Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In vol. 3 #41, we’ve got interdimensional pilgrims, because why not?
OK, so a while back, a group called the Gideon Trust purchased the FF’s old tech and patents. They then reconstructed the Negative Zone portal and hired Paste-Pot Pete, um, I mean the Trapster to lead a team of “N-Explorers” into the zone. Fearing that the Gideon Trust’s efforts are making the Negative Zone unstable, Reed, Sue, and Ben entered the zone to investigate, only to find an ancient Earth sailing ship in there. Got all that? Johnny was left behind because he was prepping for his upcoming movie role. As this issue begins, he’s in Reed’s lab with no knowledge on how to reopen the Negative Zone portal and rejoin his teammates.
Inside the Negative Zone, Reed deduces that the old sailing ship is fifteenth century Spanish galleon named the Pandora. What’s more, the ship’s devoutly religious crew is still on board, led by a man named Jacob. (The comic refers to the crew as “pilgrims” throughout.) There’s a brief fight, until Reed recognizes Jacob carries a Bible. Reed quotes from it, convincing the pilgrims on their side.
Elsewhere in the Negative Zone, Trapster and the N-Explorers are fighting a bunch of aliens to steal their powerful energy generators. He contacts the Gideon Trust, who plans to profit from the generators. Back aboard the Pandora, Jacob explains that the pilgrims’ ancestors were sailing to the New World back the olden days and got caught in a storm, which transported them to the Negative Zone. Nearby, Ben is attacked by a gun-toting man calling himself the Hellscout. It’s a brief fight before Jacob breaks them up, saying Ben is a guest and not a foe.
In New York, Johnny and Spider-Man meet atop the Statue of Liberty (!) for a chat. Johnny fears that the FF will be lost in the Negative Zone forever, but Spidey reminds him that the FF have been considered lost before, referencing Secret Wars and Onslaught. But Johnny hits a nerve by asking Spider-Man if he’s ever lost a family member, and Spidey’s not having it.
Back to the Negative Zone, the Trapster sends the generators through some kind of portal. Then the pilgrims’ home is rocked with a earthquake. Jacob says he can sense a “distancing,” and Reed suspects that the N-Explorers are involved. He fears that the walls between Earth and the Negative Zone are becoming unstable. Hellscout offers his aid, saying he can track anyone, anywhere. Cut to Earth, where a Gideon Trust facility out on the ocean receives the generators, and Namor the Sub-Mariner watches from a distance.
Unstable molecule: What to make of Reed quoting the Bible? I think this is less about what spirituality he may or may not have, but rather him finding common ground between him and Pilgrims. We’re not that far away from a longer story arc about Reed going all magic/supernatural, so maybe this is planting a seed of that.
Fade out: Ben asks Sue why she didn’t turn invisible during the fight, and she tells him that her force field is around the whole team. So much for her-teammates-have-a-vague-sense-of-where-the-force-fields-are thing.
Clobberin’ time: Ben transforms to human and back a few times this issue, just to remind the reader he can do that now.
Flame on: We’re not shown how Johnny contacted Spider-Man for their meeting. In previous comics, Johnny would leave a message at the Daily Bugle for Spidey when he wanted him. This suggests that several days pass during this issue.
Commercial break: This is that time in the early 2000s when whoever owned the Charles Atlas license started using it again in these retro ads:
Trivia time: The reference to Spider-Man having lost a loved one would appear to be his Uncle Ben, but this story is concurrent with the time that Spider-Man believed his wife Mary Jane had died in plane crash. It was later revealed that she survived the crash (!) but was abducted by a deranged stalker (!!) known only as… the Stalker (!!!).
Johnny says he went to Iron Man, Hank Pym and even Captain America asking for help to get the Negative Zone, only they were unavailable. This is because all three were in Greece, in Avengers vol. 3 #40, where the Composite Hulk had transformed the population of a whole town into Hulks. (It’s a long story.)
Fantastic or frightful? Another issue spending more time setting up a big confrontation to come, hinting that this will be a longer and more ambitious story arc. So not a lot happens, except the promise of payoff. We’ll see what happens.
Next: Fire and water… again.
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