Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Anime and manga boomed (peaked?) during the early 2000s, and Marvel hopped on the trend with Marvel Mangaverse: Fantastic Four. Hope you like giant mechs.
What’s all this, then? Marvel Mangaverse was an interconnected series of one-shots assembled by a group of top-notch talent, including Ben Dunn, who wrote and drew the beginning and ending chapters, as well as Peter David, Lea Hernandez, Jeff Matsuda, Kaare Andrews, Chuck Austin, and C.B. Cebulski. The Fantastic Four issue comes to us from writer Adam Warren with art by Keron Grant and Rob Stull.
The somewhat loose main narrative of Marvel Mangaverse is teen genius Bruce Banner living and working on the high-tech Stark Island. Stark International is run by Toni Stark, a.k.a. Iron Girl, younger sister of Tony Stark. After the scheming and eventual attack by Hydra, Baron Mordo, and Atlantis, Bruce is drugged, and a kaiju-sized Hulk rises from the ocean and marches toward NYC. Along the way, the Iron Avengers use their mech suits to battle Apocalypse, and we meet a teen ninja Spider-Man, magic-themed X-Men, and a female dominatrix Punisher (!). And then there’s Fantastic Four.
The FF’s issue begins with a one-year-ago flashback, set on a research facility on moon, where an unseen speaker speaks to a group about an upcoming grand experiment in “descriptor theory.” A man in the audience criticizes this, saying this is tampering with the structure of the universe.
In the Baxter Building, a hunky, ponytailed Reed Richards has a huge command center full of staff monitoring the stars. They report a gigantic interdimensional mech identified as Annihilus on the way toward Earth. We see Reed’s three teammates being alerted as they don their “metatalent alignment suits.” Redheaded Jonatha Storm’s suit has fire powers, allowing her to extend to a skyscraper-sized fire exoskeleton. She battles Annihilus only to get knocked out as Annihilus reaches the city.
Next up is Sioux Storm, Jonatha’s half-sister, whose suit exoskeleton is a giant invisible force field. She takes on Annihilus in close-quarters hand-to-hand combat, wrecking the surrounding skyscrapers. Because her suit pumps her full of “wardrugs” and “aggressor hormones,” Sioux succumbs to exhaustion. Reed says, “Benjamin, it’s your turn.”
Turn the page, and we see Benjamin (not Ben) Grimm has a kaiju-sized rocky exoskeleton composed of “miscellaneous urban materials.” The others describe Benjamin as an introvert and a neurotic geek, who only acts tough when in his mech. Benjamin fights Annihilus, complete with a classic “It’s clobberin’ time!” It appears Annihilus is defeated, only for it to heal itself. It fights back, slicing off one of Benjamin’s mech’s arms off.
Then there’s another one-year-earlier flashback. The descriptor theory experiment has failed, the moon has been reduced to rubble floating in space, and everyone is dead except our four main characters. He says the four of them show no sign of manifesting metatalents, unless he’s able to think of something.
Inside the Baxter Building, Agatha Harkness, one of Reed’s agents, deduces that Annihilus is after something inside the building’s negative zone vault. In his lab, Reed concentrates. We see that Reed’s metatalent is to stretch his brain matter on a cellular level, giving him greater thinking power. It works, and he figures out that Annihilus travels from dimension to dimension. Every time his cosmic control rod is destroyed, he simply hops into an alternate universe to get another one. He contacts his teammates and says he has a plan.
Reed has everyone in the command center bring the mech suits to full power. Jonatha gets her fire back and attacks Annihilus with full force, while Benjamin grabs Annihilus’ cosmic control rod and breaches its outer shell. Annihilus is destroyed in a massive explosion. Reed says that without the rod, Annihilus couldn’t warp an intact body from another universe, stopping him permanently.
Jonatha, Sioux, and Benjamin crawl from wreckage, beaten and battered but still alive. Then we finally catch up with the main Hulk storyline as Reed sends his agents out to recover Annihilus’ tech in the hopes of gathering information to come in handy the next time a giant monster attacks. The panel also shows the moon with a big line across it, suggesting Reed stitched it back together somehow.
Skipping ahead to the final issue of Marvel Mangaverse, the Avengers, Spider-Man, and the Stark Industries team fight the Hulk, while the X-Men and our own Fantastic Four take on Hydra and the Atlanteans. We see that Bruce Banner did not transform into the Hulk, but the gamma radiation in him merely makes him a conduit for the Hulk. Doctor Strange, who is part of the Stark group, channels everyone else’s power into Bruce, and he transforms not into a Hulk, but into Thor. With one throw of Thor’s hammer, the Hulk is defeated. Bruce and Toni Stark then declare their love for each other and ascend to Valhalla in a heavenly light. Reed asks where they’ve gone, and Strange answers, “Out there, Richards. Out there.”
Unstable molecule: This version of Reed is not just younger, but a lot sexier, and addition flashbacks show him in bed with different women.
Fade out: There are even more flashbacks as interview snippets of the other FF members. Sioux is described as having borderline personality disorder, not very talkative, and having several invisible friends as a child.
Clobberin’ time: A running joke has Benjamin insisting his name is pronounced “Ben-ya-meen.” Nothing comes of this, though.
Flame on: In the interview clips, the others say Jonatha is impulsive and lacks self-control. She is nonetheless a valued member of the team.
Fantastic fifth wheel: A younger, cooler Agatha Harkness is pretty much a member of the team, serving as Reed’s right-hand man. The characters often speak to an Alicia, who answers from off panel but is never seen.
Trivia time: Marvel Mangaverse eventually got a second volume, which introduced a new version of Captain Marvel, and featured appearances by this version of the FF. Other spinoffs included Spider-Man: Legend of the Spider-Clan, Marvel Mangaverse: X-Men, Marvel Mangaverse: Ronin, and Marvel Mangaverse: The Rings of Fate. Fans have both praised and criticized the later Mangaverse series for borrowing heavily from the popular anime Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Fantastic or frightful? With so many characters and so much exposition, Marvel Mangaverse is nearly impossible to read, let alone summarize. The whole thing is carried by the artwork, which is sleek and sexy, and has eye-popping redesigns of our favorite Marvel heroes. The follow-up Captain Marvel and Spider-Clan minis were much better, with the plot and character arcs given more breathing room.
Next: Oops, all villains.
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