Monday, September 15, 2014

1982: Frankie, The Fantastic Four's Fanatic part I: Burning Blunderbuss Babe

By Jef Willemsen (

Not too long ago, we did several lists honoring some of the most memorable people and things to happen to Marvel Comics during the 1980s. If not for a last minute change of heart, the Fantastic Four adding Frankie Raye to the roster might have been included and oh boy... would that have been a mistake. For, y'see, she's nuts...

So, why was Frankie even considered for a spot on the most memorable moments list? Well, she's actually a bit of a trailblazer, no pun intended.

Let's review: not only was she the first hero to hook up with the FF that made the team consider changing their name to "Fantastic Five", she was also destined to become Galactus' first herald of the 1980s ánd she indirectly caused the destruction of the Skrull Homeworld. Plenty of accolades for lil' Ms. Raye, who had actually been around since 1975, serving as the Human Torch's romantic foil when she debuted in Fantastic Four I#164.

Her relationship with Johnny Storm never went anywhere, helped in no small part by the fact she was deathly afraid of fire. That tends to make dating a man who turns into red hot plasma for a living challenging. Frankie and Johnny eventually drifted apart, but John Byrne brought her back when he took over the title. Fresh from a run on Uncanny X-Men (in)famous for killing a redhead, here we have Frankie discovering a little secret in Fantastic Four I# 235...

"She knows!"

Just what she knew was left a mystery for next issue. In Fantastic Four I#236, the Human Torch came by to check on her only to find Frankie was still a mess by what she she'd seen in the mirror.   And so was Johnny, by the way...

"Now, he knows!"

And here's where John Byrne's love for the Golden Age of comics really started to shine through.

Frankie was revealed to be the adopted daughter of Phineas Horton, creator of the original 1940s android Human Torch. Horton had never recovered from the fact the media had villified his Torch, even calling it a menace. So, when the Fantastic Four made their debut to generally favorable reviews, Horton was beyond furious and decided to set the record straight by reviving his version of the Torch.

Horton took his teenage stepdaughter along as he made his way towards a seemingly abandoned warehouse where the chemicals he used to create the Human Torch were stored. Frankie carried one of the old, rusty drums to the car when the floor gave out and the sloshing inside the drum caused a chemical reaction that somehow caused her to develop control over fire.

As superhero origins go, it's not the worst way to start out... But then, Byrne made things weird.

"And all the time  he kept apologizing, saying how sorry he was for what  he had done to me."

Horton hypnonitized Frankie, forcing the girl to forget about the accident and her newfound powers. He even added another suggestion, making her terribly afraid of fire. Gee, thanks dad... especially because he then left her, essentially abandoning a 14 year old amnesiac orphan...

Still, he *was* nice enough to send weekly checks to cover expenses over the years and also constructed a costume (ostensibly to help control her powers) that he eventually sent over by mail. The package included a taped message that triggered Horton's earlier hypnotic suggestion.

Entranced, Frankie put on the costume and promptly forget about it. In fact, she wore it for six years without even realizing it... Which I'm sure made bathroom breaks interesting... not to mention her monthly visitor. But all that changed when her repeated encounters with Johnny Storm somehow caused the hypnosis to end.

Immediately bursting into flame, overjoyed to the point of madness, Frankie not only flamed on she also took flight... Forcing the Torch to go after her, in hopes of trying restrain her.

"Frankie, please! You gotta listen to me..."

But there's no arguing with a burning woman in flight, as Frankie proved when seconds after her debut as a superhero she almost had her first case of collateral damage.

 Wha... that sign!"

Yeah, that sign sure was a signal you were more than a little unhinged. And as if burning billboards wasn't enough, just see was what Frankie did next. Call it youthful exhuberance, call it the result of America's youth falling behind in the sciences... But in order to test her flame powers she logically headed for space.

" Higher! I've got to get higher!"

After saving Frankie, the Human Torch took Frankie to the Baxter Building where Mr. Fantastic was at the ready to study her rediscovered abilities... 


Talk about a more innocent time... Mere hours after experiencing a mental episode that caused you to remember you have super powers, as well as half a life's worth of memories, you're invited to join a team that regularly faces lethal danger for science reasons. That's  right up there with 14 year old Jean Grey arriving at Xavier's in X-Men I#1, getting handed a costume and going out to fight Magneto and prevent nuclear armageddon on the same day. 

Anyway, crazy is as crazy does, as became clear the next issue when Frankie went on her first mission as part of the team. Contacted by the Thing's aunt Penny "Petunia" Grimm (yes, thát aunt Petunia), the FF travelled to Benson, Arizona where people were literally being scared to death. During their stay there, Frankie befriended a young girl called Wendy who was suffering at the hands of an abusive, alcoholic father. Let's see how our newly minted heroine responded...

"I ought to roast you where you stand!"

And that was áfter she pelted him with fireballs that could have potentially lit up the man's tinderbox of a mansion. Over the course of the next 24 hours, it became clear Benson was being targeted by a group of mysterious demons who through the ages put everyone around their sacred places through a literal crucible of terror for one long night.

Most of the people who survived the ordeal decided to leave Benson the next morning. Wendy's father had lived to tell the tale, but he didn't have time to pack because he was busy looking for Wendy... And when he found her, he got mad again. And you don't like daddy when he's angry...

You wouldn't like Frankie either...

 "You've got about three seconds to make your peace with the world..."

Reed Richards knows that having the latest addition to your team threatening to kill an unarmed civilian is bad publicity... Especially with so many witnesses present. So he rushed to stop her, figuring it might be a momentary lapse of judgement, simply a result of her getting caught up in the heat of the moment (pardon the pun)... But then, she had to open her mouth.

"Someone has to make him pay! Someone has to!"

Look at that... Frankie Raye actually felt she was doing the right thing by killing a father in front of her daughter. Even the Punisher isn't that cold blooded. But hey, she's still new at this 'with great power comes great responsibility' shtick... Live and learn, I'm sure she'll do better next time.

In Fantastic Four I#241, Quicksilver paid the FF an unannouced visit. When the speedster didn't even bother to slow down and say hello, this is how lady Raye reacted...

"You could have killed him!"

For someone who generates light, she isn't very bright. She also has a very black and white take on life, death and the fate of villains. In Frankie's book, if you're a bad guy, you deserve to die. And when she's been told you're not evil, she turns on the charm.

"My pleasure. It's an honor to meet a former X-Man."

After Quicksilver politely corrected his would-be assassin (who says the man has zero patience?), he informed the FF why he'd ran all the way to the Baxter Building from Tibet. Turns out the Inhumans needed help: Not only were they suffering from a mysterious illness, they were also under siege by the Enclave.. And oh yes, Quicksilver's wife Crystal was about to give birth. 

The Fantastic Four were ready to help out but Reed ordered Frankie to stay behind, claiming her training wasn't complete enough to face what may lie ahead. Probably a good call, chances are she'd lose her temper and start killing whoever looked at her funny... So, while the FF are whisked away by Lockjaw, help save the Inhumans and even relocate Attilan to the Moon (all in a day's job!) Frankie gets to stay in for the night...

"Well, pooh!"

And the world breathes a collective sigh of relief...

In the second part of Frankie, The Fantastic Four's Fanatic she will finally get to see some (jungle) action ánd meet the man of her dreams. But oh boy, does he have an appetite!

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