Fantastic Four (1st series) #374

Issue Date: 
March 1993
Story Title: 
Suddenly… the Secret Defenders

Tom DeFalco & Paul Ryan (script, plot, & pencils), Danny Bulandi (inks), Jack Morelli (letters), Gina Going (colors), Ralf Macchio (editor), Paul Ryan & Danny Bulandi (cover art)

Brief Description: 

With Johnny Storm on the run after burning a portion of Empire State University, Spider-Man asks Dr. Strange for help in bringing the Torch in. Agreeing to assist him after seeing the card of death and doom, Strange recruits Wolverine, Ghost Rider and the Hulk for the job. In the Baxter Building, Susan and Reed exchange harsh words towards each other regarding Johnny’s current state of affairs, much to the dismay of Franklin Richards. Eventually, Spider-Man and his team find Johnny, as does the Fantastic Four. During the battle that ensues, Wolverine brutally slashes the Thing’s face with his claws. As Ghost Rider prepares to take down the Human Torch, Lyja (much to the anger of her “teammates,” Paibok and Devos) arrives on the scene to save Johnny. Just then, the Fantastic Four are whisked away in a blinding light. In Latveria, Dr. Doom prepares his new armor that houses cosmic energy he received from a rogue Watcher (Aron). With his new armor, Doom makes his way to the Blue Area of the Moon and confronts Uatu in his own citadel, unbeknownst to the Inhumans who only see a blinding light in the sky.

Full Summary: 

Outside, winter chills the city as the authorities conduct a massive man-hunt for the Human Torch. Determined to help his hotheaded friend, a certain neighborhood wall-crawler surreptitiously enters a particular Greenwich Village townhouse…

As he walks along the roof, Spider-Man thinks to himself that everybody’s out to nail the Torch for setting fire to Empire State University. Johnny’s in trouble deep and it’s only going to get deeper the longer he’s on the run. He’s got to find him, make him surrender. But he’s got a hunch he’ll need some help because he won’t go quietly.

Just then, Dr. Strange tells him that it’s high time he showed up. He does hope he has wiped his feet. Wong isn’t too fond of cleaning footprints off the ceiling. Dropping to the ground, Spidey asks Strange that he knew he was coming? Setting up a house of cards in mid-air, Strange replies that he would hardly be a master of the mystic arts if he didn’t. Spidey adds that he assumes he also knows why he’s there. Strange answers of course, even a sorcerer supreme reads the newspapers. To keep abreast of current events, as well as “Calvin and Hobbes.”

Noticing Strange’s house of cards, Spidey asks him what’s with the airborne architecture. Strange tells him let’s just say it’s a device to help him free his mystical subconscious. In his mind, Strange remarks that Spider-Man doesn’t realize that he has been recently stripped of much of his power and that he must now rely on such enchantments. Strange then tells Spidey that he has prepared the fragile edifice in anticipation of his…

Just then, the house of cards collapses. When it does Spidey remarks out that he guesses he added one card too many. Strange tells him that such a fate was unavoidable. But they must see which one caused the collapse. Picking up the card that caused the house of cards to fall, Strange sees that it is the card of death and doom. Spidey says swell and asks what that means. Strange tells him that he cannot answer as yet. His card construct has merely confirmed his suspicions. The Human Torch’s current woes have far greater cosmic scope than is readily apparent. He will aid him!

Spidey proceeds to tell Strange that he was hoping he could help him to contact a few old pals. They, uh, kind of filled in for the Fantastic Four a while back. After Strange exclaims that he will aid him, Spidey thinks to himself talk about weird. As long as he’s known Doc, he still gives him the creeps. Without another word, Dr. Strange releases his astral form and journeys to a Westchester Mansion where the mutant known as Wolverine casually exercises. To an apartment in Reno, Nevada where Dr. Bruce (the Hulk) Banner quietly pursues some light reading (“Zen and the Art of Nuclear Physics”). To Cypress Hills, Brooklyn where he confronts young Dan (Ghost Rider) Ketch. None of the three are particularly pleased to be summoned by the Sorcerer Supreme. Each suffers from more than his share of personal torments at present. But, in the end, they are all heroes in their own fashions – and, however reluctantly – heed the call.

