Fantastic Four annual #24
Issue(s): Fantastic Four annual #24 (main story and Volcana story)
It's also worth noting that even for the Guardians of the Galaxy, it takes place out of publication sequence. The story here takes place before Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (which had a Jun 90 cover date).
The story begins with a major revision to the original Korvac Saga. The conclusion of that story was about love and betrayal. Temporarily staggered by the heroes, Korvac reached out to his wife, Carina. But she hesitated, and Korvac lost the will to live and allowed himself to die. That was the original story.
But Korvac's power was discovered by Galactus. So the revision here shows Galactus noticing that his power was stolen, and using the Ultimate Nullifier to retaliate against Korvac.
This story still tries to preserve the moment with Carina by having Korvac still reach out to her after he senses the ray from the Nullifier, but instead of losing the will to live, Korvac sends his lifeforce and stolen power to a genetic ancestor of his, so that he'll eventually get it back through his ancestors when we get to the 31st century.
There's also another revision. In the original, after Korvac died, Carina seemed to cause Thor's hammer to strike against his will, killing her. So it seemed that Carina killed herself in grief. In this revision, Korvac implants a subconscious command in Thor before he "dies", so that it's Korvac, not Carina, that causes Carina to be killed. So instead of a grief-induced suicide, Carina's death seems to be vengeance from Korvac for hesitating. There are no direct contradictions in terms of the actions of the characters between the two stories, but the meaning of the original story is radically changed by the retcon here. It's worth noting that while Al Milgrom writes, draws, and inks this issue, it's edited by Ralph Macchio, who had Steve Englehart undo Jim Shooter's Secret Wars II; this retcon negates another Shooter story.
The Time Variance Authority, described as "Sort of the Mark Gruenwalds of time continuity" get upset when Galactus originally uses his Nullifier but cheer when Korvac allows himself to die.
Fighting the Badoon in the future, Starhawk senses a problem with the timeline related to Korvac, and convinces the Guardians of the Galaxy to go back in time to investigate. They wind up going to the Fantastic Four, taking care to appear in the lobby to avoid a Misunderstanding Fight.
It turns out, though, that the Fantastic Four were ready for their arrival.
The next three days are spent designing some new gadgets. The sub-photonic spectro-analyzer that was used recently to track Skrull energy is reconfigured to track Korvac. The second new gadget is a self-contained time redundancy/probability field projector that will allow Vance Astrovik to walk around on Earth even though his present day self is still alive (and a member of the New Warriors). The device Mr. Fantastic builds is huge, so Henry Pym is called in to shrink it down. Pym also shrinks a third device, but the audience isn't told what it is yet.
The tracker device leads the FF and the Guardians to Australia, and they arrive right next to Gateway.
But it's not Gateway that has inherited Korvac's power. It's a young woman that is wandering the Outback.
Approaching her causes Korvac's personality to assert itself.
Starhawk swaps places with his wife, Aleta, during the fight. Note her costume (or comparative lack thereof); it will change in a future part of this story.
"Korvac" manages to easily defeat the heroes. But Mr. Fantastic managed to slip away prior to that, and we learn what the other object that Henry Pym shrunk was. It's Dr. Doom's time machine. What follows is one of the silliest sequences i've seen in a while.
Reed goes back in time, asks Gateway to teleport him back to Korvac's old home in Queens, and then goes back further in time.
Moments after Korvac escaped the rays from the Ultimate Nullifier, Reed catches them and takes them with him back to the present.
Korvac sends his personality and powers into the future. This basic formula will be repeated for the next two parts of the story, next in Thor annual #16. Korvac's ancestor is unharmed, and the Guardians of the Galaxy head to the future after Korvac, armed with the tracking device Reed built. The Fantastic Four head back to Gateway to ask for a "ride" home, but before they get there, a representative of the Time Variance Authority shows up to complain about the use of the time machine.
A back-up story has Volcana working up the nerve to return to the apartment that she and the Molecule Man used to share, just to put things in order. Instead she finds that the Molecule Man is there, having returned to Earth three weeks earlier.
