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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

X-amining Fantastic Four #347-349

"Big Trouble on Little Earth!" / "Where Monsters Dwell (or is it ... Where Creatures Roam?)!" / "Eggs Got Legs! ...or Love Conquers All!"
December 1990 - February 1991

In a Nutshell 
A renegade Skrull recruits a New Fantastic Four to unknowingly help her acquire a weapon to use against the Skrull Empire. 

Writer: Walter Simonson
Penciling: Arthur Adams
Penciling Assistant: Gracine Tanaka (issues #348-349)
Inking: Art Thibert, Al Milgrom (issue #348 pp 13-16, issue #349 pp4-24)
Letterering: Bill Oakley
Coloring: Steve Buccellato
Editing: Ralph Macchio
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Issue #347: Fleeing pursuit, a renegade Skrull named De'Lila crashes on Earth shortly after the Fantastic Four's return from an inter-dimensional journey through time. De'Lila, using her shapeshifting abilities, proceeds to infiltrate Four Freedoms Plaza and take out the Fantastic Four one by one. Meanwhile, the Skrulls pursuing her arrive on Earth and are drawn to Monster Island by readings which suggest the monsters which dwell there share some Skrull DNA. They proceed to send the monsters out into the world to flush out De'Lila. De'Lila, in the guise of Invisible Woman, puts out a call for help, to which Hulk, Wolverine, Spider-Man and Ghost Rider respond. Though reluctant to help her at first, they acquiese upon seeing the apparent dead bodies of the Fantastic Four, and agree to become a new Fantastic Four to avenge them.

Issue #348: The New Fantastic Four depart Four Freedoms Plaza, using a device provided by De'Lila which they believe will lead them to the source of the attacking monsters and the murderers of the real Fantastic Four. En route, they stop a monster attacking a plane over Washington, D.C., then proceed to follow it to Monster Island. On Monster Island, Mole Man has captured the Skrulls pursuing De'Lila just as the new Fantastic Four arrive and proceed to interrogate them, learning of De'Lila, including her telepathic powers, which made duping them easier.


Meanwhile, De'Lila, still posing as Invisible Woman, wakes up Mr. Fantastic, and with the help of her telepathic abilities, enlists his help in finding the weapon she seeks, which turns out to be on Monster Island. When they arrive on the island, they're attacked by the new Fantastic Four, but Mr. Fantastic insists they'll have to go through him to get to "Invisible Woman". Hulk says since they've already seen his dead body, that won't be a problem.

Issue #349: De'Lila reveals her true form and uses her telepathy to ensnare the new Fantastic Four. Meanwhile, Franklin Richards revives the rest of the Fantastic Four, and they head to Monster Island. On the island, the new Fantastic Four discover what De'Lila's is after: an egg containing a robotic bodyguard intended for the Skrull empress. Combined their powers, they release the egg, but as the rest of the Fantastic Four arrive, two of Mole Man's monsters take the egg, so that when it hatches, the robot bonds to them instead of De'Lila. Realizing she's lost, De'Lila tries to flee with Mr. Fantastic in tow, but after she threatens Invisible Woman, he breaks free of her control. Ghost Rider proceeds to use his penance stare to force her to relive all the terrible things she's done, while Spider-Man convinces Mole Man to let them all leave in peace.

Firsts and Other Notables
A story intended to lampoon the increasing trend of handing over issues of low (or lower)-selling series to hot guest star characters, effectively pushing the stars of the series into the background in the process of a short term cash grab, issue #347 marks the first appearance of the New Fantastic Four, comprised of Wolverine, (Grey) Hulk, Spider-Man and Ghost Rider, four of Marvel's most popular/edgiest characters at the time (Spider-Man at this time is coming off the debut of Spider-Man #1, then the best-selling comic of all time).


At the time, this team was considered a big enough deal to warrant its own trading card in the second Marvel Universe set, but this group hasn't really appeared as a team outside of this storyline, barring issue #3 of the 2010 Spider-Man/Fantastic Four miniseries (a miniseries in which each issue depicts a different significant meeting between the FF and Spider-Man from throughout their history together), which picks up where issue #349 leaves off, expanding on the immediate aftermath of De'lila's defeat.

Tongue planted firmly in cheek, each of these three issues replace the usual "World's Greatest Comics Magazine" declaration with an adjective that speaks to the commercial-minded decision making the story is intentionally lampooning. Similarly, issue #348 features a new corner cover box image, showcasing the New Fantastic Four.

