Fantastic Four #237-238
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #237, Fantastic Four #238
Issue #237 starts with the FF dealing with the fact that they've got a comatose Dr. Doom on their hands.
Reed puts him in a stasis field until he can contact the Latverian Embassy to see what they want to do with Doom. It's nice to see things like this addressed... at first i thought Reed was just going to lock Doom up somewhere and leave him there, which obviously wouldn't be legal.
The rest of this story is devoted to Reed and Sue encountering an alien with hypnotizing eyes that has fallen in with a gang of thieves.
Reed deduces that it's all a misunderstanding. He reveals that the FF have a Universal Translator and he heads back to the Baxter Building to get it. A footnote says "For those who've wondered why so many alien races seemed to speak English." And it turns out that the alien is indeed disoriented - drunk on the Earth's atmosphere - and not a criminal.
He helps her and her crew mates retrieve the components they need to repair their spaceship and sees them off.
There's also a neat bit about how the aliens are a race of clones, and so they all look alike. When the alien first left her ship to wander among the humans, they thought she would blend right in on the grounds that humans all look different than each other.
It's worth noting that while there are some subplots going on, mostly for Johnny, the majority of Byrne's early issues have not been standard FF cosmic super-hero stuff. There's been quite a few stories that would have worked fairly well as early issues of Strange Tales with a few minor changes. It's an interesting approach that works very well for the FF, but we'll soon see Byrne grow into more epic stories in the coming years.
Meanwhile, Frankie Raye reveals her newly found secret to Johnny, but we don't find out what it is until the next issue. While Frankie appeared to be stripping for Johnny in #237...
...we find out in #238 that she's showing him a strange costume that she's wearing.
The costume disappears when she's wearing other clothes, but when she removes her clothes, it appears. She's also realized she has some repressed memories, and Johnny helps her push them into consciousness. It turns out she's the step-daughter of Dr. Phineas Horton, creator of the original Human Torch.
When she was 14, she got covered in some of his old chemicals. Horton subsequently hypnotized her, gave her the disappearing costume, abandoned her, and started sending her weekly checks for $1,000. Now that the memories have been returning to her (in part due to her association with the Human Torch), she finds she's able to Flame On, just like Johnny.
For what it's worth, it's been 6 years since the original incident, putting her at 20 years old, which is then probably what Johnny is meant to be at this point as well.
Frankie and Johnny fly all over the skies over New York...
...with Johnny trying to caution her as she nearly flies into billboards and flies too high where there isn't enough oxygen (remember this scene, friends).
He eventually convinces her to head to Mr. Fantastic for some tests. There, we learn that, *ahem*:
Frankie's abilities correspond to Johnny's as would the biological differences between a normal man and woman. Johnny's flame burns hotter, and he is capable of greater speeds, but Frankie's flame has a more precise temperature range, and will burn considerably longer.
Reed then suggest that they'll soon be changing their team name to the Fantastic Five.
We also meet Frankie Raye's roommate, Juliette D'Angelo, aka Julie Angel, in this arc.
Meanwhile, people in the small town of Benson, Arizona are being frightened to death. The local doctors, a husband and wife team that are apparently old acquaintances of someone on the FF, decide it's time to call the super team (Hint: the woman's name is "Penny"). That's the set-up for next issue.
But before that, there is a back-up story with guest inks by Terry Austin. In it, Reed rebuilds the HERBIE robot so that it can be a babysitter for Franklin.
It's got a new, more comical face, and it's now named HUBERT, which we'll eventually learn stands for "Hyper-Ultronic Brain Employing Randomized Tracings". Franklin seems to like it but the Thing isn't happy about seeing HERBIE/HUBERT back in action.
Mr. Fantastic tries to cheer Ben up by springing the fact that he's got a new cure attempt cooked up for him. The Thing and Alicia seemed to be so happy, and frankly dumping another cure attempt on Ben seems heartless. But Reed is 100% sure that this one will work. Before hopping onto the device, Ben asks Alicia if she's sure she loves him as him, and not just the Thing. He detects a hesitation when she responds that he's crazy (it's worth remembering that she loved him and was even married to him when he was in human form in Liddleville).
And when the device is activated it... almost works. Instead of curing Ben, it reverts him to his earliest Silver Age form... more of a lumpy hide than the modern scaly rocks.
I covered this a little bit with Marvel Two-In-One #50, but it's very much a fanboy-ish thing to come up with an in-story explanation for the Thing's change in appearance since the early days. The real "explanation" is that Kirby's art evolved over time. Nonetheless, it's an interesting idea and John Byrne's a good enough writer and artist to pull it off.
