Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The big deal with this bunch of issues is that Valeria – or at least one version of Valeria – is now part of the cast. In volume 3 #22, we get to know Valeria more, but questions about where she came from will have to wait.
The FF returned from their trip throughout the multiverse to find teenage Valeria Richards hanging around, claiming to be the daughter of Sue and Dr. Doom. This shows signs of a briefly-glimpsed future timeline in which Sue improbably married Dr. Doom with Valeria as their daughter. This issue begins in Reed’s lab, where he tells Sue that Valeria is human, and that her body contains the same cosmic radiation that gave the FF their powers. Sue refuses to believe it, calling the girl a monster. Valeria overhears this and leaves Pier 4.
Elsewhere in New York, we catch up with She-Hulk, who is hanging out in a combined law library and coffeehouse, when she is attacked by Titania and the Absorbing Man. Catching her by surprise, the two villains manage to knock She-Hulk unconscious. In the Lower East Side, Ben is having dinner with new character Bounty (an interdimensional bounty hunter), who has taken a liking to him. They stop a robbery, and then Ben gets the call the Valeria has run off.
From there, we get parallel stories of Valeria and Sue, each alone, contemplating their histories. Sue recalls Doom being the enemy, one with constant animosity toward her family. Valeria grew up with a loving mother, and Doom as a father figure who trained her to be a warrior. Sue goes into her things and finds the death certificate from the child she miscarried back in issue #237, where we learn for the first time that the child would have been named Valeria Meghan Richards.
Valeria goes to the Latverian embassy, where the security devices recognize her. A man answering the front door (Is he security? A public official? The butler?) tells her that Dr. Doom’s whereabouts are currently unknown and that a mutant named Stryfe currently occupies the throne. Valeria says if she ever returns to Latveria, it will be to free its people. Then, nearby, Valeria runs into Titania, Absorbing Man, and She-Hulk, who has now joined them in causing destruction throughout the city. Titania says to a group of reporters that they’re only doing this for fun.
Valeria transforms into her Marvel Girl uniform and fights the three of them, holding her own for a while until She-Hulk knocks her to the ground. Then Ben and Bounty join the fight, only for Absorbing Man and Titania to force-feed them a serum. This somehow turns them evil and has them fighting alongside the villains. Valeria tries to fight a new total of five enemies, but doesn’t stand a chance. She’s then rescued by Sue, arriving in the nick of time.
Sue is joined by Reed, Johnny, and Spider-Man (who was among the group of reporters as photographer Peter Parker). Instead of everybody fighting, Reed asks the others to standby and let Sue do all the work, saying never to get between a mama bear and her cub. There’s a fun bit where we don’t see the fight, just Reed, Johnny, Valeria, and Spidey reacting to it.
Sue defeats all five enemies, and instructs Reed to get She-Hulk, Ben, and Bounty back to his lab to reverse whatever the villains did to them. Spider-Man praises the new Marvel Girl’s bravery against such impossible odds. Sue says “Her name is Valeria.” Sue accepts Valeria as a member of her family, and welcomes her home.
Unstable molecule: While Sue is upset at the future that Valeria may or may not represent, Reed looks at the situation as a scientist, trying to go where the data leads him. Although Valeria says Dr. Doom is her father, Reed is quick to call her “our daughter.”
Fade out: When Spider-Man calls Sue “Mrs. Richards,” she encourages him to call her Sue. I guess Spidey forgot when they had almost this exact same conversation at the end of Marvel Team-Up #88 several years earlier. And both this issue and that one were written by Chris Claremont!
Clobberin’ time: Bounty has fallen for Ben in a big way, saying they are fated to be together, and calling him “lover.” Ben was previously flirtatious with supergenius Alyssa Moy, so we’ll see where this is going.
Flame on: Johnny is comic relief in this one, trading wisecracks with Spider-Man, though he is seen comforting Valeria with an arm around her shoulder in one panel.
Fantastic fifth wheel: I’m calling it: The “welcome to the family” scene at the end of this issue means we can now add this version of Marvel Girl as an official alternate member of the FF.
This issue finds She-Hulk during a time in which she didn’t have her own comic and wasn’t part of any team, following the cancellation of Heroes for Hire. Just prior to this, she appeared in the Contest of Champions II miniseries. We’re told she’s gone back to her law practice, but is struggling to find paying clients.
Our gal Val: The original death certificate shows that Sue originally wanted to name her baby Valeria. But, FF comics from the last few years have made the point over and over that Dr. Doom got to name her Valeria in exchange for saving her life. This stuff better get explained as we get closer and closer to issue #50.
SUE-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Girl miniseries revealed that Sue has had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all this time. Not only does Sue successfully take down four of the Marvel Universe’s toughest heavy-hitters, but her flashback shows her training in a gym with a punching bag. Could this be her secret spy training at work?
Commercial break: How romantic.
Trivia time: Stryfe’s time as ruler of Latveria was short-lived, chronicled entirely in a three-issue Cable and X-Man crossover that ran during this time.
Spider-Man’s other appearances this month included an intense fight with Venom inside the Daily Bugle offices, and a somewhat less intense fight with a character named Captain Power (not the one from the old TV show).
Fantastic or frightful? I suspect that writer Chris Claremont was trying to recreate what he did with the character of Rachel Summers in X-Men. Like this version of Valeria, Rachel was also time-displaced in the present from a dystopian future who dealt with loneliness and isolation. But we spent a lot more time with Rachel than we have with Valeria. This is a nice enough issue, but everything just feels so rushed.
Next: Con men.
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