Monday, August 15, 2016


Story and Pencils: John Byrne | Embellishing: Jerry Ordway
Coloring: Glynis Oliver | Lettering: John Workman
Editing: Michael Carlin | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: On Earth, the Thing returns from the Beyonder’s Battleworld and goes to visit Alicia. When he finds Johnny there early in the morning, Ben lashes out at his teammate. Alicia calms them down, but further conversation is interrupted when another planet appears, moving toward the Earth. While Johnny takes Alicia to the Baxter Building, Ben runs across a woman who shapeshifts into an alien Dire Wraith, but dies before she can steal Ben’s body when the other planet explodes. In the aftermath, Ben learns that the planet was the Dire Wraith homeworld, and was destroyed by Rom the Spaceknight and his allies.

Meanwhile, Doctor Strange arrives in Belle Porte, Connecticut to find Reed, Sue, and Franklin Richards apparently dead — but his mystic senses reveal that their souls have actually left their bodies. Strange follows the errant souls to the realm of Mephisto, where the demon lord has imprisoned Franklin while he tortures Reed and Sue. Strange releases Franklin, whose mutant power—unencumbered by the psychic blocks placed on it in his physical form — apparently destroys Mephisto in a fit of fury. With the villain defeated, Strange and the Richardses return to Belle Porte.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: A lengthy footnote recaps Ben’s time on Battleworld, and he also thinks to himself that he became the Thing permanently once more while trapped there.

Alicia and Johnny reveal to Ben this issue that they fell in love while he was away. Ben doesn’t mind this exactly; he had planned to break up with Alicia following his time on the Beyonder’s planet. But he had hoped to do so on his terms, and feels betrayed over the fact he was unable to accomplish that goal.

Johnny compares the damage caused by the approaching Dire Wraith homeworld with that done in FF #234, referring to it as “that time Ego the Living Planet attacked!” Readers will recall that in that issue, the damage appeared to be caused by one “Skip” Collins, but he apparently unconsciously summoned Ego with his reality warping powers and Ego actually caused the chaos on Earth (I think? Issue 234 is incredibly unclear as to what's caused by Skip and what's caused by Ego). Skip repaired the damage done at the end of 234, but here it’s noted that New York (and the Earth) will undergo a lengthy period of repair.

The Dire Wraiths were the primary villains of ROM, one of Marvel’s licensed comics in the eighties (and one of the few licensed comics at that point to take place firmly in the mainstream Marvel Universe). The full tale of the Wraiths’ homeworld’s destruction was told in ROM #65.

Reed recalls that Franklin’s psychic blocks were placed in issue 245.

At the issue’s conclusion, She-Hulk prepares to move back to Avengers Mansion, but the Thing tells her not to — he’s back on Earth, but he has no intention of returning to the Fantastic Four. We're told to follow his story into THE THING #23.

Is It Clobberin' Time? The Thing is here, he fights the Human Torch, and he fights a Dire Wraith, yet somehow, sadly, there’s no clobberin’ to be declared in this issue.

My Thoughts: And that’s a series wrap on Benjamin J. Grimm, folks. Though Byrne has about twenty issues and an annual remaining before he departs FANTASTIC FOUR, he will not utilize the Thing again in anything more than the most minor of flashbacks. And it’s a real shame, too. I love She-Hulk; she’s one of my favorite Marvel characters — and I appreciate the different dynamic she brings to the team makeup. But I feel that of all the founding FF members, Byrne had the best handle on Ben, both artistically and characterization-wise. If not for the fact that he and She-Hulk make each other redundant, I would have much preferred to see Ben stay on with her and, say, Johnny leave for the rest of the run. (I have nothing against the Torch per se; I just find him the least compelling member of the FF.)

As far this issue goes — it’s another experiment from Byrne, this time telling two stories in parallel — one using the top half of every page and the other using the bottom. I’m not sure if Byrne was the first person to do this, though I would assume not. I know I’ve seen it elsewhere, notably in a Mark Gruenwald CAPTAIN AMERICA issue published a couple years after this one. But he does it very well in any case. You can read the top half of every page and then the bottom half, you can read the top halves of every two page spread and then the bottoms, or you can simply read the entire top half and then the entire bottom half, and you won’t feel lost trying any of these methods.

