Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. This weird and wacky storyline of the last six issues comes to an end (or does it?) with the double-sized issue #375.
Gimmie a gimmick: First, here we have a holofoil cover, in which the drawn characters are placed against a shiny, metallic-looking background. When people think of Fantastic Four in the ‘90s, this image is normally what they think of, with Sue’s sexy costume, Ben’s metal helmet and everyone’s matching brown jackets, complete with plenty of pouches.
Recap: Johnny is wanted by police after accidentally destroying part of Empire State University. To protect him, the FF battled the New Fantastic Four (including Wolverine), only to be mysteriously teleported away, with Lyja and Sharon Ventura along for the ride. Dr. Doom has stolen the powers of Aron the rouge Watcher, and has traveled to the moon to battle the regular Watcher. Got all that?
Turns out the Watcher was the one who teleported the FF away. They’re inside his home on the moon. He explains that Dr. Doom has stolen Aron’s powers, and the came to the moon to steal his. Then he admits that he might have violated his oath to always watch and never interfere, so just teleports away, leaving the FF alone in his house. All eyes turn to Ben, who was slashed in the face by Wolverine during the fight last issue. Wolvie’s adamantium claws cut him up real good:
Dr. Doom, meanwhile, is wandering around deeper inside the Watcher’s home. Remember that the Watcher’s home is filled with cosmic weirdness beyond human comprehension that drives normal humans insane. Dr. Doom is no normal human now, as he speechifies about using all his new cosmic knowledge and power to finally defeat the Fantastic Four.
The FF have decided to split up (I guess they’re also taking the Watcher’s house in stride) where Sharon and Ben are attacked by a giant robot. The robot punches Ben in the face. This causes him extreme pain, as Wolverine’s claws have torn away his rocky exterior, exposing sensitive skin underneath. He still manages to defeat the robot.
Johnny and Lyja have taken off together, which seems like a bad idea because she’s incredibly ticked off at him, believing that he abandoned her. They are attacked by Dr. Doom, and they’re no match for his new cosmic powers. Doom next appears before Reed and Sue. Sue ties to defend them with a force field, put passes out, not able to withstand Doom’s cosmic energy.
Back on Earth, attorney Matt Murdock and FF financial advisor Makio Yakaki offer a cash settlement to Empire State University to repair all the damage Johnny caused in the fight. Murdock worries that this might leave the FF penniless. At HQ, Franklin can sense his parents are in danger. When supernatural nanny Agatha Harkness tries to calm him down, he unleashes his psychic powers on her, knocking her unconscious. Then a mysterious armored man shows up and confronts Franklin.
Cut to the moon, where Ben has donned a metal helmet to protect the weak spot on his face. He and Sharon are confronted by the Inhuman royal family, who have come to investigate these strange goings on (so this takes place before Fantastic Four Unlimited #2, where they moved back to Earth). Sue recovers, and Reed starts modifying some of the Watcher’s devices to enhance the FF’s powers.
Doom reappears, and the FF use Reed’s “optimizers,” which are guns that can fight back against Dr. Doom. Everybody fights! Sue goes into a haze, unable to concentrate. Reed blasts Doom, and it seems like the fight is over, but then he recovers. The Inhumans then join the fight. Doom finally reveals that Sharon has secretly been working undercover for him during all this, but she betrays him and rejoins the FF.
Reed hands an optimizer to Black Bolt, amplifying the power of BB’s destructive voice. This successfully blasts Dr. Doom into “critical mass” so that he disappears. Instead of pretending Dr. Doom is dead, we see that he used the last of his new power to teleport himself back to Latveria, battered and beaten.
The Watcher shows up again and teleports everyone back home without a word. Back home, Sharon wants to talk to Ben but he wants nothing to do with her. We then see the armored man from earlier, who is Nathaniel Richards, Reed’s long-lost father who is the Overlord in another universe. Franklin adds, “Grandpa came to help me!”
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Everyone’s matching brown jackets have a purpose. Reed invented them so that they somehow give our heroes protection against Doom’s energy blasts.
Fade out: After being defeated by Doom the first time, Sue gets redemption by protecting everyone with a force field during the finale.
Clobberin’ time: Get used to Ben wearing that metal helmet. It’s going to be around for a while. A lot of fan sites say this is the one he wore way back in issue #3, but that’s not the case in this issue.
Flame on: Johnny tries to talk to Lyja, but she’s too ticked off at him. His line, “I’m the injured party,” which makes me hugely uncomfortable.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon secretly working for Dr. Doom pretty much comes to nothing. I don’t know that she did anything to actually assist him during all this. But, she’s now one of the good guys again.
Four and a half: Franklin shows immediate remorse after zapping Agatha Harkness. Also, one of his toys is the baby from that weird Dinosaurs sitcom of the early ‘90s.
The Alicia problem: Lyja puts killing Johnny on hold because Dr. Doom is the greater threat. She’s still with the FF at the end of the issue, so there’s still more Lyja drama to come.
Commercial break: A comics outlet called Entertainment This Month has two pages of these ads, shilling all the early Image comics.
Trivia time: This month saw the publication of Fantastic Four Unlimited #3. The FF traveled into the Negative Zone where they were caught up in a struggle between Annihilus and the Brute, who you’ll remember is Reed’s evil Negative Zone twin. The Brute allied himself with the Tyannans, the villains who more or less created Annhilius. It ends when the Tyannans seal themselves off from the outside world (worlds?) and our heroes return home.
Fantastic or frightful? Just frustrating. Everyone continually acts out of character, with little regard to consistency. Plot elements like the Watcher’s home, Doom’s new powers, and these optimizer guns are also inconsistent. That, combined with the tangled knot of plot threads from previous issues that got us here, give the whole thing a making-it-up-as-we’re-going-along feel. Paul Ryan’s art is nice, though.
Next: Grandparent’s Day.
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