Waiting for the trade = Fantastic Four

So in honor of the FF movie no one saw here is a review of an FF book that probably no one else has read.

Waiting for the Trade 

Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four (vol. 4): Cosmic Threats

written by Justin Gray and illustrated by Juan Santacruz and Starz Johnson.

collects Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #13-16

 Why I Bought This: I had read another volume of this series before it and it was surprisingly fun. This volume features several of Marvel’s great cosmic villains like Thanos, Grand Master and Terminus so it seemed worth picking up.

The Plot: Individual one and done stories of the FF fighting cosmic threats in the company’s kid-friendly line.

Read more

Waiting for the Trade’s best of cosmic Marvel

Waiting for the Trade’s Cosmic Countdown

 So today Guardians of
the Galaxy
hits theaters and I cannot wait to see it. I have been giddy for
this movie since it was announced two years ago. I love cosmic marvel in
general and I greatly enjoyed DnA’s run on the Guardians a couple years ago. So in honor of the film I present a
countdown of Marvel’s best cosmic trade paperbacks and because the Guardians
are such an unusual team I am doing a top 15 rather than a top 10. Furthermore in
honor of the obscurity of the Guardians since many of the stories in the
countdown are super famous already I will recommend a second story in the same
vein of each primary pick throughout the countdown. So without further ado
click below.

 

 

 15 – Star-Lord: Annihilation
Conquest
– While the entire Annihilation
Conquest
event was collected in a pair of trades years ago the story as a
whole is good not great. With the Guardians
of the Galaxy
movie this smaller trade was released a few months ago
collecting the four best issues of that event. This is genesis of the Guardians
team as the Kree recruit Star-Lord to go on a no technology suicide mission
against the Phalanx and assign several prisoners from a Kree prison to assist
him—all of whom were marginal cosmic characters who had not appeared in years:
Captain Universe, Death Cry, Groot, Mantis and—best of all—Rocket Raccoon. The
book has a total Dirty Dozen feel to it, and given the minor nature of these
characters no one is safe (though based on the Guardians movie line-up you can probably guess which ones
survived). This is the beginning of Rocket Raccoon’s ascent to awesome-ville.

            If you like
this story also check out: Thanos
Redemption.
While reading the second Annihilation
Conquest
trade will give you the ending of the story; and any of the DnA Guardians trades carry the Rocket &
Groot banner nicely Thanos Redemption
is a bit of lost classic by the same author as the Star-Lord trade above and is
the story that brought Star Lord back to the mainstream Marvel Universe. It too
has also only recently been collected in trade thanks to the movie as Thanos Redemption collects a short-lived
12 issue ongoing Thanos series from about 10 years back. The first six issues
are by Starlin and see Thanos and Warlock attempting to help the Rigellians
evacuate their planet when Galactus arrives. It’s a perfectly good Starlin
Thanos story although it doesn’t tread much new ground. The next 6 issues are
by Keith Geffen, and while the change in tone is on first read jarring I
actually like it better than the Starlin issues. Geffen shows us the Crunch,
the sight of the birth of the Universe where cosmic energies are used to bind
rogue cosmic entities. Furthermore the Shi’ar and Xandarians have built a
prison planet there for hardcore threats they have no intention of ever
paroling. However because of what the Crunch represents it is considered a holy
site by many alien races and thus the prison has to deal with a constant flow
of pilgrims. Thanos decides to become one of these pilgrims. He soon finds
Death waiting for him and for the first time in decades she deigns to speak to
him directly. He also discovers heroes Gladiator and Star Lord are in the
prison (among many villains). Best of all Thanos encounters the Beyonder in
this prison and we get a fairly epic Thanos vs. the Beyonder confrontation. The
aftermath of their fight sees the prison damaged and a few galaxy class
villains escape including a previously unknown first herald of Galactus. This
just piles on the fantastic and needs to be read (and in some ways it is a shame
the series got cancelled because they were building to Gladiator and Star Lord
forming a task force to take down Thanos once and for all).

 14 Hulk: Heart of the
Atom –
Famed Science Fiction writer Harlan Ellison penned this story of
Hulk being shrunk into a subatomic world where he finds a John Carter-esque
world of monsters and alien barbarians who happen to have green skin and thus
accept Hulk as a savior. Hulk meets their Queen Jarella and begins a
surprisingly tender and bittersweet love affair with her that ultimately ends
in tragedy.

            If you like
this story also check out: I’m sure Planet
Hulk
is the obvious successor to this one but I’ve never read it so I can’t
recommend it. I will say the recent Captain
America: Castaway in Dimension Z
is really good story of Cap trapped in
another dimension with subjugated alien races fighting a cruel tyrant giving it
some similarities to the Hulk story above. But if you want another Hulk story
then let’s go with Hulk: Pardoned which
while mostly earthbound reprints a chapter of Hulk on Rocket Raccoon’s home
world and a few other alien threats from Bill Mantlo’s nearly forgotten yet
really strong run on the title.

 (13½) Silver Surfer
the Herald Ordeal
(issues 70-75 of his second solo title) is not in trade. If
it was it would rank here as the art is superb, Morg is an excellent villain
and it has the spectacle of every former herald of Galactus teaming up.

13 – Avengers the
Contest –
I’ve reviewed this book before but to recap the Grandmaster makes
a bet with Death and pulls all the heroes of Earth into a contest on their
behalf. Then when Grandmaster loses he pulls both Avengers team into Death’s
realm giving us a pair of excellent fights as first the East and West Coast
Avenger teams square off and then when Grandmaster wins and takes over Death’s
realm he forces the Avengers to fight the Legion of the Unliving for the fate
of the universe in perhaps the greatest fight scene Tom Defalco ever wrote. The
story ends with my all time favorite Hawkeye moment.

            If you like
this story also check out: Avengers vs. the
Legion of the Unliving
is an excellent anthology collecting all of their
battles against various groups of characters who were dead at the time. You get
two Immortus stories in here, a really creepy Grim Reaper story as he becomes
an Avatar for Death (the Avatar concept played a key role in other cosmic
titles like Quasar and Thanos Imperative), the last chapter of
the story above, and a really good Busiek and Perez story. Speaking of which if
you like the Grandmaster he plays a key role in the very strong Busiek-Perez JLA/Avengers intercompany trade as well.

