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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Just to play devil's advocate on a couple of these points...

"The Johnny/Alicia romance really came out of left field to me"

It did for me, too... at the time. But this re-read has made clear to me that Byrne foreshadowed it well in advance. 

"(and I'm not considering its ultimate outcome right now)"

I'm not even going to mention that (although I don't mind if you do). I'm concerned with only the Byrne ara at this point, and what happened later was certainly not his intention all along.

"Alicia was hurting from Ben's abandonment"

Not so much. The issues leading up to Secret Wars made clear that some kind of change was coming (even if Ben hadn't been abducted) and she was okay with it. 

"Johnny realized that every woman around him has left him"

That's true. I'll take a closer look at what Johnny brings to the relationship when I get to #276.

"I can't believe that... Alicia would want to deal with that!"

...and #277.

"Byrne also took this opportunity to de-age Alicia"

Well, not so much de-age her as to establish her age. 

" makes Ben look like he's robbing the cradle"

Does it? If Reed just turned 40 and was in the same class as Ben and they've been the FF for "ten years," that's an eleven year difference. (I'm ten years older than my wife. Is that all right?) Alicia was an adult at the time, and they had been going together for a decade at this point. 

I recall reading an interview with John Byrne in some magazine* in which he described the germ of the idea of putting Johnny with Alicia. It was that he wanted to establish Johnny in a new romance, but the complicating factor was her ex, who was in a wheelchair. And then, Byrne thought, he essentially already had a "guy in a wheelchair" -- Ben.

* Possibly Amazing Heroes, possibly not; I don't know at this point and couldn't find it again.

Well, it depends on whether they established that Reed and Ben weren't in WWII in Byrne's stories. You're in 1984 right now but Marvel Two In One #77 which did have Ben in WWII came out in 1981!

I understand the shifting timelines but if Alicia was nineteen when she met Ben originally, he was at least twenty years older than her, if not more.

Plus I don't believe that Reed and Ben were thirty when they went into space as both still had military service, no matter what war we're talking about.

And, lest we forget, one of the focal points about Alicia's first appearance was her resemblance to Sue, so bad enough Ben fell for a girl that looks like his best friend's girlfriend but now Johnny's going to date someone who looks like his sister! Yikes!

That's Alicia as Sue!

Forgot about the cover of MTIO #77!

Yikes. Everything about that picture of Sue is terrifying. The hairstyle, the blouse...that 4-foot-wide cake!


The issue opens with the FF + Wyatt using Nathanial Richards' time machine in a double-page spread which (as Rob put it) takes good advantage of the form. They arrive in an area which looks less like Southern California than it does the Wild West and, except for the futuristic weapons and flying horses, less like 1984 than 1864. Could they be in an alternate future rather than an alternate present? They come into conflict with a native named Colby and his gang, but soon both are attacked by a giant "strider."

She-Hulk brings down the strider, which is manned by two mutates who look like cavemen. (Not even John Byrne's  Fantastic Four is immune from the Marvel fallacy of using the verb "mutate" in place of the noun "mutant.") The strider was sent by the mysterious "Warlord" who arrived in the area some ten years ago, coincidentally (?) around the same time Nathanial Richards disappeared. By the end of the story, to no ones surprise, the Warlord is revealed (to readers) to be Reed's father. What is surprising, however, is that he has a native wife and infant son. 

NEXT: "Father and Others"


In this reality, the "Dark Ages" never happened. Consequently, this alternate Earth advanced 1000 years ahead of our own. The current year is 1127, measured from when man first set foot on the Moon. After that, a lunar colony was established, which led in turn to a War of Independence from the Earth. When it became clear the colonists were going to lose, they blew up the moon, which had a devastating environmental impact on Earth for decades. After centuries of peace, the world eventually erupted into war. It is into this world the Warlord came. But he did not call himself "Warlord" at first. He was simply a scientist who ushered in a new golden age of science. 

This tale was told to the FF by the next people they met, a group of "Valkyries" riding atop flying mechanical "dragons" invented by the Warlord. The leader of the Valkyries is, in fact, the Warlord's mother-in-law. Nathanial Richards married her daughter Cassandra, a real "Lady Macbeth" type as it turns out. In a few short years, the altruistic scientist who moved into the former Citadel of Knowledge turned it into a fortress and became the Warlord. Reed sets out to find confront the Warlord and a great battle ensues.  the Warlord is killed bur, when the dust clears, it is revealed that the person wearing the opaque armor was not Nathanial Richs, but his wife Cassandra. When given the opportunity to return to his home reality, he declines, choosing instead to stay behind and makes amends in the reality of his son, Reed's half-brother.

