“It’s Johnny!! If the fall doesn’t get him, Rambow’s son will! He’s hurling his blasts at anything that moves!“
The story picks up directly from the last, with Johnny telling Reed that he has to come and find a way of dealing with the monster that is rampaging through New York. Reed, in the middle of trying to change Ben back into his human form, says that he could, but that Johnny needs to completely freeze the lab where he is treating Ben. After much effort, Johnny is able to do so, but he must fly above the atmosphere in order to dissipate all of the energy he has absorbed. Meanwhile, Sue ha just collapsed at the effort of trying to keep the monster at bay. Reed arrives and convinces Dr Rambow to reveal that the monster is really his son, transformed during an experiment. Reed has an idea then to stop the monster but just then Johnny’s body is seen falling to earth. Reed tries to reach him but is hampered by the monster. At the last second Johnny flames on and saves himself. Reed then reveals that his plan is to use the failsafe device that he assumes Dr Rambow created. Johnny flies the doctor to his laboratory as Reed engages with the monster, rolling it into an armory, where the thick walls will contain the blasts. Johnny and the doctor return, the device is used, and the professor’s son stands revealed, unharmed. The Fantastic Four return back to the lab and to a completely frozen Ben Grimm.
Once again we find a story that seems simple on the outset, but in relaying the plot it is found that it is rather dense, with very deft movements, especially in the switch from Johnny’s mission to freeze Ben and back to the central problem of the plot. And although Johnny’s scene feels to drag a couple pages longer than needed, he is having to use his powers in a way we haven’t seen before in over one hundred issues. He pushes himself to a far extreme, unsure of his own ability. Additionally, we are treated to some great graphical representations of what happens when Johnny has to absorb heat rather than emit it — and then what he has to do afterwards. We cut away from Johnny at just the perfect dramatic moment — in complete free fall from the upper atmosphere. Two highly dramatic and visually compelling moments in this issue come from Johnny not flaming on.
There are missteps, however. Johnny refers to his teammate rather coldly as “Ben Grimm”. Dr Zoltan Rambow has somehow become Professor Phillip Rambow, and Reed’s big solution to the monster’s rampage is not to create another gizmo, it’s only to remind Rambow of a gizmo he probably created himself. Rambow has been following the ‘monster’ since the time he created it in his lab from his son, Larry, trying desperately to find a way to change him back — why does it take someone else to remind him of the failsafe device he made? That should have been an automatic response. Senselessness aside, yet again the situation is resolved by a deus ex machine.
Still, although Jack Kirby’s presence is missed on the title, it certainly does not suffer from John Romita Sr.’s art and pacing instincts. Kirby’s work became more and more stylized, not just in his figures, but his storytelling as well, and Romita’s work is just a little more rounded and nuanced, storytelling and figurework alike.