Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. I had just settled down, ready to explore an era (era) of Fantastic Four I’d never read, from Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett. But after only two issues with them, we’ve left-turned right into J. Michael Straczynski’s famous run on the series, starting with issue #527.
Straczynski, known as “JMS” to fans, is a fascinating guy. He’s most famous for Babylon 5, an ambitious five-year long “novel for television” he had plotted from day one. After cast changes, budget slashes, and constant battles with producers, he did the impossible and crossed the finish line at year five (plus a few spinoffs). Then there’s his career in comics. He made a big splash with his creator-owned series Rising Stars, and then wrote Thor and Amazing Spider-Man before taking over Fantastic Four.
There’s far less biographical info out there about penciler Mike McKone. He’s most well-known for Marvel’s Exiles, and he’s also drawn Punisher War Zone for Marvel, and Justice League and Teen Titans for DC.
The issue begins on an alien world, where an unseen narrator has been studying the place for five years and “the end is always the same.” Time passes faster on the planet than it does for the narrator, so that we see the rise of civilization over a short time. The society becomes advanced in arts and culture, but also warfare. It comes to an end with falling missiles and mushroom clouds. The lone survivor of this apocalypse simply asks “Why?” As he dies.
Turn the page, and Reed is our narrator, watching all this play out on a tiny planet inside his lab. Sue interrupts to tell him they’re having dinner with their new accountant, Mr. Onoffon. Reed has no interest in this. He’s feeling depressed, saying, “Some days I have more questions than I have answers.” He and Sue strike the same pose that two of the aliens from his tiny planet had on the first page.
The FF meet with Onoffon, and we catch up to what’s happening with the FF’s finances. During the time when the team was broke in the Marvel Knights series, Reed managed to develop some new patents to bring in fresh income, but now he owes income tax on those new patents, and is now being audited. Ben jokes about wanting to get paid, and Onoffon says his fortune is secure. Turns out that when the FF was broke it was only Reed, Sue, and Johnny’s percentages that were turned over to the government, because Reed has power of attorney for himself, Sue, and Johnny. Ben, however, didn’t lose his one-fourth of the business. He still has all his FF money from before. Got all that?
Onoffon can’t answer how much money Ben has, because there’s not enough space on his calculator for that many zeroes. Ben is rich, and Johnny facepalms and says, “This is so going to be bad.” Ben jumps up and down on a couch (without destroying it) chanting, “I’ve got money! I’ve got money!” Then there’s a cheap gag where he runs into the bathroom because he’s eaten too many hot dogs.
Later, Nick Fury visits Reed, saying that the S.H.I.E.L.D. and the US government are willing to forgive the FF for the Latveria incident (long story). Fury says the government wants to hire Reed as a consultant on a confidential project, Reed can only offer with an address and a date to begin, and no other info. Reed agrees. This is followed by a gag of Ben sitting on the FF’s Xerox machine, photographing his own butt.
That night, Reed explains to Sue that they could use the money, and it’s important to get back on good terms with the US. He reveals to her that the meeting is scheduled the next morning at an air force base in Nevada. He plays some music for her, that he says comes from “very far away,” and we the readers surmise that music came from the planet and the start of the issue. Then there’s a gag where Bill Gates gets a package from Ben, containing what Gates thinks is a photo of the Grand Canyon. Get it???
Reed arrives at a top-secret hidden base in Nevada. His plane must fly through some kind of shield or portal to get to it. Reed meets with a unnamed scientist, whom the Marvel Wiki identifies as Dr. Crane. He hints that the base was paid for by the funds the government seized from FF inc. Crane has been studying the cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers. He says attempts to recreate that event have been inconsistent, because it required a multitude of factors all meeting in the right quantities and the right moment in time. He says that the event, nicknamed “the jackpot” is about to happen again in just a few weeks.
Crane asks for info about Reed’s original spaceship that took the FF into space. He then goes on to say that giving people superpowers is unpredictable, but in this case, they can use the jackpot not just to replicate the creation of the FF’s powers, but to control the creation of those powers. Not just for four astronauts, but more than thirty. He shows Reed a team of astronauts ready to go, and he tells Reed, “You’re about to change the face of the known world for a second time.”
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: There’s no backstory on where Reed got this tiny planet from, or why he’s studying it so intensely. It works as metaphor, though, in that Reed feels like up to him to take care of the entire world.
Fade out: Sue is back to classic Sue in this one, trying to get Reed out of spending too much time in his lab instead of with his family. I’d thought the characters had moved beyond this by now.
Clobberin’ time: Ben gets queasy after earing seventeen hot dogs. With his super strength, you’d think his metabolism could handle that. I wonder if it’s psychosomatic, and his body is really reacting to the shock of learning he’s rich.
Flame on: Johnny uses his powers to heat up Ben’s hot dogs, rather than use the oven. I assume this is because they’re having company over.
Four and a half/Our gal Val: Franklin and Valeria are shown at home playing with a dog. What dog is this? Where’d it come from? It’s not the teleporting dog Puppy from the Chris Claremont days, so who is it?
SUE-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all along. There’s no way of knowing how the Latveria incident affected that, yet Sue is not present for Reed and Fury’s conversation. Was this her maintaining her cover?
Trivia time: Can we consider Bill Gates a Marvel character? He has no page on the Marvel Wiki, which instead just links to Gates’ Wikipedia page.
The accountant Mr. Onoffon never appeared again after this. With a name like that, I expected him to be revealed as a robot or something, but it never happened.
Fantastic or frightful? JMS is clearly thinking in terms of long arcs, because this issue is all setting up things that will play out over the next several issues. I’m not a fan of the toilet/butt jokes, but, hey, that’s comics. The best bit in the issue is the opening, where JMS does his “sci-fi philosophic musings” thing he did so well on Babylon 5. A mixed bag, but it’s exciting to get an interesting new voice on the series.
Next: Forbidden Love.
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