Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fantastic Four #326

Fantastic Four 326-“The Illusion”
Cover Date May 1989 Price $.75

Writer/ Artist-
John Harkness/ Keith Pollard
Cover Tagline: “The New EVIL F.F.- The Frightful Four!"

Number of issues since last box pull: 5

What Happened: Our story opens with a shot of Reed and Sue Richards walking arm-in-arm through a snowy landscape. Though the heroes are not a part of the active Fantastic Four team, they're both wearing their FF costumes and discussing the recent "Inferno business." This leads me to believe that they just got done taking part in an ill-conceived Marvel line wide event. As the two chat about how they enjoy staying with the Avengers, Reed expresses his need to do more with his time. Having a brilliant mind, Reed isn't content sitting around with his dolt of a wife and their young son Franklin, who honestly acts a bit childish for his father's tastes. Sue tells Reed that he can go run off and play mad scientist, but that he's not allowed to interfere with the current Fantastic Four's adventures. After all, Reed promised to butt out of Ben's affairs back in issue 317.

Reed rockets away in a shuttle, thinking about how Sue somehow treats him like a child, and how she can be such a big doody head. As stretcho contemplates his situation, he correctly ponders the fact that he's pretty dang old for a superhero, so using his brain is really his greatest asset to the world at large. In other words, he wants to run the FF again because he's smarter than Ben.

Arriving at Four Freedoms Plaza (not a shameless plug I swear), he finds he can't get in with his normal keycard. Questioning the malfunctioning security, Reed stretches his skin into the same shape as the key that would be necessary, and proceeds to pick the lock.

Apparently the "super genius" doesn't realize he could just do this everytime and therefore doesn't need to carry a key at all. Entering the building, Reed is shocked to find the security defenses he designed are trying to kill him. Let's watch:

As the threat dies down and our hero is stretched a mile long, the current Fantastic Four team enters the room. Ever the gracious host, Ben Grimm proceeds to mock Reed's deadly situation, calling his stretched-out best friend "spaghetti on speed." Reed replies that he believes that a
"certain current leader" of the Fantastic Four has not been properly maintaining the building, and that Ben's momma is so fat that she has her own zip code. Cut him some slack in the humor department, he's a really old scientist. The team and Reed head to the control room, and old man Richards is dismayed to find his security protocols have not been followed.

Reed's attention then turns to Johnny, who is more flaming than ever (please feel free to read into that sentence what you will). Johnny explains that during the "Inferno" he pushed his powers to the max, and he hasn't been able to "flame-off" since. Reed tells him he could take a look, and Johnny blows him off. Ben also tells him to leave, because he's got everything under control. Thankfully Ms. Marvel (still in rocky form) vouches for Reed and he invites himself to stay. Reed's not very subtle when it comes to wresting control back from loved ones.

As Reed so slyly usurps Ben's position, we jump over to the ever villainous Wizard, whose pontificating about ways to finally conquer his foes in the FF. Apparently Wizard feels that his time for victory has come because Reed Richards didn't design his defenses with computer viruses in mind.

As the Wizard walks through his layer, we as readers are introduced to the NEW and "improved"Frightful Four, consisting of Wizard, Hydro Man, Klaw, and Titania. As each of the villains flaunts his/her recent backstory in a deluge of exposition, Klaw reveals that the time is right to finally attack.

Jumping back to Four Freedoms, Sue and Franklin arrive and greet their family. Sue pulls Ben aside for a bit of "girl talk", and Reed prepares a machine that will de-flame Johnny. Now who's playing god, Reed? Anyway, it wouldn't be an 80's Fantastic Four comic with a completely insane head scratching moment, so we catch up with some of the Frightful Four as they enact their plan. Klaw uses a sound frequency to turn on all the machines at a nearby construction site while Titania pretends to be a street performer outside of Four Freedoms Plaza.
I'm not sure if this was essential to the Wizard's plan, or he just wanted to secretly laugh at Titania. Either way, the Frightful busts into Four Freedoms Plaza just as Johnny gets in the machine. The two teams duke it out, and the dialogue is simply outstanding:

The issue ends with Reed's machine getting blowed up real good, the Torch de-flamed, and most shockingly of all, Ben Grimm in his human form! Man I can't believe no one's ever used that plot before!

