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.
"Fear at my heart, as at a cup my lifeblood seemed to sip."
-Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) - "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
The issue opens with an 11-page sequence of Sue hallucinating under the Psycho-Man's control. In her mind, Johnny is very young, Reed is very old, and the thing has a human face. Jonny and Ben both die due to her negligence, the Reed gets progressively older and Sue gets progressively younger. Reed is eventually killed as well, and Sue regresses to childhood, sees her dead parents, and wakes up screaming.
Then there is a three-page recap of the events leading up to this point followed by one more page of the Psycho-Man torturing Sue with Doubt and Fear. She-Hulk has been separated from the rest, but the next two pages make clear that she has been infected with Fear. In the next four pages, Reed finds a way to escape. Despite a plausible pseudo-scientific explanation on the Psycho-Man's part of why and how it is the FF entered the Microverse at miniature size, Reed sees through is lies and deduces that they are on an over-sized "set" and that the real Psycho-Man is inside a giant robot duplicate of himself.
They capture the Psycho-Man, but the final splash page shows She-Hulk at hard labor.
The "next issue" blurb promises "The last appearance of the Invisible Girl!" (which actually turn out to be true!).
"Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom."
-Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Al Gordon (whose style is quite similar to Jerry Ordway's IMO) becomes the new regular inker with this issue.
The issue begins with the She-Hulk slaving away in the Mines of Nuvidia, which the Psycho-Man reopened after coming to power. She is befriended by Queen Pearla, the rightful ruler, who has been hiding in the mines for the last half year. She is immune to the Psycho-Man's device, but doesn't know why. They are soon discovered by the slaver-master Dutta, but She-Hulk overcomes her fear and takes him out. Then run into an entire squad of guards.
Meanwhile, the Psycho-Man has escaped from the cell in which Reed placed him. Reed, sue and Johnny split up to look for him, but Reed is soon plagued by crippling doubt. The Psycho-Man appears, but Sue has outsmarted him and takes his emotion-manipulating device away from him. She could tell that her husband was being manipulated and, instead of splitting up, she turned invisible and followed him. In another corridor, Johnny finds She-Hulk who has defeated the guards. When they all get back together, Sue announces, "The Psycho-Man is no longer a threat to any of us. He won't bother anyone. Ever again." It is a very effective panel. the background is only a red rectangle inside a thick black rectangular border.
The issue ends with a celebration. Reed determines that it was Queen Pearla's ceremonial headband which made her immune to the Psycho-Man's device. The headband was made of native materials, whcih is why the Psycho-Man reopened the mine in th first place: to either control or destroy the material that could make people immune to his influence. Sue appears and tells her husband, "There is no Invisible Girl anymore, Reed. she died when the Psycho-Man twisted her soul. From now on, I am the Invisible Woman."
That name sounded very odd to me in 1985, but by this time it's "Invisible Girl" that sounds odd. Sue has now been the Invisible Woman for much longer (36 years) than she was the Invisible Girl (24 years), whatever that translates to in "Marvel Time."
That's actually a good place to pause, but I'm still in the mood so I'll keep going.
MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #18:
It is at this point that John Byrne's The Sensational She-Hulk "graphic novel" fits into continuity. I will deal with it in more depth if/when I ever get around to leading a She-Hulk discussion, but in the meantime, here's the gist. The S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier was ambushed and crashed. she-Hulk shut dowm its damaged reactors, but the radiation exposure left her unable to ever change back to her human forma again. She's okay with that.
"Hero" begins with one Dr. Janet Darling struggling over the autopsy report of a 13 year-old boy named Tommy Hanson who set himself afire in imitation of his hero, the Human Torch. A flashback introduces a boy who is something of a misfit and details the events which led to his tragic decision. A month later (but still in flashback), Reed Richards is supervising the construction of their new headquarters building. One of the subplots of #274 I glossed over dealt with Reed complaining that the team had outgrown their Baxter Building HQ and would likely have to move, anyway. They lost all of their belingings and their home, but at least they now have the opportunity to build an HQ more suited to their needs. This one will be three times as tall as the original. But this is supposed to be a human interest story.
