“Do not attempt to stay my hand, Reed Richards. Ben Grimm fights for my sex — and he shall not fight alone!“
The male members of the Fantastic Four, after watching Medusa leave them, find a way of escaping the stasis cage they have been placed in. They confront Mahkizmo who has defeated and bound Thundra. Provoking him, Mahkizmo sentences them to death by mortal combat. After fighting off several monsters, the FF and Thundra then face Mahkizmo himself who, it is revealed, has been aided all along by a “Domina-Ray” which saps resistance. As the males from the FF roll around on the floor, Medusa suddenly appears in some sort of cosmic rift, leading in the Femizons from their homeworld. Their intervention allows Johnny to fly up to the Domina-Ray device and destroy it. Now the Femizons are able to gain the upper hand. Ben and Thundra simultaneously strike Mahkizmo, his nuclear power causes him to explode, and this results in the planet of Machus and Thundra’s planet merging together, thus creating a world where both genders are equal. The Fantastic Four and Thundra are then catapulted across space and the dimensions, back to Earth. Thundra, grateful for his assistance, kisses Ben.
This last episode of the trilogy is not quite as rewarding a payoff as might have been promised, and although there are fairly sizeable logical leaps (where did Medusa come from and how did she get there? What is a Domina-Ray and why is it needed? Why did the two planets join? How did the FF get back to Earth?), there are some sparkling moments of brilliance.
Tony Isabella steps in as writer to round the tale off — Isabella who started out as an editor at Marvel before starting a very interesting run on Ghost Rider. As a writer coming in off of another writer’s set-up (and then slight bungling) he does a good job. For a start, the theme of gender dominance is nicely wrapped up and, depending on your assumptions, in a potentially surprising way. The message is that not one or the other of the genders is dominant — both are equal.
Which is almost convincing. However, what we actually see in the story is a resolution still being forced in a very masculine fashion. There is just so much fighting — at one point in the story, Johnny burns an alien animal to death. And the ending itself is incredibly violent, with the two most physically powerful members of the FF punching the bad guy so hard that he explodes. When Medusa shows up with the Femizons, it is only to enter into the brawl. Thundra is a wonderfully dichotomous character — a female who can beat men at their own game, and the superhero world definitely needs one of those, but where is the female character who can solve problems through more feminine means? We have a female champion, but where is the champion of femininity? Presumably left out of the story, back at home with Susan Richards, who doesn’t even get a mention in this issue.
But a gesture is here at least to gender equality, although it’s a disappointment that such a small gesture can mean so much here, that it can present such a contrast to the prevalent gist of the series until this point.
But to go back to the writing, Isabella surprises us with many clever and original turns of phrase. It wasn’t easy to pick a quote for this entry. The one actually used is so rousing and unexpected it’s practically Shakespearean. Runners up were Reed’s observation about the Machus men: “with no one to offer them an opposing viewpoint in centuries, they’ve stagnated mentally.” Which is a wonderfully deep and provocative line to just tuck away without further exposition. The idea that men’s minds, rigidly dismissive of discussion with women, would atrophy.
Another fun line is Mahkizmo’s proclamation: “In centuries no one has escaped justice in this arena. Nor shall you four be the first! Even if I have to kill you myself!” This is a wonderfully efficient way of putting across the Machus philosophy as regards law and justice.
And although the story devolves into abstract nonsense, the very final element, which is Thundra kissing Ben Grimm, is so powerfully understated and touching that it’s hard not to think that this was the real purpose of the story after all — to give Ben another romantic figure in his life, and one that makes a little more sense than the blind and frail Alicia, who sees past his strength and strange exterior, and introducing him to someone who loves him because of his strength and otherness.