Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Things are about to get wild in annual #26.
Throughout the summer of 1993, every one of Marvel’s annuals introduced a new character, in the hopes that some of all of them would go on to be the next big thing. Fantastic Four got the first appearance of… Wildstreak!
Gimmie a gimmick: Each 1993 annual was polybagged, containing a card for every new character. Collect them all!
We begin at King’s Castle Luxury Resort for rich mobsters. One of the mobster’s wives goes for a swim, only to bond with the symbiote Dreadface, last seen as a gorilla symbiote in issue #360. Now a sexy lady symbiote, Dreadface makes a deal with Emmanuel King, leader of this place, to seek revenge on Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm.
At Four Freedoms Plaza, we pick up from the cliffhanger at the end of issue #376, in which Franklin was taken into the future and returned as adult Franklin. Reed runs some tests in the lab to authenticate that this is the real Franklin, but a distraught Sue refuses to believe it. Franklin wanders off by himself, giving only the faintest hints of where he’s been, and his psychic powers draw him to a letter the FF has received from the King Resort. Meanwhile, Sharon Ventura is still trying to get through to Ben. He takes off the metal helmet he’s been wearing to reveal that the scars on his face are now horribly infected. Franklin shows Ben the letter, and Ben doesn’t want to investigate. Franklin uses his powers to change Ben’s mind.
Cut to a seedy bar, where new hero Wildstreak is beating up a bunch of thugs with her cool fight moves and exoskeletal arms and legs. She gets some info a big crime about to go down in Florida. She then goes to a van outside where her father is waiting. She sits in a wheelchair while he recharges the power to her exoskeleton.
Ben and Franklin arrive in Florida, passing by Wildstreak and her dad at the airport. They arrive at the resort, which is now run down and empty. Franklin is unable to read the minds of any of the staff, with all of them coming off like automatons. Inside, we see that Dreadface has scared all the resort’s customers away while building a device called a duplitron.
We then get a flashback to Wildstreak’s origin. She’s Tamika Bowden, daughter of Dennis Bowden. Dennis is a genius mechanical engineer who fell on hard times, forced to take work for criminals. He tried leaving the life, only for the crooks to take revenge by staging an accident at one of Tamika’s gymnastics events. She lost the use of her legs, so her father built the super-powerful exoskeleton, which she now uses to after the bad guys.
At the resort, Franklin dons his “Psilord” (without a hyphen) armor to fly overhead and scan the place. Wildstreak also searches the place, coming across the symbiote, appearing less like a liquid and more like “living shroud.” She fights it, getting Ben’s attention, and he fight it as well.
Elsewhere at the resort, Franklin spies on more crime bosses confronting Emmanuel King. They then get taken over by symbiotes. Dreadface explains that the duplitron can create more and more symbiotes. Dreadface then leave’s King’s wife’s body, killing her, so it can possess a thug named Mr. Fisherman.
Ben finds his way to the duplitron room where he fights Dreadface. Franklin flies around overhead, avoiding attacks from the symbiote-possessed mobsters. Wildstreak catches up with King, who reveals he has explosives hidden throughout the entire resort as a contingency plan. Dreadface goads Ben into hitting him, causing Ben to come into contact with the symbiote. He struggles to resist becoming possessed by it. With Franklin’s telepathic help, Ben frees himself of Dreadface’s grasp.
King sets off the explosives, destroying the entire resort, sacrificing his own life, and seemingly killing all the symbiotes. Franklin protects himself, Ben, and Wildstreak in a telekinetic force field. Ben makes a quip about how this was a lousy vacation, and the story ends.
Then we get a backup story, returning to the deeply-buried storyline of cosmic beings Kubic and Kosmos taking a tour of the universe. This time, Kubik teaches Kosmos about the Celestials, and this several pages of grade-A sci-fi gobbledygook. It’s full of prhases like “the Philosophix Ultimus of the Xch’tul Hegemony,” “the Consortium of the Velsarius Six,” and “the recursive plasticity of the universe.” If you can follow this, you’re a greater nerd than I.
Unstable molecule: After proving that Franklin is really Franklin, Reed swears to find some way to restore his son back to childhood.
Fade out: The new tough, take-charge Sue refuses to believe the truth about Franklin, even threatening to suffocate him with a force field at one point.
Clobberin’ time: In addition to Ben’s scars being sensitive and easily harmed during a fight, we now learn they’re also infected, further necessitating Ben’s metal mask.
Flame on: There are several references to Johnny having turned himself in to the cops last issue, and now he’s locked up while awaiting trial.
Fantastic fifth wheel: We’re told several days have passed, so I guess Sharon is living with the team again. She’s not subtle at all about wanting to get back together with Ben in this issue.
Four and a half: Frustratingly, no one asks where Franklin was during his years-long time travel adventure. He thinks to himself thoughts about how he’s been trained to eb a warrior, and how he’s seen a lot of violence and slaughter over the years.
Franklin calls his armor “Psilord” armor, but he’s not calling himself “Psi-Lord” yet.
Commercial break: “It’ll be just as big as Jurassic Park, we promise!”
Trivia time: Like most of the 1993 annual characters, Wildstreak never gained a following. She returned in Thunderstrike to once again fight the mob. Much later, she had a cameo in the controversial Civil War event, where she was arrested for being on the anti-registration side.
There’s just not enough time in the day to go over all 27 new characters, but I did compile the list. Along with Wildstreak, there was Annex, Bloodwraith, Raptor, Bantam, Darkling, Cadre, Charon, Kyllian, Dreamkiller, Hitmaker, Assassin, Lazarus, Devourer, the Flame, the Face Thief, Nocturne, Night Terror, Legacy, Empyrean, Tracer, Phalanx, Khaos, Irish Wolfhound, Eradikator Six, X-Treme, and X-Cutioner (a different one from the X-Cutioner’s Song crossover).
This was Dreadface’s last hurrah as a villain. He had a very brief cameo in the Fantastic Four: Foes miniseries in the 2000s, and he showed up in the Fantastic Force series, which was set in the distant future, and that was it.
Fantastic or Frightful? This comic isn’t perfect, but I did enjoy it in an old-fashioned superheroics kind of way. I also like Wildstreak. The fact that she fights organized crime instead of supervillains could have made for a cool street-level Marvel comic. Maybe somebody at Marvel can bring her back someday, and really give her a moment in the spotlight.
Next: Join the hunt.
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.