Fantastic Four #379-383
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #379, Fantastic Four #380, Fantastic Four #381, Fantastic Four #382, Fantastic Four #383
Dr. Doom, meanwhile, is getting a briefing on the Legacy Virus. He is even working on a cure (too bad he gets killed in this storyline).
He's also expecting the FF to come after him. But he's also (it's Doom; he has a lot of irons in the fire) monitoring an alien lifeform that is moving towards Earth like a comet.
Back to the FF. Lyja the Lazerfist continues to hang about. Teen Franklin is proving to be impatient with the spoken word and pretty rude about using his telepathy. But before the Human Torch can complain, the Thing announces that Sharon is gone.
They go out to look for her, but Johnny is instead tricked by Lyja into thinking that he's talking to Bridget O'Neil. His conversation with her is entirety innocuous, but Lyja somehow thinks it proves that he's a "two-timing snake". The Thing, meanwhile, finds Sharon, but he's unable to convince her to go back to Reed. The fact that he's a bit of a hypocrite since he won't ask Reed to fix his face is part of the reason (i mean, he shouldn't need Reed specifically, but i can't disagree that he should get someone to look at his face). They fight, but then Sharon tries to commit suicide by jumping on the subway's third rail. By the time the rest of the FF arrive and determine that she's still alive, the Thing is already on a rocket on his way to Latveria. Doom blows him out of the sky. His unconscious body is retrieved, with the Latverian soldiers removing his helmet and declaring his injury "too horrible for words". The Thing must be picking at the wound, because it seems to be spreading.
Doom offers to fix his face. A thought bubble later reveals that he can't really heal the wound (why not?!) and instead would just hypnotize the Thing into thinking that it was fixed.
Meanwhile, a point is made to show us that the rest of the (extended) FF is also a mess, with Sharon in stasis, Mr. Fantastic pushing himself too hard after his injury, and Sue still weakened from that same battle.
Lyja's also having problems, related to her pregnancy.
The Human Torch isn't physically injured, but we'll later see that he's become afraid to cut loose with his powers after what happened at ESU.
But in Latveria, that entity that Doom was monitoring, which we'll call the Hunger, arrives.
It attacks Doom's castle, and can't be held back by a contingent of Doombots.
While Doom contends with it himself...
...the Thing escapes. He decides that he wants Doom to suffer at his own hands, so he helps Doom against the Hunger.
Their fight results in an explosion that the rest of the FF see when they arrive. They land and fight their way through Doom's forces.
Sue is still under strain, and she's not accepting help from Franklin, who she doesn't accept as her son.
They locate Doom and the Thing under the wreckage.
Doom doesn't accept their help in going after the Hunger, but he also doesn't kick them out of Latveria. Meanwhile, the Hunger turns into some demon thing designed to strike boredom into our hearts.
The FF engage it without luck, and Doom summons Reed to his castle. Sue goes with him, and we catch her wondering what she could do with Doom's resources.
Reed helps Doom rig up a gun that Doom says will teleport the Hunger away, but which will really allow Doom to siphon its powers. The fight against the Hunger continues to not go well, and Doom considers retreating. But a loyal Latverian child's trust in him convinces him to stick it out. Doom does manage to teleport the Hunger away, but he's seemingly mortally injured. Reed moves forward to help him.
And Doom rewards him by self-destructing, seemingly killing them both.
Now, there's no body, and it's hard to believe that anyone really thought that Reed and Doom were dead (especially since Dr. Doom returns from the dead about once a year). I suppose younger, less cynical, readers might have, and there are at least a couple of letter writers who seem to really buy it. And Marvel obviously wasn't going to say otherwise; a response in the lettercol in issue #383 says "And to everyone else out there who might be hatching new 'resurrection' plots - Reed and Doom are dead - stop looking for them!". But in general we were at a point where when major characters died it was more a question of how they were going to come back than if, and with the sort of incidental mid-storyline way that this one happened, it barely feels real.
Even Sue doesn't believe it, figuring that they teleported away (using the same tech that zapped away the Hunger). But Ben and Johnny assume she's just being hysterical.