As if to put a bow on all the kewl 90s guest stars, the Punisher pops up for a brief cameo at the end of the story.


The monster which ends up bonding with the robot De'Lila is after is the same monster which menaced the Fantastic Four in their first appearance (and can be seen on the cover of Fantastic Four #1).


The Skrulls, which lost their shapeshifting ability in the mid-80s, have since regained it in the pages of Silver Surfer's solo series. Not only is that ability integral to this storyline, it features heavily in the upcoming Shi'ar story in Uncanny X-Men.

Issue #348 received a second printing, with the white background on the cover replaced with a gold one. 

Creator Central 
This story occurs towards the tail end of former X-Factor penciller and Thor writer/artist Walt Simonson's run on Fantastic Four (he leaves the series with issue #354), a run which remains acclaimed today and stands as one of the better post-Byrne runs on the series.

Though, barring a few issues here and there, Simonson drew most of his FF stories as well as writing them, this story is drawn by Art Adams (with some assistance from Gracie Tanaka, with whom I'm not familiar), whose work we last saw in X-Men Annual #14. Given how influential Adams work is on the future Image Founders, having him draw this story lampooning trends of the 90s adds another level to the satire, while still giving it really good art. 

The Chronology Corner
Wolverine appears in this story following the Ghost Rider story in Marvel Comics Presents #64-71, and before Wolverine #35-37 (after which he appears in X-Men #273-277)

Teebore's Take
An intentional satirical poke at the tendency of series being forced to hand over issues to popular guest stars, regardless of how well they fit the ongoing narratives or themes of said series (a practice that was already well on the rise in the early 90s), this story succeeds because in addition to being a telling satire, it's also a really entertaining story. Simonson is clearly having fun, even while he's making his point, and as much as this is about how the more commercially-successful characters have a tendency to take over titles, the original FF still gets plenty of page time, along with a cadre of Skrulls, Mole Man and a bunch of giant monsters, for good measure. Adams, even with the artistic assist, is fantastic as always, imbuing it with a level of comic energy and making the whole thing as great to look at as it is fun to read.

The X-Men connection is fairly limited. Of all the New Fantastic Four, Wolverine arguably gets lost in the shuffle the most. At times, he almost operates in the calming leadership role, but Spider-Man takes that on at times as well. Ghost Rider, the newer commodity (to both readers and the characters), fills the mysterious loner archetype. And Wolverine is certainly out-hotheaded by the Hulk throughout the story. As a result, he's just sort of there, ironically crowded out when he, of all the "new" characters, is one whose presence as a guest star would be the most exploited in the years ahead. But despite the tenuous X-Men connection, I still wanted to review this story, because of what it says about comics in the early 90s, because shapeshifting Skrulls will soon feature prominently in Uncanny X-Men, but most of all, just because by the end of it, you've got the New Fantastic Four, the old Fantastic Four (including She-Thing and Ben Grimm in a robotic Thing suit), Skrulls, the Mole Man, and a whole bunch of vintage, Atlas-era style monsters running around, all drawn by Art Adams, and that's just simply too much fun to pass up.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, "Girls School from Heck" wraps up in Excalibur #34. Friday, Wolverine pals around with Ernest Hemingway in Wolverine #36. Next week, jungle lovin' in Uncanny X-Men #274.

27 comments:

  1. this group hasn't really appeared as a team outside of this storyline,

    I've been binging on post-AoA X-Men currently, and I've just read WOLVERINE #148 which happens during the Ages of Apocalypse bit of the "Twelve" shenanigans where the same gang actually will form the Fantastic Four again to replace the originals who fell before the High Lord, all the way to adopting the FF uniforms. Wolverine calls back to this very story there.

    As if to put a bow on all the kewl 90s guest stars, the Punisher pops up for a brief cameo at the end of the story.

    And on the cover, naturally!

    and agree to become a new Fantastic Four to avenge them

    Whatever bad things we will be saying of the 90s, and we will be saying a lot of bad things of the 90s soon enough, at least they got the right idea back then about the (in)sensibility of Wolverine joining a non-mutant team or Spider-Man joining any team for to do any avenging.