But AIM is tracking the Molecule Man. He doesn't seem to have his powers any more, but they want information on the Cosmic Cube, so they send Klaw after him. Klaw is told that Volcana is expendable, so he throws her out a window, but she survives by transforming into her new stone form.
Klaw leaves her a solid sound construct to fight with while he escapes.
But AIM become intrigued by Volcana's powers, so they order Klaw to capture her too. Klaw seems to be demonstrating some new powers, including the ability to return the force delivered to his constructs from his opponents back at them (Michael notes in the comments that this was something we saw in Klaw's first appearance, but it's not something we've seen since)...
...and something called "cohesive sound", which draws increasing power from surrounding noise (this one i'm fairly certain is completely new).
The new powers may be due to the fact that AIM has rebuilt his sonic hand weapon. When they did that, they also put in technology that can kill him if he refuses to obey their orders.
After changing from stone to her usual volcanic fire, the observing AIM scientists say "I wonder what other surprises our large friend has in store for us?", and my first thought (after raising my eyebrows to "large") was, well, no, those are her only two forms. But i was proved wrong when she next transforms into ash.
After that, the Molecule Man gets his powers back.
It turns out (and Dr. Doom already suspected this in last year's FF annual) that the Molecule Man left a portion of his power with Volcana.
Despite having what should be near-omnipotent power levels, Molecule Man does not fare that well against Klaw. But Molecule Man does destroy Klaw's hand weapon, freeing him from AIM's control. So he ends the fight. Molecule Man then takes a passed out Volcana back to their apartment. But all is not well in their relationship. Volcana is upset about Molecule Man thinking that she wouldn't want him coming back to her life and also about the fact that he stored his powers in her. When Volcana's mother, brother, and friend Annie show up outside the apartment door, Volcana tells the Molecule Man to leave, since her mom doesn't know her secret identity. The story ends with Volcana thinking that she still loves the Molecule Man but that "what we once had together is gone for good".
It occurs to me that this, too, is undoing one of Jim Shooter's contributions. The Molecule Man and Volcana's relationship was very similar to Korvac and Carina; both couples were near-omnipotent beings living mundane suburban lives. It's interesting (but probably coincidental, given the haphazard way the Volcana story was published) to see both stories getting undone in a single annual.
The Volcana story, at least, is an attempt to focus on a character that didn't normally get the spotlight. This first part of the Korvac Quest is a really pedestrian affair, nowhere near in the league of Shooter's Korvac Saga, which added some human elements and philosophy to an epic super-battle. Part one of the Korvac Quest is a much more generic adventure (a fact obscured slightly by the complexities of time travel). But at least we get the hilarity of Mr. Fantastic squeezing through a tiny time machine.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Despite what you see on the cover, this story does not take place while the Thing is in pineapple form. The story explicitly takes place before Fantastic Four #350 (since the TVA agent is able to appear on Earth), so the Thing, who looks like he's in his classic form, must be in his exoskeleton. The story also has to occur after Fantastic Four #347-349, since they use the spectro-analyzer acquired from the Skulls in that story. This is the only part of the Korvac Saga grounded on present day Earth, so this annual determines placement for all four parts of the event. As always with time-traveling characters, their appearances on present day Earth may not be listed in chronological order from their perspective (although it does seem to be the case for these characters). Henry Pym is said to be "grabbing a little R&R from Avengers West" which suggests but doesn't require that this takes place before he leaves the team after Avengers West Coast #74.
The Volcana story starts by saying it takes place "Three weeks" after the Molecule Man came back to Earth. But that doesn't necessarily mean three weeks since Fantastic Four annual #23 when the Molecule Man and the Beyonder were split apart from the Cosmic Cube that they had formed.
A back-up featuring the Super-Skrull is covered in a separate entry.
Crossover: Korvac Quest
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (3): showAleta, Annie Arnold, Charlie-27, Gateway, Henry Pym, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Klaw, Korvac, Major Victory, Martinex, Molecule Man, Mr. Fantastic, Nikki, Roberta, Starhawk, Thing, Volcana, Yondu
I never realized how much of an axe to grind Ralph Macchio had towards Jim Shooter. The last year or so (on this site) seems to show that Macchio made it his mission to go around the MU and try to dismantle anything Shooter had to do with. If true, that's incredibly petty.