I also appreciate Byrne’s use of the larger Marvel continuity here. I’ve never read ROM, though it’s another series, like MICRONAUTS, where I understand Bill Mantlo did some really good work. Byrne’s partner-turned-rival, Chris Claremont, utilized the Dire Wraiths as well during this time period over in X-MEN, so there must have been something to the concept. In any event, I’m glad to see Byrne acknowledging something so world-shattering as another planet entering Earth’s orbit here in the pages of one of Marvel’s top-tier titles.


  1. Another great issue and excellent cover. I like the visual of the cover, it is a great telling of the stories within.

    1. I agree; Byrne nailed a lot of the covers during his FF run.

  2. I remain impressed how much ROM stuff got worked into/referenced by the larger MU at this time. I also haven't read a lot of the main ROM series, but I really appreciate that. It's one of the hallmarks of the Shooter Era for me.

  3. It seems like it was a small core group of writers who included the ROM references. I'm guessing they were friends with Bill Mantlo.
    All of the references tend to appear in comics written by people involved with the early days of the "All New, All Different" X-Men era.
    John Byrne.
    Chris Claremont in Uncanny X-Men.
    Roger Stern, during his run on Avengers.
    And, Incredible Hulk, which was also written by Mantlo at the time.
    All featured appearances by the Dire Wraiths.
    I guess ROM actually appeared in an issue of Power Man & Iron Fist too, but outside of that, I don't believe there were any further ROM references in the wider Marvel Universe.
    ROM was a fun series.

    1. Yeah, it's funny -- I've never read ROM but I feel like I know a lot about it from all the crossover stuff.

      Interesting observation about the early "New X-Men" people all working ROM into their stories. And Mantlo of course co-plotted X-MEN 96 and 106 as well.

      I'm not sure how close Byrne was with Mantlo. I've seen him disparage the guy's takes on both HULK and ALPHA FLIGHT over the years, but at the same time he's talked about how they came up with the idea to swap the two books between the two of them before pitching it to Jim Shooter. So it could be a case of Byrne liking the guy personally but not enjoying his writing.

      (Which seems to be my take on Mantlo as well -- I've obviously never met him, but he seems like a fellow everyone got along with and I'm sure he was a great guy. I just can't stand his Spider-Man stuff.)

    2. I'm curious to see if, now that IDW has the rights to ROM, they'll use their working relationship with Marvel to figure out a licensing deal and reprint the original series. They did something similar with TRANSFORMERS, coming to an accord that allowed them to reprint the issues featuring Marvel-owned characters. I'm all in favor of ROM "Epic Collections" from IDW!

    3. Did Marvel characters appear in Transformers? I think Death's Head did, but that was all I knew about.
      I never read the Transformers comic.

      ROM and Micronauts are a different story. They heavily featured a great number of Marvel owned characters, especially ROM where every almost every issue featured different Marvel characters.

    4. Spider-Man guest-starred in issue #2 (or #3? I forget which). Also, the character Circuit Breaker is technically a Marvel-owned character (she is original to the comic), so in the past, there's been difficulties by later license holders reprinting the issues in which she appeared.

      But as Matt mentions, it seems like most of that has been smoothed over between Marvel and IDW these days, and like him, I hope they can come to a similar agreement w/Rom.

    5. Yeah, the Spider-Man one I don't think would be that big of a deal since it's a one-off appearance. I was mainly thinking of Circuit Breaker, who's all over the first 30ish issues (and returns again for the final dozen or so), and who is owned by Marvel.

      And by the way, the manner in which Marvel glommed onto her rights really rubs me the wrong way. Per the Marvel-Hasbro agreement, any characters who made their first appearance in a TRANSFORMERS comic would be owned by Hasbro, even though the comics were published by Marvel. But Jim Shooter saw some potential in Circuit Breaker, so he debuted her in SECRET WARS II a month before her first appearance in TRANSFORMERS, thus making her Marvel property. Pretty underhanded.

      Speaking of Circuit Breaker, I'm amazed there's never been a Marvel Legends or Marvel Universe figure of her since she's owned by Marvel and Hasbro produces those toys. I'd buy one. And they did a Death's Head figure a few years back, after all.

      (And yes, Death's Head is also owned by Marvel, but somehow his reprint rights never seem to be that big of a deal. No idea why.)

      Oh, also in the very early issues of TRANSFORMERS, Ratchet visits the Savage Land to find the Dinobots, so that could be a trademark thing too.

    6. Pretty soon after Death's Head II (the AIM Minion) had become a thing, and only a month after he got his own monthly title, they started publishing THE INCOMPLETE DEATH'S HEAD, which in essence was reprints of the original Death Head stories and appearances wrapped in newly-made framing sequence where Minion and his partner Tuck seek out information of his past incarnation.

