Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Iron Man guest stars in vol. 3 issue #15, as does another character who will eventually become a big part of FF lore.
Recap: Ronan the Accuser returned to Earth and picked a fight with the FF, ending with him using an alien called a “mannequin” to mind-control Sue. He and the FF teleported to the Blue Area of the Moon, where Ronan plots to break into the Watcher’s home and steal the advanced alien tech inside. Reed, Ben, and Johnny defeated three Kree criminals Ronan sent after them and now they’ve regrouped. As this issue begins, Ronan explains that the Kree have recently been conquered by the Shi’ar, so he needs the Watcher’s tech to properly mount an resistance.
Nearby, the moon-located S.H.I.E.L.D. Starbase has taken note of the situation, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents call for help. From there, we go to a mansion on an island at the center of Lake Washington, current home of Tony Stark. Tony isn’t doing well lately, as his Iron Man armor has been generating an energy field that’s made him fatally ill. For this occasion, however, he dons a special never-before-seen prototype armor to save the day.
Cut to the moon, where Reed, Ben, Johnny, and NYPD officer (and friend of the X-Men) Charlotte Jones make their way through underground tunnels toward the Watcher’s home. Reed’s uniform is equipped with sensors that keep him informed about what Ronan’s up to. Jonny wants to fly off and fight right there, but Reed stops and him and tells Johnny to keep his anger in check. Meanwhile, Ronan continues blasting the outside of the Watcher’s house, while the mannequin starts transforming Sue into an alien creature. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents attack, but Sue and Ronan drive them back. Sue’s eyes tear up, showing that some part of her knows what she’s doing.
What happens next is a little confusing. Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Charlotte pass through some strange energy pulses, and then enter a room to find Alicia there, working on a large sculpture of the FF. Caledonia is there, wearing an FF uniform, and she’s joined by Sue, who is introduced as “Baroness Von Doom.” The explanation is rushed through pretty quick, and it’s that this tunnel they’re in contains “pockets of warped time,” which apparently include alternate timelines. Alt-Sue enters wearing Dr. Doom-like armor, joined by a grownup Franklin, and a daughter… Valeria!
Franklin spots Reed, and they exchange some strange dialogue before Iron Man shows up (his prototype armor has a teleporter) and disrupts the connection between the two timelines. Or something. Ronan and Sue, meanwhile, manage to punch a hole in the Watcher’s house, and they finally make it inside. Then it’s back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, where they report a worldwide electromagnetic pulse on Earth, which for some reason has activated and armed every nuclear bomb on the planet.
The rest of the issue is a fight, as Iron Man’s new armor goes haywire, attacking the FF by itself, with the FF fighting back. There’s a lot of technobabble about the teleport and the electromagnetic pulse, but the gist of is that Iron Man can stop the nukes by rebooting his armor, but he can’t do it while the armor is under attack. Ben manages to hold Iron Man down as Reed activates the reboot. There’s enough residual charge in the armor to transport them all inside the Watcher’s home. With all systems back online, Reed catches Iron Man back up to speed, and they rush off to stop Ronan.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed says his uniform is his “wearable computer” complete with Star Trek-like sensors. Let’s see how often this comes up in the future. Also, why don’t his teammates have this built-in computer?
Fade out: Sue’s force fields are crucial in penetrating the exterior dome of the Watcher’s house, showing that Ronan’s attack on the FF was about more than just revenge.
Clobberin’ time: Ben wraps his arms around Iron Man instead of punching him, claiming that this is his “ju-jitsu” [sic] skills. I’m going to assume that Ben is joking, as he’s never been shown to be any sort of martial arts master before this.
Flame on: Johnny takes Sue’s abduction deeply personal, giving a big speech about how his and Sue’s parents are both dead, and how she’s his only family. (I thought the FF was your family, dude.)
Four and a half: OK, what is going on in this alternate timeline? It’s partially foreshadowing upcoming storylines, as if to say that this is what will happen if upcoming events don’t turn out the way they will eventually turn out. Anyway, Franklin’s warning for Reed is “You have to let Galactus go!”
Our gal Val: Welcome to the series, Valeria! Can we or can’t we count this as her first appearance? No one can seem to agree. The Marvel wiki has all the other alt-timeline characters labeled as such, except for Val. Either way, this lets readers know there’s a Fantastic Four daughter on the way, and she’ll be here sooner rather than later.
Commercial break: This ad stretches across the tops of two pages, forcing this month’s Bullpen Bulletins to be only a half-page. I hope Marvel got paid a lot for this one.
Trivia time: The Shi’ar overthrew the Kree empire during the Operation: Galactic Storm crossover. They would continue to fight each other since then, with the Kree eventually rising up and succeeding in defeating the Shi’ar during the War of Kings crossover.
For those of you making lists of all the Iron Man armors, the one in this issue is the “Experimental Safe Armor.”
The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in this issue are Callie Yeager, Gene, Jake, and Lucian. The Marvel Wiki says this story arc are their only appearances, but Iron Man and Callie have some sort of history, as he trusts Callie wouldn’t call him unless it was really important. (I have no idea why these four are wearing their civilian clothes – on the moon! – instead of their S.H.I.E.L.D. uniforms.)
Fantastic or frightful? I don’t know. It feels like the alternate timeline thing and the EMP/nukes thing are just filler. They’re roadblocks keeping us from getting to the Ronan story, which is what we’re here for. I want to give writer Chris Claremont the benefit of the doubt that he’s going somewhere with all this, but it nonetheless feels like another case of comics’ meandering plot syndrome.
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