The Fantastic Four continue on a downward spiral, barely managing to hang together as a team, under the guidance of editor Roy Thomas and writer Gerry Conway. Without the Invisible Girl, the group soon splinters, with Mister Fantastic suffering from severe depression, the Human Torch likewise heartbroken and adrift, and the Thing increasingly striking out on his own. If Susan Storm Richards was the glue that held the Fantastic Four together, her replacement, the cool, detached Inhuman Medusa, is not equipped to do the same job. And unfortunately, over the course of the next twelve months in the characters’ lives, matters merely go from bad to worse. During that time, members of the team have strange run-ins with some of their more obscure early foes, such as the Miracle Man, the Molecule Man, the alien dictator Kurrgo, and billionaire Gregory Gideon, not to mention the Mole Man and Doctor Doom. This lends an air of nostalgia to the proceedings that suggests the Fantastic Four’s best days may be behind them.
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 1966 – Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters are in Manhattan’s Times Square to ring in the new year. Medusa has accompanied them, wanting to witness the annual ritual, and has dragged Reed Richards and Johnny Storm along, even though they are both very depressed. The event is disrupted by Thundra, who issues a public challenge to the Thing to meet her in combat in three days at Shea Stadium. The illuminated sign on the Allied Chemical Building reads out the details of the challenge for all to see. Ignoring the danger to the innocent bystanders, Johnny flames on and attacks Thundra, but she easily defeats him and sends him crashing into his teammates. Thundra then grabs Alicia and flies off with her on a large anti-gravity disk, obviously provided by her associates in the Frightful Four. The Thing is enraged as the Fantastic Four race back to their Baxter Building headquarters to see if there’s a way to track Thundra to her hideout. Unable to help in the lab, the Thing starts training for the grudge match and is frustrated when his teammates fail to find where Alicia is being held. Over the next couple of days, there is a media frenzy over the upcoming “battle of the sexes,” which some newspapers are touting as “the fight of the century.”
Before dawn on the morning of the fight, the Thing and the Human Torch help the grounds crew at Shea Stadium clear the ballfield of snow under the harsh stadium lights. While they work, the stadium fills with eager spectators who have braved the cold to witness the battle. As the first rays of light streak the sky, Thundra descends on her anti-gravity disk to meet the Thing in the infield. She announces her intention to defeat the world’s strongest man in full view of the public, though her motivations remain mysterious. As they start to fight, the Thing is astonished by his opponent’s sheer strength and realizes he can’t afford to think of her as “just a woman.” Then, to the consternation of the crowds, Thundra picks the Thing up and hurls him out of the stadium, sending him crashing to the ground in Flushing Meadows Park across the street. They continue their fight atop the Unisphere, where Thundra clearly gets the better of him, though Ben refuses to concede defeat. Finally, Mister Fantastic arrives and shoots an energy beam at the Thing that temporarily changes him back to his human form. Outraged at being cheated of her victory and saying it would be “unfeminine” to hurt a weakling, Thundra flies off. The Thing is unconscious for several minutes, but when he comes to, he sees Johnny escorting Alicia toward him. She reports that Thundra forced her compatriots to release her, and Ben is impressed with Thundra’s code of honor. The Fantastic Four then return home, wondering why Thundra was so eager to beat the Thing in a duel.
Some days later, Luke Cage, the “Hero for Hire” who’s been working out of Times Square the last few months, storms into the Baxter Building and requests help getting to Latveria, as Doctor Doom owes him money and he means to collect. Amused, Reed agrees to lend Cage an airship, overruling Ben’s objections. He programs an experimental drone plane to fly Cage to Doctor Doom’s kingdom on autopilot. Several hours later, Cage returns and strides back into their headquarters. Reed at first assumes that something went wrong and Cage didn’t make it to Latveria, but Cage assures him that everything went smoothly and the matter is resolved. Ben follows Cage out of the building, pressing him for more details of his encounter with Doctor Doom, but Cage remains tight-lipped. Reed examines the rocket’s flight logs and sees that Cage did indeed spend a couple hours in Latveria before returning to New York. Impressed, Reed thinks better of Cage’s offer to lend a hand should the Fantastic Four ever need his help. Ben is flabbergasted when the late edition of the Daily Bugle reports that Doctor Doom has fought off a robot rebellion to retain control of his kingdom and wonders what Cage’s role in the incident was.
Meanwhile, Susan Richards and her 17-month-old son Franklin are living on a horse farm in rural Pennsylvania owned by Sue’s childhood friend Carol Landers and her husband Bob. Sue devotes herself to raising Franklin, though she also helps out with the horses. She is concerned from time to time by Franklin’s odd behavior and wonders if he might be autistic. Her brother Johnny flies out to the farm periodically to visit her and Franklin and to bring news of the Fantastic Four’s activities. Sue is sympathetic to Johnny’s broken heart, for he’s lost his girlfriend Crystal to another man—the obnoxious former Avenger called Quicksilver. Sue also explains to Johnny some of the issues that are keeping her and Reed apart, and he remains steadfastly supportive of his sister.
