Fantastic Friday: Oops all villains

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Fantastic Four: Foes was a six-issue miniseries from comics whiz kid Robert Kirkman, who’d later go on to create The Walking Dead and Invincible, and artist Cliff Rathburn. It promises a big super-villain team-up, but does it deliver?

We begin with Andrew Lewis, who works in an office in one of the lower floors of the new Baxter Building. He tells folks that the “science fiction” only happens in the top floors, and that he’s working an ordinary job. In his office, he seems sad, as if the “ordinary job is not so fulfilling. There’s a scene of Sue and Ben getting the kids ready for school, after which we cut to the Puppet Master. He’s assembled a group of villains in a secret location, and he gives a passionate speech about them all teaming up to destroy the Fantastic Four once and for all.

This is a famously continuity-breaking scene, with tons of villains present. Some of them hadn’t been seen in a long time, some of them are cosmic beings and/or aliens, and some already have confusing continuities of their own. If you’re a fan and you’re tracking a specific character’s history, you must include that one time they met with Puppet Master. I know you want the list, so here it is:  

  • The Mad Thinker
  • Dragon Man
  • The Trapster, a.k.a. Paste-Pot Pete
  • The Wizard
  • Salamandra
  • Hydro-Man
  • A Doombot
  • The Mole Man
  • One of the Mole Man’s Moloids
  • Tyros a.k.a. Terrax
  • Klaw
  • Pharoah Rama Tut
  • Mahkizmo
  • A Skrull
  • A Kree warrior
  • The Overmind
  • Staak
  • Devos the Devastator
  • The Iconoclast
  • Dreadface
  • Psycho-Man
  • Exalt
  • Stem
  • Ba’ar

There are three others that the Marvel Wiki doesn’t name. One is man with a cybernetic eye of some kind, who I think might be Zorba. Another is a big gorilla, which I’m assuming is Miklho, one of Red Ghost’s Super-Apes. The third is a man with long black hair, a red cape, and a single red horn on the side of his head. Your guess is as good as mine. And there’s least 17 others seen only as silhouettes in the background.

All this Marvel continuity is for naught, because the villains all get up and walk out on Puppet Master, with the exception of the Mad Thinker. Turns out Puppet Master and Mad Thinker are in cahoots. The Thinker collected DNA from each of the villains, and he’s invented a device to allow Puppet Master to mind-control any one of them.

Then it’s back to Andrew, who works for a security firm. An electronic sound goes off in his office. As if hypnotized, he gets up and opens a hidden panel in the wall full of wires. He adjusts them, and then goes back to his work, not knowing what he just did.

At Alicia’s apartment, Puppet Master shows up. He boasts that he now has ultimate power, and that he wants Alicia to be at his side when he finally destroys the FF. Ben arrives, as he was already on his way for a lunch date with Alicia. Puppet Master uses his new mind control device and summons Dragon Man to fight Ben. Ben calls his teammates for backup. By the time they arrive, Ben has already knocked out Dragon Man and apprehended Puppet Master.

Reed finds Puppet Master’s two suitcases, which contain the other villains’ DNA, stored in big vials for some reason. Reed breaks down, saying he’s been mathematically calculating his and his teammates’ futures, and this revelation confirms what he’s feared. If events continue as they have been, he says, the Fantastic Four will be dead in two years.

Issue #2 begins with the Mad Thinker returning to his hideout, where the FF are already waiting for him. The Puppet Master sold him out. He surrenders, saying his calculations show he can’t win a fight against the FF on his own. Reed puts him, Puppet Master, and Dragon Man in suspended animation. Reed then elaborates on the whole death thing, saying the FF have made so many enemies over the years that the odds are now stacked against them.

After some worrying about sending Franking and Valeria off with babysitters for a few days, Reed says the villain DNA could be the key to changing the FF’s fate.  Reed says he can use the DNA to track the villains’ movements. Rather than confront the villains on the defense with innocent lives at stakes, Reed says the FF can now confront the villains on the FF’s own terms.

Reed further states that if this works, they will need a place to apprehend and imprison the villains, so they never endanger the FF again. With super-prisons the Vault, the Raft, and the Big House no longer in operation, Reed says he’ll have to build an even strong, more high-tech prison. Reed then shows up at Andrew’s office, asking for his security company’s help in building the new prison. Reed says he has the perfect location for it – the Negative Zone. Then we learn Andrew is the one who originally designed the Vault, and he’s up for the chance to get out from behind his desk and do some real satisfying work again.

