Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Vol. 3 issue #3 is the third and final issue with legendary artist Alan Davis, who co-wrote this one with writer Scott Lobdell. Davis originally intended to stay on Fantastic Four longer, but left when he got the chance to do his passion project The Nail at DC. For part three of the Davis trilogy, we’ve got apes.
It’s New Years Eve in NYC, and the Sue, Ben, and Johnny are in formal wear ready to go to a benefit gala. Reed is still in his lab working. The others break into the lab to find Reed performing an autopsy on last issue’s villain, the Iconoclast. The FF are horrified, but Reed explains that it’s not really the Iconoclast, but a holographic recreation of him. Reed says the Iconoclast is a human-sized single-cell organism, which somehow explains why he could not be detected. Sue, Ben and Johnny take off to the benefit, and Reed promises to catch up.
Cut to outer space, where readers are reunited with Alicia Masters. Readers who haven’t been following Silver Surfer during this time might not know that Alicia has been a supporting character in that comic for a time, and some might really be surprised to learn that Alicia and the Surfer have become a romantic couple by this point. The Surfer tells Alicia that his thoughts dwell on Earth after learning that the heroes who died/disappeared during Onslaught and Heroes Reborn have returned. Alicia says that although Ben has made no effort to contact her, she wonders if it’s time for her to get in touch with him. Then the Silver gets another premonition of Earth, saying that something is growing deep within the Earth, which may pose a threat to the planet.
Back in NYC, we’re at Empire State University, where we meet security guard Devin Chapman, who thinks of himself as a crimefighter called “Campus Defender,” and grad student Cathy Polombo, who is studying biopsy results on a test monkey. She discovers synthetic fibers in the monkey’s muscles and strange readings in its blood. She calls her student advisor, a “consulting professor,” and leaves a message. A voice tells her to hang up the phone. Cathy turns to face the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes. Note that the Super-Apes are now intelligent and can speak, while the Red Ghost only grunts and acts ape-like. The apes introduce themselves as Mikhlo, Peator (the gorilla), and Igor.
At Pier Four, Reed is still tinkering with the hologram when H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot alerts him to a phone call. Reed assumes it’s Sue, but it’s Cathy, revealing that Reed is her consulting professor. He flies to the scene in the Fantasticar and while calling the rest of the FF. At ESU, the apes trashing the lab. Devin Chapman the Campus Defender tries to intervene, giving the apes to show off their powers. The apes now have multiple superpowers, including shape-changing and telekinesis. The Super-Apes reveal that Igor has been posing as a lab monkey to secretly build a toxic nerve gas device in the lab when alone each night. They plan to release the gas in Times Square.
Reed busts into the lab and fights the apes, with Paetor the gorilla providing the only real challenge. Reed observes that the apes share each others’ powers, and the Red Ghost’s intellect is now distributed among the apes. Reed knocks out Paetor just as his teammates burst through the door. With the Red Ghost too innocent and childlike to fight back, Ben declares the crisis over. Reed, however, recalls that Red Ghost and the apes got their powers from the same cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers. Reed wonders if the FF will face the same fate.
Then, somewhere in the mountains of Tibet, two explorers come across an ancient monastery. They find a bunch of dead bodies inside and then they’re confronted by a man in the shadows who calls himself Crucible. Cut from there to Subterranea, where the Mole Man is getting out of a bath (!) to discover all his minions have disappeared. He senses a monster crawling up from the depths of the planet, and he says that although he doesn’t care about the surface world, he will fight with his dying breath to save his people.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: To spy on the Super-Apes, Reed stretches one eyeball through a grate (gross). Also for anyone who says Reed is boring, he is a man of action in this issue, taking out three super-powered enemies without breaking a sweat.
Fade out: Sue shows off her science-brain by pointing out that a single-celled organism is an amoeba.
Clobberin’ time: Ben says he’s uncomfortable in his New Year’s tuxedo, and sure enough he ditches it to jump into action.
Flame on: Johnny gives Reed a hard time for Reed being on a first-name basis with the three Super-Apes, but then Johnny remembers that the Red Ghost’s first name is Ivan two panels later.
Fantastic fifth wheel: H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot has been demoted to the team’s answering machine. Sue has programmed him not to respond to Reed’s “not now” when he calls, but Reed counters that with a code that automatically deactivates H.E.R.B.I.E. (Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.)
Medusa shows up in this one-page pinup by Alan Davis and inker Mark Farmer.
Commercial break: Cyberswine!
Trivia time: Which ape is which? This issue says that Paetor is the gorilla, but the Marvel Wiki claims Miklho is the gorilla, with Paetor being the orangutan and Igor being the baboon. Maybe their names/identities/consciousnesses got switched around along with their powers. (Alternatively, the Wiki also lists the Super-Apes appearance in a Hostess Fruit Pie ad as canon, so maybe the Wiki isn’t the definitive source we think it is.)
The story of how Red Ghost and his Super-Apes were transformed has never been revealed. They next appeared in Wolverine #164, where they were in jail and back to their usual selves.
Sharp-eyed readers will recognize the monastery as the same one from Dr. Doom’s origin story, where Doom crafted his armor. The Crucible storyline won’t be picked up again until vol. 3 issue #5.
This is the only appearance of security guard Devin Chapman, which is too bad. I wouldn’t have minded the further adventures of the Campus Defender.
Fantastic or frightful? How sad that this is all we get from Alan Davis and Scott Lobdell. This has a ton of great character moments and cinematic action. It’s a reminder of how comics can be pure fun.
Next: Mt. Clare.
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