My friend and i had a pretty cool theory about what happened. Doom 2099 was being published at this time, and it was a mystery as to how Dr. Doom came to 2099 and whether or not he was the real Doom. So we figured that Doom and Reed got teleported to the future here, possibly merged into a single body or possibly with Reed somehow in Doom's armor and the real Doom to arrive later in the series. I liked this theory so much that i kept waiting for it to come true, which of course it never did (and there was really no reason for me to think that it would). I do notice that in the lettercol for the issue where they die, it says that going forward, "the only Doom you'll see in the Marvel Universe is in the 2099 Universe", which may be what triggered the idea.
I thought that i actually kept reading the book waiting for this theory to come true, but as i look at subsequent issues i realize that wasn't the case. I must have dropped the book after these issues.
The next issue blurb for issue #381 makes it sound like a focus will be dealing with the aftermath of Reed's death and picking up the pieces in Latveria. "What about the ruined kingdom of Latveria - who will rule now that Doom is no more!!??!!". It turns out to not be a very good indication of what issue #382 is about, though. Sue makes the rest of the team fight their way through Doom's remaining defenses to get equipment so she can find out where Doom and Reed might have been teleported to. During the fight, Franklin is asked why he didn't warn them about Reed's upcoming death, since he's supposed to be from the future. The answer is either that there's something "wrong" with the timeline or his grandfather Nathaniel lied to him. And speaking of Nathaniel, he arrives in another part of Doom's castle and takes over Latveria.
So that's what was promised in the next issue blurb, but it's more of a quick suplot scene than the focus. Instead the never-ending succession of crises continues.
While the FF are still in Latveria, the group that is apparently known as the Fearsome Four - Paibok, Devos, Klaw, and Huntara - raid the FF's building and set up an ambush. When the FF get back, Lyja experiences more pregnancy related pains and says she needs a "lacaroo" from the Skrull galaxy to save the baby. Earlier thoughts from Lyja and even a telepathic flash from Franklin seemed to confirm that Lyja's baby is real, but at this time we see Paibok monitoring the FF, pleased that Lyja is retaining "her most devastating secret".
Franklin, meanwhile, is ambushed by Huntara and pushed through a portal. The rest of the FF are knocked out by gas and teleported to the Skrull throneworld.
Klaw remains behind to do something with Sharon Ventura, which we'll learn about in Fantastic Four Unlimited #5.
Devos' alliance with Paibok was based on his quest to destroy all warfaring races in the universe. So with the FF captured, he now focuses on the Skrulls and initiates bombing strikes from his drone spaceships. This of course gives the FF an opportunity to escape, and they also get Lyja her "lacaroo".
Paibok is branded as a traitor by the Skrull empress for bringing Devos to their world, so he engages in a kind of suicide attack against Devos, sabotaging Devos' spaceship and trapping them both in subpace.
I've already expressed my feelings on Tom DeFalco's writing on this run. The death of Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Doom in some ways helps and in some ways hurts. It helps because it brings some focus, and in a sense is a culmination of what DeFalco has been doing recently (i'll get to that in a second). But it hurts because it's so obvious that Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Doom can't really be dead that it feels like a cheap publicity stunt, and it adds even more angst and misery to a book that should not be about those things. Regarding it being a "culmination", i've been complaining from a placement point of view that DeFalco's stories have been running into each other with no break (even though i've had to artificially create a few). There's actually a reason for that, which is that DeFalco wanted the team to be run so ragged that Mr. Fantastic actually makes the mistake of reaching out to Doom. So there's a method to the madness, even though it's resulted in some very frantic, chaotic, unstructured storytelling. Even the way the FF get to Latveria in this story is haphazard, and the confrontation with Doom is muddled with the out-of-the-blue stuff about the Hunger. I like the idea of it, but it would have been better if DeFalco could have broken down the FF's capabilities in a way that felt thematic, instead of just rolling the dice and hitting the FF with random encounter after encounter. And he can't help himself even after the purpose is served, with the FF being randomly brought to the Skrulls after the death of Reed. So there's still no break; the momentous deaths just feel tossed into the middle of the chaos.