Dr. Darling arrives on the scene, tells Johnny about Tommy Hanson, and asks if he will visit him before its too late. Johnny flies her there immediately, but arrives just in time to witness Tommy die and to be blamed by his parents. This has a profound impact on Johnny, as you might imagine. Back at Avengers Mansion, Johnny announces his intention to give up being the Torch. Suddenly the Beyonder appears and gives him the old It's a Wonderful Life / A Christmas Carol trip to the past and talks him out of it. Meanwhile, Dr. Darling gets a handle on the autopsy report and quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald...
"Show mw a hero and I'll write you a tragedy."
Next up is another "crossover-that-isn't-a-crossover" like Avengers #233/Fantastic Four #256, in other words, two stories that depict simultaneous events. (the covers depict the same scene from two different points of view.)
The only involvement Byrne had with the Avengers Annual is "breakdowns"; the "finishes" are by Kyle Baker. Avengers Annual #18 is a continuation of Avengers #259-260, whereas FF Annual #19 has a complete beginning, middle and end. The omnibus includes both, but for those reasons I'm not even going to bother reading the Avengers Annual this time around.
FF Annual #19 is inked by Joe Sinnott, and if it's not going to be Ordway or Gordon, that's a pretty damn good substitute!
The annual begins with an alien spacecraft landing in New York Harbor. A familiar (to long-time readers) figure emerges and finds its way to shore and attracts the attention of the police. A veteran of the force recognizes it and calls the FF at Avengers Mansion. The Avengers are off in space, Jarvis informs him, but fires the FF emergency flare into the sky. Johnny is out on a date with Alicia and is apparently about to "pop the question" when the waiter tells him about the flare. On his way to answer the flare he meets the other three who have already been briefed by Jarvis. They arrive at the scene and the alien removes its helmet to reveal itself to be the alien they once knew as the "Infant Terrible."
His species is the Elan, and he communicates his story, through projected images, that the Skrulls have invaded the Elan homeworld. They depart in his ship immediately. by the time they get there, however, Reed Richards is sporting a scowl on his face. They are met by a band of Skrulls disguised as Elan, and "Reed Richards" is revealed as a Skrull himself. The real Mr. Fantastic is inside the armor the "Infant Terrible" had been wearing. What's going on?
Before leaving Earth, Reed had deduced that the Elan "infant" was actually a Skrull in disguise. On the way, he hypnotized the Skrull into believe it was Reed Richards, but seeing the other Skrulls, even disguised as Elan, snapped him out of it. Galactus' destruction of the Skrull Throneworld has thrown the Empire into civil war, with every regional governor declaring him- or herself to be the new emperor or empress.
This one thought she'd be a shoo-in if she could defeat the Fantastic Four, but that turned out to be not as easy as she had thought. She is also in contention with another group of Skrulls on a nearby orbiting power station (coincidentally the ones the Avengers are fighting) who are threatening to set off a "hyper-wave bomb." The FF arrive and, hearing fighting on the other side of the bulkhead, She-Hulk breaks through. When the Avengers see the FF, Starfox (and perhaps others) immediately assumes they are Skrulls in disguise, but Captain America and Reed Richards ask each other a few brief, pointed questions, confirming each group's identity. (That's the way these "team-ups" should always be handled.) Even working together, they can't keep the bomb (whose purpose, they learn, is to stabilize the deviant genetic code of all Skrulls) from exploding. It goes off, and all Skrulls, everywhere, are stuck in whatever shape they were in at the time.
I know I did a lot of simple plot summary today, but that should change tomorrow with "Like a Phoenix!"
Pearla, of course, is from the Doom/Microverse story in Fantastic Four #16. This was probably the first time her microverse was identified with the one in #75-#77 and The Micronauts.
Yes. She was Princess Pearla back in #16.
"Every partings gives a foretaste of death, every coming together again a foretaste of the resurrection."
-A. Schopenhaur (1788-1860) - "studies in Pessimism:
A PERSONAL ASIDE: That is an appropriate quotation for me today because Tracy is coming home after two weeks away. Yay!
