Fantastic Friday – Back to school

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. A new story arc begins in vol. 3 #51 legacy #480, while dragging all the ongoing subplots along with it. We’ve also got a little bit of a rotating door of creative teams for the next few issues before Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo take over. In this issue we still have Carlos Pacheco and Rafael Martin on scripts, joined by Karl Kesel as a third co-writer. Mark Bagley, one of Marvel’s top dogs thanks to Ultimate Spider-Man, takes over the art.

Gimmie a gimmick: The great Mike Wieringo makes his FF debut on the cover, and this is the first of four covers that make a single image when combined. This has been done before, but instead of left to right, these four covers connect from top to bottom.

We begin in 1942, for a mountain expedition by explorer Erik Jaggar. He and his team travel over snow-capped mountains only to come upon a green valley, which he calls “a great refuge from the storms.” He and his team find a grass-hut livin’ civilization where there are beautiful people, but also strange children with superhuman powers. Jaggar panics, pulls out his gun and opens fire. His men do the same, killing off the adults. As for the strange children, Jaggar orders his men to round up the children and take them back to Berlin… to meet the Fuhrer.

In New York in the present, Reed, pregnant Sue, and Franklin are driving upstate where Franklin is going to be enrolled in school. Reed does that thing where he alters his face, and he explains to Franklin the importance of having a secret identity. They arrive at the prestigious Stern Academy, which Reed and Sue describe as the Xavier School but without mutants, and Hogwarts but without magic. They meet school headmaster Carmine Stern, where Franklin is enrolled under the name “Richard Franklin.” On the ride back home, Reed and Sue discuss whether they’ve made the right decision, and Reed off-handedly mentions that he recently placed a defensive energy shield around the entire Earth (!).

The White House then contacts Reed saying that an unknown spacecraft has contacted the United Nations with permission to land, using the Fantastic Four’s “entry code.” Reed’s car transforms into a flying car (because of course it does) and takes off. In Manhattan, Ben, in his human form, is on a date with Kate O’Meara of Damage Control when he sees the approaching alien ship. Reed’s flying car zooms by, and Sue picks up Ben in a force field. Ben transforms into the Thing, and the three of them investigate the alien craft, now landed near the United Nations building. The ship opens, and out walks… the Inhumans!

Specifically, there are members of the Inhuman royal family, Black Bolt, Medusa, Karnak, Triton, and Gorgon (who, let’s not forget, once single-handedly defeated the Fantastic Four). Medusa speaks on Black Bolt’s behalf, saying he is the former king of their people, and the five of them have come to the U.N. seeking asylum. Before she can continue, a second spaceship appears and attacks. The enemy ship opens, and the Inhumans are attacked by villains named Sandorr’s Hunters, made up of Sandorr, Cordon, Mistur, Mud-ah, and Linga.

Everyone fights! Sandorr reveals he’s a bounty hunter, here to capture the Inhumans. Although the baddies put a good fight, they’re not match for the combined power of both the Inhumans and the FF. Sandor orders his team to retreat, and they all do except for Mistur. In space, a military anti-alien defense satellite spots Sandorr’s fleeing ship and destroys it. A female soldier aboard the satellite says there is no denying what they all want, “fewer aliens among us.” Back in New York, Mistur tries to make his escape disguised as a human, but he’s caught by two Guardsmen, the armor-clad guards of super-prison the Vault, who shoot and kill Mistur.

Back at the new Baxter Building, Medusa and the Inhumans catch up on what’s been going on. In the recent Inhumans miniseries, the Inhuman royal family had been abducted by the Kree aliens to be used as assassins against rival aliens the Shi’ar. Black Bolt defeated the Kree, but was deposed as the Inhuman king because of his actions while under Kree command. Sandorr was one of many bounty hunters the Kree have sent after the Inhumans. Medusa fears they will have nowhere to go, but Reed tells her he contacted someone who can help. On cue, Crystal appears, courtesy of giant teleporting dog Lockjaw.

Crystal catches up with everyone, and she asks where Johnny is. This lets us cut to the desert, where Johnny is filming his big Hollywood movie, a Western based on the Rawhide Kid. Just as soon as we glimpse that subplot, we cut to the Vault, where Mistur is still alive. He informs the US military that Black Bolt attempted to kill the Shi’ar empress while under Kree control. He also tells them that he and his team are the only ones that know the Inhumans are on Earth. With that, the military woman seen on the satellite earlier orders the guards to kill Mistur, for real this time. There’s a close-up on the woman’s eye, revealing that she’s the beautiful young girl from the 1942 prologue.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: What’s the deal with Reed and the Army building this planetwide anti-alien tech? Around this time in Marvel with had the Celestial Quest story in Avengers, and the already-mentioned Kree/Shi’ar war, but these weren’t outright alien invasions of Earth. Shortly after this issue, alien will attack Earth in a big way in X-treme X-Men, so I guess all these new defenses didn’t last.

Fade out: When visiting Stern Academy, Sue’s disguise to make her hair look shorter by turning part of it invisible. It’s a real “Clark Kent’s glasses” thing going on here.

Clobberin’ time: Ben met Kate O’Meara of Damage Control back in vol. 3 #37, and she was into him even before he had the ability to turn human.

Flame on: There’s NO mention of how Johnny’s powers have gone haywire and are dangerous. I guess we can assume that his red-and-yellow outfit from last issue keeps his powers in control and then also assume he’s wearing it under his Rawhide Kid costume. This is a lot of assumptions, though.

Fantastic fifth wheel: When speaking to police outside the U.N., Medusa invokes her Fantastic Four membership in hopes of gaining their trust.

What’s Crystal been up to? After returning to the Marvel Universe in Heroes Return, she helped set up a new Avengers team, after which she re-joined her Inhuman family and got back to work raising her daughter Luna. She was a main character in the 1998 and 2000 Inhumans miniseries.

Four and a half: It appear that Franklin will be living at Stern Academy for the time being. I tried to find whether the school is named after Marvel writer Roger Stern, but neither the Marvel Wiki nor the fan-made Marvel Appendix sites have entries about the school.  

Commercial break: Excuse me?

Trivia time: This is the first, last, and only appearance of Sandorr’s Hunters. You’d think Marvel would bring them back sometime to take the Guardians of the Galaxy. Sandorr appears to be an intelligent Brood alien (possible relative of Broo from the X-Men?). Cordon is a robot with unbreakable armor, Mistur is the shape-changer, Linga has stretching powers and a laser eye, and Mud-ar is the big musclebound bruiser.

Fantastic or frightful? This issue is mostly setting up the next few issues while continuing the ongoing subplots. The fight scene is a lot of fun, and the Inhumans are written well, easily reestablishing them as part of the Fantastic Four’s supporting cast.

Next: Democratic process.

* * * *

Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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