Fantastic Four (3rd series) #11

Issue Date: 
November 1998
Story Title: 
The First, the Final? Fire!

Chris Claremont (story), Salvador Larroca (pencils), Art Thibert (inks), Liquid! (colors), RS/Comicraft/DL (letters), Mark Powers (editor), Bob Harras (editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

Sue, Johnny and Ben rush at the Pier Nine, where Mr. Fantastic was recently abducted by members of the Genoshan Press Gang and sent to Genosha. Back to its headquarters, the team is briefed on the current war in Genosha by Dr. Val Cooper, who also informs them that the American government cannot officially take sides and they’re on their own. Nevertheless, the team departs for Genosha with their Pogo Plane. Later, just above the island nation, their plane is taken down by the villainess Ayesha, who easily knocks them all out. When they wake up, Sue, Ben and Johnny find themselves inhabiting the bodies of three Genoshans, while the Genoshans now own the heroes’ bodies and powers. The mastermind of this scheme is the madman known as Crucible. Sue, Johnny and Ben manage to escape and Johnny attempts to persuade Crucible to abort the test he’s about to perform: namely, to have the Genoshan who inhabits Johnny’s body activate his Human Torch powers. Crucible ignores him, however, and the Genoshan inhabiting Johnny’s body, inexperienced with the Torch’s powers, ignites a nova flame that burns down the entire building!

Full Summary: 

(the past)

In memory, this is the defining moment of their lives. A small, private spaceport on the outskirts of Central City, California. An experimental vessel designed to take humanity to the stars. A man – Reed Richards – willing to spend life and fortune in pursuit of a dream. Three friends – Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, Ben Grimm – ready to risk their all to help. From this day forth, their world would never be the same.

(the present)

Manhattan Pier Nine, just up the Hudson River from the current home and headquarters of the Fantastic Four. It’s a crime scene: the victim has been tentatively identified as Reed Richards, founder and leader of the team.

The three other members of the team suddenly appear in mid-air, courtesy of Human Torch’s flying abilities and Invisible Woman’s force fields. One of the policemen present exclaims that’s it’s them for real: the Fantastic Four! When Johnny demands to know who’s in charge there, a woman introduces herself as Charlotte Jones, Manhattan South. She explains she’s primary on this investigation. It was she who called them. She thanks them for coming so quickly. She tells them that 9-1-1 received reports of a metahuman battle at this Pier. By the time radio cars responded, the fight was over; the combatants were long gone. Witness statements and materials found in that taxi indicate that the victim was Reed Richards.

Charlotte presents them with a briefcase that the victim carried. Sue confirms this is Reed’s briefcase. She gave it to him herself in their first anniversary. She also confirms this is the taxi he was riding when he left their warehouse. Sue asks Charlotte if she has any leads, to which the detective’s response is negative. Even though Charlotte realizes she’s going way outside procedure by asking, she still admits to them that she’d be grateful for any help.

In response, Sue presents a resonance scanner which could be useful. She explains this scanner is calibrated to track the unique metabolic signature of Reed’s body. Wherever he was taken, they can follow. However, she quickly realizes, in surprise, that the readings lead to a telephone booth nearby and then they vanish. She realizes that something about the discorporation signature is very familiar. She will have to interface with their main database to try for a match for these readings. Ben admits that, if he didn’t know any better, he’d swear he was listening to Reed talking just now! Sue admits that marriage will do that.

Ben has an idea and asks Detective Jones to punch a keypad in the booth phone and track the last number called. Since the trail leads to a phone, he wants to see if it was used. Sue, however, has already discovered something: her tracker informs her of a secondary pattern belonging to a metahuman named Pipeline. She informs the others he’s Genoshan, a member of their state security special operations group called the “Press Gang.” His power is to reduce people to digital files and then transmit them over telecommunication lines. Ben confirms her findings: he’s also just found out that the last call made from here was international… to Genosha. Charlotte remarks that, if that’s true, there’s nothing the NYPD can do. Genosha’s an outlaw nation. If they have Reed Richards, he’s as good as dead.

(the past)

Reed and the others are in the shuttle, all set to go. Ben reminds Reed that he knows how crazy this is. After years of years, making sure every part of this project was just about perfect, they suddenly have to launch tonight, a full week ahead of schedule. Reed also reminds Ben they don’t have that week. They may not even have tomorrow: someone wants this flight stopped! This someone has already suborned the other two members of their crew. Ben thinks they just quit! He also points out that nobody thinks Reed’s stardrive will work. And now Reed is talking about conspiracy and sabotage! He may call it betrayal, but these other two who left – Burroughs and Hennesey – maybe considered it a simple matter of survival.