I may not have read the entire run of John Byrne's Fantastic Four for 20+ years, but this issue is an exception. A portion of Avengers #263 carries over into FF #286, but it's really not necessary to have read that story first. From the FF's point of view, this issues picks up (more or less) directly from the end of FF Annual #19 (which is another reason to skip Avengers Annual #14). FF #286 is (arguably) the most important single issue of Byrne's run. It is certainly my favorite (although Byrne himself has named "Hero" (#285) as his best.
Denied permission to land at JFK, the Fantastic Four divert to LGA. When they return to Avengers Mansion, they discover that the Avengers have already returned from outer space. (No surprise there; Reed made several stops and detours to observe cosmological phenomena along the way.) Captain America and Hercules are at the mansion, while the Wasp supervises a clean-up operation at JFK. Cap fills them in on Avengers #263.
In pursuit of a private jet which crashed into Jamaica Bay, a mysterious opaque pod was discovered on the bottom of the bay. A woman is revealed to be inside it, and that woman is Jean Grey. She emerges disoriented and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She doesn't remember anything beyond the events of one particular Christmas Eve some time ago (X-Men #98). The heroes cannot contact the X-Men because they have been consorting with a known criminal, Magneto. They decide to take her to see her parents instead. they are not at home, but inside they find the holempathic matrix crystal which was given to them after their daughter's supposed death. She touches it and her memories are restored!
By the time this issue was published (1985), Jean Grey has been presumed dead for five years (real time), since X-Men #137 (1980). I hadn't been reading X-Men at the time, and I can't even remember how or when I found out about "The Death of Phoenix." In any case, it didn't make much of an impression on me, but X-M #137 did seem like forever ago at the time of FF #286. It's hard for me to believe it had only been five years at this far remove. I still look back on, say, DC's Flashpoint as if it were yesterday, and that was 2014. But, once again, I digress.
The beauty of FF #286 is that so many different storyline intersect at this point: the Fantastic Four's, the Avengers', the X-Men's. X-Factor's, even the Defenders'. That's what makes for a milestone story... one of the factors, anyway, if done right, which FF #286 certainly was.
It turns out that the "Phoenix" who died (or should I say "which died") in X-M #137 wasn't Jean Grey at all, but rather an alien entity who/which had replaced Jean Grey between X-Men #100 and #101. Brilliant! the alien had convinced herself/itself that she/it actually was Jean Grey. and the crystal restored not only Jean Grey's memories of X-Men #99-10, but the Phoenix entity's memories of X-Men #101-137 as well. You'd be surprised how well FF #286 reads immediately following X-Men #100, especially is you insert the back-up feature from Classic X-Men #8 between. One of my favorite reads is Giant-Size X-Men #1 through X-Men #100, Classic X-Men #8 (back-up), Fantastic Four #286, X-Factor #1 (or MMW X-Men v1 followed by Marvel Premiere Classic v25).
Just because the current team of X-Men are persona non grata doesn't mean Marvel Girl's former teammates from the original X-Men are, and three of them are currently with the (soon-to-be-defunct) New Defenders, headquartered at Warren Worthington's "aerie" in New Mexico. At the end of FF #286, Mr. Fantastic makes a mysterious phone call, but if you read only the FF omnibus or the MPC edition, you won't get that piece of the story. Doesn't really matter; it's not integral. John Byrne handed the perfect set-up to Bob Layton, but he (and others) screwed it up. Marvel was not prepared to handle a truly adult relationship (in the non-salacious sense of the term), except for Johnny and Alicia's, also by Byrne, also which Marvel later screwed up.
I should also mention that Terry Austin guest-inked #286, an appropriate choice given the circumstances.
UP NEXT: Sue gets a new hairstyle!
"I still couldn't wrap my head around Johnny and Alicia as a 'legit' couple."
