Written by Tom DeFalco, Art by Paul Ryan, Inks by Ivy & Kryssing
As an admitted former Marvel Zombie who bought both an actual copy and an audiobook version of Marvel: The Untold Story (which I recommend to anyone who has any interest in Marvel or comic book history), I have complicated feelings about Tom DeFalco. On the one hand, he was the Editor in Chief during one of the worst periods in Marvel history, when the "tail started wagging the dog" as the marketing department took over and started selling gimmicks to an America bamboozled into thinking comics would all be worth something if you hoarded enough of them. His actual writing was noted for being extremely backwards-looking, with a clear Stan Lee influence in his dialogue and the dense melodrama he'd throw into his stories. I know I should hate him for that, but it turns out I kind of like "back to basics" approaches (look out for my review of Kurt Busiek's Untold Tales of Spider-Man). As a kid, I also loved frequent collaborator Ron Frenz's art, which seemed to be cleaner, prettier versions of Ditko and Kirby. I really enjoyed the first 50 or so issues of Spider-Girl, even if they're pretty much a 90's/early 2000's update of Lee/Ditko/Romita era Spider-Man, almost villain-for-villain. But enough preamble: let's get to the ACTION!
|I want to know what all these heroes are saying. Especially Hercules.|
We begin our story as Reed Richards communicates with the X-Men, inviting them to a meeting at the FF headquarters. Sue questions what's so important that Reed hasn't shared it with his own teammates, but Reed says there's no time to explain, because it's "imperative" that he invite Alpha Flight and the New Warriors. Sue storms off (no pun intended), saying how Reed has been "rude" and "cold," and not at all himself. She suddenly remembers an encephalizer went off last issue, and that Reed claimed it was just a malfunction. Sue thinks that Reed always makes failsafes, but this time she beat him to the punch, getting Tony Stark to create a failsafe based on "just a feeling." This marriage may have some trust issues. Sue watches something on her failsafe, before thinking "The Fantastic Four-- the entire universe-- could be in grave jeopardy!" I think she may be exaggerating just a tad, personally.
Meanwhile The Thing and Sharon Ventura have coffee at a diner. Sharon recently returned, in human form, after being "cured" of her She-Thing persona by Dr. Doom. Even though the two had been dating for some time, Ben doesn't trust her apparent connection to Doom, and also is unwilling to admit that he might have feelings for Alicia, who had recently returned to earth after being impersonated by a Skrull for at least a year. Their awkward coffee is interrupted when Ben sees the Puppet Master, Alicia's uncle, watching in a trenchcoat. As Ben goes to confront the Puppet Master, Sharon pulls out a walkie-talkie and says to inform "the master" that she's made contact.
|Sure Ben, just throw your cigar anywhere.|
Ben confronts Puppet Master, but is surprised to learn he doesn't have any scheme, he just loves Alicia, and feels that Ben is somehow betraying her by having coffee with his somewhat estranged and possibly evil girlfriend. Suddenly, an evil doppleganger of The Thing materializes, sporting his recently lost "scaly" look, and starts a brawl with the Thing. During the course of the fight, the doppleganger drops the line "I know you are not as ignorant as you attempt to appear! You hold many advanced degrees in engineering!" I always like when the Thing is presented as being a smart guy who plays dumb, but "many"? That's pushing it. Ben insists he mainly majored in "lunch, dames, and football." Awesome.
|Everybody knows engineering degrees are for jocks and slackers.|
Back at FF headquarters, Sue programs a giant robot to protect Franklin, but as she leaves the room, his eyes glow ominously. Sue then goes to check on some monitors, wondering what evil Reed is planning, when she notices an extremely off-model Wolverine sneaking around, wearing a trenchcoat over his costume. Where do all these heroes get these trenchcoats?
The Thing and doppleganger Thing continue their brawl, destroying a construction site as evil Thing slams good Thing through 20 feet of earth and onto a subway platform. Puppet Master thinks that even though he never liked Ben Grimm, this new guy is much worse. He pulls out the clay sculpture of Thing he carries around at all times, and starts sculpting it to look like the doppleganger. The evil Thing lets slip that he intends to impersonate Ben and kill everyone he cares about, especially a certain blind girl. Puppet Master throws the clay sculpture into the third rail, and a moment later, Ben slugs the evil Thing into the third rail, causing him to explode out of existence.
|Actually a pretty good burn!|
Sue meets with the rest of the team and confirms that they aren't, in fact, evil, before going over to meet with the other heroes. We can all rest easy, because the New Warriors are there, along with the X-Men, X-Factor, and the Avengers. But where's Alpha Flight?! Evil Reed starts giving a speech about imposters, but Wolverine cuts him off, saying that Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic are the imposters! This causes everyone to fight everyone for no apparent reason, as U.S. Agent will apparently use any excuse to punch Gambit in the mouth. Reed pleads for Susan to help him, but she reveals she knows he's evil. Undaunted, he stretches his way into activating a hidden "gamma bomb," announcing that he's won. He gives Susan a final insult, and then we end with the top floors of the FF building dramatically exploding, followed by a "to be continued?!" Nope, I'm pretty sure every hero was killed in that blast (except the Hulk), so half of Marvel's catalog will be immediately canceled.
This issue is an "Infinity War" crossover, according to the cover, and ends up being at least somewhat important, since it gets all the heroes together. Infinity War is a pretty dumb crossover, and it caused virtually every tie-in to have a "hero fights his double" story. It's probably still better than "Secret Invasion," though. I like how the issue makes Sue out to be competent, although it's a mystery how Reed acting coldly is somehow the giveaway that something's wrong. Ben's battle with his double is a well-executed, old-school fight scene. It's not re-inventing the wheel to have the villain get KO'ed by a third rail, but I enjoyed it. It's also pretty cool to see dozens of heroes in cameo appearances, as Darkhawk, U.S. Agent, and Silhouette of the New Warriors are just a few of the minor characters that pop up in the final scene. We also keep a few sub-plots running, as Thing tries to sort things out with Sharon (who is obviously now in Doom's pocket), and tries to sort out his feelings for Alicia. I love evil Reed's final put-down of Sue, too. It really hearkens back to Reed's Silver-Age misogyny.
Paul Ryan's art is simple and generally pretty good, although he seems to have some issues with faces this month (especially Wolverine, who is turning into a caveman). I like his action layouts, but this issue looks a bit rushed. He does a solid job drawing big crowd scenes at the end, though.
All in all, this is a good issue. It definitely makes me want to read the follow-up, as I'd still want to see how the team (and everyone else) got out of this jam. This is how you do a tie-in book: focus on your characters, tell a good story that only marginally furthers the big crossover, and throw in plenty of fun cameos.
The last coolometer! For those that don't remember/never heard of this, every month in Marvel's hype page they'd have a "coolometer" that would rank random pop culture from the late 80's/early 90's to Marvel characters on a coolness scale. It was pretty much the best! My favorite part of this month's coolometer? "Cool World" being almost as uncool as coolometers and slightly less cool than Calvin Coolidge. Bring back the coolometer, Marvel!
Look I'm not saying we have to have nostalgia for everything, but this game was legit awesome.