Overall, a great bunch of stories.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: This starts soon after the events of Fantastic Four #236. The Fantastic Four are on the roof of the Baxter Building with Dr. Doom's comatose body on the first page. So the FF shouldn't appear anywhere between #236 and #237, with the following exception: I'm placing the FF's appearance in Avengers #216 concurrent with these issues (before the back-up in Fantastic Four #238) . Because of the Johnny Storm/Frankie Ray sub-plot, #237 continues directly in #238. We'll also have to be careful of Thing appearances from this point out... anything using his modern look will have to take place before this issue or after Fantastic Four #245 when the change is reversed.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (8): show
Julie Angel looks a lot like Adrienne Barbeau.
According to John Byrne, Len Wein told him that Frankie Raye was supposed to be Toro's daughter.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | December 1, 2012 9:38 PM
This is one of those rare stories where the art drives the plot and not the other way around. Another example of this is is by George Perez and how his drawing of Raven evolved into a more thinner 'gaunt' look. They explained it by her increasing corruption by her father Trigon.
Posted by: Marty D | March 25, 2014 12:25 PM
"Horton subsequently hypnotized her, gave her the disappearing costume, abandoned her, and started sending her weekly checks for $1,000."
Posted by: clyde | February 25, 2015 10:06 PM
For me, the Byrne art is just a (massive) added bonus. It's really the way he gets the team - not just the stories, but the way they interact - that really makes the Byrne run on FF so, dare I say it, fantastic.
Posted by: Erik Beck | May 2, 2015 6:06 PM
Yup. Byrne was pretty much untouchable during this run.
Posted by: JP | May 13, 2015 2:12 AM
That's interesting, JP. I've added more of the flashback, and it might not be quite the same as you remembered it. But even if the similarity was unintentional, it's an interesting connection.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 13, 2015 7:39 AM
Yeah, I figured I was probably fuzzy on a few of the minor details (does the flashback really just start with the panel of Horton grabbing Frankie's arm?) but what I remembered was Horton flying into a rage about this new Human Torch and frightening his daughter.
Posted by: JP | May 13, 2015 8:01 AM
I did update the first flashback scan but the original may be cached on your end, so you may want to try refreshing. The flashback starts one panel earlier and the next panel sort-of addresses the abuse angle ("...he didn't hurt me anymore").
Posted by: fnord12 | May 13, 2015 8:09 AM
Posted by: JP | May 13, 2015 8:19 AM
Byrne seems obsessed with coming up with in-story explanations for artistic quirks. When he--lamentably--retconned Spider-Man's origins (one of the few that would best remained untouched), he went out of his way to explain why Sandman and Norman Osborn had similar hairstyles. I understand that their rippled hairdos are disturbingly alike--as is Frederick Foswell's--at least when you stop to think about it. But I'd assume most comic book fans simply shrug it off as a Steve Ditko idiosyncrasy. Who needs it explained? Byrne must have, because in "Spider-Man: Genesis" (I think that's what the disgraceful series was calles) Norman Osborn and Sandman are related. Maybe it's a disturbing haircut, I'll give him that. As a matter if fact, I was first introduced to Frederick Foswell in a "What If?" story that revised Ditko's original design and simply gave him regular hair (I think it was called "What if J. Jonah Jameson adopted Spider-Man?"). So maybe Byrne is not at all alone with what would seem as some level of discomfort. But it does seem a bit too much to explain these quirks away with an unnecessary retcon. In any event, it does little damage to Byrne's top notch FF run. But in his disastrous Spider-origin run it is yet another silliness in a tragic endeavor flowing with silliness at its best and horrendous sacrilege at its worst. Very likely the nadir of his venerable oeuvre.
Posted by: The Transparent Fox | August 8, 2015 12:53 PM
Jesus Christ it's been, what? Six years since Frankie appeared and we finally get some kind of reason and origin for her. I mean it's not like she appeared super often. I don't mind Bryne making a fanboyish answer for Ben's art evolution but the Sandman Norman haircut was going too far.
Posted by: david banes | October 6, 2015 1:55 AM
The thing about that Osborn/Sandman retcon that killed me was in the SAME STORY, Byrne introduced a guy who was an exact duplicate of the Sandman... but they weren't related at all.
To be fair, the "William Baker" vs. "Flint Marko" bits of the Sandman's past weren't Byrne's doing, but it was his idea to make them two separate guys and reveal that the Sandman (Marko) had assumed the identity of Baker.
