BHOC: FANTASTIC FOUR #181

One of the wonderful things about that big bin of somewhat-old comic books that was at my local drug store was that from time to time new books would be added into the mix. So I would dig through it every time I was in the place, and I soon began to pull up additional books that I wanted. So the next book I got there was this issue of FANTASTIC FOUR, two issues later than the last one I had in this run, but filling in one of the gaps between there and the new issue that I had bought.

Strangely, this issue picked up precisely where #179 left off, which was a situation that mystified me at the time. I wondered if it somehow maybe didn’t have the wrong cover or something. It would be a while before I would learn that issue #180 ran an unannounced reprint. This was something that happened frequently during this period whenever a story missed its publication date, and it was the bane of readers–you’d buy what seemed to be a new issue and you’d wind up with an old reprint instead, typically underneath the cover generated for the story you expected to get. (The covers were sent to print earlier, you see.)  This was a real problem, and brutal on fans.

Anyway, as the story picks up, a powerless Reed Richards is still trapped within the Negative Zone, being stalked by the Fantastic Four’s enemy Annihilus. Reed does his best to keep the Living-Death-That-Walks at bay with a flaming torch, and it works a lot better than it has any right to. But he knows that he’s fighting at best a delaying action. But then, Annihilus alights and tells Reed that he’s asking for the no-longer-stretchy hero’s help.

Back on Earth, the Thing is fished out of the river by a passing boat after he and the super-heated android he’d been battling fell in at the end of last issue. He and Tigra are joined at the scene by Thundra and the Impossible Man, who heard about the fight on Impy’s new obsession, television. Together, this impromptu quartet manages to fish the inert android out of the drink, with the intention of taking it back to Reed’s lab for him to study and maybe work out who sent it.

Back at the Baxter Building, the evil Reed catches Sue trying to get a look at the Negative Zone room because she’s convinced that the man she’s with isn’t her husband, and she diverts her attention by telling him that she was going out to check on little Franklin over at Alicia’s house. It’s a worried Sue that arrives at Alicia’s doorstep–and a new problem that presents itself, as Agatha Harness, who had once been Franklin’s nanny and is also a powerful witch, suddenly appears, demanding the child. There’s a brief battle, but Sue is unable to prevent Agatha from spiriting the sleeping Franklin away. For those keeping track, this is menace #3 in this issue, for all that not a whole lot of action is happening.

As for teh last member of our cosmic-powered quartet, he’s headed out into the night in search of Frankie Raye, his not-quite-girlfriend, finding her on a stroll with another fella. Frankie didn’t know that Johnny was the Human Torch when they met, and she’s got a pronounced fear of fire, so she tells the Torch to leave her alone. Forgotten fact; true to his nature, writer Roy Thomas had intended Frankie to be the daughter of Toro Raymond, the golden age partner of the original Human Torch, but he left the series (with this issue) before he could get to that revelation,and it fell by the wayside in the succeeding months. Eventually, John Byrne would add up the clues a different way and make Frankie the step-daughter of the original Torch’s creator Phineas Horton.

Back at the bay, the Thing and his cronies get into a short scuffle with an army unit sent to retrieve the deactivated android–really, this was just an excuse to get some more action into this story, so it’s not much of a battle–and it concludes when the general in charge tells the Thing that the android didn’t break into that bank vault–it was already inside, in a secret safe-deposit box, and it was breaking out! And in the Negative Zone, Reed has accompanied Annihilus back to his castle, which has been taken over by a gargantuan creature–and as the creature moves to attack, the pair are confronted by an apparition of the Mad Thinker, another old FF foe and a creator of androids (think he had anything to do with that robot in the vault? ) who intends to use this latest servitor to crush them both and take over the Negative Zone. And that’s where things are To Be Continued. In all honesty, it’s a pretty meh issue, and doesn’t move the ball down the field much in terms of the various plotlines. Roy seems to be trying to mark time until the next writer can come on board–something that won’t actually happen for a few issues yet, leading to a bit of a mess as all of this stuff gets resolved. But that’s a story for another time.

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