“None of us ever figgered to live forever! So Reed’s cashin’ in first. Okay? Okay! That means we’ll be needin’ a new leader! And I know who that better be!“
Reed Richard is stranded in the Negative Zone. He wants to return back to his own dimension, but will not do so if it means revealing the entrance to it to Annihilus. Meanwhile, Ben is behaving more and more belligerently, voicing the opinion that with Reed soon to die, he should be made leader, which incites Sue to attack him. Agatha Harkness arrives with Franklin. Ben walks off and Johnny comes up with a plan to get a gyro device to Reed so that he can escape the Negative Zone. He puts a superdense shell of fire over it, has Sue shield him, and then dangles in the Negative Zone as a recently returned Thing anchors them in this dimension. This done, Johnny throws the gyro device into the Negative Zone, and it manages to go directly to Reed who starts to use it, but is forced not to when Annihilus’s monster companions attack him. Then Agatha Harkness uses her mystical arts to project dozens of images of Reed into the Negative Zone to cover Reed’s escape. Arriving back at earth, Ben is even more insulting, especially to Alicia Masters, who just happens to stop by. He storms off. The three know that he has been changed somehow by the recent experimentation done to him, and they must find him and either bring him back to the group, or stop him permanently.
Science is thrown out the window in this issue, which is a shame because it means that the story that had an awful first act and a surprisingly well-executed second act, almost completely fizzes out in a nonsensical third act. Almost nothing about it makes sense. From Johnny’s encasing the gyro device in a shell of dense flame, to his throwing it blindly while within the zone, to the device reaching Reed and “halting because of [his] human aura”.Actually, the only aspect of Reed’s escape that does halfway make sense, is Agatha Harkness’s ability to create multiple illusory images of Reed. If only the rest of the issue’s acts adhered to the fairly arbitrary rules of magic, then at least they would have adhered to some sort of logic system. In fact, why not just have Agatha’s magic take care of all aspects of Reed’s escape? She could simply direct the gyro device by magic — explaining that human aura thing — effecting a save all by herself and impressing us the reader as well as the giving the rest of the Fantastic Four pause for thought at the power of mysticism in an otherwise rationally scientifically themed book.
But no, we are faced with ridiculous cod-science created apparently to give Johnny some sort of weight in the issue, but all of which renders his actions, and Reed’s escape by association, fairly meaningless through its contrivance.
The one moment of real drama comes when Sue can’t take Ben’s insensitive goading about wanting to be leader now that Reed is about to die and actually smacks him while he’s in human form. This is something that hasn’t happened before. It’s an unexpected action that makes sense, and throws the reader into complete uncertainty as to where the story will go from there.Two other incidents of note, John Buscema attempts a Kirby-style collage (a Kollage?) when we see Reed barreling through the Negative Zone, and Ben’s changed personality after his fix is a b-plot that is being pushed in our faces at most opportunities. It would have been better for his change to have been more subtle, more ambiguous, leading us to wonder if it really is a direct side-effect of his change, or if it is a real nature of his personality that the change has uncovered. As it is, we know it’s the first.