Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. After spending the last few months looking some of the many FF-related spinoffs that Marvel produced in abundance from 2002 to 2005, we’re back to the main series and the return of a classic villain in issue #525.
What’s all this, then? Mark Waid and Mike Weiringo have ended their famous run on the series, but Waid’s co-writer Karl Kesel is sticking around, maintaining a similar tone. There’s a real sense of “Let’s keep the party going” in this issue’s tone. Tom Grummett is the new penciler, with Larry Stucker on inks, Paul Mounts on colors, and Randy Gentile on letters. Comics guru Tom Brevoort is still on as editor.
Alicia is babysitting little Franklin and Valeria when the FF return from an unseen adventure in the Microverse. Alicia tells everyone that NYC’s Chesler Hotel is being torn down, not by the city, but by the building’s residents. They’ve apparently gone insane and are holding hostages inside. Johnny flies to the building, where he finds all the residents are destroying the building from the inside because they’re searching for treasure hidden in the walls or under the floors.
A short fight breaks out between the residents and Johnny and Ben, before Reed breaks it up. The residents use the water pipes to attack Johnny, and Ben suspects something is up with the water. Reed has Sue turn the entire building invisible except for the plumbing. She reveals all the pipes are not ceramic or metal, but gold. Reed says the pipes were originally lead, which means someone turned the lead to gold. Sue exclaims, “Alchemy!” and on cue, the evil alchemist Diablo appears. They fight, until Diablo says he’s there to return the gold back to lead. He’s acquired the famous Philosopher’s Stone, and makes the pipes lead again.
Diablo retells part of his origin story. Back in 9th century Spain, he mastered the potions that gave him eternal youth, and he survived torture and captivity during the Spanish Inquisition. He swore revenge, and he says today is the day. He wants to use the FF’s time machine inside the new Baxter Building to go back and stop the Inquisition from happening. Reed refuses, fearing that Diablo really wants to go back in time to conquer the world. Diablo says he will transform parts of New York into gold each day until Reed relents. He gives them two days to think it over, and then he disappears.
Cut to the next morning, when everyone is concerned about what Diablo will do. At the breakfast table, Franklin describes a dream he had, where he was confronted by Doctor Doom. Ben describes a similar dream, like something out of an old monster movie, where he’s chased by torch-wielding villagers. Johnny interrupts breakfast, irritable and short-tempered. Sue urges him not to lose control and she tells him to take the day off, Diablo or no Diablo.
Reed has been up all night, running tests on a pipe from the building. He hopes to track transmutational residue from it back to Diablo’s location. Elsewhere, Sue is in the business office for Fantastic Four Inc., talking to chief financial officer Jian about Johnny’s ongoing work of co-running the company. Jian says Johnny is doing well, and customers like him and are attracted to him. “Like moths to a flame,” Sue adds.
The next night, Reed reveals to Franklin that he too had a strange dream. He saw himself carrying a huge sack of mail through the city during a blizzard, only to attacked by a bunch of the FF’s villains. Franklin then reveals that mailman Willie Lumpkin told him he had the exact same dream. Reed wakes everyone else up and asks about their dreams. Ben had a dream of losing control of the Fantasticar and falling, and Reed says that’s a common type of dream for a child.
Reed fears that the FF are all having each other’s dreams. Further, without their own dreams, they won’t be able to sleep properly, which will make then more and more irritable and unable to think clearly. Sue says they’ve got to go after Diablo, but Reed says, “I don’t believe Diablo had anything to do with this.”
Unstable molecule: Franklin’s dream of Dr. Doom included the sensation of not being afraid of Doom. This suggests that he was having Reed’s dream.
Fade out: In the office, Sue asks Jian about an invoice for Vibranium. Although Black Panther is a long-standing ally to the FF, I find it unlikely that Wakanda is selling its most important resource to anyone. The Marvel Wiki states there’s also an Antarctic Vibranium, which was involved in a She-Hulk story, so perhaps this is the Vibranium the FF are buying.
Clobberin’ time: Ben swallows a huge stack of pancakes during breakfast, a shoutout to him doing the same back in the Jack Kirby days.
Flame on: The hotel residents manage to put out Johnny’s flame by dousing him with water, even though it’s been a long, long time since he overcame that weakness. My guess is that Johnny’s off his game due to the dream stuff.
Four and a half: With all this talk of dreams, there’s no mention of Franklin’s former dream-based powers he had in his Power Pack days. Franklin is still powerless during this time, and will be for the foreseeable future.
Our gal Val: There are a few references to baby Valeria crying all night. Ben suspects that poor Val has been having his nightly nightmares.
Trivia time: What’s Diablo been up to? Remember that the last time we saw him in Fantastic Four, the elemental creatures he summoned drew him into an unnamed abyss. In a follow-up Avengers storyline, he sent a simulacrum of himself to Earth in search of artifact that could free him. Diablo got caught up in the Avengers’ battle against an army of Hulks (!) in which the duplicate was destroyed, and he remained in the abyss. That leads into this issue, with no explanation of how he escaped and made it back to Earth. The theory is that the Philosopher’s Stone was instrumental in his escape.
And what about that Philosopher’s Stone? Despite being a popular myth for hundreds of years before a certain boy wizard made it a household name, this storyline is the only time the Marvel version of it appears. The stone gets a mention in a 2020 Black Cat comic, however, so it might return someday.
Fantastic or frightful? Rather than a soft reboot with a flashy new #1 issue, the new creative team picks up where the previous left off, maintaining subplots and a similar tone. This is something comics don’t do anymore. But Kesel, Grummet, and company come out swinging with a fun issue full of action and mystery. Good stuff.
Next: More dream stuff.
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