Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Sometimes you just want to see superheroes battling villains, and that’s just what you’re going to get in issue #378.
While Johnny is on trial for accidentally burning down part of Empire State University, the courthouse is attacked on one side by Paibok the Power-Skrull and Devos the Devastator, and on the other by Klaw and barbarian swordswoman Huntara. A two-page spread reminds us of who all the players are. Representing the FF are Reed, Sue, Ben, and Lyja. Johnny has been instructed not to use his powers to avoid further legal trouble. On the sidelines are attorney Matt Murdock, photographer Peter Parker, Peter’s Boss J. Jonah Jameson, college coed Brigit O’Neil, and the Wildpack, featuring both Silver Sable and Sandman.
Matt Murdock slips away and dons his Daredevil uniform. Similarly, Peter Parker vanishes only for Spider-Man to show up and join the fight. Silver Sable doesn’t want to fight because no one is paying her to, but Sandman convinces her that helping the FF is the right thing to do.
Everybody fights, with the action leaving the courtroom and out into the street. Ben takes a beating, with his scarred face causing him great pain, even with the protection of his metal helmet. Huntara does a little explaining of what her deal is, saying she is the “princess of Elsewhen,” adding that the Fantastic Four are an “anathema” to the “chosen realities” and therefore must be destroyed. The fight appears to be going in the heroes’ favor until Huntara stabs Reed right through his chest, despite his stretchy powers. (Dang.) Then Devos unleashes an attack on Sue that knocks her unconscious. Johnny decides he can’t take any more, so he flames on and joins the action.
Cut to Four Freedoms Plaza, where Sharon Ventura is keeping an eye on Franklin, who was recently abducted into the future and time-traveled back to the present in his late teens. They’re working out in the FF’s version of a Danger Room, with Franklin showing off his new telekinetic powers. Sharon presses him for information about the future, specifically whether Ben and her will ever be a couple again. He refuses to answer, saying the future isn’t locked into a single course. Sharon leaves (so much for keeping an eye on him) where she is abducted by Dr. Doom’s henchmen.
We then cut to Avengers Mansion, where those heroes learn of a battle going on in the city streets, so they too jump into action. This Avengers team is Black Knight, Vision, Sersei, Thunderstrike, and the FF’s own Crystal. The tide starts turning against the heroes, with Johnny getting shot in the back and Ben getting pummeled into the ground. Then the Avengers arrive and the villains decide to retreat. Huntara opens a portal for their escape. Daredevil tries following them, only to get trapped in a psychedelic otherworld between dimensions. Spider-Man pulls Daredevil out of the portal with a web line.
The comic then abruptly cuts to later, so we don’t see any of the fallout from the battle. Ben is wandering the street of NYC alone, ruminating about how the FF nearly lost the fight and how they don’t feel like much of a team these days. He hears Sharon calling to him from a nearby alley. He steps closer to find she has once again been transformed into… a Thing!
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Huntara is able to stab Reed because her weapon is a psionic blade, injuring him both physically and in his psyche. Look closely and you can see paramedics tending to Reed once the Avengers arrive.
Fade out: This issue also features this nifty pin up of Sue and the Super-Skrull, drawn by Karl Altstaetter and Joe Chiodo.
Clobberin’ time: Ben’s musings on the FF falling apart is foreshadowing for an upcoming storyline in which just that happens.
Flame on: Although not using his powers, Johnny puts himself between the battle and Matt Murdock, to protect Murdock from danger. Johnny of course not knowing that Murdock is really Daredevil.
Fantastic fifth wheel: A lot of Sharon’s past character development, such as her fighting to overcome PTSD and her growing science genius, gets swept under rug, as all she cares about now is whether Ben is attracted to her.
As an Avenger, Crystal is reintroduced to readers as “Crystal the Elemental.” She scolds her teammates for making jokes when lives could be at risk. Once the Avengers join the fight, her job is to hang back and care for the wounded.
Four and a half: Sharon also does not believe that Franklin is really Franklin, even as she pesters him with questions about his time travel into the future.
The Alicia problem: Although technically still their enemy, Lyja fights alongside the FF throughout. The mystery of her pregnancy continues in one panel where Paibok says she and the baby will not survive without “Lacaroo.”
Commercial break: “Neon” is a flavor now?
Trivia time: It was around this time that Marvel published Fantastic Four Unlimited #5, which takes place immediately following this issue. Reed takes Sharon back to his lab where he works with Ant-Man to find a cure, only for Klaw and the Wizard to abduct her in hopes of starting a new Frightful Four. The Wizard, Klaw, and a bunch of other villains are defeated, and it ends right back where it began in Reed’s lab. Marvel promoted a sixth issue, featuring the Sub-Mariner, but it was never published.
Fantastic or frightful? I’m always up for a big superhero brawl, but it’s disappointing to see the FF beaten down and have to be rescued by the guest stars. Things like Johnny’s trial and Franklin’s time travel being introduced and then not dealt with in any meaningful way are also frustrating.
Next: Riding the rails.
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.