The last time I did a comprehensive FF re-read I stopped with the last of the Kirby issues (or rather the first two of the four Romita issues that wrapped up the story). That brings me up to Fantastic Four #105. John Romita was as humble to take over Fantastic Four for the King in 1970 as he had been to take over Spider-Man from Steve Ditko in 1966. He didn't feel qualified in either case, as did his best to draw in their respective styles both times. Why Stan Lee didn't assign Joe Sinnott to ink I have no idea, but #103-105 were inked by John Verpoorten. 

#105 opens with the Thing, Johnny and Crystal enjoying some hot dogs from a street vendor, when suddenly the city is wracked by a series of explosions. Crystal unexpectedly collapses, and Johnny flies her back to the Baxter Building to seek Reed Richards' help. Meanwhile, Sue has been shopping and finds herself closer to the source of the mysterious explosions. She goes to the street to find Dr. Zoltan Rambow, a colleague of Reed's, pursuing an energy being.

Back at the Baxter Building, Reed has diagnosed Crystal as having an adverse reaction to the pollution she has no resistance to and says she must return to the Inhumans' Great Refuge or die. Reed has also discovered, in Crystal's DNA, what he thinks can be a cure to the thing's condition. Summoning Lockjaw, Crystal quickly says her goodbyes and departs immediately for the Great Refuge. Johhny flies off in frustration and soon comes upon his sister in conflict with the energy being. Sue cannot leave the conflict, but urges her brother to get Reed and Ben. Johnny returns to the Baxter Building only to find Reed at a critical juncture in his attempt to cure Ben.

CLIFFHANGER: Reed must choose between the life of his wife and that of his best friend.

It is widely accepted that Jack Kirby plotted most if not all of the Fantastic Four stories. I have generally come to the conclusion that if Stan Lee is credited with "script" that Jack Kirby provided the plot (or at least co-plotted). The credits for this issue list Stan Lee "story" and John Romita "illustration." #105 is one of the most densely-plotted and action-packed issues in a long time (the Sub-Mariner/Magneto conflict notwithstanding). Jack Kirby certainly didn't have anything to do with this issue. I think just because Stan Lee hadn't been regularly plotting Fantastic Four for some time doesn't mean he couldn't

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#254:

If the two previous issues smacked of Star Trek (with a bit of Doctor Who thrown in), this issue is full-blown Doctor Who, but I can't determine which specific story. Maybe Bob can help. A masked priest (see cover), dubs two of his followers "worthy" and leads them to their apparent deaths. Meanwhile, the Fantastic Four have hidden the "Mark I" at a farmer's house and borrowed his cart to investigate some unusual energy reading coming from the citadel in the heart of the marketplace.

As soon as they arrive in town, they check into adjoining rooms at the local inn. It's usually pretty easy to tell when characters are having sex in a John Byrne comics book (such as between panels one and two of page seven of issue #236), but he is usually more subtle about it than he is here. As soon as they are checked into their rooms, Sue says to Johnny, "Why don't you come back in an hour or so, baby brother?" as she sits on the edge of the bed and suggestively starts taking off her clothes. Johnny gets the hint and tells Ben, "Reed and Sue are going to be... busy for a while." And who can blame them? they've been cooped up in the "Mark I", literally face-to-face with Johnny and Ben, for at least two weeks now.

Four pages later, sue is shown naked under the sheets while Reed gets dressed, on pages 10 and 11. On page 15 Sue is still starkers, even after the high priest has interrupted them. There's a reason Byrne is being so explicit this time, but we won't find out why for several more issues yet. In the mean time, the high priest, whose name is Taranith Gelstal, High Lord of the Keep, Ruler of Mantracora, invites all four of them to dinner.

"Meanwhile" back on Earth, Annihilus does something which drives all of the tenants of the Baxter Building outside. Pages 13 & 14 equate to pages 21 & 22 of Avengers #232 in an example of the kind of cross-continuity prevalent in the Marvel Comics of the time. She-Hulk and the Wasp are out looking for an apartment for Jen to live. She has recently joined the Avengers and moved from L.A. to NYC, but doesn't want to stay at Avengers Mansion for reasons of her own. This scene is significant in that it is She-Hulk's first (but not last!) appearance in Fantastic Four. The two Avengers bump into an invisible barrier outside the Baxter Building, which constitutes a cliffhanger in Avengers but only an interlude in Fantastic Four

ASIDE: I keep neglecting to mention it, but Byrne has been throwing in '80s pop culture references nearly every single issue.

