb.”
Fantastic or frightful? This is some dreary, dismal reading. I get that the creators are trying real hard to be shocking and extreme, but it’s not there on the page. I fear that “interesting idea, poor execution” is going to be the ongoing theme for the rest of this run.
Next week: When mutants fall.
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