      I think if there was any markets whatsoever for the MARVEL UK stuff they'd be pretty much covered, reprint rights-wise. But, as it stands, I would hazard to guess HELL'S ANGEL/DARK ANGEL is and will stay pretty much the most obscurest title that ever had the 90's X-Men as the supporting cast.

    7. Oh, and: I like Mantlo's (& Milgrom's) Spider-Man a plenty. They published the stuff in the years immediately prior to my introduction to Spider-Man, so they were the most easily available back issue. Dark and viscous and beautiful. The two "Scizophremia. It cuts both ways." panels with Spider-man and Peter Parker respectively keeping the other apart from his loves in PPTSSM #85 are just the perfect definition of one aspect of the character.

      But then again I also love the Kulan Gath issues in UNCANNY and find it to be maybe the definite Spider-Man story, so there's that.

    8. I cast no aspersions on those who like Mantlo's Spider-Man; in fact I like some of the stuff from his first run on SPECTACULAR. It's the second run, contemporaneous with Roger Stern's AMAZING, that I dislike.

  4. Ha, we got the Dire Wraiths portion cut out from our publication of the issue. After the Johnny/Ben/Alicia shenanigans bit were over I think they mix&matched the following Reed&Sue bottom halves into full pages for us. So the top half/bottom half thing was more subtle for us as it wasn't through the whole issue but it worked nicely.

    I love Byrne having Mephisto for over the top with his tortures with the streching Reed's face, lifting Sue from under his chin with his fingertip and the impaling her with a stalacmite and waving her around. Helps selling it nicely that Mephisto is rather the evil than an evil.

    Dr. Strange is just ruthless in telling off Alma Chalmers in the end. It's great that Byrne left the exact nature of Elspeth's, ha, deal to be sorted out by the reader themselves. Strange emphasizing the "final judgement" bit maybe harks back to Elspeth's and Mephisto's usage of "final punishment" and "final doom" in the last issue, which gives new importance to Elspeth's agitation at the end of last issue about her realizing she had managed to summon Mephisto. They seemed to know each other (which of course should be expected with both being household names in their field). Maybe her overt reaction was not over releasing Mephisto on Earth after all but rather a realization she herself was now done for. Maybe her spilling of innocent blood triggered some faustian stipulation and it was really her who Mephisto came for and the Richardses were just a bonus.

    1. It's so fascinating for me to learn about foreign reprints and how they were handled by the licensees. Lots of rearranging of things and occasionally even artwork alterations, it seems. Very interesting!

    2. Funny that it should come up now, as we got the Hate shenanigans in #279-282 in extremely and unprecedentedly compressed version. There's very little setup, smokey ruins of Baxter Building, and then we go like who the f*ck is Malice for a couple of pages.

      Other than that, it's mainly been splash page omissions because of page constraits and an occasional stylished story title by the in-house graphic because of the original English one obviously would do only only occasionally. Though I remember seeing a mention over at the Gentlemen of Lenin's head being removed from Protetarian-Colossus's overalls on the cover. "Ryhma-X 1/1985" for Google image search for those interested.

    3. Out of curiosity, do you recall how the Hate Monger thing was resolved for your reprints? He's killed by Scourge in SECRET WARS II while the FF are occupied by the Beyonder, but I'm wondering if you had SWII at that time, or if the editors needed to figure some other way to write him out?

    4. Hate Monger really was a passing notion in our reprint, I think he went as unnamed Psycho-Man henchman who watched Sue escort Alicia out of the scene with invisibility and then transformed into Reed in couple of panels before Malice somewhat inexplicably just appeared to fight She-Hulk. There really wasn't much to resolve with him. All the Hate was implied to be attributed to the Psycho-Man really, or that's what the reader was left to think. I remember thinking it was a tie-in to something that mainly took place in the AVENGERS book really, and I only got the "H.M. Unger" pun now.

      They reprinted a portion of couple of the first SW II limited series issue (and for some reason the CLOAK & DAGGER tie-in issue) in our Spidey book to set up the Spider-Man gold sky-scraper shenanigans in his own books, but other than that we did only get the UNCANNY and other FF tie-ins on their chronologically correct publication slot, and because our books were so off-sync with each other we got the UXM bit in 1987, while Spidey and the rest got their part out in '89-'90. It was a beautiful mess, though I've been led to believe it was that to everyone in any case. ;)