So yeah - two guys who look EXACTLY alike to the point that Marko can fool Baker's mother? No big deal. Two guys with the same HAIR? Gotta be related!
Posted by: Dan H. | October 6, 2015 9:38 AM
When Frankie Raye trips over carrying a vat of her father's chemicals here, Thomas Raye (Phineas T. Horton) hypnotises her and sends her away. Since when did Horton have hypnotic powers though? Isn't that more like what happened to the Sub-Mariner?
Posted by: Nathan Adler | April 5, 2016 6:04 PM
In addition, what was the abandoned chemical company Raye/ Horton took Frankie to, how did he find out about it and gain access, and how did he know what chemicals he would require to duplicate the process for creating a new Human Torch? How did he go from being a bio-engineer to a super-chemist suddenly capable of creating a chemical composition for flame-based powers given he turned to alcohol because the Torch was believed destroyed. That is, if he was that upset why not attempt to recreate the android then if he had worked out the composition then?
Posted by: Nathan Adler | April 5, 2016 6:06 PM
My theory has always been that Frankie was Horton's attempt to create a more successful second Torch, a synthezoid advanced enough that she can compeltely pass for human; she's not hypnotized, but programmed.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | April 5, 2016 8:48 PM
@Omar: Interesting given there was a precedent for Galactus taking on androids as heralds.
But my main question is when did Horton work out what chemicals enabled flame-based powers, or did he just duplicate the process he did with Torch so when she was exposed to oxygen she combusted?
Posted by: Nathan Adler | April 5, 2016 8:59 PM
The title "The More Things Change..." is from an epigram (originally French), "The more things change, the more they stay the same".
Ben's evolution was referred to before MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #50 in FANTASTIC FOUR #190: "Back then, before the cosmic rays totally changed me, I looked like a big orange Gumby". I don't know if that was the first time it was acknowledged in-story.
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | April 6, 2016 12:20 AM
Ben displayed his "Lumpy" self on Reed's Image Inducer is Fantastic Four #126. The rest of the origin flashbacks displayed his current appearance in lieu of an accurate depiction.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | April 6, 2016 2:28 AM
@Nathan Horton had access to those chemicals and that warehouse because it's meant to be inferred that he packed it all up after losing control of the his creation. Those chemicals were specified as "old," and thus unstable. Horton was clearly distressed and surprised that Frankie's accident resulted in her acquiring flame based powers.
As for the hypnosis bit, I'm pretty sure comparing the hypnotizing a 14 year-old girl to the total persona suppression Namor underwent via the Serpent Crown(or "Helmet of Power" as Paul Destine/Destiny I called it) is a bit like comparing a fly swatter to a gun. A regular "mad scientist" of Horton's caliber could pull-off the conditioning of a child, but Horton could never successfully attempt such a feat against Namor, the "one, true Sub-Mariner." It took the Serpent Crown to do so.
So Horton is just a really bad step father who mutated the child he was responsible for in an industrial accident and abandoned her. That story would never play today, what with child protective services, but in the 80's? It was close enough to work.
Obviously he gave up on his plan to make more Torches. It's possible he might have been able to succeed, but considering the paranoia that led him to live under an assumed name and then mind wipe his step daughter of all memories of her, I doubt it. Byrne went on to depict him as borderline senile.
Now, if there were a reason for his paranoia it might have something to do either with the 50's anti-communist witch hunts or the Marvel Lost Generation Skrull invasion plotlines. Might be a while before Byrne ever gets back to that story.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | April 6, 2016 3:05 AM
@Brian: Why would Horton get a ward in his care to help him move his chemicals when he would be aware that they were much more dangerous than he anticipated the first time given the unanticipated outcome of his first android bursting into flame?
Byrne here is also suggesting it was whatever chemicals were in that vat that triggered the Torch's original flame abilities, so what exactly were they?
Posted by: Nathan Adler | April 6, 2016 4:34 AM
Thanks, Brian. It doesn't surprise me Roy Thomas picked up the point.
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | April 6, 2016 5:11 AM
You know what: I'm all for the idea that Frankie Raye was possibly another android and thus we have a "female Human Torch" that is similar to the original one that started Marvel through her. It feels like something that Byrne would connect the dots with. (even if it probably wasn't the intention; then again considering Byrne uses these issues to further his idea of Ben's "evolution" as something aside from Kirby's own art of him evolving in his Thing form...)
