Fantastic Friday: Salem’s plot

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 week we wrap up the series with its final issues, #25-30.

Issue #25 is a series of short horror vignettes. It begins as Dr. Strange discovers his Sanctum Sanctorum has been broken into, and his pal Wong has been injured. We catch up to Johnny and his new girlfriend Kourtney Keaton, just as Kourtney learns her friend Stephanie has been died, after fallen from a tall building. Alicia invites ben over to her place, fearing there’s been a break-in. Ben finds her statue of the Fantastic Four, and someone has removed all four heads. Reed, Sue, and Franklin visit a butterfly sanctuary only to get trapped inside without oxygen. They escape, but all the butterflies are dead. Reporter Ben Urich investigates a graverobbing, to find someone placed the corpses around a table with odd symbols on it. That night at the Baxter Building, little Valeria’s eyes turn black as she tells her family, “You’re all going to die.”

Finally, we go to the town of Whisper Hill to catch up with the supernatural antiheroes Salem’s Seven – Brutacus, Reptilla, Gazelle, Vakume, Hydron, Vertigo, and Thornn. They’ve been summoned by the witch Agatha Harkness, who says she’s their grandmother, and that it’s “time to raise the devil.”

In issue 26, the family takes Valeria to the doctor… Dr. Strange! He gives her physical and concludes Val’s possession was temporary. He says magic has been happening all over New York, and he’s been tracking the movements of Salem’s Seven and he knows Harkness has come back from the dead. The Seven are the ones who ransacked Strange’s Sanctum to steal a book. He fears they’re planning to bring someone else back. The FF leave for Whisper Hill to investigate, and we see Strange and Wong are really Agatha and Reptilla in disguise. We then cut to Diablo, still in that other world where the FF trapped him in their last encounter. He hears a voice calling to him.

On the way to Whisper Hill, the FF are attacked by Salem’s Seven. The Seven catch the FF by surprise, but the heroes quickly rally and take out the Seven. They enter Agatha’s mansion to find her opening a magic portal. There’s another fight with the Seven, with the FF again easily winning. Agatha, however, opens the portal and out comes Shuma-Gorath, one of the dark gods of the universe. Agatha says she has banished Dr. Strange and will take his place as the new sorcerer supreme. Then Agatha drops another disguise, revealing that this isn’t Agatha but her partner in crime, Nicholas Scratch.

Issue #27 begins with Diablo wandering around inside the sanctum sanctorum. He frees Dr. Strange and Wong from a magic mirror. We learn Reed is the one who summoned him from the other world, having suspected the Strange he spoke to wasn’t the real Strange. Reed offered Diablo his freedom in exchange for his help. Strange and Diablo travel to Whisper Hill to stop Shuma-Gorath. In Whisper Hill, Scratch says his plan was to lure both the Seven and the FF there so they could fight, as Shuma-Gorath is a god of war and chaos.

There’s a big fight. Scratch uses magic to take away the FF’s powers. Reed pleads to Brutacus that the FF and the Seven must work together to stop Scratch and Shuma-Gorath. The two groups team up, but seems like not enough against Shuma-Gorath’s godlike power. Then Dr. Strange and Diablo arrive. Strange teleports himself and Shuma-Gorath away, and Diablo takes on Scratch, along with the combined forces of the FF and Salem’s Seven. To stop Scratch, they need someone pure of heart to read from a certain scroll, so Diablo transports Franklin and Valeria to the scene to do it. Sue is furious about this, but it works, as Scratch is sent “somewhere hot and scary.” Diablo then teleports everyone to Stonehenge, where a beaten and bloodied Dr. Strange has defeated Shuma-Gorath and send it to a world beyond time and matter. The Seven are left without a home. Dr. Strange gives Reed a dire warning that more evil gods are coming, while Scratch meets up with Mephisto and says, “At your service.”

Issue #28 drops the Marvel Knights moniker, and the series is renamed just 4. The Nicholas Scratch plots is abruptly dropped. Instead, we get Sue running the business side of Fantastic Four Inc., as one employee, Bethany Palmer, comes to her with concern that her husband has become abusive. Sue and Bethany confront the husband, and Sue goes all Punisher on him, threatening to kill him. She offers Bethany a place to stay at the new Baxter Building. Overwhelmed with worry about her actions, Sue tries calling Reed, but he doesn’t answer. Reed is with an old friend, Martin Simms, who dying in the hospital. Through a mental telepathy earpiece (!) Reed witnesses Martin relive his life in the last few moments of his death. That night, Sue is upset that Reed wasn’t there when she called. They talk things over, and all seems well, but the caption tells us this is the first step toward… civil war.