Still, Paul Ryan's art makes up for a lot, although with Sue's horrible costume and the Thing with a bucket on his head it's not as enjoyable as it should be.
A couple notes from various lettercols. In issue #381, they find it necessary to respond to rumors that this book was being cancelled. They say it's not true, but maybe it was close enough to being almost true (so to speak) that DeFalco felt the need to shake things up with Reed's death. In issue #383, someone accuses Marvel of trying to duplicate the sales that DC got with the death of Superman.
Someone else writes in to complain along the lines that i have in previous entries. They hoped that the Invisible Woman's confrontation with Malice might give her a harder edge and make her more powerful, but instead it seems to have made her "more liable". There's no response to that. But i feel like getting rid of Reed for a while was potentially an opportunity for Sue to become a leader of the team for a while. The Thing had a shot at that during Englehart's run, and the Human Torch keeps getting reverted to childhood so he'll never get a chance, but now's a good time for Sue. As for the way Sue has been acting lately, someone writes in to issue #383 begging for Marvel to "finish the storyline".
Sue's new costume is apparently having its intended effect, at least according to one person who writes in to issue #382: "I think Sue's peek-a-boo uniform is a turn on, even though I'd rather see her in that black leather number she wears as 'Malice'." Sheesh. There are also a number of weird requests to kill off other team members.
Most of the letters are very positive, but one letter is along the lines of my feelings, requesting "less angst" and criticizing the "darker, grittier world".
One letter that really stuck in my craw says that they never read the FF before because "everything always seemed to stay the same. Whenever a change occurred, such as in membership, it would always be reversed a few months later". But now "this has all changed... the long-maintained status quo has been broken". At least the letter writer gives an exception to John Byrne, but says that besides him, no one "has seemed willing to make dramatic changes to the FF formula" and that DeFalco and Ryan have "breathed new life into what I once considered a bland, predictable series". Man, i hope Steve Englehart never read that letter. In truth, no one has been more responsible for returning the FF to a bland status quo than DeFalco, who was ultimately behind the reversing of the dramatic line-up changes made during Englehart's run (since that's the letter writer's focus). DeFalco has also reverted all of these characters to their Silver Age personalities, undoing the Human Torch's character development and introducing the ridiculous Lyja retcon to bring Alicia Masters and the Thing back together. He's also doing an extended rehash of John Byrne's Malice storyline, basically (poorly) re-doing Sue's character development. Any other "development" in this series, like the injury to the Thing and the death of Reed, feel like gimmicks to me.
The reason the letter stuck in my craw is because i can see exactly how a reader who hadn't been following the FF regularly until recently, and/or one who didn't know the behind-the-scenes stuff or know who was responsible for what, could believe that DeFalco really was innovating here. So i'm not directing any of my ire at the reader. I'm just mad because the "illusion of change" that DeFalco is doing here, basically undoing the work of past creative teams and then clumsily re-doing it, was working, and DeFalco was getting praise for it! Gah!
I am being careful to make sure i'm not criticizing the letter writer, because i realized after i made my initial notes on it that the writer was Ben Herman, who nowadays posts very insightful comments on this website!
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: It's said that Mr. Fantastic has been working on a cure for Sharon Ventura since his doctors reluctantly released him "barely five hours ago" after he was "recently" injured by Huntara. But Mr. Fantastic has to appear in Infinity Crusade at some point before he dies in this arc. So my assumption is that he was released from the hospital, got rushed to deal with Infinity Crusade and a few other things, and then had a relapse but demanded that he be released so he could get back to working on Sharon, whose patience was reaching a breaking point (and so he worries that she'll go to Doom).
Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Doom "die" in this arc, so they shouldn't appear elsewhere after this.