As the group beings to secretly gather, the Fantastic Four stir in their own headquarters in uptown Manhattan. Though its top floors are currently in disrepair, the result of a recent bombing, Four Freedoms Plaza still stands proud as the home of the ever-illustrious Fantastic Four. And inside these world-renowned headquarters, Reed Richards – who along with Ben Grimm and Sharon Ventura, has recently returned from an arctic adventure – learns of the tragedy which occurred in their absence.

Reed yells to Sue that Johnny accidentally set fire to Empire State University causing millions of dollars in damage and fled from the police? W-what’s wrong with her? How could she allow this to happen? Spinning around, Sue angrily replies that she supposes it’s all her fault. Johnny was attacked by Paibok, Devos and Lyja. They’d have killed him if he hadn’t gone nova. But she doesn’t suppose that matters to him.

As Reed and Sue continue to argue, Sharon thinks to herself that something has happened to Sue, changed her. She’s become so aggressive lately and downright nasty but she can’t worry about that now. Turning towards Ben, Sharon tells him that this might not be the best timing, but they still have to talk. Thinking to himself, Ben says this is peachy. Sharon recently overheard him tellin’ Alicia that he still loves her and now Sharon wants to know where she fits in. He… he just ain’t ready for that. After Ben tells Sharon that they’ll talk after things settle down, Sharon asks when that will be.

And, though Ben Grimm cannot find the words to express his tortured emotions, Susan Richards has no such difficulty. She angrily tells Reed of all the nerve… He and the others go traipsing across the globe when there’s problems in his own backyard and then blames her for the result. Reed yells back that they were battling a rouge Watcher. What was she doing, besides running around half-naked in that ridiculous new costume of hers?

Ignoring the others, Reed and Sue unleash an ever-escalating torrent of pent-up frustrations and their voices carry to adjacent rooms. Sitting up from the couch in the television room, Franklin exclaims that mommy and daddy are fighting again. When he notices, an icy dread grips the heart of Agatha Harkness as her young charge whirls about. Once he does, Franklin’s eyes glow red and he yells that he hates when they do that. He wants them to stop! NOW!

Seeing the boy’s ire, Agatha tells him to listen to her, he must control himself. Long before she became governess and protector of this child, Agatha Harkness was a sorceress of New Salem. Calling upon her mystical training, she gently reaches out to the boy. Whispering words that were ancient long before man conquered the primeval sea, she attempts to soothe and comfort him. It is a contest of wills which extends far beyond this petty plane of reality. And ultimately, wisdom and experience within the day, this time.

As the young boy collapses into her arms, Agatha remarks that she managed to subdue him, contain his anger, for now. But what about the next outburst, and the next? The child’s powers are growing geometrically. She should warn the others, but they are besieged by too many adversaries. She truly loves the child but she can sense what he is becoming and she fears him.

Even as an involuntary shudder races through the old woman, our scene instantly shifts to distant Doomstadt, home of the absolute monarch of Latveria. Looking up at the castle Doom, one of the residents of Latveria points out that a fearful glow surrounds the master’s castle. Another says that he again works within his laboratory. Who knows what dire threat will be unleashed upon an unsuspecting mankind?

Within the palatial abode of the man whom the world calls Doom, Dr. Doom looks over his machinery and exalts at last! He has successfully housed much of the cosmic energy, which he recently seized from that rogue Watcher into a specially constructed battery pack. Mere words cannot express the incredible power which will soon be his. Ordering one of his minions to take hold of the battery pack, he tells the unthinking mechadrone to follow him. His destiny awaits.

Reaching another room, Doom tells his workers there that he trusts they have completed modifying the new suit of armor to his most exacting specifications. He will tolerate nothing less than absolute perfection. When one of the workers tells him that it is ready, Doom says to them that their supreme sovereign is pleased for the moment and orders them to leave, he wishes to be alone. After the workers leave, Doom states that the contemptible clods are gone, only his unloving robots remain. He then tells them to hurry and remove his current armor. He will tolerate no further delay. Mortal eyes cannot view the true face of doom without the ultimate punishment. The time has come to don his new armor, his new mantle of power.

As he is outfitted with his new silver armor, Doom remarks that the Watchers are an ancient, vastly powerful alien race who passively observe the phenomena of the universe. One has been based upon their moon for centuries. He must already know that he has appropriated the power of his villainous compatriot – power which he already feels surging through the new armor, power which is far beyond the dreams of most humans. And with it comes a thirst for more!

