Fantastic Friday: Stripped of their powers

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’ve reached the final issue for Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo, a run often considered one of the best in FF history. They take a bow in issue #524, getting to the heart of the friendship between Reed and Ben.

After a cosmic adventure which involved, among other things, switching Johnny and Sue’s powers, Reed attempted to swatch back their powers. Things went haywire, and four of the FF ended up powerless, with four random people gaining the powers. This issue begins with a man running to catch a bus, with his movements being tracked by Reed. The man uses Reed’s stretching powers to grab hold of the bus from down the street. It turns into Speed for a moment as the bus goes out of control, only for Reed, Johnny, and Sue to show up on cool flying motorcycles and save the day.

Reed zaps the guy with a high-tech glove, transferring the power back to him. He says the FF’s bodies are conditioned to hold the cosmic ray powers, but finding where the powers have gone is hard part. He adds that their powers are “hopscotching” from person to person around the city, so those four characters at the end of the last issue no longer have the powers (I was really looking forward to more of the nun from last issue who got Ben’s rocky strength, but alas).

Nearby, a cop shows up with Johnny’s powers, freaking out because he thinks he’s burning up, and a FedEx driver turns into a Thing. There’s some action as Ben, Johnny and Reed chase these two around the city. Ben hesitates on taking his power back from the FedEx driver, and the power moves on to someone else in the city. Johnny’s guy also loses his power to somewhere else.

Reed and Ben get into a bit of an argument. Ben says Reed has only made two mistakes in his life. First was the spaceflight that gave the FF their powers, and the second was this. Sue defends Reed, saying he has nothing to apologize for. Then they get a message from Johnny saying he’s found someone with Sue’s powers.

Cut to… a strip club?!? A dancer is on stage, invisible, in only a G-string and high heels. (This is a lot steamier than Fantastic Four comics usually get.) Sue tries to take the woman’s powers back, but the power moves on before she gets a chance. Outside, we follow Johnny as he chases his powers as they leap from person to person, including a horse (!), until he finally gets close enough to get his own power back.

Nearby, Sue and the team find an asthmatic woman who is having a panic attack. She needs her inhaler but can’t get it because of the invisible force field around herself. Sue convinces the woman to lower the force field, saying the control of it is all mental. She tells the woman that she’s not a freak or a lab experiment. She says she wants her power back, “So I can feel normal again.” We get a closeup of Reed as she says this, and he’s clearly moved by her words. Sue gets her powers back, and we’re told the woman gets proper medical attention.

Ben asks for a coffee break, and Reed calls him out for not actually trying to get his powers back. Ben takes off in a huff. Reed then admits to Johnny that he gave Ben a bogus gauntlet, adding that the powers can go back into the FF’s bodies, but he didn’t say which bodies. Then Reed looks down and realizes that Ben switched their gauntlets during the argument. Reed, Sue, and Johnny then chase Ben through the city and into the subway.

Ben says that Reed taking Ben’s powers and becoming the monster isn’t heroic, but selfish. Ben argues that Reed wouldn’t be able to work in the lab if he had the Thing’s bulk. He says he and the others are proud to be on the team, and proud to watch Reed’s back while his science makes the world a better place. He says, “You’re you ‘n I’m me and that’s th’ cosmic plan!”

They find a man in the subway with Ben’s Thing body punching a wall.  Ben touches him with the gauntlet and gets his Thing form back. When the others see him, all he says is, “I know.” He helps the man out, and then everyone returns to the new Baxter Building. Little Valeria is so happy to Ben back to normal she gives him a kiss on the cheek.

Then an alarm goes off, signaling trouble coming from the microverse. The heroes pile into the micro-craft, joking about there’s always some crisis to deal with. Reed says working alongside partners is what makes all the difference. He says, “As long as you’re with friends, there’s no limit to the adventure out there.”

Unstable molecule: Reed hands out business cards at the scene of the bus chase, saying the FF will pay for damages. This suggests that the FF’s finances are back on the upswing after the Latveria incident (long story) and everything that went down in the Marvel Knights 4 series (which I promise I will get to).

Fade out: Sue says the first time she ever used her force fields, she was frightened too, unable to touch or pick up anything. Except we’ve never seen this story. When her force fields debuted, it was in Reed’s lab as he was testing them out.

Clobberin’ time: Ben’s attitude these last couple of issues is that being the Thing only he can bear, so that no one else must deal with it instead.

Flame on: Johnny is having just a little too much fun at the strip club, and he’s a little too turned on by the idea of an invisible stripper. Like I said, this is naughtier than Fantastic Four usually gets.

Four and a half: Upon the team’s return to the new Baxter Building, Franklin asks, “What powers did you bring me?” Sue jokingly answers, “The power to be handsome.”

Our gal Val: It seems Valeria is talking more and more. When asked if babysitter Alicia is taking a nap Valeria replies, “Nap!”

Trivia time: In the bonus materials in the trade paperback, Mark Waid states that this arc was originally two separate story arcs. One was about Sue and Johnny switching powers, and one was about Ben becoming Galactus’ new herald and Galactus becoming human. When word came down from Marvel editorial that their time on the series was coming to an end, the two were combined into one storyline.

Oh, and what about Galactus? The trade also states that he was transformed from Galan back into Galactus in another comic almost immediately after this. At least he got to be human for a little while.

This issue remembers that the FF’s “4” symbols on their chests are also their communicators, as they use them while flying around New York.

Fantastic or frightful? This closes the book on Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s time on Fantastic Four. They really nailed it. Far-out sci-fi/fantasy with big action, but also a sense of family dynamics among our heroes. And then the key ingredient – they made it fun. I hope when (if?) the next movie is made, these comics are ones studied closely by the filmmakers.

Next: The real world.

* * * *

Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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