The end of issue #383 seemingly shows Franklin getting ready to confront Sue (Huntara has convinced him that his mother is the "enemy" that he's come to this timeline to stop), but next issue will show him continuing to rant (i.e. as opposed to having rushed to find Sue), so i will allow space in between for other FF appearances, with the idea that he may be debating it over a period of days. Fantastic Four Unlimited #4-5 sort-of fit in between this and #384.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): showDevos the Devastator, Dr. Doom, General Kalamari, Human Torch, Huntara, Invisible Woman, Klaw, Lyja the Lazerfist, Malice (Sue Storm's psionic entity), Mr. Fantastic, Ms. Marvel (Sharon Ventura), Nathaniel Richards, Paibok the Power Skrull, Psi-Lord, S'Byll, Thing
Buckethead Thing, space hooker Sue (whose gawdawful costume looks hilarious while sporting one her most June Cleaver hairstyles), Johnny married to a skull (though at least no longer wearing a bomber jacket), and now Reed and Doom killed as an afterthought, rather than the epic storyline such a move would have demanded, adult Franklin in a suit of armor that makes Portacio look subtle - while Cable...I mean Nathaniel...is lurking in the background.
Posted by: Bob | February 27, 2017 3:18 PM
*THUMP!* Um, that's the sound that occurs when you do a facepalm, isn't it? I ask because that was *my* letter that fnord is quoting. A few months ago he mentioned he'd be referring to it when he got to these issues, so I dug out my copy of #382 to see what exactly I had written waaaay back in 1993. And, yeah, I wasn't happy with what I discovered.
Okay, there were no TPBs or Essentials for me to read back then, so I obviously would have been mostly unfamiliar with pretty much any FF material from the 1970s. But I cannot believe that I was so completely stricken with amnesia that I forgot Steve Englehart's run, where a hell of a lot changed, for better or worse, as well as Walter Simonson's brief but amazing stint on the series.
So please ignore what I wrote when I was 17 years old! Maybe I was swamped with senior year high school term papers and my brain momentarily went on the blink.
For what it's worth, though, I never did think Reed Richards was dead, either.
Posted by: Ben Herman | February 27, 2017 3:56 PM
As i said, Ben, i didn't want to seem like i was calling out the letter to shame you or anything like that. :-) I just think it's an interesting case of Marvel's "illusion of change" working. I'm sure what you expressed in that letter was a common sentiment. It just bugs me because in retrospect it's easy to see how DeFalco actually squashed a lot of previous development. But what is "obvious" in retrospect wasn't necessarily what readers, especially new readers, were seeing, and your letter was a great example of that. I intended to use it even before i saw that it was yours, but that made it all the more interesting. Hope you don't mind!
Posted by: fnord12 | February 27, 2017 4:28 PM
No worries, fnord. Keep up the great work.
Posted by: Ben Herman | February 27, 2017 4:33 PM
You'd think if DeFalco wanted the FF run so ragged he wouldn't have allowed generic appearances of the FF in other books with some but not all of the changes he was instituting, or at least had the FF directly tie in with Infinity Crusade so it could actually fit in a coherent spot in their timeline and maybe even be part of their being run so ragged, or at the very least allowed FF Unlimited to occur at coherent spots in the timeline either by weaving his plots through it or not having it include some but not all of his changes, but it's clear no one really cares about coherent continuity at this point. I'm not sure how much power DeFalco even has as EiC at this point; he seems to be mostly focused on his FF run and as mentioned elsewhere didn't put any more effort than anyone else into this year's "new character" annual initiative.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | February 27, 2017 7:50 PM
Paul Ryan's art is really good here, it's a shame that it's pretty much wasted.
As a kid a lot of these issues were in my school's library (actually a lot of Spider-Man issues, but since at the time the FF stories were published in Spidey's comic I got to read them) so I got some scattered parts of this storyline and I was really curious to know how Reed and Doom returned (it never seemed to me like this was supposed to be a death readers believed was real). A few years ago I managed to get a lot of the Spider-Man issues with this FF storyline and was very disappointed at how it didn't hold up to my memories of it.
Also, it's amazing how a letter from one of the issues turned out to be from a regular visitor here!
