Friday

OMU: Fantastic Four -- Year Five

Following Jack Kirby’s abrupt departure in 1970, Stan Lee struggled to keep Marvel’s flagship title, Fantastic Four, on a steady course. John Romita filled in as artist for a few months until the job was turned over to John Buscema. Although a talented and versatile artist, Buscema had little affection for superheroes, so the book became much less artist-driven than it had ever been. With some help from young writers Archie Goodwin and Roy Thomas, Stan Lee finished his run and left the book two years after Kirby. These personnel changes signaled a time of profound change for the characters as well, as the writers emphasized the title’s soap-opera elements over action plots or colorful new characters. Crystal was written out, sending the Human Torch into a tailspin of depression, and the honeymoon was well and truly over for Reed and Susan Richards, whose marriage crumbled before the readers’ eyes. Finally, a new status quo was reached, with new members and new costumes, and the Fantastic Four headed out into uncharted waters.

Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative and some is based on historical accounts. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.

Let us continue with The True History of the Fantastic Four!


January 1965 – The Fantastic Four start the year vacationing in Las Vegas. Sue Richards is disappointed, though, that Reed Richards spends most of the time at Hoover Dam working on a project to capture and cure the Hulk. Reed and Professor Charles Xavier finalize the work they have done with Tony Stark and lure the Hulk into a trap. They succeed in rendering the Hulk unconscious, but the green-skinned brute suddenly vanishes into thin air. When no trace of the Hulk can be found, General “Thunderbolt” Ross orders the project shut down indefinitely. Reed returns to Las Vegas to spend time with Sue and their five-month-old son, Franklin, before heading back to New York. Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters have an enjoyable time in the gambling mecca, and Johnny Storm tries to keep his spirits up too, even though he is still estranged from his girlfriend Crystal. On their way home, Reed and Sue drop Franklin off with his governess, Agatha Harkness, at her home on Whisper Hill in upstate New York. Soon after the team’s arrival at their Baxter Building headquarters, Crystal returns from the Great Refuge of the Inhumans, and she and Johnny make up.

While Reed works on a new formula to cure Ben of being the Thing, Ben accompanies Sue, Johnny, and Crystal on a shopping expedition. However, at lunchtime, Crystal collapses, so Johnny flies her back to the Baxter Building, where Reed determines that her immune system is not able to cope with the pollution caused by western civilization. After a tearful farewell, Crystal summons Lockjaw to teleport her back to the Great Refuge permanently. Johnny is distraught, but Reed has discovered something in Crystal’s DNA that offers a breakthrough in his formula for Ben. He takes Ben into another lab to try the new formula. The Human Torch flies out over the city and finds the Invisible Girl battling a rampaging energy monster. When the monster threatens to overwhelm Sue’s invisible force fields, Reed is drawn away from Ben’s treatment at a critical juncture, forcing Johnny to absorb all the heat in the room to freeze Ben in a crude form of suspended animation. When he reaches his wife, Mister Fantastic is surprised to find his former colleague Zolten Phillip Rambow is at the scene, and quickly deduces that the monster is Rambow’s son Larry. With the Torch’s help, the two scientists manage to return Larry Rambow to normal. Reed, Sue, and Johnny race back to the Baxter Building, free Ben from the ice, and complete the experiment.

Finding himself once more in human form, Ben is happy to learn that he can now change into the Thing and back at will. He takes Alicia out on the town to celebrate, ignoring Reed’s request for some follow-up tests. Then, Reed’s old college classmate Janus turns up again, catches Reed off guard, and breaks into the Negative Zone. Reed summons his teammates and fills them in on this third crisis of the day, finding that Ben is acting with uncharacteristic aggressiveness. They watch on the viewscreen as Janus transforms into his evil alter-ego, the Nega-Man, and confronts Annihilus. Worried that Annihilus will find his way to Earth, Reed, Ben, and Johnny enter the Negative Zone to prevent it, leaving Sue behind. Though they had formed an alliance, Annihilus apparently betrays the Nega-Man and Janus is killed. Reed then sacrifices himself so Ben and Johnny can make it back to Earth safely. However, with help from Agatha Harkness’s witchcraft, Reed’s teammates are able to rescue him. The Thing suddenly quits the team and storms off into the night, and Reed realizes his cure has inadvertently altered Ben’s personality, turning him evil. Johnny goes after Ben, and they end up in a destructive battle that turns the city against the Fantastic Four.