Meanwhile, back in New York, having temporarily put aside their personal concerns, the Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Sharon Ventura and Invisible Woman join the search for the Torch. In their individual flying vehicles, Reed tells the others to scour the city and remember to alert the others if they’re the first to spot him. When the Thing and Sharon reply to his request, but not Sue, Reed flies off. As he does, he thinks to himself that Sue ignored him. He can’t really blame her after the way they’ve been snapping at each other. He then wonders what’s wrong with them lately. Is it the tension of their hectic lives, the constantly mounting pressure, or is it something even worse? He loves Susan, he truly does. And yet, there’s something very unsettling about her. Could it be that he feels threatened by the fact that she recently led the team, quite effectively by all accounts, without him?

But, even as Mr. Fantastic weighs the disturbing possibilities, Johnny looks out the window of an abandoned warehouse and sees Reed flying by. When he sees him, Johnny says to himself that he should call to him but wonders how he can face him after the way he screwed up. He practically destroyed the university and made matters worse when he booked on the cops. He can’t involve him, or the others. Hanging his head, he remarks that he desperately needs a shave and that he must stink to high heavens.

Indeed, and it is precisely that “stink” which will ultimately lead to his downfall. Out on the streets, Wolverine informs the others that he doesn’t need his trackin’ senses to find their quarry, he is ripe. Ghost Rider adds that they must subdue him before any innocent blood is shed. Hulk tells him to relax; the only spilt blood will be Johnny Storm’s. Spider-Man interjects and implores them not to forget their true purpose. They’re there to help the Torch by convincing him to surrender. After Wolverine asks who appointed webs team leader, Dr. Strange remarks that he’s afraid he must agree with Spider-Man. Hulk tells Strange big deal. He’s only there in his astral form and that doesn’t carry much weight. As for the wall-crawler he’s about to get chucked. Whether it’s by choice or force, bottom line is the Torch must be stopped.

And, even as Spidey questions his choice of allies, a spacecraft hovers just above Earth’s atmosphere. Inside, Paibok, Devos and Lyja watch an image of Johnny Storm on their monitor. As they do so, Paibok points out to Devos that the accursed Torch suffers even more than they anticipated. Devos replies that he would have preferred a more personal form of punishment. In her thoughts, Lyja notices that Paibok and Devos revel in Johnny’s agony, as should she? After all, though he was her husband and lover, he abandoned her and their unborn child. She should hate him. And yet…

Just then, Spidey and his allies enter the warehouse where Johnny is held up. Once they do, Wolverine asks him if he’s burnt down any more schools lately. Pointing at Johnny, Hulk tells him he’s coming with them. Spidey tells him to c’mon, they’re supposed to give the guy a choice. Hulk replies here’s his choice – walk or be carried. Defiantly, Johnny calls them losers and asks if they think they can muscle him. That chance is as fat as their collective heads.

Facing out the window, Johnny thinks to himself that for all his bravado, he knows when he’s out-gunned. It’s time to put his pride on hold and call for back-up. With that, Johnny blasts a fiery 4 into the sky. Turning around to face his foes, Johnny flames on and begins to defend himself. While he does, Wolverine tells him that he messed up big time. It’s time to pay the piper. After Torch asks him what he knows about losing control, Wolverine answers more than he could ever imagine.

Calling out to the others, Spidey tells them to stop fighting, this isn’t necessary. Throwing a fireball at him, Torch says to Spidey that he could see the others turning on him, but him? Dodging the fireball, Spidey informs him that he’s there to help. Torch asks him really? He’s a funny way of showing it. Clapping his hands together with great force and knocking Johnny to the ground, Hulk exclaims enough. He’s already wasted too much of his life engaging in mindless fisticuffs. He won’t waste anymore.

At that moment, the Thing taps Hulk on the shoulder. When Hulk turns around, Thing punches him and asks him how about one last romp fer ol’ times sake. Upon seeing the remaining members of the Fantastic Four arrive, Dr. Strange recalled that the cards indicated that some unexpected doom would resolve this confrontation. Is someone destined to die? When Spidey asks if they can talk now, Wolverine tells him that the time for diplomacy is passed. He then tells Reed to back off, the kid is theirs.

