Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #372 finds us in the middle of a multi-issue arc with competing storylines and tons of guest stars. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Previously, Johnny used his powerful nova flame to chase of the combined might of Paibok the Power Skrull, Devos the Devastator, and a recently-back-from-the-dead Lyja. In doing so, he set fire to most (all?) of Empire State University. This issue begins with Code Blue, the NYPD’s anti-supervillain response unit, showing up at FF HQ to arrest Johnny. Sue, in her sexy new costume and bold new take-no-prisoners attitude, fights the cops. Johnny breaks up the fight and surrenders to the cops. Furious, Sue insists that Johnny will be back on the streets within a day.
We then catch up to the other storyline going on, in which Aron the rogue Watcher has kidnapped Alicia, with Reed, Ben, and Sharon Ventura mounting a rescue mission. Puppet Master, who is Alicia’s father, decides to mount a rescue of his own, by creating a puppet to mind-control the Molecule Man. Quick recap: Molecule Man was brought back to life during the Korvac Quest crossover, thanks to the small portion of his power he left behind with Volcana. Volcana then dumped him, because someone as powerful as him can’t live a normal life. This issue finds Molecule Man at his new home in Alaska, still pining for Volcana, when Puppet Master takes over his mind.
In space, Paibok and Devos brag about Johnny’s arrest was their plan all along, to turn the public against him. They tell Lyja that it’s time for the next step. In New York City, at the Daily Bugle office, editor J. Jonah Jameson argues that Johnny’s arrest is proof that all superheroes are menaces, but photographer Peter Parker says they don’t know all the facts yet. Jonah sends Peter to the police station to get a photo of Johnny.
Outside the police station, a crowd has assembled to see Johnny do the perp walk up the front steps. Lyja is there, disguised as an assassin, and Paibok is disguised as a cop. The two pretend to fight, causing panic in the crowd. Peter Parker wants to help, but can’t risk revealing his secret identity. Johnny flies off, to draw danger away from the civilians, only for the cops to declare him a fugitive.
We then catch up with the rest of the team, trapped in an alternate dimension by Aron. In this other-world, Ben is a human, married to Alicia, and they have a bunch of kids. He and Reed own Richards/Grimm Industries where Sharon is their secretary. Ben keeps having hallucinations of himself as the Thing, though, as well as the creeping feeling that he is being watched. On Earth, Aron the Watcher is indeed watching all this played out from within his mountain hideout, when he’s interrupted by the Molecule Man, who’s there to rescue Alicia.
Back in New York, time has passed and now it’s raining. Spider-Man swings around the city trying to find Johnny, who is hiding out in a cardboard box in an alley. Johnny says he can’t go to anyone for help, and must solve this problem himself.
To be continued.
Fade out: There’s a short scene in which Sue confronts some of the tenants of Four Freedoms Plaza, who are concerned about the superhero battles going on in the building. Sue humiliates them by turning their clothes invisible and throws them out, another example of her new take-no-prisoners personality.
Clobberin’ time: In Ben’s alternate universe, he and Alicia have three kids, son Johnny (!), daughter Penny, and a third daughter whose name isn’t revealed in this issue.
Flame on: Johnny tries and fails to convince the panicking crowd there are Skrulls among them. We see that he burns so hot that the police bullets melt before they can touch. That must be really hot.
Fantastic fifth wheel: After everything Sharon has been through, it’s pretty sucky to see her reduced to being Ben’s secretary. I know she’ll be given more to do later in this story arc, but still.
Four and a half: Before leaving with the police, Johnny tells Franklin to be “the man of the house” while he’s gone. It’s possible that this is intentional foreshadowing.
The Alicia problem: One line of dialogue states that Lyja appears hesitant about the plan to defeat Johnny, but we don’t see this, as her own lines of dialogue are all about destroying him and the FF.
Commercial break: I can’t help but think Rob Lowe’s villain character created this:
Trivia time: Code Blue, the anti-supervillain SWAT team, mostly appeared in Thor and its spinoff Thunderstrike, occasionally showing up in various Spider-Man comics. The members are Lieutenant Stone, Fireworks Fielstein, Mad-Dog Rassitano, Rigger Ruiz, Jock Jackson, and Mother Majowski. They had no powers of their own, just high-tech cop gear.
Fantastic or frightful? This mish-mash of storylines and subplots can be jarring, and I know things are only going to get more convoluted before this storyline is over. Turning Johnny and Sue into edgy anti-heroes just isn’t working, especially when you consider that Spawn and The Punisher were at the heights of their popularity at this time. I’m just not feeling any of this.
Next: Reality in shambles.
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