Characters Appearing: Aron the Watcher, Dragon Man, Human Torch, Hydroman, Invisible Woman, Klaw, Lyja the Lazerfist, Mole Man, Mr. Fantastic, Ms. Marvel (Sharon Ventura), Thing, Titania, Wizard
Fantastic Four #329
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #329
The whole set of "Dream" issues is a complete farce, and it's mindboggling that it was allowed to see print. Issues #330-332 are the most outrageous parts, though. This issue is actually quite brilliant as a deliberate farce and a very explicit and biting commentary on the Tom DeFalco period, brutally mocking the policy of reverting everything to a Silver Age status quo. It amazes me that it saw print (it also amazes me that #330-332 saw print, for a different reason, but we'll get to that in a separate entry).
The story has the clones of the Fantastic Four who we saw were created by Aron the Watcher having just returned with Alicia from the battle at the Empire State Building. Alicia isn't sure what happened or why Ben has been transformed back into the Thing.
A lot to digest in just that little sequence. The first thing to note is the Thing's "Bah!", which he'll be spouting every third panel going forward. Reed's dialogue at the end is also notable, and hilarious. A lot of the dialogue in all of these "Dream" issues are taken directly from early issues of the Fantastic Four. What we have here is a situation where the rogue Watcher has replaced the Fantastic Four that has grown and evolved over the years with versions that have reverted to their original personalities, just like Tom DeFalco wanted. Englehart will get some extra conflict out of the idea that although they have the originals' brains, they are clones of the current team's bodies, which can possibly be seen as a metaphor for the inherent problem in simply reverting everyone. And then of course there's the idea that the fake FF want to relive all their early "adventures" so they have to look up those adventures to see how to do that, which obviously is a surreal experience for Alicia (and the parallel to the concurrently published Thor #406-408, which is a kind of jumbled retelling of Thor #131 to Thor #135 is very convenient).
These FF doppelgangers are also made to be evil, which maybe weakens the satire a bit, but will allow a quick resolution when this is all over.
The FF go to Monster Island, and raise it...
...and then land, talking about how everything is "jumbled" and "like a dream".
Here's a very recognizable piece of re-used dialogue (compare to the Thing's very first appearance).
The doppelgangers also get upset when things don't go according to script, and they plow through the script regardless of whether or not it makes sense.
One of the saddest things about this issue is what happens to the poor Mole Man. He had been undergoing a period of reform, and at first he's happy to find the FF following up on him after he was taken prisoner by the Lava Men.
And of course he's completely befuddled when this fake FF attacks him.
More randomly re-used dialogue from FF #1.
The fake FF actually have some trouble fighting the Mole Man's monsters, and have to be recharged with a power beam from Aron the Watcher. They then flee the island, again making sure things are like they are supposed to be and re-using old dialogue while talking about how it's a new era...
...and then blow the island up again.
For Characters Appearing purposes, i just want to show that we do see the frozen FFs (Fantastic and Frightful) and the Watcher and Dragon Man.
The only other "real" characters in this story are Alicia and the Mole Man. I'm not tracking the doppelgangers despite the fact that they appear in a few entries.
We do actually get a preview of the "Good" dreaming that starts in earnest next issue. These are the character driven scenes that Englehart actually wanted to write.
But they are "not important".
It's a biting, angry satire and i actually like it a lot. Despite the pseudonym, Englehart put a lot of work into researching the dialogue and otherwise setting up the contrasts here. Obviously you wouldn't want this to continue for much longer, but it's a very cool metatextual single issue comic.
The irony is that i don't think Englehart's regular run was that great, and i don't really have a problem with the Editors wanting Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman back on the team. So while i agree with a lot of the commentary on DeFalco's policies, i'm not exactly rooting for Englehart either. The "dreams" of Ben and Sharon arguing are a good indication of what we're missing out on, and i'm not feeling any sense of loss. Again, the really amazing thing is that Englehart was kept on this title at all while he and the editors were at such odds. But more on that in the next entry.
There's also a different irony, or maybe appropriateness, in Rich Buckler illustrating this issue considering the excessive swiping of Kirby that editors had him do in the 1970s.
Quality Rating: A-
Chronological Placement Considerations: This begins soon after the end of last issue, with the fake FF having just recently returned to Four Freedoms Plaza with the real (or "real", considering in the long run she turns out to be a Skrull) Alicia Masters. The real Fantastic Four, along with the Frightful Four, remain in stasis and shouldn't appear in other books until the resolution to this storyline in Fantastic Four #333. But after this issue we are going to let the characters sit in stasis a while before next issue so that we can push the rest of this until after Dr. Strange's eye is restored in Doctor Strange #5-9, since he appears without a patch in FF #333. FF #333 also needs to take place after Hercules' returns to Earth, but that is happening pretty much concurrently with these issues since that storyline kicked off with Thor returning to Earth through the FF's Negative Zone portal, in Thor #305, which occurs during FF #327, soon before the FF got put in stasis. One minor concern: this definitely takes place after Inferno, but even though the Mole Man talks about the Lava Men, he doesn't mention them becoming human again after Inferno (c.f. Avengers #306). That's not necessarily a problem since no Lava Men appear in this story; it's just a question of working out the timing of the Mole Man's release.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Is this the highest grade you've ever given an Englehart comic?
Posted by: Robert | October 9, 2014 5:19 PM
Very likely. It helps that this issue doesn't require realistic scripting. But i think Englehart had a lot to draw on for doing some strong and mean satire; it's not his usual type of story.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 9, 2014 6:37 PM
Ben says "Bah!" ten times in this book. I don't recall him doing that so much in the early days. Did he? Is this a swipe at Lee? Mayhaps the Silver Age Thing did say it occasionally and Engleharkness is satirizing even more what fnord discusses above.
Posted by: KevinA | June 22, 2018 9:31 AM
Comments are now closed.
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