“Then why are you here, my friend?” Reed asks him. Ben explains that he gave his word. However, he’s a test pilot. He knows the odds and accepts the risks. Those two kids – Sue and Johnny – have no business there. The siblings argue that the controls are designed for a crew of four. They can’t make this flight without them. Ben insists they’ve got no backup or support. If anything goes wrong, they’re on their own. Reed stresses that if he knew there was serious danger, he’d cancel the flight in a heartbeat. He asks him to trust him: they’ll be fine! Johnny excitedly asks them what they’re waiting for: it’s time to make history! Indeed, ignition of the ship follows.

(the present)

Manhattan Pier Four, on the Hudson River, just above Stuyvesant High School

Dr. Valerie Cooper discusses the situation with the team, in the presence of Charlotte Jones. Val explains that the White House felt she was the best liaison with them in this situation, given her post as Special Presidential Assistant for National Security and Metahuman Affairs. Sue asks her what their government can do to help. “Explain some geopolitical realities and pray you understand,” Val replies. She hopes this news report – contained in a CD she presents them with – will better explain things.

Manoli Wetherell appears on screen, reporting for “Worldbeat.” She explains to the viewers that the focus tonight is Genosha, which once called itself an ideal society that represented the cutting edge of science and technology. Located off the East African coast, midway between Madagascar and the Seychelles Islands, it was settled originally by Indian Ocean Corsairs and was reputedly one of the destinations of the legendary Sinbad the Sailor. Genosha grew in recent years to become a financial and industrial powerhouse that rivaled even the United States. They boasted of creating a land without poverty – a democracy where citizens were judged by deeds and character and not the color of their skin. Genoshan citizens were “free.”

However, this was Genosha’s greatest lie and the ultimate cause of its downfall. Existing in Genosha was a permanent underclass of metahumans, genetically engineered and conditioned to serve the State. Every resident of the island was tested at birth and all with the potential for super-powers were handed over to the genengineer for appropriate modification. Eventually, in part due to the intervention of the mutant band of outlaws knows as the X-Men, the truth about Genoshan society became known to the world. Not long afterwards, the metahuman slave class rose up in open revolt. For the first time, open warfare exists on the planet between humans and metahumans. The sole response of the United Nations thus far has been to declare a total embargo around Genosha, in order to prevent the spread of this conflict.

After the video finishes, Val explains that the gravity of the situation is actually much worse than presented in this report. There’s a new player involved there, someone unknown to all the intelligence services of the great powers who’s apparently using Genosha as a proving ground for weapons and tactics. The Genoshan department is desperate; that’s apparently the reason they acquired Reed Richards, hoping that his legendary brilliance would provide an effective counter to their new foe. Val explains that, officially, the USA can’t take sides. Unofficially, though, they’d prefer to see the established government survive.

Ben asks Val if it’s okay for them to go after Reed as private citizens. Val explains they can provide neither back-up nor support. Anything goes wrong, the Fantastic Four are on their own. Sue tells her they’re used to that. She assures Val she appreciates her candor but she’ll have to excuse them, as they’ve a lot of work to do.

A little later, Ben, Sue and Johnny are about to leave. Alyssa wishes Ben she was going with Ben. Ben is grateful for the offer but reminds her that the Fantastic Four are a team. He likes her a lot and respects her smarts but she is still as friend. Alyssa assures him she understands and asks them to come home safe.

Ben confidentially asks Johnny if they can trust his friend, Alysande Stuart, to look after Franklin. Johnny replies that he may not know her very long but he trusts her with his life. Alysande gives Johnny her word of a Highlander that she won’t let him down. Even Charlotte gives Sue her word as a cop that her son will be in the safest of hands. Sue thanks her in response. As the team departs on their airship and everyone bids them farewell, Charlotte tells Franklin that she has a son about his age and asks him if he’d like to meet him. Franklin asks her if her son would like to meet his new puppy! As the Pogo Plane rises in the sky, Sue remarks that Franklin looks so brave and alone standing there waving goodbye. Ben is confident they’ll be back, together with Reed, before she knows it. Sue vows that if any harm has come to Reed, she’ll make the people responsible wish they’d never been born.

(the past)

The launch was perfect, as were the initial stages of flight. Suddenly, though, everything goes wrong. An alarm is sounded, signifying that they’re being bombarded by cosmic rays. The shielding can’t handle the load and the radiation is burning through! All of a sudden, Reed feels his whole body heavier than lead. He can hardly move or breathe! Sue takes the controls in his place, assuring Ben that everything will be fine. However, Sue herself is horrified to see that her hand is suddenly gone: she can feel it but she can’t see it! Johnny himself feels like he’s burning up! Ben pulls the abort switch in order for the auto-pilot to return them to Earth, despite the agony he feels in every move, as if his body is ground to bits of rocks.

(the present)

As the plane keeps going, Johnny remarks that, if Dr. Cooper is right and Genoshans want Reed for his big brain, they are in for a disappointment. Irritated, Sue asks him what that’s supposed to mean! Johnny urges her to face facts. Reed’s changed since that battle with Crucible. Ben agrees. Reed is smart as ever but something is missing. Crucible stole from him that special genius that made him Reed. He’s lost the ability to create. Sue retorts she’s not blind. She sensed it from the start but chose not to care since the new Reed who came home was so wonderful to be with, as a husband and a father. Still, Sue believes they should rescue the man first and worry about the state of his mind later. Suddenly their plane is hit: they’re under attack!