Posted by: Bill | September 22, 2015 5:44 PM
This isn't the only attempt to retcon the Korvac Saga. Remember Gruenwald's "epilogue" in the TPB?
Posted by: Michael | September 22, 2015 6:02 PM
One of my friends was very annoyed by that epilogue in the Korvac TPB. I do see the problem with it but I just read it as “this is what Cap & Herc think, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right, it’s just their opinion”. (Though I guess the original interpretation that Korvac was good is just Moondragon’s opinion, and by the 90s they’d decided Cap is always right.) (And who the hell would trust Moondragon?) It does ruin the way it ends a bit to stick an epilogue afterwards, but I can see they were trying to back away from Shooter’s concept of the heroes being fallible and maybe they mess up sometimes. I prefer the fallible heroes, but other people see the heroes as less heroic that way. Compared to that, this story seemed an absolutely pointless retcon, just using the reputation of a good story to make a crappy sequel which not only adds nothing, but also messes up the original.
Posted by: Jonathan | September 25, 2015 8:40 AM
I know that What If isn't in continuity, but it bothers me that this contradicts the What If issue wherein we learn that the user of the Ultimate Nullifier is also nullified.
It also bothers me that this completely messes up the Korvac Saga, which I love, but that just seems to be Macchio being a d--k.
Posted by: Erik Beck | December 4, 2015 7:09 AM
Erik- it's just the What If issue- FF 341 also had the Nullifier working that way.
Posted by: Michael | December 4, 2015 8:01 AM
Thanks for that info, Michael. It still bothers me though, especially since the What If issue came first (I can't remember what it was, but I definitely had stopped buying What If by this point so it was definitely before here - I believe it was early in the second What If series).
Posted by: Erik Beck | December 4, 2015 8:54 AM
That What If was #32 of the first series, way back in 1982.
It's the reason I don't have as much of an issue with the retcons as I'm initially tempted to, since that What If issue was published years before Shooter was forced out, right in the middle of his "control freak" phase as editor-in-chief. Yet he allowed it to go forward. The story did not make Korvac look sympathetic. If anything, it just painted him as an amoral "force of nature" much like Galactus himself. I have to believe that if Shooter really thought that was out of line, even for a parallel reality "speculation" story, he still would have squashed it or insisted the story be re-written.
Posted by: Dan H. | December 4, 2015 4:19 PM
That is a great What If Ia highpoint for the series) but the Ultimate Nullifier revelation was incredibly lacking and unnecessary imo
Posted by: Scott | December 4, 2015 5:08 PM
Erik- sorry, there was a typo in my response. I meant "it's not JUST the What If issue- FF 341 also had the Nullifier working that way". IOW, in FF 341, the Nullifier's user was also destroyed, so this issue was inconsistent with FF 341, not just the What If.
Posted by: Michael | December 4, 2015 7:37 PM
First that What If is one of my favorite comics. As an overview of the big cosmic characters of the marvel universe it's a nice preview of the Infinity Gauntlet saga. Second, the idea that the user of the Ultimate Nullifier is killed is also used in Hickman's FF 14, but in that case Nazi Reed says "It is a myth that the nullifier while being the most powerful weaon in the universe always destroys the person using it. It can be used. The device requires complete focus. Alignment of mind and purpose." Gray Reed is destroyed using the Nullifier, but it's unclear if that is simply the nature of the device, or because he lacked focus, or because Doom was secretly casting a spell on him in the background.
Posted by: Andrew | January 2, 2016 1:30 PM
The Nullifier probably can be used safely by certain beings like Galactus, but usually destroys "mortal" beings like humans and standard alien races. It might require a certain plane of consciousness to be achieved which is why allowing humans to have it is like giving matches to people who live in a tinderbox.
Posted by: Chris | January 2, 2016 1:41 PM
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