 

12 – Essential Marvel
Two In One volume 3 –
By far the most obscure choice on my list this series
primarily serves as a prelude to Mark Gruenwald’s superb work on Quasar in the 90s (most of which is not
in trade). This book collects 26 comics (three of which are double sized) and
surprisingly the vast majority qualify as cosmic stories. For those unfamiliar Marvel Two In One is a Thing team up
series from the late 70s/early 80s. Gru kicks us off with Quasar’s first
appearance under that name (the character had appeared a few times before as a
SHIELD agent in Captain America) and
makes Quasar head of security for Project Pegasus. The six part story that
follows (also collected in the full color trade Thing: Project Pegasus Saga)
see Thing, Quasar and Bill Foster (Giant Man v2.0/Black Goliath) deal with a
series of sabotage attempts by Roxxon Oil that ends up pulling in the time
traveling Deathlok, the extra-dimensional Thundra, the alien Wundar and
ultimately leads to the birth of Nth Man—a cosmic class villain that would
trouble Excalibur 10 years later. The other major reason to buy this trade (and
why I recommend it over the color version) is the double sized Thing & the
Avengers in the Negative Zone story by Tom Defalco that sees Annihilus,
Blaastar and Super Adaptoid all team up. I often say Defalco is the best
choreographer of fight scenes in comic history and this is a prime example of
his excellence in that regard. Other cosmic tales include: a three parter with
Thing, Her, Moondragon (both of whom Gru would use again as love interests for
Quasar) and Starhawk (revealed in the 90s to be the son of Quasar and Her)
trying to resurrect Adam Warlock and in the process running afoul of the High
Evolutionary and the Beyonder; A two part tale that sees Thing, Mr. Fantastic,
Sting Ray and the Inhumans taking on Maelstrom (who Gru would later elevate
into an enemy of all life in the universe in Quasar), a three part story
featuring Thing, Sting Ray, Triton and Scarlet Witch preventing the Serpent
Squad using the Serpent Crown to take over the world (this is the first
appearance of Sidewinder and a few others that would go on to become the
Serpent Society in Gru’s Captain America
run, while the Set’s Serpent Crown would be one of the major threats Quasar
dealt with when he became protector of the universe). Other one off stories in
here with cosmic characters are: Thing & Black Bolt vs. Graviton, Thing
& the Impossible Man, Thing vs. Hyperion, Thing & the 30th
century Guardians of the Galaxy, Thing & Quasar in the Savage Land, and
Thing & Hulk vs. The Stranger.

            If you like
this story also check out: Quasar
Classic volume 1
. Quasar was for my money Marvel’s best ongoing series of
the early 90s—a time when they published 60 to 80 books a month. While the
book’s best issues are in the second year and not collected in trade, this
volume will give you Quasar’s origin, his appointment as Protector of the
Universe, the set up of his supporting cast status quo, and some fun fights
with Terminus, Absorbing Man and Living Laser as part of the “Acts of Vengeance”
crossover.

        

11 Infinity War – This
is one of my favorite crossovers but unfortunately it does not have a good
trade paperback. The existing trade collects only the parts written by Jim Starlin:
The six issue main series, a few tie-in issues of Warlock and the Infinity Watch and a four part Thanos back up story
from Marvel Comics Presents. Worse it
doesn’t even intercut those stories in order. It just reprints each of the three
series it collects one after the other even though the Warlock issues
specifically say what issues of the main series they occur after. While like
any crossover some of the tie-in issues are extraneous I feel not including the
issues of Quasar, Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer do the story a real
disservice—these are all cosmic level heroes whose tie-in issues were key to
the main event. The Spider-man and Guardians of the Galaxy issues are also a
lot of fun and it is a shame not to have them even if they don’t add much to
the narrative. Besides a story called “Infinity War” should be big and
sprawling. The full story would likely make #5 on this list. Still even in
diminished form this is a trade worth picking up. The Magus has one of the best
plans of any villain ever in this story—from preemptively attempting to destroy
all of Earth’s heroes in one blow by taking out just five key heroes, to hiding
his fortress in another reality several dimensions removed so that even cosmic
level powers cannot get to him without great difficulty to the big plot twist
in issue five on his end goal. This is a rare smart villain executing a well
thought out plan so it is worth reading for the core six issues alone. Also the
story is crazy fun on a cosmic fanboy level because you get to see all the big
cosmic weapons pitted against each other: the Cosmic Cube, the Infinity Gauntlet,
the Quantum Bands and the Ultimate Nullifier are all utilized in one key
chapter of this story. Also it does collect Infinity
Watch #8,
which is a really strong comic featuring an extended flashback of
how Thanos raised Gamora as his foster daughter.

            If you like
this story also check out: Thanos
Imperative.
While Infinity Crusade
is the sequel to Infinity War it is a
badly told bloated story. And while the Magus’s first appearance may be a more
obvious choice to recommend here, Thanos
Imperative
has more in common with Infinity
War
structurally. Both stories see Thanos forced to act alongside a group
of heroes to defend the universe from a threat worse than him. Both see him
working alongside Gamora, Drax and Moondragon while Quasar, Silver Surfer and
Galactus have a separate side mission in the crisis. In both the threat is an
alternate evil version of a great cosmic hero. Thanos Imperative also brings DnA’s four year run as the architects
of cosmic marvel to an end and has the added bonus scene of Rocket Raccoon
standing down Thanos. It’s not the A+ homerun I wanted from DnA but it is a
solid B that holds up on multiple readings.
10-Avengers: The Kree
Skrull War
– While this story is less cosmic than you’d expect—only one chapter
takes place in space;–it does maintain a tense build and for its time period
stories of this scope were very rare. The cliff notes synopsis: first the
Avengers have to deal with the Kree who want to detonate a bomb that will
devolve all of humanity back to Neanderthals. Then as the follow up on the Kree
threat, the Skrulls make their move by taking the place of politicians and
members of the media to turn the public against the Avengers and later imitate
the big three (none of whom were on the active roster at the time) in order to
disband the team. The Avengers also have to battle both races major champions: Ronan
the Accuser and the Super Skrull. The story also pulls in the Inhumans, Captain
Mar-vell and (briefly) Annihilus until the Avengers fly into space to bring the
war to an end. It also contains a famous Fantastic
Voyage
inspired story of Ant Man traveling inside the Vision’s android body
to repair him. Unfortunately by today’s standards the ending with Rick Jones
comes out of nowhere and is far too part. Still that does not negate all the
good that came before.

