Written by Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan, Pencils by Paul Ryan, Inks by Dan Bulanadi
PREVIOUSLY ON FANTASTIC FOUR: Imposter Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man escaped the assembled heroes after destroying the top floor of Four Freedom's Plaza. While the heroes planned their next move, Human Torch fought doppelgangers of the X-Men. Finally, with the aid of Agatha Harkness, Dr. Druid and the Scarlet Witch, the heroes were able to disappear into another dimension. I'm not sure where this all fits into Infinity War continuity, so I'm just reviewing this particular issue.
We begin with an epic battle on a rocky alien surface, as Sue Storm uses an invisible mallet to whomp Gamora, a member of Warlock's Infinity Watch. Sue thinks that this was all a trap, and wonders if Warlock and company have been corrupted by the Magus, or if they're the cause of everything.
The next page is a pretty bad-ass double-paged spread that features dozens of heroes flying around zapping one another with energy blasts. DeFalco writes bad Strong Guy dialogue, as professor Strong Guy says "I find your ability to teleport most annoying, Pip!", apparently forgetting that Strong Guy uses slang and is literally named "Guido." Not to pick on the dialogue too much more, but everyone uses formal code names awkwardly: "Their assault seems unorganized and undisciplined, Captain America..." -Cyclops
|Did Galactus's ship always look that much like the Death Star?|
As the assembled heroes corner Drax, Thanos, and Warlock, Magus watches on a monitor, and notes that business is about to pick up. And moments later, Galactus's ship shows up. Galactus, along with Dr. Strange, Frankie Raye (Nova #2), and Silver Surfer are in Galactus's ship, as it sucks up everyone off the surface in a huge tractor beam.
Meanwhile, on earth, Alicia Masters fixes coffee for the Puppet Master, who debates whether he should tell his step-daughter about the duplicates and about Ben's relationship with Sharon Ventura. Just as he decides to tell her, he is suddenly frozen. We get quick cuts across the earth, as humans are frozen mid-sentence (including one that resembles John Byrne). Aron, The rogue Watcher, however, remains unfrozen, and, in typical Watcher fashion, decides maybe he should get involved.
|Sue merges with Malice's awful fashion sense.|
Back on the spaceship, Silver Surfer asks Galactus to free the heroes (and Thanos) from stasis, so that they can learn what's going on, but Galactus says he has a faster way: a non-consensual cerebral scan that only carries a slight chance of brain damage. We cut to inside Sue's head, as she's attacked by Malice, a psychic representation that has Sue Storm's face in an S&M outfit. Malice says she might be caused by the brain-scanner, or she might have been in Sue's subconscious all along (Sue was originally possessed by Malice way back in Fantastic Four #280, which the editor does not note). The two Sue's fight, and the good Sue is able to defeat her evil rival. But, recognizing that desperate times call for desperate measures, Sue volunteers to merge with the Malice entity. Johnny wakes her up, and Sue says she's "never felt better" with a glint in her eye.
|Not okay, Human Torch.|
Human Torch joins up with the other heroes, as Thing recounts what's going on: Galactus is going to make some cosmic appeal to some abstract entities to get the Infinity Gauntlet working again. All of a sudden, a portal opens, and Magus grabs Adam Warlock and disappears. Thing tries to save him, but he collides with Thanos and the portal closes, leading Thing to question Thanos's loyalties.
Meanwhile, in another spaceship, we reveal that Lyja, the Skrull who impersonated Alicia Masters and married Johnny Storm, is actually alive. Devos, a masked alien, and Paibok the Power Skrull alter Lyja's genetic structure as part of some sinister plan.
|"Put the X-Men front and center, and if there's room, stick the main characters somewhere in the back." -Marvel editorial|
Review: This is the best issue for Paul Ryan's art, as he draws dozens of heroes in huge splash pages that look great. Maybe it's the outer space background, but his art reminds me of the old Marvel Trading Cards, Series 3. I especially like the reveal of Galactus's ship, as Ryan shows the sheer scale with a super wide shot. Ryan's not a big name, and while he's certainly not as dependent on flashiness, his anatomy is very good and he's a solid storyteller. It's kind of a shame that this FF run is his most successful work. One minor artistic gripe: The Thing looks off-model a few time, as in one panel his jaw appears to have unhinged.
As for the story, I'm glad this is the penultimate chapter, because I'm getting burned out on this crossover already. It does have a big sense of scale, but I don't like the way the story has forced the majority of heroes to just sort of go around getting in punch-ups with doppelgangers ad nauseum. A good crossover should pick several heroes and give them things to do that further the overall plot, not just have a superhero army standing around waiting for a fight (the all-time best 90's example of this is Age of Apocalypse: Nightcrawler, Gambit, and others are each given specific missions that further the heroes's goals without just leaving the X-Men to stand around waiting for a fight). We also get the sense that other things are happening in the middle of this book, but without any editorial notes. Galactus goes off-panel to go chit-chat with cosmic entities, then we get some dialogue from Captain America saying it was a success a few pages later. I assume that's an entire Silver Surfer comic, but who knows? I don't mind not getting the complete story in FF, especially when "Infinity War" is on sale monthly, but they could at least point me in the right direction. All this focus on the crossover also means less time for subplots: we do get a page with Paibok and Lyja, and a page with Puppet Master and Alicia, and a page with the rogue Watcher and the regular Watcher (can I just say, for the record, that I hate the rogue Watcher and get confused every time he appears?), but the entire rest of the story is focused on the crossover, with very little focus for Johnny or Ben, and Reed is still MIA, and has been for the entire storyline.
The "Sue joins forces with Malice" plot point is interesting, and I actually kind of like it. It's not just her id taking over, or a twist on the Phoenix's "too much power turns you evil," it's Sue volunteering to let an evil power join up with her because that power might come in handy. We've already seen Sue toughen up in the past few issues, and this is the next logical step: to merge with some weird mental construct. The whole "tougher and darker" is a 90's trope, but it actually makes sense with Fantastic Four, which at worst turns into a "Reed knows best" nuclear family story. Honestly I kind of like the idea of the FF trying to figure out what to do without Reed, although I wish we got some similar character growth with Johnny and Ben.Then again, maybe it's just an excuse to draw Sue in a weird outfit that shows off skin, considering the number of times Psylocke gets drawn front and center, and Johnny's super creepy objectification of her.
90's Fashion: while technically a product of John Byrne in the 80's, we get the return of the Malice outfit. Did John Byrne think the S&M influence was too subtle with Dark Phoenix? Malice wears a spiked leather hood and a collar, just so there's no room for error. Alicia has coffee with her step-father wearing jean shorts that look suspiciously like cut-offs.
General Miscellany: Because it's the era of paid call-in games, here's Ghost Rider's "Road to Vengeance" phone game, complete with all your favorite Ghost Rider villains!(?)