After arguing with the Baxter Building’s manager, Walter Collins, Reed calls Johnny back and has him skywrite a message to Bruce Banner, whom Reed knows is in the city. Unfortunately, before Banner can reach the FF’s headquarters, he turns into the Hulk and gets into a fight with the Thing. Hearing about the brawl on the radio, Alicia makes her way there hoping to stop it. She distracts Ben at a crucial moment, allowing the Hulk to punch him in the head and knock him out. The Hulk wanders off into the darkness as Sue picks up Reed, Johnny, Ben, and Alicia in her aero-car. Back at their headquarters, Reed administers an antidote to Ben and revives him. Though no longer able to assume human form, Ben’s personality is back to normal. As Ben walks Alicia home and Johnny flies off to brood about having lost Crystal, Reed and Sue are visited by the Watcher, who warns them about a threat he calls the Over-Mind. Agatha Harkness then contacts them through magical means and reinforces the urgency of the threat. When Mayor Robert F. Wagner issues a demand that the Fantastic Four disband immediately, the team converges on City Hall to confront him about it. The mayor insists they surrender themselves to the police, and Reed accedes to his demand. Thus, after one of the worst days of their lives, the Fantastic Four spend the rest of the night in jail.

The next morning, Reed posts $20,000 bail and the Fantastic Four return to their headquarters, where Walter Collins tries once again to evict them. Reed phones Agatha Harkness and asks her to come to the Baxter Building. He then finds a note from the Avengers informing him that, while the FF was in jail last night, the Vision, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Captain Marvel entered his lab and rescued Rick Jones from the Negative Zone, stopping Annihilus from invading. When Agatha arrives, she is unable to clarify her cryptic warnings, but she is able to use her witchcraft to summon the Watcher. Despite his vow of non-interference, the Watcher agrees to tell what he knows about the Over-Mind, explaining that the name refers to the last survivor of a warlike race, whose planet was destroyed ages ago. The entire population was distilled into the form of their greatest champion, who has now come to conquer the earth. While trying to devise a strategy against the Over-Mind, Reed succumbs to the alien’s sinister mental influence. He suddenly attacks Ben and Johnny, evades Sue’s force fields, and flees into the city. Their pursuit of Reed leads them to the Over-Mind, but the conqueror overpowers all of them and Sue is forced to retreat. She seeks assistance from the Avengers, but their butler, Edwin Jarvis, informs her that the team is currently in Alaska and can’t be reached.

Unable to locate any other superheroes in town, the Invisible Girl is forced to take desperate measures. She forces her way into the Latverian embassy and convinces Doctor Doom to join the fight against the Over-Mind. Doom insists they make a stop at Reed’s labs in the Baxter Building, where he cobbles together a device to turn the alien’s mental attacks back on him. They then return to the scene of the earlier battle, where the Thing and the Torch have been soundly defeated. The pair is taken aback at Sue’s idea to recruit Doom, but agree that they have no choice. Doctor Doom leads them to the Over-Mind, who is causing riots to break out all around the city. The Over-Mind easily defeats Ben and Johnny again, but Doom fights valiantly until he, too, is finally overwhelmed. All seems lost until the enigmatic Stranger suddenly materializes and blasts the Over-Mind into a subatomic realm. Refusing to explain himself, the Stranger then departs, leaving the Fantastic Four to pull themselves from the rubble of the battlefield. Doctor Doom staggers to his feet and makes a dramatic exit. Finally, the Watcher appears again and assures the FF that, though their efforts seemed futile, they played a key role in the Over-Mind’s defeat—by forcing the alien to expend so much energy attacking them that it drew the Stranger’s attention. Without the Over-Mind’s corrupting influence, the city soon calms down and the mayor withdraws his demand that the team disband. The charges against them are quietly dropped.

Following the inauguration of new U.S. President Morris N. Richardson, the government establishes an Alien Activities Commission that publicizes the presence on Earth of agents of the Kree Empire, causing widespread panic. Mister Fantastic and the Thing are called to testify before the commission about their encounter with the Kree a year ago. The Avengers are also called to testify about their involvement in a Kree incursion in Alaska and their association with the Kree-born superhero Captain Marvel. Reed and Ben are somewhat surprised to see the Avengers are represented by Goliath, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Vision, and Rick Jones rather than their more well-known founding members. The head of the commission, conservative politician H. Warren Craddock, provokes the Avengers at every opportunity and then abruptly adjourns the proceedings for the day. Reed and Ben return to the Baxter Building, disturbed by what appears to be a dangerous political farce.

The next day, Reed and Ben receive a video-call from Avengers Mansion and are surprised to learn that Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Goliath, and Rick Jones have captured a trio of Skrulls who had impersonated Mister Fantastic, the Thing, and the Human Torch at a farm near King’s Crossing, NY. Reed surmises that they are the same three Skrulls who impersonated them three years ago. Later, Reed sends his case-file on that incident over to the Avengers, hoping it will help them rescue their missing teammates.

February 1965 – Ben flies Reed, Sue, and Franklin to Chicago for a week-long science conference. Depressed about losing Crystal, Johnny remains in New York and wanders aimlessly around the city. Finally realizing he needs a friend to talk to, Johnny seeks out Spider-Man. Unfortunately, Johnny catches the web-slinger off guard, causing him to fall. Though he easily saves himself, Spider-Man angrily tells the Torch to get lost. Dispirited, Johnny returns to the Baxter Building. However, shortly after dawn the next morning, Spider-Man turns up and attacks the Torch in the building’s lobby. Johnny is confused at first, but quickly discovers Spidey is being mind-controlled by the Wizard, the Trapster, and the Sandman. Johnny is captured and taken to Reed’s Negative Zone laboratory, where the Wizard attempts to harness the energies of the strange dimension. This draws the attention of Annihilus, who nearly breaks through the dimensional barrier to Earth. Luckily, Spider-Man shakes off the mind-control in time to help the Human Torch defeat their foes and prevent Annihilus from invading. Later, Johnny and Spidey do hang out and talk about their recent travails.