February 1966 – Johnny is home alone at the Baxter Building one Sunday morning when Spider-Man mysteriously appears in the laboratory housing Reed’s time machine. Spider-Man explains that he was attempting to help Iron Man penetrate a force field surrounding Avengers Mansion when they fell into a strange dimension, where they were picked up by a time-traveler named Zarrko. He took them to 23rd-century New York to help fight off an invader from even further in the future. That turned out to be Kang the Conqueror, who was holding the rest of the Avengers prisoner. Kang incapacitated Spidey and Iron Man, but then Zarrko entered and revealed that he was just as much a villain as Kang. Having read about Zarrko in the Avengers’ files, Johnny laughs at Spider-Man’s ineptitude. The wall-crawler continues, revealing that Zarrko has sent three chronal-displacement bombs to the present day, hoping to steal America’s nuclear arsenal during the resulting chaos. The bombs should soon be materializing in Greece, Japan, and Venezuela, Spidey reports, and he hopes the Fantastic Four can locate and destroy them. Johnny agrees to help but notes that the rest of the team is unavailable so it’s up to the two of them. Spider-Man whines about that, clearly having hoped to pass the buck to the Fantastic Four, but Johnny lays a guilt trip on him. And so, while Spidey heads to Venezuela, Johnny launches the team’s Pogo Plane and flies to Japan. Arriving a few hours later, the Human Torch flames on and flies around the archipelago until he comes across the time-distortion effect caused by Zarrko’s bomb. Finding the bomb inside a barn, the Torch starts to black out as he approaches it, so he quickly melts the device into slag. As he takes the Pogo Plane to rendezvous with Spider-Man in Venezuela, Johnny notes that there was something familiar about the waves of energy emanating from the chronal-displacement bomb.
Many hours later, the Human Torch finds Spider-Man on a pier near Simón Bolivar International Airport outside Caracas. A second chronal-displacement bomb is producing the same distinctive energy waves, and Spider-Man is clearly being affected by it just as Johnny was. Thus, the Torch melts this bomb to slag as well. After comparing notes, the two heroes take the Pogo Plane to Greece, where they again get caught in chronal-displacement waves. After crash-landing the Pogo Plane, the Torch is about to melt the third bomb when Spider-Man stops him. The wall-crawler merely switches the device off instead, pointing out that they need to examine it for clues. Johnny then realizes where he’s encountered that type of radioactivity before—it’s very similar to the force field Maximus generated around the Great Refuge of the Inhumans a couple years ago. However, Johnny is unwilling to go to the Great Refuge, since he doesn’t want to see Crystal—especially with it being Valentine’s Day. Leaving Spider-Man with detailed instructions on how to find the Inhumans’ hidden city in the Himalayas, the Human Torch departs, confident that Spidey and the Inhumans can rescue the Avengers and defeat Kang and Zarrko. Johnny spends the next few days enjoying the Greek Isles while making repairs to the Pogo Plane. When he finally returns to New York, Johnny finds his teammates were too wrapped up in their own affairs to even notice his impromptu vacation.
March–April 1966 – As Black Bolt requested, Medusa spends much of her time studying the social mores of New York, taking the city as representative of human culture, with an eye toward determining how to reveal the existence of the Inhumans to the world at large in the most productive way possible. However, her efforts are hampered somewhat by her refusal to be seen without her ceremonial facemask, the mark of royal status among her people. Also, she is frustrated that the Fantastic Four aren’t really doing anything, as Reed Richards is too depressed to do more than putter around in his laboratory at all hours of the day and night. For his part, Reed focuses on trying to perfect a cure for Ben, encouraged by the temporary change effected in early January. Aside from distracting him from his marital troubles, Reed feels he owes it to his old friend not to wreck his life too.
May 1966 – The Fantastic Four finally go into action as a team when people all around the world inexplicably start changing into hideous, demonic monsters. Soon, New York itself also starts to transform into a weird, alien landscape. While trying to contain the rampaging monsters in the streets, the Fantastic Four run into Spider-Man, and they coordinate their efforts. Less than an hour after it began, the city suddenly changes back to normal and the demons revert to their ordinary human forms. A couple minutes later, all the tremendous damage done to the city during the battle is abruptly undone, as if by magic. Later, the Avengers report that the entire incident was merely a mass hallucination created by a super-villain whom they have defeated, but Reed suspects there’s more to the story than that.
In response to an urgent summons from Agatha Harkness, the Fantastic Four fly up to Whisper Hill, but they find only a large smoking crater where the house had been. To Ben’s consternation, Reed gives up on the investigation almost immediately and decides they should return to the Baxter Building. En route, the Fantasti-Car is hit by an energy beam that causes it to crash in a meadow. After searching briefly for their unseen assailant, the four heroes slowly make their way back to Manhattan. When they arrive, Reed receives a call from a frantic Carol Landers, who reports that Sue and Franklin have been kidnapped by Dragon Man. He departs immediately in one of the older Fantasti-Cars, leaving Ben, Johnny, and Medusa behind. On his way to Pennsylvania, Reed is notified by his contacts at the Strategic Air Command that they’ve tracked Dragon Man to a research installation on Long Island, so he changes course. When he arrives, Reed spots Dragon Man lying unconscious outside the facility and lands near the android. However, he is taken by surprise by a squad of security guards and gassed into unconsciousness. A short time later, Ben and Medusa arrive on the Jet-Cycle, having traced the Fantasti-Car’s homing signal. Before they can begin their search of the grounds, though, the pair is captured as well.
