Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The great Walt Simonson takes over both writing and art in issue #337, and he swings for the fences with an extra-length 30-page issue featuring big guest stars and time travel craziness.
Can we talk about Walt Simonson? He got his start at Marvel in the ‘70s, working a number of titles, notably Star Wars. He gained huge popularity during his now-historic run on Thor, where his storytelling style was defined, with big action, eye-popping alien landscapes, and quirky humor. (Anybody remember the Thor frog?) He then had a nearly as successful run on X-Factor, further solidifying himself as one of Marvel’s best. He was the writer on Avengers during the short time in which Reed and Sue were on the team. He allegedly had a bunch of scripts written with them on the team before Marvel editorial went in a different direction. Now given the reigns of Fantastic Four, Simonson took his Avengers scripts and rewrote them for the FF.
We begin with the intruder alarm going off inside Four Freedoms Plaza in the middle of the night, and our heroes investigate. The reach a dead end, until Reed opens a secret door none of the others knew about. Inside is a gigantic chamber with a huge machine it (it’s about the size of two-story house, if were to guess). Reed announces there is a volume anomaly, and he has Sue block part of the wall with a force field. The wall breaks apart with this odd pattern behind it.
Ben deduces that the anomaly is a sort of bomb. Reed finds a fragment of the bomb, and agrees. He runs a test on it, saying the bomb has to do with a “time bubble” somehow located inside of a renegade Celestial alien. The bubble contains 15 years that cannot be time-traveled into. Reed further explains that this hidden room, which technically should lead to outside the building, is a another space-time anomaly created using the Radical Cube, which you’ll remember as the shrinking device from back in issue #51. Reed tries time-traveling an object into the future, but he can’t. From this he deduces that something happening in the future is endangering the present. He says the FF must travel 35 years into the future to stop whatever’s happening.
Later, while working in the lab late one night, Red falls asleep at his desk and has a dream about a sexy blue-skinned woman seducing him. Ben and Sharon pay a visit to the Avengers temporary HQ, located in a hidden bunker underneath a diner (!). They ask the Avengers for help in their upcoming time travel journey. Thor says he and a friend will help out. Captain America and Hank Pym are standing right there, but don’t say anything. Back in Reed’s lab, Johnny also falls asleep at a desk, and dreams about the same sexy blue woman.
Thor shows up with Iron Man. This is treated as a surprise reveal, except it was spoiled on the cover. Inside Reed’s lab, he’s constructed a new craft, the Rosebud II, which Iron Man describes as a “time sled.” Johnny gives a kiss goodbye to Alicia (who is really Lyja the Skrull in disguise) and he briefly hallucinates the blue woman in her place.
Everyone boards the time sled, and we’re off for several pages of time travel craziness. The time sled enters a space of infinite possibilities, where all unrealized futures exist simultaneously. The sled is also flying alongside hundreds of identical sleds, all from their own timelines running alongside the FF’s timeline. Reed regains control of the sled, and it pulls ahead of all the other timelines. Reed announces that there is a vortex ahead, but instead the sled crashes against a giant space wall in a huge explosion.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: By my count, this is the third time we’ve seen a hidden room inside Four Freedoms Plaza that only Reed knows about. This is odd, but it does finally give this headquarters some identity of its own. We’ll always wonder just how many other hidden rooms are in there.
Fade out: Sue is back to short hair in this issue, though there doesn’t seem to be any fan outrage over this one, as opposed to times she’s changed her hair in the past. I guess everyone’s just taking it in stride along with the new art style.
Clobberin’ time: Iron Man says he doesn’t recognize Ben now that Ben is human again. Except that they fought alongside each other during Atlantis Attacks. Yeah, Ben was wearing his Thing-shaped exoskeleton, but still.
Flame on: While Reed resists the advances of the mystery woman, but Johnny appears much more tempted by her. Is this the writer’s way of not approving his and Alicia’s marriage, or is this just because he’s the young hothead?
Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon shares a lot of the time travel technobabble with Reed, in the ongoing attempt to portray her as a science whiz along with her being the team’s muscle.
Four and a half: There’s a scene where Sue drops off Franklin to stay with the Power family (of Power Pack fame) while the FF is away. Alex and Jack Power have cameos, and this sets up a weird Power Pack versus Galactus story in their comic.
The Alicia problem: I wouldn’t read too much into Lyja “transforming” into the mystery woman, other than it being a hallucination. Even if some Skrulls have empathic abilities, able to transform into what others are thinking of, Lyja’s training as a super-spy would prevent her from losing control in front of Johnny, even if just for a second.
Commercial break: Once again, I dare somebody to call this number:
Trivia time: The Power family’s address is shown, at West 71st Street on the Upper West Side. Pretty nice digs considering that dad Jim Power’s job is merely “inventor.”
And, yes, there’s a sled named Rosebud. Do I really need to tell you what this is a reference to?
Fantastic or frightful? Walt Simonson allegedly wanted to bring a hardcore science fiction feel to Fantastic Four, and that’s just what he does with an issue full of far-out reality-bending. It also has a lot of fun character moments, and of course the art is great.
Next week: Doc, you disintegrated Einstein!
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.
I’ve been going through a re-read of Fantastic Four myself, so this series is fun to read. When this issue came out, I convinced my parents to let me call that Castle Mammon phone number, on the condition that I pay for the call out of my allowance. I learned a valuable lesson that day about why it’s not a good idea to throw money away.