Fantastic Friday: Off and Onslaught

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #416 is the final issue of the original series (or Volume 1, if you prefer) of Fantastic Four. It’s also smack in the middle of the epic Onslaught crossover, so this is a lot to cover.

Gimmie a Gimmick: This final issue has a wraparound cover, with the FF on the front, and a bunch of their classic villains on the back, with Onslaught peeking through some streaks in the foreground.

A lot of story has happened between the last issue and this one. After kidnapping both Franklin and Professor X, Onslaught made his move. He took over the mutant-killing Sentinel robots and turned them into his personal army. After setting off an EMP, Onslaught used the Sentinels to attack Manhattan, while constructing his personal citadel in Central Park. The combined forces of the X-Men, Avengers, and Fantastic Four use the FF’s Four Freedoms Plaza as a makeshift headquarters.

The issue begins with Dr. Doom watching Onslaught’s NYC invasion. After learning that Onslaught kidnapped Franklin, Doom says this crisis might need his “personal attention.” At HQ, Sue tends to the wounded superheroes. At first glance it appears as if Goku from DragonBall Z is also there, but it’s just one of Franklin’s toys. Ant-Man is already out of the fight, after Onslaught’s EMP knocked out his cybernetic Ant-Man helmet. Sue and X-Men’s Beast tell him to get some rest, adding that Kristoff is acting as bodyguard for Ant-Man’s daughter during the crisis. Reed is all business, saying he’s working on a device to counterattack Onslaught’s powerful telepathy, but Nathaniel Richards says he’s seen the future, and knows that Onslaught kills a lot of the superheroes during this time. Bishop, who is also from the future, de-confuses continuity by saying that there are multiple future timelines.

We catch up with Franklin trapped in some sort of shadow world inside Onslaught’s armor (weird). He recently was able to communicate telepathically with Nate Grey, a.k.a. the X-Man, and now he’s trying it again to contact his parents. Onslaught is aware of Franklin’s plan and is letting him do it. Reed and Sue have a heart-to-heart, worrying about whether they’ve been good parents for all the times Franklin’s life has been endangered. Reed says that once Onslaught is defeated, they will make time for them to be just a family.

Elsewhere in headquarters, Ben spies Reed and Lyja down one end of a hallway, remarking that the two of them are a couple again. Then Alicia shows up with her father the Puppet Master. Puppet Master offers a helping hand, even though he and the FF have been enemies in the past. He and Sue leave Ben and Alicia alone so they can talk. (Alicia’s recent space adventures in Silver Surfer go unmentioned.) But then we cut to Kristoff and Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie. She offers an update on their classmate Donald, saying Donald’s abusive father was reported and is now in counseling. That ends that subplot, just in time for time-travelling villain Kang to appear in the room. Kang says he’s there to kill Dr. Doom’s heir. Kristoff doesn’t buy it, and reveals Kang to be nothing but an illusion.

This kicks off the FF-villains-on-parade part of the issue. Psycho-Man arrives to menace Ben and Alicia, while the Super-Skrull and Paibok the Power-Skrull both show up to attack Johnny and Lyja. The latter fight is joined by the Inhumans, Black Bolt, Karnak and Gorgon (who, let’s not forget, once single-handedly defeated the FF). Next in the villain parade is Blastaar, who dukes it out with Medusa.

The issue just goes on like this. Reed fights the Wizard, and Sue fights the Mad Thinker and his latest Awesome Android. Reed is quick to deduce that Onslaught is using Franklin’s powers to manifest fears from Franklin’s mind, taking the form of the FF’s foes. Devos the Devastator is next to appear, only to be punched by Namor, in a surprise return to HQ. Namor says that even though he and the FF recently parted on bad terms, Onslaught is a threat to them both. He and Reed agree to an alliance.

Then even more cameos as the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes appear, menacing Nathaniel Richards. Nathaniel is rescued by Black Panther, and to everyone’ s surprise, three of the original Fantastic Force — Devlor, Vibraxus, and barbarian swordswoman Huntara. As more of the villains are revealed to be mere illusions, Nathaniel also deduces that Franklin is the cause.

Reed makes it to the lab to work on his device, a “neuromantic disruptor.” Ben fights Tyros (formerly Terrax) and gets some last-minute from She-Hulk, who donned a classic FF blue-and-white uniform for the occasion. While Ben and She-Hulk high-five, Reed says the device is complete, but needs an energy source to protect it from another of Onslaught’s EMPs. Ben sacrifices the alien device that can turn him human, saying he will gladly give it up to save his godchild Franklin.

Outside the building, Johnny fights Dragon Man and Annihilus, only to be rescued by Dr. Doom. Doom insists he is no mere illusion, and he demands an audience with Reed. Sue, meanwhile, is attacked by Malice, who at this point in continuity was her own psychic being. Sue is rescued by supernatural nanny Agatha Harkness, conveniently teleporting into the room.

 

Reed throws the switch on the disrupter. It works, causing all the illusory villains to disappear, including a bunch more cameos at the end — Miracle Man, Mole Man, Diablo, Molecule Man, Impossible Man, Hate-Monger, and Invincible Man. (I have no idea who’s wearing the Invincible Man costume this time, but I’m guessing it’s the Dark Raider.)

