Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. J. Michael Straczynski continues his run on the series with an issue full of family drama and science intrigue.
Recap: Still struggling with financial and political woes, Reed takes a job with the government. He’s gone to a top-secret military base in Nevada, where scientists want to recreate the FF’s original spaceflight into cosmic rays, giving fantastic powers to a whole crew of astronauts. Also, Ben learned his one-fourth of Fantastic Four Inc.’s fortune is intact from before the team’s troubles, making him incredibly wealthy.
Reed calls Sue from Nevada, filling her (and the reader) in on what’s happening. An AI system censors any confidential information, so Sue’s side of the phone call has chunks of Reed’s dialogue replaced with white noise. Sue says that Simone Debouvier of New York Child Welfare office has an appointment with her, and Sue assumes this is about some charity fundraiser. Reed says “I love you” to Sue as they hang up, and the AI censors the word love. Sue finds this strange. Meanwhile, Ben enjoys his newfound riches by going shopping for tuxedos, with Johnny tagging along.
In Nevada, Reed again meets with Dr. Crane, who introduces fellow scientist Dr. Debra Love. She says they’ve had to make intuitive leaps in recreating Reed’s original spacecraft down to the smallest detail. In caption narration, Reed remarks on how this is like stepping into his past, and how one fateful choice of his changed his and so many other lives forever. He adds that this is making him feel old.
Sue meets with Debouvier, who is not there to organize a fundraiser. She’s opening an investigation into whether Franklin and Valeria are in a safe environment, or if they should be relocated. She argues that FF headquarters has been attacked and damaged on regular occasions, that “persons of dubious character” have been seen coming and going from the building, and that the kids are often left along for prolonged periods of time. Debouvier asks about the children’s babysitters. Rather than say the Inhumans watch the kids, Sue lies and says, “They’re from New Jersey.”
Debouvier then talks to Franklin, who admits he doesn’t go to school but is taught by his parents. She asks about outside friends and places he’s been. Franklin retells the Latveria incident from his point of view, including him being stuck in Hell for a while. Sue tries to brush this off as “Kids, they say the darndest things.” Debouvier asks Franklin where his father is, and he says, “Nobody knows.”
Reed and Dr. Love have a chat. She says the one variable she and her team can’t figure out is why the cosmic rays affected the FF in four wildly different rays, when the outcome of radiation should be uniform. Reed admits that this question is an x-factor, something he himself has never been able to deduce over the years. Dr. Love says this variable is something they will have to compensate for before the new ship launches.
In New York, Ben treats Johnny to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Ben has bought a huge diamond necklace for himself, and women are attracted to him upon seeing the size of the diamond. Alone in the men’s room, he daydreams a conversation with his human self, saying that if it wasn’t for the diamond those women would have run away. Human Ben argues that there should be nothing wrong with feeling attractive, even if just for a little while.
Back at the Baxter Building, Sue tells Debouvier that the FF don’t wear masks and don’t hide their headquarters. She says it’s important for them to set a good example, demonstrating that a family can overcome any difficult circumstances. Debouvier says she will continue the investigation and follow it wherever it goes. Ben and Johnny return, and Sue tells her that the FF have a new enemy – bureaucracy.
In Nevada, Reed reminisces about how the FF’s powers reflect their personalities. Sue was ignored by her parents as a child, Johnny is a short-tempered hothead, and macho Ben lived life with a rough exterior. Then Reed considers himself, always stretched thin in his various scientific projects and among his family. He fears someday he might be stretched to the point where he’ll snap. Reed again meets with Dr. Love, contemplating the Voyager probe, which contained messages for possible aliens. He describes it as a signal, and an attempt to communicate.
Then an alarm goes off, as the ship’s fuel core is about to explode. Dr. Love helps with the evacuation, while Reed tries to dampen the core. He stretches his whole body over it just before it blows. Later, Dr. Love and Dr. Crane discuss whether they can keep to the launch schedule. Love says that the fuel core wasn’t supposed to go online yet, and would not have exploded on its own. She believes that someone deliberately sabotaged the ship, and it’s possible that person is Reed.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed’s arm is in a sling following the explosion. Remember that he can be hurt and break a bone in extreme circumstances.
Fade out: When Reed is considering Sue’s powers, we get a one-panel flashback of her childhood, including another rare glimpse or her and Johnny’s mother, Mary Storm. The Marvel Wiki alleges that Mary only appears on-panel three times, with this being the third and final one. (The others are issues 32 and 510.)
Clobberin’ time: In his daydream, Ben remarks that he’s still in love with Alicia. This is something of a big deal, because they separated way back in issue #265. Although Alicia is still one of the family, both she and Ben have had other potential love interests since then.
Flame on: Johnny is comic relief in this issue, poking fun during Ben’s shopping spree. He later takes a sec to ask Ben “You okay?” showing that he can see Ben is troubled.
Four and a half: We were previously told that Franklin had overcome the trauma of being in Hell, but this issue shows that experience is still with him.
Trivia time: Debouvier says that the FF’s home has been attacked seventeen times. I’m not sure that math adds up for the new Baxter Building, and it certainly doesn’t add up when taking the original Baxter Building and Four Freedoms Plaza into account.
Fantastic or frightful? JMS packs tons of story and world-building into this issue, juggling three storylines, and introducing a lot of ambitious ideas. This story arc is sometimes controversial among fans for the directions it goes, but for now there’s enough going to make you want to know what’ll happen next.
Next: At the movies.
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