Meanwhile, Johnny has gone to the Bronx to look up his old girlfriend Dorrie Evans. He is shocked to find that Dorrie has gotten married and already has two small children. Embarrassed, Johnny makes up an excuse and leaves quickly, only to be attacked down the street by the same kind of energy beam that crashed the Fantasti-Car earlier. Spotting the flying drone that is firing at him, Johnny flames on and follows the small craft to the Long Island research installation, where he finds Dragon Man lying in the grass. However, the android creature revives and blasts the Torch into unconsciousness with his flame-breath. When he comes to, Johnny discovers that he and his teammates have been taken prisoner by Gregory Gideon, the wealthy financier with whom the Fantastic Four clashed about three years ago. Medusa explains that Gideon and his son Thomas are dying of radiation poisoning and Gideon believes he can find a cure by absorbing the Fantastic Four’s radiation-spawned powers into himself. While Gideon subjects the unconscious Reed, Sue, and Franklin to his “Eternity Machine,” the Thing, the Human Torch, and Medusa break free and start fighting the security guards. Thomas Gideon enters during the fray and begs his father to stop, but the older man ignores him. Using her prehensile hair, Medusa manages to disable the brain implant Gideon was using to control Dragon Man. The creature goes berserk, turns on its master, and wrecks the Eternity Machine. The resulting explosion kills Gregory Gideon and puts Dragon Man into a coma. Sue revives first and, wanting to avoid a confrontation with Reed, takes Franklin and leaves the facility. After several minutes, Ben, Johnny, and Medusa become concerned that Reed has yet to regain consciousness, so they rig the wrecked Eternity Machine to discharge the energies that it absorbed. As they hoped, the jolt of energy revives Reed, though he is disoriented and confused at first. After making a cursory examination of the inert Dragon Man, Reed invites Thomas Gideon to accompany them back to the Baxter Building, offering to try to devise a cure for his radiation sickness. Gideon accepts, and they depart. Ben, Johnny, and Medusa honor Sue’s parting request that they not tell Reed that she and Franklin were there.
On their way back to the Baxter Building, though, a strange wave of energy sweeps past them, causing the Fantasti-Car and the Jet-Cycle to crash in a wooded area of suburban Long Island. To their astonishment, the Fantastic Four are then attacked by a group of young men dressed like a 1950s biker gang, riding on flying motorcycles and shooting laser guns. Mister Fantastic and the Thing fight the bikers very aggressively, though the Human Torch and Medusa feel sympathetic to the young men. Thus, when the bikers retreat after having grabbed Thomas Gideon, Johnny and Medusa go with them. The authorities, in the form of middle-aged men with crewcuts and 3-D glasses, arrive in flying Edsels and complement Reed and Ben on fighting off the youngsters. They escort the two heroes to their domed fortress, which reminds Reed of a fallout shelter, and interrogate them. Meanwhile, the biker gang takes Johnny, Medusa, and Thomas Gideon to their hangout in a local malt shop, where they meet the gang’s leader, “Wildman”—a combination of Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, and James Dean. Johnny begins to realize that they are trapped in some kind of nightmare version of the Fifties, though of course it’s all lost on Medusa. After being indoctrinated by the warring factions, the two halves of the Fantastic Four are sent out to fight over a doomsday weapon created by a reclusive genius. Luckily, Reed and Ben quickly shake off their mental conditioning and are able to bring Johnny and Medusa out of it after a brief scuffle. The doomsday weapon turns out to be a giant gorilla with a head like Sputnik, which the Fantastic Four battle at a drive-in movie theater. Reed deduces that they’re being manipulated by some outside force capable of twisting the very fabric of reality, and he is proven right when a bizarre-looking alien calling himself the Shaper of Worlds reveals himself. The Shaper apologizes for creating such a violent scenario, admitting that his source—one of Gregory Gideon’s henchmen—was not worthy of having his dreams manifested. The Shaper then offers to replace him with Thomas Gideon, who will be cured of his terminal illness in exchange for the use of his imagination. Gideon accepts the offer and teleports away with the Shaper. The Fantastic Four suddenly find themselves back in their vehicles heading toward Manhattan.
When they enter their headquarters, the Fantastic Four are surprised to find Wyatt Wingfoot waiting for them. Wyatt has come to invite them to attend his graduation from Metro College tomorrow, and also hopes they will be willing to fly out to Oklahoma afterwards as he believes his tribe’s reservation is under threat. Johnny, Ben, and Medusa agree immediately but Reed declines, though he is impressed that Wyatt completed his undergraduate degree in only three years. Retiring to his laboratory, Reed leaves the others to get caught up. He is worried that the house on Whisper Hill may have been destroyed by Franklin’s mutant powers running amok. He theorizes that the energies of Annihilus’s cosmic control rod, to which Franklin was exposed at birth, may have altered the boy’s genetic structure and could cause his mutant powers to manifest well before puberty. Thus, Reed starts working on developing a means to shut down those powers should it become necessary. He will work on the problem obsessively for the next several months.
The next morning, Ben, Johnny, and Medusa fly Wyatt to the Metro College campus in the Pogo Plane. During the graduation ceremony, Johnny becomes wistful, regretting somewhat his decision to drop out of college. He feels extremely proud of Wyatt as he receives his diploma from the college president. After the ceremony, Ben and Johnny accompany Wyatt to a reception for the honors graduates while Medusa is given a tour of campus by some fraternity guys who are fans of hers. At the reception, Johnny runs into the football coach, Sam Thorne, who laments never having managed to convince Wyatt to join his team. Before Coach Thorne gets a chance to talk to his old classmate Ben Grimm, though, Wyatt is informed that his grandfather has telephoned with news of an emergency on the reservation. Ben, Johnny, and Wyatt collect Medusa and race to the Pogo Plane, then take off for Oklahoma.
When they arrive at the Keewazi Indian Reservation, they are greeted by Wyatt’s grandfather, Chief Silent Fox, who tells them that a demon from the Dark Hills has just destroyed a nearby village, forcing the inhabitants to seek refuge with Silent Fox and his neighbors. The “demon” turns out to be the Miracle Man, whom the Fantastic Four defeated over four years ago. At first, Ben and Johnny laugh off their foe’s attacks, taking him to be a mere illusionist. However, the Miracle Man reveals that he has gained actual mind-over-matter powers from the legendary Cheemuzwa tribe, reputed to be a race of immortal sorcerers. Escaping from the Miracle Man’s death-traps, the Thing, the Human Torch, and Medusa fight a hopeless battle against their raving foe, who seems to only grow more powerful. Suddenly, the Miracle Man is teleported away by the ghostly Cheemuzwa elders, who take responsibility for his rampage and promise to try to cure him of his insane lust for power. After enjoying some Keewazi hospitality, Ben, Johnny, and Medusa say goodbye to Wyatt and return to New York.
