Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Getting used to the “new” Fantastic Four? Too bad, because issue #236 hits the reset button.
After 20 or so issues of the “new” Fantastic Four, Reed and Sue are back, and we’re abruptly getting the classic team back together with little fanfare. Writer Steve Englehart alleges that readers loved his bold new direction. He further alleges that Marvel editorial re-wrote his scripts to the point where almost nothing of his original work remained. Marvel editorial allegedly cited low sales, and readers’ fondness for the original four. I’m using “allegedly” a lot because we’ll probably never know what really happened. What we do know is that for the remainder of his run on Fantastic Four Englehart’s writing credit is replaced with the pseudonym “John Harkness.”
We begin with Reed and Sue out for a walk, with Reed admitting he isn’t happy. Despite their recent short-lived membership in the Avengers, Reed says his mind isn’t “active,” and that he wants to stay involved and engaged. Sue reminds him that he promised he wouldn’t interfere with Ben’s leadership in the new FF team. He says he won’t and that he’ll just pay the FF a friendly visit instead.
Inside FF headquarters, Reed is attacked by all the automatic defenses, the same ones he invented. He switches the defenses off, and is reunited with Ben, Johnny, and Sharon. Note that Johnny’s flame is still burning out of control since the Inferno event. Reed knows his machines need adjustments, but he doesn’t want to say so in front of Ben. Reed then says he’ll look into Johnny’s condition, all the while reassuring Ben that he’s not there to get in Ben’s way.
Cut to the FF’s old enemy the Wizard, who is spying on them from inside his new hideout, a “nondescript warehouse” in NYC. We learn the Wizard has assembled a brand-new Frightful Four, made up of him, Klaw, Titania, and Hydro-Man. Titania is a super-strong brawler, Hydro-Man is a bank-robbing thug who can turn himself into water and back, and Klaw is the master of sound, who recently regained his sanity after losing it during the first Secret War. The Wizard says now that Reed is back, it’s time for the new Frightful Four to strike.
At FF headquarters, Sue and Franklin arrive, and there are hugs all around as the family is reunited. While Reed works in the lab on Johnny’s cure, Sue and Ben have a heart-to-heart. She too says Reed isn’t there to take leadership away from Ben. Reed and Sharon have a heart-to-heart, with Reed saying how impressed he is with her.
Reed finishes a device to cure Johnny, saying part of it comes from what he learned in his recent magic-based adventure with the Silver Surfer (in Silver Surfer #15-17). Johnny is hooked up to the machine, and says he feels a freezing sensation as all the excess flame is being drawn out of him. Just as the procedure reaches a crucial point, the Frightful Four attack. (The Wizard used a computer virus to help his team gain entry.)
Everybody fights, with Reed warning them the whole time not to interrupt Johnny’s procedure. The two teams seem evenly matched, until Klaw and Titania team up against Ben, throwing him into the machine curing Johnny. The machine falls apart, and in the wreckage we see that Johnny is cured and Ben is… human again!
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed makes a big deal of how he owns a personal computer now, hooking it up to the machines in his lab. He says it’s remarkable that there’s one in every home now.
Fade out: Sue’s FF uniform is missing the “4” symbol in the chest, with just a plain white circle in its place. Not sure what we’re supposed to make of that.
Clobberin’ time: Ben says he and Titania are evenly matched, except that he has a lifetime of fighting experience she doesn’t have. (According to The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Titania can lift or press 85 tons, while Ben in his spikey form can lift or press more than 100 tons.)
Flame on: Johnny is at first hesitant to accept Reed’s help, because Reed never cured Ben. It’s not until Reed says the machine is partially based on magic that Johnny comes around, because the Inferno magic is what caused his problems to begin with.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon approaches Reed on whether she is able to turn back into a human. Reed doesn’t directly answer, instead saying he’d heard she didn’t want to be human anymore.
Four and a half: Franklin says he’s going by “Frank” from now. We’ll how long that lasts.
The Alicia problem: Alicia, who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise, appears briefly, saying she’s concerned for Johnny. When the fight begins, if you look closely you can see her in the background leading Franklin to safety. That’s Lyja’s spy training in action, no doubt.
Commercial break: I dare somebody to call this number:
Trivia time: After the Secret Wars, Titania was in a relationship with Absorbing Man for quite a while. After a recent Thor story, she believes Absorbing Man is dead. She doesn’t mention him in this issue.
This is the first time Hydro-Man appeared outside of a Spider-Man comic. When we last saw him, Spidey mixed him with some cement. No word on how he got out of that, though we can probably assume the Wizard found him and helped him out.
Fantastic or frightful? Editorial meddling or not, this issue feels like a step in the right direction. It’s not just that Reed and Sue are back, it’s that the team genuinely comes across as a family again.
Next issue: Human again.
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