Fantastic Four #330-333
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #330, Fantastic Four #331, Fantastic Four #332, Fantastic Four #333
The fact that the stories aren't very good is besides the point (except that it doesn't make me regret that Englehart was kicked off the title... eventually!). It's that for three months we're subjected to nonsensical non-stories that have no bearing on anything.
I don't know that i blame Englehart himself for this. He took his name off of these (using John Harkness again) and probably thought of these issues as his severance package. These stories were already plotted and approved (the third story was actually the one that got him the writing assignment on the FF in the first place), and obviously he thought they were good (as regular stories, not dreams). But i don't know why the Marvel editors kept Englehart on the title for months and months after deciding that they didn't like what he was doing. When they fired Englehart off West Coast Avengers, and in other surprise firings/leavings (Roger Stern and Walt Simonson off Avengers), they were able to produce fill-ins until they could get a new regular writer. But in this case they kept going with Englehart, even having him continue to script. To be cynical, it's possible that it's because Rich Buckler had already completed the pencils, but i have no idea if that's the case. Even if so, it's the sort of thing that might have been dumped into a few issues of Marvel Fanfare, not put in the main book.
I bought the first of these issues in realtime, because it had Dr. Doom on the cover. And i had no idea what was going on. It seemed crazy to me. There is an explanation that this is all a dream...
...but it was lost on me. This is also the most What Iffy of the issues, featuring a super-villain war between factions belonging to Dr. Doom and Kristoff.
One thing that makes this extra confusing is that the fake Fantastic Four are also in the dream. As we'll see, these characters are also walking around in the real world. But why is Sue dreaming about them? Why is Sue dreaming about any of this, for that matter?
That reference to issue #5 of their comic is very much along the lines of what's going on in She-Hulk's book at this point. The reference to the Kree is a plug of sorts for Englehart's current Silver Surfer storyline.
The art is pretty awful and rushed looking in this issue.
This issue, at least, was most likely not already drawn. In addition to the rushed art, i don't see the editors ever approving a plot with all of these characters, including things like Sandman as a villain. The issue also ends with the world being destroyed with nuclear weapons, a standard What If trope.
I could certainly have gotten on board for a War of the Super-villains, and i'd be happy to see an end to the Doom/Kristoff conflict, but this issue is a mess of garbage. And just a dream.
The next two issues are very much the exact stories that Englehart would have put out "for real" if he was allowed to. At least the Doom story was like a What If, even if that had no place in the regular series. The next two are just regular stories except that they didn't actually happen. The first has Mr. Fantastic's Turino XL computer turning out to be an anagram for Ultron XI, and then Ultron fights the FF for a while until he's defeated.
It only gets a little weird with the scripting at the end.
"Not allowed to really happen". Get over it already! Why did the editors let that get printed?
The third story would have been pretty controversial if it had been allowed to have been published "for real". It has Crystal returning and getting into a hair-pulling fight with Sue about whether or not she should return to the FF because of the impact it would have on Johnny's marriage with Alicia.
The editors liked that panel so much they reprinted it in the lettercol.
The fight upsets Franklin, who goes to tell his father about it.
And it eventually comes out that Franklin mind-controlled Johnny and Alicia into falling in love, so that the Thing could change back into his Ben Grimm form and so that Johnny wouldn't be alone.
And now that he realizes it was wrong (hey, he was "just a kid" at the time), he undoes it.
But of course it was only a dream. So why show it to us? Hey, here's how we might have pushed the cosmic reset button, but we realized that it probably wouldn't have been a good idea. But here it is anyway. We can have it both ways, right?
As far as the merits of that retcon go, it's a toss-up for me between that and Lyja Lazerfist. Franklin's way doesn't leave us with years of fake Alicia appearances and a lot of questionable continuity. But at least Lyja's way doesn't leave Franklin with some weird baggage; even if we excused the very young boy and did it in a way that was meant to not leave anyone with emotional scarring, you know it's the sort of things that later writers would continually pick at. If we had to break up Johnny and Alicia's marriage, i have this crazy idea regarding a thing called divorce. But anyway, that's something that we can get to later. For the purposes of this entry, we've just been shown something that simply didn't happen.
