Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Script and pencils: John Byrne
Inker / embellisher: (#278-283) Jerry Ordway, (#284) Al Gordon
Colors: Glynis Oliver

Seven issues telling three overlapping stories of the four Fantastic.

The first tale is, in my limited archive, quite simply John Byrne's finest. Robot duplicates of Doctor Doom rerun an old plan of his, believing that they have compensated for the error in the original's execution. It just goes to show how tough it is to anticipate the future.

The plan in question concerns programming the Baxter Building to lift-off like a rocket and, once it has left Earth's atmosphere, blow up with our heroes inside.

If transforming their headquarters into both a spaceship and a giant bomb wasn't inventive enough, once the plan has succeeded, the way in which the FF combine their individual powers to survive the vacuum of space is nothing short of truly innovative.

The Invisible Girl generates a forcefield around the six survivors. Then Mr Fantastic stretches into an airfoil configuration for the forcefield to mould around, in preparation for their descent back into Earth's atmosphere, using expelled air to achieve the right trajectory. Then the Human Torch absorbs the re-entry heat, and finally She-Hulk's near invulnerability takes the brunt of their impact.

They even manage to plot their crash-landing to Doom's castle in Latvia, turning their survival into the coolest counter-attack I've ever read.

The second tale concerns the Hate-Monger stirring-up New York by simply exaggerating its inhabitants' hatred. The double-page splash panel, spread across pages 2-3 of #281, depicting New York's whole landscape on fire, complete with the burning World Trade Centre, looks uncomfortably familiar today.

One or two of the key scenes here take place over in Secret Wars II #2, making this story unsatisfying to read without that issue.

Conversely, #282 is billed as a Secret Wars II crossover, but ultimately features the mute monochrome Beyonder in longshot in just one - count 'em, one - panel. It's the definitive example of Byrne's objection to having to accommodate a crossover in his script. Ironically, the first eight pages of this same issue are Franklin's dream-sequence featuring only Power Pack!

Anyway the third story features our heroes descending into the Microverse and getting captured by the Hate-Monger's boss - Psycho-Man. This leads to a really uncomfortable nightmare for Sue, which fills the whole of the first half of #283. John Byrne seems keen to explore the potential offered by dreamscapes, and here maximises the opportunity to get the Thing back into the team again, if only for half an issue.

The final episode of this storyline - #284 - carries a different tone to the preceding ones, if only because Jerry Ordway hands back the inking reins to Al Gordon. I hadn't really noticed Ordway's style until it had been replaced by the look of Gordon's much grimmer feel. He doesn't ink The Fantastic Four - he inks The Gritty Four.

These are seven top issues of the Fantastic Four, in which the team fire on all canons. They're only marred by the absence of the scenes printed in Secret Wars II #2, but at least on this one occasion Marvel UK inserted one of those bits where it comes. (after a fashion)


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