Wanting to get away for a while, Johnny then drives up to Boston in his Mercedes-Benz 230SL. When he arrives, he is surprised to learn the Sub-Mariner is rampaging through the city. The Human Torch goes to intercept the Sub-Mariner, and finds him battling a giant sea-monster and a flying saucer. The UFO blasts Johnny with an energy beam and knocks him out. When he comes to, Johnny finds that Namor and his enemies are gone, but he meets Namor’s friend Diane Arliss. Diane informs Johnny that Namor’s fiancée, Dorma, has been murdered by a Lemurian witch called Llyra. Namor has since abdicated the throne of Atlantis and exiled himself to Boston. Diane and her friend, oceanographer Walter Newell, are there searching for Namor’s long-lost father, Leonard MacKenzie. Johnny agrees to help, feeling responsible for having brought Namor out of his decade-long amnesiac state a couple of years ago. On the way to pick up Newell, Johnny and Diane stumble upon Namor battling the flying saucer again, which turns out to be Llyra’s ship. The Torch flies in to help, but only manages to distract Namor just as his foe Tiger Shark is attacking. Tiger Shark stuns Namor, but Johnny is able to drive him away. When Namor recovers and finds his enemies have fled, he flies into a rage and attacks the Torch, holding him responsible for their escape. Though Johnny does his best to avoid Namor’s blows, he is soon knocked out. When he revives, Johnny sees Namor surrendering to Llyra, who has taken Namor’s father hostage, and feels he’s made a mess of the entire situation. The flying saucer then disappears beneath the waves of Boston Harbor. Frustrated with himself, Johnny returns to New York.

Determined to see Crystal again, Johnny heads back to the Inhumans’ Great Refuge in the Himalayas. Before he can enter the hidden city, though, he is stopped by a group of sentries loyal to Maximus. From them, Johnny learns that Crystal and Lockjaw never arrived after teleporting away from the Baxter Building. Worried, Johnny returns to New York, finding his teammates at Whisper Hill. With the help of Agatha Harkness and her crystal ball, Johnny discovers that Crystal and Lockjaw are in the Central American nation of Terra Verde with their old enemy Diablo. The Torch sets off at once, without waiting for his teammates. When he arrives, though, Johnny discovers that Crystal believes herself to be the goddess Ixchel and is leading the peasants in a revolt against the local dictator, General Robles. Johnny deduces that Diablo has brainwashed Crystal, just as he once did to Ben. Losing patience with the Human Torch, Crystal uses her elemental powers to knock him out. When he comes to, Johnny tracks Diablo to a nearby Mayan temple and attacks, but Crystal tries to stop him from hurting her “priest.” Luckily, Reed, Sue, and Ben arrive at that moment to lend a hand. The Thing pursues Diablo inside the temple, but Lockjaw, also brainwashed into serving Diablo, attacks him. However, Diablo gets into a fight with General Robles, which prevents him from renewing his alchemical potions. As the potions wear off, Crystal and Lockjaw regain their senses, allowing Lockjaw to teleport Ben to safety as Diablo detonates a bomb that destroys the temple. Sue protects the others with her force field, but they fear Ben has been killed until he and Lockjaw materialize nearby. Ben decides not to tell the others that Lockjaw took him to an alternate reality where Reed Richards had become the Thing, allowing that world’s Ben Grimm to marry Sue Storm. Learning of Johnny’s encounter with Maximus’s minions, Crystal assumes her evil cousin is once again ruling the Great Refuge and decides she must help free her land from tyranny. Johnny is understanding, and they share one last parting kiss. Crystal and Lockjaw teleport away, and the Fantastic Four head home.

March 1965 – The Fantastic Four receive a call for help from Taku, the Black Panther’s second-in-command. Taku informs them that the Black Panther has disappeared after pursuing two thieves into Rhodesia to recover a prototype device for weaponizing vibranium. Reed agrees to help, but then sends Ben and Johnny to investigate on their own, as he’s in the middle of an important experiment. After the pair has left for Africa, Reed confides in Sue that he is trying to develop a serum that will enable Crystal to withstand America’s pollution. When the Thing and the Torch arrive in Rhodesia, they are shocked by the institutional racism on display, for the nation is one of the last remaining strongholds of white supremacy in Africa. They track one of the thieves, Nathan Kumalo, to a black slum, where he admits that his white partner double-crossed him as soon as they entered the country. Kumalo also reveals that the Black Panther is being held in the city jail, so Ben and Johnny head over there and break him out. The three superheroes then use information provided by Kumalo to stop his partner from passing the prototype on to their employer, Klaw. Ben crushes Klaw’s sonic hand-blaster, and the villain is turned over to the local authorities. Disgusted by the culture of racism, Ben and Johnny return to New York while the Black Panther goes home to his kingdom of Wakanda.

