Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Famed writer Chris Claremont takes over the series with vol. 3 issue #4, along with artist Salvador Larocca. It’s a reunion between supporting characters, and villains both famous and obscure.
Claremont spent almost two decades writing Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, New Mutants, and Excalibur – among others – only to have other writers pick up his unfinished plotlines in sometimes baffling ways. (How many lost Summers brothers were there, again?) There’s much speculation as to how and why Claremont left the X-Men titles in the mid-90s, when the mutants were at the height of their popularity. The year 1998 sees Claremont back at Marvel as the new Fantastic Four writer. Claremont is beloved for helping define the Marvel Universe as we know it, but he is also controversial for working his many, shall we say, personal eccentricities into his writing.
The issue begins with Ben on a balcony at Pier Four (the team’s current headquarters) which overlooks the Statue of Liberty. He thinks of his father, and growing up in poverty, wondering what his dad would think of him now. He gets beaned in the dead by a brick wrapped up in a newspaper – another prank from the Yancy Street Gang. He also meets up with sexy mailwoman Billie. Billie mentions her uncle, but before we get any more information, a “cosmic flare” goes off from former HQ Four Freedoms Plaza, which can also be seen in the distance.
Ben takes off in his FF skycycle, calling his teammates for backup. He also self-narrates about how the Thunderbolts have left Four Freedoms Plaza trashed after hero Citizen V was revealed to be former villain Baron Zemo. At the building, Ben comes across the Silver Surfer and Alicia. They quickly catch up – she thought he was dead during the whole Heroes Reborn thing, and he wonders why she took off into space with the Surfer. The Surfer is in a weakened state, and Ben promises to help, despite the tension between him and Alicia. As the rest of the FF approach in the Fantasticar, the car’s engine goes haywire with the team hurrying to avoid collateral damage as it crashes atop the building.
There’s a short scene with the two archeologists from last issue, now captured by the mysterious man named Crucible. He has them abducted and on board an airplane somewhere over Asia. Then it’s back to the FF, where the Surfer is feeling better and leading the Fantasti-jet in flight from New York into Canada. Sue and Reed have a heart-to-heart chat about dividing their time between parenting and superheroing. Ben and Alicia have a similar heart-to-heart where he asks her if her relationship with the Silver Surfer is serious, and she doesn’t really answer. Then it’s a third heart-t0-heart between Johnny and the Surfer, where the Surfer says he’s come to care about Alicia and doesn’t like the thought of leaving her behind on Earth.
The heroes arrive in the small town of Yorkton, Canada, where the Surfer, once again in a weakened state, follows his instincts as why he’s been driven there. The heroes can find no anomalies of any kind in the seemingly normal town. It’s only then that the Mole Man steps out of a nearby building. He makes a big speech about the superiority of the underground kingdom, but Ben talks him out of a fight.
The Mole Man leads the FF inside, promising them answers. Inside the building, we see the subterranean Moloids, who have become sick after fleeing the underground kingdom to the surface world. Sue asks who could be responsible, and she gets her answer from Terminus, who smashes open the roof of the building. There’s some quick exposition about how Terminus is a would-be world-devourer who keeps getting driven deep into the Earth by the FF, the Avengers and X-Men. A closer look at Terminus’ hands reveals he has a new body, composed of hundreds of Moloids all stuck together.
Ben wants to fight, but Reed says the Moloids have been transformed due to a virus, and they need a cure, not a battle. The Mole Man, meanwhile, is overcome with grief that such a horror has happened to his subjects. The Surfer then discusses how Terminus is different from Galactus. Galactus has the Power Cosmic, which is sensitive to life, while Terminus twists and corrupts life for his own end. Terminus starts stomping around the town of Yorkton, and NOW everyone fights. Johnny gets smashed downward into an underground river, where he’s saved by a mysterious stranger. Reed says the heroes must destabilize Terminus’ new form. Reed attacks Terminus, while the Surfer can sense that the individual Moloids still have some free will, and are mentally fighting Terminus’ control.
The Moloids start to break away from Terminus’ body, but are still under his thrall, and now threat to spread the virus wherever they go. Terminus makes a big speech about using the Moloids to purge poison from the Earth. That’s when Alicia approaches the battle, saying the Silver Surfer needs her help to find a pattern he needs to undo what Terminus has done. While the FF fear for Alicia’s safety, she manages to guide the Silver Surfer in using the power cosmic to stop Terminus and restore order to all the Moloids.
Ben is wracked with sadness, thinking that Alicia and the Silver Surfer look like they were meant to be together. But he then puts on a brave face and says no matter what happens, he’ll always be Alicia’s friend, and will always be there for her if she needs him. He then adds a warning for the Surfer, “Treat her wrong… you’ll answer to me.”
Unstable molecule: Reed says the new Terminus is reminiscent of the Clive Barker short story, In the Hills, the Cities. Here we have Chris Claremont not hiding his influences, but the real question is since when is the typically buttoned-up Reed Richards a Clive Barker fan?
Fade out: During the final battle, Sue manages to save the town by putting a “full spectrum” force field around Terminus so the power cosmic doesn’t escape. We’re told this means the force field blocks not just physical force, but light, heat, and radiation – a power I don’t believe Sue has demonstrated before.
Clobberin’ time: The comic remembers that Ben and the Mole Man were friends once, when Ben temporarily lived in the underground kingdom. Ben tries to reason with Mole Man at first, before Terminus shows up.
Flame on: Johnny saves everyone from the crashing Fantasticar by creating a cushion of hot air under it. Later, he tries the same trick against Terminus, only to get knocked into an underground river. Nonetheless, Reed praises Johnny, saying there’s no one else on Earth who understands fire better.
Four and a half: Franklin appears in one panel, playing a video game. We don’t get to see what game, sadly.
Commercial break: Ahh, the majesty and wonder of Greek mythology brought to life on the big screen.
Trivia time: Turns out when the Avengers fought Terminus, it wasn’t really Terminus. An issue of Quasar later revealed that it was a creature named Jorro who was impersonating Terminus. Similarly, the X-Men’s encounter with Terminus wasn’t really a Terminus story, but a faceoff with the High Evolutionary in response to Terminus’ (really Jorro’s) actions. The X-Men would finally meet the real Terminus years later, in a 2012 storyline, in which Terminus was one of several aliens invading the Earth at once.
Because we’re in Canada, one character suggests calling Alpha Flight for help. This month’s issue of Alpha Flight had the team fighting (of course) Wolverine, who had (of course) reverted back to an animalistic state.
Fantastic or frightful? Giving Terminus a new body composed of thousands of diseased Moloids is an odd concept, even for Marvel. The good news is Claremont writes the FF characters nicely. I also like Salvador Larocca’s early artwork, which was really cartoony and almost Disney-like. I’d say the good outweighs the bad.
Next: The crux of the matter.
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