That said, Englehart does try to imply that this one really did happen by having this be the dream that wakes up Johnny, allowing him to use his powers to free himself and the others.
But let's jump back a bit. These issues do devote a small amount of time to continuing the story of the Watcher's doppelganger FF. They seem to be fighting Psycho-Man at the beginning of FF #330, although the MCP don't list him as a character appearing.
And continuing the satirical commentary that i liked from issue #329, we have the Watcher talking about them like they are his action figures...
...and that the reason he's hanging on to the Frightful Four is because this summer he's going to involve them in a mega crossover event.
The fake FF next take out a stage magician (they probably think he is Miracle Man, from Fantastic Four #3)...
...and then really letting their evil side show by imposing a Fantasti-tax on the general populace.
And that attracts the attention of a hodgepodge of Marvel heroes for the resolution to this story.
Just a reminder that these heroes are not dreams or doppelgangers, so all scripting should be taken at face value.
I do like Cap's "Ye-eahh". The characters fight for a while and then the fake FF are teleported away, and we next see a rocket flying from the top of Four Freedoms Plaza.
Something is wrong about the above panels. The scripting is missing something or perhaps the panels are in the wrong order.
In any event, the fake FF are not in the rocket. We'll see the rocket at the end. The fake FF have been teleported to a cave in Canada, which is where Aron the Watcher has been keeping the real FF, who have now escaped and are battling the Frightful Four.
The Watcher has been dumped into one of his own stasis tubes...
...but we'll learn that he's actually faking it.
During the fight, Englehart continues to make comments about stagnation, but it's getting weak and overdone.
The fight is ended by the Watcher, who decides to send the real FF home and the Frightful Four to the Vault. And he's just going to take his cloned FF and watch their dreams from now on.
Meanwhile, the Avengers and Doctor Strange, now joined by the West Coast team, follow the rocket to Steve Englehart / John Harkness' home in California. The rocket turns out to be piloted by Alicia and Franklin, and they have an appeal to Englehart to fix everything. But it'll take "a better man than [him] to straighten out this mess.
Maybe Walt Simonson?
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: The Fantastic and Frightful Fours remain in stasis between last issue and this one and shouldn't appear elsewhere in between. Hercules' appearance here complicates matters, since the real Reed, Sue, and Ben appear in Avengers #305-310, and Captain America talks to Sub-Mariner in that arc like Hercules is still dead. See the Considerations in the Avengers arc for more on that; i'm assuming that for some reason Hercules told Captain America and Thor not to tell Namor that he is back yet. Dr. Strange does not have an eyepatch so this should take place after Doctor Strange #9. For the West Coast Avengers, Hawkeye, Mockingbird, and Vision are not shown, so this should be able to fit in anywhere prior to Tigra getting shrunk.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (6): show
Good lord. This might just be the worst comics on this site so far! How on earth was this allowed to be published? Perhaps DeFalco thought that since it was criticizing him he would look bad if he nixed it?
Posted by: Berend | October 9, 2014 7:30 PM
"Dr. Strange does not have an eyepatch so this should take place after Doctor Strange #9"
Posted by: Michael | October 9, 2014 8:37 PM
Strange is just wearing an eyepatch in Atlantis Attacks so he can pretend to be a pirate. That's my no-prize theory.
Aron's manipulations standing in for the editors and his use of the FF like action figures are something we 've seen before: this was what Claremont did with Mr. Sinister. So I'll dock Engelhart points for up originality, as well as for producing about a half year's worth of the worst comics Marvel produced before the 1990s.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | October 9, 2014 8:45 PM
Wow, I had the issues leading up to where Aron shows up with the fake-FF, and then the last part of this arc. It looks like I really dodged a bullet skipping all the dream issues. I probably assumed the focus was on the evil FF for all those issues.
Posted by: Erik Robbins | October 10, 2014 1:47 AM
I haven't read these issues, so I don't know if it's just something in the background or if a big deal is made out of it, but could the Sandman have been included as a villain because it was DeFalco who reformed him in the first place? Maybe Englehart was trying to prove a point that DeFalco wouldn't like it if a contribution he'd made was wiped out for no especially good reason? Of course, if he'd wanted to prove that point all he'd have to have done was waited a few more years...