The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that it was Ben and Alicia who were never a "legit" couple. As Johnny put it in #276, "Most of the world seems to think her full name is 'Alicia Masters the Thing's girlfriend." Ben spent half of the time worrying that Alicia was going to dump him because he was a monster, and the other half worrying that she'd dump him if he ever turned human again. That's not real; that's "comic book."
There is nothing in Johnny and Alicia's relationship, on the other hand, that doesn't strike me as the way real, living, breathing human beings actually behave.
"But the point is is that Ben hurt her, made her feel unimportant and she picked the one guy that would hurt Ben the most as her paramour."
That's not the way it happened.
Tracy's taking a nap after her long drive, so I'll read and post until she wakes up.
"Self is the only prison that can ever bind the soul."
-Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) - "The Prisoner and the Angel"
This issue is inked by Joe Sinnott.
As Reed Richards finally sets about the task of determining how it is Dr. Doom was in the Secret Wars after he was dead, Janet Van Dyne takes Sue and Jen to her hairdresser, the personal stylist ot eh wife of the French Ambassador on Embassy Row. Suddenly, the Latverian Embassy across the street is attacked by someone wearing the costume of the Invincible Man.
The man claims that Dr. Doom is holding his wife and daughter hostage, and sure enough, Dr. Doom is seen standing at a second story window. She-Hulk says that international law doesn't apply in a hostage situation, and the three women rush to attack the embassy. (I'm not sure that hoe diplomatic immunity works, but she's the lawyer.)
Meanwhile, Peggy McArthur, the wife of the "rude man" from #260, rushes into her neighbor Sarah's house and says that her husband, Norm, has been holding her a virtual prisoner since he came back from grocery shopping a few months ago. He has been acting unusual all that time, speaking with an accent and working on electronics in the basement. He just left wearing a costume of some sort, and she took that opportunity to get away. The she sees the "Invincible Man" on television and says that that's Norm!
Back at the Latverian Embassy, Sue has confronted the "Dr. Doom" she saw at the window, a robot, and blew it apart from within with one of her force fields. Then "Norm" attacks her from behind, but she was prepared. While all this has been going on, Peggy and sarah have made there way to the embassy and have followed Sue and the others inside. Peggy knocks Sue over the head with a large vase, but this time she wasn't prepared and falls to the floor unconscious. She removes "Norm's" hood to revela that he's wearing a Dr. Doom mask underneath it. Doom tells Peggy about the mind transferral technique he learned from the Ovoids and what really happened to her husband. He uses the new electronic signal device Reed has installed in their uniforms to summon the rest of the team.
Johnny is on a carriage ride in Central Park with Alicia and is about to pop the question a second time, and is interrupted a second time.
Tracy's awake now.
"You re Eternity's hostage, a captive of time."
-Bosis Psaternak (1890-1960) - "Night"
The Human torch arrives at the Latverian Embassy in answer to the distress call, fights a passel of guard-bots, and finds Sarah who recaps the previous issue. Mr. Fantastic arrives at the same time the Torch finds she-Hulk. Norm/Doom appears and defeats them. They awaken in cages, each specifically designed to counter the power of the one imprisoned within.
Norm/Doom relates his story. It is beyond science to reassemble the atoms of his body from sub-atomic dust, so he turns to sorcery to summon "the greatest power in the universe." that turns out to be the Beyonder, but the Beyonder doesn't recognize Norm/Doom at all. Reed recaps Secret Wars and urges the Beyonder to look beyond (no pun intended) the body of Norm/Doom. The Beyonder now remembers, but Norm/Doom does not.
The Beyonder admits that he took Doom from a near-future point in the timeline because his body could not be found circa SW #1. Reed convinces the Beyonder that if the loop is not closed, it will result in trans-temporal shock which will destroy time itself. The Beyonder restores Doom's body and switches Norm and doom's minds. then he wipes Doom's recent memories and sends him off to fight in the Secret Wars. Reed Rushes everyone out of the Latverian Embassy just before the loop closes and Doom's post-SW self appears.
Joe Sinnott inks again, but Al Gordon returns next issue.
"Quid nunc caelum roat?"
(What if the sky were to fall?")
