Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The FF are a family, so here’s a family sitcom episode in volume 3 #55 legacy #484.
We’re entering an odd transitory time in FF history. Writer-artist Carlos Pacheco and his co-writer Rafael Martin are out, but there are several issues before Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo take over for their famous run. Therefore, it’s going to be a revolving door for a bunch of creators for a while. First up is Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen. Kesel is most well known for his work with DC, including Hawk and Dove, World’s Finest, Tales of the Legion, and the crossover event The Final Night. Immonen got his start with Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics doing biography comics, and became a fan favorite at both DC and Marvel, drawing part of the Superman Red/Blue event and the cult classic NextWave: Agents of H.A.T.E. for Marvel.
This issue begins with a domestic scene as Sue returns from grocery shopping to the Baxter Building, where Ben, Johnny, and Franklin have been watching baby Valeria. There’s a lot of comedy shtick regarding what she bought, followed by comedy shtick of Ben and Johnny fighting over the TV remote control. They end up trashing the living room while Sue is on the phone with Janet Van Dyne (a.k.a. the Wasp), and they wake up the baby. Reed enters the room, announcing that he’s made new modifications to the Fantasticar, and he needs an item to be picked up from a nearby warehouse. Johnny and Ben run off to give the new car a test drive.
Ben and Johnny continue to bicker on the way to the warehouse. The place is locked shut, and the Fantasticar is stolen by a Skrull named the Grand Acquisitioner. He plans to take it back to the Skrull homeworld and reverse engineer Reed’s tech. Johnny tries to pursue him, but the Acquisitioner activates a teleportation device and vanishes. Ben uses his mechanic’s smarts to trace the car’s ferrous oxide to the Yancy Street Wrecking Co. (A junkyard, basically.) A fight breaks out, as the heroes and the Acquisitioner trash the place while trying to take each other out.
The Acquisitioner escapes, and Johnny and Ben have a heart-t0-heart how easy it is for the two of them to cause destruction when they fight a villain. Johnny says he realizes that Ben has to be careful all the time, more than anyone else. Ben admits he realizes this is why Johnny always gave him a hard time, to keep him on his toes so he never forgets who he is.
The Acquisitioner reappears, returning the stolen Fantasticar. Johnny says this is a trick, and the Skrull reveals that yes, it is a trick. He transforms into… Yellowjacket. (Note that this is the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, who at this time had recently returned to active duty with the Avengers after many ups and downs. He’s also reconciling with the Wasp, although their relationship remained somewhat strained.) Yellowjacket was using a Stark image inducer to merely appear as a Skrull.
Everybody reconvenes at Avengers Mansion, where Franklin has been watching the fight via remote ant-cams. (Yes, tiny cameras attached to ants.) Yellowjacket further explains that the teleportation was him merely shrinking the Fantasticar to ant-size. Then the Wasp enters the room with baby Valeria, saying the whole thing was orchestrated because Reed and Sue are celebrating a special anniversary. Not their wedding anniversary (which was just five issues back), but their 256-month anniversary, which is four to the fourth power. Reed and Sue celebrate with a romantic evening alone in the Baxter Building. Reed tells her she looks… Fantastic.
Then there’s a five-page preview of The Call of Duty. This is not based on the video games. It was meant to be a tribute to real-life firefighters. But then, there was also a supernatural element to the series, making it kind of half Backdraft and half The X-Files. In this preview, the firefighters make their way through a burning building to rescue someone inside. That someone is revealed to be a creepy little girl who tells them, “There’s a war coming.” The story was continued in backups in other Marvel comics, and then in three miniseries, The Call of Duty: Brotherhood, The Call of Duty: The Precinct, and The Call of Duty: The Wagon.
Unstable molecule: This is the second new Fantasticar Reed has constructed in recent issues, but the Marvel Wiki continues to the call them both the “Mark II” Fantasticar, so I guess he’s just constantly rebuilding their most-used one.
Fade out: Sue’s grocery shopping includes oysters (which Ben is excited about) and a fake burning log for their fireplace. She tells Johnny she doesn’t buy junk food, but she makes an exception for Hostess Fruit Pies for herself. Also seen among the groceries are lettuce, tomatoes, a carton of milk, Cheerios, and Rice Krispies.
Clobberin’ time: Ben wakes from a nap after having a nightmare about the Wizard. This is played as a joke, but you’d think his teammates might be a little concerned.
Flame on: Ben and Johnny fight over the remote control because the new Baxter Building has only one television, with no VCR or DVR. Ben wants to watch football, but Johnny wants to watch a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon. (I guess this when the FX network was airing Buffy reruns.)
Also, Johnny mentions his girlfriend, “Nita.” The Marvel Wiki confirms that this is Namorita, so they’re still a couple during this time.
Four and a half: Franklin is shown playing with Avengers toys at the start of the issue, but then he’s at Avengers Mansion at the end, interacting with actual Avengers. Foreshadowing?
Our gal Val: Baby Valeria is depicted as having a full head of blonde hair at the start of the issue, but is bald at the end of the issue. Is she a mutant, or is it just the lighting?
Commercial break: I know this is supposed to be chocolate, but it just reminds me of the monster from Dogma. (You know the one.)
Trivia time: The warehouse Ben and Johnny visit is the Forbush Warehouse. This is a reference to a famous Marvel inside joke. Stan Lee used to always joke about Irving Forbush, a lazy and pathetic Marvel staffer. Except Forbush was a fictional character, someone for Stan to make fun of in place of actual Marvel staffers. This led to a parody superhero character Forbush Man. Whether Forbush Man is canonical to the Marvel Universe is a matter of some debate.
Fantastic or frightful? This is a zero-stakes light n’ fluffy sitcom story, which is fine for what it is. It won’t be until the next issue that Karl Kesel makes his permanent stamp on the series.
Next: Back to the old neighborhood.
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