Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In vol. 3, #42, we’re in the middle of a big, ambitious story in the Negative Zone that’s getting bigger by adding more characters and conflicts.
Recap: The sinister businessmen of the Gideon Trust purchased all the FF’s old patents and tech a while back, and how now enlisted Paste-Pot Pete, um, I mean the Trapster to mine the Negative Zone for energy. This is causing the borders to Earth and the Negative Zone to become unstable. Reed, Sue, and Johnny enter the Negative Zone to investigate, running into some old-timey sailors who have been trapped in there since pilgrim times. Johnny got left behind, and he is alone in New York.
This issue begins with flashback from “several months ago” of a group of astronauts in the Negative Zone come across what appears to be the ruins of the former Four Freedoms Plaza. Then we cut to the Gideon Trust’s headquarters in New York, which is under attack by Namor the Sub-Mariner. This is following his attack on the Trust’s oceanic platform in the North Atlantic. They attack with helicopters and tanks (big businesses have their own tanks?) and he responds by summons giant sea monsters. Not far away, Johnny is alone at the Baxter Building, apparently trying to run the FF’s business concerns by himself. Lenny from Damage Control contacts him and tells him Namor is attacking.
In the Negative Zone, the FF are searching for traces of positive energy. They’re joined by the pilgrims’ hunter, a man called Hellscout. He and the FF compare notes, with Hellscout saying that he too once battles Annhilius, the baddest bad guy of the Negative Zone. They investigate a planetoid where they meet a lion-like creature named Gornkai, who says “pirates” have turned his and his people’s homes have been turned to ash thanks to their energy-stealing ways. Reed finds a positive ion trail that he can use not only track where the so-called pirates are going, but deduce where their next target is.
Back in NYC, Johnny and Namor continue to fight, no doubt a homage to the old fights between Subby and the original android Human Torch. She-Hulk shows up and joins the fight, saying she received Johnny’s call for help. Namor keeps on fighting, until he’s knocked out by Ant-Man, who tried out one of the Wasp’s stingers inside Namor’s eardrum, zapping him into unconsciousness. Note that this is the Scott Lang Ant-Man former alternate member of the FF.
There’s a short scene in the Negative Zone where Reed builds his ion tracking device and Hellscout takes a somewhat uncomfortable interest in Sue. Then, at the new Baxter Building, Johnny, She-Hulk, and Scott examine the still unconscious Namor. Scott says Namor has gone nuts because his body is charged with negative ions. Then Namorita, Namor’s cousin and New Warrior, shows up, and we’re reminded that she and Johnny have been dating since issue #29 even though we’ve rarely seen this relationship on the page. Johnny tells her, Scott, and She-Hulk that three of the FF are lost in the Negative Zone, and the world needs a new Fantastic Four to fill in the gap. Then Namor wakes, having come to his senses, and offers, “Let there be five.”
In the Negative Zone once more, Reed and the others follow the ion trail to another wrecked planetoid, where Reed deduces that time portals are opening up in addition to the spatial ones. They run into some Alpha-Primitives, suggesting that the Inhumans have also accessed the Negative Zone. They’re then confronted by Maximus the Mad, who says he will offer them something that no one has ever offered him — a truce.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Upon discovering the positive ion trail, Reed exclaims, “Hi-de-ho!” We’re told this is something he always used to say back in college.
Fade out: The scene with Hellscout putting the moves on Sue seems to be here only Sue can have a line where some infrared tech might be able to see her when she’s invisible. Foreshadowing, maybe?
Clobberin’ time: Ben jokes that he and Reed should go on Survivor. Reed says he’s never heard of Survivor and Ben chides him for not knowing pop culture. So much for the “Ben only watches John Wayne movies” thing.
Flame on: During their fight, Johnny survives a punch to the face from Namor, which should kill him considering Namor’s super-strength. I guess we can chalk it up to Namor being out of sorts from the negative zone ions.
Fantastic fifth wheel: During this time, She-Hulk has been in and out various Avengers books. Just prior to this she was in the Avengers/X-Men crossover Maximum Security, in which a whole bunch of heroes battled Ronan the Accuser and the Kree Surpreme Intelligence.
After the events of Onslaught, Scott Lang joined a version of Heroes for Hire for a bit, and then rejoined the Avengers after their fight with Kang.
Commercial break: This issue has two separate full-page ads featuring Spongebob Squarepants, but they’re not for his show. It’s Spongebob promoting other people’s products.
Trivia time: According to the Marvel Wiki, Johnny’s new team is named “the Ad-Hoc Fantastic Four.” Not the catchiest title.
Fantastic or frightful? If this ongoing Negative Zone storyline was published today, Marvel would come up with some up cool-sounding name for it and hype it up as an event. But at this point, a multi-issue cosmic tale with tons of characters is just business as usual for Fantastic Four. The only question is whether they will stick the landing.
Next: Ants and androids.
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