Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Writer-artist Carlos Pacheco continues to take things back to basics, while also introducing new changes to one character in vol. 3 #39.
To recap, a brand-new Baxter Building is being constructed in an orbiting space station, courtesy of scientist/industrialist Noah Baxter. Ben, meanwhile, fought the Grey Gargoyle and an unnamed mystery woman, only for the Gargoyle to turn him into stone. (Well, fully into stone.) Reed, Sue, and Johnny teleport from the space station to the scene. Note that they’re wearing new uniforms, which are the original FF uniforms, only without the prominent “4” logo.
There are several pages of fighting, with Reed using his long arms to swing wide punches at Grey Gargoyle, knocking him all over the place. Sue traps him in a force field and slams him against a nearby wall. Grey Gargoyle admits that this attack was an initiation test, and the mystery woman is named Senso. She has vanished, while the FF secure the scene and put their attention toward helping Ben.
Then we cut to the headquarters of the Gideon Trust, the big business who purchased all the FF’s tech and patents. They’re experimenting on Paste-Pot Pete, um, I mean the Trapster, so he can join their new elite group, known as the “N-Explorers.” A man identified only as “the Colonel” exposits that the Gideon Trust is rebuilding the FF’s Negative Zone portal. When the Colonel threatens to leave the project, the others threaten him, and make vague threats about Noah Baxter and the FF as well.
Back the scene of the fight, three Avengers – Thor, Giant Man, and new hero Triathlon – are on the scene. The Gargoyle’s stone touch has worn off the other victims, but Ben is still fully turned to stone. The FF teleport back to the space station, where Reed runs a diagnostic on Ben. The computer tells him “Diagnosis: fatality” over and over while Reed works frantically to save Ben. Then, he emerges from the Lab to reveal that Ben has become human again. “What’s all the hubbub?” Ben asks.
Ben reunites with Noah Baxter, and it’s revealed they are old friends. Noah gives each of the team a bio-disc with their “4” logo (this is why their uniforms didn’t have the logo until now). The four of them activate the new building’s “bio-technic transfer rod,” which brings all its systems online. Ben reveals that he can now transform from human into the Thing and back again, so he can add his Thing handprint to the device.
Cut to NYC, at the former site of Four Freedoms Plaza (which you’ll remember was left derelict by the Thunderbolts in Thunderbolts #10 and then teleported to the moon in Fantastic Four vol. 3 #3). Two construction workers are goofing around, only to have the new teleport (drop?) onto the space. The voice balloons let us “hear” the FF doing their old-fashioned family bickering while inside.
Unstable molecule: This issue is all about Reed caring for Ben and trying to save him. He beats the crap out of the Grey Gargoyle and then frantically tries to save Ben’s life in the lab.
Fade out: Sue uses her force fields to keep the Grey Gargoyle from touching anyone, effectively keeping him from using his powers on Reed.
Clobberin’ time: Reed offers Ben the choice to leave the team now that he’s human again, but says he’s never felt better and that, “We ain’t called the Fantastic Three.”
Flame on: I guess we’re meant to think that Johnny was also facing a choice whether to stay, because one panel has him saying, “I’m in. Like you could stop me.”
Commercial break: I’ve actually never had a Go-Gurt, but I suspect it’s not as exciting as this ad makes it look:
Trivia time: Who is Triathlon? Formerly the villain 3-D Man, he rebranded when he became a good guy, but had trouble getting along with the other Avengers. After a battle against Kang, he left the Avengers and became 3-D Man again. He ended playing a key role during the Secret Invasion event.
A poster in NYC features “Councilman Thorne.” I’m not sure who this is (turns out “Thorne” is a fairly common last name in the Marvel Universe) but my guess is that it’s Sam Thorne, Reed and Ben’s old college buddy Sam Thorne, who we met a few times in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Fantastic or frightful? This issue jumps through a lot of hoops to establish a new (well, new-ish) status quo for Fantastic Four. The highlight, though is the big fight, where Reed and Sue really cut loose with their powers in a big way.
Next: Zone defense.
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