Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #371 begins a multi-part story that contains a lot of what everyone remembers from this early ‘90s era of Fantastic Four, starting with a wild new look for Sue.
Gimmie a gimmick: Here we have an embossed cover, where the book’s logo and the image of Johnny are raised and, dare I say, touchable on special hardstock paper. The hard-to-find first printing was all white, while the much easier to find subsequent printings were all bright red. On the letters page, six people and two separate companies are given special thanks for their work in creating the cover.
At the end of the last issue, our heroes learned Alicia had been abducted. This one begins with our heroes already mounting a rescue. (The Marvel wiki insists that the Citizen Kang crossover took place between these two issues, but it goes unmentioned here.) Alicia was abducted when time froze during Infinity War, so Reed sets up a “trans-temporal reflector” inside Alicia’s apartment, revealing that Aron the rouge Watcher, who was not stuck in time, appeared and teleported Alicia away. Reed instructs Puppet Master to stay behind at Alicia’s apartment, while the FF come up with a rescue plan back at headquarters. There, Ben is reunited again with Sharon Ventura, who says they have another lunch date. As they take off, Reed goes looking for Sue and finds…
Yeah. She says she was starting to feel like “an old frump” in her regular costume, and then she lashes out at Reed for never noticing her. What goes unsaid here is that this behavior is more fallout from Sue mind-melding with Malice, the darker side of her psyche. Franklin is in the hallway outside, secretly watching Reed and Sue’s conflict. He swears to do anything to stop them, with glowing red eyes to confirm that his potentially world-ending powers are coming back.
Ben cancels his lunch with Sharon so he can join the search for Alicia. Sharon contacts her unseen “master,” who was eavesdropping on them the whole time. Reed tries to contact the Watcher for info on Aron, but the Watcher doesn’t respond, preferring instead to observe silently. Sharon returns, now wearing a brand-new green and purple costume, going by the name Ms. Marvel again.
Cut to Johnny, back in college at Empire State University, where he tries to make peace with Bridget O’Neil, the girl he argued with in issue #366. It doesn’t go well, because she’s frozen in block of ice. This is because Johnny is being attacked by the combined forces of Devos the Devastator and Paibok the Super-Skrull. Johnny fights back, leading the two of them on chase all over campus, all while hoping there’s some way to save Bridget.
At HQ, Reed devises a way to track Aron and teleport the team to Aron’s location. The “team” in this case is Reed, Ben, and Sharon, with Puppet Master staying behind to contact the Avengers in case something goes wrong. Puppet Master, however, thinks Sharon is there to prevent Ben and Alicia from reconciling, and he muses that he has no intention to stay on the sidelines. The heroes teleport to a cave in a snowy mountaintop, where Aron has his lab. He has Alicia there in an artificially induced coma. Aron shows up, revealing that he has created a miniature replica of the entire universe, based on his personal vision, and he intends the FF to spend the rest of their lives in it.
Back with Johnny, he manages to free Bridget from the ice while the college is evacuated. Then a third enemy joins the fight, It’s Lyja, still alive. Johnny doesn’t believe it’s her, especially seeing her new energy-blasting powers. She explains that Paibok gave her these powers, and she introduces her new moniker, Lyja the Laserfist! The three of them are too much for Johnny to fight at once, so he fires the ol’ FF emergency flare. Sue sees it and runs off to join the fight.
Johnny, however, is overwhelmed by all three villains, and decides the only way to defeat them is to use his mega-powerful nova flame. Sue arrives on the scene to find the villains gone, and Johnny weakened from the fight, admitting that he panicked and lost control. Then we turn the page and see that Johnny’s nova blast has destroyed most (all?) of Empire State University.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: We never see any resolution to Reed and Sue’s argument. On one page, they’re arguing, and then a few pages later, he’s on an adventure with Ben and Sharon, with no explanation of Sue’s not joining them.
Fade out: So, Sue’s new costume. I have no problem with a woman wanting to dress sexy, but when she’s doing it to get her husband to notice her, that’s troubling. When she’s doing it because of sci-fi mind-meld weirdness, that’s even more troubling. The real issue is how out of character this outfit is.
Clobberin’ time: Ben is still uncertain how he feels about Alicia, but he certainly doesn’t want her to come to harm.
Flame on: Johnny once again considers leaving the team, thinking that FF are not as extreme as the newer heroes in town. He doesn’t immediately call his teammates during the fight, because he wants to he can be as vicious as Wolverine or the Punisher.
Fantastic fourth wheel: Sharon is back with the team, albeit temporarily. The issue wants to set up a mystery as to who her new boss is, although it was revealed in issue #367 that it’s Dr. Doom. One line of dialogue states that Sharon is able to lift ten tons.
Four and a half: Franklin is seen with a Ninja Turtle toy. The coloring is slightly off, but it looks like Donatello.
The Alicia problem: Lyja originally sacrificed herself to save Johnny, but now she wants to kill him with furious anger. Lyja makes a few references to her and Johnny’s unborn child, even though that originally a lie. Johnny’s demands for further details go unanswered.
Commercial break: How does this work, exactly?
Trivia time: Spider-Man fans are already familiar with Empire State University, where Peter Parker has attended off and on over the years. Other superheroes who were or are students there include Squirrel Girl, White Tiger, and even Captain Britain. Villains who taught at ESU include the Jackal, the Lizard, and even the original Green Goblin for a while. Daredevil’s sidekick Foggy Nelson got his degree from ESU. In the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, Spidey attended Columbia University, but Empire State was mentioned in Spider-Man 3.
Fantastic or frightful? This is a big step up in quality from the crossover nonsense of the last few issues, but it still feels like our heroes are acting just enough out of character so that it is frustrating.
Next: NYPD Blue.
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