“I am Annihilus — lord of the Negative Zone! Annihilus — the living death that walks! Woe to all who live who come my way. For only by destroying life can Annihilus be forever reborn!… I shall spare you mortal — but because of you, untold millions shall meet their doom!”
Reed, Johnny, and Ben enter the Negative Zone to track down the man Janus before he can make himself too powerful, and also to try to stop Annihilus from finding the connecting portal between our world and his. Sue is told to wait behind to operate the viewing screen and because Reed fears that they may not come back. In the Negative Zone, Janus comes across the powerful being Annihilus, and is almost killed by him, but he is able to make a deal to show Annihilus the Negative Zone entrance in exchange for his life. Annihilus agrees and as part of the bargain allows Janus (now Nega-Man) a ship to take him to the Nega-Power Area, where he can become greatly powerful. The Fantastic Four arrive just then and battle Annihilus as Janus flies away. All of them fighting to a standstill, Reed slips away to pursue Janus. He catches up with him just as Janus is consuming the Nega-Power, but after his guides eject him into the Anti-Matter Zone, he spirals helplessly out of control. Reed tries to save him, but is too late. Reuniting with Johnny and Ben, he distributes “Gyro Devices” to guide them back home, telling them he will cover their escape. They make it back but find Reed hasn’t come with them. He has stayed behind because he lost his device during the adventure, and he is now stuck in the Negative Zone.
Considering how this storyline started, this installment is impressively well done. Not only is it suspenseful, but there is an original impetus to the plot, which is driven by Reed’s anxiety of Annihilus finding the entrance to our dimension. What would happen if the two planes of reality met is compellingly shown, and Reed is driven almost mad with terror at the prospect of what may happen. This gives a unique urgency to their quest, which is to stop the power hungry Janus from revealing just a small amount of information to an immeasurably powerful enemy. This isn’t really a conflict that we’ve seen before, and the FF come very close to failing.
Sue is marginalized for much of the issue, but perhaps it’s the heightened emotion of the situation that makes it a little more understandable, even touching. Previously Reed has been very authoritarian of her, to the point of being completely dismissive. This time however, he insists that she stay because he thinks that the odds are good that they won’t all be coming back. And that indeed turns out to be the case.
Janus (it is supposed) perishes by his own quest for power. He falls through his own hubris, and that is obviously fitting. He is also done a bad turn by the gargoyles who eject him into space, but he tried to kill them, so there is satisfaction in that aspect as well. Annihilus is played well also, shown to be very masterful in keeping the FF just off their feet. They never quite seem to have the advantage of him, and although the FF achieve their aims, they never get the better of him.
The only misstep is the contrivance by which Reed gets left in the Negative Zone. Sure, he doesn’t have a gyro device, but why can’t he just follow Ben or Johnny? With his stretching arms, he could easily hang onto Ben. If he were actually hanging onto Annhilus instead, that would be more understandable, but why can’t one of the smartest super-beings on the planet figure something out?
Nevertheless, this is a great issue.