            If you like
this story also check out: Avengers:
Operation Galactic Storm
a 19-part epic (collected in two trades) wherein
the Avengers get pulled into a Kree-Shi’ar war that manages to remain
remarkably coherent given the number of titles involved and in which the bulk
of the action is in deep space. Also Avengers
Forever
which is more time travel than cosmic but follows up on the Rick
Jones Supreme Intelligence finale of Kree Skrull War in a far more satisfying
way and also gave new relevance to the third Captain Marvel (the original’s son
Legacy).

9-Guardians of the
Galaxy volume 3: War of Kings –
Really the entire DnA run of Guardians is
worth reading as I would consider it the best ongoing series of the past 10
years. But if I had to pick just one trade to highlight this is the best one as
it features the culmination of two different year long subplots: the rupturing
of reality that Warlock and Star-Lord warned all the major alien races about
and no one believed and Warlock being reborn into the Magus in absolute shocker
of a scene that shows just how deadly that character can be. To stop the Magus
the story spins off into a full on time travel epic involving the 30th
century Guardians, Kang the Conqueror and the Cosmic Cube. This is as good as
it gets. (Also paid off in this trade is the “I am Groot” joke in one of the
funniest pages of any story on this list).

            If you like
this story also check out: Guardians of
the Galaxy volume 2
is the next best DnA Guardians trade as it has Quasar and Maelstrom in it, although
volume 4 has Thanos and volume 1 is pretty damn good  too. Also Nova: Knowhere by DnA has the first appearance of Cosmo the
telepathic Russian dog and the Guardians headquarters which is crazy fun. So in
honor of the movie go buy them all, you won’t regret it.
 


8 – Secret Wars – There
are times I consider Secret Wars my favorite crossover ever but I was not sure
whether to even count it as a cosmic story. On the cosmic front it takes place
on alien world, Galactus is in it and it is the first appearance of the
Beyonder but at its core this is a story about Dr. Doom, Magneto and the
earth’s greatest heroes engaging in big old fight scenes more than it is about
a cosmic threat. Still there is no more fun comic story ever published than
this one; it is the ideal primer to bring kids into the Marvel Universe. It is
also deserves historical credit for being first event crossovers– plus it gave
us Spider-man’s black costume which makes it a watershed moment for Marvel’s
flagship character. I would also argue Shooter’s subtle yet distinct characterizations
throughout the entire cast is often overlooked because the story has so much
spectacle in it.

            If you like
this story check out: Never read Secret
War II
as its awfulness is inversely proportional to the original’s
awesomeness. Beyond and Spider-man and the Secret Wars are both
okay looks back at the original concept, but for an actual good story that
picks up where this one leaves off go with Spider-man:
Birth of Venom
. Not really cosmic
other than the alien costume but damn it is both excellent and awesome.
 

 7-Essential Silver
Surfer volume 1 –
In interviews Stan Lee often cites this book as his
favorite thing he ever wrote. When you read it you will understand why. It
collects the entire Silver Age Silver Surfer series as Surfer endures his exile
on Earth. Stan Lee uses the Surfer’s outsider status to make poignant comments
on human nature that remain just as relevant today as when he wrote them 50
years ago.

            If you like
this story also check out: Essential
Silver Surfer volume 2
– Written two decades later by the vastly
under-rated Steve Englehart the Surfer’s second series sees him escape from
exile and make peace with Galactus. The treasure to be found in this volume is
a lost Infinity Gem story arc as the Elders of the Universe gather the gems in
an attempt to assassinate Galactus and remake the universe.
 6-Avengers: Legacy of
Thanos
– Another recent trade we can thank the Guardians movie for as Marvel finally collects the first appearance
of my favorite villain Nebula in trade. Written by the incomparable Roger
Stern, Nebula proves herself every bit the tactician her grandfather is as she
claims his Death Star like space ship Sanctuary II and uses it to position
herself into a Skrull Civil War with a plan that would make her their empress.
She ironically runs into Captain Marvel v2.0 as the first Earth hero she meets
but soon her plot drags in the rest of the Avengers including Thanos’s brother
Star Fox. Aside from the Skrull Civil War the trade also features cosmic
threats Terminus, the Beyonder and Firelord.

            If you like
this story also check out: Spider-man:
Am I an Avenger?
which has an even better Nebula story. The only reason I
am not ranking this trade on the countdown is it is an anthology with plenty of
non-cosmic stories such as Spidey’s first meeting of the Avengers vs. the Hulk
(by Stan Lee), Spidey and the Avengers dealing with a Moonstone led prison
break at Project Pegasus (by Stern), and a few forgettable stories with
Sandman, Rage and the New Avengers. But the five part Nebula story collected
here is fantastic with her both destroying and conquering the universe at
different parts of it and taking on a host of the most powerful Avengers and
the Stranger. It is in fact my single favorite Avengers story of all time and
this trade would by very high on my desert island list.

 
5-The Life and Death
of Captain Mar-vell.
Speaking of first appearances, this would be the first
appearance of Thanos and his first big epic plot with the Cosmic Cube. Also
starring the Avengers, Thing, Rick Jones, Super Skrull, Controller, the first
appearance of Drax and Mar-vell’s appointment as Protector of the Universe this
story is everything it has ever been billed as. In addition it also collects
Mar-vell’s battle with Nitro and his subsequent death by cancer on Titan.

            If you like
this story also check out: Marvel
Masterworks Warlock volume 2
which is Starlin’s second big Thanos story and
also the first appearances of Gamora and the Magus—who is so damn evil Thanos
is forced to recruit heroes to oppose the Magus’s plans because even Thanos
isn’t willing to face him one on one!

 

4-Essential Fantastic
Four volume 3 –
This is here primarily because it collects “The Coming of
Galactus” in which we meet Galactus and the Silver Surfer for the first time and
it is as tremendously excellent as history says it is. Also included is perhaps
the greatest single issue Stan Lee story of all time “This Man, This Monster”
featuring the Thing in the Negative Zone. If for some reason you need more
reasons to buy this it also collects the wedding of Reed and Sue, the first
appearance of the Inhumans, the first appearance of the Black Panther, the
first appearance of Blaastar, a multi-part Frightful Four story and the classic
story wherein Doom steals the Surfer’s powers and conquers the world. Nuff
said.