-Terrence (c. 190-159 B.C.) - "HerotoraTimoroum Enos"
The FF are being given a tour of their new HQ, still under construction, starting at the lowest sub-level, 15 stories down. No sooner do they arrive than they are called away by a summons from SHIELD. As soon as they are gone, a minor villain known as the Basilisk breaks through the sub-basement wall, having been trapped far underground by Spider-Man and the Thing back in Marvel Team-Up #47. He makes his way to the surface when the same assassin we saw in Secret Wars II #2 steps out and kills him, shouting, "Justice is Served!"
I said I'd deal with this assassin, Scourge, next time he popped up so I guess I've got to. Throughout the '70s, writers liked to create their own villains, many of them lame. Editor Mark Gruenwald encouraged his writers, rather than populating the MU with lame villains, to use established villains of pedigree. But that was not enough. He also wanted to clear out the chaff and make a story out of it, thus Scourge was born. For months leading up to the resolution of the storyline in Captain America, Scourge appeared in various titles for a page or two, snuffing out minor villains. (In the collected edition, all of the single- or two-page sequences were collected, just as the "abduction" sequences across various titles were collected in the Secret Wars collection.) And that's all need be said about Scourge.
Aboard the SHILED space station, Nicj Fury reveals that the explosion of the Baxter Building opened up the portal to the Negative Zone. the Fantastic Four plus Nick Fury take a shuttle craft for a closer investigation. To investigate closer still, Reed dons a SHIELD space suit and goes EVA. He is soon grabbed by a tractor beam and drawn into the rift.
From inside the rift, we learn that is is actually Blastarr who is holding the rift open in an effort to lure the FF into it. He is in possession of Annihilus' Cosmic Control Rod, and also is keeping a mysterious prisoner aboard his ship. Because Blastarr's tractor beam bypassed the distortion area, Reed Richards is still composed of matter rather than anti-matter. Sue engages the shuttle's photon drive to rescue her husband. They all do pass through the distortion area and are converted to anti-matter.
After a fight and close to defeat, Blastarr pulls the ol' Br'er Rabbit/briar patch routine and begs the FF not to toss the Cosmic Control Rod into the atomic disintigrator. Sue doesn't fall for the obvious ploy, but Johnny does. The "atomic disintigrator" is actually the cell of Blastarr's mystery prisoner, but after he has the device he is a prisoner no longer. Surprisingly (or maybe not), it is Annihilus. When Annie was destroyed back in #256 I said that he was dead AFAIAC. I knew he was later resurrected, but to be honest I had completely forgotten that it was Byrne himself who brought him back. I'm looking forward to next issue to refresh my memory as to how it happened.
Back in normal space, the SHIELD space station is being slowly but inexorably drawn into the rift. It is too large to pass through the distortion area, however, and they have five hours to avoid destruction.
(This issue's cover gives us a good look at the hairstyle Sue will be wearing for the rest of Byrne's run.)
Blastarr quickly learns that "The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend" as Annihilus turns on him. Reed recaps Annie's flight into the explosive belt but gives no explanation as to how he survived (which is probably why I still think of him as dying in #256). Annihilus attacks Blastarr's armada, and they hit back... hard. Blastarr's flagship is falling apart (do I need to say "literally"?). Annihilus flies off toward the distortion area, and Reed Richards, freed from his containment field by the ship falling apart, follows.
Apparently his intention is to engage with Annihilus physically, causing a matter/anti-matter explosion which would destroy them both. Sue stops him with a force field, be he convinces her that it's the only way. He says he doesn't plan to commit suicide, and that he hopes to seal off the Negative Zome for all time. His teammates and Nick Fury hightail it through the portal just in time to witness a large explosion behind them. They perform a cursory search for Reed, without much hope of finding him alive. On their way back to Earth, they discover they are about to land in the New York of 1936!
This issue's quotation comes at the end:
"The time is out of joint;
O cursed spite,
That ever I was born
to set it right."
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) - Hamlet, act 1, scene 5
Jeff of Earth-J said:
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.
I remember when Kirby was doing this on covers and interiors. I wasn't a big fan of it.