As he begins to wrap his elastic body around Wolverine, Reed tells him that he should know better. The FF would never abandon one of their own. Johnny will surrender to the authorities – voluntarily. Wolverine tells him maybe they don’t want to wait for him to do the right thing. After Reed has wrapped his body around Wolverine, Wolverine tells him to be careful. His claws are made of adamantium. They can cut through anything, including his squirming self. Just then, Ghost Rider warns Wolverine to beware, noting Sue raising her arms, tensing as if to lash out at him. Sue blocks Ghost Rider’s attack and tells him nice guess but she was only forming an invisible force field to protect her and her “darling” spouse. After Reed tells her thanks for the assist “sweetheart,” Sue replies back anytime, “honeybuns.”

Shooting his flames at Ghost Rider, Human Torch tells him that he didn’t like the way he tried to tag his big sister with that bicycle chain. Absorbing the flames, Ghost Rider informs Torch that it would have only stunned her had it made contact. But even so, it would have been more effective than his mortal flames is against one covered with hell fire.

Nearby, Sharon Ventura swings her fists at Spider-Man. While she does, she states that she thought he and Storm were supposed to be friends. Dodging her attacks, Spidey answers they are, kind of. But… well… ah… never mind. Let’s just say things got a little out of hand and leave it at that. Capish? With that, Spidey fires his webbing at Sharon.

In another location, Hulk and the Thing exchange fisticuffs. As they do, Thing tells Hulk that he surprises him. He figgered if anyone could understand what Johnny was goin’ through it’d be him. Hulk replies that’s the trouble. He does, in spades. No one knows better than he the results of unthinking violence. Heck, he technically defined the term during his rampaging days. He can’t undo the past or repair all the damage he caused back while he was a little more than a berserker brute but, he can prevent anyone else from doing the same. And that includes his young partner. With that, Hulk slams his fist down on top of Thing’s head, causing him to crash into the floors below. As he falls through, Thing remarks that he’ll say one thing – ol’ green-skin still packs a helluva wallop.

With his body wrapped around Wolverine, Reed tells him that he’s only wasting precious time. His body is malleable enough to resist even his greatest efforts to penetrate it (with his claws). Grabbing hold of Reed, Hulk tells him they’re all convinced that their feisty little mutant’s best trick can’t hurt him so let’s try a new tactic. Hulk then proceeds to toss Reed away from Wolverine with relative ease.

Even as the battle continues, we now gaze upon Earth’s only natural satellite. Nestled amid the ruins of an old ancient city within the fabled Blue Area of the Moon is Attilan, the ancestral home of the mighty Inhumans, a race which diverged from mankind ages ago. And a city which currently prepares for an attack. One of the residents exclaims that a missile was launched from the Earth. It’s on a collision course with the moon. They must alert the Royal Family at once. Medusa, along with the rest of the Inhumans, Black Bolt, Karnak, Triton and Gorgon, says they have already been summoned. But, while attentive and concerned by this assault, her husband Black Bolt seems oddly at ease. Gorgon points out that perhaps it is because their eternally silent monarch has already analyzed the missile’s trajectory. It is not aimed at them but at the distant citadel of Uatu.

Deep within his sacred retreat, Uatu, the Watcher of this space sector, studies the unconscious body of Aron, a rogue who dared to violate their prime directive. But, others will pay as well…

Just then, Dr. Doom blasts his way into the citadel wearing his silver armor and introduces himself to Uatu. He states that it was pointless to attempt to conceal his plans from him who have spent countless millennia monitoring mankind. He has come to learn if his vow of now, interference extends to one who would invade his citadel and claim the power which lies in him.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Invisible Woman tells Wolverine that there’s something hauntingly noble about him but he has too many rough edges for her tastes. He could use a little tenderizing. With that, Sue knocks Wolverine back with one of her force fields. Picking himself up off the ground, Wolverine growls at her cute lady, real cute. Let’s just see how much punishment that invisible force field can really take. When Sue yells at him to take his best shot, Wolverine lunges at her at tells her she’s got it.

Grabbing him from behind, the Thing slams Wolverine into the ground, calls him an arrogant little creep and tells him that ain’t no way ta treat a lady. Enraged, Wolverine tells Grimm that cuts it. Nobody better get in his path when he’s got a mad on. And he means nobody! Reacting on pure animal instinct without pause to consider the consequences, Wolverine unleashes the full fury of his razor-sharp claws and slashes Ben across the face. An inhuman roar of pure, primal agony sears the air and then, clutching his face, Ben calls Wolverine a freakin’ little psycho.