While out for an evening stroll, the Thing is tricked into fighting Captain Marvel by the Super-Skrull, who fools each hero into thinking the other is a Skrull impostor. After a battle that wrecks a tenement building in Hell’s Kitchen, the Thing and Captain Marvel realize their folly. Hearing a horrible, inhuman scream, they race up to the top floor and break down a door, finding a Skrull who’s been turned to stone. A massive, craggy-faced alien steps out of the shadows, claiming responsibility for the Skrull’s fate. He introduces himself as Thanos, king of Titan and soon-to-be emperor of the universe. Ben is not impressed by the alien’s boasts, but just looking at the mysterious hooded figure behind Thanos gives him the chills. Even so, the Thing charges at Thanos, only to be knocked out by a powerful blast of energy. When he comes to, Ben finds himself alone. Unable to locate Captain Marvel, Thanos, the Super-Skrull, or their mysterious associate, the Thing heads back to the Baxter Building, thinking that the alien superhero is in for the fight of his life.
On another evening, Spider-Man drops by the Baxter Building to present the Human Torch with a unique opportunity—the chance to design and build a “Spider-Mobile” from scratch to promote an experimental non-polluting engine created by Corona Motors. Spidey explains that he’s been offered money for the project by an advertising firm representing Corona but lacks the mechanical engineering skills to pull it off. Amused by the notion, Johnny agrees to kick some ideas around. They end up working late into the night, drawing up some initial plans and schematics, and Johnny becomes impressed by Spider-Man’s scientific aptitude. However, the web-spinner seems uncharacteristically glum, and Johnny wonders what his problem is. Eventually, one of Reed’s police scanners goes off, reporting a break-in at a nearby nuclear laboratory by a man with a super-leaping ability. Claiming that it’s a personal grudge match, Spider-Man leaves to capture the crook, declining Johnny’s offer of help. Though he doesn’t return that night, Spidey does show up on a semi-regular basis through the summer to continue working on the Spider-Mobile. Johnny has fun with it, treating the entire scheme as an elaborate joke.
June 1966 – Ben infuriates Reed when he intentionally wrecks the machine meant to change him back to his human form, saying he couldn’t stand the thought of yet another failed cure. A few minutes later, the Thing suddenly finds himself teleported to a ghost town in New Mexico by the Leader, who declares that he’s been chosen to fight as the champion of Kurrgo, the former dictator of the planet Xanth. The Leader, naturally enough, has chosen the Hulk to fight for him. Ben refuses, but the Leader claims to have planted a time bomb on the other side of town capable of destroying all life on earth. Thus, when the Hulk suddenly materializes, the Thing tries to overpower him. They fight for about twenty minutes, as the Hulk refuses to listen to reason. Finally, the Thing manages to punch the Hulk in the back of the head, sending him crashing into a building that then collapses. Surprised by the force of his blow, Ben quickly locates the time bomb and smashes it, only to discover that it’s a fake. Kurrgo’s spaceship then descends from the sky and seizes the Hulk in its tractor beam. The Thing grabs onto his foe’s ankle and is lifted into the ship as well, where he finds Kurrgo waiting for them. Ben accuses Kurrgo of cheating, having realized that his strength was being artificially enhanced during the fight. Thus, the Leader claims victory by forfeit, but Kurrgo refuses to concede defeat. He sends his robot bodyguard to subdue the Thing and the Hulk, but they knock it into an instrument panel, starting a fire. Ben dives out of the cargo hatch and the Hulk follows him, just before the ship explodes and crashes to the ground, killing Kurrgo. Having lost interest in the fight, the Hulk leaps away and disappears into the distance, leaving the Thing to begin a lonely trek across the desert.
After several hours, the Thing sees Iron Man streaking by above him and tries to wave him down. Annoyed that his call for help is ignored, the Thing follows Iron Man, intent on giving him a piece of his mind. He soon arrives at a high-tech installation hidden inside a mesa, where he finds Iron Man fighting two savage aliens called the Blood Brothers, who turn out to be a pair of space-vampires in the employ of Thanos. After a vicious brawl, the Thing and Iron Man are able to defeat the Blood Brothers. The unconscious aliens are then either teleported away or disintegrated by their angry boss, but Ben has little sympathy for them. He suggests that Iron Man could give him a ride back to civilization, but the Golden Avenger insists that his power levels are too low to carry him any distance. As Iron Man flies off, the frustrated Thing stomps off into the gathering darkness. By morning, the Thing finally reaches a dusty crossroads and buys a bus ticket to New York City. However, he changes his plans when he sees a report in Time magazine about a Florida swamp monster called the “Man-Thing.” Angry that his brand is being diluted, the Thing intimidates the hapless shopkeeper into changing his ticket so he can go to Miami instead.
