Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fantastic Four #296

Fantastic Four 296-“Homecoming”
Nov 1986 $1.50 (Dang! For 1986, it better be worth it!)
Writer/ Artist- Jim Shooter/ Stan Lee/ Barry Windsor-Smith/Kerry Gammill/ Ron Frenz/ Al Milgrom/ John Buscema/ Marc Silvestri / Jerry Ordway
Cover Tagline: “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine”
Number of issues since last box pull: 5

(Editor’s Note- Today’s review will continue the trend of chronicling my journey through a box of 163 Fantastic Four comics. Unlike the “staying current” or “Thinking outside the box” posts, this comic was included in my original set purchased from eBay. The box is not one complete run, in fact there are some large gaps between issues. But part of the fun of randomly skipping through continuity is seeing just how much the FF has changed over the years!)

What happened: This 25th anniversary issue opens with Benjamin Grimm doing his best “Ninja Turtles Disguise” impression and walking around in the pouring rain in the city of Stockton.As the gargantuan figures stalks the night like some kind of emo version of Andre the Giant, a car accidentally runs into him due to the low visibility. The driver checks on Ben to see if he’s okay, and the Thing tells the driver to scram. Once again, nobody writes The Thing like Stan Lee:

Anyway, we find out that the Thing is back in Stockton because that’s where the FF’s ship originally crash landed after it was hit with cosmic rays. If you’ve never seen the FF’s origin, than this is a comic for you (and you probably haven’t been paying attention to superhero culture anytime in the past 60 years).

After he finishes reminiscing, Ben bemoans his fate as the monstrous Thing, and decides that his best course of action is to flee humanity and go live on Monster Island. Accordingly, he has his pilot buddy drop him off in the middle of the ocean, and he makes his way ashore.

We cut to the sunny setting of Los Angeles California, where Reed Richards, Sue Storm, and Johnny Storm are hot on Ben’s trail (after scanning for his brain waves!), trying to find out what happened to him. The “tremendous three” ambush the pilot that dropped Ben in the middle of the sea, and we find out the man’s name is Hopper Hertnecky. Old Hopper tells Reed and co. that they’ve never really cared about Ben, and that the Thing finally decided that he couldn’t live among men anymore. Man, that pilot sure doesn’t mince words…

Skipping over the b-story of the issue, Reed decides that if Ben wants to live with monsters, that’s fine. He just wants to have one last “man-to-man” talk with his friend, and then he can let go of the guilt of not being able to cure the Thing of his rocky form. Reed, Sue, and Johnny get ready for adventure, all while telling the very dismayed She-Hulk and Alicia Masters to sit this one out.

The F3 make it to Monster Island and land the Fantasti-Car by the mouth of the cave. As they get out they are ambushed by (you guessed it!) monsters. The Fantasti-Car is literally smashed to bits by a giant creature and the F3 escape into the cave. I guess they’ll be staying at Monster Island for a while too!

The 3 continue to fight monsters until they are overwhelmed within the bowels of the island. Their only saving grace….Ben Grimm, dressed like an unholy hybrid the Mole Man and 80’s pop icon Prince!

“Purple Rain Thing” explains that the Mole Man and he are now best friends, and that he serves as a security officer of sorts for Monster Island. The Mole Man, acting very much like a jealous lover, is distrusting of the appearance of the 3, and tells the Thing not to trust his former teammates. The Mole Man then leaves to go get some “treatments” and Ben shows the F3 around the island. After showing them the Koi pond and Jamba Juice kiosk, Ben reveals the grand finale: the Mole Man’s burrowing machine!

If you didn’t know where this comic was going before, you should now…

Anyway, Mole Man finds out about the “unauthorized” tour Ben gave the F3, and once again throws a “jealous girlfriend” sized hissy. Thankfully the MM’s whining is interrupted by some guards who have captured a spy. The spy turns out to be none other than Alicia Masters. If you’re not laughing right now, you should be.