    I love the bit about everyone making their way to the top floors of FF headquarters after the Ghost Rider, and Wolverine having to take the elevator. Not least because Wolverine taking the elevator to the top floors of the FF headquarters is some pretty damn classic imagery.

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    1. Ah yeah, I forgot about that "Ages of Apocalypse" story, which definitely references this one.

      And ditto on the sequence culminating in Wolverine taking the elevator up to the top of Four Freedoms Plaza. Great little bit of comic writing/drawing there.

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  2. "this group hasn't really appeared as a team outside of this storyline"- They do appear in FF 374, the infamous "Wolverine cuts the Thing's face" story.

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    1. I know of that issue, but haven't read it; is it worth examining from an X-Men perspective, or is it pretty much just "Wolverine shows up, gets mad, slashes Thing's face so now he has to wear a kewl 90s mask"?

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    2. If I recall correctly, it's really somehow a preview for Secret Defenders, which was the ultimate non-team. For here it's probably just yet another Wolverine appearance.

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  3. They also appeared in a What If...? story as well. Something along the lines of What If The New FF Stayed Together? or something.

    Just curious, where and how does Wolverine fit in to this story, continuity wise? I guess it could fit in-between X-Tinction Agenda and Uncanny #273...

    Still, it's a fun story drawn by Art Adams. Can't go wrong with that.

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    1. Yeah, this fits between "X-Tinction" and UXM #273 (I suppose I should have pointed out that nobody had to go through the whole "I thought you were dead!" rigmarole with Wolverine, since the X-Men were revealed to the world at large as being alive in "X-Tinction"). The current Spanish Civil War arc in WOLVERINE falls in after this, then it's UXM #273 and the subsequent Shi'ar story through to issue #277.

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    2. Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Its him and Cyclops appearing in Infinity Gauntlet that is hard to make sense of.

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    3. Especially since Cyclops appears in the wrong costume (the old X-Factor one, I think?), doesn't he? I believe that's been chalked up to Perez working off the wrong reference sheets, or something, but it's still a strange fit.

      The Marvel Chronology Project puts IG basically between the end of the "Muir Island Saga" and before the linewide relaunch, but even that is still somewhat problematic.

      Of course, Cyclops and Wolverine don't really do much in IG, so it's not as egregious, I suppose.

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    4. He appears in his Portacio costume-I don't see what's wrong with placing IG between Muir Island and X-Men 1.

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    5. Placing IG between Muir Island and X-Men 1, while not wrong per se, just doesn't feel right either, for some reason.

      Granted, Cyclops barely has any lines in the story, and doesn't interact with Wolverine (who did interact with the Hulk), which makes them appearing pointless. Then again, I heard Bob Harras didn't want the X-men too involved in the story, and would only let Starlin use a couple of characters.

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    6. Perez can be forgiven using possibly slightly outdated reference sheets, when the Avengers themselves list "Marvel Girl" as one of those disappeared in her green&yellow pre-FotM costume on their screen.

      And, for the record, slamming adamantium claws into someone's chest also counts as "interacting", god or not.

      Infinity Gauntlet may not be X-amined for aforementioned reasons, then, despite the X-folks getting more presence in the sequels?

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    7. Yeah, I wasn't planning on reviewing INFINITY GAUNTLET (or any of the INFINITY series). Wolverine & Cyclops pretty much just hang around and throw a few hits on Thanos in the first story, and while I know Storm is more integral to CRUSADE, nothing that happens in any of the series ever has an impact or gets referenced much at all in any of the X-books (versus, say, the Spider-Man books, where Doppelganger becomes a recurring antagonist springing out of INFINITY WAR).

      Basically, you can read every single X-Book and not read any of the INFINITY series, and not feel like you're missing a thing. So that pretty much excuses them from the purview of X-aminations.

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    8. Now I know there is a very special hell reserved for the likes of me, BUT... you can't read INFINITY GAUNTLET without missing a Thing.

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    9. George Pérez had to redraw a few things in INFINITY GAUNTLET. The Omnibus collection has some of his old cover art side-by-side with the new. He started out drawing classic Thor, for example, and had to change him to the Eric Masterson version.

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    10. Indeed and the lettering on issue #1 gives away a late in the day change to acknowledge this isn't the original Thor. Throughout the series Eric is written as far more confident than in his own title.

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  4. The monster which ends up bonding with the robot De'Lila is after is the same monster which menaced the Fantastic Four in their first appearance (and can be seen on the cover of Fantastic Four #1).

