Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Annual #25 is part three of the four-part Citizen Kang, one of Marvel’s most forgettable crossovers with some spectacularly bad art.
Before going any further, we just have to talk about this artwork. Image Comics were the hottest thing around at the time, thanks to art by cool dudes like Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Eric Larsen, and the always-controversial Rob Liefeld. The art in this annual is an all-too-blatant attempt to mimic Liefeld. Every page features ridiculously over-muscled characters striking poses that the human body was never meant to strike. How did this happen? Penciler Herb Trimpe had been a Marvel mainstay since the early ‘60s, normally drawing in the Marvel “house style” standard of John Romita Sr. and Sal Buscema. Perhaps the culprit is inker Brad Vancata, who drew a lot in the “extreme ‘90s” style similar to the Image founders when he was with Marvel. He seems to have gotten his 90s-isms out of his system since then, having worked on designs for the Spider-Man multimedia attraction at Universal Studios and the videogame Hearthstone.
My point is, people don’t like Rob Liefeld, but he looks a lot better when compared to someone trying and failing to imitate Rob Liefeld.
Then there’s the story. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d never heard of Citizen Kang. The normally-detailed Marvel Wiki has only one sentence about this crossover: “The Avengers and the Fantastic Four become embroiled in the latest scheme by Kang to conquer time.” The fan-made Marvel Wikia, meanwhile only says “The full synopsis of this event is unknown.” This is part three. In Captain America annual #11, The Vision became lost in time when investigating strange goings-on in the town of Timely, Wisconsin. Then Captain America became lost in time looking for him. Then, in Thor annual #17, Thor went looking for Captain America, encountered a strange factory, and also became lost in time.
The annual begins with Dr. Druid and Nebula appearing at Fantastic Four headquarters, asking the FF to help them defeat Kang. It’s revealed that this is not really Nebula, but a Nebula from alternate timeline who now goes by the name Temptress. Dr. Druid says the time-traveling Kang has returned to the present and is up to something. He can’t go to the Avengers, because he and the Avengers split on poor terms. Reed prepares his time machine, the Rosebud II, for a trip to Timely, Wisconsin. Then we see the Avengers — Black Widow, Black Knight, Hercules, Sersi, and Crystal — also leaving for Timely in hopes of finding Vision, Captain America and Thor.
The FF arrive in Timely, where Temptress points them in the direction of the factory where we saw Thor disappear in his annual. As they fly into the factory, they become lost in time. First they fight a bunch of pterodactyls, and then the Punisher Gangs from the distant future (from the early ’90s Guardians of the Galaxy comic).
The Avengers show up in Wisconsin. They fly their quinjet through the factory and end up in the same timeline as the FF. Because she believes the Avengers are her enemies, Temptress convinces the FF that the Avengers are really Kang’s agents in disguise. The Avengers assume that Tempress has “ensorcelled” the FF, and the typical superhero misunderstanding fight breaks out.
The two teams are pretty evenly matched, with the brawl breaking down to Reed versus Black Knight, Sue versus Sersi, Ben versus Hercules, and Johnny versus Crystal. After several pages of fighting, Dr. Druid breaks everyone up, revealing that they’ve been tricked. Then a portal opens up, and there’s Kang. He says the heroes have arrived in his future city, Chronopolis, where he rules. Kang then summons his elite warriors, the Anachronauts, to defeat the heroes.
That’s the “to be continued.” The story picks up in Avengers annual #21. All the Wisconsin stuff was Kang seeding the present with his advanced tech, ensuring he’d rule in the future. While the superheroes fight the Anachronauts, Temptress reveals she is really Ravonna, Kang’s former love. She changes her name again to Terminatrix. Kang sacrifices himself to save her life, and she takes over as the new ruler of Chronopolis, and returns all he heroes safely back to the present.
Back to Fantastic Four annual #25, there are four backup stories. One is Reed teaching Franklin (and the reader) about a bunch of the FF’s villains. The second is Ben babysitting Franklin while getting angst-y about being a monster again. Third is part three of a four-part retelling of Kang’s origin that runs through all four of these annuals. Finally, there is a fight between Mantis and Moondragon, after Mantis tried to convince Moondragon to help rescue Mantis’ son from the Cotati aliens. (So that deeply-buried subplot is still going on.) Moondragon loses the fight, but she gains Mantis’ respect, so Mantis lets Moondragon go on her way.
Unstable molecule: Black Knight tries to reason with Reed scientist-to-scientist, comparing Reed to Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.
Fade out: Although Sersi is a Thor-ish godlike character, she’s no match for Sue, who tricks her with invisibility and wallops her with spear-shaped force fields.
Clobberin’ time: There’s a line of dialogue saying that although Ben is normally the team’s pilot, Reed doesn’t want anyone else touching the controls of the time sled.
Flame on: The Johnny versus Crystal fight also reveals that they have some unresolved issues. She thinks he’s still bitter about her leaving him for another man. His anger at her would suggest that she’s right. Reading between the lines, though, we know Johnny is really hurting at the still-recent loss of Alicia/Lyja, and not so much Crystal.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal more or less joined the Avengers in Avengers #334, just in time for the Operation: Galactic Storm crossover. Other than hints that there might be romance with Black Knight, Crystal didn’t do much as an Avenger, but she was nonetheless a loyal member of the team for many years.
Four and a half: The video game that Franklin plays with Ben is called “Bad Pac Dudes.” After Ben accidentally breaks the controller, Franklin cheers him up by suggesting they go outside and toss a football instead.
Commercial break: I can’t even.
Trivia time: The Anachronauts are Apocryphus (Sersi’s son from an alternate universe), Raa (a magic wielding caveman), Ssith (a lizard-man from 12,000 years in the past), Tyndar (an unkillable Trojan warrior), Wildrun (the 18th century version of the Red Wolf character), Sir Ralston (an ancestor of the Black Knight), and DeathHunt 9000 (a cyborg from the future). They’ve only appeared sporadically over the years, which is too bad. I’d love to see someone at Marvel do something interesting with these guys.
Fantastic or frightful? What a disaster. I really dislike how dumb the heroes look by being tricked into fighting each other so easily. Then there’s the trying-too-hard-to-be-just-like-Image artwork. Those old issues of Youngblood you still have in your collection are way, WAY better than this.
Next: Don’t Lyja to me.
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