Friday, August 16, 2013

Review: Fantastic Four #369

Fantastic Four #369, "With Malice Towards All!", Cover Date October 1992
Written by Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan, Pencils by Paul Ryan, Inks by Dan Bulanadi

Fantastic Four 369 Malice

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.
FF 369 Paul Ryan art splash page

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

FF Fantastic Four 369 Galactus Ship
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.

FF Fantastic Four 369 Malice Invisible Woman
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.

Fantastic Four 369 Human Torch Psylocke objectification
Not okay, Human Torch.
Back on earth, Aron, the rogue Watcher kidnaps Alicia Masters, as the regular Watcher... watches from his base. DeFalco needs to stop writing "character watches a monitor" scenes three times an issue. Human Torch flies around Galactus's space ship, where he encounters Psylocke, in all her ninja-wedgie glory. He literally thinks "what a living doll" like a huge creeper, but decides not to say hello, as he's still grieving for his recently dead Skrull wife. Psylocke, being a psychic, thinks that Human Torch should've "taken a shot," and has no problem with his gross thoughts. To be fair, she probably reads thoughts like this all day, every day.

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.

Fantastic Four 369 X-Men battle
"Put the X-Men front and center, and if there's room, stick the main characters somewhere in the back." -Marvel editorial
Back on Galactus's ship, Captain America laments that Galactus did re-charge the gauntlet, which is tough luck, since Warlock had it, and now Magus is presumably in control of infinite power. Sue recommends a full frontal assault (Malice must have taken over her brain already!), which the Hulk questions. Sue responds by blasting him through one of the ship's walls. Hulk says he's willing to cut Sue some slack, even as Ben and Johnny worry about Sue's new aggressive streak. The heroes go through a dimensional gateway and encounter an army of doppelgangers waiting, leading to another huge splash page brawl. Magus laughs off the heroes attacks, however, as he holds up a re-charged Infinity Gauntlet. TO BE CONCLUDED!

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!(?)

Fantastic Four 369 Ghost Rider game


  1. I love the Infinity War. I prefer it over Gauntlet, in fact. Crusade is kind of a let-down, though.

    The nice thing about War is that the entire story is presented in the 6-issue mini-series. You can read that and that alone and not feel like you missed anything. Gauntlet is the same. Unfortunately, this makes the crossovers seem extraneous and unnecessary -- especially the ones not written by Jim Starlin.

    " I assume that's an entire Silver Surfer comic, but who knows?"

    *Galactus's mission is carried out in INFINITY WAR #5, and expanded upon in WARLOCK AND THE INFINITY WATCH #9. - Mirthful Matt

  2. as the regular Watcher... watches from his base.

    Sure. NOW he decides not to interfere and just watch.

    He literally thinks "what a living doll" like a huge creeper

    "Living doll" is such a 60s term, it makes me wonder if Johnny was intentionally being written as one of those guys who gets older but never lets go of the slang from his youth (even though, per Marvel Time, even at this point he was never a kid in the 60s). I mean, I guess its better than some of the generic 90s tough guy banter, but every once in awhile I'll read an FF story from this era and it seems like they lifted Johnny right out of 1966.

    Maybe it's the outer space background, but his art reminds me of the old Marvel Trading Cards, Series 3

    Huh. You're right, there definitely is something Paul Ryan-esque about the art in that series. I never noticed that before. I wonder if he contributed to some of the cards?