So I think I’ve created a monster. Every time I sit down to polish up my Fantastic Four notes, they keep getting bigger. Too big, really. I keep having more ideas, which inspire other ideas, and ripple backwards to change stuff I’ve already written. So it’s self-perpetuating, I’m having fun, and the posts are proving popular. Which I suppose means I should just keep doing them til I’m done. However long that takes.
There’s just one problem with that: I’m not getting any funnybook reviews done, and that’s kind of the real bread and butter of the site. So here’s the deal: I’m going to continue with these Fantastic Four posts, but only a couple of times a month. And in-between, I’ll get back to doing what I created the nerd farm to do: talk about funnybooks I like.
This week, though… it’s all about the FF. If you’re just coming to my fictional ramblings now, you definitely wanna read the previous three columns before this one.
Part One covers the basic rules of the Fantastic Four.
Part Two is all about the characters and their pasts.
Part Three details the first three story arcs, featuring the Origin, the Skrull, and Dr. Doom.
One thing you’ll note about this column (and the ones to follow) is that there’s a lot less detail on some storylines. The first arc this week, introducing Namor, gets the full issue-by-issue breakdown I did last time. But after that, I’ll be dealing in less obsessively-structured plots that still tell the story in a way that’s hopefully entertaining to read. I may break things down by the issue on occasion, but it’ll be the exception rather than the rule.
One other thing you may notice: as I develop these stories, I’m finding something at the core of the Fantastic Four that I didn’t expect: romance.
I’m having great fun twisting up the Reed/Sue relationship, in particular, throwing obstacles in their way, and getting them together only to break them apart again. But Johnny’s also coming to be defined by his relationship with Frankie Ray a lot more than he is by his job as the FF’s mechanic, and I didn’t expect that. Ben and Alicia are just getting started in the stories here, but I’ve got plans there. Boy, do I ever have plans…
At any rate. If you’ll recall, we left off last time with Ben having been cured of being the Thing, but left mentally shattered by the Thingbeard incident.
And that’s where we pick back up this time…
ARC FOUR: THE DEPTHS
Narrated throughout with excerpts from Atlantis Rising: Namor and Me, by Susan Storm.
Issue One: Lost and Found
Open on Ben Grimm, human again, lying comatose in a hospital bed. Sue and Reed sit at his bedside, looking tired and worried, holding hands. Reed: “I just don’t understand it. We’ve exhausted all the tests. Physically, there’s nothing wrong with him. It’s like… like he doesn’t want to live!”
Cut to Johnny. Unable to help with Ben, he’s gone to the racetrack to get his mind off things, but it doesn’t seem to be working. He stands staring down into the engine of his car, just as exhausted and forlorn as his teammates.
Enter Frankie Raye. She sneaks up behind Johnny, gooses him, and the two flirt their way through an argument over which one of them’s going to win this race. Frankie suddenly breaks off, spotting McKenzie, the track janitor. “Hey, Mac! There’s 20 bucks in it for ya if you’ll come help Wyatt with the car!” McKenzie grumbles about having work to do, but comes along anyway. So does Johnny.
Wyatt Wingfoot works on Frankie’s car, and brightens considerably when McKenzie shows up. Mac asks, “How high?” and Wyatt says “All the way over your head.” McKenzie grabs the bumper and, without much visible effort, lifts it over his head. Wyatt scrambles under and gets to work. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes go by, and McKenzie shows no signs of strain. Finally, Wyatt finishes his work, and Mac sets the car down again, gently as you please. Johnny is dumbfounded.
Switch to back-and-forth cuts between Johnny slowly befriending the anti-social McKenzie (which is to say, plying him with free food and beer), and scenes of Reed, Sue, and Bob Baxter tending to Ben, Reed and Sue obviously becoming closer as the days wear on.
The McKenzie sequence ends with a very drunk Mac telling Johnny that he suffers from amnesia. His only memory of his life before is one of drowning, which has also given him a paralyzing fear of the ocean. Suddenly deciding that he’s said too much, the drunken hermit stumbles out into the street, where he’s promptly hit by a bus. The front end of the vehicle crumples against him, nearly flipping over his head. McKenzie falls unconscious in the street, but when Johnny rushes to help him, he’s shocked to discover no apparent injury. Summoning the Fantasticar, Johnny rushes McKenzie to the Baxter Building.