Issue #29 begins with the FF searching for the remains of Godseye, a sentient satellite recently destroyed by the Hulk. Any surviving piece of Godseye can attach absorb other machines and continue to grow. The search takes them to the Savage Land. Armed with metal detectors, it doesn’t take long for the FF to find a growing piece of Godeyes in the jungle. The Godseye pieces attempt to attach themselves to the Savage Land dinosaurs. They’re quickly destroyed by the FF. Sue confronts Reed reminding him that he promised her they would always be equal partners and there would be no secrets between them. Latre, Reed meets with a shadowy figure in secret, saying all evidence of Godseye has been destroyed.

The final issue, #30, opens with a lot of day-in-the-life stuff for our heroes. Sue is preparing an open house at the new Baxter Building, complete with a new mural painted of the heroes. Johnny and Ben have a playful bickering fight at the pool alongside Alicia and Kourtney. Namor the Submariner shows up Wanting to speak with Reed, but Reed is in his sensory depravation chamber, pondering infinite possibilities. The Inhuman royal family also shows up for the open house, having settled their differences from a few issues back. Elsewhere, Ben takes Alicia to visit her father the Puppet Master, who is in some sort of facility. He’s become a weary invalid, and she leaves him with a tiny piece of clay, asking what could go wrong. Dr. Strange shows up at the open house with the Salem Seven, saying they are friends now. Namor and Reed discuss “bridge-building” between super-folk like them and the general public. Sue asks Reed about his study of infinite possibilities, and we saw an alternate reality in which the FF waited until later to take their famous space flight, and instead enjoyed a lovely day in Central Park instead being bombarded by cosmic rays. Reed says, “That sounds fantastic.”

Unstable molecule: These issues have several references to Reed and Namor being part of the Illuminati. Reed leaves one of their meetings to take a phone call, and he and Namor commiserate over having to deal with Tony Stark’s increasing paranoia.

Fade out: One of Sue’s daily-life activities is visiting an Army base to inspire the troops with a speech. One soldier calls her a “dish,” but she just brushes this off.

Clobberin’ time: Johnny plays a joke on Ben by painting the words “Material girl” on his chest. Ben says the paint can only be removed with a sander.

Flame on: Johnny’s girlfriend Kourtney is never seen outside of the Marvel Knights: 4 series. The Marvel Wiki says she was only dating him to boost her own celebrity profile, and her current whereabouts are unknown.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal and Medusa catch the reader up on Renyo and Alecto, the two Inhuman teens who had a doomed romance a few issues back. Turns out the romance is back on. Not only have Renyo and Alecto reunited, but they’ve run off to the dark side of the moon (heh) to start a new life together.

H.E.R.B.I.E. continues to hang around, serving as babysitter for Valeria, even holding her at times. Would you trust your baby with H.E.R.B.I.E.? Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.

Four and a half: In the Savage Land, Reed says seeing dinosaurs makes him feel like a kid again. Sue says Franklin must have inherited his love of dinosaurs from Reed.

Our gal Val: No mention is made of how Nicholas Scratch’s possession of Valeria is similar to Dr. Doom once pulling a similar trick with her. Dr. Strange assures the FF that Scratch’s possession spell was only temporary, and Valeria will be fine.

Trivia time: Agatha Harkness was killed by Scarlet Witch during all the craziness that went down in the Avengers Disassembled event. She’ll later be brought back to life by Natalya Romanov in the Scarlet Witch solo series.

The Salem’s Seven also mostly appeared in Scarlet Witch/Agatha Harkness stories. Their home base of New Salem was destroyed in Vision and Scarlet Witch #3. These issues are pretty much it for them, though. Aside from an appearance in New Warriors, they’re no longer in continuity.

A big deal is made of Nicholas Scratch coming back from the dead in this story, but that happened earlier, in the three-part Hellcat miniseries. Also, this is the final appearance of Nicholas Scratch. Whatever he’s up to with Mephisto, it’s never been followed up.

The fight between Hulk and Godseye occurred in Incredible Hulk #91. The whole thing was a setup by the Illuminati to get Hulk off Earth and into space, hence Reed’s mysterious phone call in issue #29.

Who’s this Martin Simms guy? He’s the person Reed rescued from the rooftop in Marvel Knights: 4 #14. The Bethany Palmer character, however, has this as her only appearance.

Fantastic or frightful? The Salem Seven story is typical Marvel with too much plot and too many characters running around. The Civil War set up story has everyone acting out of character, but maybe that’s what Civil War was about. The final issues try to wrap up everything, as if all of Marvel Knights: 4 was one big saga. This entire series is a great read, but the earlier issues are definitely the better ones.

Next: Return to mainstream.

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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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