Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s the Thing versus Dr. Doom in issue #380, except it’s a battle of wits rather than fists.
Recap: After Sharon Ventura betrayed Dr. Doom and returned to the Fantastic Four, Doom had Sharon transformed back into a Thing. Mistakenly believing Sharon killed herself, Ben flew to Latveria in a rage, to take vengeance on Doom. The Latverian defenses shot down Ben’s plane as he approached, though. This issue begins with two pages of Doom’s agents recovering unconscious Ben from the wreckage. Doom, meanwhile, is in lab, more occupied with drawing a cosmic being to Earth so he can steal its power.
In New York, Reed has put Sharon in suspended animation while working on a cure for her. Johnny announces that Ben has left for Latveria and can’t be reached on his radio. Reed wants to help, but he and Sue are still weak from the big battle in issue #378. In another part of the building, Franklin, who is now in his late teens due to a time travel adventure, finds Lyja doubled over in pain. She insists she’s fine, but asks him not to tell Johnny. Now a telepath, Franklin can sense this has something to do with Lyja’s pregnancy.
In Latveria, Dr. Doom’s scientists report that the cosmic being has somehow slipped below their “space radar” in an attempt to avoid them. They get to work at finding it before alerting Doom. Ben wakes up in Doom’s banquet hall, where Doom does the pompous villain thing, preparing him a lavish meal. Ben tries to attack, but Doom has affixed manacles onto Ben’s wrists, giving him a neuroelectric shock if he gets too close to Doom. Doom gives a big speech about how he’s not evil, and that under his leadership, Latveria is free from crime, poverty, debt and disease. Ben argues that all those positives come from loyalty to Dr. Doom, which he says is too steep a price.
Out in the Latverian countryside, we finally get a look at this cosmic being, which appears some sort of glowing cloud of light. It attacks some Latverian guards, sucking the life out of them. The caption tells us this creature is simply the “Hunger.”
Back in the castle, Doom has Ben hooked up a big science machine. Doom removes Ben’s metal helmet, and we see that Ben’s scars now cover more than half of his face. Doom says he sympathizes, as his face, too, must remain prisoner of a metal mask. Doom offers not just to heal Ben, but to restore his humanity.
The Hunger attacks Doom’s castle, fighting its way through all the guards and Doombots. Doom jumps into the fight, hoping to absorb the hunger’s cosmic power. Doom attacks, using the same device he used to steal Aron the Watcher’s powers a few issues back. Ben uses his awesome strength to break free of the neuroelectric shocks and escape Doom’s lab. He comes across Doom fighting the Hunger. He uses two live wires from the lab and jumps into the fight, hoping to electrocute both Doom and the Hunger.
Outside, the FF — specifically Reed, Sue, Johnny, Franklin, and Lyja — arrive flying a borrowed Avengers Quinjet. Half of the castle explodes, and the heroes fear there won’t be any survivors. If that’s not enough of a to be continued, the letters page promotes the next issue as “Someone dies,” “End of an era,” and “The start of a new FF.”
Unstable molecule: It was Reed’s idea to borrow a Quinjet from the Avengers. This issue takes place in between two big Avengers storylines, The Terminatrix Objective, which was a confusing time travel story, and Bloodties, a long-running crossover with (of course) the X-Men.
Fade out: The previous issue stated that Sue was too weak from the battle in issue #378 to create force fields. In this issue, she has that power back, but it causes her a lot strain to use it.
Clobberin’ time: Doom promises to cure Ben’s scarred face, but in a thought bubble, Doom reveals that he’s not able to do so, and is just placating Ben. Ben’s face scarred because Wolverine sliced him, and there’s still no real explanation as to why that can’t heal.
Flame on: Johnny is shown behind the controls of the Quinjet, so I guess he got pilot training at some point.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Reed says he’s halted Sharon’s metamorphosis as long as she’s in suspended animation, and that’s all we see of Sharon this issue.
Four and a half: Franklin says his mother still believes he’s an imposter, and refuses to trust him.
The Alicia problem: It’s not said why Lyja joins the team on their trip to Latveria. It’s likely she wants to keep an eye on Johnny.
Commercial break: “Kidnap the Sandy Claws, lock him in a box, bury him for ninety years, and then see if he talks.”
Trivia time: Is this Hunger creature the same one that menaced the X-Men in the famous Heroes for Hope charity fundraiser comic? No, it isn’t. For one, that creature went by the name “Hungry,” and the Marvel Wiki identifies it as such. (The actual comic mostly just calls “the entity,” however.) Further, Hungry is not from space like the Hunger is, but instead was born on Earth, at the dawn of mankind.
Fantastic or Frightful? This issue is huge improvement over the previous ones, and one of the best of Tom DeFalco’s run as writer. The conflict between Dr. Doom and Ben is well done, with Doom’s world-conquering audaciousness contrasting nicely with Ben’s down-to-earth street smarts.
Next: For real this time.
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