Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Writer-artist Walt Simonson hits the ground running with a time-travel epic continuing in issue #338.
The FF have teamed up with Thor and Iron Man to travel into the future, where some sort of unknown catastrophe is endangering the present. At the end of the last issue, it appears they crashed aboard their time sled, but instead they penetrated inside the time bubble surrounding this unknown future event. What the heroes don’t know is that they are being followed by two mysterious figures, one of whom is the sexy blue-skinned lady who has been appearing in Reed and Johnny’s dreams.
The heroes arrive in future New York, where massive skyscrapers make the Empire State Building look all tiny. All the people and their flying cars appear frozen in place, due to “time dilation.” Reed’s scanner thingy picks up two anomalies. The first is a big one way out in space, and the other smaller one is heading straight for them. This turns out to be Death’s Head, a robotic “freelance peacekeeper,” also known for time traveling. (Death’s Head is a Marvel UK character, making this his first official appearance in the regular Marvel Universe. More on his history below.)
There’s a brief superhero misunderstanding fight (you know the kind) before Death’s Head and the heroes decide to work together. D.H. says he’s been hired by the Time Variance Authority to investigate the time bubble, and Reed says he’s never heard of the T.V.A. Next, our heroes run into Kang the Conqueror, who says he’s there in search of a weapon. Iron Man defeats Kang, who is then unmasked and revealed to be an alien Kang from another timeline.
With the smaller time anomaly solved (sort of) it’s time to investigate the big one. Thor uses his hammer to summon a vortex that teleports everyone into deep space. (I would ask since when Thor is able to do this, but few people know Thor better than Walt Simonson, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.) In space, the FF’s time sled approaches a huge Death Star-like construct, but much, much bigger. Reed says it’s the size of a galaxy (!) and its gravity is drawing the entire universe into it (!!).
The FF pilot the time sled into the construct where they fight more Kangs, each one from different parts of Kang’s personal time stream. There’s a big fight. Johnny is uncharistically violent during the battle, trying to murder a Kang. Death’s Head is able to blast through Kang’s force field where Thor’s hammer could not (what?) only for the last remaining Kang to get sucked into a black hole at the center of the construct. Johnny, continuing to act crazy, flies after him. The FF then spot Galactus, also grown to astronomical size, controlling the construct. He’s using the black hole not just to devour planets this time, but to devour the entire universe! What’s worse, the superheroes are caught in the black hole’s gravity, and it’s pulling them in.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed said the time sled is able to withstand the gravity of the construct thanks to its “Heisenberg neutralizers.” There you go.
Fade out: Sue does almost nothing in this issue, pointing out when Iron Man shoulder gets hurt in the fight, and watching Johnny through binoculars.
Clobberin’ time: The creators are doing a pretty good job of keeping Ben a part of the action even though he’s human again. What no one can decide is what he should wear. After several attempts at a “civilian” FF uniform, Ben is wearing in this story a trenchcoat and fedora, like an old-timey P.I.
Flame on: It’s not stated that Johnny’s newfound murderous impulses are a result of the blue-skinned woman manipulating him, though I’m pretty sure that’s where this is going.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Like Sue, Sharon says and does almost nothing in this issue. I guess that’s the result of this being a rewrite of an unused Avengers script.
Commercial break: Will you two just kiss already?
Trivia time: Yes, Death’s Head was a creation of Marvel UK, which had a habit of repackaging Marvel comics for European readers, often in odd ways. This included creating a bunch of original characters, most of whom were later added to the Marvel Universe proper. This gets further confusing in regards to Death’s Head, who was created for Marvel UK’s re-write of Transformers. To ensure that Marvel and not Hasbro had ownership of the character, Marvel UK quickly published a one-page strip titled High Noon Tex to introduce the character prior to his Transformers appearance. The character was later re-introduced as Death’s Head II in his own series in the mid-1990s, which was a big (if short-lived) success for Marvel.
Fantastic or frightful? Not a lot happens in this one, as it’s mostly here just to set up bigger things in issues to come. Still, Simonson’s artwork is great, and the ambition of the story makes it exciting.
Next week: Are you not entertained?
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