Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. I’ve been trying to find the positive in writer Tom DeFalco’s time on the series, but he really lost me in the completely unnecessary issue #290.
While the previous issue ended with a couple of cliffhangers, this one begins as if it’s the start of a new story. Johnny is flying over the city to find the entire sky filled with flame. He is of course reminded that this happened the first time Galactus came to the Earth, as we get a one-page flashback to that story, from Fantastic Four #49-51. Then we cut to an otherworldly jungle, where the FF have discovered a giant sculpture of themselves. The Watcher appears, saying that this is an alternate reality and that the tableau that occurred here is in danger of occurring in their world.
This issue begins with what appears to be a multi-page flashback to the original Galactus story from issues 49-51. Keep reading, though, and it’s revealed that this how the Galactus story played out in an alternate timeline. Cut to the present, where the Watcher has brought the FF to this timeline, which is now a post-apocalyptic jungle. The Watcher says this timeline is the one where he failed.
Back in NYC, we catch up to Johnny, Lyja, and new character Rafael Suarez. Johnny is upset to learn he is not the father of Lyja’s egg (that’s right, Lyja laid a freakin’ egg). Then we get a couple pages of recap, re-telling Lyja’s origin, and everything that’s happened to her, as well as her betraying Paibok the Power-Skrull to save Johnny.
The comic abruptly interrupts Ljya’s flashback to cut to “Elsewhen” where teenage Franklin and barbarian swordswoman Huntara are meeting with Warlord Kargul to investigate the mysterious Dark Raider, who is traveling throughout alternate universes, killing every version of Reed Richards he can find. (Got all that?) Then there’s another flashback explaining that Kargul’s people are the ones who constructed Franklin’s Psi-Lord armor, and who taught Huntara to fight. Along the way, we’re reminded that Huntara is Nathaniel Richards’ daughter, making her Reed’s stepsister. Kargul praises Franklin and Huntara for performing their duties (?) and he says Nathaniel is their true enemy.
Then we go back to the watcher and the FF, where he explains that in this version of the story, he sent Reed into space to collect the Ultimate Nullifer, where in the original story Johnny went to get the Nullifier. The Watcher calls this a mistake for which he has never forgiven himself. Then we cut to NYC where Lyja continues her flashback, explaining how Paibok gave her an implant that gave her laser-blasting powers. It’s then explained that these powers have now transferred to Suarez. (This is stuff the reader already knows.) Lyja says not to think of the egg as an egg, but as an implant instead. Johnny walks out on Lyja, saying “I’m through being burned by you.”
Then the Watcher keeps going with his flashback, explaining that this world’s Reed got distracted by all the alien wonders inside the Watcher’s home, and didn’t return to Earth in time to stop Galactus. Then we go to NYC for a side-story where Black Panther contacts the FF to see how repairs to the building are going, only for an angry Johnny to hang up on him. In Wakanda, Black Panther and one of his advisors talk about a youth named Vibraxas. Black Panther thinks Vibraxas’ powers could be a boon for society, but if he can’t rely on the FF for help, he will have to make other arrangements.
In Elsewhen, Kargul reveals that he’s the one who allowed the Dark Raider access to the multiple timelines, with Kargul’s end game being the destruction of Nathaniel Richards. A fight breaks out, as Franklin and Huntara fight Kargul’s henchmen and escape the castle.
With the Watcher, Sue asks if there is anything they can do to “set things right,” and the Watcher says there is a way, but it is with great risk. He teleports Namor and Ant-Man back to the present, and then teleports Sue and Ben. In NYC, the egg (we’re back to calling it an egg already) starts to hatch, only for Johnny to get teleported away. He, Sue, and Ben all reappear in what appears to be the FF’s original headquarters, just in time to see 1960s-era Galactus on the rooftop, setting up his world-destroying machine.
To be continued!
Fade out: Sue is in full leadership mode, standing up to the Watcher and demanding answers from him.
Clobberin’ time: Ben thinks to himself that he is likely not to survive this adventure, mentally preparing himself to die.
Flame on: After almost warming up (heh) to Lyja in recent issues, Johnny says he’s had enough, and he’s back to full-of-rage mode which how he was during the start of Tom DeFalco’s run on the series.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man spends the entire issue frozen in place so that the Watcher can chat with Sue and Ben.
Four and a half: Kargul’s introduction fills in a lot of gaps as to where Franklin went during all his time-traveling. This is the first we’ve seen of Kargul in Fantastic Four, but he was a minor villain in the Thor Corps series.
The Alicia problem: At least a third of this issue is re-telling Lyja’s history, stuff that readers already knew. Was this to catch new readers up to speed?
Commercial break: So here is an ad for the “Marvelvision” line, made up of Neil Gaiman’s Alice Cooper comic, Ghost Rider spinoff Blaze, the not-an-urban-legend Punisher Meets Archie, the Alex Ross classic Marvels, and Break the Chain, which came packaged with a rap cassette tape. I own all but one of these (I’ll let you guess which one) and none of the actual comics come with any “Marvelvision” branding.
Trivia time: The Black Panther scene is setting up the upcoming spinoff title Fantastic Force, which we’ll get to soon enough.
Fantastic or frightful? Here is an issue that’s nothing but flashbacks and characters explaining things, all about alternate timelines and alternate universes. It just turns into gobbledygook after a while.
Next: Day of the tentacle.
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.