Thirty-six hours later, the Thing arrives in the Florida Everglades, where he is ambushed by a man claiming to be the son of the Molecule Man. Their fight draws the attention of the Man-Thing, who turns out to be considerably stranger than Ben expected. Suddenly, the Molecule Man fires an energy beam from his wand that changes the Thing and the Man-Thing back to their human forms. The villain teleports away, leaving Ben Grimm to explain to a very confused Ted Sallis what’s going on. Worried that the Molecule Man will seek revenge on the rest of the Fantastic Four, Ben convinces Sallis to help him. Sallis agrees to lead Ben to his laboratory elsewhere in the swamp, thinking he’ll be able to devise some scientific means of defeating the Molecule Man. However, they end up hiking aimlessly around the swamp until dawn, when they find themselves on the outskirts of Citrusville, Florida. Ben is fed up with Sallis, who talked non-stop all night long, and they argue. However, the Molecule Man appears and kills an innocent bystander by changing him into a doppelgänger of Mister Fantastic and stretching him to death. To taunt his foes, the villain then changes them back into their monstrous forms, but the Thing is too angry to care. When the Man-Thing mindlessly attacks him, the Thing rips out a handful of the creature’s sludge and throws it at the Molecule Man’s smirking face. He misses, but the muck knocks the Molecule Man’s wand out of his hand. Immediately, the Molecule Man collapses and ages into a withered husk that rapidly turns to dust. The Thing is shocked, but feels no compassion for the heartless villain. When the wand proves to be useless, the Thing tosses it to a little boy to play with. The Man-Thing then shambles back into the swamp, leaving Ben with a new appreciation of Ted Sallis’s tragic fate.
Returning to New York City, Ben takes Alicia out on the town to celebrate his 41st birthday. He decides not to tell her that he gave up the chance to be a normal man again in order to stop the Molecule Man’s rampage. Alicia is happy that her career as a sculptor has been going very well, but she worries about the effect Reed and Sue’s separation is having on the team.
July–August 1966 – Sue celebrates her 27th birthday with a picnic on the Pennsylvania horse farm with Bob and Carol Landers and their friends. She’s still concerned by Franklin’s occasional bouts of odd behavior, which often manifest as moments of intense focus on seemingly random details of the world around him. But for the most part, he seems like just an ordinary toddler. She is grateful to have had time over the last few months to also focus on personal growth and to cultivate a new feminist consciousness. A few weeks later, Sue has a little party for Franklin’s second birthday, which Johnny flies out to attend. Ben and Alicia come too, though Ben feels awkward being there when Reed has not been invited. Medusa decides to stay with Reed in the Baxter Building, not particularly interested in the rituals of human child-rearing. Reed has grown increasingly reclusive as the summer has worn on, and when his own 44th birthday rolls around, he doesn’t bother to celebrate it.
September 1966 – Johnny pulls an all-nighter with Spider-Man to work on the Spider-Mobile. They have a good time, though Spidey is clearly still down in the dumps and refuses to talk about it. Although Spider-Man originally envisioned creating a sleek sportscar, Johnny has decided to turn the Spider-Mobile into a dune buggy instead. Shortly afterward, Johnny, Ben, and Medusa fly out to Oklahoma again to visit Wyatt. While they are there, Ben is saddened to learn of the tragic death of his old friend Desmond Pitt, a fellow Air Force test pilot who once saved his life after a crash. Wanting to learn more, Ben phones some contacts in the military, who tell him the case has been designated top secret—apparently Pitt had been selling military secrets to a foreign government to pay his wife’s medical bills, and when she died, he became careless and was killed by spies. Shocked that his old friend could turn traitor, Ben can’t quite bring himself to believe that it’s all true.
Meanwhile, at the Landers’ horse farm in Pennsylvania, Sue is frightened when Franklin suddenly goes glassy-eyed and emits a high-pitched scream before passing out. At first, she refuses to call a doctor, trying to assure herself that the boy is fine now. However, Sue worries all night and decides in the morning that she had better contact Reed. At the Baxter Building, Reed is frustrated that he made a careless mistake and wrecked the prototype for the device meant to neutralize Franklin’s mutant powers. Ben, Johnny, and Medusa return from Oklahoma, bringing Wyatt with them, and they all get into an argument about Reed’s attitude lately. They are interrupted by Sue’s call, which is abruptly terminated, sending Reed into a panic. When Ben and Johnny are unable to restrain Reed, Medusa merely picks up a wrench with her hair and wallops Reed in the side of the head, knocking him out. Ben and Johnny are both annoyed by Medusa’s notable lack of empathy. Thinking Reed may have hung up on her, Sue decides to drive Franklin back to the Baxter Building, but her car is hijacked along the way by Agatha Harkness. Agatha admits that she inadvertently caused Franklin’s strange fit yesterday while trying to contact them through mystical means, then lures Sue and Franklin from their car and teleports them away.
In New York, Reed, Ben, Johnny, Medusa, and Wyatt have resumed their argument, but they are interrupted when Triton brings the injured Sub-Mariner to them for help. Reed determines that Namor has been exposed to an experimental nerve gas that has caused a cellular transmutation in his body, leaving him unable to survive outside of a marine environment. Thus, Reed designs a special suit for Namor to wear, a refined version of the one Triton uses. When Namor regains consciousness, he is grateful for the Fantastic Four’s help, though he still views the surface world as a threat to his kingdom. Leaving Wyatt behind, the Fantastic Four then fly out to the Landers’ horse farm to check on Sue and Franklin. Carol is worried, as Sue left several hours ago and should have reached Manhattan by now. Reed soon locates Sue’s abandoned car and determines that the ground is saturated with the peculiar sort of anti-matter particles found only in the Negative Zone. Worried, they race back to the Baxter Building, only to be ambushed by Annihilus.
