Fantastic Friday: Very Special Episode

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Reach for the Kleenex, because issue #502 is a real tearjerker – with a little time travel on the side.

Poor Franklin is suffering trauma after Dr. Doom trapped him a hell-world a few issues back. Sue and Ben took him to Coney Island to cheer him up, only for him to lash out at a crowd of the FF’s fans. Meanwhile Johnny grabbed a gun and took Reed back in time to find a young, pre-evil Dr. Doom. At Coney Island, Ben scares off the crowd by pretending to be the Hulk (!). Then he and Sue sit down for a heart-to-heart chat with Franklin that takes up most of this issue. Franklin accuses Sue and Ben of not coming to save him right away, and instead leaving him in the hell-world. We see things from Franklin’s point-of-view, and it looks like he’s still in the hell-world, surrounded by demons and fire.

In “20th century Europe” Johnny, Reed, and baby Valeria spy on young Victor Von Doom, who is on a picnic with his girlfriend, also named Valeria. Johnny takes the baby and hands Reed the gun. Reed reflects on all the evil Doom has caused over the years, including the recent unremovable scars on Reed’s face. He ponders how it will never happen if he pulls the trigger. But then he can’t bring himself to do it. Johnny admits he knew Reed wouldn’t change history, and that this exercise was to help Reed not keep his anger bottled up. Johnny says that if Reed lets Doom’s actions get to him, then Doom wins. Reed says, “You’re right,” and he then raises the gun and fires.

Sue apologizes for not rescuing Franklin sooner, and she says there’s nothing she wouldn’t do protect him. As she talks, she expands her powers to turn everything around them invisible, to where she, Franklin, and Ben are standing in what looks like an empty white field. Ben steps in with a little more realism, saying that Franklin will never be safe. He says Franklin is smart enough to know he won’t always be safe, and that’s what’s scaring him, more than the hell-world.   

In old-timey Europe, Reed’s shot just barely misses young Doom’s head. Young Doom acts a lot like current-day Doom, swearing vengeance on whoever fired at him. He and his Valeria run off. Johnny chides Reed on potentially violating the space-time continuum, but Reed says he knows exactly what he was doing. Reed finds a tuft of Doom’s hair that he burned off in his attack. “I have plans in mind,” Reed says as he, Johnny, and the baby return to the present.

The heart-to-heart talk continues. Sue tells Franklin that Ben grew up in the toughest neighborhood in New York, and he learned that there are no guarantees in life, but that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable. Ben talks about how he used to be a hotshot football star and test pilot, and all that is gone now he’s trapped in his monstrous, rocky body. He says that even though he was dealt a bad hand, he had Reed, Sue and Johnny looking after him. “I didn’t haf’ta cash in my chips,” he says, “’cause what keeps ya in the fame are the good cards.”

Ben further says that he could have lived his new life in seclusion but instead he became an explorer, seeing other worlds and the depths of the ocean. “I wouldn’t trade my life for all the safety there is.” He talks about the day Franklin was born, when the FF were in battle against Annihilus and they didn’t know if Franklin would live. Ben further says that there are days he backslides, but he knows he has friends and family to remind him that tomorrow can always be better. As Ben speaks, the images of the demons and fire fade away, and Franklin tells Sue he feels better.

Later, we learn Franklin is on the road to recovery, sleeping through the night and showing an interest in ordinary kid things again. Reed experiments on the tuft of hair taken from Doom, and Franklin sits by a window, watching the city outside. Ben writes in his journal, “I don’t know that we’ll ever be the same. But maybe that’s okay.”

Unstable molecule: Reed at first aims through a scope to shoot at Doom, but then he shoots from the hip when he actually fires the gun. Reed’s near-perfect aim should be added to his skill set.

Fade out: This is the first (only?) time we’ve seen Sue turn absolutely everything invisible. An impressive use of her powers, but probably not practical.

Clobberin’ time: Ben says his rocky body means that he can’t be with women, but he’s had quite a few romances over the years. His on-again off-again with Alicia is most well-known, but there was Sharon Ventura and Thundra, and flirtations that were almost relationships with Alyssa Foy, Bounty, and Kathleen O’Meara of Damage Control.

Flame on: Johnny impersonates Reed for his rant about not screwing with the space-time continuum, in the argument that it’s exactly the sort of thing Reed would say.

Four and a half: The issue ends with Franklin showing an interest in basketball. He’s not normally shown as being a sports-loving kid, but it’s probably more about him wanting to get out and about and interact with others, etc.

Our gal Val: Johnny is depicted holding the baby with one arm and his other arm flamed on. This doesn’t appear to have generated any controversy, though. I guess it’s understood by this point that Johnny has enough control of his power that Valeria is in no danger.

Commercial break: This one lived up to the hype.

Trivia time: When Ben retells the story of Franklin’s birth, he mentions Annihilus and another monster. That second monster is one of the borers, Annihilus’ henchmonsters at the time. The borers later reappeared in an issue of Defenders, and that was it for them in Marvel continuity. Somebody at Marvel should bring them back.

Fantastic or frightful? I imagine a lot of readers will dismiss this issue as too sappy and sentimental, and I can see that. But its heart is in the right place. A good message about healing through connecting with other people – the right other people, at least. Reed’s subplot, of course, sets some intrigue for the near future.

Next: Have fun storming the castle.

* * * *

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. amazon.com/dp/B00859NDJ8
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