Reed says this is a minor victory, because Onslaught is still out there, but Sue counters by saying this proves Franklin is still alive, which means they still have a chance. Then Johnny shows up with Dr. Doom, who offers his aid in defeating Onslaught. Sue says Doom can help, but they’re making a deal with him. “He does things our way!” she says. She adds that the upcoming fight with Onslaught may very well be their final battle. The original four join hands one last time. Then it’s Reed and not Ben who ends the original series of Fantastic Four by saying “It’s clobberin’ time!” But then Ben has to get the last word with a classic Marvel “‘Nuff said.’”

The end.

Except it isn’t the end, because we still have the Onslaught crossover to deal with. Onslaught revealed his plan to create a second sun, which would destroy the heroes (and, I’m assuming, all life on Earth). In the final battle, the unlikely duo of Jean Grey and the Hulk shattered Onslaught’s armor, leaving behind a being of pure psychic energy. Into to fully destroy the energy being and restore Franklin and Professor X, the heroes had to fly straight into the energy, which would kill them. One catch: Only non-mutants could enter the energy, which meant that the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the Hulk, and even Dr. Doom were the ones to give up their lives. Onslaught was defeated, but some of Marvel’s greatest heroes were dead, and the world mourned.

The end, for real this time. (Except it isn’t.)

Unstable molecule: If all this wasn’t enough comic book for you, issue #416 also has a backup story, a flashback to Reed, Ben, and Doom first meeting at college. Reed and Ben clash instantly, while Ben suggests all three of them share a dorm room. The Watcher, who is narrating tells the reader that if one of the three of them had said something in the crucial seconds that followed, then history would have been different. But, alas, all three went their separate ways.

Fade out: It would appear that Sue is still team leader by this point, as she orders all the other heroes around while Reed works in the lab. She has also apparently forgiven Agatha Harkness for letting Franklin get time-traveled. The last time we saw Agatha was Sue kicking her out of the place.

Clobberin’ time: The machine that can turn Ben into a human is an abruptly dropped plotline. The original idea was that it was going to make him angrier and angrier every time he used it. But, editorial demands for the reboot means we never got to have that story.

Flame on: During the fight, the Super-Skrull gives Johnny grief for his romance with Lyja, calling it unnatural. If these are psychic projections, could this be Johnny’s own subconscious saying this?

Fantastic Fifth Wheel: This is a wrap for Ant-Man. Scott Lang goes back to being an Iron Man guest star after this, just in time for the Armor Wars event. He will eventually return to Fantastic Four once the whole Future Foundation thing gets going.

She-Hulk had been all over the Marvel Universe since the cancellation of her solo series. She was a regular in Thunderstrike and Doc Sampson before temporarily joining the Fantastic Force team, leading to her appearance in this issue. Following Onslaught, she becomes a regular in Heroes for Hire, with guest appearances in Avengers, BlackWulf, and more.

Medusa again speaks highly of her time with the team, saying it is with great pride that she fights alongside them, and that she considers them family. All this while fighting Blastaar!

Crystal is one panel, still recovering from Onslaught’s attack. Impossible Man, who was a member of the FF during the “Fantastic Seven” storyline in the ‘70s, also appears in one panel.

When Kristoff confronts Kang and Kang calls him Doom’s heir, there’s a closeup of Kristoff’s eyes and it looks like he’s all teary-eyed. Does part of him still long to stand by Doom’s side?

Dr. Doom working alongside the FF means we can count this as another instance of him acting as an alternate FF team member.

A lot of fan sites list Namor as being an official member of the team during this time in the ‘90s, but I always felt he was more of a guest star. In this issue, though, Reed clearly welcomes him to the team, so I guess from here forward we must consider him an alternate team member.

Four and a half: Franklin’s scene has one panel of him astral projecting, remembering that was his power during his “Tattletale” years as a member of Power Pack.

The Alicia problem: This is a wrap for poor Lyja. After all this drama, she is out of the series, and pretty much written out of continuity. Once we get into Heroes Return and beyond, she won’t get so much as a mention until returning much, much later for Secret Invasion.

Commercial break: Matilda was the original Thanos:

Trivia time: This is also more or less a wrap for Nathaniel Richards. He’ll occasionally show up after this for some time travel fun in X-Force and S.H.I.E.L.D. He won’t make a return to Fantastic Four until after the Future Foundation gets started.

I’m at a loss as to how the Fantastic Force team can be here, when it seemed they all went their separate ways at the end of their series. This is especially true of Huntara, who left Earth to explore “Elsewhen.” Seems to me that if Huntara appears in Fantastic Four, the story should be about her and Reed dealing with how they are long-lost step-siblings, but no luck.

Fantastic or frightful? I read the entire Onslaught crossover in preparation for this blog (you’re freakin’ welcome) and it’s not as bad as people say. The Onslaught character is given a proper introduction and feeling of true menace, unlike other villains of this type (cough*Hyperstorm*cough). There’s a lot of character work throughout, including more X-Men drama, a Peter Parker/Ben Reilly team-up, and even the Phil Urich Green Goblin getting in on the action. As for issue #416, all of the cameos are kind of cheesy, but keeping things in the family means we get end the series on an FF-centric high note, rather than be overwhelmed by crossover-mania. The good news is, there’s a lot more Fantastic Four to come.

Next: Rise to the challenge.

****

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. amazon.com/dp/B00859NDJ8
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