Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fantastic Four #291

Fantastic Four #291-"The Times They Are A' Changing!"
Cover Date: June 1986 Price $.75
Cover Tagline :"The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!"
Writer/Artist: John Byrne

What Happened: The story opens with the image of a flying car touching down in a dark alley in Greenwich Village . The car is from the spy organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D, which is an acronym for some technical sounding branch of the government. Suffice it to say, S.H.I.E.L.D is like the F.B.I , C.I.A., Department of Homeland Security, and Star Trek all rolled into one. Those in the car include Sue and Johnny Storm, the jade skinned powerhouse known as the She-Hulk, and the gruff war veteran Nick Fury. The foursome get out of the delori--I mean hover car, and explore their surroundings, trying to get a bead on the differences they sense. Fury tells the others that he is all too familiar with the area, because they have landed in his old the year 1936!!!

While the team stands in a bit of astonishment, Johnny mentions that Sue is in charge, as Reed Richards is now dead. Geez, what happened?! It's only been 3 issues since my last trip to "the box." Anyway, Sue says that Reed would indeed know what to do, and who to contact. As anyone whose seen Time Cop knows, it can cause irreparable damage to the time stream to interact with anything the past. As Sue talks, Fury alerts her to the presence of a dreaded garbageman, who will assuredly be startled at their appearances as he turns the corner. Sue deftly handles the situation by cloaking everyone and the S.H.I.E.L.D car with her invisibility powers. That garbageman could have forever altered the Marvel Universe....

Thanks to some quick thinking, Fury then uses an imaging device in the S.H.I.E.L.D car's internal computer to make it stand out less. While the images available do not include 30's models, Fury makes the car look like a U.P.S. truck ,which is inconspicuous in the 1930's landscape apparently. She- Hulk even makes a snide comment, revealing John Byrne's politics underlying attitude about U.P.S' aesthetic choices. Man, this is comics, get off your soapbox.

As the team drives through the streets trying to think of some contacts they could meet with to solve their chronological predicament, a police car turns on its siren behind them. In a clear case of time based profiling, Fury states that the cops must have seen the truck's unchanged license plate from 50 years in the future. As Fury speeds away, he evades the police and is startled as he turns the corner and finds that he and his passengers have gone back...back to the future!

Yes, for some inexplicable reason, the team appears to be back in their own era. Johnny "worst teammate ever" Storm immediately jumps out of the car and tells everyone that he has to go make sure his fiance Alicia's okay. He flies to her apartment, and she says everything's fine. Johnny asks her what she has been doing since all the time warp stuff happened, and she tells him its only been 3 hours since they last spoke. Johnny is confused, since he believes he has been gone a long time, what with all fighting in the Negative Zone and watching Reed die and such.

As Johnny goes to explain his whereabouts, he suddenly finds himself back in the past, with Alicia nowhere to be found. Johnny takes to the skies in flame form, and forgets that whole "don't mess with the past" rule. But it's okay, because he has "air brakes", a la Willie E. Coyote. Just don't look down, matchstick.

On the other side of town, we find that Nick Fury has crashed the S.H.I.E.L.D car into a wall, seemingly on purpose. It seems that S.H.I.E.L.D. often uses holograms to mask secret entry ways around town, and as Fury drove towards one in the future, the timeline switched back to the 30's. Fury's knocked out cold, and in need of a doctor. Sue tells She-Hulk to watch over ol-one eye, while she gets help. As she leaves, Fury's radio pipes up with a message from agents who are aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. satellite called Space Platform One. As She-Hulk talks to the agents, they are a bit surprised to find out they're calling 1936.

We cut to a scene with Sue wandering the streets of New York, the places she's familiar with all but unrecognizable now due to the time travel. As Sue explores, she ponders the gravity of her new responsibility as team leader of the FF, as well as the reality that her husband is dead. We get a nice "when Sue met Reed" history lesson, and my theory that John Byrne must have had a Fantastic Four "origin recap quota" written into his contract gains more validity as we see another small flashback to that event.

As Sue continues to worry, we jump back to the She-Hulk, who is still on the horn with the satellite. She explains to the agents that her team is stuck in 1936, and they tell her it must be a localized issue, because all their instruments scan a normal Manhattan setting. Shulkie tells the agents to hold on, as she sees a car about to run over a guy in a trench coat.

Knowing the lesson that she shouldn't trifle with the past, the She-Hulk decides to intervene anyway, and stops the car from running down its intended victim. His attackers call the She-Hulk a devil and flee the scene, and she asks the smooth looking gentleman she just saved to tell her his story. He obliges, and tells her that he's "Licorice" Calhoun, a Clarinet player from a local jazz club.

It seems Licorice's dreams always come to fruition, and this was a trait which his boss was trying to exploit by making him dream of riches. Licorice explains the men in the car wanted to run him down because he didn't dream of riches, but blood and fire. The blood and fire, he found out, were the bosses horse stables, which burned to the ground.

While the deaths of horses makes for pleasant conversation between She Hulk and Licorice, Nick Fury awakens in the hover car and tunes in the radio. After hearing a report about something in "a German leader in Berlin", Fury flips out and takes off in the flying car. She-Hulk tries to stop him just as Sue returns. The women, along with "Licorice", watch Fury fly away, and Sue says they have to stop Fury. Because Sue knows that Fury is going to try and kill Adolf Hitler, an action which could severely disrupt time and space. Didn't they learn anything from Time Cop!?

What I Thought:It's getting harder to judge these issues for quality. Coming in from the standpoint of not knowing what happened to Reed, how the team got the past, and why they were with Nick Fury in the first place, I actually felt as discombobulated as some of the characters in the comic. I'm not saying that as a criticism though, it was actually kind of fun to try and decipher what happened. I think as usual some of this issue feels stretched out, especially scenes like the team almost getting discovered by the garbageman. But still, that kind of "story stretching" beats the heck out of some of the offenses found in modern comics, where whole issues could be axed without losing any of the story.

As far as the plot, I was intrigued by the whole switching back and forth between eras concept. The time travel bit with the "should we save Hitler?" question is cliche, but for a character like Fury it at least has a little bit of relevancy. I would like to think Fury would know better nowadays and just leave the timestream be. To give this issue a little more credit, I was curious enough about what would happen next that I went online and bought issue 292. I'm actually a bit saddened that I'll soon be reviewing FF books that aren't by John Byrne.

And while I rag on Byrne for including the FF's origin so much, I understand that comics and related bits of information were not as readily available at the time as they are now. The fact that Byrne so masterfully recaps Sue's whole life in one page either says a lot about his abilities, or very little about Sue's personal life outside of Reed.

So until Marty McFly joins the FF, vive le fantastique!

1 comment:

  1. Curious about this one... The cover. it was a foreshadow to what was going to happen to the FF in a few months. It's a homage of Action comics #1. Byrne bolted Marvel to do "Man of Steel" at DC.