Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Continuing our journey through Marvel Knights: 4, which was intended as a (somewhat) more grown-up interpretation of the FF. This is issues 15-24. The remainder of the series can wait until next week.
Just as Franklin hits the winning run in his Little League game, weird temporal events happen all over the world. Reed is later contacted by the otherworldly bureaucrats of the Time Variance Authority. Mr. Mobius of the TVA says Earth is the epicenter of temporal problems throughout the multiverse. They say the problem is caused by the multiverse missing eight minutes of time. The FF hop on their time platform to investigate, with Reed promising Franklin this will only take a few minutes. The timestream fractures while they’re in transit, though. The heroes get split up in the timestream, while a man who says he is Ramades, son of Kang, shows up in the Baxter Building, claiming to have killed the FF thousands of years earlier.
As the next issue begins, the man says he didn’t kill the FF so much as he stranded them in the desert in ancient times. Cut to Reed, Sue, and Ben doing the desert survival thing while Johnny is missing elsewhere. In the present, Ramades extends his influence with an army of mummies, taking over the world’s governments. Then Reed’s long-lost father Nathaniel appears, saying he’s been looking everywhere for Reed.
While all this is going on, Johnny is in an alternate future where Dr. Doom has conquered the Earth. He’s rescued from Doombots by an adult Valeria, who has Sue’s powers. Johnny joins her resistance movement to fight Doom. They fight their way into Doom’s castle to Doom’s time machine, and Valeria gives her life so Johnny can use it to escape. In the past, Nathaniel brings dire warnings about Ramades, while Sue is frustrated about Nathaniel never being a good father to Reed. After an argument, Nathaniel transports everyone back to the present, right into Ramades’ hands.
Franklin, the help of a brand new H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot, finds a device containing the missing eight minutes of time. Our heroes reunite in the present and battle Ramades’ army. Franklin hits the eight minutes of time like a baseball. Ramades is trapped inside the eight minutes, and the TVA bureaucrats press an actual “reset” button to restore the timeline. Reed asks Nathaniel to stay and be proper father and grandfather to his family. Nathaniel refuses, saying “I’m too far along a certain path.”
The next story arc begins with Inhumans, where Gordon’s daughter Alecto and her friend Renyo steal a spaceship and travel from the moon to the Earth. They fly straight to FF headquarters to ask for help. They’re terrified of something in the Inhumans’ city of Attilan, but they won’t say what. Gorgon (who, let’s not forget, once singlehandedly defeated the entire FF) shows up for kids, and he and Sue fight. Turns out the two kids have a romance going, but they can’t be together because they’re from two different castes.
The kids take off into NYC, with the FF and Gorgon chasing them. While Sue and Gorgon bicker, Johnny finds the kids and brings them back. Gorgon wants to separate the kids upon returning to the moon. Sue wants to offer the kids sanctuary, fearing Gorgon and other Inhumans will harm them. But the FF have no jurisdiction. Black Bolt and Medusa arrive, and the FF return the children to Gorgon. Sue is frustrated because the kids came to them for help, and she feels they did nothing. Alecto undergoes the ritual of the Terrigen Mists, transforming her into a musclebound giant, and newest member of the Inhuman royal family. She tells Renyo “bloodlines are bloodlines” and asks him to never speak to her again.
The next storyline is Reed and Sue’s anniversary, except Reed is unexpectedly called away. Instead, it’s a night on the town with Sue and her girlfriends – Alicia, She-Hulk, Sharon Ventura (!), and Emma Frost of the X-Men (!!!). Sue says she’s never cheated on Reed, but Alicia says there was something going on between her and Black panther. There’s a flashback to the FF’s meeting with the Panther, where he takes her on a tour of Wakanda one night while everyone else is sleeping, and things do a get a little steamy. She goes back to Reed in the end, though. The flashback ends with Reed surprising Sue with her anniversary gift, flowers from another planet, and this is why he was gone all day.
The next story begins with reporter Ben Urich and private eye Jessica Jones recruiting Ben to investigate murders on Yancy Street, committed by a rock monster of some kind. Turns out it’s an ancient golem, brought back to life after being awakened by construction. Ben, with his Jewish background, befriends the monster and offers it a new home, lurking at the bottom of the East River.