April 1965 – The Fantastic Four are called to action again when a levitating figure with wings of fire passes himself off as the archangel Gabriel. Blowing a golden horn to signal the end of the world is nigh, Gabriel incites a religious panic that quickly spreads across the world. Skeptical of such claims, Reed decides to attack Gabriel in order to drive him to violence and thereby prove he is not an angel. Though Reed’s plan works, Gabriel proves too powerful for them and easily beats Ben, Johnny, and Reed in rapid succession. Ignoring Sue, Gabriel departs. However, the Silver Surfer appears on the scene, having noticed that Gabriel wields the power cosmic. Despite Sue’s urging, the Silver Surfer is initially disinclined to interfere, but when Gabriel attacks him, the Surfer defends himself. Their battle carries them high above the city, where the Surfer is ultimately victorious. Gabriel falls to the street below and shatters on impact, revealing him to be merely a sophisticated robot. The Fantastic Four thank the Silver Surfer for his aid, but their discussion is cut short when Galactus arrives and announces that Gabriel was his herald.

Reed reminds Galactus of his promise to leave the earth alone, but Galactus says he will destroy the world only if the Silver Surfer refuses to be his herald again. The Surfer does refuse, not wishing to live as a slave, and the Fantastic Four support his decision. They attack Galactus, starting a futile battle that ends up demolishing the Coney Island amusement park. Reed and Sue abandon the fight and fly up into space, where Sue’s force fields enable Reed to board Galactus’s ship. Reed first threatens Galactus with the destruction of his ship, which would leave him marooned on Earth, but Galactus calls Reed’s bluff. Unwilling to let the earth perish on his account, the Silver Surfer is about to accede to Galactus’s demands, but Reed cuts him off. Galactus agrees to give them until nightfall to make their final decision. Reed sends Sue back to the Baxter Building, then spends the next couple of hours reprogramming Galactus’s drive systems to warp into the Negative Zone. President Richardson contacts the Baxter Building to demand that the FF turn the Silver Surfer over to Galactus at once, but Reed refuses. At dusk, Reed surrenders the ship to Galactus, who then leaves Earth, assured that the Silver Surfer will follow him. Not clear on the plan, the Surfer sets off after Galactus, and when Reed tries to stop him, the soldiers on the scene open fire. Reed is shot in the back of the head, but the Silver Surfer flies him to a secluded spot in the Adirondack Mountains and uses the power cosmic to heal him. Reed then explains to the Surfer that Galactus has already warped into the Negative Zone. They head for Whisper Hill, where Agatha Harkness uses her sorcery to enable Mister Fantastic to inform both President Richardson and the general public that the threat of Galactus is ended. On the way home, Reed collapses from exhaustion and must be hospitalized.

While Reed is being treated in the emergency room, Sue is kidnapped by the Monster from the Lost Lagoon, who is stealing medicines from the hospital. He carries Sue back to his spaceship, which is hidden in some caverns deep beneath the Lake in Central Park. Not having gotten a good look at the Monster during their previous encounter last November, Ben and Johnny take a while to identify Sue’s kidnapper and mount a rescue operation. Learning of his wife’s abduction, Reed forces himself out of his bed and catches up with Ben and Johnny in Central Park. Johnny forces the Monster into a confrontation, but Reed finally realizes they should be helping the Monster, not fighting him. His hypothesis proves correct when Sue appears and says that the Monster’s mate had fallen ill after they left Earth, so they returned in search of appropriate medicines. Sue has administered the medicine taken from the hospital, and the female alien appears to be recovering. The grateful aliens then return to their ship and blast off, disappearing into the night sky. Reed decides he must spend more time perfecting his universal translator to avoid misunderstandings like this.

May–June 1965 – Though he’s supposed to be recovering from a state of total exhaustion, Reed is unable to stay out of his laboratory, which Sue finds increasingly frustrating. He tinkers with his prototype universal translator, continues to search for a cure to Crystal’s immunity problem, obsessively monitors the Negative Zone, develops various ideas of how to cure the Hulk, and works on numerous other projects as well. He finally takes a break to help celebrate Ben’s 40th birthday.

July 1965 – The Fantastic Four and Captain America attend a dinner party at the Plaza Hotel in honor of the publication by Marvel Comics of the 100th issue of the comic book Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, a fictionalized account of Nick Fury’s World War II exploits. Nick Fury, Dum-Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones, Izzy Cohen, Dino Manelli, Percy Pinkerton, and Congressman Robert Ralston are the guests of honor. The proceedings are interrupted by an assassination attempt on Congressman Ralston, who is a known advocate for civil rights legislation. Fury and the former Howling Commandos immediately pursue the two assassins out of the building, while the Fantastic Four take charge of the crime scene until the police can arrive. Captain America accompanies Ralston in the ambulance to protect him from any follow-up attacks. Later, the FF learn that both assassins were gunned down while trying to escape the massive S.H.I.E.L.D. manhunt. Ralston makes a full recovery. Not long after, the Fantastic Four host a society party to celebrate Sue’s 26th birthday, though it only serves to underscore Sue’s growing feelings of estrangement from her workaholic husband.

