Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s time for the three Before the Fantastic Four prequel miniseries, showing what our heroes were up to before FF #1. And no, Reed and Ben are no longer World War 2 vets.
Before the Fantastic Four: Reed Richards finds young Reed jet-setting around the globe, freeing a deposed prince from a usurping general in the Himalayas and then studying both fine art and subspace tech in Paris. When he learns his mentor, Dr. Van Nuys, is ill with a mysterious ailment, Reed investigates. He’s pursued by sinister henchmen, and comes across an artifact with strange hieroglyphics. With the help of archeologist Frankie Fisher, Reed finds himself on the path of an ancient relic known as the Hand of Bast, which Frankie says, “makes the Holy Grail look like a Dixie cup.”
After a few more escapes from these henchmen, Alyssa joins Reed and Frankie in New York, and then to Bucharest. There’s another confrontation with the henchmen, and Frankie is abducted by… young Dr. Doom! Doom wears a cloth mask in this instead of his usual metal one, and we see him studying sorcery from a man named Radu. Alyssa wants to leave Frankie behind, but Frankie has the scroll leading to the location of the Claw of Basat. Doom is recreating the experiment that originally destroyed his face, only this time with Alyssa and Frankie as the test subjects. Reed makes it look like the experiment explodes, and he escapes with the two ladies. Then it’s off to Egypt, where the Claw of Bast is located inside the Sphinx (convenient). Doom follows them, and claims the Claw for itself, only for its magic to bring the Sphinx to life. There’s a big fight, ending when Reed gets hold of the Claw and transfers its magic back to the Sphinx, saving his mentor’s life in the process.
During Chris Claremont’s run at the start of volume 3 of Fantastic Four, he introduced Alyssa Foy, who was super-rich, a super-genius, and who had some sort of undefined past with Reed. We were promised that Reed and Alyssa’s story would be told in Before the Fantastic Four: Reed Richards, but that’s not quite the case. Alyssa joins Reed for part of the adventure, but there’s no revelation about what their relationship may or may not have been. Frankie is the much more fun character, and she’s the one I’d rather see come back for more. Note that this one has a frame sequence with Reed telling the story to Franklin, with Franklin making some meta comments about the more preposterous aspects of the plot.
Before the Fantastic Four: Ben Grimm and Logan is the one I’m guessing most Marvel fans are interested, because who doesn’t love Wolverine? Taking place “not so long ago,” the story begins in the Nevada desert, where test pilot Ben Grimm flies too close to Logan’s car as he drives out in the middle of nowhere. Logan is so ticked off that he breaks into the Air Force base and picks a fight with Ben. As punishment (I guess?) Ben and Logan are assigned a top secret mission by Col. Nick Fury himself. They’re to pilot an experimental aircraft built by Tony Stark into Russia to steal a piece of machinery known only as “Red Storm” from a Russian base. Ben’s co-pilot is young Carol Danvers.
Upon flying to Russia, Ben, Logan, and Carol are confronted by the future Black Widow, Natasha Shostakova (her married name at the time) and the evil Col. Malenky. After a lot of fights and escapes, Ben, Logan and Carol manage to swipe the Red Storm (we don’t know what it is because it’s sealed in a briefcase). There’s a big airfight between Carol in one airplane and Natasha leading a crew of Russian pilots in her own plane, with Ben and Logan impossibly jumping and falling from plane to plane. Natasha lets the heroes go, suggesting that maybe she’s not so evil after all, and Malenky takes the fall for it. This one ends setting up a sequel, by not revealing what the Red Storm is, and by Logan saying this was only phase one of their mission, but no sequel was ever made.
There is no mention of Logan’s powers in this, neither his Adamantium skeleton nor his healing factor. The Marvel Wiki states that he does have his Adamantium and his claws during this time, so I wonder why we don’t see them. The fact that Black Widow, Tony Stark, Nick Fury, and Carol Danvers are in this means this could also double as Before the Avengers. And while I’m nitpicking, there’s no way Ben or even Logan can just cling to airplane wings and hop from plane to plane during a high-speed dogfight.
The real oddity among these miniseries is Before the Fantastic Four: The Storms. What kind of adventure could young Sue and young Johnny possibly have gotten into? Oh, I don’t know, how about battling freakin’ vampires? After meeting young Sue and young Johnny, we meet Sue’s friend Cammie Brandies. Cammie’s father, Professor Brandies, recently died under mysterious circumstances. Johnny swipes a strange amulet from the scene, and later, he, Sue, Cammie, and Cammie’s uncle Max are attacked by strange beings. They escape, but are pursued by a man named Comte St. Germain. The young heroes make their way to Empire State University, where they learn the amulet is the ancient “Amulet of Z.” What’s more, Germain is after the Amulet so he can deliver it to his master… the one and only Dracula!
Germain uses Absorbing Man-like powers to pursue the young heroes. Then it’s dropped that the “Z” in Amulet of Z stands for Zarathos, the demon half of Ghost Rider. Zarathos wants to bond with Johnny to make Johnny the new Ghost Rider, but Max instead grabs the amulet and he becomes Ghost Rider instead. Ghost Rider defeats Germain, which inflicts pain on Dracula, who is trapped in coffin on the other side of the world. Sue manages to separate Max from Zarathos by appealing to Max’s humanity. The amulet is lost in a junkyard where it will eventually be found by Danny Ketch. Sue later announces she’s leaving for California for college, and we the reader know this is where her romance with Reed begins.
Skipping over there’s nothing in FF lore to suggest that Sue and Johnny were once teenage vampire slayers, this is a decent supernatural adventure tale, with the Ghost Rider/Zarathos appearance being a neat twist. The Max character is here to show that Sue sees in him what she will next find attractive in Reed. So it’s all good, I guess.
Fantastic or frightful? The big issue with these three miniseries is how they play so fast and loose with Marvel continuity, to the point where it’s like reading an out-of-canon What If comic rather than a proper prequel. But then, that’s also what works about these, in that they all have a feel of old-fashioned pulp adventure, more interested in sensationalistic thrills rather than world building. I had fun with these, but they’re not required reading.
Next: Country living.
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