Storylines progress in this issue. The Fantastic Four has spun back into its soap-opera format, with various plot threads being picked up and advanced, but there is a notable lack of direct conflict in this issue. What should be a showcase for Doctor Doom’s depravity, now that he has fully mastered the Silver Surfer’s Power Cosmic really only amounts to a few half-page spreads sown through the issue. These are done fairly well, however briefly, and a picture is painted of a megalomaniacal genius whose powers of imagination are slightly taxed by the awesome power that he has assumed. He speeds across the earth creating ‘miracles’ of destruction that last no more than 24 hours. It could be read as a timid and mindfully violentless kid-friendly fare, but it could also be read as a display of power by someone who has so much of it he literally doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t set out to conquer the world because, well, he’ll conquer the world tomorrow.
But even if you make that allowance — and it’s an admittedly generous reading — that doesn’t save this issue from being, essentially, 20 pages of impassioned speeches. The only real action comes at the beginning of the issue when Ben picks a fight with Reed to rouse his fighting spirit and shake him out of the defeatist stupor that we saw him in at the end of the last issue. It’s an emotionally brilliant act by Ben and it’s the sort of thing he’s best at – casting himself as a shallow character while actually being quite savvy and intelligent. Inside the clumsy, elephantine skin is a kind heart and a sharp wit, and that often gets overlooked by many writers.
Also at the start of this issue, we see Reed talking to a military official and requesting him not to take direct action on Doom — assuming upon the FF full responsibility for his actions and defeat. That’s an interesting perspective since the FF had no part in Doom getting his powers. Why wouldn’t Reed want help, especially since this issue mentions a couple times that he is tired and at the end of his rope? Why can’t we see Doom vs. The World? Wouldn’t this be a good opportunity for another Avengers appearance, where we can see the strained relationship between the two superhero groups become even more tenuous? Sadly not.
Two more threads are developed. One is the Wyatt/Torch plot. Apparently, they have left New York again for a brief spell in the countryside where Johnny has decided to defeat Doom all on his own, which is a strange decision to make, and no motive is given for his self-estrangement from his teammates.
This issue also shows the dramatic escape of the Inhumans from the Negative Zone barrier. The moment hinges on Black Bolt realizing the power he carries, contained in his voice, which is the key to removing the barrier; Maximus’ machine was evidently not necessary — only Black Bolt’s raw voice. For very contrived reasons, the main (named) characters of the Inhumans are sent out into the world to have adventures before they come back to rule the Inhuman city, begging the question, who’s really in charge of the place, anyway? It doesn’t seem to be Black Bolt. This is all decided after Crystal goes off to look for Johnny anyway, doing so, by all appearances, on foot.
It’s a slightly underwhelming issue which manages only to keep the various pots on the boil, but never gives any of them a really good stir.