Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Before we get to the big Heroes Reborn reboot, first we’ve got to talk about Challengers of the Fantastic #1!
Onslaught and Heroes Reborn weren’t the only big events of 1996/1997, because we also had the inter-company action of DC vs. Marvel (or Marvel vs. DC, as it was known for two issues). The plot concerned two cosmic brothers, one representing the Marvel Universe and one representing the DC Universe, learn of each other’s existence and decide that only one should survive. They force the heroes to fight each other in one-on-one slugfests. The universes were briefly combined into one, called the Amalgam Universe. But then everyone going back to their own universes thanks to Captain America and Batman teaming up to save the day.
The Amalgam Universe only existed for a few pages in DC vs. Marvel before being undone, but we can thank a new character named Access — co-owned by both companies — who used his new reality-bending powers to keep Amalgam going. As such Marvel and DC co-published a whole bunch of Amalgam one-shots, with Challengers of the Fantastic being part of the second wave of Amalgams.
In Challengers of the Fantastic, the FF get combined with DC’s Challengers of the Unknown, four adventurers who survived a near-death experience and decide to help others while they are “on borrowed time.” (If you ever read Challengers of the Unknown, you’ll read the words “on borrowed time” a LOT.) The first page gives us the lowdown on our new heroes:
- Sue “Ace” Storm, secret agent — an amalgam of Sue and jet pilot Ace Morgan.
- Reed “Prof” Richards, science genius — an amalgam of Reed and deep sea diver Prof Haley.
- Johnny “Red” Storm, a thrill-seeking teen — an amalgam of Johnny and circus daredevil Red Ryan.
- Ben “Rocky” Grimm, a brawling US senator (?!?) — an amalgam of Ben and Olympic wrestler Rocky Davis.
There’s a short version of the group’s origin. They take off on a dangerous space mission, only for it to be sabotaged by their former friend Victor Von Doom. The four survive, and decide to use their second chance on life to better mankind. They are (say it with me) on borrowed time.
In Washington DC, Rocky is negotiating a conflict between Wakanda and Gorilla City when he gets a message from the team. He travels to a mountain north of New York which is the Challengers’ headquarters, and also the HQ of scientist group Cadmus. There, Prof is investigating the existence of Universe-Two, and Red is pining away for his missing girlfriend, Dream Crystal. Note that Red has a miniature clone of himself for some reason, which will come into play later. (The Wiki says the clone’s name is “Johnny Stormtrooper.”) Ace summons them all to the briefing room, where they are met by Uatu the Guardian, a cosmic being who warns them, “Galatiac is coming!”
Uatu says Galactiac is the ultimate combination of mind and machine, draining the lifeblood of planets to recharge his energy cells. Because robots are involved, Rocky suggests calling the Challengers’ resident robotics expert, June Masters. June, who is blind, performs a calculation to determine that Galactiac will be defeated only if a Challenger dies.
The Challengers take their flying car, the FantastiWagon, to the Baxter Building, headquarters of Spider-Boy, only to find the place trashed. The attack was done by an Asgodian alien, the Silver Racer, in self-defense. The Racer tells them he has come with a dire warning. Galactiac has arrived, and is constructing his planet-eating machine on the roof of the building.
Prof tries and fails to reason with Galactiac, and Galactiac prevents Ace from calling in a S.H.I.E.L.D. airstrike. Uatu reappears and sends Red on a mission. Inside the building, June talks to the Silver Racer, asking for his help and reminding him of his long-repressed humanity. When Rocky tries destroying part of Galactiac’s machine, Galactiac responds by transforming him into a four-armed orange rock monster… a Thing!
Red travels through space on Uatu’s mission, to destroy a piece of space machinery. Back on Earth, Ace and fight the now-monstrous Rocky. Ace uses a force field belt, and Prof helps himself to some Dr. Octopus arms from inside the Baxter Building. The damage from the fight draws the attention of Galactiac, just in time for Red to return from space, and for the Silver Racer to join the fight.
