Monday, February 8, 2016


Story & Art: John Byrne | Letters: Jim Novak | Colors: Glynis Wein
Edits: Jim Salicrup | Emperor: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Nick Fury briefs the Fantastic Four on the “power-pocket” SHIELD monitored in the African nation of Wakanda and asks them to investigate due to their friendship with Wakanda’s king, T’Challa the Black Panther. The FF agree and head for Wakanda. There, the Panther reveals that Russians arrived recently and also set out to locate the pocket, which has been pinpointed inside an ancient stone tower.

The next morning the Fantastic Four and Frankie Raye, secretly accompanied by T’Challa, trek into the jungle and find the Russians dead near the tower. The adventurers are surrounded by a number of Africans in Roman combat gear and led to the tower. Inside, they're taken to a realm which resembles Ancient Rome and introduced to the armored Emperor Gaius Tiberius Augustus Agrippa. Gaius shuts down all the heroes’ powers and locks them up.

Black Panther escapes from his cell and locates Frankie. Meanwhile, Sue is taken to Gaius to observe a gladiatorial fight between Johnny and Ben. But when Sue yanks off Gaius’s helmet, he perishes and his ersatz Rome begins to disappear. Their powers restored, the FF and Frankie escape the crumbling tower.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: I’ll let Gaius, originally a soldier from Ancient Rome, explain where his powers came from:

And Reed can fill in the rest of the blanks:

Fury explains that the power-pocket was spotted as SHIELD tracked a UFO over Wakanda, and Reed sketches out the broad strokes of the Inhumans’ move last issue. Reed also notes that SHIELD has no jurisdiction in Wakanda and the Black Panther recently resigned from the Avengers.

Is It Clobberin' Time? Nope.

My Thoughts: This is the sort of story I expect from the Fantastic Four. As I've noted, I'm not a big fan of the sort of TWILIGHT ZONE anthology type stuff Byrne has done with the title previously. I associate the FF with adventure and exploration, not so much with investigation. And yes, their initial goal here is investigation, but it's an investigation wrapped up in a trek to mysterious Africa, rather than a mundane location like Arizona or Manhattan. This is the Fantastic Four on a sort of Carl Barks adventure, which is more than okay by me.

Another point in the story’s favor is the appearance of the Black Panther, a character I really like. Lest we forget, T’Challa first appeared in FANTASTIC FOUR, though he's since become more tied to the Avengers. But the FF knew him first, and it's nice to see that friendship touched upon.

I also have to give bonus points for our heroes wandering around Africa in full safari gear, including a stylish ascot on Reed. I wish they'd do stuff like that more often. Of all superhero groups, this sort of thing feels the most appropriate for the FF. Additionally, there's a fun “bit”, reminding one of Lee & Kirby, in which Ben dresses up as Indiana Jones as the group departs for Wakanda. This sort of playful lightheartedness is something the FF do very well, but which Byrne’s work has been missing lately.

All that said, this story doesn't exactly bowl me over. I really like the premise. Ancient Rome recreated in Africa by a thousands year-old soldier is a cool idea. But the adventure just kind of… fizzles out, almost like Byrne ran out of pages or lost interest in his own premise. At the rate things were moving, with all of the team trapped in their own little cliffhangers and the final page fast approaching, I figured this would be a two-parter. But no, Sue simply yanks off Gaius’s helmet and everything is undone, leaving it to Reed to give us a big info dump on the final page to explain what just happened. Much as I love Byrne's premise, it's kind of wasted by his execution.

1 comment:

  1. I love that Raiders of the Lost Ark is the one movie Reed went to see, and find it quite hilarious that the whole alien-head-thingy-gives-comprehension-beyond-human-beings bit is pretty much the plot for the stupid fan fiction flick some insist calling the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones trilogy.