Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s 1999 now, and Marvel and DC got a little crossover-happy during this time. The two biggies met in a biggie comic, Superman/Fantastic Four.
Gimmie a gimmick: This was a so-called “treasury format” comic, published at an unusually large size. The coffee table book size is supposed to be so the reader can take in all the detail in the art. It’s also a wraparound cover, with our heroes on the front and Galactus and an exploding Krypton on the back.
The issue begins with Galactus seeing baby Kal-El’s ship escaping Krypton, and considering that someday the child might be of use to him. Cut to the present, in Metropolis, where a mysterious alien device has appeared on a city street. The one and only Superman flies down from the sky. He informs the local cops that his x-ray vision has detected a digital timer inside, and the device is a nuke about to explode.
Superman’s heat vision conveniently stops the timer and then he flies off in search of a radio signal that is the bomb’s backup. He finds a Kryptonian crystal containing a message from his father Jor-El. Joe-El tells Superman that he thought Krypton’s destruction was due to natural disaster, but in the final days of Krypton, Joe-El said the real reason is because of the imminent approach of Galactus. Galactus’ cosmic power has accelerated Krypton’s demise. Superman says he learned about Galactus from “the heroes of the other universe.” He says he will visit this other universe, adding that he has “access.”
Cut to the Marvel Universe, at Pier Four, where Franklin Richards is watching a Superman cartoon on TV. He remarks that Superman might be a fiction character in his universe, but his parents told him about another Universe where Superman is real. He checks in with the FF, who are conducting various experiments in Reed’s lab, just in time for Superman to show up. Before they can barely say hello, the Kryptonian crystal goes haywire. Activating the pier’s automatic defenses. Then it’s a few pages of action as Superman and the FF work together to shut the machines down.
A strange spacecraft flies down, and out steps the Cyborg Superman, a.k.a. Hank Henshaw. He too has heard rumors of Galactus and has come looking for him. Johnny and Henshaw fight for a bit, and then a golden light strikes Superman. Superman is transformed into a golden form, and says Galactus’ will is his own. Reed deduces that Galactus has chosen Superman as his new herald. Superman then flies into space, taking Reed with him.
Sue traps Henshaw in a force field, and she demands information from him, believing Henshaw can follow Superman’s trail. Aboard Galactus’ ship, way out in space, Galactus makes a big speech about how Superman will be his greatest herald, while Reed pleads for Superman to fight back. At the pier, Henshaw helps Ben soup up the team’s rocket ship, so it can make the journey to locate Galactus.
Henshaw says he and the FF have similar origins, as he got his machine-controlling powers after a spaceship crash, just like the FF. Franklin gives his mom a Superman action figure for good luck, and the FF and Henshaw take off for space, with Ben and Henshaw fighting over who’s in the pilot’s seat.
In space, Superman is selecting planets for Galactus to consume, ones without intelligent life. They’re interrupted by the arrival of the FF and Henshaw. Then, fighting! Johnny attempts to take down Superman but ends up just running from him. Ben and Sue attempt to fight Galactus himself, while Henshaw hangs back plotting on how to steal Galactus’ power for himself. We also see that Reed has been sealed up in a prison cell made of “transparent alloy.” After getting defeated, the FF and Henshaw retreat, with Sue saying the lost the battle, but not the war.
Galactus devours the planet, and Superman feels some small amount of regret, but continues to act as herald. They then travel to another planet, this one fully inhabited with life. Superman tries to argue for saving them, telling Galactus, “Even one such as you must have a soul!”
The FF return, and this time Ben fights Superman. Superman punches out Ben, but then attacks Galactus, turning over to the heroes’ side. Galactus blasts Superman, incapacitating him. Ben smashes open Reed’s cell, freeing him. Except that’s when Henshaw makes his move, electrocuting Reed. Ben then punches out Henshaw.
