Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. How long has it been since there’s been a universe-spanning cosmic epic? Not long, you say? Well, here’s another one in FF Annual 2001.
The annual begins with a bang, as the severed, skullified head of Galactus comes falling out of space into the center of Manhattan. The Fantastic Four and Namorita (who’s currently dating Johnny) are quick to arrive on the scene. Reed is even quicker to deduce that this is a Galactus from an alternate universe, not the Galactus everyone knows. Further, this Galactus has been… murdered!
Galactus’ helmet opens up, and inside is his herald Nova. Remember that Nova is Johnny’s former girlfriend Frankie Raye. Namorita can tell this, just by Johnny’s reaction. Fortunately for Johnny (or not?) Nova is in a dormant state, like a coma. Just as he suggests taking her to the Baxter Building, the Hulk shows up and starts a fight with the FF. After several pages of fighting, Hulk says the FF are not his enemies the U-Foes, and he jumps off saying this deserves more study.
At the Baxter Building, Nova becomes lucid for a moment, and is shocked to Johnny, saying she believes he died. She tells him she never stopped loving him. This upsets Namorita, but she’s nonetheless stuck with staying behind to watch Nova while the FF take off. They’re headed to the moon, to ask the Watcher if he knows what’s going on. They arrive in the Watcher’s home, only to discover that the Watcher has lost his memory. He asks, “Do you know who I am? I don’t know who I am!” Ben notices that the Watcher only has half the gold necklace is always wears, and whoever has the other half might be behind what’s going on.
There’s a brief interlude of Franklin and time-displaced teenage Valeria in an otherworldly landscape being chased by a shadowy figure. Back at the Baxter Building, Reed gets a call from the U.S. President, asking for an update. Except that the president is Hillary Clinton. (Recall this was summer 2001.) Based on this, Reed next deduces that the FF’s Earth is merging with alternate realities. Namorita chooses then to tell the FF that Nova escaped and flew off.
While the FF pursue Nova over the skies of New York, they’re attacked by the Hulk and his team, the Law Enforcement Squad. In keeping with the “merging alternate realities” thing, Hulk’s team is made up of an odd assortment of Marvel characters – Bucky Barnes, Dr. Druid, Captain Universe, the Shroud, the Rose, the Whizzer (heh), the Living Lightning, Red Raven, and Battling Jack Murdock. This team puts up a good fight against FF, Nova, and Nova. Then we meet the final member of Hulk’s team, Namora, an alternate version of Namorita’s mother. There’s much drama as the two of them fight.
Dr. Druid breaks up the fight, telling the Hulk that the FF are not the cause of this conflict. Johnny pleads with Nova, saying that if Galactus is dead, then she and Johnny now have a second chance. Dr. Druid and Captain Universe take Reed into space, where they confront Eternity, the living embodiment of all things. Captain Universe says that within Eternity exists a place of chaos and order, a balance which has become upset. They travel farther into Eternity to confront the one behind all this confusion, a cosmic being named… Abraxas!
Sadly, this is not the character from the Jesse Ventura movie. Instead, he’s a big green-skinned guy surrounded by Galactus corpses from other universes. Also, he has the other half of the Watcher’s necklace. Abraxas teleports Reed and the others back to New York, where the words “I am coming.” Appear in flaming letters over the sky. Meanwhile, in Haven, which is yet another alternate dimension where Franklin and Valeria are attending school, Franklin wakes from a nightmare in a terrified state, proclaiming “He’s coming!”
To be continued!
Then there’s a backup story, where Ben is out in the woods fighting Dragon Man. Instead of fighting, though, Ben sees that Dragon Man is an innocent animal. He lets Dragon Man go free, saying “Us monsters gotta stick together.”
Unstable molecule: When investigating Galactus’ head, Reed outfits the FF with matching goggles. No explanation of what these goggles are, or why they’re needed.
Fade out: Sue manages to stop the Hulk by surrounding his head with a force field, threatening to cut off his oxygen. We never get to see whether this would work, because he agrees to the FF’s terms before things go any farther.
Clobberin’ time: The comic remembers that Ben can now turn human and back at will, as he starts the fight with Dragon Man while in his human form.
Flame on: Mention isn’t made of it, but Johnny is still wearing his bulky armor that’s preventing his powers from going haywire.
Fantastic fourth wheel: Johnny acts as though this Frankie is the one he knew, even after it’s established she’s from another universe. What Johnny apparently doesn’t know is that the Marvel Universe’s Frankie Raye died in Silver Surfer vol. 3 #50. She’ll later come back from the dead in the Heralds miniseries.
Four and a half: Franklin having prophetic dreams recalls his dream-based powers from his days in Power Pack.
Our gal Val: Valeria shares a bedroom with Franklin, which is probably awkward. For what it’s worth, the caption introduces her as “Valeria Richards” and not “Valeria Von Doom.”
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. The backup story suggests that Sue sent Ben to capture Dragon Man so Dragon Man can entertain at Franklin’s birthday party. This doesn’t make much sense, so perhaps we can assume subduing Dragon Man was secretly one of Sue’s spy missions?
Commercial break: The annual has three of these minimalist Cartoon Network ads.
Trivia time: The Hulk’s Law Enforcement Squad never appears again, so we’ll never know what their story was, or how this odd assortment of characters got together.
The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition states that Namorita can lift or press 10 tons, small change compared to the Hulk’s 100-plus ton strength. Yet in this issue, Namorita can take on the Hulk in hand-to-hand combat. I guess the whole merging alternate realities thing will have to explain this as well.
Dragon Man will later develop intelligence and become an official member of the FF, after the team expands to create the Future Foundation. I wonder if this backup story is the beginning of his transformation.
Fantastic or frightful? Have I reached Fantastic Four fatigue? During the Chris Claremont run, we went through several alternate timelines, not to mention all that time spent in the Heroes Reborn universe before it. And before that, we had godlike cosmic villains Hyperstorm and Onslaught. Now here’s yet another story with alternate timelines and a new godlike cosmic villain. All I can do is hope the creative team has some surprise in store.
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