    Oh bloody hell. The Marvel Saga, official history of Marvel Universe, has done me ill. I did know the FF first met the menace of Mole-Man, but somehow I always thought it was Gormuu, the warrior of Kraalo on the cover of FF#1. Gotta read them too now that I have access. I took a sneak-peek, the three-headed flying one that Punisher follows is also from FF#1. This is Continuity Call-back Done Right.

    Also, I did know Mole-Man was rendered blind in an accident (courtesy of Marvel Saga), but didn't know he had also got a radar sense that helps him with his fighting people with a stick.

    Meanwhile, the Skrulls pursuing her arrive on Earth and are drawn to Monster Island by readings which suggest the monsters which dwell there share some Skrull DNA.

    I'm in understanding it would be revealed at some point that the Skrulls are the Deviants equivalent of their own race, explaining the thing with the Monster Island monsters being Deviant offsprings. The Simonsons were awfully lot into the Celestials (planning a Havok&Polaris limited series at some point connecting to them), I wonder if they managed to get everything out.

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  5. // simply too much fun to pass up //

    I bought #348 off the spinner rack at a drug store despite caring very little for ‘90s Marvel (and having a tight budget in college) for just those reasons.

    Quick hits:

    The new team makes it from Washington, DC, to the Bermuda Triangle way too quickly.

    Mole Man doesn’t recognize Skrulls. It’s weird to think that he and they were introduced back-to-back nearly 40 years before this in FF #1 & #2 yet haven’t crossed paths until now — nor are Skrulls a known enough commodity to the wider world yet that he’d know them on sight.

    Of course the would-be Alicia seen here actually turns out to be a Skrull at the hands of the next creative team, which renders her dispatch by De’Lila rather funny in retrospect.

    I wondered if the Skrull-like readings on Monster Isle ever paid off, like it was revealed that early Skrulls or some kind of ur-Skrull race had settled on Earth and become stuck in various creature forms, because nothing really comes of it here.

    There’s a panel in #347 of Spider-Man having landed in a crouch next to Hulk and Logan that I really like.

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    1. Blam, the idea, which had been hinted at before, is that the Skrulls are the Deviants of their race. So since the monster were created by the Deviants, the Skrulls have an affinity towards them.

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    2. Oh, right, the middle of Bermuda triangle angle. Magneto's island that the X-Men went on to adopt for a while should be just around the corner then, which is funny considering that it's where Belasco had some connection to so he could kidnap Illyana from there and that Belasco's "Children of the Dis" seem to be essentially Moloids. The Subterranea seems to be quite connected.

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    3. Thanks, Anonymous… I have considerable holes in my knowledge of cosmic Marvel and, say, late-‘80s Marvel on up in general, which at this point basically just means considerable holes in my knowledge of Marvel. Where has the time gone?

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    4. Silver Surfer annual #1 has the Eternals stating outright that the Skrulls were their race's Deviants but it's such a throwaway fact that it almost certainly had been revealed clearly before.

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    5. I had the same thought about the journey from DC to Bermuda Triangle. I even went back and double checked that they were indeed in the skies above DC, because I thought "wow, that was fast!".

      Also, I totally meant to mention that technically, the Alicia in this story is a Skrull as well, then plum forgot, so thanks for pointing that out.

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  6. Funny, I've never read these issues despite their being considered "essential" nineties Marvel.

    But wow, Art Adams draws a heck of a Spider-Man!! I know he never really had a actual "run" on anything, but I would've loved to have seen him tackle Spider-Man in a mini-series or an annual or something. He did do a WEB annual with Ann Nocenti, but that was the black costume. (And I love the black costume, but seeing his rendition here of the classic outfit makes me wish he could've done more work with that.)

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    1. There was a Marvel Team-Up issue co-starred by Warlock of the New Mutants that was drawn by Adams.

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    2. ... nope, I was thinking exactly the same WEB annual you mentioned. I was certain that one was a MTU issue or annual. What the hell are the New Mutants doing on WEB in the first place!?

      I wonder if Adams was deliberately going towards the McFarlane looks here, considering the general ethos of parodying the tapping into the popular characters.

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    3. Web was the title that replaced Marvel Team-Up. I guess some ideas got implemented regardless.

      Also there was a period in the early to mid 1980s when a lot of annuals tended to forget who the star of the book was.

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