Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issues #351-352 offer cosmic weirdness, time travel fights, bewilderment drama, and experimental page layouts.
Issue #351 is a filler issue, in which we’re reunited with Kosmos, the godlike being who was created when the Beyonder and the Molecule Man merged into a single being. She’s on a tour of the universe hosted by fellow cosmic being Kubik. The two of them take the Fantastic Four out of the timestream, watch them escape from a maze, and then return the heroes back to where they were with no memory of what this happened. This was all to teach Kosmos about the courage and resilience of Earth’s heroes. Or something.
Issue #352 then picks up where #350 left off. Dr. Doom has retaken the Latverian throne, with his usurper now acting like his sidekick. Doom defeated the Fantastic Four, and offered Reed a challenge — a one-on-one fight between the two of them, outside of the timestream, between mere minutes. Meanwhile, Doom turned Sharon human again, and Ben transformed back into the Thing to come to her rescue.
How to read this comic: Issue #352 has two stories being told simultaneously. The main FF story is read linearly, like any comic would be. The Doom vs. Reed fight, meanwhile, is non-linear. Each panel in their part of the story has a time stamp, and readers have to read them in order of the time stamps, regardless of what page they’re on.
In the main story, Ben wakes up after being knocked out by Doom. He takes Sharon, who is still unconscious. He gets Sharon to safety, and then frees Johnny from the tank of water where Doom had trapped him. After a short fight with a robot, they then revive Sue, who had been knocked out with gas. Sharon wakes up, disoriented. She’s not able to understand how she’s changed, leading to a weird bit of business where Ben wears her FF uniform to convince her that her Thing form has disappeared.
If you’re having trouble following the puzzle-like Reed and Doom story, you’re probably good, because it’s mostly the two of them throwing punches at each other. Reed at one point dons a suit of armor he finds to give him an edge in the fight. Reed finally deenergizes the time sequencer devices that allow them exist outside of time, bringing them back to the present. Somehow, this gives Reed the advantage, as he beats the crap out of Dr. Doom.
At this point, a bunch of robots appear, courtesy of the Time Variance Authority, the otherworldly bureaucracy that for some reason monitors time travel throughout the multiverse. They want to put everyone under arrest for unauthorized time travel. Doom destroys the robots, but then is blasted to death (to death!) by Justice Peace, the red-white-and-blue clad chief cop of the Time Variance Authority. Justice Peace teleports himself and the FF out of there, so they can stand trial for their time traveling.
Then, a second Dr. Doom steps out of the shadows. Turns out Kristoff was the one fighting Reed this whole time, and was killed by Justice Peace. Doom then exposits that this was his plan from the start, to trap Reed into a time-travel caper, just so the Time Variance Authority could sweep in and remove the FF from the Earth… forever.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed says he was able to out-punch Dr. Doom because Doom “overlooked” Reed’s stretching ability. Perhaps this was hint that it was really Kristoff Reed was fighting.
Fade out: When Sue discovers that Ben has mutated into his spikey Thing form, she tells him, “I don’t think I’ve ever known anybody braver than you.”
Clobberin’ time: Ben said Dr. Doom’s robot hit him harder than he’s ever been hit, and that includes his fights against the Hulk.
Flame on: After rescuing Johnny, Ben and Johnny take a few panels to exchange some jokes. It’s a fun little character moment that gives the sense that escaping from Dr. Doom’s deathtraps is just another day at the office for these two.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon’s confused metal state harkens back to the PTSD storylines from when she first joined the team. She does, however, promise to love Ben no matter what he looks like.
Commercial break: Again, I dare somebody to call this number:
Trivia time: Look closely, although the time stamps begin at 1:00 a.m., one of Dr. Doom’s energy blasts gets a 12:30 a.m. The idea is that this beam went back in time to issue #350, where it freed Reed from his underground cell. This issue’s cover gets into the act, depicting Reed escaping, also with the 12:30 time stamp.
No, Kristoff isn’t really dead. He’ll return later… as one of the good guys!
Fantastic or frightful? The “puzzle-box” nature of this issue is amusing, but other than that, very little happens other than a lot of punching and Sharon being confused.
Next: Desk job.
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