Back in the Negative Zone, there is s flash during dinner, after which Reed finds himself drugged and the other three imprisoned. They break out of their cell and into a spaceship, where Reed is hooked into some sort of machine which drains intellect to power the ship. There are dozens of other victims hooked into the machine as well, some of them little more than emaciated corpses. (This is the scene that reminds me vaguely of an episode of the classic Doctor Who, but one with the unlimited special effects budget of comic books.) Taranith removes his mask and there is no head underneath; there is, however, a body that looks something like a huge smoked oyster in a framework beneath the robe. Taranith reveals himself to be an alien who has been trapped on the planet for "30 sun-cycle." He started the whole "worthiness" scam to find great intellects to power his starship so he can escape. The Thing rips Reed loose from the machine but it's too late: his mind has been absorbed and, although his body is still alive, he is a mental vegetable! 

RE: the Lakeside Tattooz, the most famous incident involving them were that they were included in Amazing Spider-Man #238 (Ma'83) which was the first appearance of the HOBGOBLIN! Many times I saw the book listed in price guides with either "with tattoo" or "w/o tattoo".

For those keeping track at home, my copy has the tattoos!

I was thinking about that just yesterday while I was flipping through the latest Previews catalogue. Marvel Masterworks is now up to the Spider-Man volume reprinting #238. I won't be buying it, though; I have the Roger Stern Spider-Man Omnibus. and my copy of #238 has the "Tattooz" intact, too.

"...this issue is full-blown Doctor Who, but I can't determine which specific story."

Whereas I do think a mindless cult is more likely to be found on Doctor Who than on Star Trek, I think what about #254 that reminds me the most about Doctor Who is the title: "The Minds of Mantracora" vs. "The Masque of Mandragora." 

#255:

"It can't be!" say Sue on the cover. Reed is... DEAD!

She's right: it can't be. 

This issue opens with a 3 1/2 page sequence of Daredevil swinging across the rooftops of Manhattan and smashing right into the barrier surrounding the Baxter Building... or the "null field" as Annihilus calls it. Then the scene shifts to inside the Baxter Building and the second appearance of Alicia Masters' gravity-defying skirt. Honestly, if John Byrne was going to leave her hanging upside down for four issues he should have dressed her in slacks. He reveals to Alicia that, ever since Blastaar stole his Cosmic Control Rod in Marvel Two-In-One #75 his life force has been dwindling. He's miffed that Alicia is not horrified by his appearance (because she's blind), but his plan is to destroy both the negative and the positive matter universes before he dies, anyway. After the Null Field expands to its full size, he is going to open a second one inside the first. When it expands enough that the two fields meet, everything will be destroyed in a great explosion when matter and anti-matter meet.

Back in the Negative Zone, the alien's ship takes off with the Fantastic Four still aboard. Byrne does a great job of designing an alien and an alien ship which represent "life... but not life as we know it" (as the cliche goes). The ship is designed for zero-gravity flight, but the artificial gravity generated by the thrust during takeoff provides the team with their best chance of defeating him. (More real science.) Reed Richards' consciousness begins to coalesce within the ship's psionic matrix, sounding for all the world like a sequence from "Spock's Brain." Reed gains control of the ship and the alien in killed while trying to escape in a faulty escape pod. 

Their trip back to the point at which they can exit the Negative Zone is two weeks away. By that time, working under Reed's direction, Sue has constructed a cyber helmet so that Reed's consciousness can be transmitted into his body (which looks even more like "Spock's Brain"). It's just a stop-gap measure, though. Reed's mind is still trapped within the psionic matrix. They have to get back to his laboratory before the transfer can be made for good. As they approach the exit point, they encounter the debris of the destroyed access tunnel. They are now floating toward the explosive zone of nega-space where matter and anti-matter collide and are destroyed!

This whole "Negative Zone" story seems to be a mash-up of old Star Trek and Doctor Who. I didn't notice it then, and don't mind it now. Byrne may have borrowed an idea or two from here or there, but he made them better (I mean, "Spock's Brain"?) and the end result is something new, greater than the sum of its parts. 

