Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The FF Forays Into The 80s part IV: Robots, Parasites and the Ego Spawn... Oh my!

By Jef Willemsen (clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com)

In the fourth part of this retrospective on Doug Moench & Bill Sienkiewicz's ten issue Fantastic Four run, the plotlines suddenly start to mesh as half forgotten characters show up, while Sue has more kids without Reed and Franklin really hates everybody. Sort of.

This chapter deals with the events of Fantastic Four # 226 through 228. Like most of Moench's run, these are done-in-one stories constructed in mostly the same way. Every issue opens on the team at home in the Baxter building, enjoying domestic bliss (but still wearing their costumes, oddly enough). Before too long, they're alerted to a threat, which they then proceed to seek out and deal with... And the issue ends with a corny non sequitur.

Wait, I'll show ya...

Fantastic Four # 226 starts out with a mysterious giant robot robbing a gold train in Czechoslovakia (as Slovakia and the Czech republic were called during the days of the USSR. After the cold war ended, Czechoslovakia ceased to be in 1993).

Reed is a little worried about this giant robot...

"I don't like being suspicious of our former allies, but we'd be derelict in our duty if we didn't investigate them".

That Reed...  the mere mention of an unseen giant robot immediately reminded him of the issue's guest stars... those sensational character finds of 1979... The Shogun Warriors. Actually, the entire Shogun Warriors concept was based on a toyline Marvel had acquired the rights to. Doug Moench wrote the adventures of the giant robots and their three valiant human pilots for 20 issues, before Marvel lost the license and was forced to cancel the title.

Moench used this issue of Fantastic Four to provide his characters with a proper send off... but he couldn't show the robots, their likenesses were licensed after all, that's why he had the villain of the piece destroy them off panel. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

Ben hadn't returned yet from a date with Alicia, so Reed impatiently waited around for him, while young Franklin was playing a rather interesting game of cowboys and indians.

"What? Of course Franklin, very neat."

Give it up for Reed 'second hand smoke don't kill' Richards... attentive father of the year. Eventually Ben arrived, with some surprising guests in tow.

"We've had intimate dealings with the robot."

That's not half as dirty as it sounds, get your minds out of the gutter... because that's where the Shogun three are after a mysterious fourth robot destroyed their lives. Leaving Franklin with Alicia, the FF rush out to aid the Shogun Warriors in their plight... which took them to Japan and this sight...

"What are we going to do?!"

Good question... the fourth robot was an unfinished prototype that its pilot, an unnamed scavenger, discovered while digging through the Shogun Warriors' old base Sanctuary. Using spare parts meant for the machines he'd eventually destroy, the scavenger finished constructing the fourth robot and used it to have a little fun... 

Which was eventually ended thanks to the joys of semi-absentee parenting. 

Half-remembering what his son said, Reed figured out a way to combat the big bad robot... by hurling a rock at what turned out to its central guidance system... conveniently located on its forehead. 

One hit did the trick, the robot was downed, the bad guy captured and the Shogun Warriors enjoyed their final moment in the sun before returning to their non superhero lives as a test pilot, marine biologist and stunt man... Ya know, safe and cushy jobs.

Commenting on the Samurai Destroyer story, Moench would later say it might have been an attempt to break away from the model established by Stan Lee and Kirby, adding: "On the other hand, maybe it was a lingering effect of writing Godzilla.".

And speaking of monsters that time forgot... Fantastic Four # 227 opened with a mysterious meteor heading for Earth and Reed getting a call about it...

Talk about a quick and ultimately rather generic set up for an issue... Reed is called in by his old friend professor Gideon Carruthers to help investigate this meteor and considering it went down in a resort called The Lost Lake, the FF might as well vacation there.

Would you jump at the chance to stay in a place with a creepy sounding name like that?  But this is the Fantastic Four, they're used to gallivanting across Negative Zones and Inhuman abodes alike... That's why they prepare for a possibly dangerous expedition like this...

"Well, I've made the extra bags invisible and if Reed doesn't notice how funny I'm walking..."

You gotta feel a little bad for the treatment Susan Richards received during Moench's run. From the get go, he decided to treat her like little more than Reed's wife and support system. That's why we get cringeworthy scenes like this...

Here's a woman with the ability to project forcefields capable of holding back Galactus himself, but now she's suddenly reverted to a clumsy waif, trying to sneak extra luggage on board by holding all three invisible pieces in one hand? And when found out, she throws a typically female hissyfit?

En route to the campsite, the Fantasticar is attacked by a pteranodon... The giant, flying dinosaur  actively tries to peck at the vehicle. The Fantastic Four attemped to fight off the creature, until it suddenly exploded... Luckily, Reed was able to catch a chunk. 

"Something similar to a prehistoric trilobite..."

While researching this decidely odd looking creature, Reed and professor Carruthers are disturbed by a local boy whose dog went missing. Mere minutes after the child leaves, they pick up something on the police scanner about a strange occurence at the local gas station and the FF minus Sue go in to check it out...

"It's some kind of... wolf... lapping up the oil from that ruptured drum..."