The Ben sequence ends with Baxter asking Reed if he and Sue have set a date for the wedding yet, and Reed laughing, but admitting that they’ve been so worried about Ben that they haven’t progressed in that direction so much. Baxter tells him they should. “We can’t do anything else for Ben now. At this point, it’s up to him. And there’s no sense putting your lives on hold while he decides if he wants to live or die.”
Before Reed can respond, Johnny bursts in with McKenzie in tow. An examination follows in which Reed discovers the remnants of gill slits in McKenzie’s neck, and his ears are revealed to come to distinct points at the ends. Focus in on Baxter, who stares at McKenzie’s face intently, as if he thinks he’s seen him before. Flash: Baxter as a child being loaded into a life raft by his mother, the ship she’s standing on listing badly. In the air above, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner, Atlantean hero of World War II, fights with Nazi super-agent Warrior Woman amid columns of smoke rising from the ship. The smoke clears, and Baxter’s eyes meet Namor’s for an instant. Then he’s gone.
“My god, Johnny! I think you’ve found the Sub-Mariner!”
TO BE CONTINUED!!
Focus on the parallels between the recovery of the Baxter Building’s two patients. Sue maintains a vigil by Ben’s bedside, a series of one-sided conversations over the course of days in which Sue goes from guilt to anger to acceptance, finally telling Ben that she loves him, but not in the way he wants her to. “I’m sorry if that’s not something you want to hear. But don’t give up because of me. Your friends need you. Reed needs you. And I’m not worth dying for.” Ben’s eyes flutter open. “I’d die for ya, Susie. But maybe not today, huh?”
Meanwhile, Reed discovers that Namor’s gills have been damaged, covered over with scar tissue that’s made it impossible for him to breathe water. But, Reed surmises, his system needs salt water to function properly. He finds evidence that the lack of it has caused multiple brain seizures, and prevented his body from properly healing itself from whatever put him in his present state. So he operates, repairs the gills, and submerges Namor in a salt water tank (because of course Reed has a tank big enough to hold a human being). Namor struggles at first, then his long-dormant gills start working, and he falls into a deep sleep. While he sleeps, we get dream flashbacks to his past, culminating in the atomic test that put him out of commission, and the decades of hobo life that followed. The issue ends with a nightmare as Namor thrashes in the tank. In the dream, a mentally-unstable Namor is beaten in a flop house (scene stolen directly from FF #4). As the other hobos pile on, the pressure builds. Finally Namor throws them off, his hobo hair and hobo clothes disappearing, to be replaced by the hair and trunks of the Sub-Mariner. In the real world, he lashes out, shattering the tank and leaping to his feet with a triumphant “IMPERIUS REX!!”
The awakened Namor is vainglorious and proud. He spends a few days allowing his body to finish healing, and to reconcile his memories with the reality of the modern world. He finds Sue quite beautiful, and courts her roughly. Sue dislikes his manners (that temper thing again) and rebuffs him (besides, there’s Reed…right?). Still… There’s a lot of animal magnetism between them (scene: Sue going for a bath; meets sex-ay Namor coming naked out of the shower, muscles rippling, water running down his body, casually toweling off without covering himself; Sue having trouble making eye contact; Namor offering to join her; Sue saying no but thinking yes; she pushes past and drops her robe in front of him, but turns invisible as it falls, entering the shower before she changes her mind).
(Note: Do I want to use thought balloons? It feels right for some scenes. Used judiciously, for effect instead of painful explanation of what a character is feeling, I don’t see why not.)
Meanwhile, Ben is adjusting to the idea of being human again. Reed tells him that he should be able to change back and forth at will, but Ben’s having a hard time believing it. “If it’s all the same ta you, Stretcho, I think I’ll stay like this a while.”
He starts going to the track with Johnny, who’s getting closer to Frankie Raye and becoming reckless. Ben has to warn him not to flame on around a bunch of oily rags and gas cans in Frankie’s garage…
…but Johnny blows him off, claiming such control over his flames that he doesn’t have to worry about it. Ben gets mad and leaves, later drunkenly hooking up with Frankie Raye’s frenemy (and fellow racer) Tura…
…who steals his wallet after he passes out. Properly rebounded, Ben resolves to get his head on straight and figure out what’s next for him. Now that he’s human again, he figures it can’t be the FF.
Namor finally leaves and goes off to Atlantis, eager to find his people again. When he gets there, however, he finds it in ruins! Maddened by grief, blaming the humans and their bombs, Namor snaps and declares war on the surface world! TO BE CONTINUED!!
