Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. A new writer/artist takes over in vol. 3 #35, where our heroes fight both an evil alchemist and a bunch of lawyers.
Before we begin, note that writer Chris Claremont is outta here! This issue begins a run for Carlos Pacheco as writer and penciler, with Rafael Marin as co-writer/co-plotter. It would appear that Claremont and artist Salvador LaRocca left to debut X-Treme X-Men when all the X-books got big reworking in 2001. (This is when we got Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly on New X-Men, Peter Milligan and Mike Allred on X-Force/X-Statix, among others.) My question is, with Pacheco writing, why do fans always credit Claremont with the controversial birth of Valeria, which we’re only a few issues away from? Also, the Fantastic Fourth Voyage of Sinbad one-shot won’t be published for almost a year after this, and it’s written by Claremont and continues a bunch of storylines Claremont introduced. Was Claremont still an invisible guiding hand in Fantastic Four under Pacheco, or are the fans mistaken? We may never know.
What we do know is that Pacheco and Martin got their start publishing indie comics in their home country of Spain, which got them work for Marvel UK, which then got them work with regular ol’ Marvel. He worked on X-Men, Excalibur, Inhumans, and the Avengers Forever maxi-series which is arguably his best-known work. He’s also no stranger to Fantastic Four, as he drew the two issues of the series that took place during the Onslaught crossover.
Issue #35 begins with mailperson Willie Lumpkin delivering a huge package to Pier 4. Ben and Johnny open it to discover it’s a big mirror. Strange creatures leap out of the mirror to attack Ben, while a pair of hands grab Johnny around the neck, strangling him. The hands belong to Diablo, the evil alchemist, who knocks Johnny unconscious as he steps through the mirror into Pier 4.
Cut to Hell’s Kitchen, where Reed and Sue are meeting with lawyers Foggy Nelson and Jeryn Hogarth, along with a roomful of other lawyers. The opposing side represents a group called the Gideon Board. They represent the late Gregory Gideon, the genius supercriminal the FF faced back in the Lee/Kirby days. But now they say they’re good guys. After appearing to be dead for several months (during the Heroes Reborn event) and then the alliance with Dr. Doom (which was really Reed trapped in Doom’s armor), the FF’s stock has fallen far, and now the Gideon Group wants to purchase Pier 4, and all of Reed’s inventions. The FF can still survive financially from patents from Reed’s inventions, the lawyers say, but only if he invents them for the Gideon Group. Reed says he’s concerned about the FF’s financial future and that he’ll sign the contract. Foggy steps in and says that Sue is both Reed’s business partner and business manager, and that the deal requires her signature as well.
Back at Pier 4, Diablo summons a hurricane (indoors?) to fight Ben. All the little monsters join together to form one big monster, strong enough to knock Ben unconscious. Diablo then feeds a strange potion to Johnny, causing Johnny’s flame to burst around him as he screams in pain.
Back in Hell’s Kitchen, the legal meeting is ending, and we don’t yet see whether Sue signed the deal. Sue, Reed, Foggy, and Hogarth are then attacked by water and fire elementals. The heroes and the elementals recognize each other, having fought before. Sue and Reed rescue the lawyers, and there’s a couple of pages of them fighting the elementals throughout the streets of New York.
Reed and Sue make it to Pier 4 only to find the water elemental trashing the building. Code Blue, the NYPD’s superhuman response unit, is on the scene, and they say they can’t break through the elemental’s barrier. Also there is a young woman named Blanca, who describes herself as “last of the Deacons.” Then we get a retelling of Diablo’s origin, how his potions gave him immortality, adding that the Deacons are a group secretly devoted to stopping Diablo over the years.
Sue uses her force field to open a path into Pier 4, basically ripping a hole in the elemental. She, Reed, and Blanca enter the pier. The Gideon Trust limo pulls up outside, revealing that Sue also signed the deal, transferring ownership of the pier and all of Reed’s tech to the trust. Then, in a case of perfect timing, the pier explodes right in front of them.
To be continued!
Also, this issue has a two-page preview of Ultimate Spider-Man #1. Peter Parker goes to a science lab and is bitten by a chemically engineered (not radioactive) spider. I wonder what will happen.
Unstable molecule: Reed says Dr. Strange has lent him some books about Diablo (where’d he get those?) but the Deacons are barely mentioned in them.
Fade out: Sue mentions trying out her force fields in the style of Iceman’s ice bridges that he moves around on. Except Sue has done this before. I guess there’s a difference between a force field bridge and a force field bridge that propels you forward with momentum.
Clobberin’ time: Ben has been getting letters from Alicia that he hasn’t opened. After spending all this time as a supporting character (and love interest?) in the pages of Silver Surfer, Alicia returned to Earth and she and the Surfer parted ways in the miniseries Galactus the Devourer.
Flame on: The issue begins with Ben and Johnny fighting over a copy of Vanity Fare (not Fair) that has Johnny on the cover. The magazine suggests Johnny pursuing a film career, which will become a storyline in upcoming issues.
Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk shows up in this ad, featuring the winner of a “you can get drawn into a Marvel comic” contest.
Commercial break: The fine print says they also have DVDs!
Trivia time: This issue suggests that something is up with mailperson Willie Lumpkin. It’s a mystery how she carries the giant mirror by herself, and then she appears to vanish. Sadly, this is pretty much it for Willie. She won’t reappear until the Fantastic Four: True Story miniseries in 2008. Then her only other appearance is a cameo a year later. The Marvel wiki confirms Willie has no superpowers, so maybe Diablo’s magic is to blame for her odd behavior in this one.
Fantastic or frightful? Pacheco certainly comes out swinging. His first issue has a lot of classic FF-isms, but he also is here to shake things up in terms of Pier 4 and the FF’s future. Peeking ahead to future issues, Pacheco will certainly make his mark on Fantastic Four (and Marvel!) history.
Next: Cash for gold!
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