            If you like
this story also check out: Fantastic
Four Trial of Galactus
which features Galactus coming to feed on Earth and
being confronted by the FF, Avengers and Dr. Strange in a heck of a fight, a
follow-up plot involving Doom teaming with ex-Herald Terrax and ultimately the
Shi’ar putting Reed on trial for crimes against the universe.

 (3½)  Quasar: Cosmos in Collision (issues 19-25
of his solo title) is not in trade. If it was it would be ranked in this spot as it
features Quasar taking on the end of the universe level threat that defined his
title with a little help from Moon Dragon, Ghost Rider and the Eternals and is
second only to “Cap No More” among great stories written by Mark Grunewald.
 

3-Annhilation – By
far the best crossover of the modern era it rightfully sparked a renaissance of
Marvel’s cosmic line. It is the story of what happens when Annihilus finally breaks
into the positive matter universe—something that had been foreshadowed since
the Silver Age. (“The Kree Skrull War” opens with Annihilus trying to break
through and the Avengers and Captain Marvel are immediately like this will be
the end of the world if we don’t stop this now. Ditto the earliest issues of Marvel Team-Up have Spidey and the Torch
battling the Frightful Four in the Baxter
Building and in the
battle the Negative Zone portal opens and the Wizard immediately recognizes how
awful Annihilus is and tells his teammates to just stop fighting and help the
heroes close the portal). Indeed I would argue this story opens with the best
prologue ever: the opening page has Death meeting Thanos at the Crunch and she
tells him “something wonderful” is about to happen—when Death says something
wonderful is going to happen you know sh*t is about to get real; and the
exchange ends with her telling Thanos that this one is someone he could learn
from. What happens next delivers on every bit of that 40 years of foreshadowing
(warning spoilers ahead) as Annihilus
punches through the Crunch freeing the rogue cosmic entities and killing the
Beyonder. Next he hits the Xandarian home world and wipes out the entire Nova
Corps in minutes with only Earth’s Nova Richard Rider surviving. Nova meets up
with (Thanos foe) Drax the Destroyer and (Protector of the Universe) Quasar to
take the fight to Annihilus: that ends with Annihilus killing Quasar (arguably
the most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe) and donning the Quantum Bands
making Annihilus exponentially more powerful. Next Annihilus decides he wants
the Power Cosmic and he begins capturing, killing and dissecting former Heralds
of Galactus until things get so bad Silver Surfer reenters Galactus’s service
and that still doesn’t make a difference as Galactus is defeated and strapped
to a star cruiser so his hunger can be used as a planet destroying Death Star
like weapon! And that is just the half way point of the story! If you have not
done so do yourself a favor and read this thing as it is indeed “something
wonderful.”

            If you like
this story also check out: While Annihilation
Conquest
is the supposed sequel, it is really a sequel in name only with
just Nova, Star-Lord and the Kree being the only common characters in the two
stories and it doesn’t have nearly the punch of the original. The best
follow-up story to the plot threads here is Fantastic
Four: The New Fantastic Four
in which the FF learn Surfer has rejoined
Galactus, Galactus is mighty unhappy with how Annihilus treated him and wants
to replenish his power by eating the cosmic entity Epoch—who is in charge of appointing
Protectors of the Universe and with Quasar dead doesn’t have a protector. If
you want another Annihilus story the next best one is in the MTIO trade I
recommended earlier but you could pick up The
Greatest Villains of the Fantastic Four
a 1995 anthology trade collecting
stories on the FF’s top five villains. The Annihilus story therein is a
two-part 80s tale drawn by John Byrne so he’s never looked better and it is yet
another example of the stop Annihilus getting into our universe no matter what
decades long build-up as Reed sacrifices his life to stop him. For something
similar and more recent you could go with Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four volume 4 trade in which
Torch sacrifices himself to stop Annihilus and you see more of the fallout of Torch’s
death than in the Reed trade.



2-X-men Dark Phoenix Saga – If you
are reading this column you probably don’t need me to tell you about Dark Phoenix
Saga—a story of unparalleled scope and emotion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a
list of the best comics of all time in which this story was not in the top five,
and it would go in my top five ever too. If you haven’t read it do so. If you
don’t care for the X-men it doesn’t matter this is as good as comics get.

            If you like
this story also check out: X-men Rise
and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire
is a year long trek of six X-men in space by
famed Captain America scribe Ed Brubaker
as the X-men try to prevent long lost Summers’ brother Vulcan from destroying
the Shi’ar Empire and in the process learn a little bit more about the Phoenix
Force.
1-Infinity Gauntlet
– For my money this is the greatest story Marvel has ever published. Jim Starlin’s
writing make the stakes never feel higher than in any other crossover. The art
by George Perez and Ron Lim is superb. The fight scene in issue 4 may be the
greatest of all time, although damn if issue 5 doesn’t give it a run for its
money. Thanos, Nebula and Captain America all get great moments to
shine. This story is perfection.

             If you like this story also check out: Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos shows
how Thanos gets the Infinity Gauntlet and features writing and art of equal
standard to the main story. Marvel also recently published Infinity Gauntlet Aftermath which shows what happens to the
Infinity Gauntlet after this story and it is pretty good too.

 

So that’s all folks. Questions? Comments? Death threats?
Leave them below.

Waiting for the Trade – Fantastic Four

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Fantastic Four vol. 5:
Forever

by Jonathan Hickman,
Steve Epting and Barry Kitson

collects Fantastic
Four 600-604.

 
Why I Bought This: It
promises the return of the Annihilation Wave and I loved Annihilation. It also features the resurrection of the Human Torch,
and Hickman’s run in general has been getting rave reviews: although the only
other volume of his I’ve read was the Death of the Torch trade, which was
indeed excellent.

The Plot:  The Kree send an armada to destroy the Earth
while Annihilus makes plans to use the FF’s Negative Zone portal to relaunch
the Annihilation Wave and an even larger cosmic threat gathers on the horizon.
Plus the Human Torch returns from the dead.

Chapter 1The
Kree armada has arrived in NYC and the FF and Avengers (including reserves like
Firestar and She-Hulk) engage them. Annihilus’s agents on Earth contact him and
he decides this is an ideal time to open the Negative Zone portal. The Kree are
also attacking Attilan as apparently The Supreme Intelligence is alive and has
initiated a coup. (The Inhumans had been ruling the Kree Empire since Realm of Kings). Ronan refuses to join
the Supremor (who wants to exterminate the Inhumans) as he has fallen in love
with his wife (Crystal of the Inhumans). As the battle rages the bugs invade
the Baxter Building where only Zero-G (of Power
Pack) is there to hold them off while the weird rag tag kids Reed has taken in
retreat. The Kree deploy Sentry robots and quickly take down She-Hulk and Red
Hulk, leaving Thing alone to face them. Valeria is able to teleport the
Foundation kids away along with the top few floors of the building, which the
FF notices from across town. Reed sends Spider-man to check on the kids. The
bugs begin opening the Negative Zone portal as Spidey arrives. He fights
valiantly but is about to be overwhelmed by numbers when the portal opens
revealing the Human Torch alive.