There’s an explosion, following which Rocky is turned back into a human and Galactiac flies off into space, swearing to return someday. Red is found still alive. It appears that June’s calculation was incorrect, but Red reveals that it was his tiny clone who died. That when Red was in space, it was really the clone shrunk down to microscopic space, and the alien device was part of Galactiac’s brain.
Elsewhere, the Silver Surfer is attacked and left for dead. The culprit is the Challengers’ old friend Victor Von Doom, now transformed into the monster known as Dr. Doomsday.
Yeah, this story is nonsense. The comic only exists to show off and/or reference as many Amalgam characters and concepts as possible:
- June Masters is an amalgam of Marvel’s Alicia Masters and DC’s June Robbins (from Challengers of the Unknown).
- Galactiac is an amalgam of Marvel’s Galactus and DC’s Brainiac.
- Uatu the Guardian is an amalgam of Marvel’s Watcher and DC’s Ganthet (from Green Lantern).
- The Silver Racer is an amalgam of Marvel’s Silver Surfer and DC’s Black Racer.
- Dr. Doomsday is an amalgam of Marvel’s Dr. Doom and DC’s Doomsday.
- Dream Crystal is an amalgam of Marvel’s Crystal and DC’s Beautiful Dreamer.
- The Bronze Panther is an amalgam of Marvel’s Black Panther and DC’s Bronze Tiger.
- Congo Red is an amalgam of Marvel’s Red Ghost and DC’s Congorilla.
- Spider-Boy is an amalgam of Marvel’s Spider-Man and DC’s Superboy.
- The Un-People are an amalgam of Marvel’s Inhumans and DC’s Forever People. Their members are:
- Vykin the Black Bolt, an amalgam of Marvel’s Black Bolt and DC’s Vikyn the Black
- Triserinak, an amalgam of both Marvel’s Karnak and Triton with DC’s Serifan.
- Medusa Moonrider, an amalgam of Marvel’s Medusa and DC’s Mark Moonrider.
- Big Gorgon, an amalgam of Marvel’s Gorgon and DC’s Big Bear.
Wait, there’s more! In addition to characters appearing, there are also references to others:
- Universe-Two is an amalgam of Marvel’s New Universe and DC’s Earth Two.
- Spitfire and the Blackhawks is an amalgam of Marvel’s Spitfire and the Troubleshooters and the Blackhawks.
- Infinite Kickers Inc. is an amalgam of Marvel’s Kickers Inc. and DC’s Infinity Inc.
- The Mother Cube is an amalgam of Marvel’s Cosmic Cube and DC’s Mother Box.
- Diablo the Volcano Man is an amalgam of Marvel’s Diablo and DC’s Volcano Man.
- The Multi-Master is an amalgam of Marvel’s Puppet Master and DC’s Multi-Man.
- Ultivac the Multi-Robot is an amalgam of Marvel’s Destroyer and DC’s Ultivac.
- Cosbie is an amalgam of Marvel’s H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot with DC’s Cosmo. (Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.)
It’s not made clear which DC character has been amalgamated with Dr. Octopus. All we get is that his arms are called “anima-tentacles.” Additionally, Moon Boy from Marvel’s Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur can be seen in the Washington DC scenes, except he hasn’t been amalgamated with anyone. Why’s he the one who gets a pass?
Trivia time: The main DC vs. Marvel miniseries has a few additional mashups for Fantastic Four characters. Ben fought the Martian Manhunter, and Johnny fought Firestorm. The outcomes of these fights remains unknown. She-Hulk is matched up against Supergirl, but they don’t fight each other. Instead, they immediately team up to stop some criminals.
The Marvel Wiki alleges that Dr. Doomsday’s storyline was resolved in Secret Crisis of the Infinity Hour, but I suspect this is an inside joke and not an actual published comic.
The Marvel Wiki further alleges that the entire DC vs. Marvel event place in an alternate timeline, entirely outside of continuity. This includes that Access guy and all the Amalgam characters.
Fantastic or frightful? Challengers of the Fantastic is kind of a disappointment, as the story and characters are secondary to the huge list of references. As an event overall, DC vs. Marvel isn’t without its charms, but this type of thing would be done much more successful a few years later in the awesome JLA/Avengers.
Next: Getting the reboot.
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