Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. If we’re talking about Marvel in the ‘90s, then we’re talking about symbiotes. They’re everywhere, and they’re in issue #360.
Recap: After rescuing Alicia from Skrulls and being stranded in space, the FF battled an alien named Devos, and took over his ship, allowing them to plot a course back home. Unbeknownst to them, a mysterious lifeform in the shape a small black cube is also on board. The issue begins as the ship has already crashed on a deserted South Seas island. The others give Ben, their pilot, some grief for crashing the ship, but he says the ship wasn’t designed for planetary landings, and he chose the island to prevent casualties and property damage.
Johnny flies ahead to scout out the island. He finds a circus airplane (!) that has also crashed. The pilot is dead, and the cargo of exotic animals has escaped and run loose on the island. This is reinforced when the FF encounters a cheetah, but one that hisses like a snake instead of growling or roaring like big cats are supposed to.
Reed finds a shuttlecraft aboard Devos’ ship that can take them back to New York, but it has a weight limit, which means Ben has to stay behind, and the others will come back for him. Alicia wants to stay with Ben, but the rest of the team vetoes that idea, with everyone still uncomfortable about how the last few years, when Lyja the Skrull was impersonating her. Johnny agrees to stay behind on the island with Ben.
Out in the jungle, we see that black cube has expanded into an ink-like or oil slick-like lifeform, where it sneaks up on a gorilla. Spider-Man fans will immediately recognize the alien as a symbiote, even though it isn’t identified as such in this issue. The symbiote aliens are the black goopy stuff that gave us popular villains such as Venom and Carnage. Also, the cover calls this symbiote Dreadface, but it’s never called that in the actual comic. Anyway, Dreadface does the Venom thing with the gorilla, turning it into a symbiote gorilla.
Back in New York, Alicia learns she no longer has an apartment to go home to, since Lyja and Johnny lived at FF headquarters. On the island, Ben and Johnny have a heart-to-heart talk about Alicia, and their confusion over what’s happened. Dreadface attacks, with strength nearly as equal as Ben’s. When Ben punches the gorilla, the symbiote transfers from the gorilla onto Ben, starting to take over his mind.
Johnny and Ben/Dreadface fight for a while. Johnny uses a concentrated burst of his super-hot nova flame to separate the symbiote from Ben. As seen in Spider-Man comics, symbiotes do not like fire. When Johnny flames off, however, Dreadface makes its move and possesses Johnny, now controlling the fire instead of running from it.
Dreadface speaks, saying that his mission is to possess the greatest warriors on each planet, forcing them to fight and destroy one another. (This also nicely explains why Dreadface was on Devos’ ship, since Devos had a similar motivation.) Ben can’t punch Dreadface with injuring Johnny, so Ben is on the run as Dreadface chases him. (Ben has no qualms about punching the gorilla, though.)
Dreadface chases Ben back to Devos’ crashed ship. Ben punches a hole in the ship, exposing the fuel. When Dreadface attacks with Johnny’s fire power, the whole island goes up in a huge explosion. Johnny emerges from the fire, back to normal. He says the alien was incinerated in the blast. Reed arrives in the FF’s pogo plane to pick to the two and sees the island in flames (are all the circus animals also dead?) and asks what happened. Ben and Johnny joke that it was “just a little male bonding.”
Unstable molecule: Reed’s science genius also extends to exotic wildlife, as he’s able to determine on site that the cheetah is a rare breed.
Fade out: Sue mentions wanting to take a bubble bath as soon as she gets home. (She doesn’t do much in this issue.)
Clobberin’ time: This issue not only remembers that Ben is a skilled pilot, but it also references his experience as a wrestler — both before he became the Thing, and also his time spent with the goofy Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation.
Flame on: Johnny’s heart-to-heart with Ben isn’t anything that hasn’t already been said. Neither of them can look at Alicia without thinking of her as Johnny’s dead wife.
Four and a half: There’s another line of dialogue about Franklin saying at Avengers Mansion while the team is away from home.
Commercial break: Bartmania!
Trivia time: While this issue does not call Dreadface a symbiote, the Marvel Wiki identifies it as one. Marvel went symbiote-happy for a while there, constantly introducing new ones. In addition to Venom and Carnage, other symbiotes include Toxin, Hybrid, Scorn, Malus, Mania, Scream, Lasher, Phage, Agony, Riot, Payback, Scorn, Marcus, Zzzxx (not to be confused with the energy being Zzzax), and Anti-Venom. The symbiotes originated from the planet Klyntar, where they were originally created for altruistic purposes, in the hopes they could cure any illness.
Fantastic or frightful? The Ben vs. Johnny fight a lot of fun, with Ben having to think his way out of it instead of using his strength. Other than that, though, very little of consequence happens.
Next: Yancy boys.
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