These days, the name John Byrne is synonymous with that of the Fantastic Four. His run both writing and penciling the series in the 1980s is held up as a high water mark for the title, and typically regarded as being second only to that of FF creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Byne had been a huge fan of the characters and threw his all into depicting their adventures. In fact, he was such a fan that years earlier, back when he was trying to break into the industry, he had plotted and penciled a 30 page Fantastic Four story that could prospectively become either an Annual or an issue of GIANT-SIZE FANTASTIC FOUR, which had then been launched. Alas, John got no takers for his story at that time, though he’d soon after start getting professional work. But the pencils for these 30 pages were run in the 25th issue of David A. Kraft’s magazine COMICS INTERVIEW along with a massive conversation with Byrne about his career, particularly on FANTASTIC FOUR.
At the time this story was produced, Reed Richards and Sue Storm were estranged, their marriage headed towards divorce. Medusa of the Inhumans had taken Sue’s place on the team. And the Human Torch had donned a red costume reminiscent of that of the Golden Age version of the character.
The story involved an encounter between the Fantastic Four and an alternative version of the Torch’s lost love Crystal, who had by this time married Quicksilver of the Avengers. This alternate Crystal, it turned out, was from Counter-Earth, the artificial planet created by the High Evolutionary on the opposite side of the sun, where life was permitted to evolve without any super heroes (until teh advent of Adam Warlock in his own series.)
This version of Crystal burned uncontrollably when exposed to the air, a fact that made her more of a match for Johnny Storm rather than less. In fact, Byrne would later use much this same design when he empowered Frankie Raye as a second Human Torch before transforming her later into a herald of Galactus.
It’s still formative work on Byrne’s part, with a very strong Jack Kirby influence. In the interview, Byrne relates that, at the time, Rich Buckler was drawing FANTASTIC FOUR and often emulating (or straight up swiping) Kirby’s style. Byrne figured that he could provide a Kirby look just as readily as Buckler could, and set out to prove that fact with this sample story.
John wasn’t above swiping from Kirby at this point, either. That fifth panel is a straight-up Kirby lift from FANTASTIC FOUR #75.