Fantastic Friday: Panda (-monium) express

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #315, we’re still in this multi-issue arc in which the new FF — Ben, Johnny, Crystal, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel — are on an impromptu tour of some of the stranger, more forgotten areas of the Marvel Universe.

At the end of the last issue, the FF hopped on a boat on the underground River of Oblivion, which teleported them to the planet Arcturus, where they ran into a villain named Master Pandemonium. Confused? This issue begins with an extended flashback meant to explain what’s happening, but only makes this all more confusing. It begins with Morbius the Living Vampire, of all people, who also once encountered the underground cat people and fled into the river. He too was teleported to Arcturus where he met a collection of freak/outsider aliens. They’d been living under the harsh rule of the evil Caretakers. The Caretakers live on Earth, so Morbius returns to Earth to kill them, leaving behind a record of his experience. Then we re-flashback to Master Pandemonium, who also fled into the same river after a fight with the West Coast Avengers and the cat people. He teleported to Arcturus and found Morbius’ record. He is taken hostage by the freak aliens. Then there’s a re-re-flashback to Pandemonium’s origin. He’s a guy who lost an arm in a car accident, and made a deal with the devil-ish Mephisto to grow a new one. But Mephisto tricked him, gave him demon-summoning powers, and scattered five parts of his soul throughout the multiverse. If Pandemonium can recover all five pieces of his soul, he gets to be human again. He wonders if part of his soul might be found on Arcturus.

We finally cut back to the present, where the FF appear in the same jail cell as Pandemonium. Everybody fights! Pandemonium demonstrates his power by summons a bunch of demons from a star-shaped hole on his chest. Pandemonium and his monsters put up a good fight until Ben, with his now Hulk-level strength, only for the freak aliens to attack. There’s more fighting, until all the freaks abruptly fall to their knees and start worshipping Ben, apparently in awe of his strength.

Pandemonium withdraws his demons, and everyone compares notes. Pandemonium offers a truce, saying he and the FF should work together to find a way back to Earth. They travel out to a series of trenches in the planet’s wilderness. (Weren’t they just in jail? I guess the freaks let them go now that they love Ben.) Johnny flies around, investigating the trenches. This catches the attention of someone watching from a distance, whose identity we don’t yet see. Just as our heroes theorize that the trenches are ancient landing platforms for spaceships, a spaceship lands one, right in front of them. Out steps Comet Man, who is actually two men.

Okay, who is this? The Comet Men are space cops, in the Green Lantern/Nova Corps vein. The main character is Dr. Stephen Beckley of Earth, who became a Comet Man after almost being killed by his psycho half-brother. The other Comet Man is Max, an alien from the planet Fortisque who keeps trying and failing to speak in Earth lingo. Ben met Beckley in the Comet Man miniseries, and they’re pals.

The FF assume Comet Man can take them back to Earth, but Beckley refuses, suddenly becoming angry. He says he can’t go back to face his brother until his training is complete. They argue about this for a while, until Max says he’ll help. Max kicks a rock (?) and everyone is teleported to a snow-covered landscape, which Max says is Earth.

To be continued!

Clobberin’ time: Ben remarks that if could get home from Battleworld after the Secret Wars, then the team should have no problem getting home from Arcturus. This also has him reflecting how Sharon used to look just like Battleworld’s barbarian swordswoman Tariana.

Flame on: Johnny continues to show some renewed attraction to Crystal. He thinks about how her FF costume “really fits her.” I wish I could say he means this in the way that her courage and heroism makes worthy of the FF uniform, but no. The way it’s drawn, he’s just checking out her butt.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal uses her elemental powers to cancel a lot of Pandemonium’s demons. She uses water to fight fire-type demons and fire to fight water-types. She should play Pokemon.

Sharon is also confident in the team’s ability to get back to Earth, saying the FF survives on pure spirit as much as it ever deed on Reed Richard’s brain power. She continues to be in good spirits, saying she wanted to go on a grand FF adventure, and that’s what she’s getting — demon fights and all.

Commercial break: This book was the first appearance of Drizzt Do’Urden. All these years later, I still don’t know how pronounce the name Drizzt Do’Urden.

Trivia time: The Morbius storyline took place in Fear #20-23, which went much farther in exploring life on planet Arcturus, with a plot involving those underground cat people, some wizards, genetic engineering, and androids. Those issues never revealed how Morbius made it back to Earth, hence the continuity-fixing explanation in this one. (This week, I’m learning way more about underground cat people and planet Arcturus then I ever would’ve thought.)

I guess I should also talk about Comet Man. The miniseries was co-created and co-written by actors Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer. Many have suspected that this was a stealth movie pitch, which would’ve starred Mumy as Beckley and Ferrer as Max. The characters later returned for a second run in Marvel Comics Presents and had cameos in Peter David’s Captain Marvel and Civil War: Battle Damage Report.

Fantastic or frightful? Stories like these that attempt to “tie together” or “clean up” comic continuity rarely work for me. Too often writers are too caught up in continuity that they forget the basics of plot, character, etc. This issue, and this story arc, is a parade of “here’s this obscure thing from Marvel history” without doing anything with those obscure things.

Next week: So savage.


Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.


About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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