Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Writer Chris Claremont wraps up his first big story arc (sort of) in the double-sized vol. 3 issue #12.
Gimmie a gimmick: This issue has a wraparound cover. On the backside, there’s an image of Ben and Johnny fighting a bunch of demon monsters that don’t appear in this issue.
Recap: After Reed was captured by Genoshans, the rest of the FF flew to the island nation of Genosha to rescue him. There, they confronted supervillain Crucible, who brain-switched Sue, Ben, and Johnny, with three non-powered ordinary humans. This issue begins with the Genosha capital city Hammer Bay under attack by high-tech aircraft. The FF make their way through the rubble. Ben is in the body of a tall bald guy, Sue is now an 18-year-old girl, and Johnny is an old man. Johnny’s doppleganger used his all-powerful nova flame to destroy a building last issue, and Johnny blames himself.
While more fighting occurs around the city, a portal opens and a bunch of military types join the conflict. Sue, Ben, and Johnny rescue some people from a car crash nearby, including a local magistrate. Ben, who has combat experience, stays behind to fight, while Sue and Johnny take off with the magistrate to a safe haven. The magistrate double-crosses them, though, and places all three under arrest.
The three heroes are taken to Genoshan state security, where they are reunited with Reed, who is apparently working alongside the magistrate. Sue makes a passionate speech, convincing Reed that she’s his wife.
As more fighting occurs around the city, Reed explains to his teammates that his abduction was really the Genoshans asking for help to stop Crucible. Reed finally admits that after his last encounter with Crucible (in issue #5) that he’s been losing his genius while also being more joyous in spending time with his family. The others make a case for finding a way to fight back. They convince Reed, just in time for the FF’s three dopplegangers to attack.
When Sue’s doppleganger turns invisible, Sue uses her other senses to find her, and then her newfound martial arts skills to take her down. Ben uses some of the Trapster’s tech (leftover from the Trapster’s appearance two issues ago, apparently) to slow down his opposite. Johnny confronts his double while wearing a fireproof suit. The doppleganger burns up all the oxygen in the room, therefore snuffing out his own fire. Using devices too-conveniently hidden in their FF uniforms, the heroes brain-switch themselves back into their own bodies.
Reed and the Magistrate travel through one of those portals, and find themselves in the headquarters of the Enclave. Remember them? They are three mad scientists who have been causing trouble around the Marvel Universe since back in the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby days. The attacking military goons are the Enclave’s troops. Reed says that the Enclave originally wanted to create a new lifeform from scratch, but now they’re experimenting on humans. Then Crucible appears, unmasked. He’s really Morlak, one of the Enclave! He and Reed fight for a bit, until Morlak is shot by Shinski, a second Enclave, who then dons the Crucible armor and proclaims that he’s the real Crucible.
Elsewhere, fellow villain Ayesha confronts the Magistrate. Now that we know Crucible is the Enclave, we know that Ayesha is “Her,” a female counterpart to Adam Warlock, who was originally created by the Enclave as “Him.” The rest of the FF arrive, and they help Reed rescue the human experimentees from Crucible’s lab. As they make their escape, the Magistrate throws a black hole grenade (which is a thing, apparently). Crucible/Shinski and Ayesha escape into the black hole’s event horizon. As they do, Crucible cries out, “It can’t end like this! It can’t!”
Later, back at Pier Four, the FF again meet with Val Cooper, the White House assistant for mutant and metahuman affairs. She says the government officially does not sanction the team’s rescue mission, but unofficially they have the White House’s gratitude. She adds that no one seems interested in helping Genosha, and Genosha will be left to its own fate. Once she takes off, Ben assumes Reed his heading for the lab, but instead, even though he has his genius back now, he’s still going to spend the day with Sue and Franklin at a Yankees game.
Unstable molecule: The idea here is that Reed is not losing his intelligence, but his inventiveness. He remembers all his old science and inventions, but can’t create new ones. This appears to be undone in one line where Sjhinki says the Enclave merely assumed Reed would eventually find a way to reverse the process.
Also, the FF’s uniforms in this issue are lined with tiny cyber-devices that do all kinds of things, like hacking and reverse brain-switching. We might assume that Reed came up with these while in Genosha, but this is all about him losing his inventiveness.
Fade out: Sue convinces Reed that it’s really her in another body simply by saying that she can’t convince him, only that she loves him. It’s enough, as it works.
Clobberin’ time: When the others are in human bodies with no powers, it’s Ben who becomes team leader. This is because he has combat experience, but it’s also because he has experience with turning into a human after being a monster for a long time.
Flame on: Johnny being trapped in the body of an old man complicates things, but he saves the day simply by knowing how his powers work better than his double does.
Four and a half: Franklin appears at the end of the issue, where we see Alysande Stuart (a.k.a. Caledonia) is still babysitting him.
Sue-per spy: Remember that the 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed Sue has had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent this whole time. She cites being trained by “the best” as helping her know how to fight. This is meant to be a reference to her hanging out with Iron Fist a few issues back, but it could also mean all her spy training.
Commercial break: The adventure begins… on video!
Trivia time: This Magistrate character is Chief Tam Anderson, who was a recurring character during the X-Tinction Agenda crossover. The Marvel Wiki says she died in the black hole at the end of this issue, and as of this writing she has never returned.
As the issue suggests, Shinski and Ayesha both eventually survived the black hole. The Enclave returned in 2004’s Warlock #1, once again acting as the Enclave and not as Crucible. Ayesha was one of more than a hundred characters who had cameos in Jim Starlin’s 2003 mega-epic Marvel: The End.
Fantastic or frightful? I’ll always be thankful for Chris Claremont and everything he gave in X-Men, but wow this comic is a mess. You have read each page several times in order follow what’s happening, and even then important plot points are only half-explained. Frustrating.
Next: Look, up in the sky.
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