Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s another alternate timeline, more alternate versions of classic characters, and two new heroes who didn’t exactly become household names.
Recap: Ronan the Accuser attacked and teleported the FF to the moon, where he has mind-controlled Sue and is using her powers to help him steal advanced tech from the Watcher’s home in the Blue Area of the moon. Iron Man joined the fight last issue, which was then continued in Invincible Iron Man #14. In that issue, the heroes separate Sue from Ronan, but Ronan still manages to get ahold of a weapon, the Psyche-Magnitron. The heroes manage to short-circuit the weapon, which then teleports Ronan away, seemingly stopping him. The heroes leave the moon, while Ronan returns to his ship, now with the blueprints for the Psyche-Magnitron.
Fantastic Four #16 begins not on the moon, but in Limbo (described as a “place beyond space and time”) where three villains are watching the FF. They are X-Men enemies Destiny and Legion, along with a demonic-looking lady named Margali Szardos. All three characters, we’re told, have an imbalance in their souls, trapping them forever in Limbo. So, where is the Fantastic Four? We see they are still on the Blue Area of the moon, but they look out at Earth to find a artificial ring spinning around Earth, letting them know that, like Ronan, they were also teleported somewhere at the end of the fight.
Sue has come to her senses by now, but the so-called mannequin alien that caused the mind control is still transforming her into a half-alien. The FF then find a statue of the team, only it’s Reed, Ben, Johnny and Dr. Doom. Everybody concludes that this is another glimpse of the alternate timeline from last issue, in which Sue was Baroness Doom.
Iron Man flies up, only it’s not the Iron Man we know. He attacks the FF, and he’s joined by a group of Avengers – except that they’re all Kree versions of the Avengers. They unimaginatively call themselves the Kree Avengers, and their unimaginative names are Kree Iron Man, Kree Scarlet Witch, Kree Giant-Man, and an oxymoron, Kree Captain America.
The FF escape the Kree, steal a nearby spaceship, and head for Earth. Reed and Ben speculate that the timeline has changed because of the weapon Ronan stole. They reach Earth, to find the remains of a Brood invasion, and a destroyed, unpopulated city. After fighting off Kree Iron Man, the FF then run into two humans, Lucas and Redwing. They explain that in this timeline, the Kree invaded after a worldwide cataclysm, and have been battling the Brood on Earth ever since. On cue, the Brood attack for a few more pages of fighting.
Lucas and Redwing fight their way to the Brood queen, revealing that their mission is to kill the queen. The queen puts up a good fight, managing to incapacitate the FF. But this leaves an opening for Lucas and Redwing to jump in and strike the final blow. Then the FF teleport away, by the same means that brought them there. We then cut to the three characters from the beginning. Margali says that the FF were brought from the timestream to this very moment, because their actions in the fight helped change the course of this timeline. Now the heroes are on their way again, to parts unknown…
Unstable molecule: Reed continues to use the built-in computer on his FF uniform, tracking Lucas and Redbird as the pair are several stories below him.
Fade out: The Iron Man issue reveals that the mannequin alien isn’t just Ronan mind-controlling Sue, but that she follows orders given to her by anyone. Basically, she’s Ella Enchanted. This seems to have worn off by the FF issue, although she’s still transforming into a half-alien form.
Clobberin’ time: Ben is again a pilot in this issue, managing to fly a Kree ship from the moon to Earth, and just barely landing it on the surface.
Flame on: Johnny is able to go toe-to-toe in a fight against Kree Iron Man, with the two evenly matched. Johnny suspects the same is true if he ever fought the “real” Iron Man, but we can only speculate on that for now.
Commercial break: “Tobias, if you don’t morph, you’ll be a bird forever! Oh no, Tobias!”
Trivia time: This Margali character has a confusing backstory involving a lot of Marvels demon characters, and she figures heavily into Nightcrawler and Mystique’s elaborate origins. You don’t need to know any of that for this issue, though, because this is an alternate-timeline version of the character, who only appeared once. Similarly, if you want the further adventures of Lucas and Redwing, you’re out of luck. This issue is their only appearance to date.
Hey, what happened to Charlotte Jones, the NYPD cop who was the FF on the first part of this story? It’s mostly skipped over in the Iron Man issue, but she made it back to Earth. She’ll show up again a year later in a couple of X-Men books, and she has cameos in the House of M and Heroic Age crossovers.
The Iron Man issue has a subplot about James Rhodes (a.k.a. War Machine) in Casablanca, searching for a man named Parnell. This would be Parnell Jacobs, a wealthy mercenary who also wore the Iron Machine armor for a while. This plot would wrap up (more or less) in the Machinery of War storyline, and Parnell returned much later during the Dark Reign crossover.
The other subplot in Iron Man has Iron Man’s pal Happy Hogan starting a romance with a woman named Hannah Donleavy. She went on to make a few more appearances around this time, always at Happy’s side. The Marvel Wiki says they’re just friends, but it looks like a lot than that to me.
Fantastic or frightful? This era (era) of the series keeps throwing the characters around from alternate universe to so often and so chaotically, that I have alt-timeline whiplash. And because it’s another universe, that means it feels like there’s no real stakes for the characters. I keep hoping Chris Claremont is going somewhere with all this running around of the last few issues, but I don’t know anymore.
Next: Matchstick men.
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