Apparently everyone’s favorite surly pilot Hopper dropped off Alicia so she could “explore” the island. I mean, what kind of man wouldn’t say no to dropping a blind chick off on an island full of monsters? Alicia is injured (probably from monster bites, running into walls, and falling into chasms), so the MM sets her up in sick bay.

In a scene that should quall some of the recent debate here at FF Plaza, Alicia and Ben finally talk about the fact that she’s shacking up with Johnny. While I’m a big fan of “Team Benlicia”, (which sounds way more family friendly than "Team AlJohnny") Ms. Masters herself tells the Thing that he is too self-loathing for her, and that Johnny makes her feel special. Although Alicia might be a Skrull at this point in continuity, we’ll count this as a possible rational for her getting it on with her “lil Stormy boy.”

Cutting to the chase, Reed discovers the Mole Man’s burrowing machine is going to shift the tectonic plates, cause a giant weather related catastrophe, and kill lots of people. The Mole creatures attack the F3, and in one of the best scenes ever, turn Johnny into a complete uggo:

The F3 try and leave the island, and the Thing goes to find the Mole Man for some answers. When Ben finds MM, he sees that his “treatments” have been trips to a holographic dream world full of tall martinis and sexy dames. This leaves the Thing to question the Mole Man’s true loyalties.

The Thing decides that the MM ain’t all he cracked up to be, and goes back to help the F3. The reunited Fantastic Four destroy the drill, repel the monsters, and reverse Johnny’s mutation. The story ends with the team, along with Alicia and Hopper, adrift in the middle of the sea.

What I Thought: This comic was a really mixed bag. The fact that it was ANOTHER oversized issue made for quite a harrowing experience to read through at times. Seeing the FF’s origin rehashed over and over again is starting to grate on this reviewer, but it will be forgiven this time around due to the comic’s purpose as a milestone marker.

I think the weakest part of this issue overall was the plotting by Jim Shooter. The story was pretty standard, and though it was kind of shocking to see the FF get truly snippy with the Thing, it was pretty clear how it would all turn out. And while the whole part with Johnny getting disfigured was shoehorned into a cool moment of realization for the thing, I for one wish he could have stayed a monster for a while longer.

And then there’s the whole idea of Alicia sneaking onto the island to try and find Ben. It was just hilariously idiotic, and yes, that’s coming from a grown man talking about a comic book. Seriously, with her superior exploration skills, maybe Alicia Masters could take over for the blind hero Daredevil if he ever quits (that’s a photoshopped picture waiting to happen).

As you can see from the info at the beginning of the review, there were quite a few artists brought in for this issue. With some of the biggest names in comics at the time (and all of whom could now be considered “ modern legends”), the art is the high point of this issue. Even though each artist has his own undeniable style, the transitions between pages are never jarring, and a smooth look is maintained throughout the book. The complete absence of advertisements (hence the outrageous price) helps to maintain the integrity of the art as well.

And finally, it comes as no surprise that a majority of this issue focuses on the ever-lovin blue eyed Thing. We finally get some kind of resolution to the Ben/Alicia/Johnny drama, and the seeds for She-Hulk exiting so the Thing can come back to the team are sown. This issue also marks the point in my “box” adventures that I’ve moved beyond the John Byrne material, as he had gone to DC at this time to work on the relaunch of Superman. I for one will miss Byrne’s issues, and recommend his run to anyone who has an interest in the FF.

So until Johnny becomes the ugly one on the team, vive le fantastique!

That makes two of us, Ben.


  1. Kello! Verily have we missed thee, to quote (quoth?) the mighty Thor.

    That first scene is an interesting inversion of the first issue of Fantastic Four, with Ben emerging from underground to destroy an oncoming car -- here he's hit by a car as well, but without even realizing it was coming.

    In fact, from what you've said the whole thing seems like an inversion of that first issue, with Ben essentially becoming the Mole Man and whatnot (although "Purple Rain Thing" seems an apt description too, haha) and then the team reuniting at the end with the classic image of the Four putting their hands together.