Pretty much following FF #4. Namor raises an army of undersea monsters and attacks New York. The FF fight to protect the city, with Ben feeling helpless on the sidelines, left to pilot the Fantasticar while the others fight. Meanwhile, Namor himself dives even deeper, seeking to awaken the Great Giganto, a leviathan sent to sleep by Atlantean sorcerer-kings in ages past. He succeeds, and sends Giganto into New York, crushing buildings with his enormous bulk. Missiles and bombs can’t pierce his tough hide, and he goes on a rampage until, tired from his exertions, he collapses in the middle of town, fast asleep. Reed theorizes that, if they could get a bomb inside the creature, they might be able to cause enough internal injury to kill it. But how do they get it inside?
“I’ll tell ya how,” Ben says from off-camera. “You send in the Thing!”
Transformed once again into the monster, Ben straps a gigantic bomb to his back and enters the belly of the beast. The scene plays out pretty much exactly as it does in FF #4…
…with Ben catching the edge of the blast on the way out. He survives, but later finds himself unable to change back. (Note: is this where he attains his familiar rocky hide?) Still, the gambit has the desired effect: Giganto rises with a mighty roar and, obviously injured, heads back out to sea.
But the battle isn’t won yet. Namor rallies another round of smaller monster troops! With the army and Our Heroes exhausted from the fighting, Reed and Sue leave Ben and Johnny to fight on the ground while they board the Fantasticar and try to talk Namor down. Out of respect for their service to him (and his still-burning desire for Sue), he agrees to parlay, but the meeting goes badly. Namor realizes that Reed and Sue are in love, and accuses them of toying with his emotions in an attempt to distract him from Atlantis’ destruction. Sue, feeling honestly conflicted, tells them both so. But Namor’s not having it. Fury redoubled, and possessed of endless vigor, Namor prepares to launch the final attack.
Enter Doom. He gets in Namor’s ear, telling him that while his rage is justified…
…but misdirected. Doom knows who destroyed Atlantis, you see, and he’s willing to help Namor seek his revenge. “Who is it?!” Namor demands. “Who destroyed fabled Atlantis?! Who will feel the wrath of the Avenging Son?!”
“Latveria,” Doom replies. “The nation of Latveria, and its supreme leader, Vladimir Hammerfell.”
(Note: That’s… just a placeholder name. Though I do kinda like “Hammerfell.”)
Doom’s evidence against Latveria is false, of course, but that doesn’t stop Namor. He breaks off the attack on New York and instead declares war on Latveria in the name of Atlantis. Doom fights at his side, and the two of them wreak havoc on Latveria, Doom inching ever-closer to getting his revenge against the regime that killed his parents.
Not trusting Doom’s proof, the FF investigates Atlantean ruins. There, they find a message left behind for any lost sons of Atlantis who might come looking for their people: after Namor’s “death,” Atlantis destroyed its cities to hide itself from the surface once again. The message also contains a clue to their whereabouts, which the team takes to Latveria. The impulsive Namor breaks off the attack and sets out to find his people once again. Doom feigns embarrassment at his misinformation. “Sometimes we see what we want to see.” But Reed’s not buying it.
Silent Ending montage:
Namor diving into deep ocean waters, where strange fish dwell.
Sue looking forlorn at his absence while Reed stands by looking sad, a symbolic gap between them.
Johnny and Frankie making out on the hood of her car, flames licking the back of his jacket.
Ben staring at his monstrous orange hand in concentration, trying and failing to make it human again.
Latverian Resistance leaders contacting Doom.
Arc Four Thoughts:
A word on the Sue/Namor romance: the way I’ve written it in the plot synopsis, the attraction seems entirely physical, and while that is probably about 75% of it, there’s a little more to it. Namor is charming in his own way, and has the confident, mature leadership qualities that Sue is most attracted to. Reed has those, too, of course, and an essential kindness that makes him a far better match for her. But having seen how badly their alternate-reality marriage turned out, she still harbors doubts. That’s why she tells Ben that Reed needs him: Ben is the humanizing element that keeps Reed anchored. Reed is abundantly aware of this, of course; he knows that he needs people to ground him, and seeks them out. That’s why he’s done so much to foster Johnny’s savant-like mechanical skills. But Sue hasn’t recognized that yet, and so in her doubt… Sexy-pants Namor seems like a legitimate alternative.