The defeated Fantastic Four come to in their foe’s citadel in the Negative Zone, where they find Sue, Franklin, Wyatt, and Agatha Harkness are also being held prisoner. Annihilus gloats about his triumph, revealing that he’s been plotting for two years to get revenge on the Fantastic Four for stealing the energies from his cosmic control rod that formerly made him immortal. He expended a great deal of time and resources, he explains, to construct a gateway between the Negative Zone and Whisper Hill in order to kidnap Agatha, though in the process her house was completely destroyed. After holding the witch prisoner for months, Annihilus was finally able to compel Agatha to kidnap Sue and Franklin and bring them to the Negative Zone, where he plans to absorb the boy’s cosmic energies back into himself. While Annihilus is setting up his machines to do that, Reed, Ben, Johnny, Medusa, and Wyatt escape from the villain’s dungeon and regroup outside the citadel. There, Reed finally confides in the others that he’s been worried about the effects the cosmic control rod’s energies may have had on Franklin when he was born and has been working on the problem for many months. However, when they storm into their foe’s laboratory to rescue the others, Reed sees that they are too late—Annihilus has already triggered a chain reaction within Franklin’s cells. He immediately deduces that if the process isn’t stopped, Franklin will explode, releasing a blast of psychic force that will kill every living creature in the solar system. Medusa, Johnny, and Ben manage to overpower Annihilus and knock him out, enabling them to free Sue and Agatha. They are concerned by the eerie light shining from Franklin’s eyes, but Reed has Agatha teleport them all back to the Baxter Building as quickly as possible. Without stopping to explain, Reed grabs his defective prototype, which looks to the others like a large gun, and fires an energy beam at Franklin. Sue screams as the weird light in her son’s eyes dies out and he lapses into a coma. Distressed, Reed is at a loss for words as Sue lashes out at him. Ben, Johnny, and Wyatt, also shocked and horrified, then follow Sue out of the building. Only Medusa remains by Reed’s side, believing his actions were justified.
As Reed and Medusa necessarily set to work repairing the Negative Zone portal, the distraught Sue drives Franklin back to the Landers’ horse farm in Pennsylvania, where Bob and Carol are stunned by Reed’s apparent callousness. Ben checks into a Manhattan hotel and sinks into a depression, believing the Fantastic Four will never be able to be a team again. Johnny and Wyatt, who has borrowed the Jet-Cycle, fly out to the campus of Metro College to seek advice from Sam Thorne, expecting him to condemn Reed’s actions. However, Johnny becomes annoyed when Coach Thorne sees Reed’s side of the issue and is sympathetic to the terrible choice he was forced to make. Later, Johnny and Wyatt retreat to the Catskill Mountains for a camping trip, where they celebrate Johnny’s 22nd birthday. Wyatt tries to get Johnny to let go of the idea that Reed betrayed them all, arguing that he was put in an impossible situation. Even so, Johnny remains resolutely on Sue’s side.
October 1966 – One night, Reed finds Spider-Man caught by one of the Baxter Building’s security devices. Assuming the wall-crawler has come to work on the Spider-Mobile, Reed informs him that the Human Torch is out of town—in fact, the Fantastic Four have disbanded. Spider-Man is incredulous, but Reed refuses to discuss the matter. However, Spider-Man reveals that he’s actually come for help tracking down Captain Marvel, who disappeared while they were fighting a supervillain called the Basilisk over two Kree power crystals. Depressed, Reed is at first disinclined to help, but Spider-Man shames him into changing his mind. Modifying a device meant to track Kree Sentry robots, Reed detects the power crystals in Subterranea. He then flies Spider-Man in the Fantasti-Car to the wreckage of the strange house in the country where the Mole Man’s drop tube is located. No sooner have they arrived in the underground realm than they are overwhelmed by a horde of Subterraneans and dragged into the Mole Man’s throne room. The Mole Man rants about his plan to use a gigantic laser-cannon, powered by the Kree crystal in which Captain Marvel is trapped, to destroy the surface world. He orders the Subterraneans to throw Mister Fantastic and Spider-Man into a nearby open pit of magma, but the two heroes save themselves. Suddenly, the Basilisk appears and gets into a fight with the Mole Man and his Subterraneans. During the fracas, Captain Marvel escapes from the giant crystal by transforming into his human alter-ego Rick Jones, the energy released by their interdimensional transposition disrupting the crystal’s molecular matrix. Reed uses the distraction to alter the laser-cannon’s controls, causing it to self-destruct. The resulting explosion triggers a violent eruption in the magma pit, and both villains are lost in the ensuing conflagration, along with the Kree power crystals. Mister Fantastic, Spider-Man, and Rick Jones race to the Fantasti-Car as the tunnels collapse behind them. Once they have reached the surface, Jones changes back into Captain Marvel and flies away. Mister Fantastic then gives Spider-Man a lift back to Manhattan.
In the Catskill Mountains, Johnny and Wyatt discover Blastaar trying to destroy a computerized factory called F.A.U.S.T.—the Fully Automated Unit of Structural Technology, designed by an old friend of Reed’s named Paxton Pentecost and built out of secondary adamantium, a weaker alloy of the indestructible metal. Blastaar shrugs off the Human Torch’s fiery attacks and sends him hurtling away with a powerful concussive blast. As luck would have it, the Hulk is in the area and catches Johnny before he hits the ground. Seeing that the Hulk is agitated by a painful buzzing in his ears, Johnny convinces him that Blastaar is to blame. Thus, the Hulk follows Johnny back to the factory, where he fights with Blastaar. The Torch flies into the factory to make sure it has been evacuated, only to find Pentecost and some henchmen holding his former business partner, financier Ferguson Blaine, at gunpoint. Johnny convinces Pentecost to abandon his revenge scheme and hurries them out of the building. Remorseful at having unleashed the unstoppable Blastaar on the world, Pentecost suggests that they may be able to imprison the villain in the metal wreckage. Johnny tells the Hulk to do just that, so the green behemoth wraps Blastaar in a large ball of adamantium scrap and hurls him into the Atlantic Ocean some 600 miles away. After the Hulk has left, Pentecost is taken into police custody, but Johnny berates the greedy Blaine for driving the scientist to desperation in the first place.
