Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #529, our heroes take on the government and then come to a surprise revelation that may change everything we know about them.
Recap: Reed takes a job at a secret government base in Nevada, where scientists want to recreate the FF’s original spaceflight and give a crew of astronauts fantastic powers. The base is sabotaged with a bomb. Even though Reed saved the day, the scientists suspect he is the saboteur. Also, a social worker is skeptical of the Richards kids’ safety, and Ben has become incredibly wealthy after having protected his one-fourth of Fantastic Four, Inc.
The scientists regroup and discuss their options, saying the ship has been totaled and cannot be replaced, so they’ll have to wait one year before the cosmic ray configuration is set to happen again. They ask Reed for his opinion, and all he says is, “Some things weren’t meant to be. He places a tiny tracking device on Dr. Crane. Reed’s narration captions state that he knows the others suspect him, and he doesn’t have much time. He then reveals to us the reader that he DID sabotage the flight!
Reed has another tiny device hidden inside a shaving cream can, which he uses to contact the new Baxter Building. Instead of summoning his teammates, however, he pilots the Fantasticar by remote control, remarking that it’ll take about two hours to reach Nevada. Sue sees the Fantasticar take off by itself, saying, “Some people just call a cab when they want to come home.”
At the base, Dr. Love convinces Dr. Crane that Reed is the saboteur. She wants to send the M.P. to arrest Reed, but Crane thinks they won’t be needed. He thinks that Reed’s stretching powers are useless, and he’ll be easy to apprehend. The M.P. show up to arrest Reed, mistaking the tracking device on Dr. Crane for the Reed’s.
The M.P. are ordered to detain Reed by any means. Alarms go off and the lights go out. Reed steals a jeep from two M.P. goons by stretching over its windshield, and then the chase is on. The M.P. jeeps chase Reed into the desert, shooting out a tire on his jeep. He stretches himself into a bouncy ball and bounces across the desert. They catch up to Reed and surround him. They draw their guns and tell him to put his hands over his head. He stretches them way, way over his head, just in time for the Fantasticar to arrive. He flies off with it.
At the Baxter Building, Sue and social worker Simone Debouvier meet with prospective nannies in the hopes of providing a “normal” environment for the kids. Reed then arrives in a panic, saying the entire team/family has got to move, because government agents are after him. Sue takes him into the other room explains who Debouvier is and what she wants. Reed tries to put on a good face for Debouvier, saying he’s been doing confidential work. Debouvier leaves, threatening to return with her supervisor. Sue leaves the kids with the group of nannies while the FF reunite and compare notes.
In a conference room, Reed says that Earth scientists have been sending signals to space for years hoping to communicate with aliens. The process, he says, must include a means for the aliens to receive and decode those signals. Because the FF’s powers align with their personalities, Reed says the cosmic rays were not an accident, but an attempt by some unknown aliens to communicate with Earth. He says the FF must act fast, because the exact combination of cosmic rays is about to happen again.
Reed wants the FF to return to space and reenter the cosmic rays to show the aliens that they’ve received the message. Reed says he doesn’t know what will happen. He gives Johnny and Ben the option to stay behind, but Ben answers for them both by saying, “Ya coulda saved time by just tellin’ us on the way up.”
The FF board their private spaceship and prepare for takeoff. Reed is contacted by U.S. Army General Bragg, who orders Reed to surrender. Reed says he can’t because the countdown has already started. The sidewalks outside the building rumble as the ship takes off the Baxter Building’s roof. Simone Debouvier sees this, and she writes it up as a safety violation.
In space, Ben ruminates on the nature of fate. He wonders why this is happening now, at the time when he’s learned he’s rich. He wonders if the cosmic rays will turn him human again. The final page is the ship being bombarded by the cosmic rays.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Okay, so Reed sabotaged the scientists’ spaceflight because he deduced that the cosmic rays are messages from aliens and only the FF can and/or should answer them? Do I have that right?
Fade out: Sue is so furious about dealing with Debouvier that she talks about using her force fields to squash her between two force fields. She’s likely joking about that, but the artwork has her looking really ticked off as she says this.
Clobberin’ time: During the flight, Ben tries and fails to cross his fingers for good luck. He says that after all these years, it’s never occurred to him that he’s unable to do that.
Flame on: Johnny’s only line in this issue is when he jokes with Ben on board the ship. When Reed gives him the opportunity to back out of the spaceflight, he looks to Ben and lets Ben answer for them both.
Four and a half: Franklin tells the room full of nannies that monsters visit the Baxter Building on occasion. They think it’s his imagination, until they are startled to see Ben walk past.
Trivia time: Does this issue rewrite the nature of the cosmic rays, or doesn’t it? First, it’s been established in multiple Marvel comics that there’s a permanent cosmic ray belt outside Earth that all incoming and outgoing spacecraft must deal with. Second, plenty of others have been transformed by the rays like the FF, including Sharon Ventura, the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, the U-Foes, the Red Hulk, and the Red She-Hulk. Even the FF’s own Ben Grimm was transformed when he flew through them a second time. I believe this issue sidesteps all that continuity by this story involves a specific configuration of the cosmic rays, and one that happens only rarely.
Fantastic or frightful? The idea of the cosmic rays being a message from aliens has been controversial among fans for many years, even though it’s been done a couple of times now. What makes this issue a standout, however, is Reed’s escape from the base. He uses his powers in creative ways, but also defensive. He never once strikes out against the M.P. guys, as he knows they’re just doing their jobs. It’s a fun and cinematic action scene, something I wish comics could/should do more often.
Next: Cosmic bowl.
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