Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Annual #21 is a crossover in the truest sense, in which the drama and cosmic adventure of the current story arc mixes and matches with all the drama and cosmic adventure of Marvel’s Evolutionary War event, which ran in all of that year’s annuals.
In Evolutionary War, the High Evolutionary, a mad scientist with a god complex, enacts a plan to purify all of humanity. This includes sending an army of armor-clad Eliminators to “purify” people by blowing them up. Before dealing with that, though, we catch up with the new FF — Ben, Johnny, Crystal, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel — who are still planning on entering the Negative Zone in search of godlike aliens called the Beyonders who aren’t (or are they?) related to the Beyonder from Secret Wars.
Before doing that, though, the team returns to headquarters for a breather. The FF’s mailman Willie Lumpkin is there, saying the FF has been flooded with fan mail, and that the new team is way more popular than the original team. (Yeah, I’m sure.) All four members of the team take a bath — separately, of course — and reflect on what’s happened. Ben and Sharon are totally in love at this point, with her commenting that men always used to pursue her for her beauty, but Ben loves her for the real her. Johnny, meanwhile, considers leaving the team rather than continually be tempted with Crystal around. Crystal doesn’t want to hurt Johnny and Alicia, but she’s nonetheless unapologetic about still having feelings for Johnny.
Crystal is reunited with her daughter Luna, who has been staying at FF headquarters with her nanny, Maya. Medusa and Black Bolt then appear via teleportation, demanding that Crystal rejoin the Inhumans on the moon. (For those just joining us, Crystal is Medusa’s younger sister, and a member of the Inhumans’ royal family.) Medusa says Crystal’s husband Quicksilver has changed his ways, and is now a good guy again. Crystal doesn’t buy it, arguing that Quicksilver recently tried to kill the FF and the Avengers on separate occasions. Medusa says Quicksilver was secretly being manipulated by Maximus the Mad, and he’s better now.
Crystal still refuses to leave, and the FF rally by her side. Black Bolt and Medusa are joined by fellow Inhumans Lockjaw, Karnak, and Gorgon (who, let’s never forget, once single-handedly defeated the entire FF). The FF do a good job of fighting the Inhumans, who aren’t used to this new team. After several pages of fighting, Black Bolt calls for a truce. Then another Inhuman contacts everyone and says Attilan (the Inhumans’ city on the moon) is under attack. The heroes set their differences aside and teleport to the moon to save the day.
Cut to the moon (anyone get that reference?) where the High Evolutionary wants to get his hands on the terrigen mists, the substance that gives the Inhumans their power. The Watcher appears for a dialogue with the High Evolutionary, but then the Watcher says he’s neither for or against the H.E.’s plan, insisting multiple times that he’s only there to watch.
The Eliminators attack Attilan, and Quicksilver leads the Inhumans in fighting back. It’s rare to see other Inhumans outside of the royal family, so these pages of the whole city rallying to fight give us some great looks at other Inhumans, making them look more like stock space alien types rather than stock superhero types. The FF join the battle, and the Eliminators are driven back. The High Evolutionary teleports away. Ben confronts the Watcher, who’s been viewing this from a distance the whole time, and asks where the H.E. has gone. The Watcher refuses to say, until Ben reminds him of all the times he’s helped Earth in the past. The Watcher is about to answer when a second Watcher appears. The two Watchers converse telepathically, and “our” Watcher goes back to his original “we only watch” stance.
Crystal tells the Inhumans that Quicksilver can’t be trusted, and that she’s staying with the FF. This sets the stage for Johnny to announce him leaving the FF in her place. Before that can happen, Black Bolt grabs Crystal and flies her out to the edges of the city, where there’s very little atmosphere. In this setting, Black Bolt is able to speak. He says one word, “Stay.” You’d think that’d be enough for this big dramatic moment, but then he brings the point home by writing the word “family” in the moon dust.
Upon returning, Crystal announces that she’ll be staying in Attilan, both for the good of her family, and for the good of the FF. Sharon gets the final word, saying “I’ve never seen a woman do anything braver — or sadder!”
Clobberin’ time: Ben in incapacitated when Lockjaw bites down on his arm. According to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Lockjaw’s jaws are in the stronger-than-strong 100-plus category. But, in his current spikey form, Ben is also a 100-plus character! The explanation is also in the Handbook, in a hard-to-find passage stating that in a conflict between an unstoppable force and an immovable object, the latter will win. Therefore, Lockjaw is able to trap Ben in his jaws.
Flame on: Black Bolt defeats Johnny by using that antenna thing on his forehead. The antenna is able to draw all of the fire out of Johnny’s body and absorb it. This is a very rare use of the antenna, which normally channels Black Bolt’s incredible power into a weaponized energy beam.
Fantastic fifth wheel: This annual contains a backup story about Crystal re-acclimating to life on the moon. Quicksilver wants them to be a couple again, but she gives him the ol’ “I’ll think about it.” We see Quicksilver secretly working with Dr. Doom, to help Doom re-take his kingdom back from the imposter Kristoff.
Sharon is given her due during the fights. She punches out Gorgon real good, and she and Ben throw around an Eliminator while making wacky baseball jokes.
Back when Medusa was a member of the FF, she was all into learning about Earth culture (remember her trip to the local library?), but in this issue she’s insistent on maintaining Inhuman traditions and not bothering with pesky humans.
Commercial break: Death Hawk!
Trivia time: How did the Evolutionary War end? After a lot of running around and messing with various Marvel heroes, the High Evolutionary placed a “purification bomb” in the undersea city of Lemuria. With the Avengers out of commission, a makeshift group of former Avengers — Captain America, Hulk, Beast, Yellowjacket, Falcon, and Jocasta — formed to stop the High Evolutionary. Hercules died putting a stop to the bomb. Herc and the High Evolutionary later both come back to life in a Thor story.
Fantastic or frightful? This one I really liked. The action scenes are great, really taking the time to show how the heroes’ various super power match up against each other, and then with each other. The Black Bolt/Crystal scene is also nicely done, making it feel like they’re genuinely family.
Next week: Beyond(er) Thunderdome.
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