Fantastic Friday: Alchemical process

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Volume 3, issue 36 gives the old “science versus magic” debate, and we say goodbye to the pier.

In the last issue, evil alchemist Diablo escaped from an evil mirror and unleashed Hell on the FF, kidnapping Ben and Johnny, and then blowing up pier 4. This one begins with three pages of Spider-Man and Daredevil jumping into the action, helping firefighters at the scene.

Inside, Diablo has Ben and Johnny trapped, when he confronts Reed and Sue, who are here for the rescue. Also with them is a young woman named Blanca, a member of a secret order of Deacons who have fought Diablo over the years.  Diablo summons elementals and bunch of tiny demons to fight Reed and Sue. The stone elemental wins the fight, knocking out Sue and stretching Reed to his limit. Blanca tries to stop Diablo with a magic scroll, but Diablo burns it away. Diablo says his master who taught him alchemy also gave him immortality thanks to vampiric blood in his veins. He shows her a vision of a golden flower, and asks her to renounce her holy mission and join him instead. Teary-eyed, she says yes.

Diablo leads Blanca, the elementals, and the hostage FF back through the magic mirror as pier 4 continues to fall apart. Cut to Kansas, where Diablo’s attack has caused a worldwide eclipse. On a remote farm, a man named Noah receives a message that the Gideon Trust has purchased Pier 4 (this also happened last issue). Noah kisses his wife goodbye and rides off.

In Diablo’s sanctum sanctorum (I guess every wizard type has one) he explains that the FF will be catalysts of a new era, with them being receptacles for living alchemical symbols. Reed is “the king,” Sue is “the queen,” Ben is “the dragon,” and Johnny is “the burning star.” He force-feeds them a potion called “aurum potabile,” The caption conveniently tells us this means “drinking gold.” Diablo then fulfils his promise to Blanca to make her as beautiful as the golden flower, by transmuting Blanca into gold.

Ben breaks free of the spell and fights Diablo, but he’s in a weakened state. Still, his attack is enough to free his teammates. Diablo is stunned that the ancient gods did not possess the FF. Reed tells Diablo that the time of superstition is past, and that this is the time of science and reason. Reed whispers just a few words into Diablo’s ears, and Diablo freaks out. All his gold gets transmutated back into lead.

The elementals attack Diablo, saying that he promised them the ancient gods would return. The FF flee back through the magic mirror, leaving Diablo there. Reed and Sue speculate that Blanca might still be alive but is lost in the middle of the madness. The FF return to wreckage of Pier 4, and the worldwide eclipse ends. Sue explains that she created tiny force fields in her and Reed’s mouths to prevent them from swallowing the potion. Reed reveals what he whispered to Diablo – the law of gravity. This caused Diablo to stop floating in midair and touch the ground, which tethered him to scientific reality. (Or something. It’s confusing.)

A lawyer from the Gideon Trust shows up, furious that they just purchased Pier Four and all of Reed’s tech, only for it to be destroyed in the same day. Reed says Pier Four and all the technology within still belongs to the Gideon Trust, and that insurance companies will reimburse them. The FF then leave the lawyer there, saying they’re off to find a new home. Alone among the wreckage, Lt. Stone of NYPD’s special Code Blue division finds a piece of the magic mirror and sees an image of a flower in it.

Unstable molecule: After outsmarting Diablo, Reed refers to the villain by his real name, Esteban, to show they’ve made some kind of personal connection.

Fade out: In Diablo’s spell, Sue role as the queen is described as the one who brings life together as one single soul. Make of that what you will.

Clobberin’ time: Ben at one point says his parents named him after Benjamin Franklin. This has led some fans over the years to theorize that Ben’s middle name is Franklin. But no, canonically his middle name is Jacob.

Flame on: Johnny does very little this time, after having swallowed Diablo’s potion in the previous issue. There will be permanent effects, though, because his flame destroyed the potion after Diablo lost his power.

Fantastic fifth wheel: This issue’s letters page takes a shot at the Tom DeFalco years, by joking that Lyja, Kristoff, Nathaniel Richards, and even Ant-Man will return in a miniseries called Uninteresting Fantastic Four Characters get Launched Directly Into the Sun.

Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent this whole time. Could Sue’s force-field-inside-the-mouth trick be part of her spy training, so that she never gets poisoned during a mission?  

Commercial break: I have no idea what’s going on here.

Trivia time: Although not named in this issue, the vampire that gave Diablo his immortality is the one and only Dracula. Dracula was a major player in the Marvel Universe in the ‘70s with the classic Tomb of Dracula series. They then brought him back in the ‘90s and he’s been vamping around in Marvel on and off ever since then. Dracula’s involvement in Diablo’s origin would seem to be a continuity error, since Diablo’s first appearance states that he got his power from Mephisto, but Diablo has been around for hundreds of years, so who’s to say that he learned from both Mephisto and Dracula?

These elemental creatures are the same elementals who tend to show up whenever there’s crazy magic going in the Marvel Universe. Diablo’s tiny demons have no entry in the Marvel wiki. The wiki summary for this issue calls them “the tiny demons,” but Diablo himself gives them the proper name of “the Homunculi.”

This is the final appearance of the deacon Blanca. If she survived, her fate is unknown to this day. It’s not the end of Diablo, however, as a year after this he reappeared in Avengers where he tried to turn an entire village of people into Hulks.

And it’s the final appearance of Pier 4. The next headquarters after this will be the one that (to my knowledge) will last the rest of the series. We had good times at Pier 4, though. The writers and artists of the last 36 issues did a great job of making Pier 4 feel like a fun and exciting locale.

Fantastic or frightful? A fun action issue, where writer/artist Carlos Pacheco gives himself lots of pages just for fighting and fighting. He’s clearly come to the series with big ideas for its future, and it’s exciting to see where he goes with it.

Next: Road trip!


Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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