The FF venture into the Negative Zone, where they find a planetoid containing only plant life, which Reed says will be perfect for the new prison. Then Annihilus attacks, having been alerted to the FF’s presence. They fight, with Annihilus ranting about how his kingdom is in shambles and his Cosmic Control Rod is missing. Reed uses a stun device to knock out Annihilus, only for a second Annihilus to show up.

Back in New York, Andrew returns to his apartment, telling his wife all about the new job offer from Reed and how excited he is. Then we get our first good look at his wife, seeing that she’s an alien insect creature.

 Issue #3 starts by continuing that scene, where Andrew acts as if nothing is unusual about his alien insect wife. Then it’s back to the Negative Zone, where the two Annihiluses (Annihili?) fight each other. They accuse each other of being an imposter, and of stealing the Cosmic Control Rod. The FF just leave them there to fight (!) and Reed says the prison will have to be cloaked.

After some more “daily life” stuff with the FF at home, we catch up with Lon Zelig, the special effects whiz who briefly worked with Johnny back when Johnny was pursuing a Hollywood acting career. You might also remember that Zelig was the Super-Skrull in disguise the whole time. He’s meeting with an unscrupulous S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, who is sneaking him some communication equipment so Zelig can contact the Skrull homeworld. Zelig says the tech is ineffective, and he needs something better.  

Later, Sue picks Franklin up from school, and he’s acting quiet and distracted. At the Baxter Building, Franklin heads straight to Reed’s lab and starts messing with things. Reed matter-of-factly states, “Franklin knows not to touch anything in here,” and this Franklin is revealed to be the Super-Skrull in disguise.

It’s another big fight. Sue is enraged, threatening to suffocate the Skrull with a force field. She demands, “Where is my son?!!” Then we cut to Franklin, sitting on a sidewalk curb in the rain, still waiting for his mom to pick him up.

With that cliffhanger, such as it is, we’ll leave the concluding three issues for next week.

Unstable molecule: There’s one page where Reed meets with Nick Fury about his plans for the Negative Zone prison, and Fury is still mistrustful of Reed following the Latveria incident.

Fade out: There’s a bit of business where Sue has a NYPD cop watch over her parking space while the Fantasticar is invisibly parked there.

Clobberin’ time: There’s a scene where Ben gets Lenny from Damage Control to oversee repairs to Alicia’s apartment, free of charge.

Flame on: Johnny’s subplot has him dating two women, Miranda and McKenzie, and he can’t remember which is which. We later meet Miranda, when she dumps him after he misses too many of their dates because of superhero business. Miranda has no entry in the Marvel Wiki, so I’m guessing she never comes back.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Now that She-Hulk has a full-time job at a law firm again, she says she’s adding babysitting to her high-priced legal fees. Reed says he doesn’t know if she’s kidding.

Crystal is mentioned as babysitting the kids on the moon, but she can only do so for a few days before a sacred Inhuman ritual. The specifics of this ritual are never revealed.

Four and a half: Running late for school, Franklin gets a ride there in the Fantasticar rather than take the bus, which he prefers. Can you blame him?

Our gal Val: Sue takes little Valeria shopping with her, when she gets the call about Dragon Man’s attack. Valeria is then with She-Hulk when she drops the kids off.

Trivia time: The Civil War crossover is the big cloud looming in the horizon over all the comics of this era (era). The idea of Reed building a super-prison in the Negative Zone will be brought back in Civil War in a big way.

What are these other super-prisons? The Vault, located in Colorado, was destroyed in a massive break-out in Heroes for Hire #1. The Raft, located in the ocean just outside Manhattan, was destroyed in a similar massive break-out in New Avengers #1. The Big House, Hank Pym’s jail located inside the Microverse, had a massive break-out in She-Hulk #21, and was shut down and under investigation at the time of this issue.

You might recall that Hellscout beheaded Annihilus during the confusing Gideon Trust storyline, after which the Trust obtained the Cosmic Control Rod. The Marvel Wiki states that two Annihiluses in this issue are insectoid larvae grown out of fragments of the rod. Their story is never concluded, and instead the original Annihilus will return in the (what else?) Annihilation crossover.

And, yes, the Nick Fury in this issue is yet another life model decoy. The original Fury went underground after the 2005 Secret Wars, and won’t return for real until much, much later.

Fantastic or frightful? The story is all over the place, whipping us around from one fight and subplot to the next. I did some reading ahead, and I can see how Kirkman will tie everything together, but it might be a bumpy road getting there.

Next: More foes, more problems.

  • * * * *

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About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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