Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We all love superhero battles, but what do the characters go through in the days following a superhero battle? That’s the question in issue #501. Also, guest artist Casey Jones (not the Ninja Turtle guy, I’m assuming) fills in for Mike Wieringo.
The previous issue was an all-out battle with Dr. Doom to rescue Franklin from an evil hell-world. The FF won in the end, but not without cost – the least of which is Doom mangling Reed’s face to Reed will forever be reminded of him. This issue begins revealing that Franklin hasn’t spoken since his rescue, writing “Things are bad” in his journal. A doctor visits, and says Reed won’t be able to come up with a scientific miracle cure this time. Franklin’s road to well-being will take patience.
Franklin’s not the only one. We see that Johnny was burned by hellfire last issue, which can hurt him in ways that an earthly fire cannot. Johnny asks why Reed can’t use his powers to reshape the scarring on his face, and Reed answers that the scars contain nerve damage, making it impossible to stretch them. He adds that his stretchy powers make conventional cosmetic surgery similarly impossible. Ben hangs out alone in his room, and we see that damage on his rocky skin left over from the battle.
Later, Sue takes Franklin out for a fun day Coney Island, in hopes of getting Franklin to come out of his shell. Ben joins them, with Sue keeping him invisible the whole time so they don’t attract attention. After some fun slapstick with invisible Ben bumbling around, Sue worries that Reed is going to obsess over what Doom has done to them all.
At the new Baxter Building, Reed is doing just that. Johnny makes a pretense of cleaning up the place after the battle, grabbing a laser gun and setting off Doom’s old time machine, still inside Reed’s lab after all these years. Reed, Johnny, and baby Valeria travel through the time machine to years earlier, in Hungary. They find young Victyor von Doom, having a picnic with his love, Valeria. (No, not the baby. The original Valeria the baby was named after.) Johnny arms the laser rifle, suggesting that they take out Doom there, in the past, before Doom becomes evil.
Back at Coney Island, some jerk tries to hit on Sue, so she turns Ben visible to scare him off. When the rest of crowd realizes it’s Ben and Sue, a crowd surrounds them and asks for autographs. Franklin loses it. He swings punches at the fans and he finally speaks, yelling “Get the **** away from us!”
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed says he’s not accompanying the family to Coney Island, not because he’s embarrassed by his scars, but because his new face frightens his own son. Dark stuff, dude.
Fade out: Although concerned about Franklin, Sue agrees to sign autographs for the fans, calling it “two minutes of P.R.”
Clobberin’ time: Ben tries to ride the Ferris wheel at Coney Island, but he’s too heavy for it. Remember that our old friend The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition, Ben weighs 500 pounds.
Flame on: I’m unclear on the nature of Johnny’s injuries. He spends the first part of the issue wearing a high-tech cast over one arm, then later he’s walking around in a crutch without the cast.
Four and a half: In addition to writing cryptic things in his journal, Franklin is also drawing pictures of what he saw in the hell-world. We don’t see the drawings, but they unsettle his family.
Our gal Val: It’s an odd choice to have baby Valeria come along on the time travel adventure. I guess no one was available to babysit.
Commercial break: Gross.
Trivia time: Coney Island is a favorite locale for superhero battles in the Marvel Universe, going all the way back to 1940s Captain America and Human Torch comics (that’s the WWII android Human Torch, not Johnny). Spider-Man and Captain America appear to have visited Coney Island the most, and Iron Man had his official headquarters at Coney Island for a time. Coney Island even has its own group of villains, the Coney Island Cruisers, led by the man known only as… Bobo.
Reed warns against Johnny going back in time to mess with Davy Crockett again. Johnny’s unseen adventure with Davy Crockett was last referenced in vol. 3 #60.
Speaking of which, how does the new Baxter Building have Dr. Doom’s old time machine? I think of two possibilities. One is that when Noah Baxter and his team made the building, they used their science genius to recreate the time machine. The other is that when the Watcher saved some of the FF’s personal items from the destruction of the original Baxter Building, he also saved the time machine for some reason.
Fantastic or frightful? Despite some humorous moments, this issue takes a pretty deep look at all the emotional weight these characters are carrying around, and the extremes they’re going through to deal with it. A lot of superhero comics skip over this stuff in favor of kicking off another adventure, but I like the occasional “what they do in their down time” story.
Next: Heart to heart.
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