Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Writer-artist Walt Simonson really had a thing for time travel stories, because our heroes are time travelling it up yet again in issue #353.
Recap: Dr. Doom retook the Latverian throne and tricked the Fantastic Four into a time travel fight with him. This caught the attention of the Time Variance Authority, an otherworldly bureaucracy that monitors time travel, who put our heroes under arrest. Meanwhile, Ben has become the Thing again just as Sharon transformed from a Thing back into a human — like Gift of the Magi but with orange rock monsters.
The issue begins when Justice Peace, the TVA’s chief enforcer, delivers the FF to the TVA board. What follows is a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo with words like “time” and “temporal” thrown into the mix. The gist of it is that the TVA is putting the FF on trial for all their unauthorized time traveling, saying that their timeline should have been destroyed already if not for their meddling. Reed asks why the TVA has never gone after the Avengers, the X-Men, or Kang for similar offenses. The TVA places the FF in custody, saying further investigations are needed.
“Custody” for the TVA is a big white space where the FF float weightlessly. Reed admits he was just stalling for time. Reed and Sharon contact their guard and ask for a tour of the gigantic TVA facility. The guard agrees, after Sharon pretends (or not?) to flirt with him. On the tour, we meet the robot-like Time Police, and the Hall of Discontinued Realities, where unaccounted-for items from destroyed universes are kept.
The next stop is the Hall of Chronometry, the location of the endless sea of desks we’ve seen in the TVA’s previous appearances. There, Ben pretends to bump into a desk. While their guide chides him, Reed and Sue sneakily swipe some chips from inside the desk. Back in “custody” Sue turns invisible to trick the guards into thinking she’s escaped. This allows the FF to break out of their cell and fight all the Time Police. Ben and Johnny run around causing a lot of destruction while Reed and Sue stealthily research the TVA’s software tech.
Ben and Johnny reach a power generator room (called a “power substation” a few pages later) where the Time Police reveal they’ve taken Sharon hostage. Ben is not going to play ball, so the Time Cops sweeten the deal. They offer to change time so that the FF’s original spaceflight never actually happened, and Ben can re-live his entire life as a human. Johnny doesn’t buy it, but Ben stays quiet, contemplating taking the deal.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: When Reed is arguing with the TVA, he mentions the X-Men’s Days of Future Past event, calling it by that name. In that story, the X-Men fought the Brotherhood in Washington DC, so that would’ve made the news, but how does Reed know time travel was involved? This once again raises the question of whether the superhero teams ever compare notes.
Fade out: Sue uses her invisibility powers for theft in this issue, something that seems natural, but she rarely does — even when it’s in the name of stopping the bad guys.
Clobberin’ time: During the fight with the Time Cops, Ben references the 1991 Iraq war. The Marvel heroes haven’t been involved that much in Iraq. Iron Man and Wolverine have had covert missions there, and Spider-Man’s friend Flash Thompson served in Iraq. He was injured there, eventually leading to his becoming the new Venom.
Flame on: Johnny is the key to the escape plan, with the team needing him to blast through the door and take out as many Time Cops as possible so the others can have a chance to get out.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon flirting with the guard and then getting taken hostage seems out of character for her, but we’ll see next issue that this is all part of the plan.
Commercial break: Shots fired at the Ninja Turtles!
Trivia time: Look closely. The Hall of Discontinued Universes contains two familiar characters. One appears to be Alex Power of Power Pack after he was transformed into an alien. The Power Pack comic was cancelled before that storyline could be resolved. (Turns out the alien Alex was actually an Alex clone.) The other figure is Supergirl, who was written out of continuity in DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Supergirl later came back as the Matrix alien in the ‘90s, and then the original was finally reintroduced in the early 2000s.
Fantastic or frightful? The Time Variance Authority once again provides some amusing Douglas Adams-style comedy/satire, but other than that, the issue sets up the pieces to be knocked down next issue.
Next: It’s about time.
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