#256:

Next up isa crossover between Avengers #233 and Fantastic Four #256, but it's not a true "crossover" as I define the term. It's more like two issues that depict parallel events which occur simultaneously. Avengers can be read without Fantastic Four for a complete story, and likewise, Fantastic Four can be read without Avengers for a complete story. the omnibus places Avengers #233 before Fantastic FOur #256, but it doesn't really "read" well that way (or the other way, to be honest). Avengers #233 tells the story of the FF's escape from the Negative Zone and Annihilus' defeat from the Avengers' POV, and Fantastic Four #256 tells those same events from the FFs'. Key scenes are repeated. for those reasons, I will not be recapping Avengers #233 at all

#256 picks up exactly where #255 left off. Reed gets some readings through the explosive zone and deduces what's going on, but doesn't know who's behind it. there's a lot of comic book science techno-babel in this one, but the gist of it is htat Reed must build a dimensional analog of the null field in the Negative Zone to counter-act the effects of the one Annihilus built and hope someone is working along those lines in the positive matter universe as well. 

In Manhattan, not being able to get ahold of Johnny by phone in #253, Sharon and Julie set off for the Baxter Building on foot, despite the fact that Julie has a date with Grey Landers in a half an hour.

In the Andromeda Galaxy, the former Frankie Raye (now called "Nova" for the first time) leads Galactus to the Skrull Throneworld, thus raising the questions 1) Why didn't she take him to one of the six worlds Reed identified? 2) Why did lead him all the way to the Andromeda Galaxy? and 3) Why did she wait 12 issues to do it?  

Suffice it to say everything goes off as planned: the positive and negative null fields cancelled each other out, the FF and Annihilus swapped places, Reed's mind was transferred back into his body, and the inter-dimensional transfer effect on unstable molecules changed the color of the FF's uniforms. The last we see of Annihilus, he is feebly flapping away toward the interface zone where he explodes. (We have seen Annie subsequent to this, but AFAIAC, on Earth-J he died on this day.) And, because I haven't mentioned it in a while, Sue hair has now grow out to shoulder length.

They arrive in the Baxter Building to find Alicia suffering from PTSD. Ben takes her to the hospital while sue goes off in search of Franklin. Reed is sidetracked helping Johnny put out the fires lest the entire building explode. Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau) is already on the scene, but the rest of the Avengers arrive. The Scarlet Witch announces that the Vision was injured trying to breach the Null Field. She asks Reed to examine him, thus he is sidetracked from looking for Franklin once again. Just then, Sue bursts in with Franklin, unconscious, in her arms. Then they all rush out, except for Captain  Marvel and the Witch, leaving Wanda to ask, "But what about... the Vision?"

That's enough for one day. I'm fairly happy with the pace of this thread. I am well ahead of my goal of one issue per day, concentrating instead on one storyline (or thereabouts) per day.

THE THING #2:

Next up is The Thing #2, not only because it's next in the omnibus, but because it's more important to the narrative than Avengers #233. What under other circumstances might have been a "Thing" sub-plot was given the room to expand immediately into its own one-part story in the things brand spankin' new solo magazine (spun out of a retooled Marvel Two-In-One), which was more than simply a "team-up" title. The regular penciler was Ron Wilson, but #2 has more of a "Fantastic Four" look because it's inked (as well as written) by John Byrne. 

In the aftermath of the battle with Annihilus, Ben receives a letter with a California postmark while on his way out the door to visit Franklin and Alicia in the hospital. Obviously shaken by the contents of the letter, he confides to Alicia that it's from Alynn Cambers, his college girlfriend who went on to become a big movie star. She broke up with him right before the "big game" (which was horrible timing on her part because he played so badly he almost blew his football scholarship). It took him three weeks to track her down after that. It was then that she revealed her Hollywood ambitions. He proposed with his mother's ring, but she turned him down and he ended up chucking the ring into the nearby pond. 

That was the last he heard from her. Now she wants to come by for a visit. Ben no longer has any romantic feelings for her, but is upset because the last they saw each other, he was a man. He agrees to the visit and, when she arrives, he discovers that she is a stoke victim. Her career is over and she wants to learn from Ben how he copes with being... well, I'll just say "as he is." I get the point Byrne is making here, but the story would not exactly be classified "politically correct" by today's standards (or even those of the 1980s, really). 

The next day, Ben again visits the hospital where his uncle is treating Franklin. (They must have flown him in from Arizona...?) Reed and Sue reveal their intentions to move out of the Baxter Building, and Ben leaps to the conclusion that this means (CLIFFHANGER): "THE END of the FANTASTIC FOUR!" It stikes me this read-through how often Byrne has transformed (and will continue to do so) a character's last spoken words in a given issue into the "next issue" blurb. In this case, it's a clear call-back to the end of issues #71 and #141. 