Posted by: James M | October 10, 2014 3:01 AM
James- Sandman's in the background.
Posted by: Michael | October 11, 2014 10:11 AM
I assume Simonson did not quite know which direction to give the team and therefore it was decided to give him some breathing space by keeping Englehart until right before the Acts of Vengeance issues, which follow immediately and are mainly humor and very light on plot, direction and characterization.
All things told, this is nearly a whole year of directionless Fantastic Four. A harbinger of things to come.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | October 11, 2014 11:01 AM
On one hand, I see why you hate this. On another, I see it as running parallel to a lot of the 'deconstructionist superhero' stories that were circulating at the time (in DC and independents). Parodying tropes, highlighting values dissonance, etc.
She-Hulk should also be seen in this light; it was more lighthearted but no less hamfisted.
Posted by: Cullen | October 12, 2014 2:33 AM
That's definitely how i saw Fantastic Four #329, Cullen. But three of the issues here are just characters dreaming rejected plotlines that themselves have nothing meta to say.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 12, 2014 11:10 AM
According to this website, the reason why this was "allowed" may have been simply because the hire-ups didn't exactly "get it" in the first place:
There HAVE been plenty of times in the comics industry were something that was MEANT to be a parody then becomes un-ironically embraced by upper-management and the suits, so it would surprised me if that really was the case here. (that might also explain why the Sue-Crystal catfight scene is being reused in the letter pages.
About Franklin manipulating people's love lives: yeah that would have been an awful subplot. X-Men scribe Chuck Austen apparently didn't think so though, so that would be a good place to look if you wanted to see what the idea would look like if it had been published.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | October 14, 2014 4:49 PM
This just hit me: Englehart rails against the "back to the Silver Age" attitude of the editors, but the story he'd much rather tell involves setting the Thing/Torch/Alicia/Crystal relationships back to the Silver Age? How odd.
Oh, and I think you missed tagging Alicia/Lyja under characters appearing.
Posted by: Berend | October 14, 2014 6:55 PM
Added Lyja. Thanks!
Posted by: fnord12 | October 14, 2014 6:58 PM
Acoording to Englehart in Amazing Heroes #171, DeFalco gave him 6 months to wrap up all his stories. DeFalco also demanded Ben be un-mutated, that Ms. Marvel get dumped, and Crystal to get lost(reportedly saying "I don't want Crystal in this book. I don't want anybody to talk about her...). DeFalco also threatened to fire Englehart initially if he left his name off the stories, so Steve challenged this by using "SFX Englehart" As for why DeFalco didn't just dump him immediately, he stated that Macchio and Anderson fought for him to the end but only relented when DeFalco threatened them with firing if they didn't get in line, but Steve didn't get fired then "Basically because nobody but Tom DeFalco believes in this..." DeFalco declined to respond to AH, but Craig and Ralph stated they fired Steve after Tom "expressed his opinion".
Steve noted that Tom came to Marvel from Archie by way of Star Comics, and that Tom thought the average age of Marvel readers was 8 years old.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 26, 2015 9:48 PM
Mark, I'm curious- when you say that DeFalco demanded Ben be "un-mutated", do you mean that DeFalco demanded Ben be turned human or that DeFalco demanded Ben be returned to his "normal" Thing form? Because fnord and I have wondered why She-Hulk:Ceremony and the Avengers Atlantis Attacks Annual read like Ben was supposed to be the Thing and not in an exoskeleton.
Posted by: Michael | March 27, 2015 11:21 PM
Englehart didn't elaborate, but he did state that DeFalco wanted to revert some titles "back to 1964", so I'm guessing he meant the classic Thing look.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 28, 2015 12:07 PM
I'm still trying to figure out how a tribble got onto Englehart's head in the last panel of #333.
I actually didn't have an issue with these last stories, knowing that Uncle Walt was coming. #332 explained the Ben-Alicia-Johnny relationship more than the Skrull retcon, wouldn't you say?
