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Fantastic Four Flashback #4

Fantastic Four #235 opens on splash page of The Thing trudging through an alien landscape with a heavy piece of Kirbyesque machinery on his back. It's a great image that captures the power of the Ben Grimm and wild ideas one finds in the title. The alien landscape is, of course, Ego the Living Planet, whom we met during last issue's cliffhanger. Ben's internal monologue (rendered in thought bubbles, of course) lets us know he's been at his task a while and that he's the only person left who can do the job; if he doesn't deliver the machine to the core then he'll "let down the whole friggin' earth."

The story shifts into an extended flashback as we get caught up to the point where the issue opens. The first two pages of the flashback are a recap of the previous issue. I get that every comic is potentially someone's first issue and that back in the 80s these sorts of recaps were necessary but I think devoting two story pages is excessive. Really, Byrne could have just flashed to them coming into contact with Ego and it would have been enough.

After those two pages, the story's pace picks up again. Ego's blasts the FF's rocket with some sort of eye beam and the team is forced to crash land on the surface. Once they land, they discover Ego has a propulsion unit attached, a unit that Reed finds familiar but can't quite put his finger on why. In fact, Reed seems more interested in how Ego came to be than in the actual danger that the planet presents; Ben is a bit more practical. As the group goes to investigate, they are attacked by Ego's psychic power and then anti-bodies, which are, of course, humanoid size. The team fights their way to the rocket only to discover...a one page interlude!

We cut to Frankie Raye back in Manhattan. Actually, we cut to a wet and naked Frankie, who has just finished a shower and there is no towel for her to use. While she wanders around the apartment to find one, she worries about her roommate bringing home one of her "swains." Seriously, John Byrne? Swains? Nobody used that term. Anyway, Frankie sees herself in the mirror and suddenly she knows...she knows! I assume we'll find out more about what she knows in an upcoming issue.

Meanwhile, back on Ego, Ben has ripped a mini-pack out of the propulsion unit and the team makes a leap into a pore. The plan is to detonate the powerpack in Ego's brain to stun him. They quickly find the brain...only to discover it's a pseudo-brain created by Ego to trick them. The team then starts down a passage that should lead them to Ego's actual brain.

The further they delve into the Ego's core, the more the pressure begins to build and, one by one, the members of the FF are unable to continue the journey. The first one to stay behind is Reed; I like that Sue lasts longer than he does but I also feel like there's a dig at smart people being weaker too. Maybe. Speaking of Sue, she is the next one who can't continue but Ben has to physically throw her back up the passage to make her stop. Johnny has to stop a mere two panels later. This brings us back to the start of the issue with Ben carrying the pack further into Ego. The caption boxes talk about how Ben has "the right stuff" ala Tom Wolfe. When Ben finally reaches the brain, he glimpses how Ego formed out of cosmic debris and how Galactus is Ego's enemy. That second point is why Ego has come to Earth, since that was where Galactus most recently "touched down." Ben throws the machine at Ego's brain...and misses. This causes Ego to fire his rockets, but since part of that rocket is missing he leaves Earth's orbit and gets caught in the sun's gravity. This leads to his destruction but not before Ben is rescued by the rest of the team. The FF ends up in the orbit of Mercury, from where it will take them days to return home.

This issue is all over the place in terms of quality. The overly long flashback and the strange one page interlude are not great. The action on Ego, however, is solid and I like the focus on The Thing. Byrne's run is now 4 issues in and while it has been interesting, it's still not producing comics that make this a classic run. Maybe next issue's 20th anniversary celebration will be a start...

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