Fantastic Friday: Immunity idol

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. When J. Michael Straczynski took over the series, he added a twist by making Ben Grimm a millionaire, with all the fun and trouble that comes with it. Writer Dan Slott and artists Andrea DeVito and Keiron Dwyer took that idea and ran with it in the spinoff 8-issue Thing miniseries.

Issue #1 begins like any old Marvel Two-In-One caper, with Ben and Goliath fighting supervillain Cauldron. But after the fight, reporters accost Ben with questions about his newfound wealth, and Goliath wants him to invest in some new tech. Ben has moved out of the new Baxter Building, and is now living in a penthouse apartment off Central Park West. He’s dating a celebrity actress, Carlotta LaRosa, who wants him to join her at an exclusive party in the Hamptons. We also meet Carlotta’s friend, a supermodel named Milan Ramada (get it?). She learns she isn’t invited, and then she’s abducted by a mysterious man with hologram tech.

We get a glimpse of Alicia, reading about Ben in the tabloids. She’s now dating a man named Mr. North. At the Hamptons, Ben is surprised to find the party hosted by a white collar criminal, Irma Roberts, who is there on house arrest. Tony Stark is at the party, as is millionaire crimefighter Kyle Richmond (a.k.a. Nighthawk) and third-rate villain the Constrictor. A statue of Ben is on display, but it’s actually a robot. It fights and subdues Ben and the others. They wake on an island, where they’re confronted by the villain Arcade. He’s constructed a new “Murderland” amusement park, and he wants all the partygoers to play his life-or-death games.

In issue #2, Alicia learns what happened at the party, telling police that the statue wasn’t hers, but a replica. At Murderland, Arcade’s robot sidekick Brynocki explains that there’s an immunity zone at the center of the island. If the partygoers can make it there without getting killed, they win. Nighthawk and Constrictor get to have their tech, but Tony Stark has no armor, and a jamming field prevents him from contacting the Avengers.

Then, action! There’s a beach lined with mines, a high-speed rollercoaster, a runaway Ferris wheel covered with spikes, and an army of toy soldiers armed with real guns. The Constrictor runs off, and Nighthawk chases him. Carlotta pretends to pick a fight with Ben as a distraction, so Tony Stark can sneak away into the island’s behind-the-scenes tunnels. Ben leads everyone further into the island, to “Marvel’s Islands of Adventure,” which here is a recreation of Times Square. Ben fights and defeats a Hulk robot, only for a bunch more Hulk robots to appear in its place.

In issue #3, Tony Stark contacts Ben from the underground tunnels, saying the immunity zone is real and not one of Arcade’s tricks. Nighthawk and Constrictor call a truce. They fly in to help Ben. Then Tony makes a bunch of Thing robots appear to fight the Hulk robots. Then everyone makes it to “Murderland Studios,” where they fight robot facsimiles of famous movie characters. They get to the immunity zone, only to find it too small for everyone to stand on.

In New York, Alicia and attorney Matt Murdock investigate a gallery making fakes of her sculptures, learning they were backed by an “A.R. Cadenski.” They get the location of Arcade’s private island. At that island, Carlotta tries to escape on a flying platform, only to be shot down. Ben has everyone stand on that platform. He holds them all over his head while standing on the immunity zone, thereby winning Arcade’s game. Tony Stark reprograms Byrnocki to be a miniature Iron Man, and they capture Arcade. Tony says the FF are on the way for the rescue, but it was Alicia and not Reed who found them. Later, Alicia has another meeting with Matt Murdock. She tells him she no longer has romantic feelings for Ben. Murdock, with his heightened senses, can tell that she’s lying.

Issue #4 begins in Attilan, the Inhumans’ city on the moon. Teleporting dog Lockjaw has a sliver of moon rock stuck in him. No one can get it out, so he teleports to the new Baxter Building. This is just as Ben returns from Murderworld. Sue and Reed put on a show of fighting about one of Reed’s experiments just so Ben will have an excuse to babysit little the kids for an afternoon.

