Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Here’s annual 2000 (no number, just the year). Remember how the Reed-pretending-to-be-Dr.-Doom plot was about keeping Dr. Doom’s generals out of trouble. That story is over, so here come the generals.
Shortly after the events of vol. 3 issue #31, the FF are returning home to NYC in their pogo plane. Reed is still unconscious of being separated from Dr. Doom’s armor. Just as the plane flies by past the Statue of Liberty, it gets shot down. Ben pilots the ship to a safe splashdown near Pier 4. The team is immediately surrounded by reporters, as Sue tells them that Reed’s supposed death and the FF’s alliance with Dr. Doom were part of a necessary deception to defeat some villains.
Sue takes Reed inside while Ben and Johnny investigate the plane wreckage. They’re attacked by the robot Technarx, one of Dr. Doom’s generals. (Remember that when Reed was trapped inside Doom’s armor, Doom was sent off to the Heroes Reborn universe, now named Planet Doom, where he rounded up a team of super-powered generals to do his evil bidding.) Now that the FF’s alliance with Dr. Doom is over, nothing is stopping Technarx and the other generals from attempting to destroy the FF. Johnny drives Tecchnarx off, and Ben says they’ve got to find him before he attacks again or hurts someone else.
Inside the pier, Reed is suffering hallucinations due to the A.I. in Dr. Doom’s armor infecting his nervous system. Sue believes these are withdrawal symptoms and will wear off in time. She contacts Franklin, teenage Valeria, and interdimensional swordswoman Caledonia to inform them that Reed is alive. Sue then has a heart-to-heart with Ben, saying she feels guilty about working alongside Doom to rescue Reed. Ben says once the withdrawal wears off, Reed will come around.
An alarm goes off, and Sue and Ben join Johnny outside. They’re confronted by more of Doom’s generals, Queen Dorma of Atlantis, the ink-like creature Divinity, and the sorceress Shak’ti. Dorma has a different agenda than Technarx. She asks the FF to join them in returning to Planet Doom to overthrow and destroy Dr. Doom. Everybody fights for a while, but the three FFers drive the generals back into the ocean.
Sue checks back in with Reed, who is still suffering delusions. He’s fretting over how Sue married Dr. Doom, somehow forgetting that it was him trapped in Doom’s armor. Elsewhere, the four generals reunite and deduce that the FF’s weakness is their concern for others, so they go on a rampage where they endanger NYC citizens. Sue is conflicted again, blaming herself for the generals’ attacks. While Sue, Ben and Johnny search for the generals, Reed wanders the interior of Pier 4, trying to find some kind of pattern to his hallucinations.
The heroes find the generals at a construction site, and there’s another fight. This time the generals get the better of them. Shak’ti wraps up Sue in her magic ribbons (that’s her thing), Divinity mind-controls Ben, and Technarx uses sonic weapons to knock out Johnny. Next, Dorma breaks into Pier 4 with some Atlantean soldiers (called “Atlans” in this issue). She apprehends Reed to force him to build a teleporter to send the generals back to Planet Doom. Reed, still struggling with his memories, agrees to help them. Sue, being held hostage nearby, pleads with Reed to help them, but Reed argues that at least they’ll be off Earth and fighting the FF’s greatest enemy.
Turn the page and Reed has already built the teleporter. Shak’ti, Technarx and Divinity all go through the portal to the other side, while Sue argues that they’re going to cause havoc and destruction in the other universe. When Dorma steps up to the teleporter, she destroys it instead of going through. She suspects the teleporter is a trap, and that she’d rather conquer this Earth instead of Planet Doom. She and the Atlanteans escape into the ocean beneath Pier 4. Reed explains that the teleporter was indeed a trap. The three generals were teleported into a portable containment unit and then sent to Dr. Doom in Latveria to face their fates.
Then the story ends on something of an ambiguous note, in which Reed talks about regretting all the decisions he made while trapped in Dr. Doom’s armor. The others argue that the armor’s A.I. and sorcery had a corrupting effecting on him, and that it wasn’t really him. Then Reed argues that the world-conquering plan he almost set in motion is a plan he could still potentially set in motion, armor or no armor. The final panel has Reed saying, “I’m not worthy to be one of the Fantastic Four.”
Then we have the annual’s backup story, about teen Valeria, here going by the name Marvel Girl. This takes place in the alternate future where she came from, before she traveled to the present and joined the FF in vol. 3 issue #15. Remember that in this timeline, she’s the daughter of Sue and Dr. Doom (or is she?). The story starts out with her sneaking out of the house and going out into the city during the night of a big festival. She’s searching for Lancer, Doom’s fifth general and bodyguard to Valeria. Lancer has turned off all her tracking devices to venture into the city.
Valeria spots a bar fight inside a local dive and finds Lancer in the middle of it. Valeria joins the battle, where one baddie has a high-tech gun that’s able to shoot through Valeria’s force fields. The fight ends, and Lancer reveals a stash of illegal weapons in the bar. Lancer reveals that she once had a family. Once a year the night before her wedding anniversary, she hits the town to purge her rage so that she remembers who she once was before she became Lancer. Valeria says she and Lancer are now family, and families endure.
Unstable molecule: It’s ambiguous as to when and how Reed snaps out of his funk. Also, it’s crazy how fast he builds an interdimensional teleporter. Maybe we can surmise that this was tech he already had in his lab and merely modified it.
Fade out: Sue spends the entire issue feeling regret from having worked alongside Dr. Doom to free Reed. The previous issue insisted that she knew what she was doing, but this time she’s all conflicted about it.
Clobberin’ time: Divinity mind-controls Ben, and when they’re separated, Ben does not take it lightly. He breaks down and is clearly troubled from the experience.
Flame on: Technarx uses sonic weapons against Johnny, as something that Johnny has no defense against. We’ll have to see if this comes up again in the future.
Four and a half: We check in with Franklin for half a page, just to show he’s okay. We’re not going to learn where he’s at, though, until the upcoming Fantastic Fourth Voyage of Sinbad one-shot.
Our gal Val: Can we talk about Valeria’s background? Back in vol. 3 issue #15, we saw an alternate future where Sue was married to Dr. Doom, and they had a teen daughter, Valeria. Valeria later time-traveled to the present and joined the team, while everyone fretted over how her future could ever possibly come to pass. Then, when Reed was trapped in Dr. Doom’s armor, we all thought, “This is the twist. Valeria is really Reed’s daughter from Reed pretending to be Doom.” But now the Reed-as-Doom story had wrapped up, and Valeria’s alternate future is once again in question. An upcoming storyline will label Valeria as a “temporal anomaly,” but that’s not much an explanation. And then this version of Valeria will make way for the one we all now know. Therefore, as of this writing, the story behind Valeria’s alternate timeline has gone unexplained.
Commercial break: “What happens when a Toad action figure gets struck by lightning?”
Trivia time: This is pretty much it for generals Technarx, Divinity, and Shak’ti. They only appeared once more, in Exiles #81 ,when the dimension-hopping Exiles paid a quick visit to the remains of the Heroes Reborn universe.
The Marvel Wiki insists that the Pogo Plane in this issue is the original Pogo Plane the FF have had since way back in the ‘60s. There’s no mention as to how it survived the destruction of the original Baxter Building or any of the other adventures its been involved in.
Fantastic or frightful? I suppose it’s good that the series takes this time to deal with the consequences of the last few issues, and the four generals are written better here than they’ve been before. The Reed and Sue dynamic is confusing, though, and kind of drags the story down. The Valeria story gives us backstory for Lancer, but what we really need is backstory for Valeria. A mixed bag overall.
Next: Stay wet, y’all.
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