Fantastic Four #181-184
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #181, Fantastic Four #182, Fantastic Four #183, Fantastic Four #184
You'd think if you were having deadline or creator difficulties, you'd want to keep the plots simple in the meantime, but the issues keep introducing elements that are too critical to be called subplots (Reed Richards is trapped in the Negative Zone and replaced with the Brute. And in this arc, Franklin Richards is kidnapped by Agatha Harkness. And in the next arc, while the FF are dealing with that, Klaw and the Molecule Man invade the Baxter Building), which creates a run of issues going all the way back to issue #171 and forward to FF #188 that really should be uninterrupted, except for the fact that there has to be a gap somewhere for Marvel Two-In-One (which as i've mentioned, the Index had to find, rather implausibly, in FF #176). And that's the other reason to create stories with clean breaks; it's not like it was a secret that Marvel Two-In-One was being published, and that the lack of "continuity" was the #1 complaint in the lettercols of that book.
Anyway, we begin where issue #179 ended, with Mr. Fantastic getting attacked by Annihilus in the Negative Zone.
Annihilus is missing his Cosmic Control Rod, so Reed is able to fight him off with fire. And note that he says that the bat creature he killed has "inflammable bones", which is an attempt to explain how Reed was able to keep his fire going last issue. Except that last issue, Reed's fire was going strong before he killed the bat. Oh well, it's not like it's a very good explanation anyway.
Luckily, Annihilus doesn't really want to fight. He wants Reed's help getting his Rod back.
Meanwhile, the Thing gets into a dispute with the police over who gets to keep the robot he beat last issue, and he eventually wins out and brings it back to the fake Reed Richards, who doesn't know what to do with it.
And Johnny is attempting to talk to Frankie Raye, but not having much luck.
And Agatha Harkness shows up to take Franklin, with no explanation.
Earlier, we extended the metaphor of Reed losing his "super-powers"...
...but at that point Sue was already suspicious of her "husband". In fact, everyone is suspicious of Reed, but no one can bring themselves to talk about it, so when the Thing and company show up with the broken robot, the Brute is able to send away all the hangers-on and convince Johnny and Ben to hop into the Negative Zone, and no one objects.
The good news is this means that the Thing and the Human Torch are able to help out Mr. Fantastic and Annhilus in the Negative Zone.
Meanwhile, Sue finally confronts Reed, and when he doesn't react to their son having been kidnapped, she knows he's a fake. But that just means that she has to fight the Brute. With the cover of issue #182 showing the Invisible Girl fighting the Brute alone, i guess people had expectations that she'd have a good showing, and the lettercol for issue #186 consists of three letters complaining about how poorly she was used here, including one from Kurt Busiek detailing all of the cool ways she could potentially use her powers. The one thing i really hate is how just about every villain is able to counteract her invisibility.
Like, it's her one power, dudes. Let her use it!
Anyway, she gets thrown out a window.
If something seems wrong about the panel above but you can't quite put your finger on it, it's just my tribute to the opening splash for Fantastic Four #152. Here's the real image. Sorry; i might be going stir crazy.
After rescuing the Invisible Girl, the Impossible Man gets bored and leaves the group...
...leaving Sue, Tigra, and Thundra to fight their way back through the building's defenses.
Back in the Negative Zone, Annihilus explains to Reed, Ben, and Johnny that he's lost control of his kingdom and Cosmic Control Rod to an android that was originally created by the Mad Thinker and thrown into the Negative Zone by Reed. There's an unnecessary panel that retcons a random cool looking Kirby monster from annual #6 into a re-designed version of this creature (if you were going to pick a creature from that annual, it should have been the lion dude).
In any event, the Mad Thinker, happily trotting down the street....
...decides to re-summon his android, and it bursts through the portal and attacks the Brute, thinking he was the one who summoned it. The Thinker wisely slinks away.
Reed and co. make a deal with Annihilus that they will give back the control rod if he'll give them a lift to the portal. Soon there's a big fight with all parties, and the Brute, inspired by Reed's bravery despite his current lack of powers, sacrifices himself when it comes time to return the rod to Annihilus after the android is defeated.
