Fantastic Four #343-346
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #343, Fantastic Four #344, Fantastic Four #345, Fantastic Four #346
I've said before that the Fantastic Four work best as adventurer-explorers ("imaginauts") and these issues are a good example of that. They start off in an alternate universe where they fight a Jospeh Stalin robot created by Disney (in a world where Dan Quayle is president, and also possibly a robot)...
...and then they go back in time to try to survive without their powers (except for the Thing's exo-skeleton, which is no small exception) in the time of the dinosaurs (along with some similarly time-lost US soldiers).
During the Stalin part, they also have to use huge guns to shoot nuclear missiles out of the sky.
Of course the further away from the real Marvel universe, the less direct relevance to my project, so while these are a really great set of issues, i'm going to focus on the character moments. Of much interest is the four way relationship between Johnny Storm, his wife Alicia Masters, Ben Grimm, and Sharon Ventura. The above scans should fulfill my robot and dinosaur quota.
Before the group figures out that they're in an alternate dimension, there's a scene of Ben talking about going on a date with Sharon, and she thinks to herself that he's not very imaginative.
Then, when it becomes clear that they aren't in the right reality, we learn that in this world, Alicia has married Ben. And she mistakes Sharon for Ben.
Some humor in that, but also some real emotion when Ben lets her touch his face.
Despite finding a world where he's married to Alicia, Ben seems totally ready to just abandon the world when it turns out that we're less than two minutes to midnight.
But Sharon is worried about the fact that Alicia is pretty. More so than Ben seems to be.
It's not like Sharon hasn't seen Alicia before, but i guess learning that in a different reality she and Ben are married is getting to her.
During the fight with Stalin, there's a little tension when Ben cracks out his Thing exo-skeleton.
And that continues when they get back and Ben is saying goodbye to the Stalinverse Alicia.
I should also note that the Stalinverse is one where Power Pack doesn't exist. Or maybe they only existed until around issue #30 or so, which actually sounds like a kind of Utopia.
Also, the Reed Richards of that world is more practically minded than our Reed, and has designed a faster Pogo Plane.
In the dinosaur world, since they've lost their powers, Sharon is in human form. And she's still obsessed with looking pretty.
I was kind of annoyed by what feels like a mischaracterization of Sharon (even in her height! She was always Amazonian in stature. Would human Ben really have to look down at her?).
But it develops into something good, with Ben finding a way to get past her longstanding fear of being touched.
Her growth continues as she decides she likes being human...
...but ultimately decides that she still wants to go back to the real world.
We haven't been looking too much at Johnny aside from his "Oh no!" when the alternate Alicia showed up, but we see here that he is still harboring feelings for Nebula, and he's worried about what that means for his relationship with Alicia.
And now for something completely different (and much less serious). Reed facing down a dinosaur in his underwear.
It's Sharon that notices that the dinosaur world is really a mishmosh of various periods.
Parts of the island they are on are dropping back into the timestream in chronological order, so that's important knowledge that allows them to survive longer by staying on the most recent portion.
Sharon is also the hero of that T. Rex fight, throwing a spear and eventually risking her life to lure the dinosaur off a cliff. Which makes a lot of sense. Even before she ever got enhancements from the Power Broker she was an adventurer and an explorer. So even beyond her emotional issues, Walt Simonson is not ignoring the character or forgetting where she came from.
Although, a caveat about them surviving: the FF and the soldiers eventually make a raft and try to get off the island that they're on. But they soon find they're trapped by a barrier. They're then attacked by a plesiosaur...
...who winds up ramming into them even as it's having its head shot off, and the momentum seemingly pushes them through the barrier, and back into the real world.
But we find out at the very end that the Time Variance Authority has ruled that the Fantastic Four will be remanded into the custody of their own local time line (pending an appearance before the board) and all regional temporal disruptions have been repaired.
So it may be that the FF would have been put back in their own timeline no matter what happened.