Ben takes the kids on a whirlwind afternoon around NYC, with him throwing money around like crazy. They end up at the horse track (!), where a high-tech villain named Shockjock attacks. Lockjaw teleports the kids to Attilan while Ben fights the villain. Shockjock puts up a good fight, but then Lockjaw returns and bites the wires that give him his electric powers. Later, the Inhuman royal family tell Ben that Lockjaw has decided he wants to return to Earth and live with Ben in his new apartment. Ben agrees, and they play teleporting catch in the park.

Unstable molecule: Reed fakes Ben out by saying that he’s building a Newtonian matter generator. He later admits to Sue that such a device would be impossible, even for him.

Fade out: Is Sue in on Reed’s ruse, or isn’t she? She’s furious with Reed at first, but then is all in with the idea of Ben babysitting the kids for a day.

Clobberin’ time: Ben’s romance with Carlotta is short-lived, as he breaks up with her at the start of issue #4. He feels she’s only interested him for his money, and her own social status.

Flame on: Now that Ben has moved out, Johnny uses this as an opportunity to take his sky-cycle for a ride. He nearly crashes it, though, because the cycle is built specifically for Ben’s weight and strength.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Medusa is a few panels, speaking on behalf of Black Bolt and the royal family. She-Hulk and Impossible Man appear in a one-panel flashback of various heroes Ben has teamed up with in the past.

This is the first appearance of the Fantasti-Bus, which our heroes can use to transport larger groups of people. This is all to say that Johnny uses H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot as an autopilot for the Fantasti-Bus. Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.

Four and a half: Franklin tells Ben a story about the time that Reed gave him a thousand bucks to spend on whatever he wanted. He says it was fun at first, but then he got bored with it – a valuable lesson about how some things are more important than wealth. Ben says Franklin is “the smartest kid I know.”

Our gal Val: Little Valeria enjoys seeing the horses at the racetrack, exclaimed “Haw-see!” In Attilan, when she sees Gorgon, she also calls him “Haw-see.” (And let’s never forget that Gorgon once singlehandedly defeated the entire FF.)

Trivia time: The Hulk robots are based on various looks the Hulk has had over the years, including the futuristic Maestro, the bowl-cut Professor Hulk, the grey Mr. Fixit, the “clown robot disguise” Hulk from Avengers #1, and even that time that Bruce Banner got the Hulk’s unstoppable rage without any of the strength.

The Thing statues and the Thing robots also reflect Ben’s various looks, including his metal mask, his original lumpy form, his spikey form from the Steve Englehart days, and the Blackbeard outfit from way back in Fantastic Four #4. It’s unknown how Arcade would know about some of these alternate versions of the characters.

Then there are Arcade’s robots based on movie characters. King Kong, the Mummy, the alien from Alien, and the Jurassic Park T-rex are instantly recognizable, but the rest are just different enough to avoid lawsuits. I see a blonde Edward Scissorhands, a grey monster that’s maybe a troll from Lord of the Rings, orange robots who might be Star Wars stormtroopers. There’s also a green-skinned, four-armed guy holding an axe, who I’m guessing is some Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat character.

The robot Brynocki has been around for a while, having been a supporting character in Master of Kung Fu. He also appeared in Rom and Moon Knight. These issues have him adopting a new persona as Iron Boy, but that never goes anywhere. These issues are his last appearance.

Arcade’s other two sidekicks are Locke and Chamber. Except this isn’t the real Locke, but an android. Locke died in the miniseries Wolverine/Gambit: Victims. As for Chamber, this mini is his only appearance. He’s not related (that I know of) to the energy-mouthed X-Man of the same name.

What’s the deal with supermodel Milan? The Marvel Wiki confirms that she paid for Arcade to abduct everyone from the party. This was her revenge for not being invited. I don’t know that this is made clear in the actual comic. She never gets her comeuppance because she never appears again after issue #1. Also, The Drew Carey Show also had a Paris Hilton ripoff character named Milan. Same character? Shared universe?

Fantastic or frightful? What can I possibly say about Dan Slott’s writing that hasn’t already been said. Slott enjoys playing around with obscure comic book trivia, which is both his biggest strength and his biggest weakness. It’s fun playing “Where’s Waldo” with all the different Things and Hulks in one scene, but the actual plot takes a back seat to Slott playing in Marvel’s sandbox. The second half of the series is when things (heh) get a little more serious, so we’ll see.

Next: The original Poker Face.

* * * *

Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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