Recall that the first time the FF encountered this android, it was so powerful that they could not stop it - they could only throw it into the Negative Zone. Now that it's returned, in possession of the Cosmic Control Rod, the FF defeat it in a few panels. That's the definition of Diminishing Threat Syndrome. Unless you want to argue that Tigra somehow tipped the scales.
The new design for the super-powerful android isn't exactly inspiring, either.
Anyway, the next issue picks up in the aftermath of that fight. Coloring error aside, i love Thundra's expression in that panel. "Of course the strain was too much for him. He's a man. Why are you being so hysterical?"
Annoyed by the Thundra/Tigra rivalry over the Thing, though. Tigra is probably the first woman that Thundra has seen on this planet that comes close to her definition of a strong female warrior. And as the Cat, Tigra was groomed to be a feminist hero. You'd think they'd be bonding, not fighting over a man.
Earlier, Agatha Harkness and Franklin Richards were attacked.
And now that the Brute/Negative Zone story is over, Sue can finally tell her teammates that Franklin was kidnapped. Sue had been keeping it from the Thing because she was afraid he'd go off and do something rash. And she now has to convince Reed that he's useful even without his powers (acknowledging that Reed's real super-power is his brain).
When the FF approach Agatha Harkness' home on Whisper Hill, it looks run down and creepy, and it's said that its previous more cheery appearances may have been an illusion.
When the FF get to Harkness' house, they're attacked by an Eliminator robot that has a mission to wipe out everyone Agatha Harkness came into contact with, and then blow up and destroy her home.
The robot is too powerful for the FF, but Sue is able to use her invisibility power (hurray!) to convince it that it has killed them all. Once it initiates its self-destruct sequence, it's too late to stop itself even after it learns that the FF are still alive.
The above sequence seems specially designed to address the complaints about Sue's powers, although the lettercol printing those letters hadn't been published yet.
The issue ends here, with Agatha and Franklin still not found.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: This is a direct continuation of the story from issue #179. Reed Richards returns to Earth in this arc. Issue #185 takes place soon after the end of this arc.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): show
Just noticed: Agatha Harkness and the Impossible Man have the same eyebrows.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | October 5, 2013 3:16 PM
I could never figure out why a bunch of witches would hire (he said he was AN Eliminator) a cyborg zombie assassin. I can only assume the character was left over from some other plot concept.
Posted by: Andrew | September 9, 2015 9:47 PM
I think the Eliminator was always supposed to be one of the creations of the witch-folk of New Salem; after all, Vakume of the Salem's Seven looks pretty tech-y, and he's supposed to be the result of a magical transformation.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | January 15, 2016 9:30 AM
Love the Perez art.
Posted by: Mizark | July 22, 2016 4:45 AM
My favorite Fantastic Four story ever, the saga of the Brute, from #177-183. #182 was my first FF issue ever, and I always loved the Brute vs the Invisible Girl cover. I got #183 next, of course, but it wasn't until I was older when I got the rest. The Brute throwing Sue out the window at the end of #182 wowed me. Couldn't wait to see what happened next. Later, I made sure to get the Brute's first appearances in POWER OF WARLOCK #6-7 to round it out. I still wonder why no one thinks of using evil Reed/Brute in a Masters of Evil team or something. I mean, he's Reed! Evil Reed! Of course, now we have the Maker.
Not sure if anyone knew this, but the Brute popped up as a resident of Pleasant Hill in ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS #8, but it was just a one-panel appearance. I believe he also made a cameo in ASSAULT ON PLEASANT HILL OMEGA #1, too, not just on the cover.
Posted by: Andrew Burke | August 25, 2016 9:27 AM
What makes a book the flagship of Marvel? It seems to me that by this point in time Fantastic Four had no claim at that title, which would go instead to either Avengers or Amazing Spider-Man.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | December 24, 2016 1:09 PM
#184 is the first issue written by only Len Wein. He gets rid of Tigra and Thundra quickly, making their exit on page 4 of that issue, never to return during his run.
Found this interview with Len on an FF fan site. In one question he was asked about Tigra and Thundra's quick exits. Len responded that neither were really his favorites but he could have written the Impossible Man forever.
Posted by: Rick | March 1, 2017 3:41 PM
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