In the next issue, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa includes himself in the story, as a recently hired Marvel writer struggling to come up with scripts for the Fantastic Four comics, based on the FF’s actual adventures. The FF battle evil duplicates of themselves, which turn out to be the Impossible Man and his partner, the Impossible Woman. The Impossibles kidnap Franklin and Valeria. Aguirre-Sacasa researches old Marvel comics and discovers that the Impossible Man created the Impossible Woman as a clone of himself to experience a similar love Reed and Sue have. Aguirre-Sacasa concludes that something tragic has happened to the Impossibles’ children, and that’s why they’ve taken Franklin and Val. He further deduces that the “tragedy” was merely their kids growing up and leaving home, and the Impossibles felt loneliness for the first time. The FF rescue the kids, who never in any real danger, and then they invite Aguirre-Sacasa to dinner with them and the entire Impossible clan.
Unstable molecule: A flashback scene to Reed’s childhood shows Nathaniel being a jerk dad. More interestingly, it’s a rare glimpse at Reed’s mother, Evelyn Richards. The Marvel Wiki states that she was a scientist alongside Nathaniel, and she died when Reed was only 7 years old.
Fade out: One scene has Sue meeting with Hollywood executives about a potential Fantastic Four blockbuster film. This is a jokey scene that takes shots at the Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four movie, which was cheaply made and never officially released.
Clobberin’ time: The golem storyline leans heavily on Ben’s Jewish background. It ends on a sour note, as he tells Ben Urich and Jessica Jones to stay away from him.
Flame on: In the alternate future, Johnny fights Dr. Doom, burning so hot that he cooks Doom inside his armor. Except, surprise, turns out that was just another Doombot.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Medusa is friendly and chatty with Sue at first, but when things get serious, she puts on her regal act when speaking on behalf of Black Bolt.
Interesting to see Sharon Ventura show up again. She was written off as living in Wyatt Wingfoot’s tribe’s reservation, where she was learning inner peace and dealing with her PTSD. I guess there’s no reason why she can’t take a teleporter or Fantasticar to NYC for a visit. She does say she thought the FF forgot her number, which strikes me as rather sad.
It’s a little tricky sorting out where She-Hulk is in continuity during this time. She pops up in cameos in Avengers, Defenders, and of course, Fantastic Four. Her next appearance after this will be in the House of M crossover event, and shortly after that, she’ll get her own series again, where she joins the law firm of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway.
Tracking the history of Impossible Man is even trickier, since the character is so often used for parody and fourth wall-breaking stories. The tale of him creating Impossible Woman by cloning himself was told in Marvel Two-In-One #60. Their children, known only as the Impossible Kids, first appeared in Marvel Two-In-One #86, and were prominently featured in the Impossible Man Summer Vacation parody comic.
Nathaniel Richards is back, after unceremoniously being written out of the series during the Onslaught crossover. Since then, he’s been time traveling, having all kinds of adventures that only he is privy to. He’ll be back for more during the Jonathan Hickman run on Fantastic Four.
And, yes, Reed has built a new version of H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot. This one is humanoid, complete with legs. Later, when his head is removed, his head sprouts spider legs so he can get around. Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.
Four and a half: Franklin continues to be a budding athlete. He plays Little League baseball in the first story arc, and in the next one he’s shown playing soccer.
Our gal Val: The alternate-future version of Valeria is reminiscent of the Marvel Girl version of the character we met during Chris Claremont’s run, although this isn’t mentioned outright.
Trivia time: How are Sue and Emma Frost friends? They met in the manga-style X4 miniseries. I’d thought that was an alternate universe, like all the Marvel Mangaverse stuff, but I guess not.
Fantastic or frightful? Now that the initial premise of the Fantastic Four dealing with real-life problems is over, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa seems to be using the series to tell whatever kinds of FF stories he likes. So we get a time travel story that tears apart the entire Marvel Universe and puts it back together, some slice-of-life stories, and then a wink-at-the-audience comedy tale. It’s a lot to take in, but I must admit I’m enjoying this series.
Next: Dr. Strangehead.
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