Fantastic Four #297-298
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #297, Fantastic Four #298
It seemed like last issue did the work of resolving the tension between the Thing and the rest of the FF, but it was kind of like tearing off a band-aid, quick and painful. Roger Stern slows things down a bit and shows us that the animosity isn't quite done.
To exacerbate matters, he has Johnny Storm finally propose to Alicia without getting interrupted, and with the Thing overhearing.
All of this is done on a US military base in the South Pacific. It seems Reed and company were contacted to investigate some strange disturbances on the sun while on their way home from the Monster island, and She-Hulk, Wyatt Wingfoot, Franklin, and Alicia have also come to the base. At Reed's request, Wyatt has also brought the Thing's old costume (used briefly in Fantastic Four #3)...
...because the Thing is still acting self-consciously about his appearance (most of the issue keeps the Thing's face hidden, with the possibility that there is still a problem with his cellular mutation, but in the end he turns out to be his normal self).
As a metaphor for the conflict, Stern uses two alien brothers, who have been fighting a war against each other on a distant world.
One brother, more science oriented, was the cause for the solar disturbance. His scientist had developed a harness that drew power from our sun. Reed's solution to the sun problem unknowingly pulled both brothers through a vortex and merged them into a single body.
Despite some good and fun fight sequences...
...it's an uncomfortable set of issues, with the Thing's anger and depression much more palpable than we are used to. His anger at his teammates is uncomfortable, and at one point he even tries to commit suicide.
Even after Reed helps separate the brothers, and everyone sees the folly of their continued animosity towards each other...
...the Thing's gripe isn't fully resolved.
That said, the "brothers" metaphor - the Thing thinks about both Reed and Johnny having been like brothers to him at various points in his life - does show the path forward.
Because of all the tension it doesn't yet feel like the "real" FF, and since Roger Stern is essentially off the title after next issue's wedding story, we never get Roger Stern writing a status quo Fantastic Four. I think it was worth the time to go through this phase with the Thing; it's just unfortunate that Stern didn't stay on the title longer to get past it.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: This takes place not long after the end of #296, with the FF not having yet returned home. See the Considerations for #296; i am placing Comet Man, Power Pack #23-28, and West Coast Avengers annual #1 between this arc and FF #299.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (3): showFranklin Richards, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Lyja the Lazerfist, Mr. Fantastic, She-Hulk, Thing, Wyatt Wingfoot
Regarding the uncomfortable aspects of these issues- you're going to be seeing a lot of very dark aspects as you go forward. The Mutant Massacre was really the start of the Dark Age of Comics at Marvel. There's going to be a lot of very depressing and dark elements going forward- a crazy Cyclops, a Strange who's willing to sacrifice innocent lives, etc.
Posted by: Michael | January 29, 2014 7:56 PM
I remember Angel's suicidal plane ride as a prime example of this era.
Posted by: clyde | January 29, 2014 8:48 PM
Are we still in the Dark Age of comics? What do you think? i would say yes
Posted by: Jay Gallardo | January 30, 2014 11:51 AM
DC was really picking up steam with the "grim 'n' gritty" stories at this point.
I always felt the term "Dark Ages" had been misused. Yes, stories were darker and depressing, but they were well done. The real "Dark Ages" were in the early 1990s, when you had horrible writing and art with pointless stories.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | January 30, 2014 3:49 PM
Clyde wrote: "I remember Angel's suicidal plane ride as a prime example of this era."
And as we discovered a few issues later, he didn't attempt suicide. It was Cameron Hodge who put a bomb in his plane. Still, the implication was that he killed himself when one first read it and everyone thought that was the case for 2 or 3 issues until his return but it was a set up to destroy the mutant community's morale and especially X-Factor's
Posted by: Jay | January 30, 2014 4:38 PM
The title to #297 refers to the Pink Floyd song from their 2nd album.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | January 31, 2014 6:46 PM
Yes the Dark Ages of comic books for me are the early 90s when everyone was trying to copy...name escapes me but he likes pouches. Marvel went to crap in the 90s and DC seemed to get good though I really like 80s the Question and Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Posted by: David Banes | January 31, 2014 6:58 PM
"Yes the Dark Ages of comic books for me are the early 90s when everyone was trying to copy...name escapes me but he likes pouches."
Rob Liefeld; the vector of "Youngbloods Disease" and who will forever be more well known for creating Deadpool with Fabian Niecezia than anything to do with art.
Posted by: Ataru320 | February 1, 2014 6:01 AM
Are you kidding? Isn't Deadpool just a rip off of another character and it wasn't until someone made him humorous and a fourth wall breaking crazy that Deadpool became his own character? Most people seem to know Liefeld for his love of pouches, big guns,robo arms, robo eyes, deformed figures and potato heads than anything. I sure didn't like it when I was a little kid in the 90s.
Posted by: david banes | February 1, 2014 1:35 PM
Amazing. Byrne's out and 5 years of development for Sue Storm went down the drain with him. I don't think you can fill a single page with her balloons from this two issues. Plus neither Sue or Jen look as pretty as Byrne drew them.
Posted by: will | September 29, 2017 10:56 AM
Agreed about the Thing's anger being much more palpable in these issues. Rather than it not seeming like the "'real' FF," though, I think it calls back to the dynamic of the team's early days when the members, and the Thing in particular, were often lashing out at each other. This follows well from #296's flashbacks and references to issue #1, and also provides a nice full-circle moment considering Reed and Sue will soon be leaving.
Posted by: TCP | November 6, 2017 5:20 PM
Wyatt, Jen, and Reed don't casually refer to Ben as the Thing, they refer to him as Ben. I normally like Stern's writing but he has everyone out of character here. I don't think he understood the Fantastic Four. I expect better from Roger Stern. To be fair, I'm guessing he probably didn't have enough time to do his research before they rushed him into this thankless job after Byrne's abrupt departure. Writing the FF properly is hard, even under the best of circumstances.
IMO the FF went without a proper writer until Walt Simonson took over with FF #334. That's about 3 years. It made me sad then, and it's still depressing to me now. That's not to say that none of the other writers were good writers, but it takes a special knack, a strong understanding, and a lot of love to do the FF right. Again, that's just my opinion.
Posted by: Holt | November 6, 2017 6:23 PM
It shouldn't be lost on anyone that Ben no longer uses "Reed" or Stretcho". Now he's just "Richards".
I do like the image of Ben undoubtedly overhearing the marriage proposal. You can only imagine what he's thinking. Maybe they did it in the future but it would have been interesting to have a flashback sequence where we get Ben's reaction to the same moment. What can't be lost on him is he had more than enough time and chances to make Alicia his wife before this. Her very clearly displayed affection for him for the most part over the years leaves no doubt in my mind that she would said "Yes"!
In that he has only himself to blame.
Posted by: KevinA | May 23, 2018 8:53 AM
I love Stern, but agree that his brief tenure here isn't equal to his great runs elsewhere. At the same time, he inherited a strange situation for the team and quickly was putting things right in order to move on. And because it was so short and initially tasked with housecleaning, we don't know where he intended to take the title. If he had stayed longer, I think we would have had a good run.
Posted by: Chris | May 23, 2018 9:44 PM
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