Fantastic Four #276-277
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #276, Fantastic Four #277
You always see the Thing working out in older FF comics; i always wondered if he really needed to work out since his strength was derived from cosmic rays. But we see here that the She-Hulk's strength has been improving through exercise, and we know that the Thing's strength has increased over the years as well, so i guess it is possible to develop your muscles even if your strength is granted by super-powers. I'm also a little confused by the exercise that She-Hulk is doing; i'm assuming it's a clean and jerk, but don't those side bars, which i guess are adding additional resistance, get in the way of the natural movement? And i suppose they they must sink into the ground as she lowers the bar.
Meanwhile, Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl (in their secret identities as the Benjamins), are hosting a party for their neighbors. It turns out that they probably didn't need secret IDs, since their neighbors are also all comic characters, albeit from comic strips instead of books (here's a good site that identifies everyone here; on my own, after seeing Hi and Lois introduced and understanding what we were looking at, i could only identify Dennis the Menace's Dad and the Lockhorns. I missed Blondie & Dagwood and the rest are too obscure for me.).
I'm still amused by how Reed maintains his secret identity.
One neighbor that isn't attending the party is the nosy woman we saw spying on Sue last issue. She's convinced that the Benjamins are witches, and has called in renown exorcist Elsbeth Cromwell.
After the party, she attacks.
Faced with a magical opponent, Mr. Fantastic is a little bit at a loss...
...and it turns out that Cromwell's misguided crusade against witches has led her down a path where she's unwittingly made a pact with Mephisto.
Issue #277 is advertised as being the spiritual successor to Fantastic Four #252, the sideways issue. The experiment this time is having two stories running simultaneously, one on the top of each page and one on the bottom. I've only got one brain, so i found the exercise distracting and i wound up just reading the top story first and then going back and reading the second, which undermined the point. It was definitely worth a try, but i don't think it worked.
The bottom story continues the plot from #276 and since we already started reviewing that we might as well continue with it. Dr. Strange is alerted to the strange goings-on in the Richards' suburban town of Belleporte, Connecticut.
He finds Reed, Sue, and Franklin in a death-like state. Cromwell, it will turn out, is actually dead. Dr. Strange says that he has heard of her, but she's not a character that has ever appeared outside this story.
Meanwhile, in Hell, or its non-denominational Marvel equivalent, Mephisto tortures Sue.
He tortures Reed, too...
...but not to the same degree, and while Reed is conscious and defiant, Sue is a quivering, screaming mess and purely depicted as being at Mephisto's mercy.
Dr. Strange shows up...
...and he and Reed (but not Sue: too distraught) deduce that Mephisto is hiding Franklin for some reason.
When Franklin is freed, his mutant powers manifest and he attacks and defeats Mephisto.
Franklin's powers are unrestricted while in Mephisto's realm, but when the battle is all over Franklin only remembers the events as a vague dream (earlier, he had a precognitive dream predicting the events in these issues). Dr. Strange says that Mephisto is destroyed for now, but as long as there's evil in men's hearts, he'll be reborn.
It's implied that Mephisto's powers are increased by the coming of the Wraith planet (see below) and Franklin's defeat of him was aided by the planet's repelling. But i'm still very unclear on what Mephisto hoped to accomplish here. I loved this story when i was a kid, especially after Franklin joined Power Pack and i referred back to this issue to see what he was ultimately capable of, but reading it now, this portion of the story seems completely arbitrary. In any incarnation of Mephisto before or since, i haven't seen him so interested in maliciously torturing random individuals, even if they happen to be super-heroes. What's his goal? If the Wraith planet's arrival increases his ability to act on Earth (which is, frankly, limiting Mephisto from being a universal manifestation of evil to something more Earth-bound), then why not show him unleashing his forces in a bid to take over the Earth? Would he really just waste this opportunity to torture Reed and (mostly) Sue? It could have been something to do with using Franklin's powers in some way, but i find it difficult to believe that someone on Mephisto's power scale should need to make use of a mortal, mutant or otherwise.
Nice art, and a cool mystical battle, and i still love the use of Franklin, but the torture of Sue and the lack of any explanation of Mephisto's motives causes the story to miss its mark a bit. Post-One New Day, it's now very clear that Mephisto wanted to eat Reed and Sue's marriage, but that wasn't something that readers of the time would be aware of.
In the story on the top of the page, the Thing returns to Earth.
He heads right to Alicia's apartment, and... yeah.
After an angry fight, Alicia shows up to put a stop to the fight.
