Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thinking Outside the Box: Fantastic Four #277

(Editor's Note- For those of you out there who don't yet know my story, this blog started as a way for me to document my journey as I navigate my way through a giant box of Fantastic Four comics that I won on eBay. Although I've always had a mild interest in the team, buying such a large lot of their comics at once ignited within me a mad desire to go back and buy any and all of the other FF comics I can get my hands on. For those comics bought after the initial box of 163, I confer upon them "outside the box" status.)

Fantastic Four #277-"Full Circle"
Cover Date: APR 1985 Price $.65
Cover Tagline: "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine"
Writer/Artist: John Byrne

What Happened: For details on what happened in the beginning of this storyline, please follow this link. This story picks up pretty much where #276 left off, but in a rather interesting manner. Told entirely in "split-screen", this issue is like two full plots for the price of one. Or at the very least, it's like 2 player Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64. Yeah, it's that exciting.

In the top half story, we get the return of Ben Grimm, a.k.a the superhero known as the Thing, to Earth from the Planet of the "Secret Wars." The Thing is back and for some reason wearing boots and a black unitard, and his first order of business is to visit his longtime gal friend Alicia Masters. Of course, Ben opens Alicia's door to find none other than his supposed best friend Johnny Storm shacking up with her. In a moment that's been a long time coming, Ben calls Johnny out for being the player that he is.

The two argue, and of course, Alicia breaks it up. Alicia slaps Grimm (proving she really is blind), and tells him that it's more than hanky-panky, she actually loves Johnny. While the Thing never intended to actually get back together with Alicia, he feels slighted that he wasn't even able to express this to her without the "love struck Romeo" getting in the way.

As the lover's triangle heats up, Ben notices that something weird is going on . He turns to see strange happenings with the Sun. Apparently an alien world is hurling towards the Earth. Talk about the best moment ever for a distraction. As Ben, Johnny, and Alicia wonder what's going on, the entire Earth begins to shake. The two heroes spring into action,as Ben rushes off to help people and Johnny goes to drop Alicia off at the Baxter Building. While there, Johnny meets up with she-Hulk and the always politically incorrect Wyatt Wingfoot, who tells him that reports of damage are coming in from all over, meaning that the new planet in the sky is quite a threat. Johnny tells everyone to hang tight, and flies off. Alicia yells for her darling to be careful, revealing that her Johnny got a "thang" going on. This prompts She-Hulk to ask the obvious question: What will Ben think?! And Alicia mentions he just found out. At these revelations, She-Hulk realizes her time with the FF may be coming to a close...

We shift back to the Thing talking to a hottie on the street, asking if she needs help (because it's always more fun to save hot people), and she tells him that the "world-merge" is happening as she transforms into a really ugly orange creature. The creature shoots a tentacle into the Thing's head, and he realizes it must be a "Dire Wraith." Of course! That's totally logical?????

Anyway, the Wraith promptly passes out, and we find out that its entire planet has been destroyed by a space station. The editor's note tells us to read Rom #65 for details. Did you know this was some kind of crossover issue? Surprise! neither did I....

Any way, the top story ends with She-Hulk saying she will leave the team now that Ben has returned, even though it saddens her to do so. Ben tells her not to worry, because he doesn't want his job back. Apparently his new boots (and unitard) were made for walkin!

The Bottom half of the story is more of a direct continuation of the main story from last issue (as well as the video review). Last issue ended with Dr. Strange, Marvel's master of magic, feeling a great disturbance in the force, and flying off to combat the problem. As his story opens, he finds that the small Connecticut town that was attacked last issue is smoldering and surrounded by police. Strange approaches the cops disguised as an average doctor, just lending a hand, and is shocked to find that there are a few dead bodies laying on the street- those of Reed, Sue, and Franklin Richards.

As strange is taken aback by the fact that the heroes seem all but lost (and I'm taken aback by the fact that Sue is in her underwear for some reason), everyone's favorite paranoid budinski Mrs. Chalmers shows up to tell the police that her neighbors were really demons in disguise. Strange's interest is piqued, and Chalmers reveals that she hired the exorcist Elspeth Cromwell to dispatch the evil pretenders...

We cut to a scene of Susan Richards (no longer in her undies but in full FF gear) being tortured in Hades by Mephisto, Marvel Comics answer to the Devil. As any good husband would, Reed tells Mephisto to get his brimstone scorched hands off his wife. Mephisto goes onto show Reed whose boss, in a comically frightening manner, by stretching his face like silly puddy.

And like any good wife (geez, Reed and Sue love each other, we get it), Sue yells at Mephisto to stop, before he kills Reed. Old Phisty says that deaths not a problem anymore, and proves it by impaling the Invisible Woman on a stalactite, or stalagmite, or big poky thing. As she writhes in pain, Dr. Strange appears to help the FF. Phisty knocks the good Dr. back, and Strange realizes the demon is getting a power boost from a nearby crystal. Strange then notices that the crystal contains none other than Franklin Richards. Strange goes to free Frankie, and Reed realizes that Mephisto is afraid of the lad.

Reed also realizes that the FF aren't actually dead, but just in a mental form of their bodies, and that's why they're in their uniforms and not their underwear. Strange blows open the crystal, and Frankie wakes up in a haze. Mephisto goes to clobber the boy, but then this happens:

Franklin, as a powerful reality shaping mutant, literally wishes Mephisto away.

Well, the FF wake up from death, and Dr. Strange lets Mrs. Chalmers know that she severely misjudged her neighbors. He also says that Mephisto probably isn't gone for good, and may be back someday to ruin Spider-Man's marriage in a poorly-conceived and divisive storyline. Oh, and by the way, Elspeth Cromwell doesn't wake up. Ding Dong, the witch hunters dead, and it's pretty much thanks to Mrs. Chalmers....

What I Thought: Normally, my thinking outside the box reviews won't be this long, but I'm glad to say that this was one of the best issues I've read of FF since I started buying heinous amounts of them.

I think what made this issue so satisfying was that it tied up a few storylines with an urgent sense of pacing. We FINALLY see the Johnny/Ben/Alicia thing come to a head, the Mephisto story gets a quick ending, and even the worst part of the story (the Rom tie-in) is brushed aside inconsequentially enough for it to be ignored. The split-screen storytelling may seem cheap and gimmicky, but at least it's something different. I've stated many times that John Byrne did a lot of different things during his time with the FF, and this issue is another example. I feel like a broken record saying that but it's true. I mean seeing Mephisto torturing the FF in Hades is something I don't exactly expect from my monthly FF comics, but Byrne used the situation to allow the characterizations of Reed, Sue, and Franklin to really shine.

Well that's it for now. I start my summer vacation tomorrow night, so I hope to unveil a new feature or two here within the week!!! See you soon, and until unitards become cool, vive le fantastique!
Did you even know we were at war?