Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Time for a different and more grown-up version of our heroes (or is it?) in Marvel Knights: 4.
What’s all this, then? Marvel never quite figured out how to compete with DC’s edgy Vertigo imprint. There was Marvel Max, featuring adults-only stories starring characters such as the Punisher, Nick Fury, and even Howard the Duck. Max also gave us Alias, with the debut of Jessica Jones. Similarly, the Marvel Knights line gave select characters a “hard PG-13” treatment, beginning with Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada’s Daredevil. Other titles included Black Panther, Inhumans, Wolverine, more Punisher, and a team book simply called Marvel Knights. And then the FF had a turn with 30 issues of Marvel Knights: 4. This was a (somewhat) more grounded and serious take on the characters, running concurrently with the far-out and fantastical stuff Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo were doing on the main series.
After their controversial takeover of Latveria, the Fantastic Four’s PR hit rock bottom and they lost their fortune. They are so broke, in fact, that they are evicted from the new Baxter Building, and they all need regular jobs. Ben works construction, Johnny tries to get his acting career restarted, and Sue becomes a substitute teacher. Reed withdraws into himself, obsessed with finding a way to turn things back around. He eventually agrees to take a job at a law firm, as their office’s computer tech guy.
Reed is then contacted by mobster Hammerhead, who says the FF were scammed out of their fortune by Terry Giocometti, who recently stole his fortune as well. Johnny, with no acting gigs to be found, once again begins training as a NYC firefighter. Then there’s several issues of the family going on a camping trip, where the encounter an alien who is the true source of the Jersey Devil urban legend. They defeat the alien, and this is a romantic/bonding moment for Reed and Sue.
The second story arc begins with Johnny struggling to fit in as a firefighter. Then Namor the Submariner shows up unannounced in Sue’s classroom. It’s the same old story. Namor wants to Sue to leave Reed and come live with him in Atlantis. Reed hears about this, and he and Namor fight. Johnny breaks up the fight and enlists the two of them to help the NYFD search for a missing child who fell through a frozen lake. They’re too late to save the child, but they do manage to set aside their differences.
Things get spooky in the next storyline, when all the characters have the same nightmares. Psycho-Man has returned to New York, and he is looking for way to return to his home universe of Sub-Atomica. Then reality itself starts to unravel around the city as Psycho-Man taps into people’s emotions and then makes their emotional states warp their surroundings (or something). The crisis gets so extreme that even the sun is blotted out.
Reed deduces that Psycho-Man is causing all this chaos from inside the Baxter Building. The FF storms their former home to fight back, with Psycho-Man attacking them with more nightmare imagery. Sue confronts Psycho-Man, only it isn’t Sue but Alicia disguised as Sue. This allowed Sue to foil Psycho-Man’s plans while invisible. On the roof of the Baxter Building, Reed and Sue have heart-to-heart chat, where Reed says that although this time in their life has been challenging, their family has “blossomed.” Sue agrees, saying that their family doesn’t really want to be normal anyway.
The next issue begins with FF back in the Baxter Building, as their finances are now again on the upswing. The Puppet Master, meanwhile, has abducted Alicia and coerced a doctor into performing experimental eye transplants to cure Alicia’s blindness. In their wake, Daredevil finds corpses of eyeless bodies around New York. While the rest of the FF are off in space, Puppet Master mind-controls Sue with one of his puppets. He plans on replacing Alicia’s eyes with Sue’s. Alicia manages an escape by using Puppet Master’s mind-controlling clay against him. The FF and Daredevil show up to free the doctor. Reed offers to try to replicate the eye replacement surgery, but Alicia’s answer is simply, “I don’t think so.”
And that’s the issues 1-14 of Marvel Knights: 4. I’ll attempt to cover 15-30 next week. We’ll see.
Unstable molecule: Reed’s talk of hacking the stock market never comes of anything. Seems out of character for him. His rarely seen teaching and lecturing gigs never come up in the job search, so I guess we can chalk that up to the FF’s poor PR during this time.
Fade out: What’s the deal with Alicia impersonating Sue? Remember that when Alicia was first introduced, a big deal was made about her and Sue looking so alike they could be twins. Most Marvelites forgot this detail over the years, but the creators of Marvel Knights: 4 didn’t.
Clobberin’ time: Ben’s subplot as a construction worker is that he’s doing such a good job he’s making his coworkers look bad. It’s at the construction site where he’s the first one to find the sinkholes and tentacle monsters created by Psycho-Man.
Flame on: I’m unclear as to how or when Johnny becoming a firefighter in this series lines up with his firefighter training in the recent Human Torch miniseries. In the mini, though, he trained alongside the firefighters, but never actually got a job with them.
Four and a half: The series begins with Franklin’s birthday party (his age isn’t given), where Reed gives him an old-timey kid’s wagon that was his when he was a kid. Franklin doesn’t like the wagon at first, but later he takes it to school to show off the other kids, revealing he’s proud of his dad.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal is mentioned babysitting the kids on the moon, while the FF still have access to their teleporter in the last few days before being evicted.
Speaking of being evicted, H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot is among the junk seen being carried out by movers. Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.
Trivia time: Who is this guy Terry Giocometti, who is allegedly behind the FF being evicted and who has wronged Hammerhead? I have no clue. The Marvel Wiki states that this series is the only time he’s mentioned, and that he never actually appears in any comic. (Maybe Hammerhead gave him the old cement shoes treatment.)
While some Marvel Knights and Marvel Max series were designated alternate realities, Marvel Knights: 4 is in regular continuity. The Marvel Wiki states that this entire series occurs between issues 516 and 517 of Fantastic Four.
Fantastic or frightful? Although slower-paced than most superhero comics – dialogue scenes to go on for multiple pages – Marvel Knights: 4 is a great read. The first part is best, as our heroes must deal with “normal life” stuff. The return to the Baxter Building and their wealth is abrupt, feeling like an editorial mandate. The later issues lean toward the horror genre, with the Puppet Master story being especially dark and violent. These feel a little rushed and out-of-place for Fantastic Four. Another mixed bag.
Next: Time keeps on slippin’.
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