Flash forward to the year 3000, the Age of Enlightenment. In a scene lifted directly from #19, a malcontent seeking excitement unearths a time machine invented by his ancestor. For years that "ancestor" was assumed to have been Dr. Doom, but it was, in fact, Nathanial Richards (which makes Rama Tut / Kang / Imortus Reed Richards' distant half-cousin, many generations removed). Neat!

Philip Portelli said:

Well, it depends on whether they established that Reed and Ben weren't in WWII in Byrne's stories. You're in 1984 right now but Marvel Two In One #77 which did have Ben in WWII came out in 1981!

Bryne tried to bury the notion that Ben and Reed, and for that matter, Johnny and Sue, were that old in subtle ways.

Sometimes he got away with it, like drawing every one of the candles on that cake just so obessive fans would count them. Sometimes he didn't, like a scene in which he wrote Sue noting she hasn't made a change in her hair "since I was seven years old"; it was changed in print to "since I was a child."

"Sometimes he got away with it, like drawing every one of the candles on that cake just so obessive fans would count them."


John Byrne's own character reference sheet gives their ages as...

Reed Richards: 42

Sue Richards: 29

Johnny Storm: 23

Ben Grimm: 38

Take it for what it's worth.

Next up in the omnibus is The Thing #19, which is included only because it continues directly into Fantastic Four #274; it doesn't really have anything to do with the FF otherwise. Generally speaking, a crossover will flow from the weaker series to the stronger, but with the Thing stuck on another planet, that's not really a viable option in this case. A note was included at the end of #273 clueing readers in to buy Thing #19 for the first part of the story, but I'm not a big fan of the "Rocky Grimm, Space Ranger" arc, so I'm just going to skip it. Which leads me too...


Although the somewhat deceptive cover might lead fans to believe the Thing has returned, that is not, in fact, the case. The first five pages are given over to advancing various sub-plots, then most of the rest of the issue is the conclusion of the story begun in The Thing #19. This issue and the next are inked by Al Gordon. In Spider-Man #258, Spider-Man asked Reed Richards to examine the black symbiote costume he obtained on the planet of the Secret Wars. In the last two pages of #274 the symbiote escapes, but as that doesn't really concern us here, either, I'll just move on.


The plot (and splash page) of this issue are based on the pin-up Kevin Knowlan did for Marvel Fanfare #18 of She-Hulk sunbathing topless. In Byrne's plot, an unscrupulous magazine publisher, T.J. "Teej" Vance of The Naked Truth, takes some unauthorized pictures of She-Hulk sunbathing atop the Baxter Building from a helicopter. The rest of the issue concerns She-Hulk's attempt (in both her super-heroic identity and in her role as lawyer Jenifer Walters) to stop publication of the photos.

There is also a scene of Alicia Masters descending the stairs from the bedroom of Johnny's loft wearing nothing but the red shirt he was wearing last issue (which was a nice touch). I had forgotten about this scene, but I'm going to stick to the intended schedule of discussion I previously announced. Still, I'll describe the scene and quote some of the dialogue because I'm sure we'll be discussing it going forward. the first thing Johnny does to to apologize "about last night."

"Sorry?" she replies. "I don't understand. what is there to be sorry for...? Unless... you're sorry it happened?" Then he stammers out something about taking advantage of their friendship and she says, "Oh, Johnny... How can you think such a thing. We're neither of us children, Johnny. What happened was beautiful, and it happened because we both wanted it to happen. Don't spoil it with needless recriminations..." Then she kisses him... full on the mouth this time. 

I forgot to mention: Kevin Knowlan's pin-up which inspired last issue is included in the omnibus.

Before I get into the next issue, I thought I'd mention the technique John Byrne has been using for a while now of using actual photos of New York City as backgrounds. Sometimes he embelishes them a bit (such as altering one to look like the Baxter Building), but this issues begins with several such landmarks.


This issue begins with a lovesick Johnny Storm creating heart shapes in the sky over Manhattan. His internal monologue runs through his love life up to this point, but it's too lengthy to transcribe here. Reed Richards was much more succinct during one of his internal monologues back in #274: "Not to speak ill of the lad, but of the four of us, he's always been... well, the least intellectually motivated." In other words, his a flake. But what does Reed think of Johnny's budding relationship with Alicia? "Strangely enough, I can't help but think that Alicia would be exactly the right kind of woman for Johnny. Warm. sensitive. Marvelously perceptive." I couldn't agree more. Their relationship may have taken me by surprise in 1984, but once it was revealed I embraced it. More on this next time.