August 1965 – Reed and Sue hold a party at Whisper Hill to celebrate Franklin’s first birthday. Johnny, Ben, Alicia, and Agatha Harkness also attend. Sue feels a bit guilty that she has not informed Reed that Franklin seems to be able to see her when she’s invisible, but she wants to trust Agatha’s intuition that it’s nothing to worry about. Later, Reed collaborates with Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, Hank Pym, and Peter Corbeau to counteract the dimensional instability caused when Banner’s green-skinned girlfriend Jarella traveled to Earth from the Microverse. In the end, their efforts are successful; Jarella is returned home before the instability causes the sun to go supernova. Toward the end of the month, Reed and Sue go out to dinner to celebrate Reed’s 43rd birthday.

September 1965 – During a relatively quiet month, Sue offers to host a party in honor of Johnny’s 21st birthday, but he declines. Johnny is hurt that he has not heard from Crystal since they parted ways back in February, and he has become increasingly bitter and lonely. Furthermore, Johnny has convinced himself that his teammates don’t respect him and still see him as just a kid.

October 1965 – The Fantastic Four receive a visitor, Martine Bancroft, the fiancée of Nobel Prize-winning chemist Michael Morbius, with whom Reed is acquainted. She tells them of Morbius’s disappearance after he subjected himself to an experimental medical procedure that could trigger vampire-like side-effects. Searching through her fiancé’s papers, Martine discovered correspondence from Reed and has come to them for help. Learning that Morbius was also in contact with Empire State University biology professor Hans Jorgenson, Johnny decides to fly out to the college campus to check it out. He remembers Spider-Man mentioning having fought a weird-looking creep called Morbius back in January. No sooner has Johnny located Dr. Jorgenson than Spider-Man turns up, clearly looking a little shaky and unwell. Hearing a scream from a nearby park, the Human Torch and Spider-Man rush out to investigate and discover Morbius has just murdered a man and drunk his blood. Johnny is horrified, and Spider-Man tackles Morbius and beats him savagely. Morbius retaliates, demonstrating superhuman strength. Unfortunately, a group of college students decide to involve themselves, believing the two superheroes are trying to kill somebody. In the melee, Morbius kills one of the students and flees the scene. Johnny tries to comfort the dead student’s brother as Spider-Man staggers off into the darkness. Later, back at the Baxter Building, Johnny informs Martine of his battle with Morbius, who has indeed become some kind of vampire. Reed assures Martine that the Fantastic Four will keep abreast of the situation.

However, the next day, the Fantastic Four head out to John F. Kennedy International Airport after the Hulk is captured by the U.S. military and S.H.I.E.L.D. and brought to New York to stand trial. The Hulk smashes his way out of the Air Force 747 shortly after it lands, but the FF help recapture him, with some rather ineffectual assistance from Daredevil and Spider-Man. Over the next few days, Reed works non-stop on a device to negate the gamma radiation that turns Bruce Banner into the Hulk, but the solution eludes him. Due to the danger of keeping the Hulk imprisoned in the city, the government prosecutors rush the case to trial. Worried that the Hulk is being railroaded, Reed confers with the brute’s defense counsel, Matt Murdock, who shares his concerns. The next day, Reed takes his nega-gamma ray gun to the courthouse, where he finds the Hulk has been bound and gagged and denied the opportunity to speak on his own behalf. The judge is about to call a recess, ordering the attorneys to offer their closing statements tomorrow. Fearing a miscarriage of justice, Reed claims that his device might turn the Hulk back into Bruce Banner and asks the court’s permission to attempt it. The judge agrees, but Reed sets the device to instead give the Hulk a brief surge of strength so that he may free himself. After the Hulk has smashed his way out of the courthouse and disappeared into the city, District Attorney Franklin Nelson castigates Reed as a bungler. However, Murdock suspects Reed’s true intentions, though Reed declines to confirm or deny the attorney’s speculations. Reed can only hope that he’s done the right thing.

