Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #361 promises new characters, important social issues, and holiday magic. Does it deliver?
It’s Christmas Eve, and Reed is putting a high-tech cast on Ben’s arm, after it was injured during the fight with the Dreadface symbiote last issue. After some signing-the-cast humor, Ben gets a message from Roberta the robot secretary in the Four Freedoms Plaza lobby. Ben has a visitor — Slugger Sokolowski, a childhood friend of Ben’s from his old neighborhood.
Ben and slugger visit a bar on Yancy Street where they reminisce about old times. Slugger then says he has a teenage son, Jimmy, who might be on drugs. Additionally, other kids around the neighborhood have been disappearing, and Slugger fears Jimmy will be next. Ben says he’ll look into it. Out in the streets, we meet Jimmy has he pursued by two mysterious figures in trenchcoats.
Back at HQ, there’s a lot of soap opera drama. Johnny finds a Christmas gift he had bought for Alicia, before his “Alicia” was revealed to be Lyja the Skrull in disguise. The real Alicia is not happy about having her identity stolen, and wants all of her clothes and furniture destroyed. Johnny runs into Franklin, who wants to decorate the building for the holidays, in the hopes that everyone will stop being so miserable.
Ben patrols Yancy Street, where he’s hit in the face with a snowball. He chases the culprit, rounds a corner, and comes across some kids who are the new Yancy Street Gang.
- Two-fisted Tommie Boyd, the leader
- Dictionary Dawson, the brains
- Little Larry Lee, the muscle
- Smooth Manny Marengues, the lockpick
- Lugwrench Lubowski, the mechanic/car thief
- Rhythm Ruiz, the drummer, who signals danger to the others via some kind of Morse code with his drumsticks. (I don’t quite get how this works.)
Ben asks about Jimmy, and the kids say they saw him being abducted. Ben and the kids follow Jimmy’s trail to an abandoned warehouse. (There’s always an abandoned warehouse in the Marvel Universe.) Once inside, however, they find it full of high-tech science equipment. They’re attacked by the men in trenchcoats, who are revealed to be robots. Ben and the kids (mostly Ben) defeat the ‘bots.
Ben is then hit from an energy bolt. He turns and finds Dr. Doom. This is Doom’s secret lab, but Doom insists it’s not a drug lab. On the contrary. Doom says that he’s not going to rule the world if the world has a drug problem, so he started this lab to eradicate the city’s drugs.
Doom and Ben fight, with Doom slowing down Ben by unleashing the full power of his glove blasters. Doom sees that Ben’s arm is injured and decides not to finish Ben off, because that would be a hollow victory. Doom says he’ll only kill Ben if Ben is at full strength.
After Doom walks off, the Yancy kids show up with Jimmy, whom Doom was experimenting on, apparently to find a cure for drug addiction. Doom sets off some explosives in the lab as a failsafe, but Ben and the kids escape just in time. Jimmy is reunited with his dad, and the Yancy kids make nice with Ben while also sticking a “kick me” sign on his back.
At headquarters, Johnny gives Alicia the gift from earlier, saying she can use it to start her new life. Then there’s a whole page of sitcom shtick where Ben is all grumpy until the others cheer him up and get him to say “Merry Christmas.”
Unstable molecule: Reed says Ben’s cast is made a new concrete foam that Reed just invented.
Fade out: Sue offers to buy Alicia a whole new wardrobe. No word on whether Alicia took the deal.
Clobberin’ time: Because Ben’s arm is injured, it’s suggested that he’s not fighting at full strength, which is why Doom’s glove blasters can take Ben out.
Flame on: Johnny’s gift for his wife was a new pant-suit. Make of that what you will.
Four and a half: Franklin has a new all-red “4 1/2” sweatshirt. Also, this month Marvel published the Power Pack Holiday Special, which wrapped up the unresolved the plotlines for Power Pack, but Franklin didn’t appear.
Commercial break: The world of Earth’s dark future:
Trivia time: This version of the Yancy Street Gang only appeared twice after this. The first was in the Justice: Four All miniseries, where they were falsely accused of murder. The second was in Thunderstrike, where they fought a malfunctioning Doombot.
Fantastic or Frightful? I really like the new Yancy Street kids, and it’s too bad they didn’t get any more adventures. They’d be a fun bunch for the Runaways to team up with. On the other hand, Dr. Doom is written very poorly and inconsistently. All the Christmas stuff and the tacked-on anti-drug message mean that the bad outweighs the good this time.
Next: Going wild.
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