Also in #274, nosy neighbor Alma Chalmers caught a glimpse of Jen Walters changing into She-Hulk in the "Benjamin's" kitchen... and immediately came to the conclusion that they were witches and demons. Safely back in her own house, her glance falls to a copy of occult magazine with a picture of renowned exorcist Elspeth Cromwell on the cover. She contacts her and we will see the results of that call later this issue. We turn briefly to a scene of Wyatt Wingfoot and she-Hulk before moving on to my favorite scene... my favorite panel... of the story.

Reed and Sue are hosting a party to get to know their new neighbors. (Alma Chalmers is not in attendance.) Belle Port, CT must be a wonderful place to live, populated as it is by classic comic strip characters! Greeted at the door are Hi & Lois. They mention having four children, the twins being Franklin's age. Moving into the room we have the Lockhorns, Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead, their next-door neighbor Herb Woodley, and Henry Mitchell. Presumably, Alice and "Danny" from #268 are his wife and son. Martha Wilson, who showed the house to Sue in #259, is probably Henry's next door neighbor. Her husbands name is George. Moving back into the room we have Jiggs from Bringing Up Father and Walt Wallet from Gasoline Alley. Sitting on the couch are Joe & Ann Palooka and Dick Tracy. 

Apparently the Benjamin's are not the only folks in town with a secret. Hi & Lois gave their last name as "Fieldstone" (not Flagstone), Henry & Alice's last name is "Winchell" (not Mitchell; and their son is not "Danny" but Dennis), and George & Martha's last name is "Winslow" (not Winston). Maybe they're all in witness protection.

The party finally breaks up at 1AM, and that's when Elspeth Cromwell attacks. She calls upon powers far beyond her ability to control, and ends up calling Mephisto. Luckily, Dr, Strange in on the case. 


Remember #252 when Byrne drew the whole issue sideways? This time he tries another innovative technique: telling two stories simultaneously, one running across the top of the page, the other running across the bottom. It will be easiest, I think, to deal with each story separately. I'll start with the one on bottom because it's the one that picks up from where last issue left off.

By the time Dr. Strange arrives, Reed, Sue, Franklin and Elspeth Cromwell are "dead" (actually, they are in a mystical coma state). Alma Chalmers (who wrote to Cromwell, BTW, not phoned, if it makes any difference) is only too happy to describe what happened and her part in it. Dr. Strange arrives in Mephisto's realm to find Reed and Sue being cruelly tortured, but Franklin preserved in crystal. Mephisto seems to be "protecting" Franklin from Dr. Strange's interference. Reed deduces that Mephisto is afraid of Franklin and reasons that Franklin's mental block is associated with his physical body, not the ectoplasmic forms they now inhabit. Reed tells Strange to Free Franklin which he does, and, to make a long story short, Franklin defeats Mephisto. 

Back inn the real world, Elspeth Cromwell has actually died, and Alma Chalmers has to live with what she's done. Reed and Sue's house was destroyed in the part of the battle that spilled over into the real world last issue, along with half the neighborhood. It's too bad the "Benjamins" have to move so soon after meeting all their neighbors.

Now it's back to the beginning of the issue for the other story.

Here's a summary of The Thing #20-22: "The Thing realized that all the things he had encountered on Battleworld had been manifestations from his own psyche, made real by a world designed to study the concept of desire. After facing down all his own fears and sub-conscious self-loathing, the Thing finally left the artificial planet, which burst apart as he departed for Earth."

He appears in the Sheep Meadow and immediately makes his way to Alicia's apartment with the intention of breaking up with her. He doesn't call ahead or have the building supervisor buzz her because he wants his visit to be a surprise. Actually, he is the one who is surprised because he walks in on Alicia and Johnny having sex. Alicia walks in wearing nothing but a bathrobe and slaps him across the face. 

She explains, " know what you thought and you're right! Johnny and I are in love! But it's not the cheap, tawdry affair you want to make it! We grew together... naturally... slowly, over the months you were away." You go, girl! Like I said last time, I may not have seen this relationship coming in 1984, but once it was revealed I embraced it. At the time I naively assumed Alicia was a virgin before Johnny. I now realize she must have had some kind of sex life with Ben, unconventional as it may have been. In either case, I completely understood, and understand, her desire to be with  Johnny. 

Then the Dire Wraiths attack, but does anyone really care? The series Rom, Spaceknight was soon to be coming to an end, the Dire Wraiths were popping up all over the Marvel Universe, and FF #277 took place alongside Rom #65, in which the Spaceknight left Earth for good.

After the danger has passed, the Thing announces that he won't be returning to the Fantastic Four (much to She-Hulk's relief).

All right. That's seven issues today and I intended to do only three.

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