But getting back to the way people in relationships influence each other… We see Frankie becoming a bad influence on Johnny, her general recklessness feeding his own, and making him careless about the one thing he’s most afraid of: burning someone. I mention it here only because it seems like an abrupt shift, and in the actual writing of the stories, it’s something I’d build over the course of this arc.
We also leave Ben in an odd place: he’s gotten what he’s wanted from the beginning, and it makes him feel helpless and vulnerable. So in a moment of crisis, his bravery overcomes his caution, he makes an heroic sacrifice, and finds himself stuck as the Thing once again. Why can’t he change back? Publicly, we’re blaming the bomb, but in reality… Reference those feelings of helplessness and vulnerability again. He can’t change because something inside is telling him that it’s safer being the Thing. You can’t do more than hint at that, of course. It’s subtext just like the elemental stuff surrounding the team’s powers. But to gain control over the transformation, he’ll have to gain control over himself. And doing that knocks the pins out from under the character’s essential tragedy, so it’s never going to happen.
Okay. The Namor story brings us somewhere close to the end of the second year of Fantastic Four, and it’s only here that I feel like I’ve gotten the book into what I consider its classic configuration. The main cast is established, as are the various villains and situations, and most of the supporting cast (only Alicia is left). Now things can be kicked into high gear. This is also where I leave the world of detailed plot outlines and enter more broad strokes planning…
ARC FIVE: SIX STORIES
An arc of single-issue stories focused on individual cast members.
Issue One: Frankie and Johnny hit the cut-throat world of the European underground racing circuit in a Speed Racer style adventure. Johnny becomes increasingly reckless in response to aggressive tactics from the other race teams, including Tura and her mechanic/sidekick/lover Haji.
This all culminates in Johnny burning out his own car by accident, allowing Frankie to sail to victory. (Note: Frankie is kinda Johnny’s Black Mirror.)
Issue Two: Namor finds an abandoned Atlantean colony, the buildings intact but the people gone without a trace. He investigates, finding and journal that details some of the drama of the Atlanteans’ decision to withdraw further from the surface world. He also finds a map of New Atlantis and all its outlying settlements. But as to the fate of this colony, he remains puzzled. On a column, he finds etched a single, ominous word: ATTUMA.
Issue Three: Ben receives an invitation from blind artist Alicia Masters, who’s interested in doing a sculpture of him. Ben isn’t sure what to expect, but Alicia turns out to be an artsy bohemian with an earthy sense of humor, and though the process makes Ben a bit uncomfortable (Scene: Alicia asks him to disrobe, and, to get an idea of what he looks like, proceeds to run her hands over his body). They hit it off in spite of this, however, and a romance grows between them. We also meet her father, a master puppeteer who is revealed (to the readers, but not to Our Heroes) as a Skrull agent, specializing in mind control.
Issue Four: Doom faces international charges for his part in Namor’s attack on Latveria. Over the course of the issue, we see his trial (or lack thereof) play out in several different ways: Doom in Latverian prison, Doom cleared of wrongdoing but then assassinated, Doom reduced to seeking asylum in a Swiss embassy… In the end, we discover that he’s watching the events of different alternate timelines, as recorded by robot drones he sent out via the Time Platform. Finally finding a result in which he gets off scott free, he makes a phone call to a key person in that result, and we fade to black.
Issue Five: Jack McGee contacts Sue about a new wrinkle in the Skrull invasion plan: control of the media. His editor at the National Register is suddenly killing stories that he previously would have run with glee. If McGee has even the slightest inkling that a story might have a Skrull connection, whether he mentions it or not, it’s getting shelved. He’s spoken to reporters in other, more “legitimate,” media, and is finding similar stories. Investigation leads Sue to SHIELD, where we get an update on their Skrull investigation, talk with the captured Miracle Man, and discover that McGee’s editor is not, in fact, a Skrull. He’s just caving to pressure from SHIELD, who are trying desperately to keep the Skrull invasion under wraps until they can formulate a more definite plan of attack. Issue-ending twist: after the investigation is settled, the Skrull DO replace McGee’s editor, and we discover that it’s part of a larger plan… TO BE CONTINUED!!