Posted by: Enchlore | February 27, 2017 8:17 PM
I'll offer a dissenting view. These are not great comics by any means, but I think they belong in the C-range, and by the standards of Marvel at this time, they're solid B's. First, because Paul Ryan's art is on-model and exhibits good storytelling: he's not flashy, but he has the basics of the craft, in a way that fewer and fewer Marvel artists did at this time. Second, I credit DeFalco for not throwing away characters like Sharon Ventura and Lyja. There's a sense of continuity and affection for the obscure. Lyja is DeFalco's own creation, of course, but she could have been a one-story gimmick, like Peter Parker's parents. Instead, DeFalco invests in her as a recurring character. The pace of these issues may be nonstop, and it may be one crisis after another, but most other Marvel books at this time suffered from the opposite problem. If you cared at all about the characters or story (and it's fine if you didn't), you had a reason to come back everything month. DeFalco also treated FF as if it should be a line-leading book where important MU stuff happens, and although the Days of Future Past stuff with Franklin is a bit much, at least there's an attempt to give a sense this book matters. Compared to the Midnight Sons line, the Spidey books, the crap that Thor has become, Secret Defenders, and 20 other books of this era, DeFalco's seems like a minor but readable '70s or '80s title. Faint praise, but this could be so much worse that a D-range grade seems too low to me.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | February 27, 2017 9:26 PM
Despite my misgivings about his writing, I will always be grateful to DeFalco for his MTIO story where he began the Sandman's path towards reformation. I had also grown accustomed to the fact that he was keen on setting his books in full retro mode after reading a bit of his earlier stint on Thor, so I was okay with it even though going back to Stan's style of dialogue wasn't my kind of thing. That said, I remember browsing these issues by the comics rack at Fedco and wondering how long it would take for Reed and Doom to come back. I was surprised that it actually took a while before I finally spotted a bearded and battered Reed on the cover of #407.
Also, count me in on the minority of fans who kinda dug Sue's outfit. Hey, I was 21 and it was the late Paul Ryan on the art. Had it been any of the Image founders it would have merited an eye roll from me, but only a guy like Paul could pull off that costume with artistic integrity. His artwork on this run helped keep things consistent and made the stories look less "90s" than most other books of the period.
Posted by: Clutch | February 28, 2017 6:36 AM
It is certainly difficult to imagine a good reason why the Goddess would have failed to react to Malice's presence one way or the other shortly back in Infinity Crusade.
I can almost understand why DeFalco would not want to engage in a pointless dispute with Jim Starlin about how to handle Susan, but the end result was such a deep disconnect that it harms the perception of continuity. A better editor would have negotiated something - say, having Goddess acknowledge that Susan was not quite herself and leave her behind.
Of course, that would require Goddess' choices to have some logic to them, which I don't think they did. Marvel's editorial was really weak at this point in time.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | February 28, 2017 9:20 AM
With the benefit of two decades of hindsight, as well as hopefully at least a little bit more maturity, my evaluation of these issues is very similar to the ones Walter Lawson and Clutch offer above. These aren't great comic books, but neither are they awful. I did enjoy them, in spite of their various flaws. And the penciling by Paul Ryan was probably among the most professional work being done at Marvel in 1993.
There were a couple of aspects to Reed and Doom apparently staying dead for such an extended period of time that I liked:
One, it enabled Sue to step up and become the leader of the FF, and really show her stuff. Once she gets rid of the Malice persona (and switches to a slightly less revealing but still fashionable costume) she's depicted really well by DeFalco and Ryan.
Two, I enjoyed that Sue is the only member of the cast who is allowed to be genre savvy enough to recognize that of course Reed and Doom aren't really dead. Made her appear much stronger. Instead of holding her head and helplessly shrieking "Oh, no, Reed is dead, whatever will I do?" she is given an unshakable determination and tells everyone "Reed is alive, he's out there somewhere, and I *will* find him!"
By the way, fnord, really I like your theory for the true identity of Doom 2099. I can't even remember what his origin turned out to be, but your idea was probably much more interesting than what we actually got.
