Fantastic Friday: Our gal Val

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. This is a big one, people. If you’ve read any FF-related comic in the last 5-10 years, you know how big of a character Valeria Richards has become. Now here’s Vol. 3 #54 legacy #483, in which Valeria is born.

Gimmie a gimmick: This is the third of four issues with connected Mike Wieringo-drawn covers that create a single image, from top to bottom rather than from left to right. Also this is one of several Marvel comics published this month with 100 pages and their own “100-Page Monster” logo.

After a lot of buildup in previous issues, several plotlines are converging at this point. The Inhumans have returned to Earth, only to face anti-Inhuman sentiment throughout the nation. Dr. Doom showed up to offer them asylum in Latveria. Meanwhile, we met Senso, leader of the Hidden Ones. These are Inhuman-like psychics who have been operating in secret since World War II. With the armor-clad Guardsmen of the Vault in their employ, the Hidden Ones have launched a full-scale attack on the new Baxter Building, causing Sue’s pregnancy to go into crisis.

We start with Reed floating in a sort of limbo, having lost his memory, and human Ben inside a cell inside super-prison the Vault, unable to transform back into the Thing. Senso does a big villain speech, confirming that the Inhumans and the Hidden Ones have a “common ancestry.” At the Baxter Building, Sue is going into labor, but she is being consumed Negative Zone energy (because the baby was originally conceived in the Negative Zone). The Inhumans gather around her, and Sue cries out, “Get Reed!”

At the Latverian embassy in NYC, Dr. Doom sips some pinot noir (!) while Johnny fights his way through the Doom’s robot defenses. Doom meets Johnny on the roof, assuming that Johnny is there seeking a cure for his out-of-control powers. Johnny pleads with him to save Sue and the baby. He says that Reed is out of commission, and the last time this happened they had a room full of geniuses. This time, all they’ve got is Dr. Doom. Doom initially responds with a cold, “My deepest regrets.” But Johnny says that a baby is innocent, and not an enemy of Doom. “You’re the best chance we’ve got,” Johnny says. “The only chance we’ve got.”

Through sheer willpower, Ben manages to turn back into the Thing. He fights his way out of his cell and beats up a bunch of the Guardsmen. At the Baxter Building, Doom monitors Sue’s condition, while still trying to convince Black Bolt to accept his offer of asylum for the Inhumans. Sue tells Doom to back off, but Doom assures her that he’s her only hope, and she must trust him.

At the Vault, Ben frees Reed from a high tech “cerebral vortex.” Reed gets his memory back. Senso and the guardians return. After a brief fight, Senso reveals that she’s also a shape-changer. She explains more about the Hidden Ones, how they’ve been secretly behind the scenes in high positions of governments and other places of power. “To survive, we must stay hidden,” she says. Senso then teleports away somehow, promising that the Hidden Ones are everywhere, and anyone you know could be a Hidden One.

Reed and Ben make it to the Baxter Building. He goes into ER mode, ready to save the baby, only to learn see Dr. Doom step into the room holding the healthy baby girl after a successful delivery. Sue is also doing well, explaining that Doom used a combination of science and sorcery to save the baby. (A pentagram is painted behind Sue’s bed, creepily.) When Doom needed more energy, he withdrew Johnny’s excess flame, thereby returning Johnny’s powers to normal after all.

 Doom isn’t done, though. He says that in exchange for saving the day, he demands the right to name the child. Reed won’t have it, but Sue says she already agreed to it. Doom says he is a “man of honor and style,” so he won’t name the girl after him. Instead he names her… Valeria.

Before leaving, Doom says that little Valeria will forever be under his protection, and if any of the FF’s enemies endanger her, they will have to answer to him. Later, Doom watches a TV news report that sums up the rest of the plot. There have been a series of massive firings in high government and military personnel, which Doom recognizes as the Hidden Ones retreating back deeper into hiding. Without the Hidden Ones’ influence, the U.N. releases an official apology regarding the Inhumans and withdraws support of a planetwide energy shield to keep space aliens away from Earth. But then, the Inhumans rejected Doom’s offer of asylum, and have returned to space. The Inhumans will instead return to the Blue Area of the Moon, where they once lived.

Then there’s even more subplot wrap-ups at the Baxter Building, where Johnny learns he’s been fired from the Rawhide Kid movie, to be replaced by a lookalike. Johnny feels guilty for making a deal with Dr. Doom, but Reed thanks him, asking Johnny to be Valeria’s godfather. Then there’s a bit where the FF are reunited as a happy family, while the Inhumans are reunited on the moon, sad and alone.

To make this issue a 100-pager, we then get a reprint of Annual #6, featuring the birth of Franklin, and issue #167, the wacky return of the Impossible Man.

Unstable molecule: When rushing to save the baby, Reed suggests calling Hank Pym and Jane Foster for help. Hank is a genius, so sure, but why Jane? During this time in the Marvel Universe, Jane had just become an M.D. This is when Thor’s secret identity was the EMT Jon Olsen.

Fade out: Doom says he admires Sue’s strength, saying that even his own iron will would be tested with that much pain.

Clobberin’ time: Doom refers to Ben as a “boulder-bound brute” which I feel is pretty funny.

Flame on: This issue doesn’t say, but the lookalike who replaced Johnny in the Rawhide Kid movie is a Skrull named Lon Zelig, who we saw working on the movie set in a few previous issues.

Fantastic fifth wheel: While Medusa normally speaks on behalf of Black Bolt, Doom tells her to be silent, insisting on an answer from Black Bolt himself.

Crystal holds down the fort at the Baxter Building, eventually able to reach Reed through his FF communicator. We see her reunited with her daughter Luna upon returning to the moon.

Four and a half: Franklin is in one panel at the end, where he’s with the rest of the family welcoming baby Valeria home.

Our gal Val: If the miscarriage, the time-displaced teenager, and other alternate timelines don’t count, then this issue definitely counts as Valeria’s first appearance.

Commercial break: There are tons of ads for the 2002 Spider-Man movie in this one (I suspect this is why so many of this month’s comics were 100 pages). This one is especially gross:

Trivia time: What, exactly, is the significance of the name Valeria? The original Valeria was Dr. Doom’s first love, who he left behind when he went to college in the US and eventually scarred his face. Every time they were later reunited, Valeria broke Doom’s heart by rejecting his would-be world-conquering ways. She’ll show up again in just a few issues from now.

This is the final appearance of the Senso and her fellow Hidden Ones. Are we to assume they’re still hiding in the shadows in the Marvel Universe, secretly manipulating everyone? Were they the ones really behind Civil War?

Fantastic or frightful? For such a historically important issue, it’s a bit of a mess. All the stuff with Dr. Doom is really great, but then we keep cutting away from that drama to deal with the less interesting Inhumans/Hidden Ones crisis. Years later, many Fantastic Four comics will refer back to these events as if they’re a massive epic, but it doesn’t feel as epic to sit down and actually see how it all happened.

Next: Nice jacket.

* * * *

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!

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About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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