Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In vol. 3 issue #29, we’re deep into the Reed-pretending-to-be-Dr.-Doom storyline, but how does that affect the usual superhero crimefighting?
Recap: Thanks to some cosmic weirdness, Reed is now trapped inside Dr. Doom’s armor while Doom was sent off to another universe. Reed is now forced to pretend to be Doom in some attempt to prevent an international war (or worse), and he has married Sue, naming her Baroness Von Doom. This issue begins with Sue out in the desert somewhere on her morning jog, with her pushing herself as hard as she can. Then, at Pier 4, mailwoman Willie Lumpkin is shocked to see Dr. Doom (really Reed) picking up the mail in person. Ben reveals he is reworking the FF’s Pogo Plane to give it stealth technology, because NYC officials are shutting down the FF’s flight privileges now that they’re aligned with Doom.
Then we see Johnny with his new girlfriend, Namorita of the New Warriors. Reed seems concerned about this, noting that Namorita is cousin to Namor the Submariner, adding that “Fire and water can be a volatile combination.” Sue joins Reed for breakfast, saying she has to “negotiate” with NYC officials following the disappearance of her husband and son. (Franklin was sent off to yet another alternate universe to keep him safe during all this.) Johnny gets a new CD-ROM video game from his old pal Wyatt Wingfoot, only to decrypt a hidden S.O.S. in it. Sue and Reed bicker about the FF’s chain of command while the others prepare for action.
Cut to Silver Springs, Oklahoma, home of the Keewazi tribe, which appears humble on the outside but hides a high-tech infrastructure. We’re in the middle of the action, where Wyatt and his sister Wynona have been captured by a brand-new Frightful Four. The Wizard is still leader, and Paste-Pot Pete, um, I mean the Trapster is also still with the group. The Wizard says he’s in search of a mythical storehouse located on Keewazi land, heightened by a mysterious spacecraft recently reported in the area.
Sue, Ben and Johnny burst into the place and fight the Wizard and the Trapster. Then Ben meets the third member of the new Frightful Four, the Punisher robot that once worked for Galactus. (This is the green and purple robot, not the guy with the skull T-shirt.) The Wizard then activates a device that shuts off the biological mechanisms that protect the FF from their own powers. Johnny is burned by his own flame, Ben can’t move under the weight of his own rockiness, and Sue can’t breathe because she draws oxygen out of the air to form her force fields. The Wizard says Reed’s heart will soon fail to pump blood through his own elastic body. Then Sue reminds the Wizard that there’s been a few changes.
Reed, pretending to be Doom, joins the fight. But he’s attacked by the fourth member of the new Frightful Four – Sharon Ventura! For those just catching up, Sharon was the second Ms. Marvel, who transformed into a She-Thing, romanced Ben, broke up with Ben, and then swore allegiance to Dr. Doom. Her mutating body went out of control, so Doom put her in suspended animation, and the Frightful Four rescued her back in the Fantastic Four Unlimited spinoff series, which was seven years earlier in real time. She’s currently mutated into a half-human, half-Thing musclebound form. Sharon is mad at Doom for betraying her, and she attacks Reed.
Reed-as-Doom fights the Frightful Four, using the Trapster’s glue traps to stop Sharon, and then going toe-to-toe with the Punisher. The Wizard electrocutes Reed. Sharon breaks free, wanting a second shot. Reed deduces that the Wizard’s biological blocks are only an illusion, and he gets Johnny to flame on and join him. The Punisher tosses Reed into a nearby factory, while Sue uses the Trapster’s glue to defeat the Punisher.
Sharon and Ben confront one another. She says the FF forgot about her once she was in suspended animation. Ben says that’s not true, and that sometimes, cures don’t come easy. Meanwhile, Reed-as-Doom and Wynona free the rest of the Keewazi, who were being held hostage inside the factory. Knowing he’s been beaten, the Wizard attempts to flee, but he’s stopped by Reed and surrenders.
Sharon and Ben continue to fight, as she says she’ll never stop because she has too much hate in her to be defeated. Wyatt steps between them, attempting to appeal to Sharon. He reminds her that she was once one of the FF, a bona fide hero, and that hate is not in her makeup. Wyatt says that if she wants to destroy the FF, she’ll have to kill him first. It works, and Sharon breaks down and embraces Wyatt.
After the battle three of the Frightful Four are apprehended, while Sharon is given refugee status among the Keewazi. Wyatt says that Sharon is a good person at heart, and hopefully her new life at the reservation will help her learn the truth of it. Sue, in turn, asks Wyatt to trust her with the whole “Baroness Von Doom” thing.
Later that night, Sue wakes up to find Reed trying to hack into the Pier 4 computer, which has rejected him as Dr. Doom this whole time. Sue turns invisible and spies on Reed. He successfully removes the Doom mask and gets the computer to accept Victor Von Doom as an authorized user to the FF’s computers. He then orders the computer to delete all records of this from his teammates. He then willingly puts the mask back on. Then we learn that the opening jogging scene was a flash-forward, where Sue suspects something is horribly wrong with Reed, but now she has to act like nothing is wrong.
Unstable molecule: Early on, Reed mentions that he’s close to deciphering the codes that keep him trapped in the armor, and that the Pier 4 computers will only recognize him as Dr. Doom as not as Reed. This foreshadows the issue’s cliffhanger.
Fade out: Since when does Sue create her force field from oxygen around her? In the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition, it’s established that her force fields are made of psionic force generated from within Sue’s brain. Since the Wizard’s defeat of Sue is based on illusion, I guess we can say these “oxygen force fields” are part of that illusion.
Clobberin’ time: Ben again acts as the team’s pilot in this issue. And just like last issue, he’s shown walking around with a bunch of gadgets attached to him, which a guess is a look for him during this era. (era)
Flame on: What’s going on with Johnny and Namorita? Johnny guest-starred in New Warriors vol 2 #3, where he and Namorita accidentally almost crash into each other while flying around NYC. He suggests they meet later, in private. The rest of their relationship between that issue and this one happened off-panel.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Round of applause to Chris Claremont for giving Sharon Ventura’s character arc some proper closure after all the hell she went through during her almost 100 issues with Fantastic Four. I guess she made a home for herself living on the reservation, because she won’t be seen again until the Secret Invasion crossover. She’s one of few Marvel characters who didn’t cameo in Civil War, so we’ll never know if Sharon was on Cap’s side or Iron Man’s side.
Commercial break: You have to read the itty-bitty type at the bottom of the page to learn this is an ad for Bionic Commando.
Trivia time: This is the last of only two appearances of Wyatt Wingfoot’s sister Wynona. There’s a weird bit of continuity where she says her father is a man named Black Eagle, whereas back in vol. 1 issue #51 Wyatt said his father was dead. Most fans hand-wave this by saying that Wynona is actually Wyatt’s stepsister, but this isn’t explicitly stated in the comic.
What’s Galactus’ Punisher robot doing here? The last time we saw the robot was in Silver Surfer vol 3 #17, where it was destroyed after learning to talk (!). The Marvel Wiki says the Wizard “presumably” recovered the robot and rebuilt it. An alternate explanation is that we’ve seen a whole bunch of these robots running around the Marvel Universe, some of which are employed by Galactus and some employed by the alien Rigellians. (Tana Nile from the Daydreamers spinoff miniseries was a Rigellian.)
Fantastic or frightful? After so many overstuffed-plot issues, Chris Claremont writes an old-fashioned good guys versus bad guys superhero romp. It’s a breath of fresh air. And while I respect that a lot of readers dislike Sharon Ventura, I appreciate that Claremont gave the character her moment.
Next: Castle freak.
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