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | April 7, 2015 8:25 PM
"Something is wrong about the above panels. The scripting is missing something or perhaps the panels are in the wrong order."
FNORD - from my reading of it, they are in the wrong order. I believe it should be read as follows:
Posted by: clyde | July 13, 2015 7:50 PM
If the end result of this mess is that we end up with that Walt Simonson pinup of the Thing, then it's worth it.
Posted by: Erik Beck | August 29, 2015 12:41 PM
Strange that Englehart's DC work on Batman and Justice League are sum of the greatest superhero books of all tyme... And yet that same man can turn in this.
Then again there's something hilarious about how every issue ends with a not so subtle middle finger at DeFalco. You have to love it, if only for the meta-textual soap opera of it all.
Posted by: JC | January 11, 2016 8:36 AM
I think a bigger mystery than "Why was this published" is "Why in God's name is Steve 'Mr Harknes' Englehart wearing a worse hairpiece than Donald Trump?" Seriously, look at it! Is this an artistic mistake, or did the penciler get in a caustic "meta" snark of his own?
About the "Franklin meddles in grown folks love lives" scenario, I'm kinda surprised that it "wasn't allowed to happened" since DeFalco really, really wanted to break up Johnny and Alicia anyway (and given his apparent fervor about it, I'm stunned that he didn't pressure Simonson to do it.)
Posted by: Jon Dubya | September 16, 2016 1:10 AM
Okay, I'll give credit where credit is due, for editorial not allowing Franklin to meddle in grown folks love lives. I can't believe I'm saying this, but even Lyja is not worse than that.
But come on, now, doesn't anybody really care anything at all, about those five poor emotionally damaged clones, being frozen in Aron's meatlocker for all time, just so he can get his evil jollies whilst voyeuristically watching them dream? How sick and twisted is that? How can we just sit back, and let him get away with it? Don't they have basic human rights? Just because they were grown in test tubes through absolutely no fault of their own? Is there no compassion for the laboratory grown? Free the 5!!!!!
Posted by: Holt | November 24, 2017 1:01 AM
Here's another good example of how badly I'm misremembering this book now. I may have alluded to Franklin's manipulation in a previous comment as one of the reasons for the Johnny/Alicia relationship. I just finished #'s 332-33 and know now it was just a "What If?". [Perhaps more of a "What The!?"]
I believe I picked back up on this by only reading the panel as I skimmed the "Great American Novel" mega FF review and completely missed the dream aspect.
Posted by: KevinA | June 24, 2018 11:23 AM
What happened was this- when FF 300 was written, the editors approved Johnny's and Alicia's marriage. By the time FF 304 came along, the editors had a mandate that Johnny's and Alicia's marriage had to be undone. Both DeFalco and Englehart submitted proposals to write the FF and Englehart's was approved. Later on, when DeFalco became editor-in-chief, he rejected the Franklin idea, which as fnord pointed out, would have left Franklin with some weird baggage. But the mandate to split up Johnny and Alicia remained in place, and when DeFalco became writer, he used the Lyja idea (which might or might not have been the original method he proposed).
Posted by: Michael | June 24, 2018 11:56 AM
It's definitely a muddle of conflicting intentions. I doubt if Byrne ever intended for Alicia and Johnny to actually get married, but the first thing the editors did with it once they got it out of his hands was to go and make the relationship permanent. It all reeks of a failed attempt to recapture the enthusiasm Marvel enjoyed over Fantastic Four Annual #3. DeFalco didn't like the marriage, but how to deal with it once it was done was really outside his usual creative sandbox. He not only didn't know how to handle it, but what's worse is that he also didn't know that he didn't know how to handle it. And he will never believe that he didn't know how to handle it, so he still doesn't know.
Posted by: Holt | June 24, 2018 12:13 PM
But Byrne had Johnny interrupted trying to ask Alicia SOMETHING in FF Annual 19 and FF 287- I'm not sure what it would have been if not an engagement proposal.