Chapter 1.5 – We flashback to Johnny’s death and finally see
what happened when the portal closed behind him, stranding him in the Negative
Zone and facing the Annihilation Wave. He went nova and killed a ton of bugs
but not Annihilus, who then summoned even more bugs. Torch attempts to go Nova
a second time only for Annihilus to strike him down. He interrogates Johnny for
the code to open the portal and when Johnny can’t give it to him he cuts him in
half. We then flashback to the scene from the Death of Torch trade a few days
after Johnny’s death where Reed confronted Annihilus with the Ultimate
Nullifier—in the original interpretation it was silent and yet Annihilus was
still effectively creepy; here we get dialogue and it’s somehow even better
with Annihilus welcoming nullification since he always reincarnates after a
normal death. Next, we cut to Johnny waking up dead as bugs, in a scene
reminiscent of Alien, are in his
torso; only these bugs are sewing him back together. Later Johnny is in a
prison and we meet his cellmates, a group of superhumans called the Universal
Inhumans, whose seem to include members from various minor alien races of the
Marvel Universe. Anyway the prisoners are all forced to fight in an arena for Annihilus’
amusement and those that die will get resurrected over and over again by the
sewing bugs. In his first battle Johnny kills the reigning champion with a
single fireball then flies over to Annihilus’ throne and nova blasts him point
blank. Annihilus is unimpressed and cuts him in half again. Annihilus later
contacts an alternate reality evil Reed and gets the codes to open the portal
and makes a plan to invade the Earth in two weeks. Johnny gets more desperate
and convinces his fellow prisoners to revolt. We cut to last chapter, where Annihilus
decides to open the gate early because of the Kree Armada. Johnny and friends
attack him and one of the aliens manages to telekinetically steal the Cosmic
Control Rod with his dying breath, getting to Johnny who uses its power to take
control of the Annihilation Wave.

Bonus Chapters: (a
bunch of five page stories from issue 600) Black Bolt apparently married four
alien chicks from different races while he was dead, but assures his first wife
Medusa he still loves her. In the recent past Galactus gave Reed a summoning
device that will bring him to aid Reed in an upcoming cosmic crisis he has foreseen;
and he also warns Reed that Franklin’s
cosmic powers have returned. Franklin
is talking with a mysterious someone, who has been helping him use his powers
to make pocket universes again.   

Chapter 2 The
Kree are winning, when Johnny sets off a flaming 4 into the sky, which inspires
the heroes to fight harder. The Inhumans arrive on Earth to help, while the
Supreme Intelligence orders a Nega Bomb strike. Johnny and the FF reunite, as
we learn Johnny is two years older now since time flows differently in the
Negative Zone. Johnny then sends the Annihilation Wave thru the gate to engage
the Kree armada. Debris from the space battle however is making it through the
atmosphere and Reed is concerned this will still lead to the extinction of life
on Earth.

Chapter 3 The
fight rages for several pages until the Kree are about to win so Reed summons
Galactus. Galactus casually destroys the Kree, while telling Richards this is
not the cosmic threat he foresaw. And then the Celestials arrive.

Chapter 4 – Galactus
engages the Celestials. The Supreme Intelligence wisely orders a full retreat
and the Inhumans pursue them. Reed goes to rendezvous with Valeria, who has
recovered some cosmic doohickey from the time council of Reeds. Galactus kills
a Celestial, only for three to feed of its energies and then combine into a
super celestial that dwarfs Galactus. It then blasts Galactus into
unconsciousness. Reed uses the doohickey to kill the super Celestial, but there
are still three more regular Celestials remaining. They attack the FF and Sue’s
force field won’t last long. Johnny takes the fight to them focusing his nova
flame through the Cosmic Control Rod to sever the arm of one of the Celestials
but the others blast him from the sky. Sue’s force field shatters and they look
to kill Reed when Sue pops up and fights them on her own. They break her force
field again and are about to kill both Reed and Sue when adult Franklin and
adult Valeria arrive through a wormhole.

Chapter 5 – Adult
Franklin
seemingly vaporizes the Celestials but he in fact he just teleported them into
a star across the universe giving him and Nathaniel (Reed’s father, also a time
traveler) time to explain time paradoxes. Adult Franklin
was the one teaching young Franklin in the
shadows; Adult Franklin then absorbs the pocket universe created by young Franklin to power up. The
Celestials return and adult Franklin
has to fight them more directly. He decapitates one of them as Nathanial
explains the Celestials are out to eliminate the cross time Reeds of which our
Reed was briefly a member and we get more time travel mumbo jumbo the gist of
which is this is the day Reed is supposed to die in adult Franklin’s timeline.
Then inexplicably we learn that Galactus is the herald of Franklin. Franklin revives Galactus, who then kills a
second Celestial. Galactus and Franklin kill the last one at the cost of adult Franklin’s life. We get
some pithy comments on how Reed’s family makes him the greatest of the cross
time Reeds, and then Galactus resurrects adult Franklin and all the time
travelers return to the future while alluding that they have successfully
changed their timeline. In the aftermath we see Reed teaching young Franklin to use his
powers to fly.

 
Critical Thoughts: I
liked this but I didn’t love it. While reading it, I enjoyed it. The middle
chapters certainly have a lot of momentum so the story builds well; but the
finale left me a little flat.

The story’s biggest fault is the central threat is resolved
not by the heroes but by time traveling outsiders that show up at a key moment.
And yes, the time travelers are related to the FF family but it still feels
contrived. I actually enjoy time travel movies and Star Trek episodes quite a
bit; but I don’t like the way it’s being used here. Truthfully I’ve always
found both Nathanial Richards time-traveling and omnipotent Franklin to be among the weaker elements of
FF mythology and this is relying on both of those things as a get out of jail
free card for the heroes.