Posted by: Ben Herman | February 28, 2017 9:59 AM
The Byrne story where Terrax kills Dr Doom was the first FF comic I bought, so even though I liked DeFalco's run somewhat, the Reed/Doom deaths seemed ludicrous to me. There also wasn't any hype in the fan press, from what I recall: even the "death" of Loki in DeFalco's Thor book a year or two earlier got a push from Comic Shop News. That the Reed/Doom deaths didn't made them seem even less meaningful.
But oddly enough, I think DeFalco really did intend to keep them dead as long as he was on the book: as it is, he only brings them back once it's clear he's leaving. And I do like the the fact Sue doesn't believe they're dead, as well as the try-out Reed replacements we get. Who doesn't like Scott Lang? And Kristoff as Doom's heir and an FF member (sort of) is a set-up with potential. We also get to have Namor court Sue again in different circumstances than we've seen before. These are good ideas all limited by DeFalco's limits as a writer, but nonetheless this feels the way the MU is supposed to feel: unashamed superhero fun in a continuity where characters and events persist. I do wish DeFalco/Ryan has been able to come up with more imaginative villains than "Dreadface" and "Hyperstorm," though. And the lameness of "The Hunger" is only highlighted by the recollection of Terrax and Byrne.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | February 28, 2017 6:08 PM
@Walter- I don't think that DeFalco intended to keep them permanently dead. Doom reappears in Fantastic Four 406- DeFalco's last issue was 416. And Zarrko revealed that he knew where Doom and Reed were in FF 405 and we first saw Hyperstorm in shadow in issue 404. In fact, the whole Hyperstorm plotline reads like it was supposed to be an "epic" involving Reed and Doom but got cut short due to Onslaught.
Posted by: Michael | February 28, 2017 7:52 PM
I remember reading in contemporary magazines- Marvel Age or whatever replaced Marvel Age- as well as Wizard (it was a friend's copy, I swear)- DeFalco shooting down any commentary about the predictability of Reed and Doom returning with a firm "they're dead!" which, due to being so straightforward and not coy or wink wink nudge nudge, made me think (at the time- I was like 14)- that they were seriously attempting to try to make this a legit comic book death. Oh to be young and naive again!
Posted by: Wis | March 5, 2017 2:51 AM
The intention could very well have been to keep Reed and Doom dead, but something happened... the comics crash. Fantastic Four took the hardest hit, and to keep sales, resulted in bringing back Doom and Reed. Or who knows perhaps he was always going to come back.
Posted by: Darren Hood | March 14, 2017 10:50 PM
Tom DeFalco's track record doesn't suggest that he would keep two Kirby-Lee characters dead. If anything, the reverse is likely more true: DeFalco *didn't* want to kill the two off at all, but figured it would be a sales booster and fit better with the times.
More broadly, his FF follows the same playbook as his Thor run: "kill" a major, Silver Age character and the book's Silver Age archvillain in one stroke (Thor/Reed and Loki/Doom); bring in a less competent, more down-to-earth replacement (Eric and Scott);endlessly tease the return of the originals and have other, temporary substitute versions show up with various twists; and eventually set up a spinoff book which, once stable, allows the classic characters to come back and creates a franchise where once there was a single comic.
Hell, that was sort of like the original plan for the Clone Saga. (Now that I think of it, the behind-the-scenes history of the Clone Saga raises the possibility that DeFalco's changes to Thor and FF were plots extended by marketing rather than intentionally lengthy new status quo setups.)
Posted by: Omar Karindu | March 15, 2017 6:37 AM
@Omar, that' a great point about the parallel to DeFalfco's Thor. I think it agrees with my original claim, though, which wasn't that DeFalco wanted to keep them dead, but he wanted to keep them dead *as long as he was on the book*. I note that the Thor parellel extends to the real Rhor returning only at the end of DeFalco's run, and while I was misremembering just how many issues separate the return of Reed and Doom from DeFalco's departure, it's still just a few months, I think.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | March 15, 2017 8:42 PM
Comments have been disabled for the summer while i'm not around to moderate.
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