Just why a weird, mutated wolf would enjoy... wolfing... down petroleum products is beyond Reed. But that doesn't stop him from ordering Ben and Johnny to attack the creature... only to learn it isn't without defenses either. 

Still, after a brief skirmish Reed notices the back of the wolf's head is lighting up so he uses his stretching powers to grab whatever is down there and wouldn'tcha know it... the wolf turned out to be the missing dog and Reed removed another trilobite, a live one this time. 

Let's get it down to the lab...

Curious to learn why both the wolf and the pternadon were out to get some oil? Read Reed's rather convoluted and farfetched explanation for the mind controlling trilobite's behaviour.. And then meet us back here for the next morning, when the FF charter a boat to literally get to the bottom of this mystery by diving up the meteor.

But once the piece of alien rock was on board, a trilobite mutated eel rose up to attack the FF. The waves it generated shook the boat, causing the meteor to crash against the side of the vessel, cracking open and revealing a very... familiar... foe. 

Turns out the 'meteor' was actually a pod for the alien mind control creatures... who are apparently stealthy enough to crawl upon the body of a combat trained woman wearing a skintight outfit. Hiding itself behind her hair, the brain parasite slowly took over Sue... But the others didn't notice the change until they saw her squatting near their Fantasticar...

Ah yes, exposition ahoy. Franklin had been using his latent powers to 'self destruct' the pternadon and the sea serpent, but facing his own possessed mother, he couldn't simply destroy the creature for fear of losing his mommy as well. Luckily, Reed managed to snatch the creature off Sue's back, returning her to normal...

All's well that ends well and with the mystery of the alien mind controlling trilobite meteor solved, the FF prepared to take off, only casually entertaining one final mystery. They saw the trilobite-controlled Invisible Woman squatting near the Fantasticar, but she didn't try to drain any fuel... so what *was* she doing down there?

"After all, he's our only son..."

Ow my, the FF actually ran into trilobite infested Sue as she was spawning offspring underneath the Fantasticar... Not exactly the safest place in the world, considering the craft took off with a decisive fireball, seemingly killing all but one of the brain parasites... 'our only son', indeed...

Fantastic Four # 228 provided a sequel of sorts. Both Sue and Reed had become so worried about their son's growing mutant abilities, they decided it was high time to chart his powers.  No, not at professor Xavier's school for gifted youngsters... that would make too much sense. No, the one scientist deemed worthy of examining Franklin was Reed's old college friend Abe Jankovitz. 

After some initial objections by Moench certified worrywart Sue, Reed actually asked Franklin what he wanted to do. As any child is wont to do, Frank gave a frank answer.

Joining Reed, Sue, Franklin and Ben on this trip to Jankovitz's New Jersey lab were the Human Torch and his latest girlfriend, mechanic Laurie Melton. They were supposed to be out on a first date, but Laurie happily tagged along with this anything but romantic interlude. In the lab, Johnny and Laurie watched from a distance while doctor Jankovitz explained his new (age) technique designed to help determine Franklin's abilities...

Sue initially shied away from this rather invasive procedure and emphasized a focus on more conventional approaches... like hypnosis. But before Franklin could be subjected to that, Johnny and his date decided they wanted to have a little alone time.... Luckily, big sister Sue was able to handle this understandable need with equally understandable tact...

"Come on, Lorrie... let's go dig up some burgers."

Taking the Fantasticar, Johnny and Laurie finally share a kiss, a hamburger and an ever so romantic New Jersey night, until Johnny's inherent showmanship annoyed one Franco Berardi so much, he took action...

"Shut it, Betty... the punk just can't stop showin' off..."

Yes, Franco was getting more than a little fed up with Johnny's showboating that he dared the Torch to a macho off...Bill Sienkiewicz sure draws a mean looking car, doesn't he? But just as Johnny was getting ready to throw down with his foe, professor Jankovitz tried his best to step in and use his technologies to safeguard Earth's future. 

"First one to swerve around does a chicken imitation for the girls"

 But just as Johnny was getting ready to throw down with his foe, professor Jankovitz tried his best to step in and use his technologies to safeguard Earth's future. 

"The ball of force has no substance... it's passing right through the solid glass panes of the window! And don't you see...? It looks like the most commonly reported ufo!"

Professor Jankovitz must have a phd in conversational info dumping... Anyways, Franklin's ball of mind energy takes off and hits a very familiar target...

"I'm gonna make you scream..."

When your son's mental energies turn random strangers into Freddy Mercury lookalikes in pinkish S&M outfits, it's usually safe to assume grandchildren are off the table... But that's neither here nor there.

Somehow, Jankovitz' experiment caused part of Franklin's subconscious to switch with Berardi which in turn transformed the man into the super-powered 'Ego-Spawn', who attacked the FF for a couple of pages until Sue managed to save the day by literally kicking out the plug and shutting down Jankovitz' device...

"And two scrambled egos are back at home, perhaps slightly bruised but intact."

With everyone back to normal, Reed gently tells Jankovitz he's off the case. From now on, he'll conduct the experiments with Franklin's powers himself. But it'll never get to that stage, as we'll  see in the fifth and final part of The FF Forays Into The 80s: Of Black Holes and Negative Zones.  

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