#257:

I distinctly remember reading this issue for the first time. I was lying in bed in my dorm room, in the midst of a (short-lived) phase in which I'd read each new comic book twice before moving on to the next. (Perhaps if I put as much effort into my schoolwork at the time my grades would have been better.) I remember just staring at the cover, half Galactus/half Death, for quite a while before I opened it, just soaking it in. Then I opened it to the splash page, a head-and-shoulders shot of Galactus thinking, "I am... dying..." and I starred at that for even longer, just contemplating the ramifications.

I dwell on this moment just to illustrate my frame of mind as I read this story for the first time. There are some who say "The Golden Age is Twelve" and think they're being clever. For me, my "Golden Age"  (of comic books, specifically) extended into my twenties, my thirties and beyond (although I think I'm out of it now). I just read Fantastic Four #257 for the first time in more than 20 years and had pretty much the same reaction I had nearly 40 years ago. It still holds up.

The first 12 pages deal with Galactus, Death, Nova and the Destruction of the Skrull Throne-World, and I'm not even going to try to summarize them. Then we spend the next three pages with Johnny, Julie and Sharon as Johnny buys a loft. It is not until page 16 that Byrne addresses the cliffhanger of The Thing #2. He recreates the panel, in the middle of the page this time, not the bottom, but the Thing's declarative pronouncement of "The end of the Fantastic Four!" is presented as a simple dialogue balloon in the midst of a conversation. "No, Ben. No..." Mr. Fantastic calmly replies, explaining that he, sue and Franklin will simply be moving out of the Baxter Building. "We will not act out that pointless charade this time." 

Then they drop another bombshell: Sue is pregnant with their second child! Although only four hours passed in the real world, the Fantastic Four were in the Negative Zone for four months from their perspective. Now we know why Byrne was so explicit about Reed and sue having sex back in #254. Ben comments, "Looks like more'n just scientific exploration wuz goin' on while we wuz in the Nagative Zone!" to which Sue blushes furiously.

Two days later, Sue goes house-hunting in Connecticut while Reed looks in on the still-comatose Vision at Avengers Mansion. [ASIDE: Reed has built another little HERBIE-style robot. This one is called H.U.B.E.R.T., but we aren't told what what that acronym stands for. the robot destroyed in #244 was never given a designation.] The Scarlet Witch leaves Reed alone to conduct his examination. She goes into the  kitchen to make tea, when all of a sudden the intruder alarm begins to blare. She rushes back to the medical section only to find a huge hole in the wall and Reed missing."

"NEXT ISSUE: Nothing on the disappearance of Reed Richards! Not one thing about Sue's house-hunting! No further developments for the Thing! Not so much as a glimpse of the Human Torch! Don't miss the strangest FF issue ever!" 

But first...

Biology is a science.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Ben comments, "Looks like more'n just scientific exploration wuz goin' on while we wuz in the Nagative Zone!" to which Sue blushes furiously.

I'm a bit surprised that The Thing #1 (Jl'83) wasn't included as it was written by John Byrne as Ben Grimm's origin story.

I must also state that I was fairly upset that the team-up books were phased out during this period as Marvel Two In One became The ThingMarvel Team Up to Web of Spider-ManBrave & Bold to Batman & the Outsiders and DC Comics Presents to, oh let's say, Adventures of Superman though Action Comics did go to team-ups for a year!

"But first..."

ANNUAL #17:

The 1983 annuals all sported the same cover scheme: a "portrait" shot framed by a black border. This one reads so much like a cult horror movie it should have been presented in black and white. The extra pages of the annual allow for a slow build; the FF don't even appear until page 18. The central character is Sharon Selleck, and we learn a few things about about her in this issue which we never knew before, specifically: she's a singer in a "shatterock" band called the Rolling Dead and she is allergic t dairy products. As the story opens, the MG she's driving has broken down on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, while she was on the way to a gig. She borrowed the car from Julie, but Byrne doesn't specify how Julie can afford an expensive foreign sports car on a student actor's budget. I personally think Byrne just wanted to draw an MG.

Sharon makes her way to the nearby town via a field enclosed by a chain link fence. the crop has a cluster of purple "berries" atop a tall, green stalk. Sharon is a city girl and doesn't think anything of the odd crop, but she finds what it's being "watered" with to be very odd: milk. She soon  bumps into a farmer who looks a whole lot like a realistically-drawn Li'l Abner. (That doesn't have anything to do with the plot, but Byrne will soon have occasion to draw a whole lot more "realistic" comic strip characters.) the townsfolk are just plain weird, the weirdest of which is probably the little boy who transforms into a dog (out of her sight) and follows her. 