Ben receives word that Alicia has traveled to Transylvania for an experimental new surgical procedure that may restore her sight, so he flies out immediately to join her. When Ben arrives, Alicia introduces him to the surgeon, Dr. Hans Stuttgart, but they are distracted when people on the street seem to flee from the sight of the Thing. Alicia assures Ben that they’re actually superstitious about a legendary demon said to stalk the countryside at night. Even so, after dropping Alicia off at the hospital and starting back toward his hotel, Ben worries that she’ll find him repulsive once her eyesight has been restored. Suddenly, he is ambushed by Darkoth, the Death-Demon, who purports to be a devil from the pits of Hell. Ben is unimpressed, though Darkoth does prove to have superhuman strength as well as other powers. The fight ends abruptly when gas lines under the street are ruptured and sparks from Darkoth’s metal claws cause an explosion. The Thing is stunned, and when the smoke clears, he finds that Darkoth has fled. Ben wonders how Darkoth knew personal details about him and suspects he may be working for Dr. Stuttgart, since few other people even know the Thing is in the country.
Back at the Baxter Building, Medusa decides she must attempt to cheer Reed up, noting that he is nearly overwhelmed with grief at being separated from his wife and son. Believing a change of scene will do him good, Medusa convinces Reed to take her out to dinner at a nice restaurant. Though he feels it is an exercise in futility, Reed relents and agrees to go. Medusa realizes that, to avoid drawing undue attention to herself, she must finally remove her mask and adopt the fashions of New York City, thus she slips into a tight yellow minidress and high-heeled shoes. She has determined that her sex appeal is likely to take Reed’s mind off his troubles. As they are getting ready to leave, Medusa finds an invitation to a class reunion dinner that Reed has recently received. He had decided not to go, he says, but Medusa insists that he will attend, even if she has to drag him there. Throughout dinner, Medusa tries to charm Reed, but he is unresponsive.
The next day, Ben arrives at the hospital, only to be informed by Dr. Stuttgart that Alicia has already been sedated and is being prepped for surgery. He spends the next few hours in the waiting room feeling dejected. Eventually, Ben grows suspicious and bursts into the operating room to find it is completely empty. He is attacked from behind by Darkoth and realizes the whole thing has been a set-up. Darkoth forces the Thing through a hidden passageway into a series of caverns, where he finally rakes his foe’s rocky hide with poisoned claws. The drug hits the Thing’s system a minute later, and he drops to the ground, unconscious. When he comes to later, Ben finds himself trapped in a power-dampening force field inside a large laboratory complex. Strangely, Darkoth is also imprisoned in a similar device nearby. Numerous scientists and technicians bustle around the lab, but they completely ignore their monstrous captives. Worried about Alicia, Ben struggles to escape, but to no avail.
Two days later, Reed and Medusa get dressed up again and go to the alumni dinner at a high-rise building in Manhattan, where they find Coach Sam Thorne and his wife Belle. Reed and Sam are happy to see each other, noting that it’s been about ten years since their last encounter. Sam mentions running into Johnny not long ago, but before they can continue their conversation, they are all escorted into the dining room. Reed and Sam are shocked to see their old classmate—Doctor Doom—standing at the head of the table. Intent on protecting the Thornes, Reed and Medusa immediately attack Doom, but he calmly activates a trap door that sends them tumbling into a chamber below. Doom then leads his captives into the large laboratory where the Thing and Darkoth are imprisoned, boasting of the ease with which he has defeated the Fantastic Four. He also reveals his plan to use an orbiting satellite to brainwash everyone on earth, demonstrating its effectiveness by making two minions who have betrayed him shoot each other in the head. Then, leaving to prepare the satellite for launch, Doom orders that Reed, Ben, and Medusa be locked in power-dampening cells on a lower level, where they can witness his ultimate triumph. However, Darkoth enters the cell block a little while later, dismisses the guards, and deactivates the force fields. He explains that he has learned that he is not, in fact, a demonic creature of legend but one of Doom’s lackeys transformed into a monster three weeks ago. Wishing revenge on Doctor Doom, Darkoth leads Reed, Ben, and Medusa down into New York City’s sewer system, where they make their way back towards the Baxter Building.
Meanwhile, Doctor Doom captures Johnny and Wyatt outside Buffalo, New York, and brings them back to his high-rise headquarters in Manhattan. Trapped in a transparent cylinder, Johnny is worried for Doom’s other prisoners, Alicia and Sam and Belle Thorne, but is relieved to learn that Reed, Ben, and Medusa have already escaped. Enraged, Doom sends a synthetic creature called the Seeker into the sewer system to pursue them. With Darkoth’s help, Reed, Ben, and Medusa defeat the Seeker and take it to Reed’s lab in the Baxter Building. While Reed attempts to reprogram the Seeker, though, Doctor Doom launches his satellite into orbit and activates it. Having run out of time, Reed disassembles the Seeker, turning it into a makeshift disguise for Darkoth to wear so he can infiltrate Doom’s stronghold. This enables Darkoth to break in and free Johnny and Wyatt before attacking Doom. When the Thing smashes through the wall, Doctor Doom chooses a strategic retreat, but Darkoth follows him. Suddenly, the building starts to crumble, forcing Ben and Johnny to focus on getting Alicia, Wyatt, and the Thornes to safety. On a rooftop across the street, they all watch as Doom’s spaceplane, camouflaged as the building’s tower, blasts off, causing the rest of the structure to collapse. At the Baxter Building, Reed and Medusa monitor the spaceplane’s ascent and are surprised when it explodes on the edge of space, destroying the mind-altering satellite as well. When no trace of Darkoth is found in the rubble, Reed theorizes that he must have stowed away aboard the spaceplane and caused it to blow up, thereby saving everyone on earth from becoming Doctor Doom’s slaves. Reed suspects Doom may have escaped, though there’s no sign of him either. Soon after, Wyatt goes home to Oklahoma.
