Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. You want more alternate universes? We got more alternate universes! It’s vol. 3, #47, legacy #476.
Godlike supervillain Abraxas (no, not the one from the Jesse Ventura movie) is a killing spree across the multiverse, and he has now arrived on Earth. The FF and their allies have split up into teams to search for the Cosmic Nullifier, a weapon which can defeat Abraxas. This issue begins with Abraxas in NYC, where various alternate timelines are converging all at once, everything from World War III to Curly of the Three Stooges being elected mayor of New York. Abraxas enter the Baxter Building, where he briefly confronts time-displaced teenage Valeria. Valeria discovers that Namorita, Johnny’s current girlfriend and an Atlantean, has lost her ability to breathe out of water. Abraxas says Valeria and Namorita aren’t the ones he seeks, and that he will wait.
In space, Johnny and an alternate timeline version of Johnny’s ex-girlfriend Nova (a.k.a. Frankie Raye) search for the Nullifier. Nova says that while she may not be the same Nova he once knew, her feelings for him aren’t any less real.
Then things get weird. We get a series of one-panel glimpses of “what if” alternate timelines for the FF. Of particular note is a timeline in which Reed and Sue’s second child, a baby girl, had survived the miscarriage.
Then we cut to another alt-timeline where Sue is working as a doctor in a small seaside town, using her powers to diagnose and set broken bones. Johnny shows up at her door with an injured bum, who we the readers recognize as Namor the Submariner as he was back in Fantastic Four #4, as an amnesiac bum. He’s been injured before Sue can let him in, Atlantean warships come flying out of the ocean.
Then we’re in yet another alt-timeline, a world the Marvel Wiki has labeled “Challengers of Doom.” Ben, coming from the Marvel Universe in search of the Nullifier, lands in an alternate New York where no one has ever heard of him. While he runs from a mob and some gun-happy cops, we the reader learn that this world’s most beloved superheroes are the Challengers of Doom, made up of Dr. Doom, Reed, Sue, and the Hulk. Doom goes on television and tells everyone that Galactus attacking Russia is a hoax. Ben transforms into his human form (he can do that during this time) and he goes to the Baxter Building, where Doom takes him hostage. Ben learns that Sue is his ex-wife in this timeline.
Then we cut yet ANOTHER freakin’ alternate timeline. The Marvel Wiki calls this one “Five for the Future.” Reed finds himself in a pre-WWII New York, as one of a group of heroic biplane pilots in conflict with a villain named the Monacle. Reed is joined by Mister Grim (who is Ben wearing a hood over his face) and his new teammates Mister Strange, Mister Feral, Mister Strange, and Mister Fixit. Sue shows up, revealing that she is an intrepid investigative reporter in this world. She tells Reed that her brother Johnny was recently killed by the Monacle.
Finally, we have scene set in Haven, one more alternate universe for the road, where Franklin and Valeria have traveled to meet with Roma, daughter of Merlin and guardian of the omniverse. With an image of Eternity (who is the living embodiment of all creation) behind her, Roma says, “If we do not act soon, all of time will be lost to us.”
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Sorting out who is who among the Five for the Future was a little tricky. Reed is Doc Fantastic and Ben is Mr. Grim, obviously. Mister Strange is Dr. Strange, and Mister Feral is Beast from the X-Men. The other two took quite a bit of googling. Mister Fixit is not Bruce Banner (as the Hulk called himself “Mr. Fixit” for a while), but the villain-turned-hero the Fixer, later known as Techno. Mister Nelson is a buffed-up version of Foggy Nelson from Daredevil. Because Foggy’s real name is Franklin, some fans believe that this is a grown-up Franklin Richards, but it’s the Daredevil guy.
Fade out: It’s only referenced in one panel, but the Sue of the “Doctor Storm” timeline is the Marvel Universe Sue dropped into her alternate’s life, Quantum Leap-style.
Clobberin’ time: Ben escapes into the sewer to escape a crowd, in a reference to him doing the same thing in Fantastic Four #1.
Flame on: Johnny’s powers are still out of control, but he says he’s able to truly cut loose out in space with him and Nova around. (The previous issue explained that Johnny’s uniform is keeping him alive while in space.)
Four and a half: The last time we saw Franklin last issue, he was telling the FF that he had a prophetic dream about Abraxas. Next, he was playing a game at home before Abraxas arrived on Earth. Then, in this issue, he’s in Haven for a prearranged meeting with him, Roma, and (maybe?) Eternity. What cosmic odyssey did he go on between issues that we see?
Our gal Val: This is the beginning of the end for Valeria Von Doom, a.k.a. Marvel Girl. The reference to Reed and Sue’s second child surviving is a big clue as to how this storyline will end up.
Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries established that Sue has had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all this time. In this issue she can use her powers to diagnose and then set a broken bone. Could this be her spy training at work?
Commercial break: Lord of the Rings was a big deal in 2001. The toys were perhaps less of a big deal.
Trivia time: “Five for the Future” is an obvious tribute to classic pulp hero Doc Savage. Would you believe that Doc Savage is also a canonical Marvel character? Marvel published two short-lived Doc Savage comics, in 1972 and 1975, which were firmly set in the Marvel Universe. Savage also teamed up with the FF’s own Thing in Marvel Two-in-One #21 in 1976. Like Marvel’s Godzilla, Transformers, and Rom: Spaceknight, it’s unlikely that these will ever be reprinted due to legal issues.
Fantastic or frightful? I like alt-universe “what if” stories as much as anyone, but there’s such a thing as too much. Every few pages, or even panels, there’s another new timeline to follow, and it gets to be too much. Knowing how this storyline will wrap up, I wonder why we’re bothering with these certain-to-be-inconsequential what-ifs.
Next: Back to the (alternate) future.
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