Issue Six: A purely psychedelic issue in which Reed enters a sensory deprivation tank to work through some problems. Issues to be focused on: what’s going on with the Fantasticar; his understanding of the POWER COSMIC; the connection between the POWER COSMIC, the Skrull’s Orgone-based technology, and Doom’s mysticism (all are aspects of the same Universal Life Force); why he’s having such a hard time expressing his feelings to Sue. Recurring image: a freeze frame of the on-board camera footage of Breach Craft’s collision on entry into the Zone, Reed’s enormous, swollen brain slowly zooming in ever closer until we can see a humanoid figure in silhouette. Who is it, and what are they doing there? That’s a question for…
ARC SIX: RETURN TO THE NEGATIVE ZONE
The team goes back to the Negative Zone, this time with proper shielding, to do some actual exploration. We learn its structure (everything orbits around a central black hole), and its flaw (the black hole is slowly sucking everything in, and will one day devour all). We meet Annihillus, High Priest of the Sucking Void! The Insect Pope of a religious empire devoted to nihilism and the worship of the Hole at the Center of All Things!
We also meet his arch-enemy, Blastaar the Living Bomburst! A cruel barbarian king devoted to life and all its pleasures! The FF become pawns in the war between the two, and Reed has to play one against the other before they can return home (See: Yojimbo). Also: they find the craft they bumped into on arrival. It seems to be some kind of alien tomb, but the person laid to rest inside it is gone.
Interspersed throughout the team’s Negative Zone adventures are vignettes with Doom and Namor. Doom solidifies his ties to the Latverian resistance, uses the Time Platform to look into Reed’s past, and confers with Baxter on various Fantasticorp business dealings. Namor follows the map to Atlantis, stopping at several more colonies on the way. All are abandoned, many in ruins. And always that word scrawled on a building: ATTUMA. Throughout his journey, he’s dogged by a mysterious masked woman who continually attacks and lays traps for him. In their final encounter, Namor bests her in combat, and she yields (the first time she’s spoken). Removing her helmet, she’s revealed as an Atlantean woman of proud bearing. She is the Lady Dorma, self-appointed protector of Atlantis. And if Namor is who he claims to be, then for the first time she feels as if the city might be saved. TO BE CONTINUED!!
ARC SEVEN: ATTUMA
Namor and Lady Dorma gather Doom and the FF at the Baxter Building to ask their help. Atlantis has been conquered by barbarians from the Marianas Trench! Lead by a vicious warlord named Attuma, these barbarians possess strength to rival Namor’s own (engendered by life in the deepest depths of the ocean), and have enslaved Atlantis and its people. Lady Dorma was once Attuma’s consort, but she turned on him when he spurned her affections in favor of a harem of “soft Atlantean females.” She now seeks to free Atlantis, and see Attuma dead.
Doom refuses to go at first, and Reed is reluctant (Namor IS an international criminal, after all, not to mention a romantic rival). But the prospect of a deep-sea exploratory mission in search of lost Atlantis is too much for him to resist (plus, Sue’s going), so he agrees to help. Seeing this, Doom changes his mind. His ego will not allow him to be outdone in valor. So off they go, traveling in the Fantasticar and also using a formula of Doom’s concoction (some alchemical brew) that will allow them to breathe underwater for a time (opportunity for some cool “what’s it like to breath water?” stuff here). Comedy Moment: After they’ve drunk it, Ben wonders why Doom hasn’t marketed this stuff, and Doom says something about potential side effects. Doom himself doesn’t drink any, preferring to rely on his armor for life support…
So off they go to fight (Johnny being relegated to mechanic until Namor arms him with an Atlantean sonic weapon or something). Along the way, a complicated romantic quadrangle develops: Reed and Namor both want Sue, Sue wants both Reed and Namor, Namor gets the hots for Dorma (his match in both savagery and haughty pride), and Dorma’s up for anything with any combination of the four. Everybody winds up in bed with the wrong lover at some point, confusing the issue horribly (and letting Reed get some action, too).
Anyway. Reed, Namor and Doom draw up a plan of attack after scouting things out, Our Heroes battle to victory, and Namor faces off with Attuma. Namor wins, but Lady Dorma intervenes before he can deliver the killing blow, wanting that honor for herself. Attuma escapes as they bicker, retreating to the Marianas Trench to lick his wounds, and Atlantis is freed.
Epilogue: Namor is hailed as a hero by his people, but… They’ve had enough of monarchy. After his supposed death, finding their royal family wiped out by war, they instituted democratic reforms. He’s still hailed as Prince Namor, but “Prince” is purely a ceremonial position. Namor accepts this, but it’s a blow to his pride. He and Dorma take positions as official Protectors of Atlantis (sort of part-time detached military duty), as well as diplomats to the surface world, splitting their time between Atlantis and New York.