Posted by: Michael | June 24, 2018 2:26 PM
Yes, Byrne writes two different scenes where Johnny is interrupted when he seems to be about to make a proposal. When Stern takes over he has Johnny propose. Stern & Byrne were close friends so if anyone knew where Byrne was going with that, I think it would be Stern, and I'm sure Stern could have come up with some other "important story" for #300 if not for the wedding.
Not sure where else Byrne could have been going with those scenes, either 1) "ha, you readers thought he was going to propose but he's going to ask her to a monster truck rally", 2) he proposes and she says no it's too soon (but presumably they continue to date), or 3) he proposes & they get married. I'm not sure what other options would be worth the apparent build-up of him getting interrupted.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | June 24, 2018 3:49 PM
Yet Byrne continued to write the FF for another eight issues, #288-295, without Johnny ever popping the question. So if he really intended for them to get married, why all the pussy-footing around? And even if he did eventually propose after 10 or 20 more issues, and assuming that she accepted his proposal, being engaged is not the same thing as actually going through with a marriage. It's the road not taken and we'll never really know for sure.
Posted by: Holt | June 24, 2018 4:46 PM
Well Byrne started the whole thing and who knows what he had planned for it. I thought the betrayal far more interesting that they were a couple. Marriage was unnecessary and far too quick IMO. In Marvel time I should have timed it out approximately but I bet they dated under a year. I maintain a marriage only happened because someone wanted to make a splash for #300.
Posted by: KevinA | June 25, 2018 11:21 AM
Maybe to Ben the bigger betrayal was when Reed stole Sue away from him. Right off the shelf. It's an old theme. Byrne started it in this case but he didn't invent it.
Posted by: Holt | June 25, 2018 2:08 PM
And Alicia as we all know was introduced as looking very similar to Sue. So Alicia was Ben's own replacement for Sue, until she became Johnny's... but let's not dwell on that too much.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | June 25, 2018 2:21 PM
In hindsight it's unfortunate that story was told. Despite the additional maturing of characters who griped and fought early Fantastic Four were still kid-oriented comics and so you had silly stories like that still. I cringe when I remember that Skrulls who mastered interstellar travel did not have advanced enough surveillance equipment that they're fooled by drawings cut from comic books. The Impossible Man??!
Posted by: KevinA | June 25, 2018 10:10 PM
True, I don't think anyone had shown or made reference to Sue & Alicia as looking similar after that original introduction. It's just a "continuity problem" which amuses me. But in the original comics, it is clear that Ben loves Sue until he gets Alicia, then he moves on to Alicia. (I kind of suspect that if a writer other than Byrne had put Johnny & Alicia together, Byrne would be the first person pointing that out & saying the writer didn't understand Stan & Jack's original intentions.)
For what it's worth, I do actually think #332's undoing of the marriage is a better story than the Lyja the Lazerfist retcon, but that may just be because no-one in #332 is called "Lyja the Lazerfist". But I agree that Franklin having messed with adult character's love lives would have wrecked Franklin because as Fnord says, "it's the sort of things that later writers would continually pick at".
And the idea that the Skrulls might try to infiltrate the FF (& that Alicia would be the perfect target) does actually make perfect sense as well, it's just the poor execution of it & the fact that the readers can tell it wasn't originally intended, causes some plotholes, & is just a way to undo the marriage.
Regarding Englehart's wig in this issue, I'd love to think it was some snark by the colourist but Englehart was already bald at the top of his head by 1982 so I think it's a joke Englehart came up with, that the disguise of "John Harkness" was just Englehart wearing an unconvincing wig.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | June 26, 2018 7:12 AM
Alicia's and Sue's resemblance is eventually mentioned again in Marvel Knights 12, when Alicia impersonates Sue. But yeah, usually they're drawn looking nothing alike. And how much older is Sue than Alicia anyway? You'd think people could tell.
Posted by: Michael | June 26, 2018 8:02 AM
I have them about nine years apart. Excuse me if I don't reference the books but if Sue was 12 when she first met 19/20 year old college student Reed and he had a 40th birthday then she's probably 31 or 2. Johnny mentions once to Alicia that "you're not much older" than he was. I have him around 21/2 so she's maybe 22/3. All conjecture everyone.
Posted by: KevinA | June 26, 2018 11:17 AM
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