Wolverine stops in his tracks and tells him that he didn’t, he never meant… Grimm angrily tells him that’s a real shame, pal. ‘Cause he certainly means this! With that, Ben backhands Wolverine across the face. So savage is the response, that it hurls Wolverine completely through one building and into another. Continuing to wrap his body around the Hulk, Reed looks at Ben and tells him that he needs immediate medical attention. With a shocked look on her face, Sue adds that his face is… is… horrible. Ben asks her how much worse could it be. He wasn’t exactly no Luke Perry at the start.

At that moment, Johnny Storm remarks that he’ll never forgive himself if Ben is permanently disfigured. This is all his fault! Proceeding to wrap his chain around Johnny’s neck, Ghost Rider tells him that is true. It was his carelessness which led to this bitter confrontation. His thoughtless actions which caused the university to burn and the shedding of his friend’s innocent blood. The time has come for punishment, and revenge! With that, Ghost Rider beats Johnny into submission, causing him to lose his flames.

Preparing to deliver the final blow, Ghost Rider tells him that his body, his mind, his very soul, shall know the horror of his penance stare. Just then, a voice exclaims “Do not harm him, demon!” Arriving on the scene, Lyja the Lazerfist states that only she has earned that right. Upon seeing her, Johnny remarks that she’s back. It was her first return, her reappearance after months of believing her dead, that originally blew his concentration at Empire State. He wonders if she hates him so much that she’s come to kill him herself.

Observing Lyja’s actions on a monitor from their ship, Paibok angrily exclaims that scheming wench has betrayed them. She must have slipped from the craft while they were distracted. Thinking to himself, Devos states that his suspicions are confirmed. No Skrull can be trusted. Thus, for the sake of galactic peace, they must all die by his hand – starting with Paibok!

Meanwhile, thoroughly bruised, but already healing, Wolverine rejoins the battle and surrounds the Fantastic Four along with Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, and the Hulk while Dr. Strange looks on. Before they can attack the Fantastic Four, who protect Johnny from them, a blinding light appears and the Fantastic Four vanish into thin air. The Hulk tells his allies to be careful. Susan Richards may have merely turned them all invisible. Wolverine says no, he’d know if they were still there. Spider-Man adds that this is weird. They looked as shocked as they did. Dr. Strange pipes in and states that he senses the power which took them was not of this world. It if was one of their countless foes, he fears that they may have seen the last of the Fantastic Four!

Characters Involved: 

Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Mister Fantastic and the Thing (all Fantastic Four)

Ms. Marvel II

Franklin Richards

Agatha Harkness

Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider, Hulk, Spider-Man and Wolverine (all Secret Defenders)

Paibok, Devos and Lyja the Lazerfist (all Skrulls)

Black Bolt, Medusa, Karnak, Gorgon, and Triton (all Inhumans)

Various unnamed residents of Attilan

Dr. Doom and his various unnamed followers

Doom’s followers & minions (unnamed)

Various unnamed residents of Latveria

The Watchers Uatu and Aron

Story Notes: 

The Human Torch destroyed part of the Empire State University campus in Fantastic Four (1st series) #371 accidentally while battling Lyja, Paibok and Devos.

“Calvin and Hobbes” was a comic strip written and illustrated by Bill Watterson. It was syndicated from 1985 to 1995. It was about a young boy, Calvin, and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who to Calvin was very real.

Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, the Hulk and Wolverine took over for the Fantastic Four after De’Lila (a Skrull) took the real Fantastic Four and its allies captive back in Fantastic Four (1st series) #347-349.

Reed Richards, Ben Grimm (Thing), and Sharon Ventura dealt with the rogue Watcher Aron in Fantastic Four (1st series) #371-373.

Susan Richards’ attitude changed after she became possessed by the being Malice (not to be confused with the Malice of X-Men fame) back in Fantastic Four (1st series) #369.

After Ben Grimm had his face slashed by Wolverine in this issue, he took to wearing a metal mask to cover up his disfigurement. He would stop wearing the mask in Fantastic Four (1st series) #386. Wolverine would make a return appearance in Fantastic Four (1st series) #395 to apologize and make amends with Ben.

Luke Perry is a famous American actor. He is best known for his role as Dylan McKay on the television series “Beverly Hills 90210.”

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