This one’s a puzzler. It would be a very decent issue if it only two creative changes were made. The first would be not to announce who the villain behind the mysterious disturbances in the Baxter Building is in both the cover and the title of the story. The mystery is actually fairly well paced out, but to have the Fantastic Four keep asking ‘who?’ (‘who? WHO?’) when the identity has been trumpeted to us from the very beginning makes it all quite underwhelming. What’s wrong with question marks and silhouettes? What’s wrong with an oblique title? Where stalks the Sandman? Here. He stalks here. Where else?
Which is the second thing that should have been changed — or rather, not changed — and that is the Sandman himself. The massive appeal of the Sandman is his lowbrow, everyman appeal, accompanying a power with a lot of creative possibilities. In this issue, he’s been teched-up to try to provide the FF with another nemesis, but it just isn’t convincing. His suit has been designed by the Wizard, apparently, and is complete with a gadgets belt which allows him to mix different properties into his sand, and then discard them when convenient. At one point he mixes himself with liquid nitrogen in order to thwart and poison the Human Torch. He has reportedly taken a “refresher course in science“, but it would have been better if the writer had done the same, since nitrogen is a completely inert gas which makes up 79% of our breathable atmosphere and would be of no harm whatsoever.There are too many contrivances in the confrontation. The Sandman can seemingly operate any of Reed’s devices without manifesting a noticeable amount of sand, but he stops using any of them when he reveals himself. The Thing’s attacks are ineffectual, but one hit from Reed and Sandman literally blows to pieces.
Other storylines have been kept in the air this issue are more interesting, but only total to four pages. First we see the deliverance of the Silver Surfer from the hands of his Latverian torturers when his surfboard comes back. Now understanding the darkness that dwells in mankind, he destroys his prison building from the air, completely disintegrating it — an interesting turn in his path of enlightenment.
We also take a quick break to see what’s happening with the Inhumans. Crystal is pining for Johnny, and she is finally convinced, in circumlocutive fashion, to actually get out there and look for him, rather than lounge around whining.
With just a little judiciousness, this could have been a really great issue, because then the whole of the issue could have done justice to the last three pages of it, which are really quite thrilling. Having chased Sandman into a very dangerous corner, Reed finds he has no other alternative but to try to suck Sandman into the Negative Zone. We are then treated to three pages of Kirby at his early best, and finally the title and image of ‘Negative Zone’ come together to describe that which we are now familiar with and love. In an unkind twist, Reed himself is pulled into the Negative Zone and Sandman escapes. All that the rest of the FF can do is watch helplessly on the monitor screen as Reed’s form grows smaller and smaller in the vast, perpetually changing strangeness that is the Negative Zone.