Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fantastic Four #236

Fantastic Four #236- "Terror in a Tiny Town"
Cover Date: Nov 1981 Price $1.00
Writer: Johny Byrne Artist: John Byrne

(Editor's note- I realized that the only way I can deal with these older issues is with an intense amount of commentary and sarcasm. I really do apologize if I approach "1980's stand up comedian" levels of annoyingness. We have a "Chandler-level" event here, people)

Story: This is triple sized 2oth anniversary edition of the "World's Greatest Comics Magazine." The story starts with a familiar sight: Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Sue stealing a rocketship and flying off into space. As Reed flies into the cosmic storm on purpose, Ben Grimm warns him to turn back. Reed, ever the man of science, continues on his course and the crew is bombarded with space radiation. Reed calls out to Ben to steady the ship, but Grimm feels tired from the radiation and passes out. The spaceship hurtles towards the Earth and explodes. The end.

Okay, that wasn't the end, it was actually the point where Johnny Storm wakes up from his nightmare. It seems the young man has been having quite a bit of these types of scares lately, but he is reluctant to tell his family. After all, who would believe a mechanic from the town of Liddleville that keeps seeing visions of his family and friends as space faring rocket snatchers? Yep, it's one of those issues!

To get to the point, Reed and Susan Richards are married with a young son named Franklin. Reed is an absent minded professor at Liddleville College, and he is constantly derided by his colleagues and boss, Mr. Vincent Vaughn. Reed's close and handsome (read: not rocky) friend Ben Grimm often comes to visit the Richards, along with his not-blind wife Alicia. Mr. Grimm owns a bar where the family likes to get together and celebrate their lives in Liddleville, much like the characters on the TV show Cheers like to convene at the communal watering hole of the same name. Even Ben's father in law, Mr. Phillip Masters, sometimes comes to join them all, because he just loves Mr. Grimm and his daughter being together.
Well, it turns out that Ben, Johnny, Reed, and Sue all keep having similar nightmares in which they are on a stolen rocketship which travels through cosmic radiation. As Reed ponders this odd coincidence, he falls asleep and dreams about a group of adventurers named the Fantastic Four. Awaking with a thud as his chair tips over, Reed realizes that Liddleville is a sham, and he and his family actaually are the Fantastic Four. Woah....spoiler alert, anyone?
Reed tests his theory that things are not what they seem by cutting himself with a scalpel. apparently, "pinch me, I must be dreaming!" wasn't scientific enough for him. He goes to his home to find his worried family. He tells them the good news that they are all living in a dream world, and that Phillip Masters is in fact the villain Puppet Master, and a very likely candidate for the perpetrator of this dream state. Alicia has a hard time thinking of her step father that way, and Ben gets pretty upset because he knows that means he is really a rocky monster, and not a doting husband and bar owner (What's he complaining about? At this point in my life, I'd rather be a rocky monster than either of those). Phillip Masters tells them that since Reed figured it out, they are actually tiny puppets whose real bodies are elsewhere. The minds of the FF are being projected into the bodies, and Masters is okay with this because he only wanted to see Alicia happy.

Reed then deduces that Phillip Masters isn't smart enough or connected enough to put the team into this dreamworld. The real villain behind the plot reveals himself to be none other than... Dr. Doom! No way! Doom? In an anniversary issue? Another spoiler alert, please? Doom has got the team trapped in the world of Liddleville (huh, I just got that! Cause they're so little!), and has been watching them by manipulating a puppet version of himself, Vincent Vaughn, who was Reed's fake boss at his pretend college.

Now the FF must figure a way out. The only catch is that Ben doesn't want to leave, because he knows in all reality he and Alicia are not married and that he is a total uggo. He takes off for a while and Reed bids him farewell. Reed then goes to the college and figures out that if he uses the machine there to replicate the cosmic radiation that once gave him and his team powers, they may be able to use their puppet bodies to get their real bodies turned back on (they'll get their powers back from the machine because their puppet bodies are based on DNA copies of their real bodies). But the power levels need to be 20 times the normal amount for the team to stand a chance. The first test of the machine could be fatal, and Reed, Sue, and Johnny all argue who wants to put themselves in harm's way first. Ben then interrupts and tells Reed to use the machine on him.Reed asks if he's sure, and in the funniest scene of the comic Ben says "NO! So do it!" Alicia then tells Ben that she loves him no matter how orange and rocky he is.

What follows is that the FF all get their powers, the Puppet Master flees, and the puppet FF take the fight to Doom. They rig up his machine to throw them back into their real bodies, but they have to trick him into shooting energy at it. They appeal to his egotistical side, and he ends up shooting energy into the machine. The FF get their bodies back, and Doom appears to be catatonic. The FF grab his body, which is frozen in suspended animation, and decide to go back to the real world.

Meanwhile, we find out Doom's mind has been transported into the body of the puppet Vincent Vaughn, and that he planned for this all along. He's happy because he will be able to transport his consciousness into the suspended Doom body and surprise the FF at a later date. Doom has a signal watch that will allow him to transport his consciousness, and as he stands and gives exposition about it, a rock flies and breaks it (This is why you shouldn't talk so much, old comics!). Apparently the Puppet Master has taken control of the citizens of Liddleville (since they were also puppets), and is going to have them revolt against Doom.

What I Thought: First of all, it's cool to see what the 20th anniversary of the FF looked like. Reading comics nowadays, we're seeing how things like the 70th anniversary of Marvel are celebrated, and I never give much thought to the fact that they celebrated these older milestones as well. I thought the "anniversary issue" was an invention of a more consumer driven era, but I need to think about how comics on a whole were created solely to make money.

This story was one part cliche, one part fun, and one part surprise. Obviously, the dream world thing is used in storytelling all the time, and the real question becomes the "who's behind it, and why?" Byrne doesn't waste too much time getting there, and I appreciate that. I did think the amount of time the team took luring Doom to the machine was a bit much, but this issue was 3 times the normal size. (On that note,this comic featured a tale by Stan and Jack as well, but I didn't read it because it was an absolutely shameless advertisement for the old FF cartoon that featured H.E.R.B.I.E.)
This comic had a lot of great character moments, especially between Alicia and Ben. I loved the inclusion of Puppet Master, who looks like a deranged "Dopey" from Snow White. Puppet Master is quickly becoming my favorite stock FF villain, next to Doom, of course. Byrne's run on this book is stuff of legend, or so I've been told all my life, and I'm interested in seeing his era in action. Actually having a physical copy of his work is helping the experience I believe.

As far as the end, I was genuinely surprised to see Doom get stuck in his puppet body. I never knew that had happened to him, and I'm curious as to how he'll escape. Good one, Byrne!

Well, I think that's it for now. I'm looking forward to a regular sized issue next time around. Until then, vive la Fantastique!


  1. Without sarcasim, you'd probably go crazy reading these old FF comics. And for the record, sarcastic Kello is GOOD Kello. I loved the way Reed just completely seems unwilling to believe that Puppet Master is the mastermind behind this situation, basically because he's not smart enough. Poor Puppet Master.

  2. I felt the exact same way! It's like, "you could totally pull off this crime...if you weren't a complete moron!"
    And you know Reed would have some mathematical equation proving that Puppet Master is totally incapable of ever pulling off such a scheme. The numbers don't lie!

  3. And that right there is why FF writers must love Reed. Instead of bothering to explain how the characters have reached these far-flung explanations, they can always use the tried and tested, "Reed figured it out." to explain away any situation!