Fantastic Friday! This big Negative Zone story concludes in vol. 3 #44, and in true Marvel fashion, it’s tons of characters in the comic at once.
Where were we? It all started when the evil businessmen of the Gideon Trust bought all of the FF’s old tech, only to try to steal energy from the Negative Zone. This is causing the barriers between Earth and the Negative Zone to break down. Reed, Sue, and Ben entered the NZ to investigate, befriending a tough-guy hunter named Hellscout and then bumping into the Inhumans’ enemy Maximus the Mad. Back on Earth, Johnny doesn’t know when his teammates will return, so he’s formed a super-team of his own with him, Namor, Namorita, She-Hulk, and Ant-Man.
This issue begins with Namor hanging out in the new Baxter Building while the rest of Johnny’s team are heading to Gideon Tower. Namor is to stay back as Johnny’s backup, to be called in only if things get really bad. At the tower, Johnny’s team, which the Marvel Wiki insists on calling “the Ad-Hoc Fantastic Four,” the investigation has already turned into a battle, with the team fighting the Mad Thinker’s Unstoppable Android, also in the employ of the Gideon Trust.
In the Negative Zone, the FF, Hellscout, an alien named Gornkai, Maximus, and Maximus’ army of Alpha-primitives come across the Gideon Trust’s team of N-Explorers, led by Paste-Pot Pete, um, I mean the Trapster. They’re fighting Annihilus, who they’ve snagged in one of the Trapster’s traps. The Trapster removes Annihilus’ powerful Cosmic Control Rod. He sends the rod through a portal to Earth.
Also on Earth, She-Hulk defeats the Android by punching it out, and then the Ad-Hoc team enters the portal chamber. Then it’s back to the NZ, where Reed has converted the FF’s old signal flare gun into a weapon able to interrupt the portal. Maximus and the Alpha-Primitives attack the N-Explorers as a distraction. Reed trusts Hellscout’s perfect aim to fire the weapon into the portal. On Earth, the portal explodes, and Johnny sees an image of the “4” flare in the blaze. He orders his new teammates to retreat while he absorbs the flames. Back to the Negative Zone, where Reed beats up the Trapster and Hellscout defeats a weakened Annhilius. Hellscout stabs Annhilius in the back with two swords, seemingly killing him.
What happens next is confusing. The Cosmic Control Rod is in two halves and caught in the portal between Earth and the Negative Zone, where it is pouring negative energy into Earth. In space, in orbit around Earth, scientist/architect Noah Baxter is on board the space station Alexandria. He prepares his teleportation tech to absorb some of the negative energy. Reed tries to come up with a plan, but Ben goes ahead and grabs both halves of the Control Rod. He uses his awesome strength to restore both halves. The Alexandria disappears as Noah leaves a message for his wife, telling her he loves her.
The FF return to Earth, leaving Hellscout to keep the Cosmic Control Rod from falling into the wrong hands. The Trapster and the N-Explorers escaped to elsewhere in the Negative Zone, and Hellscout says maybe he’ll go after them. (Maybe?!?) The FF reappear in the Gideon facility where they compare notes with the Ad-Hoc team. Apparently Janus the Nega-Man (from way back in issue #109) was in this story too, because they find his dead body. Then we see that Johnny absorbed so much heat that his powers have gone freaky. He can no longer flame off. He says, “I’m stuck as the Human Torch!”
Cut to Lake Tahoe, home of another secret Gideon Trust facility. The Gideon board members are all laid off by the unseen leader of the trust, with a threat that they will be dealt with severely if they ever talk. The final page returns to the Negative Zone, where two Alpha-Primitives discover an egg with what looks like a tiny baby Annihilus growing inside it.
Unstable molecule: The Trapster says he was thinking of no longer going by the name “Trapster,” but then he says he decides to keep it after hearing Reed say the name aloud. Trapster says Reed gives the name “Trapster” a certain dignity.
Fade out: During the fight against the N-Explorers, Sue uses her newfound (or longtime?) martial arts skills to beat up the baddies.
Clobberin’ time: The alien Gornkai gets only one big moment in this issue, when he proclaims, “It is time for clobbering!” Ben tells him “You’ll get the hang of it sooner or later.”
Flame on: Johnny will be dealing with his out-of-control powers for the next ten issues, so buckle up for a long ride.
Fantastic fifth wheel: It’s back to Avengers for She-Hulk after this, kicking off an long story about a war between Atlantis and the Deviants.
It’s a little tricky sorting out where Ant-Man ends up in Marvel continuity after this story. He’s in and out of Avengers and Iron Man during this time, and becomes shortly thereafter dates private eye Jessica Jones for a bit.
Commercial break: What was Nickelodeon Gas? Is that like Classical Gas?
Trivia time: No, Annihilus isn’t dead. Not only that, but when he returns in the Fantastic Four: Foes miniseries, there will be two Annihiluses (Annihili?) fighting over which one of them is the real one. Then that never gets resolved, because he comes back after that in the Annihilation crossover back in power as classic Annihilus.
Janus the Nega-Man, meanwhile, really did die, as this was his final appearance to date.
Then there’s Noah Baxter. This issue is also his final appearance, and as of this writing his fate (not to mention most of his backstory) has never been revealed.
You’d think that Hellscout and the alien Gronkai never appeared again, but they did. They both show up in the miniseries Doom: The Emperor Returns, where they confront Dr. Doom after Doom journeys into the Negative Zone.
The Marvel Wiki states that Spider-Man villain the Spot is in this issue, and… he is! Look closely, and you can see him hooked up to a machine in the Gideon Trust’s portal chamber. He survives and later shows up in Spider-Man: Tangled Webs.
Fantastic or frightful? Why are there so many characters in this one issue? (Wait, I’ve asked that question before, haven’t I?) It makes for an unnecessarily busy issue, as you can’t really follow the plot when you’re constantly trying to remember which is which and who is where. Namor is sidelined, Ant-Man does nothing, Maximus is forgotten about after the first few pages, who is this Gronkai guy again, and so on. There’s some good stuff here, but the comic really makes you work to find it.
Next: Country living.
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