Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. This era of the series is turning out not to be as weird and quirky as I remembered. Issue #322 finds our heroes caught up in an Inferno.
We begin in space, where supervillain Graviton is floating around on an asteroid. Graviton is a man who controls the power of gravity. He was once an evil scientist, but now believes himself to be a god. He recently fought the West Coast Avengers, who defeated him by flinging him into space. He’s traveling back to Earth to get his revenge, when he sees strange gravitonic anomalies in and around New York, so he investigates.
In NYC, the FF are currently the Fantastic Three — Ben, Johnny, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel. They’re out on the street, where inanimate objects are randomly coming to life. It’s more of an amusing annoyance than a crisis. One guy gets his hand stuck inside a mailbox’s “mouth,” bicycles are riding themselves, et cetera. (What this issue doesn’t say, but what readers are already expected to know, is that all these weird happenings are due to Inferno, an epic X-Men crossover, in which the mutants were fighting to keep demons from invading the Earth, among other things. All the weirdness happening in New York is fallout from those pesky demons.)
The FF decide that going “on patrol” is the best way to deal with all this craziness. As they do so, Ben and Sharon have a heart-to-heart. We see that Sharon has somehow mutated from her lumpy Thing form into a rocky Thing form. Ben reminds her that his mutations were partially based on his own psychological hang-ups. She agrees, saying her own psychological issues have her building a hard shell around herself to protect her from harm. Ben further states that he can’t turn back into a human because of his psychological block, but Sharon has no such block, so she might be able to turn human again.
Johnny, meanwhile, picks up Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) and takes her to FF headquarters, where she’ll be safer. Along the way, they discuss the possibility of moving back into HQ and living there full time. They are secretly being spied on by Aron the Watcher, who recently collected cell samples of Ben and Sharon, and now says he needs Johnny’s cells to enact his evil plan.
Graviton shows up in NYC, fights a couple of demons that are running around, and then boldly proclaims himself to be the “master” of the whole city. Ben and Sharon step in, and the rest of the issue is one big fight. Using gravitational waves, Graviton is able to throw the heroes around telekinetically, and then increase their gravity, forcing them into the ground. Johnny joins the fight, but Graviton snuffs out Johnny’s flame by gravity-sucking the oxygen out of the air around him.
Graviton buries the three FFers deep underground. Johnny says he can burn his way out, but can’t so without also burning Ben and Sharon. Ben and Sharon say they’ll willingly endure the pain. Johnny escapes, and this time he’s able to fight Graviton. Johnny explains that while suns produce great gravity, they also produce great heat, therefore he and Graviton are equals. (Any scientists care to weigh in on this one?) Johnny does the same move that Graviton did on him, by using his heat to suck all the oxygen away from Graviton, weakening him long enough for Ben to punch him out.
Cut back to Aron the Watcher who has of course been watching all this. He comments that Graviton might have been the only one able to stop demons from invading New York. Back with our heroes, Johnny is about to flame off, only to discover he can’t. He is finally able to, after much concentration and effort, wondering if this is a bad sign.
Unstable molecule/Fade out: It was at this time that Reed and Sue became full-time members of the Avengers, in Avengers #300, alongside Captain America, Thor, and Gilgamesh the Forgotten One. Except that there was change in editorial and creative teams right after that, restructuring the team again, making Reed and Sue’s time as Avengers last only a few short issues.
Clobberin’ time: Ben’s nickname for Graviton is “Gravy,” which I find hilarious.
Flame on: Johnny says his powers don’t allow him to change the temperature during the NYC heat wave. But we have seen him draw flames away from the whole city during a crisis before. I guess his powers a different for open flame as opposed to just heat.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon says part of her issues come from her father, who always wanted a son and who taught her to be the toughest kid in school, male or female.
The Alicia problem: Lyja says she keeps a suitcase packed and ready to go for those times when all of NYC faces a superhero-related crisis. Could she also be keeping this suitcase ready for a quick exit in case she’s discovered as a Skrull?
Commercial break: Quick shots!
Trivia time: Notice that we don’t see what happens to Graviton after Ben punches him out. Graviton doesn’t show up again until the Acts of Vengeance crossover, in which the Kingpin hires him to kill Spider-Man. There’s no word on how he survived Inferno or what he was doing in the meantime.
Fantastic or frightful? When West Coast Avengers debuted, Graviton was set up as one of the baddest of bad guys, but in this issue, he’s been demoted to random villain-of-the-month. That, plus the fact that Inferno is only starting and hasn’t yet gotten really crazy, make this one forgettable. Joe Sinnott’s inks give the art a fun retro-‘60s look, so I guess that’s nice.
Next week: “Mantis, look out!”
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