Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Volume 3 issue #25 is a double-sized issue written by Chris Claremont, so let’s all settle in for a long haul. Why a double issue? Two reasons. One, it’s the 60th anniversary of Marvel Comics. Two, it’s an end-of-the-world story with a publication date of December 1999. It’s Y2K!
In previous issues, the FF were warned of an oncoming cosmic storm. Sue sent Franklin off in a spaceship to parts unknown in order to keep him safe. Then the storm arrives in the form a tidal wave with Dr. Doom’s face on it. This issue begins by further complicating the matter, when a huge spaceship bursts out of the wave. Teenage Valeria, who time-traveled here from an alternate future, recognizes the ship as Dr. Doom’s. She happy to see it, because in her timeline, her mother is Sue but Doom and not Reed is her father. Valeria’s armor has a teleporter, but it only beams her and not the rest of the FF to the ship.
The wave hits New York, but instead of destroying the place, there’s a weird bit where life goes on in the city, except underwater. Reed deduces that the wave is occurring only in space, but not in time. The FF and Doom’s ship are in the eye of the storm, meaning they’re on their own. They have to act fast before the storm and Earth merge permanently.
Aboard Doom’s ship, Valeria is reunited with one of Doom’s generals, Lancer. Valeria grew up with Lancer in her timeline, but this version of Lancer has never met Val. They’re about to fight, when they’re interrupted by Dr. Doom, pronouncing “I am Doom!” Valeria believes he’s her father, but Doom zaps her when she gets too close to him. He demands to know who she is, and she responds with her own, “I am Doom!” Doom laughs at her (!) and then the FF burst into the room. They’re ready for a fight, but Doom is in more of a negotiating mood.
Then Doom introduces the rest of his generals:
- Technarx, a techno-organic mutant
- Shak’ti, battle mage of the Enchanters’ Guild.
- Divinity, a former enemy of Doom’s who has recently joined his side.
- Dorma, queen of Atlantis.
Dorma’s existence is the clue Reed needs to figure out what’s going on. Because Dorma had recently died, Reed realizes that Doom was left behind in the Heroes Reborn universe when everyone else came back in Heroes Return. He rose to power and gathered these generals in that universe, plotting his return. Doom says he will transition his universe into the main Marvel Universe. Talking ends, and the FF fight the generals. Valeria pleads with Doom to make peace with the FF, revealing that she’s his daughter from the future.
Doom asks Valeria to choose between him and FF. She wavers, leaning toward Sue and the others. Doom has Lancer take Valeria from the scene, and then the fight continues. The FF do the classic switch-between-enemies-mid-fight move to outsmart the generals. Just as they start winning the fight, the entire ship lists to the side. Cut to outside, and the entire ship has been snatched out of the sky by a Celestial, holding the ship in his hand as if it’s a children’s toy.
The Celestial destroys Doom’s ship, and everyone is teleported to the American Southwest, where the Celestial has a giant underground headquarters (!). Sue exposits that the Celestials agreed to leave the Heroes Reborn universe in peace, under the care of Ashema, a fellow Celestial. Doom explains that this is the Dreaming Celestial, who has gone rogue from the rest of the Celestials. He’s the one hoping to merge the two universes, for no reason other than he is driven toward chaos and destruction.
The FF and Doom’s generals start to fight again, but Reed stops them, saying they have to work together to stop the Celestial. Then everyone is attacked by a black inky substance. These creatures are known only as the “shadows,” and they are the Celestial’s security system. The shadows’ gooey stuff somehow mind-controls Sue and Divinity, and then Johnny and Shak’ti are knocked into the shadows. Reed tries to help him, but now Doom rejects his help. Doom zaps Reed unconscious and runs off with Reed and Valeria. Dorma and Technarx succumb to the shadows next, leaving only Ben and Lancer, fighting side-by-side.
Elsewhere in the Celestial’s base, Doom, Reed, and Valeria encounter an unbelievably huge sarcophagus, which has been “home” of the Dreaming Celestial for millennia. Along the wall are statues of the other Celestials, slowly transforming into images of the FF and the generals. Ben and Lancer get possessed by the shadows and attack. Valeria holds them off while Reed and Doom press on ahead into the sarcophagus.
Then the Celestial returns in person, actually speaking (!) to Reed and Doom. He says his dreaming power is the power to shape entire universes. He shows Reed and Doom alternate universe versions of themselves. As tribute to Reed and Doom, the Celestial offers to give them powers equal to the Celestials themselves. Reed says the Celestial is speaking to them instead of destroying them outright, so he must believe Reed and Doom have a real chance to stop him. He and Doom then deduce twelve keys around the room, which must be activated by twelve keepers.
Doom uses force field tech in his armor to help Reed stretch through all twelve keyholes, just as the shadows break in and consume Valeria and then Doom. Then a voice calls out “Traitor!” and the Celestial screams in pain. It’s Ashema, who has arrived from the other universe thanks to Reed’s efforts. She defeats the Celestial in a blast of energy. The FF and the Generals are freed from the shadows’ influence. Everyone gathers at the sarcophagus, only to find that Reed and Doom are gone. Ashema says they gave their lives to save the universe. But then, one survivor emerges from the wreckage.
Only the survivor is not Reed, but Dr. Doom! (Or is it?)
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: When exploring the Celestial’s sarcophagus, Reed spots hieroglyphics similar to the ones used by recently-introduced villains The Ruined. Reed theorizes that the Ruined once encountered the Dreaming Celestial and failed his “twelve keys” test, and that’s how they got their name.
Fade out: Sue uses her force field as a raft during the flood in New York. This raises a lot of questions, namely how the force field is able to float.
Clobberin’ time: As this era of the series keep suggesting potential new love interests for Ben, perhaps we can add Lancer to the list, with her and Ben striking up banter while fighting side-by-side.
Flame on: This issue debuts a new FF outfit for Johnny, with Red pants and a black T-shirt with a “4” on it. We’ll have to see how long this one lasts.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Doom and the FF are allies in this issue, so count this one among those where he is technically an alternate fifth member of the team.
Our gal Val: It takes Valeria some time to remember that she is from the future, so there’s way this timeline’s Dr. Doom or his generals would know her. She still treats Doom as if he’s her loving father. Doom insists he has no sire, yet he can see potential in the girl.
Commercial break: Who’s that Pokemon?
Trivia time: The story about Doom and the Dreaming Celestial, as well as the proper introduction of Doom’s generals, all took place in Heroes Reborn: Doom #1, Heroes Reborn: Doomsday #1, and Heroes Reborn: Ashema #1.
In the regular Marvel Universe, Dorma of Atlantis died way back in Sub-Mariner #37, and as of this writing that she has not returned from the dead. I could have sworn she was a bigger player in various Atlantis stories, but I guess not.
Shortly after this issue, the Dreaming Celestial returned, and relocated to San Francisco. Once there, he began a long meditative vigil while overlooking the city. For years afterward, whenever Marvel characters would visit San Fran, there would be the obligatory shot of the motionless Celestial standing tall outside the city.
Fantastic or frightful? A big, ambitious story that brings Dr. Doom back into continuity, but does so in a big cosmic way. It’s really overstuffed in the way that all these Claremont issues have been, and it’s frustrating that everybody at Marvel during this time has to keep going back to Heroes Reborn/Heroes Return over and over. How much longer until they it drop? On the plus side, Claremont writes the Reed/Doom rivalry really well, and manages to keep that the focus of the issue among all the world-shaking stakes.
Next: Inside man.
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