I'm not going to detail all of the unusual goings-on of the first 17 pages. Suffice it to say, Sharon eventually has had enough and calls Julie to send a car or something. Julie has just come home from a date with Grey Landers, but Sharon does get through. The call is cut-off just before Sharon can tell her where she is. Sharon climbs out the window and decides to flee on foot. Soon, the whole town is shuffling after her like a pack of zombies. She finds a phone booth on the side of the road (which really dates the story, but unusual way out in a field even then) and calls the Fantastic Four. "Roberta" answers, but the townies catch up to her at that point. Luckily, no one thinks to place the receiver back on the hook and the line is left open.

A couple of hours later, Johnny pays a call on Julie. (At least Grey has gone home by this time.) She tells him about the call from Sharon and he flies her to the Baxter Building, where Reed and Sue are listening to a recording of Sharon's other call. Reed is able to trace the call to King's Crossing. Something's fishy, so they decide to investigate incognito. 

King's Crossing? Didn't the Avengers fight a battle of the Kree/Skrull War there? Yes, but even more importantly, that's where Reed Richards left three hypnotized Skrulls in the form of cows. They find Sharon quickly enough, and Sue recounts their first encounter with the Skrulls while Byrne provides an homage to the cover of issue #2. Sharon leaps to the conclusion that the whole town is the way it is from all these years of drinking Skrull milk. Reed spins it another way, but it sure sounds a whole lot like "Skrull milk" to me. In any case, that's the way most folks remember this annual, I think. 

Reed whips up something to counter the effects of the milk (or whatever) and return the town to normal. The townsfolk haven't aged while under the effect of the milk, they're all healthier than they would have otherwise been, plus Reed sets up a trust fund to help the town reacclimate. Still, I can't help but think there'd be a huge class action lawsuit, King's Crossing vs. Fantastic Four, Inc., for leaving hypnotized Skrull cows there in the first place. The milk tended to make the townsfolk more of what they were, which was insular. It also made them better farmers. Reed speculates what might have happened if a more militaristic group of people had ingested the milk... as the Fantsticar flies over a delivery truck full of milk cannisters puling into an army base.

NEXT: "Interlude"

#258:

The picture showing through the "ripped" cover is actually the splash page. #258 is to Dr. Doom what #267 was to Galactus, but unique in that no member of the Fantastic four appears at all. It even begins with a similar thought balloon: "It is good." Basically, #258 tells what Doom has been up to circa #251-258. In short: he learns that Dr. Strange is now without an apprentice; he schools Kristoff in statecraft; he inspects his robots; he kills his chief scientist, Dr. Hauptmann. But let's back up a bit.

It is revealed that the "Dr, Doom" which had appeared recently in X-Men was, in fact, a robot. The Doom-bot allowed Arcade to strike a match on its armor and did not "terminate [him] for this affrontage to the personnafe of Doom" because the robot "judged it conceivable [Doom] might have need of him later." The suggestion that Doom might "need" anyone so angers him that he destroys the robot, apparently by looking at him hard.

After that, Dr. Hauptmann reveals that he has found a way to duplicate the Silver Surfer's "power cosmic" (which Doom had stolen once before) and transfer it to Doom himself. Instead, Doom throws Hauptmann himself into the chamber, reasoning that if the procedure was safe, Hauptmann would have used it on himself. Sure enough, the human body cannot contain even a simulation of cosmic power without being reduced to ash. Doom suspected this would be the result because Hauptmann hated him for killing his brother in the Lee/Kirby days.

Later, Kristoff stops by Doom's study to say goodnight. Doom confides that he is looking for someone whose body is powerful enough to contain the cosmic power, yet also someone he can control. Kristoff doesn't realize he's taking his own life in his hands when he suggests Magneto, saying, "I have read that his power rivals even yours." Doom very nearly kills Kristoff on the spot for suggesting that anyone on Earth could be his rival, but he controls himself at the last moment and merely sends Kristoff to his quarters."

Still, a idea occurs to Doom. He sends his robots to abscond with the body of Terrax (now Tyros) after being stripped of his cosmic power by Galactus and thrown from the top of the World Trade Center in #243. Six weeks pass and Dr. Doom's course of treatment has completely healed Tyros' physical injuries, although he has no memory of being Terrax. Doom explains the situation and dresses him in an outfit designed to help contain the cosmic power. The procedure restores his memory, and he flies away to seek revenge on the Fantastic Four. After Tyros has flown away, Doom reveals that Tyros' suit is actually a life support system and he has only five hours to live, anyway. The Byrne once again turns Doom's rant into the next issue blurb: "THE DESTRICTION OF THE FANTASTIC FOUR!"

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