Posted by: Ataru320 | April 6, 2016 9:10 AM
@Ataru320: Yeah Frankie as another Horton android is my newly accepted belief. As for what continued to trigger the flame-based powers, flame was a technology the Skrulls continued to put to use (#2, 18, 214). So did Horton get hold of one their "chemical cylinders" (that enabled them to "flame on" in #2)? While this was much later, recall they visited Earth in the 1930s so did Horton get one of their "chemical cylinders" back then? Or was the original Professor Horton in fact a Skrull that ship left behind, and he went on to expose his android to one of these "chemical cylinders"?
Posted by: Nathan Adler | April 6, 2016 9:41 AM
@Nathan Horton comes off as a mentally unstable kook who happens to have really been "somebody" in FF#329. He's motivated by jealousy, and personal pride and a mania for secrecy. He's not going to trust anyone he does have to, so he's going to let the 14 year-old child in his care help him to keep the number of people who know his big plans down. Frankie picked up the drum before he warned her to be careful. Floor breaks, accident occurs. He's a bad step parent and only in the Marvel Universe can parental neglect gift a mistreated child with super powers.
As for what was in the drum, there's a couple of problems sorting that out. One, is that the android that became the Human Torch was never supposed to be flaming on or have any powers such as that. Horton was making an android, not a super android. An artificial human couldn't acquire super powers by accident in the same way a baseline human could.
In 1939, Horton's vat o' chemicals was probably designed to activate the android and bring Horton wealth and fame as androids sallied forth to fight WWII with conventional firearms or become cheap butlers and sexbots. Fortunately, the Marvel Cylon revolution was forestalled by the vat setting his flame-durable android on fire upon exposure to air, which the Human Torch managed to control by the end of his first appearance.
However, 40 years on, the chemical catalyst could have destabilized in a unattended chemical drum to be able interact with a human able to acquire the benign super powers that generally accompany and produce a super human origin event. Hence Frankie Raye, Human Torch.
The chemicals themselves as originally formulated, I posit, were only for activation of Horton's intended android's parameters and not as they turned out to be, for giving an artificial life-form more power than any device then extant on the planet Earth. By the time they(or possibly a component thereof) interacted with Frankie, they were volatile and chemically unstable and not likely to be of use for any repeatable experiments. Could they have been of Skrull origin? I don't know. Horton truly doesn't seem like a very good(or ethical) scientist to me, so if he got uncredited help, it's completely possible. He mutated an innocent child by accident, so he's fair game for more smearing.
As for Frankie being a Horton android, she did undergo a physical in this very issue. I'd like to think Reed Richards can tell the difference between a real human and an Horton android. Richards did point out that Johnny and Frankie's powers "correspond" like a man and a woman. The clear implication being they were compatible in every biological way since they were of the same species with the same super-human powers.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | April 6, 2016 1:44 PM
Does his count as an appearance for Prof. Horton?
Posted by: a.lloyd | July 10, 2016 12:48 PM
Horton appears in flashback only, so i don't list him.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 18, 2016 11:15 AM
Perhaps Johnny Storm's an android.
Posted by: The Small Lebowski | March 31, 2018 3:50 PM
'"Yes Sue," replies Mr. Fantastic. At some distant time in their past they apparently began breeding by fission, like amoebae. Now they are, for all intents, a race of natural clones!"'
Mr. Fantastic is full of it. If they bred like amoebae they'd be assexual, and would not have secondary sexual characteristics, appearing both male and female, as they do. So Byrne gets a D- on pseudoscience IMO. And, contrary to the gist of the Silver Age style surprise ending punchline, they really don't all look alike, because some of them look female, and some of them look male.
I don't think this is a valid measure of Alicia's feelings. After the reveal, we learn that this isn't really Alicia at all, but rather a miniature synthe-clone replica, inhabited by Alicia's partial consciousness. She didn't actually marry Ben; it can be assumed that her marriage to Ben was a false memory, overlaid over her real memories by Doom and Philip Masters. She didn't even remember that in reality she had been blind for years, so she wasn't exactly at her best, or really even responsible for her own actions. The more I think about it, the more comparable it seems to what happened to Carol Danvers during the Marcus Immortus affair.
Posted by: Holt | May 12, 2018 6:38 PM
And wasn't that one of the most disturbing stories ever written. I'll have to check out commentary for Avengers #200.
Posted by: KevinA | May 12, 2018 10:22 PM
Comments are now closed.
|SuperMegaMonkey home | Comics Chronology home|