Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Last issue introduced a new Frightful Four, with them being a family of sorts this time. Now, in issue #515, we see just how dysfunctional they are.
Super-genius villain the Wizard has formed a new Frightful Four, with him, Hydro-Man, Paste-Pot Pete a.k.a. the Trapster, and Wizard’s fiery ex-wife Salamandra. To attack the FF, they’re using Salamandra’s daughter Cole as bait, setting her up on an online date with the Human Torch. When Johnny gave Cole a tour of the Baxter Building, she opened a portal letting in the Frightful Four, and the Wizard chose that moment to announce that he’s Cole’s long-lost father.
This issue begins with Cole rejecting the Wizard, causing the floor under her to break apart. There’s a discussion of whether Cole has been born with gravity powers similar to the Wizard’s. Cole runs off and sends the Trapster after her. He then reveals that he knows the FF are in the room, with Sue having turned them all invisible. Everybody fights, with the Wizard’s “vid-cams” recording everything. Sue traps Hydro-Man in a force field, the Trapster wraps up Reed in some kind of elastic trap to slow him down, and the Wizard de-gravitizes Ben so he can’t punch anything. Johnny has a tough time with Salamandra, who has fire powers of her own as well as super-strength.
Hydro-Man makes it rain, revealing Sue’s invisibility. Reed escapes the trap, only for Salamandra to hit a nerve in his neck, Vulcan-style, to temporarily paralyze his right arm. The Wizard attacks, so Sue puts a force field around her and Reed. Then the Wizard applies a “kinetic stabilizer” which solidifies the force field, trapping Sue and Reed inside it. Salamandra and the Wizard take a moment to have a lovers’ quarrel with him saying, “You’ve been dead to me since the day you became pregnant.” (What an a-hole.)
Hyrdo-Man is able to fight Ben by transforming himself into a bunch of clones of himself, while the Trapster seals Johnny up in fireproof glue. Johnny nearly suffocates from the glue, but Cole frees his face so he can breathe. They joke about how they probably won’t have a second date. The Trapster draws a gun on Cole, only for the Wizard to shut off the cameras and brutally attack the Trapster for this offense. The Wizard calls the Trapster an embarrasment and a laughing stock, while a hurt Trapster says he thought they partners, and even friends. Wizard says his team is a team of four, and that the Trapster is a fifth wheel.
The Wizard turns the cameras back on and broadcasts live to the world that he has successfully defeated the Fantastic Four. He tells the world that the FF are poor excuses for heroes, and the public cannot rely on them if the world is in danger. “No real heroes were hurt during this demonstration,” he says. Then the Frightful Four teleport away.
Later, in the Wizard’s HQ, he has Cole tied up (!) while he does experiments on her to test her powers. He tells her and Hydro-Man that he did not murder the Trapster. Instead, he trapped (heh) the Trapster in a time loop where the Traspter experiences the last few seconds of his life over and over without actually dying. The Wizard and Salamandra argue about what to do with Cole, with Salamandra revealing that Cole’s birth was a result of the Wizard genetically manipulating Salamandra. She says the Wizard abandoned Cole thinking her useless until she showed some signs of having powers. He tells Cole he can train her to control her power, saying “You are my most wonderful, most perfect… experiment.”
Cole escapes and runs off, saying she refuses to be a lab rat. The Wizard lets her go, saying he’ll always know where she will be, and that he’s never letting go of her again. Meanwhile, at the new Baxter Building, the FF do repairs. Reed says the Wizard has only ever cared about fame, wanting to prove his superiority to the FF by imitating the FF. They debate whether Cole was tricked or if she was in on the Wizard’s plan. Johnny chooses to believe Cole, and he leaves to go look for her.
Johnny and Cole meet up at a nearby rooftop they both remember from their date. She admits she had an ulterior motive, but it wasn’t Wizard’s. She known about her gravity powers for some time, and she hoped Johnny could get her to Reed so Reed can take her powers away. Then she admits she ended up liking Johnny along the way. Just as they’re about to kiss, the rest of the FF catch up to them. Sue says the others have decided to trust Cole… for now. Reed says that a cure for Cole would depend on access to the Wizard’s data. “The Wizard already visited us once,” Reed says, “it’s only right we return the favor.”
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Johnny asks Reed for a mobile graviton detector to find Cole Reed tells him there’s no such thing, only to then invent one on the spot.
Fade out: This is the first time someone else had seized control of Sue’s force fields. (Unless maybe the Beyonder did it?) We’ll have to see if this becomes more of a worry in the future.
Clobberin’ time: The Wizard attaches a gravity disc to Ben’s back, where Ben can’t reach it. This takes out Ben for most of the fight.
Flame on: Johnny takes Cole to a specific spot her showed her on their date. It’s a particular gargoyle high up on a skyscraper. He says it’s where he goes when he needs to think. This is where and how she found him after she left the Wizard.
Trivia time: The comic mentions all the times Johnny fought the Wizard back in his solo adventures from Strange Tales, beginning with issue #102. Those solo stories are rarely mentioned, as they are so different from the rest of Marvel continuity, except for that a lot of classic characters had their first appearances there.
Fantastic or frightful? How do you write the Wizard so he’s not just another Dr. Doom. Doom has a moral code he lives by, while this issue shows just how lacking in morals the Wizard is. He views other people, including his daughter and ex-wife, as nothing but test subjects for him to experiment on, and only so he gain more acclaim for himself. That makes this a dark and uncomfortable story, but one that’s told well.
Next: Breaking in.
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