November 1966 – Feeling conflicted about the phony blindness cure—he is actually relieved though Alicia is disappointed—Ben sinks into a funk. Johnny tries to cheer him up by taking him to an action movie, but Ben doesn’t enjoy it and seeing all the winos and prostitutes in Times Square just makes him feel more depressed. After Johnny has left, Ben gets into a fight with a super-strong young man who drops out of the sky and demolishes a parked car. During their destructive battle in the streets, Ben begins to suspect that his unspeaking opponent may be mentally disabled. Suddenly, the Sub-Mariner and his cousin Namorita arrive on the scene to break up the fight. Before the two Atlanteans can explain themselves, a large spacecraft descends and disgorges a pair of gun-toting aliens and their giant killer robot. They identify the young man as Wundarr, a potential political agitator they have come to eliminate. Working together, the Thing and the Sub-Mariner destroy the robot and drive the aliens away. However, claiming that Atlantis is in imminent danger, Namor and Namorita leave Wundarr with the Thing, explaining only that he has the mind of an infant in an adult body. Frustrated, Ben takes Wundarr back to the Baxter Building, where Reed confirms that he is indeed from another planet. Alicia agrees to help Ben take care of his helpless charge. Johnny finds the whole situation to be very amusing, though Medusa wants nothing to do with any of it.
December 1966 – A few days before Christmas, Spider-Man wakes Johnny up early in the morning, eager to pick up the completed Spider-Mobile. They load the dune buggy into a freight elevator and take it down to the alley behind the Baxter Building, where Johnny points out all the specialty controls on the instrument panel, including activators for the car’s spider-signal and web-shooters. However, when Spidey takes it out for a test drive and almost slides into oncoming traffic before swerving up onto the sidewalk, Johnny realizes the web-slinger has no idea how to operate a motor vehicle. Spider-Man sheepishly admits he never took driver’s ed, so Johnny spends the next few hours giving him basic driving lessons. Both of them get stressed out and tempers run high, but eventually Spidey gets the hang of it and Johnny sends him on his way.
The Fantastic Four celebrate an awkward Christmas morning, mainly for Medusa’s edification. Ben and Alicia give several wrapped gifts to the uncomprehending Wundarr as the others look on. Johnny and Medusa soon decide to go out to lunch, but Reed drifts off into his laboratories again to spend the day tinkering aimlessly with various projects. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Sue cares for the comatose Franklin, feeling utterly isolated and alone and filled with rage over what Reed has done to their son. As far as she is concerned, their marriage is over.
January 1966 – The Fantastic Four’s adventures resume in Fantastic Four #133 and following. Luke Cage pays a visit to the Baxter Building in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #9.
February 1966 – The Human Torch lends a hand to Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #10. The Pogo Plane does not actually appear in the issue, but it’s the only way to make the logistics of the globe-spanning story make sense. Ironically, Quicksilver is being held prisoner by Kang along with the rest of the Avengers and is not even in the Great Refuge, a fact of which Johnny is unaware.
May 1966 – The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man team up against the demon hordes of Dormammu in Avengers #118. Doctor Strange undoes all the damage caused during the battle by augmenting his magic with the power of the Evil Eye of Avalon. However, in order to keep the Defenders’ involvement a secret, the Avengers are necessarily vague about what actually happened. The Thing encounters Captain Marvel and the Super-Skrull in Captain Marvel #26, where he also meets Thanos. The Mad Titan’s mysterious associate is, of course, a manifestation of Death itself. Spider-Man asks the Human Torch to help him build the Spider-Mobile in Amazing Spider-Man #126. The wall-crawler is depressed about the death of Gwen Stacy, and the villain he goes off to stop is the ill-fated Kangaroo.
June 1966 – At this point, the Thing received his own team-up series, which debuted in Marvel Feature #11–12 before settling into Marvel Two-in-One for a long run. Interestingly, Marvel Two-in-One #1 has an early indication of “Marvel time”—Ben says it’s been five years since he last encountered the Molecule Man, even though that issue was published just over ten years before. On my OMU timeline, it occurred just under four years ago. Though the Molecule Man believes himself to be the son of the original here, that eventually turns out to not be the case. When his original body dies, the Molecule Man’s consciousness takes refuge within his wand and starts possessing a series of host bodies. Eventually he creates a new body for himself, as seen in Avengers #215.
September 1966 – The Human Torch and Spider-Man continue working on the Spider-Mobile in Amazing Spider-Man #127. The Thing discusses the apparent death of Desmond Pitt in Fantastic Four #193, where it is revealed that it was Pitt whom Doctor Doom transformed into Darkoth, the Death-Demon. Mister Fantastic creates Namor’s new black costume in Sub-Mariner #67.
October 1966 – The scenes of Alicia leaving her apartment and traveling to Eastern Europe, seen in Fantastic Four #135, 138, and 141, actually all occur at this point in the timeline. The comics show them out of sequence for dramatic effect. Transylvania is not identified in the comics, but it is the most likely of Latveria’s four neighbors to be the setting of the story. Mister Fantastic and Spider-Man team up against the Mole Man and the Basilisk in Marvel Team-Up #17, with the Human Torch and the Hulk battling Blastaar in the following issue. The collapse of Doctor Doom’s latest scheme to rule the world brings us up to Fantastic Four #144.
November 1966 – The Thing, the Sub-Mariner, and Namorita rescue Wundarr from some interplanetary assassins in Marvel Two-in-One #2. The movie Ben and Johnny see at the beginning of the story is probably The Professionals with Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin, rather than a kung fu flick.
December 1966 – The Human Torch teaches Spider-Man how to drive in Amazing Spider-Man #130.
Jump Back: The Fantastic Four – Year Five
Next Issue: The Hulk – Year Five