ARC EIGHT: SKRULL PLAN 23
Skrull control of the media goes into full swing! SHIELD’s existence is outed! The FF are named as co-conspirators in SHIELD’s attempts to suppress stories! Doom finds out about the Skrull (and is he ever pissed)!
A smear campaign is launched against the FF, outing Reed’s penchant for arrogance and keeping secrets, Ben’s fragile mental state, Johnny’s involvement in the illegal racing circuit (bringing into question his judgment and thrill-seeking lifestyle), and Sue’s romantic entanglements with Ben, Reed, and Namor (spun as her sleeping her way to fame). Unknown to Our Heroes, this dirt comes fnord via Ben through Alicia Masters and then on to Alicia’s father (who is, remember, a secret Skrull agent – whether Alicia knows about her dad, or even whether she’s a Skrull herself, should remain unclear).
The team’s reputation is further tarnished fnord when they support Namor (still a wanted man for his actions against New York and Latveria) in his attempts to become Atlantis’ ambassador to the UN. He offers restitution for his actions, but hard feelings linger (people died, after all), and the FF come to be seen as elitist threats in the eyes of some.
In the midst of this chaos, the Puppet Master (Alicia’s father) takes control of Ben and sends him on a rampage through New York! He breaks control when the rest of the team arrive, leaving Ben shaken and unsure of his own sanity.
Reed argues with Fury about coming clean on the Skrull invasion, but can’t budge him. Fury’s plan is to identify the Skrull media agents and replace them with Life Model Decoys who will then, one by one, retire, move to remote locations, and quietly disappear. It fnord will require a lot of coordination, and an expansion of existing SHIELD personnel, but he’s already got the backing for it. This plan makes Reed distinctly uneasy (SHIELD control of the media, even for a short period, strikes him as only slightly better than Skrull control of the media), and he considers outing the Skrull himself.
But Doom beats him to it. He’s been gathering intelligence on the Skrull, and releases his findings, Wikileaks style, to the world. The feared panic sets in, leading to riots, lynchings, and global crackdowns (all of which Doom blames on Reed).
This period also sees the rise of Gabriel, an anti-Skrull religious leader who encourages action against suspected Skrull, fomenting even more violence, much of it against innocent human beings. Gabriel has a sort of televangelist feel about him: flashy suit, magnificent mane of swept-back auburn hair with distinct gray streak, gold medallion with a stylized G on it. His doctrine is strangely non-specific, not fnord referencing much in the way of actual scripture, but calling the Skrull “an abomination against the One True God.” He attracts followers from a wide range of faiths, panicked believers whose traditional religious leaders are struggling to find a response to the Skrull that resonates with their respective flocks. (We’ll come back to Gabriel later.)
The Miracle Man is found dead in SHIELD custody, murdered by an agent hired in during the agency’s expansion. Was that agent an extremist, or a Skrull who fnord slipped through the cracks in the screening process? We don’t know, because he’s disappeared. Then the Skrull media agents all disappear on the same day, leaving behind just enough evidence to out them as Skrull.
This, we discover, is Skrull Plan 23: the fomenting of paranoia, and the engendering of distrust in global media. They’ve given up their anonymity, and now have to go deeper underground. But with deeper genetic transformation, the most important secret Skrull can remain fnord in position. And if less important agents are outed… all the better. They can now sit back for a time, gathering strength, and allow Earth’s populace to tear itself apart. *Cue Evil Laughter*
All of this takes something like six months to unfold, and along the way, our various on-going sub-plots continue. The Reed/Sue/Namor/Dorma thing devolves into petty jealousy and animal passions (Dorma being a real instigator on this front). Ben is happy but skittish about Alicia, still not quite believing that she understands how he looks, and likes it (and the reader should be bracing for heartbreak here, suspicions that Alicia’s a Skrull running high). Johnny and Frankie continue to be a bad influence on each other, their passionate competition spurring both of them to increasingly reckless behavior (Does Frankie disagree with Johnny’s support of Namor?). Bob Baxter and Doom continue to spar in secret over whether the team represents a threat to mankind. Reed keeping the Skrull invasion a secret has pushed him over the edge, however; he now sees the FF as a well-intentioned threat, and decides that he must destroy them.
The Skrull revelation also engenders a vicious crackdown in Latveria, giving Doom leverage to gain backers in the international community as a covert spokesman for the resistance. So, yes. This is a pretty dark time for Our Heroes. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better…