Anyway, as you can see from the next issue blurb, we'll be going from some very fun but probably noncommercial dimension hopping to one of the most deliberately commercial stories of all times.
I focused on the human interactions but there's plenty of action and adventure, too. And some other nice moments like showing the very stable and non dysfunctional Reed and Sue relationship, and some cool scenes where the soldiers start off not believing it's the real FF, and then thinking they're useless without their powers, and then finally realizing they are pretty awesome no matter what. A lot of fun stuff from a lot of different angles. If #337-341 are a great one time epic, these issues are more like what "average" issues of the FF should be like, and "average" is pretty damn cool.
Quality Rating: A-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Johnny Storm makes a random reference to the New Warriors, so it's a good thing that issue #1 had to be pushed forward in publication time. This story continues directly from the story beginning in Fantastic Four #337 and the FF shouldn't appear anywhere else until they return home at the end of this arc.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showHuman Torch, Invisible Woman, Mr. Fantastic, Ms. Marvel (Sharon Ventura), Thing
Stalin died in 1953, not in 1952- unless Reed knows something we don't. :)
Posted by: Michael | May 11, 2015 7:55 PM
Another fun set of issues. I actually liked this set better than the preceding storyline.
Simonson had a very good handle on these characters. Definitely the only highlight for the title after Byrne left for a long, long time.
Posted by: Chris | May 11, 2015 9:53 PM
Robot Stalin and dinosaurs. What's not to love?
It's such a shame he didn't stick around the FF longer. He could easily have surpassed Byrne's run as second-only-to-Kirby.
Ity's an even bigger shame that the pain of the DeFalco years are what we got instead.
Posted by: Bob | May 13, 2015 1:42 AM
Simonson's run shows that people have no idea what they're talking about when they say FF is too retro to work in modern comics. (I hear rumors Marvel wants to reboot the book back into the 60s post-Civil War, for instance)
Reed is supposed to be the cutting edge explorer of the universe. The rest of Marvel should be playing catch-up to the FF.
Simonson gave us that FF, and few writers or artists (if any) have been able to come close since.
Posted by: Bob | May 13, 2015 1:47 AM
Worth noting that in #345 Simonson depicted velociraptors with feathers ... almost two decades before this concept gained mainstream scientific acceptance.
And yes, Stalin died 5 March 1953 ... the same day as Prokofiev.
Posted by: Instantiation | August 4, 2015 10:49 PM
Simonson's Sharon looks a lot like his Lorelei, but that's not a bad thing. Also love the next issue blurb - very reminiscent of what he did on Thor.
Posted by: Erik Beck | October 17, 2015 12:53 PM
So, continuing my re-read of Walter Simonson's FF, this is a good set of issues. The fight with Robo-Stalin is all sorts of fun, and Simonson is always going to give it his all whenever he has the opportunity to throw in dinosaurs.
Looking at these issues this time with the benefit of hindsight, I really wonder what Simonson would have done with Sharon Ventura if he had stayed on the title longer. He obviously had a fondness for the character, and got even better use out of her than Englehart. Simonson does a very good job with the relationship between her and Ben Grimm here.
Knowing what happens next (Ben deliberately turns himself back into the Thing so Sharon wouldn't be alone, only to find out that she's allowed Doctor Doom to cure her) I'm curious how Simonson would have shown that affecting their relationship over the long run. Instead under DeFalco things went in an entirely different, backwards direction for the Thing, Sharon, the Human Torch and Alicia.
Agreed with commenter Bob that if Simonson had stuck around longer he would probably have had a long run that ranked alongside Lee / Kirby and Byrne in quality. So, yeah, once again I suppose we have to "thank" Bob Harras for pissing Simonson off enough that he quit.
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 10, 2016 10:06 PM
This may not be the Pixar FF we deserve, but it's the one that we need.
Posted by: MindlessOne | June 11, 2017 11:01 AM
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