Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #316 continues our tour of the more bizarre aspects of Marvel. This time the new FF — Ben, Johnny, Crystal, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel — kinda/sorta visits the Savage Land.
To recap, the FF ended up in space, where they formed a temporary truce with demonic supervillain Master Pandemonium. They then ran into Comet Man, who is actually to guys the human Beckley and the alien Max, who teleported everyone back to Earth, in a frozen wasteland. This issue begins with Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) aboard a US Air Force plane flying toward the South Pole, as Master Pandemonium flies past them. The plane lands at a South Pole USAF base, where the FF are waiting. Johnny is delighted to see Alicia, hoping she’ll put thoughts of Crystal out of his mind.
There’s a quick roll call. Beckley and Max are here, as is Morbius the Living Vampire, who had been to the planet the FF just returned from, and has been called in as a consultant of sorts. Ka-Zar and Shanna are also here. Who are these two? They’re the Marvel Universe’s version of Tarzan and Jane, having jungle adventures in the Savage Land, a secret warm and tropical area of Antarctica where dinosaurs still exist. Except, there has been a recent disaster that destroyed the Savage Land, leaving them without a home.
This is the first time Alicia has been around Ben and Sharon since they transformed, so she asks to touch Ben’s face so she can visualize his new look. (She doesn’t even acknowledge Sharon.) This is played as a big dramatic moment, with Ben thinking of all the happy memories he once had with Alicia, and Crystal thinking about her former relationship with Johnny.
That night, Johnny and Alicia talk while he stands guard at the base. Johnny suspects that the seemingly random adventures of the last few issues might not be random, and the someone or something is pulling the team’s strings. They are interrupted by the sudden appearance of an army of ice men. Fighting! The ice men are no match for Johnny’s flame, Crystal’s elemental control over water, or Ben and Sharon’s strength, yet no matter how many our heroes destroy, the ice men keep coming. Johnny flies ahead and discovers the ice men originating from a tank-like machine out in the snow. He destroys it and captures the men inside.
The attackers are mad scientists from A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics). Ben then has all the characters sit down for what he calls a “conference,” and the rest of this issue is some of the most dense, impenetrable comic book reading I’ve come across in a long time. The gist of it that a variety of aliens visited Earth in ancient times, creating (all?) most of the “hidden continent” stuff in the Marvel Universe, including Atlantis, Lemuria, the Savage Land, and even the city of those underground cat people from a few issues back. There’s a lot of attention paid to massive underground “heaters” which allowed the Savage Land to thrive in the otherwise frigid Antarctica.
Everybody heads back into the snow to investigate the giant alien heater (I’m still not clear on why, exactly). The FF use their powers to dig deep into the ice, and then to tear open the surface of the machine. Then, to everyone’s surprise, there’s the name “Beyonder” inside the machine, like some kind of giant billboard. “No! Not again!” Ben says, no doubt echoing the thoughts of all the Marvel fans still disappointed with Secret Wars II.
To be continued!
Clobberin’ time: Filling the leadership role, Ben is not only the one who calls for the conference, but he’s the one who recounts all this cosmic “life began on Earth began thanks to aliens” stuff to the rest of the team, just as Reed might have done back in the day.
Flame on: Johnny stops and makes sure all the A.I.M. scientists evacuate their machine before he blows it up.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon tells Crystal to go ahead and call her “Sharon” in public, now that she no longer has need of a secret identity.
The Alicia problem: Lyja dwells on how she’s hardly seen Johnny since they were married, and how that’s expected when one marries an adventuring superhero. Then she thinks, “I wouldn’t be human if I weren’t glad he sent for me.” Make of that what you will.
Commercial break: Hey, Hollywood, where’s our Lane Mastodon movie?
Trivia time: How did the Savage Land get destroyed? It was the FF’s foe Terminus, who battled the West Coast Avengers there. The Savage Land would later be restored to its former glory when the god Garokk sacrificed his life to bring it back.
Speaking of the West Coast Avengers, that’s where Master Pandemonium went after taking off in this issue. He believed that Scarlet Witch’s twin sons contained two pieces of his missing soul, but this was all a trick played on him by Mephisto. It’s like Mephisto can’t be trusted or something…
Fantastic or frightful? Here’s the second issue in a row that brings up a bunch of Marvel obscurities and then tries to make them interconnected where they weren’t interconnected before. World-building continuity is meant to add flavor to a story, not to be the entire story.
Next week: I am (not) from beyond.
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