Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. A bunch of new characters have recently been introduced, and now they finally get to do something in vol. 3 #20. Also, there are tentacles.
The FF have returned after their Sliders-like trip throughout the multiverse, only to find that the Eiffel Tower in Paris has been replaced by one made entirely of bones. The heroes immediately deduce that this is the work of the Ruined, magic-using aliens they met in vol. 3 issue #1. There’s a quick recap of how Deterrence Research Corporation (DRC) sponsored an archeological dig in Paris, only to awaken the Ruined from their ancient slumber. Their previous encounter ended with the Ruined working alongside DRC, but now something has changed. The FF investigate the archeological site, joined by a familiar-looking French secret service agent named Reno. Inspecting the hieroglyphics, Johnny recognizes one of them as Arlisse, a woman he briefly dated the last time the team was in Paris.
Elsewhere in Paris, we see sorceress Margali Szardos (this is after encountering an alternate timeline version of her a few issues earlier) who has Arlisse. They are trying to flee from the Ruined, but are caught, with Arlisse transforming from human into a Ruined named Katar of the Bloody Blades.
Johnny flies around Paris hoping to find Arlisse, and sees an energy blast. He follows it to the Paris catacombs, where he encounters the Ruined. They’re still led by Martyr, who was formerly the human Yvette Diamonde. Along with Katar, the other Ruined are B’arr, Stem, and Exalt. They’re about to perform a sacrifice ritual, killing Margali, but Johnny stops, them, with a few pages of fighting.
The Ruined defeat Johnny, knocking him out. They continue with the ritual, only to be interrupted by the rest of the FF. The Ruined use their alien magic to make the walls come alive, trapping the team in gooey tentacles. Fortunately, Johnny is able to wake up in time to save his teammates and stop the Ruined. The Eiffel Tower is returned to normal, and Reno and his team take the Ruined into custody. Johnny argues against this, saying that the Ruined are humans possessed by the aliens, and that Alysse, Yvette and the others can be freed. Reno says the FF have no jurisdiction over the matter. Reed decides not to press the matter for now, but he does add that this isn’t over.
We then go Pier 4, where Franklin is watching a movie alongside a bunch of newly-introduced characters, his teleporting alien dog Puppy, super-genius Alyssa Moy, and visitor from another dimension Alysande Stuart. It appears to be a quiet night at home, except out walks Valeria, who is now a teenager (or perhaps college age). No one knows who she is, although she acts like she lives there. Franklin recognizes her as Valeria, though, saying he’s seen her in one of his prophetic dreams. When Valeria sees how young Franklin is, she says, “This is so not possible!” and “I’m the one time-dancing.”
Before we get any further explanation, they’re attacked by a lasergun-toting woman named Bounty. (This is the mystery figure who was beating up aliens while searching for Alysande a few issues back.) Valeria dons an outfit that is half an FF uniform and half Dr. Doom armor, and introduces herself as the new Marvel Girl. She and Bounty fight, with Bounty easily defeating her.
Then Alysande transforms into her alter ego, the barbarian swordswoman Caledonia. Before they can fight, the roof caves in, knocking everyone out. This was caused the Bacchae (these are the all-female cyber-ninjas who appeared out of nowhere for one page back in vol. 3 #7). They announce they are taking everybody hostage.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed says the computer built into his uniform also keeps track of all his teammates, prompting Johnny to remove his own uniform and fly into the final battle in the buff.
Fade out: Sue does very little in this issue. She’s not able to use her force fields against the creepy tentacles, because they sneak up and attack her from behind before she gets a chance.
Clobberin’ time: Ben makes a point of destroying Martyr’s sword, as if that is somehow the source of power. How would Ben know this?
Flame on: Katar makes Johnny pass out by kissing him. Is this her superpower, or is this because of his attraction to her?
Four and a half: The comic remembers that Franklin had dream-based powers back in his Power Pack days. I suppose he just still has these powers in addition to his reality-bending power.
Our gal Val: OK, now that we’re back in the Marvel Universe, can we count THIS as the first appearance of Valeria? That remains unclear. As we’ll soon see, this version of Valeria is from yet another timeline, and yet the Marvel Wiki insists that the MU’s Valeria was created from this Valeria. Fingers crossed that this will all make sense by the time we get to issue #50.
Commercial break: I thought these two ads were related and part of the same promotion, but no. One is from Kellogg, the other from Nabisco.
Trivia time: This is pretty much it for the Ruined, although they’ll be mentioned in upcoming issues, they’re not seen again, as Reed doesn’t quite make good on his promise for a round 2. They do cameo in the Fantastic Four: Foes miniseries, in that one page where a whole bunch of villains appear at once, suggesting that at some point the Ruined escape police custody and become full-on criminals. The Marvel Universe Appendix fan site lists a sixth member of the Ruined, named T’urnaround. Who is this?
French secret agent Reno is not-subtly based on actor Jean Reno. Artist Salvador Larocca later faced some controversy for basing characters he draws on famous celebrities, and I guess this is where we get hints of that.
Can ANYONE identify the movie the playing in the background in this panel?
Fantastic or frightful? While the Ruined are treated as throwaway villains and not explored in any meaningful way (What are their powers? What are their personalities? Doesn’t matter, I guess). The most interesting bit is actually doing something with the growing supporting cast of new members, which gives me hope that the all-over-the-place nature of Claremont’s run is actually going somewhere. Plus, the action slows down just enough so we can follow the plot, an improvement over the last bunch of issues.
Next: Hungy, hungry Hippo.
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