What I thought: I started writing this synopsis on February 5th. It is now March 3rd. That's how little interest I had in even approaching this issue. I couldn't even find the strength to make fun of it to my full abilities. I actually really like the Frightful Four as a concept, although I wish it was composed of more "heavy hitters." I think if Marvel could find a storyline that serviced more top-tier villains coming together, the idea of an evil Fantastic Four would be intriguing. Instead we get Hydro Man, who will inevitably be evaporated. All-time spoiler alert.

So in lieu of really tackling the storylines, I'll just ask one question: Why in the world did Klaw start all the engines of the machines at the construction site? Will this come into play next issue? Was this scene cut out from the story before print? How can that be the one major point of contention I have with this issue? UGH. Guys, this was brutal. Until Klaw remote starts my car for me on a cold morning, viva la fantastique!

Reed, asking the question we've all been wondering...


  1. Wow, Reed is an absolute jerk in those early panels. I love how in his mind he twists their origin into him being kind enough to bring them into space with him to give them superpowers. Um, Reed, did you forget that it was a complete accident? And that you didn't exactly do Ben any favors by turning him into the Thing?

    "Inferno" stuck its grubby fingers in the Fantastic Four too? Ugh, what a stupid piece of garbage that crossover was.

    Nice to see that this issue also features three of my all-time favorite characters: Klaw, Titania, and Ms. Marvel. And by "favorite" I mean "Oh dear lord how I HATE them!!!" Seriously, I don't think Klaw will feel up to showing his face in a comic book ever again after I post my review of Secret Wars (which I've been sitting on pretty much forever).

    Disregarding the inherent stupidity of those characters, though, that's still a pretty bad Frightful Four line-up. Shouldn't that team be roughly on the same level as the Fantastic Four? These guys should just save themselves the trouble and change their name to the "Frightful Ass-Clowns" or something. Not as alliterative, but I'm sure the readers would have been fine with it as long as they didn't have to read a page of Titania singing in exchange.

  2. Thanks for the comments Marc. I've never heard of the writer of this issue, but he had it in for Reed from the beginning. One thing I did appreciate about the 80's FF was how it acknowledged that Reed is indeed and old man.

    I agree wholeheartedly about the Frightful Four. While I give the lineup credit for being unique, they are nowhere near "frightful." I was a little sad to see my next box pull still has to do with this storyline....

  3. I'd never heard of this writer either, so I just looked him up. What I found goes a long way toward explaining the awfulness of this issue.

    From Comic Book DB:

    "John Harkness is an alias used by Steve Englehart for issues #326-332 of the Fantastic Four. In his own words: "I was ordered to bring back Reed & Sue - the exact thing that had dragged the book down in the first place - and undo the other changes in the book. At this point I took my name off the series altogether, opting for the pseudonym I'd created years before for work I didn't want to be associated with: 'John Harkness.'""

    So it sounds like a lot of the crappiness had to do with editorial mandate, and even Englehart thought it was crap.

  4. Oh ho ho... if that's all you have on Englehart, you've barely scratched the surface. To get the full picture, you need to read his comments (that page and the two following; the Comic DB's quote comes from there) and this article he wrote shortly after it all happened.

    Read as-is, Englehart's "Harkness" issues are just kind of weird. But when you know the backstory, you can recognize it as one of the biggest temper tantrums ever pitched by a comic writer. He managed to both tell all the stories he'd been told not to (by framing them as dreams) and publicly mock what his editors wanted by bringing in his "fake" FF. His final issue, #332, must be read to be believed. He drops all subtlety and takes the plot completely off the rails; almost none of the issue makes any sense if you don't know the subtext, and he goes so far as to appear as "Harkness" on the last page and deny responsibility. The story just stops there, unresolved.

    This is part of a pattern with Englehart that becomes obvious if you explore his website a bit. The guy has written some very good comics, but he has the ego and attitude of a child. He's too important for editors. If he's told to discontinue a storyline, he'll transplant it to another book he's writing. (He did this more than once with Mantis, his pet character.)

    Some of this is typical of big-name comic writers, but Englehart can't even cash the cheques he writes. This is the guy whose brilliant plan to revitalize the FF went "Reed and Sue are boring, let's get rid of 'em." Not as a temporary thing, permanently. And the characters left behind fared no better -- Crystal and Johnny, both married, were suddenly attracted to each other again; Sharon Ventura was (and remains) a horrible, sexist mess of a character who didn't even have unique powers; even Franklin was suddenly called "Frank" out of nowhere.

    It's not a good run. It's really, really bad. I like to keep it in mind for perspective when I have problems with modern FF comics.