Two days later, the Thing hears a commotion in the Baxter Building’s top-floor hanger deck and goes to investigate, with Alicia tagging along behind him. They find Spider-Man with the unconscious form of Alicia’s stepfather, Philip Masters, better known as the villainous Puppet Master. Ben wakes the Puppet Master up and interrogates him, until his old foe blurts out that there may be a cure for Alicia’s blindness at his old abandoned laboratory outside Watershed Lake, Pennsylvania. Ben decides it’s worth checking out, and agrees to let Spider-Man accompany them to help keep an eye on the Puppet Master. When they arrive, Ben asks Alicia to stay in the Fantasti-Car, as he is worried about how she’ll react if she realizes they’ve returned to the site of the explosion that killed her father and blinded her fifteen years ago. Leaving Alicia on the shore of the lake, the Thing and Spidey march the Puppet Master through the woods to the former site of the laboratory complex. Sure enough, the villain proves his treachery when a ray gun suddenly emerges from the ground and blasts the two heroes. The Puppet Master dives into the underground complex and disappears. When they recover moments later, the Thing and Spidey break into the complex to search for their foe, still hoping that the blindness cure was not just a cruel lie. They decide to split up, but Ben soon finds himself caught in a diabolical deathtrap. He smashes his way free, then races back to Alicia to make sure she’s safe. Finding her being menaced by a large robot, the Thing uproots a tree and uses it to knock the robot into the lake. When the robot does not resurface, Ben is relieved. Spider-Man appears then and reports that the Puppet Master was in cahoots with the Mad Thinker. Suddenly, the underground complex is destroyed by a massive explosion. Alicia fears her step-father triggered the explosion in order to commit suicide, driven by guilt over his various crimes. On the way back to New York, Ben decides that he may have misjudged Spider-Man, finding him to be not such a bad guy after all.

The next morning, Reed discovers a deactivated robot on the roof of the Baxter Building, and soon learns it lost a fight with the Vision and Spider-Man. While examining the robot, he determines it to be of Skrull origin. Reed eventually repairs the robot and turns it over to S.H.I.E.L.D. for safekeeping.

December 1965 – While at lunch one day, Ben and Alicia discuss the possibility of getting married, though Ben is reluctant due to a variety of concerns. Without resolving anything, they head back to the Baxter Building, where Sue is in a foul mood and is yelling at Johnny and Reed. Ben tries to continue his discussion with Alicia, but Johnny butts in, insulting Ben and starting a fight. Reed intervenes, saying they all clearly need a break from each other. He and Sue leave to spend the day with Franklin up at Whisper Hill. Alicia is upset with Ben’s attitude and goes home, saying she needs some time to herself. Ben and Johnny continue to argue until Johnny gets fed up and takes off, leaving Ben alone in the building. Depressed, Ben puts on Reed’s thought-projector helmet and watches holographic images of the origin of the Fantastic Four and their first battle with the Mole Man. He begins to wonder if the Mole Man might be able to cure Alicia’s blindness, or at least help her develop the kind of “radar-sense” he uses to get around so well. Determined to find out, Ben heads to the ruins of the strange house in the country where they last encountered the Mole Man, a little over a year ago. Ben digs through the rubble until he finds the Mole Man’s tunnel to Subterranea and makes his way down. Soon, Ben runs into Kala, Queen of the Netherworld, and saves her from a large, worm-like monster. Kala reveals that she is betrothed to the Mole Man, and Ben is shocked by the idea that such an ugly runt could induce a beautiful woman like Kala to marry him. As they approach the Mole Man’s fortress, they are attacked by a horde of Subterraneans. Ben rushes forward to defend Kala, only to fall into a trap. Caught in an electrified web, Ben realizes that Kala set him up. The Mole Man then appears and interrogates the Thing, demanding to know why he’s invaded his kingdom. Despite receiving painful electric shocks, Ben remains defiant and refuses to answer. The Mole Man gloats that he’s won his war against Tyrannus, who is now his mindless slave. Furthermore, he reveals that he and Kala are planning to destroy the surface world by flooding it with lava. Enraged, the Thing breaks free, though he is nearly electrocuted in the process. Severely weakened, Ben fights off the Subterranean hordes and staggers into the tunnels.

Meanwhile, Johnny figures out that Ben has gone to Subterranea and contacts Reed and Sue for help. Reed assumes Ben would use the Mole Man’s drop-tube in the ruins of the weird house, so he arranges to meet Johnny there in half an hour. However, Reed and Sue arrive quite late, and Johnny is disturbed to learn it’s because they were arguing about whether Sue should come along or stay behind with Franklin. As they fly the Fantasti-Car down the shaft into Subterranea, Johnny worries that Reed and Sue’s marital problems are more serious than he thought. When they arrive, they see a hideous creature shambling toward them, unaware that the Mole Man has cast an illusion around the Thing. Thus, the Torch flies up and unwittingly hits his injured teammate with several high-intensity flame-blasts. Recognizing Ben’s voice as he cries out in pain, Reed orders Sue to stop the Torch with her force field. Though confused, Sue obeys. Johnny quickly burns up all the oxygen within the force field and passes out. Seeing that half the team is unconscious and fearing that the Mole Man will soon attack, Reed orders Sue to hide in a narrow crevice while making her teammates invisible. When they have all recovered, the Fantastic Four regroup and compare notes. After having another argument with Sue, Reed orders her and Ben to find a way around to the rear of the Mole Man’s stronghold while he and Johnny make a frontal assault.

