Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Back in issue vol. 3 #24, Sue sent Franklin away in a rocket, baby Superman style, to keep him protected from a crisis. Where, exactly, that rocket went has been an unanswered question for almost two years in real time. Now, Chris Claremont returns to Fantastic Four to answer that question in the 50-page one-shot Fantastic Fourth Voyage of Sinbad. But, in classic Marvel fashion, the answer isn’t much of an answer.
This issue begins with an old-timey sailing ship showing up in the harbor in NYC. Then we’re at FF headquarters, when Franklin appears through a portal, along with our other new supporting characters introduced by Claremont — time-displaced teenage Valeria, interdimensional swordswoman Caledonia, and alien teleporting dog Puppy. Franklin was in Otherworld, the realm of Roma, whom the FF befriended at the start of vol. 3. But wait – we’re at Pier 4, not the new Baxter Building, which means this story takes place several real-world months earlier. The caption tells us that Franklin and Valeria are attending a school for superhuman children called Haven, located in Otherworld. So I guess he, Valeria, Caledonia, and Puppy have all been living in Haven and regularly teleporting back and forth to visit the FF all this time. (I guess?)
Later that night, ghostly creatures from the old sailing ship sneak into Pier 4, and a fight breaks out. The creatures have powers and strength to match the FF’s. They defeat the ghosts by doing the classic switch opponents move, only to discover a seven-headed hydra (!) going after Franklin, Valeria, and Caledonia. As they fight it, a wizard-like guy appears and introduces himself as Jihad. He commands the FF to bow down before him. The FF aren’t having it, and there’s more fighting.
Everyone passes out, and then they wake up on board the old ship. They’ve been apprehended and someone has given the ship to sail in unknown waters. Reed recognizes the ship as a Dromond, a vessel of classic Arabian origin. They’re the only ones on board. Valeria finds a map and deduces that this is the ship that once belonged to the mythical Sinbad the Sailor. The map states that the FF must find four mystic objects – the Eye to behold all, the Hand to grasp all, the Crystal Casque to contain all, and the Mallet of Destiny for your heart’s desire. Despite being abducted, the team embraces the spirit of adventure, and they embark on the quest.
The Dromond arrives at a flying island made of crystal, home of the Casque. Deadly lasers shoot down anyone who approaches, but Sue is able to get inside invisibly to steal the Casque. Cut to another island, where Reed is playing a game of chess in front of a crowd in an amphitheater with his teammates has the chess pieces. Reed wins the game and gains the Hand. Then it’s off to another island, where an enemy named Iblis transforms the FF into demonic monsters. Ben, who is already a monster, defeats Iblis and gets the Mallet.
Next, the Dromond is attacked by a giant bird called a Rukh, who captures Johnny. The FF chases the Rukh to the same island where the Eye is located. The find the Eye attached to a statue larger than any NYC skyscraper. The Rukh’s nest is also there, where a bunch of also-gigantic baby birds are about to eat an alien man. Johnny returns to burn up the nest. The birds fly off and the man is saved, but disappears. The FF get the Eye and return to the ship, only to discover Jihad has returned, and turned Franklin, Valeria, Caledonia, and Puppy into statues.
The FF hand the mystical objects over to Jihad to rescue the kids, but Ben leaps into action, swiping the Dromond’s figurehead, carved into the shape of an Arabian warrior. When the figurehead hits the water, we learn that it was the one and only Sinbad the Sailor himself! There’s some confusing business, where Sinbad said he convinced Jihad to transform him and abduct the FF, because it was Sinbad’s plan all along to team up with the FF to rescue his daughter Dione from Jihad. (I think. Fifty pages is a lot for one comic, and yet this is still a ton of plot for fifty pages.)
The FF have no ship, but the Rukh returns and the FF ride on its back into action. In Jihad’s home city, he announces his plan to open portals to other worlds to reign over them all. The FF and Sinbad fly into action. The battle goes on for several pages, but Ben and Reed do that move where Reed stretches into a big slingshot to sling Ben at Jihad. That takes out the bad guy, and everyone recovers the mystical objects. Sinbad says they can use the objects to undo Jihad’s magic, but only if they work together. Jihad returns at the last minute, only for Ben to use the Mallet to punch him out again. The kids are transformed back into human, Sinbad rescues Dione, and everyone celebrates.
Sinbad magically sails the Dromond back to NYC. Sinbad leaves Ben with a gold talisman as a keepsake of their adventure, and he and his daughter sail off into the unknown.
Unstable molecule: Reed is pumped to be on a high seas adventure at first, enjoying all the action and scrapes. By the end, however, he admits to Sinbad that as a scientist, he is not equipped to deal with all the magical aspects of their journey.
Fade out: While invisible on the crystal island, Sue has to wear special polarized sunglasses, so she’s not disoriented by the dazzling lasers coming from the crystals. Is now the time to revisit the “how does she see when invisible?” debate?
Clobberin’ time: We learn that when Ben was a child, he loved tales of Sinbad, which inspired him to become a pilot and adventurer. When Sinbad appears, he and Ben bond to the point where Sinbad ends by considering Ben to be like a brother to him.
Flame on: Johnny is real flirtatious with Caledonia. She doesn’t give him any response either way. There’s no real way to know where his relationship with Namorita is at by this point, so maybe Johnny can get away with this?
Four and a half: There are a few references to Franklin being “bigger” now, so perhaps the intent was to age him up a little more moving forward. Also, Franklin says Reed has been teaching him to pay chess, to the point where Franklin can now complete entire games of chess in his head, without needing a board (!).
Our gal Val: We learn Valeria is fluent in Arabic, which comes in handy. Remember that in the alternate timeline she came from, her father is Dr. Doom (or is he?) who no doubt saw to it she had a world-class education.
Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue has had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all along. In this issue, she takes the wheel of the sailing ship, and later pulls off a heist on her own. Could this be her spy experience at work?
Commercial break: Fifty pages equal no ads!
Trivia time: This is Sinbad the Sailor’s fourth and (to date) final appearance in Marvel Comics. He was in two issues of a 1974 anthology series called Worlds Unknown, in an attempt to cash in on the success of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian comics. Then he was one in issue of 1975’s Marvel Spotlight, in a story that’s “freely adapted from” the screenplay of the 1958 film The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Whether these stories are canonical to the Marvel Universe is up for debate.
This is the only appearance of Jihad (which is for the best, because yikes to his problematic name) as well as Dione and Iblis. The Hydra, however, is something of a mainstay in the Marvel Universe, as a regular adversary for Hercules in Herc’s various solo stories. In Weapon X vol. 3 #16, however, the one and only Wolverine permanently killed the Hydra by cutting into so many tiny pieces it couldn’t regrow any of its heads.
Fantastic or frightful? Chris Claremont’s writing on Fantastic Four was marked by having tons of plot packed into each page, and that’s the case here as well. Still, it’s enjoyable to see the FF actually having fun while on an adventure, rather than the usual increasing dramatic stakes typical of big event comics.
Next: Bring me the head of Galactus.
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