Fantastic Friday: Who watches the watchmen who watch the other watchmen?

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #397 has Dr. Doom (but not really) the Watcher (but not really) and the return of Reed (but not really).

We begin with some comedy antics of Johnny flying through an airport hoping to make it to his flight on time. All while recapping how he saw the mysterious apparition of Sue warning the FF danger. Lyja the Skrull is following him, having shape-changed into a piece of luggage.

Johnny arrives at FF headquarters, where Ben and Ant-Man are fixing up the FF’s Stealth Hawk ship, making it look even more like the Enterprise. They’ve apparently already compared notes, getting down to business about trying to locate Sue. Then the Watcher appears before them. He says a Skrull warship is approaching the Earth and he insists the heroes leave Earth immediately to stop it. Ben doesn’t believe him, though, saying that the Watcher went into self-imposed exile back in issue #392. When he asks why the Watcher changed his mind, the Watcher shows a rare moment of weakness and says, “I have apparently underestimated you.”

The Watcher then attacks, unleashing his comic powers on the FF. Ben and Johnny fight back, all while knowing that the Watcher has godlike power and is nearly invulnerable. Rather than fight, Ant-Man hops aboard the Stealth Hawk, forming a plan.

Cut to a secret lab in the mountains of Tibet, the home of the “Monastery of Doom,” where Nathaniel Richards has captured Sue and trapped her in a high-tech dome. There are two bodies in suspended animation in the lab, which Sue believes contains Reed and Dr. Doom, back from the dead. Sue escapes from the cage and threatens Nathaniel, but he doesn’t fight back, saying his goal is already accomplished.

Back at Four Freedoms Plaza, Ant-Man uses the Stealth Hawk engines to distract the Watcher. This allows Johnny to fly to the lab and recover a “Dekion pulse” specifically designed for use against a rogue Watcher. It starts to work, but the Watcher fights back, destroying the pulse.

Just when it seems all is lost, a second Watcher appears. The first Watcher calls the second one “brother,” and says the two of them can leave and go off to create their own universe. The second Watcher isn’t having it, saying that if “the one” dies, so do they all. The first Watcher departs, saying he will spare the FF’s lives in exchange for the second Watcher not interfering in his affairs. Johnny asks if the second Watcher is Uatu a.k.a. the Watcher of Earth, but he disappears without giving an answer. He does, however, leave an alien device behind.

In Tibet, the Nathaniel opens the tubes, awakening the two held in suspended animation. It is not Dr. Doom but Kristoff, the pretender to Doom’s throne. The second is Boris, Doom/Kristoff’s loyal retainer. We get a short recap of Kristoff’s origin, that he was an orphaned Latverian child taken under Doom’s wing, only to go insane and believe he was Doom, to the point where he lives 24/7 in an adult-sized Doom-shaped armor. To bring home the ridiculousness of this concept, there’s even a big panel of unmasked Kristoff, showing his little kid face in full Dr. Doom regalia. Sue asks about Kristoff’s father, but Kristoff says he never knew his father.

There’s a short scene of Lyja arriving in New York, just in time for the Stealth Hawk to fly off without her. This is followed by another short scene in the Watcher’s lair, where a mysterious stranger chides the Watcher for his “performance” in front of the FF. The stranger emerges from the shadows and it’s… Reed! (I’ll spoil it: This is the Dark Raider, the alternate-universe Reed from a few issues back.)

In Tibet, Ben, Johnny and Ant-Man are already reunited with Sue, Nathaniel, Kristoff and Boris. Sue takes Nathaniel aside and says she assumed Dr. Doom is Nathaniel’s son, but Kristoff is really Nathaniel’s son. Nathaniel doesn’t give a definitive answer, saying “it is less than prudent to make any assumptions.” Kristoff looks over the device the Watcher left behind, saying it is a weapon powerful enough to extinguish a sun. He says they must all do something about the Watcher, because the Watcher’s “treachery” threatens them all.

To be continued.

Fade out: Sue has to struggle to escape from her cage/dome thing she’s in, fearing that she suffered a concussion when Nathaniel knocked her out last issue. She seems to recover from it pretty quick.

Clobberin’ time: Ben enacts the plan to stop the watcher by saying “Execute plan 4-W!” Possibly this is a holdover from his time as team leader during the Steve Englehart years.

Flame on: Johnny uses concentrated nova-level bursts of fire against the Watcher. Again, it’s inconsistent as to when he has this ability and when he doesn’t.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ben, Johnny and Ant-Man wear matching blue and white “4” jackets in this issue. That makes this a good one to show people who argue that Ant-Man isn’t really an alternate member of the team. He’ s wearing the “4”!

The Alicia problem: Lyja’s motivation in this issue is not to trick or seduce Johnny to win him back by helping him save the day.

Commercial break: Hey, I remember Ren and Stimpy. Wait… this isn’t Ren and Stimpy!

Trivia time: The last time we saw Kristoff was back in issue #352, when Dr. Doom seemingly killed him. Why the monks at the Monastery of Doom saw fit to secretly revive Kristoff is anyone’s guess.

An NYC bystander, upon seeing Lyja and the Stealth Hawk, says “You don’t see sights like this in Gotham City!” Gotham City is arguably canonical Marvel, having appeared in JLA/Avengers, Batman/Punisher, Spider-Man/Batman, and Batman/Daredevil. The Marvel wiki insists that these crossovers are alternate timelines, however, making this bystander really some sort of interdimensional being. What do you mean, “It’s just a joke”?

Fantastic or frightful? I imagine a lot of people are confused by this issue, what with the two Watchers, the Kristoff/Nathaniel stuff, and so on. It’s all a set up for next issue, which finally explains what’s been going on. So this one’s not really its own story, but part of a bigger whole.

Next: I am… not Groot?


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

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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