    It's really interesting to see Stan Lee's name on a comic with art by people like Barry Windsor-Smith and Marc Silvestri. It's also interesting that he shares credit with Shooter, who's an excellent editor but an absolutely inferior writer in my opinion. Honestly, my contempt for his writing knows no bounds. But still, there are probably greater writers who might have fallen flat with this issue, just because of how big the shadow of Byrne loomed at the time.

  2. Feel free to quoth the Odinson all you want, Marc, I'll never get tired of it!

    I haven't read the first issue of FF in a long while, so thanks for that info. I figured the whole Mole Man angle was just one big allusion to the FF's humble beginnings, but didn't know about the car crash.

    Shooter is billed as the plotter, while Lee is the scripter. I haven't read much of Shooter's stuff (I think the Legion of Super Heroes is the only other, and we know my feelings there), what is it that causes you such animosity towards him?

    Thanks for reading, sorry if there's a lapse in response to any comments!

  3. I came across a couple volumes of some Fantastic Four comics at the library and got soooo intimidated about trying to pick it up and read. Lol.

    With that said, I'm here at FFP to get my fulfillment of FF from Kello! This sounded like a interesting read. Considering I know nothing about the FF, lol, I enjoyed this review.

    "Purple Rain Thing" lol, that made my night sir.
    Nice review. I miss ya buddy!!

  4. The first issue of Fantastic Four is one of my favorite comic books ever, probably second only to Amazing Fantasy #15. It's sort of like Star Wars -- it's kind of cheesy and there are obvious plot holes and such, but somehow that only makes it even more of a masterpiece.

    I think the first sign that something was amiss with young Mr. Shooter was when he had Ms. Marvel get kidnapped and raped for pure shock value somewhere around Avengers #200. I think later stories have retconned it so that she wasn't raped, but it's pretty clear that's how it was originally intended by Shooter.

    And then there's Secret Wars, which he wrote and which is one of the worst superhero comics I've ever read (if not the very worst). A lot of people seem to have a bizarre nostalgia for it, which I'll never understand. It has no plot, and it frequently borders on outright racism and sexism. So it's not just that I think he's a poor writer, but I consistently find what he writes to be offensive on some level.

  5. As usual Kello, you had me both chuckling and flat out laughing out loud during this review. It's been QUITE some time since I read this comic, so I enjoyed the trip down memory lane. I THINK(although I could be wrong)this comic was RIGHT after Ben's all too short time spent on the West Coast Avengers, which is why I picked this issue up to begin with.

    As for my favorite line of this review, I'd either go with, "As they get out they are ambushed by (you guessed it!) monsters."(monsters on Monster Island?! Who'd have thunk it?!) or, "Alicia is injured (probably from monster bites, running into walls, and falling into chasms)" Poor Alicia... Great work as always Kello, looking forward to the next blast from the past!

  6. Falisha- Were they old issues of FF in those collections at the library? I say skip them and look for something newer. The Mark Waid written FF stories are pretty good, and they're a little more inviting than the original run.

    Marc- I know what you mean about the old issues having that classic feel, despite the ravages of time on the quality/plot. Amazing Fantasy #15 still holds up pretty well as an origin issue that makes you care about the character it's introducing.

    As far as Shooter, he sounds like a product of his time, but with a little more editorial power than other writers. I think the people who really liked/like Secret Wars are the ones who grew up as it was coming out. While the plot is slightly stupid, I can imagine it was crazy seeing all those heroes and villains get together like that for some mindless action. Like Blackest Night!

    X-Man- I'm glad you have some history with these issues, because I feel guilty for being the only person to actually read them. You should totally dig out those West Coast Avengers comics and put up some scans of the Thing's misadventures.

    And I had to laugh myself about the Alicia/cave bit, but "Team Benlicia" was really funny to me for some reason too.