Franklin
being Galactus’s master is also so ludicrously out of left of field as to defy
description—which is probably why Hickman doesn’t even attempt to offer an explanation.
Galactus is long established as a fundamental cosmic force that is older than
the universe itself; so even with time travel it shouldn’t be possible for Franklin to have these
types of ties to him. I’d add the power levels adult Franklin show in this
story, while impressive, don’t really seem to bear out that he is greater than
Galactus from the decades of story evidence showing what Galactus can do; and
I’ll add this adult Franklin is at twice his normal power because he’s absorbed
a pocket universe making it even less likely that his normal power level could
make this claim be true. Plus Galactus resurrects adult Franklin at the end. Would we buy it if
Silver Surfer just casually resurrected Galactus? I wouldn’t from years of
reading stories with those two, so if Franklin is allegedly as above Galactus
as Galactus is the Surfer than Galactus shouldn’t be able to resurrect him so
easily at the end. (Not that it even matters if he’s resurrected since we are
told the heroes just averted his timeline from coming into existence).

This leads to my second major criticism, which is I do not
buy that either of the main villain threats should be as imposing as Hickman
writes them here. I’ll start with the Kree empire. We’ve seen the heroes of
Earth thwart the Kree all the time, with frankly not much difficulty. Maybe it
isn’t usually the entire Armada, but then this time the heroes have aid from
the Annihilation Wave, which when last we saw it defeated the combined forces
of the Kree, Skrull, Xandarians and Galactus. Ditto the Celestials. I’ve seen
the Celestials in four stories previously: in all of them they’ve been casually
swatted away in a page or two (by the Beyonder, Thanos and the Phoenix Force
respectively) so I’ve come to accept them as the low men on the Marvel cosmic
totem poll and yet here they are taking down Galactus and shrugging off the
Cosmic Control Rod. In both cases the threats do have large numbers on their
side, so it’s not a glaring plot hole; it just for my tastes feels a little
off. As I said in my “why I bought this” I was most interested in the Annihilation
Wave, and they’re playing a subordinate role here to what I would consider
inferior villains.

I also hate the idea of a cross-time council of Reeds. As
someone who lived through the Cross Time Council of Kangs in the pages of
Avengers, which led to several of the worst stories in Avengers history, I admit
to being biased here as I just flat out don’t want to a cross time council in a
comic book ever again in much the same way I don’t want to see a clone in a
Spider-man comic ever again.

That said, there is a lot to like in this story. The Human
Torch chapter is great. In that chapter Annihilus is every bit the terrible
threat I wanted to see when I bought this book. The Torch resurrection scenes
are horrifically creepy in the art. Indeed a lot of times I will criticize a
mainstream superhero comic if it goes too far in its depictions of violence;
and while you could say that here, context is important. In the context of this
story the images work to further the story in an acceptable and non-gratuitous
way. I’ll add the art in general is really good throughout the entire story.

Johnny’s return also hits a lot of the right notes when he
meets up with Spidey and with his family. Indeed from what I’ve seen in both
this trade and the Death of Torch trade, Hickman really gets the familial
relationship of this team and writes it exceptionally well. He also writes a
really good Spidey. Spidey’s part is small here, but I enjoyed it: from the way
he fights the bugs to his concerns for the children to his assuring Reed he’ll
get the job done so Reed can concentrate on solving the larger problem. On a
related note, while only a few panels, I like that he continued the
Ronan-Crystal subplot from DnA’s cosmic stories; as I felt their marriage was
the only interesting thing in the mess that was War of Kings and Realm of Kings.

I also liked chapter four a lot, in that while it is mostly
an extended fight scene it is the kind of fight scene where the reader has a
clear sense of the tactics of each side of the battle. Momentum switches back
and forth three or four times and so it really is a fast-paced, well-drawn
dramatic read. Plus Sue standing her ground alone over Reed’s unconscious body
is a terrific character moment for her.

 

Grade B- : While
not exactly the story I wanted, it has a fast-paced dramatic build with a lot of
high marks. Unfortunately, the ending a little too tidy and a little too
bizarre.

Waiting for the Trade – Fantastic Four

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Fantastic Four: Into the Breach
by Carlos Pacheco & Jeph Loeb.
Collects Fantastic Four (vol. 3) 40 – 45.
Why I Bought This: It’s a Negative Zone story, which always grabs my attention. Plus the back cover promises Torch gets to form and lead a new version of the team, which is something I always wanted to see as both Ben and Sue have had their turn in the past. Also it was in the discount bin for $7 and on Free Comic Book Day I could take an extra 20-percent off.
The Plot: Your non-spoiler version is as follows: An evil corporation has constructed its own portal into the Negative Zone to raid it of exotic energy sources. Reed tries to tell them this is a very bad idea and ultimately he, Sue and Thing get stranded in the Zone; leaving Johnny to form a new team to mount a rescue attempt. Johnny picks Namorita (of the New Warriors) as well as former members She-Hulk and Ant-Man 2 (Scott Lang), and then we get parallel stories of Reed’s team in the Zone and Johnny’s team on Earth.