The Thing remembers that he actually intended to break up with Alicia, but, as he thinks to himself, he wanted to be the one to break up with her. Finding her sleeping with Johnny was quite a blow, and it's amazing he didn't wind up killing him. The impact of this story and the surrounding issues is greatly reduced if we're aware of the retcon that says that the Alicia here is really the Skrull called Lyja Lazerfist.
No time to reflect on things (no pun) however, since it's time for the Dire Wraith's Worldmerge.
It's over as soon as it starts, though. While the Torch takes Alicia to the Baxter Building, the Thing winds up facing a lone Dire Wraith, who soon dies of her own accord when her planet is repelled due to the events of ROM #65.
I'm surprised that the Thing is able to recognize a female Dire Wraith. To my knowledge, this is the first time he's seen one and they really haven't been public knowledge. Even the government's decision to ramp up the attacks on the Wraiths occurred while the Thing was away. I guess the FF were keeping tabs on the invasion, but then you have to wonder why they haven't been more actively involved.
Along those same lines, it's worth pointing out that the Fantastic Four sure weren't pulling their weight during this final invasion. I appreciate that this issue more actively participated in the events of the Wraith War than any other comic (there's also the after-the-fact throwaway line in Thor #354), but at the same time, the FF sure don't do much about the Worldmerge situation. Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl have a good excuse, but it seems like the Human Torch and She-Hulk just kind of wait things out in the Baxter Building while almost every other hero on Earth shows up to help ROM over in ROM #65. And the Thing fights a single Wraith and doesn't even defeat it himself. Still, it's cool to see the events of the Wraith War showing up in other books.
Anyway, when it's all over, the Thing says that he doesn't intend to rejoin the FF.
Ultron's head disappears around page 4. The Thing seems to still be carrying it as he arrives at Alicia's daughter, but presumably once the shit hits the fan, it gets dropped in the scuffle and forgotten.
Despite all my griping, these were good issues. A lot of cool stuff going on. It's great to see that the Thing's arrival back on Earth didn't result in an instant reset to the status quo for the FF. Johnny and Alicia's relationship was certainly a bold direction and the Thing's initial reaction and sort-of coming to grips with it here was handled well. Add to that Byrne's knack for pacing and the addition of Jerry Ordway on inks and it's a quality set of books.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: The Thing appears in Fantastic Four #277 directly from Thing #22. The Thing will next appear in some flotsam and jetsam like Marvel Fanfare #20-21 before returning to his own series in Thing #23. Issue #277 takes place towards the end of the Dire Wraith War in ROM #65.
Continuity Implant? N
Reprinted In: N/A
Inbound References (5): show
Dr. Strange, Franklin Richards, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Lyja Lazerfist, Mephisto, Mr. Fantastic, She-Hulk, Thing, Ultron, Wong, Wyatt Wingfoot
In the strip characters panel, the white-haired guy with glasses is Walt Wallet from Gasoline Alley, the balding redhead is probably Jiggs from Bringing Up Father, and the thick-mustache guy may be Sidney Gump from The Gumps.
Seeing here how Byrne wrote Alicia, besides having her date Johnny, I can see why some people hate his run and think he ruined what Lee and Kirby had built. The Lyja retcon is - one of the good ones.
No, it really isn't. How did Lyja manage to duplicate Alicia's sculptures? (We saw her sculpting Jen in FF 285.) How did Lyja know everything Alicia did? Why did Lyja think that she loves both Ben and Johnny in FF 296 if she hardly knew Ben at that point?
If we retconned a character every time someone didn't like how a writer handled them, everyone in the Marvel Universe would be a Skrull.
I think it's a noble retcon. Byrne took a shit all over that character and her relationship with Ben Grimm, which was one of the bedrocks (no pun intended) of the book. Why not have Sue divorce Reed and marry Doom while we're at it?
And you point out a bunch of nitpicky, detail flaws with the retcon, while overlooking the GIGANTIC flaw with the original story - Alicia Masters, as written for 25 years prior to that, would never have done that. It was a complete destruction of the character. That's a much bigger detail than all of the nitpicky problems with how the retcon was carried out.
You can't have it both ways. I've seen complaints (specifically in the Annie Nocenti Beauty and the Beast series) that characters were written out of character - in the way they act and the way they talk. And this is a big deal in that context. But then here it's ok to overlook it? When the damage is far greater and far more lasting?
The developments in the Thing and Alicia's relationship, and the subsequent growth of Johnny's character and his relationship with Alicia, was done over a long period of time and felt very natural, and it was built on a sub-textual reading of previous stories. It was character development. What i complained about in B&B was a sudden inexplicable change in personalities. And even so, i wouldn't solve it by revealing 7 years later that everyone in that story was a robot.
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