Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. How do you follow up a year-long epic about Heaven and Hell? You bring in Spider-Man as a guest star! That’s just what they do in issue #512.
We begin with Johnny taking a stroll through NYC, seeing Spider-Man merchandise everywhere he goes. He sees people wearing Spider-Man shirts, but only homeless bums are wearing throwaway Human Torch shirts. At a newsstand he sees he has replaced Spider-Man on New York’s “least eligible bachelor” list. Later, Johnny talks to Reed, reminding him (and the readers) that Johnny is still the acting CEO of Fantastic Four Inc., and that the business is hurting after everything that happened in Latveria, thanks to the FF’s newfound poor PR. Reed says he has plenty of lucrative new patents to help the money situation, but regaining the public’s respect will be difficult.
Johnny flames on and sky-writes a message in the sky for Spider-Man asking him to meet in the usual place. That place is the Statue of Liberty, where they regularly hang out. Johnny reluctantly asks Spider-Man for advice. After Spidey jokingly gives him a hard time for a bit, Johnny says the public has hated Spider-Man for a long time. Johnny says, “Tell me how to get through the day as a complete loser!” Spider-Man thinks it’s ridiculous that this is the advice Johnny wants. A helicopter from Homeland Security chases to the two of them off the statue. Back in New York, Spider-Man tells Johnny to meet him again the next day, saying “I’ll let you bend my ear off.”
Elsewhere in the city, Ben shows up at Alicia’s studio to deliver a huge block of stone for her next sculpture. He sees the room filled with sculptures of himself. He goes nuts, smashing them. Alicia arrives, and they have a heart-to-heart. Ben says he made the right call by leaving Heaven, but the experience gave new insight into how lousy life on Earth can be. He also grouses about how he came back still as a big rocky monster and not a human. She tells him that he’s not a monster. She adds that she’s highly sensitive to cold weather, and she says Ben’s rocky hide could be considered a gift.
The next day, Johnny and Spidey meet not at the Statue of Liberty, but at a water slide park, which Johnny admits is not his favorite type of place. Spider-Man goes incognito in a hat and trench coat. Spider-Man announces to the crowd that the world-famous Human Torch is there, but one man is more interested in seeing Spidey. While the Torch fends off people criticizing him about the Latveria incident, he and Spider-Man are attacked by a blast of water.
The attacker is Hydro-Man, who just got a job at the water park and is trying to go straight. He thinks the superheroes are there to start a fight with him. He attacks first, while a mystery man in the shadows confirms that this meeting was no coincidence. Spider-Man gets the civilians to safety while Johnny fights Hydro-Man, trying to boil him. Hydro-Man soaks Johnny’s clothes, so Johnny takes them off. He then blasts the two into a nearby pool, Johnny cries out for help. Not because he’s injured, but as he shouts when surrounded by water park patrons, “I have no pants!” as his boxers fly away.
To be contin-nude!
Wait there’s more: In a backup story called “Gone fishin’” Sue is on the phone with Alicia, saying things are better between her and Reed since they returned from Latveria, but there’s some emotional distance between them. Sue looks at a photo of Namor the Sub-mariner. Sue then plays a bunch of Namor-related pranks on Reed, such as saying she’s going shopping with Namor, getting Franklin to go swimming in Namor-style trunks, and putting a Namor statue in their living room. Reed responds later than night by stretching his ears and eyebrows into Namor shapes, and the couple shares a laugh. Reed apologies, and Sue says she never gives him grief over his ex-girlfriend Alyssa Moy. He says, “Funny you should ask,” and we see that Alyssa is back, sitting in the next room.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Among Reed’s new patents is a cure for acne (!) which he just sold the Revlon company for a huge dollar amount. I question both the business and medical ethics of this.
Fade out: Sue invoking Namor to make Reed jealous is cute, but didn’t Reed and Namor officially bury the hatchet at the end of Onslaught? I guess some things never change.
Clobberin’ time: When Alicia learned Ben had died, she admits she went overboard in making statues of him. This issue establishes that Ben and Alicia still are not a romantic couple at this time, but they still care for each other deeply.
Flame on: Johnny’s clothes flame on with him instead of burning up, suggesting they are made of unstable molecules, or are at least fireproof. But then the clothes go so wettened that they cause his flame to cut out. I guess this just shows how powerful Hydro-Man is, that he can go one-on-one with the Human Torch.
Four and a half: Franklin and Ben play a joke on Johnny by having Franklin walk around in a Spider-Man baseball cap while Johnny is dealing with Spidey’s newfound popularity.
Our gal Val: Alicia is babysitting Valeria and Franklin when Ben comes over, but she has the kids out of the room for Ben’s rampage and their subsequent heart-to-heart.
Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries established that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all along. Could her messing with Reed in the backup story be her spycraft training at work?
Trivia time: It’s long been established in Marvel lore that the Statue of Liberty is the go-to meeting place for Johnny and Spider-Man, but tracking the history of that has been somewhat tricky. They first met there in Strange Tales annual #2, and then in Amazing Spider-Man #18, it’s already referred to as their “usual place.” In recent years, there have been additional jokes about how the Torch can just fly out to the statue, but poor Spidey must take a ferry each time.
Although Hydro-Man has beef with Spider-Man in this issue, recall that he was once a member of the Frightful Four, back in issue #326, in a plot involving fanboy villain Aron the Rogue Watcher. Hydr0-Man is a real joiner, having been a member of the Assembly of Evil, the Masters of Evil, the Sinister Six, the Sinister Syndicate, and the Sinister Twelve.
Fantastic or frightful? After all the Heaven and Hell drama of the past years’ worth of comics, this is a fun romp that still deals with the heroes’ recent events. I’m not exactly sure what point Spider-Man is making by taking Johnny to the water park, but we’re having fun so what does it matter?
Next: Salute your shorts!
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