Chapter synopsis with spoilers to follow:
Chapter 1 – The FF return from a mission to the recently rebuilt Baxter Building. Reed catches up with an old college professor named Noah. Thing has recently regained the ability to change back and forth into Ben Grimm at will. Human Torch has a movie role; and he’s on set when Reed learns what the Gideon Corporation is up to and thus misses the call to meet up with the team. As the FF enter the Zone, Gideon deliberately detonates a bomb destroying the Fantasti-Car. The FF almost perish in a vortex but manage to hitch a ride on a dragon only to discover a Spanish galleon. Torch receives the call too late.
Chapter 2 – Torch isn’t smart enough to activate Reed’s Negative Zone portal on his own. The FF discover what appears to Puritans, and after the obligatory fight they convince them they are human and not demons and learn these are the descendents of a 15th century ship that was swept into the Negative Zone through the Bermuda Triangle. The Puritans also have a character named Hellscout, who serves as their protector–no powers, just firearms; but he has near-superhuman skill levels. Meanwhile Gideon’s troops kills a planet-full of creatures that look a lot like Blaastar’s people, and Torch goes to Spider-man for help/a pep-talk. Gideon’s fiddling with the Negative Zone causes a portal to open in the sky over the Atlantic Ocean, which gets Namor’s attention.
Chapter 3 – Exposure to Negative Zone energy causes Namor to go berserk and he attacks NY and battles the Torch. The FF meet up with refugees from last issue’s attack. She Hulk and Ant Man arrive in response to Johnny’s call to reserves and together the three of them subdue Namor. Namorita arrives to check on her cousin after seeing the news reports of his fight with Torch, and apparently is also dating Torch. The FF encounter Maximus the Mad (arch-foe of the Inhumans) in the Negative Zone.
Chapter 4 – Maximus has what’s left of Four Freedom’s Plaza, which had apparently fallen into the Negative Zone in a recent prior story—hence the new Baxter Building. And Reed and Maximus declare a truce to see if they can salvage some of Reed’s old equipment to get home. The Gideon troops encounter Annihilus, who quickly slaughters them but not before they call in reinforcements. Even with Ant-Man and Reed’s college professor to help, Johnny still can’t get into the Zone, so they came up with a plan to attack Gideon’s headquarters instead. We get parallel fights between the two FFs and Gideon. On Earth Johnny’s team encounters counterfeit versions Herbie (from the 70s Hannah Barbara cartoon) and the Mad Thinker’s Awesome Android; while in the Zone Reed’s team sees that Gideon has somehow captured Annihilus.
Chapter 5 – Johnny’s team begins winning their robot fight. The Gideon troops steal the Cosmic Control Rod and decide to use it to power their portal. Reed realizes this will merge the two universes and destroy the Earth/positive matter one so the FF, Puritans, alien barbarians and Maximus (with Alpha Primitives) all attack en masse. Johnny’s team sees the portal going haywire on Earth, and Torch tries to absorb its heat to prevent it from exploding while the other heroes evacuate the building. The Gideon troops realize they are losing so they sever the Control Rod out of spite. Annihilus busts free but is killed by Hellscout who impales him through the chest and then decapitates him. Sue uses her force field to contain the portal on the Zone side until Reed and Ben can fix the Rod. The FF then escape through the portal before it slams shut leaving the Puritans and Maximus behind. In the epilogue we learn Johnny can no longer flame off, Gideon terminates some mid-level managers for legal deniability and Annihilus is reborn as a larval.
Chapter 6 – Johnny’s misfortune sinks in, including the reversal that now Ben can change and Johnny is stuck. Ben quits the team without a word. Reed comes up with an exoskeleton to give a Johnny a degree of control and they decide to track Ben down—they agree he has a right to a normal life but want Reed wants him to say farewell in person. Ben is living with Alicia in a town that is very Stepford Wives and when the FF show up he attacks them irrationally. It becomes obvious the Puppet Master is manipulating the whole town but when the FF defeat him they learn he has CIA immunity as all the residents of the town are death row inmates who had their sentences commuted if they agreed to be part of mind control experiments. Once in their right minds Ben and Alicia break up but agree to remain friends.
Critical Thoughts: Overall I enjoyed this. I like the Negative Zone. While I think Annihilus being defeated by humans is ridiculous I get what the writer is going for: that exploitative corporations can be much more evil than fictional monsters like Annihilus and that’s message I can wholeheartedly endorse, so I’ll let it slide.
I’m not familiar with Pacheco at all but he seems to have a very good grasp of who the FF are and what makes them tick; while at the same time showing a willingness to try new things with the characters like having Johnny lead a team or reversing Ben and Johnny’s situation. And he obviously planted threads for future writers because the Annihilus larval rebirth is a big part of Annihilation, while Namor having no tolerance for Negative Zone energy is key part of another trade I just finished (review coming soon).
The stuff in the Negative Zone had a nice flow overall with intriguing cliff-hangers. I didn’t mind the Puritan cult as it was just quirky enough for me to go with it, and I really liked the surprise appearance by Maximus, who isn’t usually affiliated with the Negative Zone.
I also enjoyed some of the nods to FF history like the vortex from “This Man, This Monster” showing up, or Johnny picking former members to assist him. I would have liked to see more of Johnny’s team in action as that was big selling point for me (and Spidey’s disappearance between chapters seemed odd but I guess he was just there for a pep talk and not the mission itself), but overall since the Zone stuff was so interesting I can understand why the writer put most of his focus there.
I suppose my only major criticism would be having the CIA be the villains behind the Puppet Master right after the evil corporation is worse than Annihilus main plot is a bit of overkill, but that’s just one chapter out of six so it doesn’t hurt the grade too much.
Grade: B-. Again I found this to be a good read; so while Annihilus seems under-powered (although he’s talked up as a major threat throughout) and I would have liked to see more of Johnny as leader for what I paid for it I enjoyed it fine. So much so that if I saw other FF volumes by this writer in the discount bin I’d be tempted to pick them up too.

Waiting for the Trade – Fantastic Four

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Fantastic Four Visionaries vol. 2
by John Byrne.
Collects Fantastic Four 241 – 250.
Why I Bought This: This was actually the last of my recent library rentals. In this case I picked the cover promises a famous fight between the FF and Gladiator (a character clearly designed as a stand-in for Superman) that I’ve wanted to read since the Marvel Handbooks in the late 80s talked about it. In fact a couple years ago I purchased The Trial of Galactus trade knowing it involved the FF and the Shi’ar and was disappointed the Gladiator fight was not part of it.

