Fantastic Friday: Riding the rail

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Most of issue #379 is picking up the pieces after the previous month’s battle and shocking plot twist.

Last issue, Dr. Doom’s henchmen attacked Sharon Ventura and transformed her back into a Thing-like monster, in response to her betraying Doom and siding with the FF a few issues earlier. This one begins with Sharon and the FF in Reed’s lab with Reed working furiously to find a cure. Sharon says Reed couldn’t cure her when she was “She-Thing” before, but Ben encourages her to have faith. Reed doubles over with pain as a result of being stabbed by Huntara in last issue’s battle. We’re told (but not shown) that Sue is currently unable to use her force fields because she’s “too afraid” as a result of that same battle.

Cut to Latveria, where Dr. Doom and his scientists are collecting results of a space probe launched in search of beings with cosmic power. One such lifeform has been located, and the scientists say they will attempt to lure the creature to Earth. At FF HQ, we’re reminded that Franklin is now in his late teens, having grown up while time traveling to prevent a dystopian future and now returned to the present. Franklin uses his telepathic powers to “rip” an image of Huntara from Johnny’s mind. Franklin not only knows who Huntara is, but he fears Huntara has traveled to this timeline to prevent Franklin from doing something. Before we learn what that is, Ben interrupts and announces that Sharon has run off.

In space, villains Klaw, Huntara, Paibok the Power-Skrull, and Devos the Devastator regroup, and Paibok announces he has yet another new plan to destroy the FF. In NYC, Johnny meets up with feisty coed Brigit O’Neil, who thanks him for saving his life. She asks about the public’s negative reaction to him. He says he’s used to being in the public eye, and that it might be worse to be ignored. He flies off, and we see that “Brigit” is really Lyja the Skrull in disguise. She believes this conversation reveals that Johnny is a “two-timing snake.”

Ben finds Sharon hiding out in an alley in the city. He wants her to come back and give Reed another chance. She believes a cure is impossible, and she attacks Ben out of rage. Ben tries to fight back while hoping to prevent Sharon from causing property damage, injuring herself, or injuring Ben’s vulnerable scarred face beneath his metal helmet. Johnny finds them fighting, and launches a “4” signal flare in the sky. Reed sees the flare and insists on jumping into action, despite his injury.

Ben pursues Sharon into a subway station. Fearing she’s also losing her mind, Sharon decides to attempt suicide by jumping onto the electrified third rail. Ben pleads with her to reconsider, saying suicide is not the answer no matter how bad things are. She throws him into an oncoming train, and then she jumps onto the rail. Reed, Sue, and Johnny arrive, finding that the electric rail knocked Sharon out but didn’t kill her. He says there’s still time to save her.

Ben, meanwhile, ends up in another part of the city, believing Sharon is dead. He blames Dr. Doom for her death. He returns to Four Freedoms Plaza and boards the FF’s Pogo Plane to fly straight to Latveria. Dr. Doom says an attack by the FF is anticipated, and he cannot be distracted from summoning the cosmic being, so he orders the Pogo Plane shot down. The issue ends with the plan exploding in a huge fireball over Latverian airspace.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: The exact nature of Reed’s injury is unclear. The previous issue stated that Huntara’s blade not only hurt him physically, but psychically as well. Does that relate to his working himself to death in his lab?

Fade out: Sue has a moment where she admires Reed’s inner strength, and how she loves him even during those times when he exasperates her.

Clobberin’ time: This issue features a half-page pinup of Ben and the Hulk. Hulk should get that growth on his shoulder looked at.

Flame on: There’s one sentence referring to how attorney Matt Murdock worked out a deal to clear Johnny of all charges. Just like that, this concludes the Johnny-as-a-fugitive storyline that we’ve been following since issue #371.

Fantastic fifth wheel: It’s not known just how strong Sharon is in her new form, but she throws 500-pound Ben around like he weighs nothing.

Four and a half: Johnny appears to have come around in believing that this is the real Franklin. The specific details of his time travel years continue to be glossed over.

The Alicia problem: At the start of the issue, Lyja is working alongside the FF to help Sharon. Later, though, she’s tricking Johnny and is still vengeful toward him.

Commercial break: A superhero for the 90s!

Trivia time: It took some Googling, but I can confirm that Ben flew to Latveria in the Pogo Plane and not the FF rocket. The Pogo Plane was located in the hanger of Four Freedoms Plaza, where we see it in this issue, while the FF’s rocket was stored in a silo that ran the length of the entire skyscraper. The rocket could fire straight upward into space, or straight downward, to enter the Negative Zone.

Fantastic or frightful? Poor Sharon Ventura. We already went through this, where she was initially suicidal after transforming into a monster. When Steve Englehart was writing the comic, though, her becoming a monster eventually gave her self confidence and helped her overcome her earlier PTSD. All that is either forgotten or ignored in this issue, and it feels like we’re putting this character through hell just for the sake of it. How disappointing.

Next: Men in the iron masks.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH. amazon.com/dp/B00859NDJ8
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