Once inside the Mole Man’s fortress, Sue and Ben discover the Reverend Josiah Mandiz locked in a cage. Assuming he’s been kidnapped to perform the wedding for Kala and the Mole Man, the Thing sets the reverend free. The three of them sneak into the Mole Man’s throne room but are soon discovered and captured. Johnny is also brought in, unconscious, and the Subterraneans signal that Mister Fantastic is dead. The Mole Man is ecstatic, but his moment of triumph is short-lived. Kala reveals that she has betrayed him to Tyrannus, who binds the Mole Man in constricting energy rings. Kala mocks the Mole Man’s ugliness, saying she intends to marry the handsome Tyrannus instead. However, Tyrannus then betrays Kala, announcing his intention to be the sole ruler of Subterranea and saying she’s not beautiful enough for him either. Furious, the Mole Man frees the Fantastic Four, just as Reed appears from the shadows and disarms Tyrannus. The would-be subterranean ceasar breaks free and steals a vehicle, but it explodes a moment later. The Mole Man explains that he’d booby-trapped the controls in case Kala was planning to betray him after the wedding. Ben grabs the Mole Man and demands that he cure Alicia’s blindness, but the Mole Man convinces him there is no such cure. Reed sets the villains’ doomsday machine to self-destruct, then they fly Reverend Mandiz back to the surface in the Fantasti-Car. When Reed is satisfied that the threat is ended, the Fantastic Four head home.

When they reach the Baxter Building, Johnny announces that he’s decided to go live with the Inhumans in their Himalayan retreat so he and Crystal can be together. Reed tries to stop him from leaving, worried that Johnny doesn’t really know what he’s getting himself into. However, Sue prevents Reed and Ben from interfering with Johnny’s departure, saying that her brother is a man now and entitled to make his own decisions. Later, Reed and Sue receive an astral projection from Agatha Harkness, saying that, due to circumstances beyond her control, she is no longer able to care for Franklin. Sue prepares to leave for Whisper Hill immediately, but Reed tells her to go by herself, as he has too much work to do in his laboratory. Sue is fed up with Reed’s lack of engagement as a parent and storms out furiously. Witnessing the argument, Ben realizes how badly his friends’ marriage has deteriorated, and, feeling uncomfortable, heads out to visit Alicia. On the way, though, he is lured into a trap by the Frightful Four—the Wizard, the Trapster, the Sandman, and their new recruit, a seven-foot-tall super-strong woman calling herself Thundra. Despite some timely intervention by Medusa of the Inhumans, the Thing is overwhelmed by the villains and beaten into unconsciousness. When he comes to, Ben finds that the Frightful Four have dragged him back to the Baxter Building and have captured Reed, Sue, and Medusa. Through the fog in his brain, Ben thinks he sees a strange light twinkling in Franklin’s eyes, but it quickly fades. Ben then breaks free and sets his friends free as well. During the ensuing brawl, Reed keeps telling Sue to take Franklin away from there, but Sue refuses to abandon the fight, insisting she can protect their son with her force fields. Thundra finally decides she’s had enough and smashes an escape route to the Wizard’s anti-gravity ship hovering outside the building. Her three compatriots follow behind her, and they escape before Reed can stop them. In the aftermath of the battle, Reed and Sue blow up at each other, until Sue announces she’s leaving her husband and the team. Hurt, Reed responds with anger, and, despite Ben’s urging, refuses to call Sue back as she leaves with their son. After spending the night in a hotel, Sue arranges to stay with her old friends Bob and Carol Landers at their farm in rural Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, the Human Torch reaches the Great Refuge of the Inhumans, and when he is attacked outside the city, he assumes that Maximus is still in command. However, he quickly learns that Black Bolt has, in fact, regained the throne. Confused, Johnny demands to see Crystal, but Gorgon, Karnak, and Triton try to stop him from reaching the tower where she lives. Johnny evades them and flies in through a window, only to be shocked to find Crystal has fallen in love with the former Avenger known as Quicksilver. Tearfully, Crystal recounts how she and Lockjaw traveled the world after leaving Terra Verde until stumbling upon Quicksilver, who was mortally wounded during a battle with the mutant-hunting robot Sentinels in Australia. Crystal brought Quicksilver to the Great Refuge and nursed him back to health, during which time they developed deep feelings for each other. Feeling betrayed, Johnny is furious, but they are distracted by a revolt of the Alpha Primitives, the Inhumans’ genetically engineered slave race. When the Alpha Primitives kidnap Crystal, the Torch and Quicksilver pursue them into the lowest levels of the city, only to encounter a powerful giant named Omega. Working together, the young heroes rescue Crystal from the giant’s clutches. However, when Crystal blasts Omega with her elemental powers, he only grows larger and more powerful. Before the trio can figure out what’s going on, a horde of Alpha Primitives swarms in to attack them.

