In issue #514, it’s time to meet a new version of the Frightful Four. Only this time, it’s all about family. Also, penciller Paco Medina fills in for Mike Wieringo on the art, giving the comic a pseudo-manga look.
We begin with the Wizard, meeting with a group of people who speak with emojis (!). He tells them that the Fantastic Four’s recent Latveria incident (long story) and the Human Torch’s recent failure to capture Hydro-Man show a new side of the FF. He says the FF have corroded his reputation as a super-genius, but now they have hit rock bottom and it’s his turn to rise. Turn the page, and we see the Wizard is hooked up to a futuristic VR machine, talking inside a virtual chat room.
Inside the Wizard’s headquarters, we catch up Hydro-Man, who’s wearing a suit of armor that amplifies his powers, as well as Paste-Pot Pete, um, I mean the Trapster, who runs security at their HQ. They start to fight, but the Wizard breaks it up, saying that he controls Hydro-Man’s new armor, and if Hydro-Man disobeys him, then the Wizard will make Hydro-Man lose all molecular cohesion. Also, if the Wizard dies, that process will be activated immediately. “You owe me everything now,” he says. “Your powers. Your loyalty. Your life.” He explains that the problem with forming a team in the past is that his teammates always try to betray him, and he says it won’t happen again. The Trapster says he needs no booby-trapped armor because the Wizard can count on his loyalty.
There’s a burst of flame, and a woman emerges from it. She introduces herself as Salamandra the Fire Maiden, the group’s fourth member. She says she has a 19-year-old daughter who’s been exchanging emails with the Human Torch, and they’ve arranged to meet. The Wizard plans to catch Johnny with his guard down. Salamandra calls herself a “dragon,” and she hates Americans. The Wizard is buying her loyalty with precious gems and jewelry. In private, the Trapster tells the Wizard that the daughter might get injured by the Human Torch. “Yes, it would be a pity…” the Wizard says.
In Manhattan, the whole FF is out shopping, still facing public scorn about the Latveria incident. After some comedy shtick, Johnny takes off for his blind date with the girl he met on the internet, whose name is Cole. The new Frightful Four watches in secret, confirming that Cole is Salamandra’s daughter. The Wizard says Cole doesn’t have powers, and his team will only be four. He says if his team outnumbers the FF, then the FF will gain public sympathy, and he won’t have that.
The rest of the FF show up at Johnny’s date, curious about the new girl. Cole starts panicking, and the building behind her falls apart. The Wizard tells his new teammates that yes, this was part of his plan, and “It simply keeps getting better and better!” The FF jump into action, protecting nearby civilians from the falling building. Sue comments that the rubble feels heavier than usual against her force field. The danger is passed, Cole runs off, and Reed says this was no coincidence. The public is again angered at the FF as they leave.
Johnny catches up with Cole. Johnny says his family is always embarrassing him, and they only ever see him as the annoying little brother. Cole says her mother is too busy being a wealthy jetsetter to have time with her. Johnny says his own mother died a long time ago and his dad spent most of his life in prison. Cole says she never accompanies her mother on any trips, but she did this time just for the chance to meet Johnny.
Johnny takes Cole back to the new Baxter Building and gives her a tour. While she uses the ladies’ room, Reed, Sue and Johnny show up in their FF uniforms demanding to know where she lives. Reed says the collapsing building was caused by irradiated gravitons, which are created by and used by only one person. Elsewhere in the building, Cole opens a door, and the Frightful Four come through it. Then there’s one final twist where the Wizard says to Cole, “No hug? I don’t think that’s any way to greet… your father!”
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: When the FF are curious about who this new girl is, Reed says he’s the one who tapped into Johnny’s email to find out where their date is. Not cool, Reed.
Fade out: While the gravitized rubble exerts pressure on Sue’s force field, she says it’s nothing some Advil won’t cure.
Clobberin’ time: Ben is buddies with a hot dog vendor named Chico, who now refuses to serve Ben because of the Latveria incident.
Flame on: Johnny tells Cole about his father’s origin story from way back in issues #31-32, but he skips over how his father died saving the FF from a bomb. I guess that would have diluted this connection they were making
Four and a half/Our gal Val: When the building collapses, Franklin’s job is to get baby Valeria to safety and take care of her, which he does.
Trivia time: At this point, Marvel put Fantastic Four on a temporary bi-weekly schedule. So not only is Paco Medina filling in on artwork, but Karl Kesel joins the book as regular co-writer to help lighten the load. Allegedly, Mike Wieringo started working the “Marvel method” drawing based on a loose story outline rather than a full script. This gave him a greater guiding hand in the comic’s plots.
What’s the Wizard been up to lately? Outside of his semi-regular slugfests with the FF, he’s gone at it with Spider-Man and the Thunderbolts, usually trying to start up a new version of the Frightful Four – or in one case, a “Frightful Foursome.” He was a major player in the Acts of Vengeance crossover, and the epic Global Presence storyline in Avengers.
The Marvel Wiki lists “Miss Zero-G” as a character appearing in this issue, leading some readers over years to assume that this is Cole’s supervillain code name. Look closely, though, and you can see that Miss Zero-G is one of the Wizard’s admirers in his virtual chat room.
Fantastic or frightful? In the hardcover trade’s bonus features, writer Mark Waid said he wanted the Frightful Four to be like a family, just as the FF is. He also wanted the Wizard not to be a joke villain, but a real force to be reckoned with. This issue does a lot of heavy lifting to get these points across. It also makes time for Johnny to get a little serious, contrasting the comedy silliness of the previous two issues. Good stuff all around.
Next: Cole’s porter.
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