Nearby, a weakened Superman spots Franklin’s toy from earlier (I guess it fell from the FF’s ship when the arrived?) and he begins to remember who he really is. Superman transforms from a herald back into classic Superman, and he and Reed work together to reverse Galactus’ world-devouring machine. It now draws cosmic energy out of Galactus and into the planet. Superman then faces off against Galactus, making him swear to only devour deserted planets from now on, or else he loses all his cosmic energy. Not even Galactus can say no to Superman. He agrees, and gives his word.
Superman then asks about Krypton, and Galactus says he had nothing to do with Krypton’s demise, and that it was long gone before he ever arrived. Then Ben is the one who deduces that the Kyrptonian crystal that started all this was fake made by Henshaw, all in the hopes of getting at Galactus. Henshaw then asks Galactus to give him the power cosmic. “Give me perfection!” he says. Galactus does so, transforming Henshaw into a tiny red brick. Reed says Henshaw’s body is now a flawless alloy without thought or comprehension – Galactus’ idea of simple perfection.
The heroes return to Pier Four. Superman tells Franklin that if it weren’t for his action figure, “I might not have made it back.” To show his gratitude, Superman removes his cape (!) and gives it to Franklin as a gift. The last page is Superman flying off with the FF and Franklin – with the cape – watching him go.
Continuity Café: And with that, we have to stop and try to figure out when and where this story takes place.
- Is this in current continuity? Pier Four is seen, and Caledonia a.k.a. Alysande is mentioned as being Franklin’s babysitter. This, plus the publication date, means this story most likely takes place between issues 12 and 13 of vol. 3 of Fantastic Four. Superman’s continuity is a little harder to track. As for Superman, this month was the final chapter of Superman: The Doomsday Wars event, and the historic Action Comics #750 with the first appearance of supervillain Crazytop. I think we can surmise that this comic takes place between those two issues.
- BUT, how do Superman and the FF already know each other? This story takes place after Marvel vs. DC, but that story ended with the heroes only remembering one another on a subconscious level. And yet, when Superman says he has “access” to the Marvel Universe, that’s clearly a reference to the character Access, who made Marvel vs. DC possible. Marvel vs. DC ended with Access stepping through a magic doorway to parts unknown, so who knows what’s up with him.
- Could this be the continuity of the Superman vs. Spider-Man comic from 1978? No, because that story was a world in which Supes and Spidey lived in in the same universe the whole time.
- Superman and the FF also previously met (sort of) when a bunch of Marvel and DC heroes were shown trapped in Hell in Spawn #10, but I think that was a dream Spawn was having and doesn’t count as official continuity. And I doubt the heroes would have swapped notes about Galactus while burning in hellfire.
- Later in 2003-2004, in JLA/Avengers, the heroes from both universes will meet for the first time again, with Reed and Sue having cameos.
- Therefore, I think have no choice but to conclude that Superman/Fantastic Four takes place in an alternate universe all of its own.
Unstable molecule: Superman shows great admiration for Reed’s genius throughout, especially Reed’s ability to figure out how Galactus’ machinery works.
Fade out: Sue is depicted as incredibly powerful in this, keeping Cyborg Superman trapped in a force field, and even using force fields to keep Galactus from using his machinery.
Clobberin’ time: Ben flying the spaceship is another shout-out to his great piloting skills.
Flame on: Every once in a while, somebody at Marvel tries to promote the Human Torch as Marvel’s equivalent to Superman, so it’s a no-brainer that he and Supes would go one-on-one. Unfortunately, Johnny can only slow him down for a few seconds.
Four and a half: Franklin and Superman becoming friends is really the only character moments in this plot-heavy comic. Franklin also has a Batman figure along with his Superman one.
Trivia time: If Galactus didn’t destroy Krypton, how did Krypton explode, exactly? The specifics vary depending on what comic you read, but most writers explain it as a buildup of radiation inside the planet’s core.
Fantastic or frightful? I can see the novelty of turning Superman in Galactus’ herald, but unfortunately, this means that Superman and the Fantastic Four barely interact with each other in this Superman/Fantastic Four crossover. Replace Superman with Silver Surfer or even Air-Walker and it’s the exact same story. I like how the FF have zero patience for any of Henshaw’s villainy, but mostly this is a missed opportunity.
Next: The second MC.
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