Monday, January 17, 2011

Back-Issue Alphabet: F is for Fantastic Four #251

Fantastic Four #251 (1983) John Byrne, Jim Novak, Glynis Wein

Tired of me featuring DC comics? You’re in luck! This week we’re looking at John Byrne’s Fantastic Four #251. Not only is it the first “Back Issue Alphabet” book that’s older than I am, it’s a great microcosm of what the Fantastic Four are all about. 

First off, I love the intro page:

Ben Grimm (the Thing) and Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic) are peering down into Reed’s newest invention, a “dimensionally transcendental” access shaft that “eliminates the need for the complex locks and barriers” that have been required to access the Negative Zone in the past. Wait... what? Ben immediately points out that opening up a permanent portal to the Negative Zone runs a chance of letting their old foe Annihilus out into Earth. Reed’s Response?

“Oh yeah, Annihilus. I remember that guy. And Blastaar and Stygorr. And Galactus. Man. Those guys. The guys in the Negative Zone. Did I mention how awesome the negative zone is? So awesome.” His blissful ruminations are interrupted by his wife, who reminds him of a tenant meeting. For those of you just tuning in, Richards recently bought the Baxter Building, and now has to deal with the grievances of the other tenants. One of which is apparently Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s (at the time) Prime Minister of Canada.

Huh. Byrne did grow up in Canada, so I have to wonder if that’s more than coincidence. Ben goes across town to pick up Alicia Masters and clears up a traffic jam on the way there. Johnny Storm goes to Rolf Brandis’ lecture at a dramatic arts school to impress a girl, and becomes caught up in drama of his own. Back at the Baxter Building, Susan Storm, the Invisible Woman, turns herself invisible and sneaks up on her son, Franklin, while he plays video games:

She mourns over the loss of Franklin’s mutant powers, and thinks to herself that the Baxter Building is no place for an ordinary child.

Ben brings Alicia over to watch Franklin while the Fantastic Four are exploring the Negative Zone. They load up into the Negative Zone Exploratory Module Mark I and head down the access shaft. In the distortion area (the space between worlds) they encounter rough turbulence, which Reed attributes to “some disturbance not native to the area... possibly an object of some kind passing near us in the other direction. But I cannot image what that flux might be!”

Wait, the other direction? As in, back up the shaft and into Earth? And you cannot imagine what it could be? Could it be, oh, I don’t know, one of the three Negative Zone villains you mentioned by name earlier in the issue? Spoiler alert: it is.

Reed Richards: master of of spectacular scientific invention and equally spectacular oversights.

Well, John Byrne’s art and layouts are great and it’s really hard to not like anything that has the Thing in it. But there’s just so many weird oversights or omissions of details that need to occur in order for Annihilus to show up like he does. Reed doesn’t have any security installed, brushes off Ben’s comment about Annihilus getting loose on Earth, and then completely ignores something passing by him in the distortion area going in the direction of Earth. Earth’s smartest man, ladies and gentlemen. This is just plain bad scripting.

The issue has it’s fun moments like every time Ben speaks, and Reed dealing with his angry tenants. It’s those little down-to-earth touches that give Marvel books their charm. FF #251 is a decent jumping on point for new readers, as it establishes Richards’ newest invention, gives a back story for the Negative Zone, introduces some teenage drama for Johnny and has a cute moment between Ben and Alicia. Would I follow the series? Not today. But back when comics were only 75 cents I’d probably give the next issue a try just to see Annihilus go nuts in New York.

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