The Plot: John Byrne wrote (and drew) many consider the second greatest FF run ever after Lee and Kirby. The Visionaries series is collecting his entire run sequentially in about 10 issue junks. There are at least four volumes so far and probably more to come. As such there is no overriding plot in this issue. It several stories that are either one or two issues in length. A brief overview then is as follows:
Chapter 1 – SHIELD sends the FF (along with Torch’s current love interest Nova—the daughter of the creator of the original 1940s Human Torch who has flame powers of her own and not the more well-known male cosmic hero whose had three or four short-lived solo titles) to Wakanda where they along with the Black Panther discover an ancient Roman soldier with omnipotent powers courtesy of an alien artifact that he’s apparently been hanging on to for a few centuries without making his presence known until now.
Chapter 2 – Evil herald Terrax comes to Earth seeking to escape Galactus’s service. He battles the FF, severely damaging the Baxter Building in the process and then levitates all of Manhattan into orbit, leaving guest stars Thor, Iron Man and Spider-man to contain the collateral damage.
Chapter 3 – Galactus arrives on Earth and with a wave of his hand depowers Terrax and restores Manhattan but then decides to feed on the Earth leading him to battle the FF and Avengers and ultimately Dr. Strange, who wins the day with his magic powers.
Chapter 4 – the FF and Avengers (despite Iron Man’s misgivings) save Galactus, who is now dying of starvation following his defeat last chapter. When he recovers he takes on Nova as his new herald in exchange for agreeing to not eat the Earth.
Chapter 5 – Franklin’s mutant powers age him to adulthood and near omnipotence. In a confused state Franklin battles the FF until Sue gets through to him. He then shuts down his powers and reverts to his normal age but not before telepathically sharing Thing’s deepest secret with Reed.
Chapter 6 – Dr. Doom uses Doombots to battle the FF in an elaborate plan to restore himself to health; apparently as a result of a prior story not in his volume his body was in a coma while his mind was trapped in one of the Puppet Master’s dolls.
Chapter 7 – The FF and Doom restore Doom to the throne of Latveria, which has suffered under the rule of Prince Zorba in Doom’s absence. This is also the first appearance of Kristoff, a character that would become very important later in Byrne’s run.
Chapter 8 –The FF are visiting the Inhumans on the moon when the moon is whisked away by planet-sized aliens. Reed watches everyone die but in the end realizes it is all a dream caused by some funky crystals Triton had discovered at the start of the story and everything is restored to normal.
Chapter 9 – Gladiator is chasing some Skrulls, who trick him into facing the FF. He defeats them with ease only for the X-men to arrive on the final page.
Chapter 10 – Spidey and Cap arrive to aid the FF in their fight with Gladiator while the X-men are revealed to be Skrulls. Once the ruse is uncovered Gladiator takes them off to space.
Critical Thoughts: It’s funny as despite my love of cosmic Marvel, I’ve never been that big a fan of the FF even though they are the fathers of this corner of the Marvel Universe. I don’t dislike them, and in certain stories I can be quite fond of Ben, Sue and Johnny but the team as whole is not my favorite. That said there are some very good stories here but there also some bad ones. I will say however if you were looking to introduce someone to the FF this volume is a near perfect primer on their corner of the Marvel Universe as not only are the core members all featured but you have big stories featuring the top three FF villains in Doom, Galactus and the Skrulls as well as stories featuring their three most common allies in the Inhumans, Black Panther and Spider-man, so this introduces the reader to most of the major players you’ll see in other FF stories.
I’m going to start with the bad for once. All three single issue stories in this volume are almost exactly the same, which is bad both for being awfully redundant in a short period of time and also because it’s not a good story really any of three times Byrne tells it. I’m talking about chapters 1, 5 and 8. In all of them the FF meet an omnipotent entity (Roman soldier, adult Franklin, planet-sized alien) only to win the day and have whatever reality changes said omnipotent entity caused disappear and everything return to how it was before the story started, which begs the question of why bothering telling it to begin with.
Warning spoiler in this paragraph. I also hate Ben’s secret in chapter 5, which is that none of Reed’s cures work because he’s afraid his blind girlfriend Alicia only loves him as the Thing and if he was cured he would lose her. If the point is to give Reed an out for his continued failure to cure Ben, it seems to ignore that a) a real cure should work whether Ben wants it to or not, and b) now Ben is the one who looks bad instead and how is that better? Also, future writers broke Ben and Alicia up (she even married Torch and later dated Silver Surfer; while Ben later dated the second Ms. Marvel) and yet Ben didn’t suddenly revert to human because really it’s a dumb idea to tie his mutagenic condition to his love life thus why would a future writer want to be hampered by such nonsense.
However, there is also a lot of good here in all of the stories that involve the major villains. The Galactus story is the sort of cosmic story I like. While I read it before in the Trial of Galactus trade, it is still good reading. That Terrax can do the impossible and lift Manhattan into orbit and then Galactus takes him down with just a wave of his hand is how you build-up a bad guy as a major threat. Then seeing all the heroes available join the FF in the fight is a nice touch because let’s face it if Galactus is going to eat the planet that should be an all-hands on deck situation. I would complain about Dr. Strange defeating Galactus with a single spell but lets face it Dr. Strange has a history of showing up at the end of impossible fights and being the deus ex machina that solves them (see also Hulk 300 and Avengers Disassembled as other prominent examples).
I do think as a historical note it’s interesting to see only one hero of the combined Avengers-FF roster arguing for letting Galactus die. Sadly if this story was written now I’d bet you’d only have one or two heroes arguing in favor of life—actually that’s pretty much every Bendis Avengers story with high stakes in that the entire cast except Spidey is like let’s kill this dude as that would solve the problem.
The Gladiator story is similar to the Galactus one in that it uses guest stars very well. While the initial fight in chapter 9 is more of a squash match for Gladiator over the FF (which in fairness is how a fight between Superman and them should go, especially as this is the pre-Crisis era). I thought the fight scene in the final chapter was very well drawn/plotted out. Plus [spoiler alert] the Captain America fan in me loves that he’s the one who can stand down Gladiator long enough to enable Reed to execute his defeat; because let’s face it if you could only have two earthbound Marvel heroes to take down any enemy those are the two you want so to me it felt right.
The big surprise is the Doom story. I’m not much of a Doom fan at all; although I have a friend who swears by Doom and argues his case as comics’ best villain quite elegantly. He often cites this story in his arguments and now having read it I can see why. If you want to see Doom as a nuanced villain this is the story to read. Instead of his usual motivations of trying to either kill Reed or take over the world, we see him reclaiming his country, caring for his people and showing that he has a sense of honor. Sure, other writers will say Doom has a sense of honor but they don’t actually back it up—in this story you see it clearly. It is the old adage of show, don’t tell. This may be the best Doom story in an FF book I’ve ever read, for that reason alone this trade is worth checking out.
Of the four core members of the team, I’d say Sue fares the best in this volume, which is hardly surprising as Byrne is the one who evolved her into the Invisible Woman (not Girl) and in many ways her defacto characterization to this day is based on Byrne’s work with the character. Byrne writes Reed’s intellect quite well also, which much like with Doom he does by showing us how smart Reed in his thought balloons and not just saying Reed is the smartest man alive as lesser writers do. I’m not as enamored of his takes on Ben and Johnny, I’ve discussed Ben already and Johnny, while featured less prominently than the others, comes off a melodramatic drama queen in the one story that does affect him on a personal level.
Grade B. That Doom story is an A+. The Galactus and Gladiator stories are both solid B’s. The various single issue omnipotent encounters however are all D-list at best. He’s also only two of four on the characterizations of the core team members, which is why I can’t go hire than a B.