Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #403, we’re getting back to basics with some old-fashioned jungle adventure.
We begin in the lab inside Four Freedoms Plaza, where Kristoff has designed a new Ant-Man suit for Scott Lang, one that will enhance his “physical abilities.” Scott is grateful, but Kristoff remains a jerk, even though they are teammates now. Kristoff boasts that his intellect is superior to Scott’s. Scott reminds Kristoff that he’s a 12-year-old who “models himself” after Dr. Doom.
Scott is then called to the lobby, where he receives a surprise visitor — his daughter Cassie. There’s a lot of fun shtick as he gives her a tour of FF headquarters, and Kristoff even shows up not wearing the Dr. Doom armor to flirt with the pre-teen Cassie. Kristoff’s aide Boris is also still hanging around, still harboring a dark secret unknown to our heroes. This is followed by two pages of follow-up to the Atlantis Rising crossover, establishing that the Inhumans now rule Atlantis, protected from the outside world by a Negative Zone barrier. Namor the Sub-Mariner, all alone at the bottom of the ocean, swears revenge.
Cut to Brazil, where we are reunited with Professor Kenneth Robeson, the archeologist we met briefly in issue #389. He’s investigating the ruins of an ancient civilization that left behind sculptures with an eerie resemblance to the Thing. He chides his jungle guide Mico for illegally shooting animals for sport, and then Nico leads him and his team to more ruins, the Temple of the Ancient Sun Demons. These sculptures also resemble the Thing. Robeson and team find alien-looking machinery inside the temple. When one goon messes with the machine, it zaps him with a blast of energy.
Then there’s some business with Johnny, officially announcing he’s leaving to the team for work the Fantastic Force spinoff team, who could use his help with all the drama going on in that comic. He then goes on a date with love interest du jour Laura Green, still not knowing that Laura Green is Lyja the Skrull in disguise. After Johnny takes off, Lyja goes to HQ, where Sue has invited her for a meeting. Sue says that with Johnny leaving and Kristoff still not entirely trustworthy, the FF could use a hand. Lyja says she’s happy to help.
The FF then receive a distress call from Robeson, who tells them Mico’s “things” are attacking the archeological site. Although the FF don’t know what this means, but they are ready to help. Kristoff uses his genius to track Robeson’s signal. Ant-Man stays behind to be with Cassie, so Lyja volunteers to take his place.
The FF arrive in the jungles of Brazil, and must march through the brush to reach Robeson’s camp. Ben scouts ahead, where he is attacked by a bunch of other Things. They introduce themselves as the “Dark-Spawn of Mico” and they fight Ben calling him a “has-been.” The rest of the team, meanwhile, make it to Robeson’s camp and find it deserted. Sue and Lyja are knocked out with poison darts from an unseen attacker. The same attacker takes out Kristoff’s Doom armor with a futuristic adhesive liquid.
Been defeats all the other Things, and then makes his way to the ancient temple, where Mico is waiting for him. Ben demands an explanation, but Mico says he has other ideas. Ben turns around to find that Sue, Lyja, and Kristoff have been transformed into… Things!
To be continued!
Fade out: Sue speaks on behalf of the FF when communicating with NATO on the Inhumans/Atlantis situation. The NATO officials promise to keep Sue informed of future developments.
Clobberin’ time: Referring the enemies as “Spawn” feels like a cheap shot fired at Image comics, with a lot of talk during the fight about other Things are nothing but cheap imitations of the original. During the fight, Ben even says, “Image ain’t everything!”
Flame on: The last time we saw Johnny in this comic, he was being mind-controlled by Maximus the Mad. What this issue doesn’t tell you is that Franklin freed Johnny from Maximus’ thrall in Fantastic Force #9, which was part 9 of Atlantis Rising.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Kristoff continues the unlikable thing by always telling his new teammates they have inferior intellects. His flirtation with Cassie, though, gives him a little more personality than just kid-who-thinks-he’s-Dr.-Doom.
After referencing Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie several times, she finally shows up in Fantastic Four. She’s also been aged-up from kid to pre-teen so she can get flirty with Kristoff. Cassie being a superhero fan has been well-established in her many Iron Man and Marvel Presents cameos, even wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt in her first appearance.
The Alicia problem: Ben is the only one who has a problem with Sue asking Lyja to join the expedition, remembering that Johnny still feels betrayed by everything that went down between them. Lyja tells herself that her Laura Green persona was only meant to keep an eye on Johnny, and that she never intended to attract Johnny.
Commercial break: It’s the Citizen Kane of parachuting elephant movies:
Trivia time: The country of Brazil hasn’t been visited too many times in Marvel history. There was some World War II action with Captain America and Bucky. Other than that, it’s mostly been Avengers visiting there for various world-saving missions, as well as an amusing story about Jarvis the butler teleporting to Brazil to gather gourmet coffee beans. Brazil got the most play in New Mutants, thanks to the mutant hero Sunspot being Brazillian. Most interestingly, though, is that Brazil is the home of Nova Roma, the secret society where people live as if it is still ancient Rome. Magma from New Mutants was originally from Nova Roma.
Fantastic or frightful? After all those long-winded and baffling subplots, not to mention a bunch of crossovers, it’s refreshing to have an issue that’s back to the Fantastic Four going on a Fantastic Four adventure. It’s a simplistic issue, but there’s plenty of fun to be had.
Next: Rumble in the jungle.
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