At that moment, Mister Fantastic, the Thing, and Medusa arrive in the Great Refuge. Medusa has explained that she came to New York to ask Reed to examine a mysterious device created by Maximus, who claims it is merely a harmless perpetual-motion machine. However, before Reed has a chance to examine the device, the Alpha Primitives invade the city, followed by Omega. The Inhumans retaliate against their rebellious slaves with full force, although their attacks on Omega only make him bigger and stronger. After deducing that Maximus’s device is somehow the cause of the rebellion, Reed leads Ben and Medusa in to destroy it. Unexpectedly, they are prevented from doing so by Crystal, Johnny, and Quicksilver. Reed then realizes the “perpetual-motion” machine is actually a psionic amplifier that is harnessing the Inhumans’ feelings of guilt, anger, and hatred toward the Alpha Primitives and using it to empower the Omega android. He stops the fighting, then allows Crystal to explain this to her people. Black Bolt decrees that the Alpha Primitives shall be freed from servitude and allowed to live peaceably in their catacombs beneath the city. Omega becomes inert and is left standing in the city as a memorial. That night, Reed informs Johnny that Sue has quit the team and asks him to come back to New York. Since Crystal has left him for another man, Johnny agrees.

The next day, the Inhumans hold a celebration to honor Reed, Ben, and Johnny for saving their city. Quicksilver, however, is conspicuously absent. Using a device that alters clothing on a molecular level, Medusa creates a modified Fantastic Four costume for herself and volunteers to serve as Sue’s replacement on the team. She explains that Black Bolt has asked her to spend some time in the outside world as a first step toward revealing their existence to the human race, and that, unlike Crystal, she has developed sufficient immunity to pollution to make it possible. Reed approves of the plan. Johnny then uses the device to change his uniform to more closely resemble the red-and-gold costume worn by his android namesake in the 1940s and ‘50s. Reed and Ben decline to change their outfits, though. Later, as the Fantastic Four are preparing to depart, Crystal and Johnny have a moment to say a final farewell. Although he puts on a brave face, claiming to be looking forward to dating other girls, Johnny is devastated. Once they are back in New York, Ben takes Johnny to a movie to try to cheer him up, while Medusa settles into the guest-quarters in the Baxter Building.


Notes:

January 1965 – Mister Fantastic’s attempt to capture and cure the Hulk in collaboration with Tony Stark, Charles Xavier, and “Thunderbolt” Ross is shown in Avengers #88. The Hulk disappears when he is teleported away by the scheming Psyklop. The FF’s adventures then resume in Fantastic Four #105 and following. What Reed discovers in Crystal’s DNA is doubtless related to terrigen, the mutative substance that gives Inhumans their powers. Incredibly, the stories in Fantastic Four #105–113 take place within a 12-hour period. The FF stop Larry Rambow’s rampage in the early afternoon, change the Thing back into Ben Grimm in the late afternoon, escape from Annihilus in the early evening, find the Thing fighting the Hulk in the late evening, and surrender to the police at the mayor’s office just before midnight. While the FF are spending the night in jail, the Avengers help Captain Marvel free Rick Jones from the Negative Zone in Avengers #89. Fantastic Four #114–116 take place the next day. No wonder they’re all so exhausted! Mister Fantastic and the Thing then appear in Avengers #92 and 94. They remain unaware that “H. Warren Craddock” is really the Skrull who impersonated the Invisible Girl in Fantastic Four #2, at least until the alien is beaten to death by a rioting mob. For the full story of President Morris N. Richardson, see OMU: POTUS – Part Three.

February 1965 – The Human Torch and Spider-Man prevent ¾ of the Frightful Four from inadvertently unleashing Annihilus on the world in Marvel Team-Up #2. Johnny then heads to Boston, as seen in Sub-Mariner #44–46. The parallel universe Lockjaw takes the Thing to in Fantastic Four #118 is later known as Earth-A.

March 1965 – In Fantastic Four #119, Rhodesia is fictionalized as “Rudyarda,” named after British author Rudyard Kipling, who wrote, among other things, the imperialist poem “The White Man’s Burden.” There’s also some nonsense about the Black Panther changing his name to “the Black Leopard,” but that can be dispensed with. Shortly after this, the Fantastic Four find themselves dealing with the end of the world—along with everyone else on the disintegrating planet—during Thor #185–188, but luckily Odin erases those events from the timestream, so they never happened.

July 1965 – The Fantastic Four make a cameo appearance in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #100, which is set in the present day rather than World War II.

August 1965 – Mister Fantastic is behind the scenes in Hulk #148.

October 1965 – The Human Torch and Spider-Man fight Morbius the Living Vampire in Marvel Team-Up #3. The other members of the FF appear briefly as well. The team is then involved in the trial of the Hulk as chronicled in Hulk #152–153. The Thing joins forces with Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #6. Spidey and the Vision defeat the Skrull robot, Ballox, in the previous issue.

December 1965 – Agatha Harkness sends Franklin back to his parents because she senses Annihilus scanning her from the Negative Zone, as revealed in Fantastic Four #141. Sue’s childhood friend Carol Landers and her husband Bob will be introduced in issue #134. Medusa’s joining the team brings us up to Fantastic Four #132.


Jump Back: The Fantastic Four – Year Four

Next Issue: Spider-Man – Year Four