So, having enjoyed the three issues of FANTASTIC FOUR and the three issues of MARVEL’S GREATEST COMICS that I had sampled, I then took the next obvious step: I bought the latest issue of FANTASTIC FOUR to see what was going on with the group now. I purchased this issue in Valley Stream while on a visit to my grandparents’ house, as I recall. And I enjoyed it just as much as the other issues I had previously read.
This era was a return to the classic formula for the title after several years of experimentation that saw Reed and Sue on the verge of divorce, Johnny wearing a red costume inspired by the golden age Human Torch and Medusa serving as a member of the group, albeit an underutilized one. At this point, though, the family was back together and everybody was looking and feeling like the classic FF. So it was as good a time as any to connect with the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. Another positive benefit was that George Perez had become the semi-regular penciler of the series, his work being modern and powerful while still evoking the essence of the classic Fantastic Four. I liked his work a lot.
Scripting the book at this point was Len Wein, one of the more overlooked figures in comic book history. Len was always a solid craftsman with a git for invention–he originated more characters in the 1970s that went on to wider multi-media success earlier than anybody else. I found that I liked his Fantastic Four maybe a little bit less than Roy Thomas’s, but it was a question of degrees, really. I think Len was perhaps working harder to capture that Stan Lee cadence, where that came more naturally to Roy.
The story opens with the FF, along with young Franklin Richards and his sorceress-nanny returning to their Baxter Building headquarters after an adventure the previous month. When they arrive, they find their houseguest the Impossible Man unconscious, and immediately spread out to locate the intruder who could be powerful enough to lay out Impy in this manner. The Thing finds him first–it’s Klaw, an old enemy of the team, the “murderous master of sound.” As is his wont, the Thing immediately begins to brawl with Klaw, but before he can get too far, he’s stuck down from behind, his body transformed into glass by a second assailant: the Molecule Man.
The duo have teamed up and broken intothe Baxter Building in search of Reed Richards’ Psi-Amplifier, which they hope to use on the Molecule Man. At this point in the continuity, the Molecule Man was a disembodied consciousness trapped within his wand of power, and it was only by possessing those who picked up the wand that he could have a corporeal existence. He and Klaw are trying to make his latest host, a wino that Klaw came across, permanent by using the Psi-Amplifier to fuse MM’s consciousness into the wino’s body. And one by one, the arriving members of the FF are struck down.
The issue’s letters page included a missive from reader Kurt Busiek, a few years away from breaking into the comic book industry and even further away from collaborating with George on AVENGERS and other titles.
But everything goes pear-shaped for the two super-villains once the irate Impossible Man wakes up. Impy is furious about having been cold-cocked, and his ability to alter his own form makes him largely impervious to the deadly powers of both the Molecule Man and Klaw. So he proceeds to kick the crap out of the both of them, making a mess of the Baxter Building as well when he creates a duplicate of Klaw’s sonic weapon of his own and the two cancel one another out with explosive results. The Molecule man attempts a last-ditch try to use teh Psi-Amplifier on himself, but Reed has already short-circuited it, and so the Molecule man is drawn back into his wand again.
So the danger seems to be over, and even Reed, who was feeling sheepish about his lack of powers (he was still suffering the loss of his elastic abilities which I saw happen in #178) was a key component of the win. But in an unguarded moment, Reed reaches down and picks up the Molecule Man’s wand, unthinkingly–and suddenly the FF are confronted by their leader, now possessed by the Molecule Man and prepared to finish them all off. To Be Continued! Now, at this point, you would expect that I had become a full-on Marvel maniac–but that wasn’t the way things played out. I liked the Fantastic Four, yes, but at this point I only liked the FF. So for the moment, I was a DC reader who also bought FANTASTIC FOUR. It would take a few months for me to branch out and sample all of the other assorted titles in the Marvel line. But we’ll cover that here as we move forward.