(the past)

They remember nothing of the crash. There was too much pain. Susan Storm’s first awareness is the sound of surf and the taste of salt water in her mouth. She assumes there’s something wrong with her eyes. Her body feels okay… she just can’t see it. She calls out to Reed. Unfortunately, he has problems of his own: Sue sees his entire body look like a stretched piece of taffy! Ben also emerges, now transformed into a monstrous being. Reed had asked them to trust him; promised everything would be fine. “Look at what he’s done!” he exclaims. Sue can’t believe this is Ben. A little bit further, Johnny asks them to help him. He can’t stop the burning. He feels like he’s on fire! And then, before their eyes, Johnny Storm becomes fire.

(the present)

Ben informs them they’ve got no port wing; no power. If re-entry friction doesn’t finish them, they’ll still hit the ground like a meteor. Sue uses her invisible force field to form an airfoil that should give them a measure of maneuverability. Johnny uses his flame to replace the blown engine. Ben informs them he’s got red lights on the landing gear: it’s deployed but not locked. He tells them to make sure they’re strapped in tight. He asks Sue to use her force field to cushion the impact. Under the circumstances, Ben opens a hole underneath him and uses his nigh-indestructible “rocky” feet as impromptu brakes to help the ship land less roughly.

As the team emerges from the plane, Ben mumbles that he spent weeks working on this baby! He practically rebuilt the Pogo Plane from top to bottom and then he had to take her through a full FAA and NASA flight certification process… and the first time she flies, some mook knocks her out of the sky! That mook is going to pay!

A woman of golden skin and purple costume appears, stating that both appellation and threat are apparently directed at her. Ben assures her she got it right! He asks her who she is and why she knocked them out of the sky. The woman replies they’re intruders; they represent a potential threat to the plan and must, therefore, be eliminated. Enraged, Johnny flames on, assuring her that the Fantastic Four don’t die so easily. The villainess believes that remains to be determined and swats him away like a fly!

Ben lifts some wreckage he intends to clobber her with when the woman disintegrates it. The villainess informs him it within her capability to do the same to him. She asks them to spare themselves further suffering and surrender. Sue replies she doesn’t know the meaning of the word and defends herself from the villainess’ blasts with her force field. Sue strikes back and traps the woman in her force field globe, thinking she’s beaten. The woman informs them that her conclusion comes from a false presumption: to truly defeat her, she must kill her. That capacity is beyond the character matrix of Susan Richards!

Sue is amazed she knows who she is. The woman assures her she’s fully conversant with all the skills and especially weaknesses of all potential foes. To demonstrate this, she asks her how it is that the Human Torch can sustain combustion without any discernible source of fuel. “Suppose that were to change?” she sardonically adds. Suddenly, Johnny feels like his flames hurt; he can’t shut down his power; and then starts to burn, until he dies! Nearby, the Thing is attacked by dozens of strange, small winged critters that swarm over him like army ants and quickly tear him apart!

Sue is shocked to see Ben and Johnny dead. The villainess finally introduces herself as Ayesha, “she who must be obeyed!” Ayesha believes the game’s ended. In keeping with Sue’s own title and power as the Invisible Woman, she commands her to vanish not merely from sight but from existence… and Sue is no more.

A little later

As Sue wakes up, her first thought – as her last – is of Reed, and of how sorry she is to have failed him. Her second is to wonder if she’s gone mad. In front of her stands none other than her own self, next to Ben and Johnny, all three grinning evilly!

The villain known as Crucible bids Sue, Johnny and Ben welcome to their new home – their new bodies! Ben, Sue and Johnny are trapped in the bodies of Jomo Kimane, Farisa Mansour and Harry Soong respectively, all three wearing the standard uniforms of Genoshan metahumans. Johnny realizes this is the creep Ben told them about – the one Ben and Reed fought in Stockholm! “Precisely,” Crucible confirms, with Ayesha standing loyally next to him. The “Thing” – actually Jomo Kimane now inhabiting Ben’s body – ironically notes they are all undoubtedly curious as to what has transpired. Ben, however, is perfectly aware they’ve been bodyjacked. Some kind of mind-switch: the Genoshans in the bodies of the Fantastic Four and vice versa. Sue assumes that this process allows Crucible to create a fighting force from existing metahumans and eliminate any opposition to whatever lunatic scheme he’s concocted. They’ve heard this spiel from others before: they are not impressed.

Crucible grabs both Ben and Sue from their throats, furious that they would mock him. Ben defiantly states that, wearing the armor and the attitude doesn’t make a man Doctor Doom. Crucible agrees but the difference here is that he will succeed. He is the hope of the world; the crucible through which humanity must be honed against the coming trials! Ben thinks he’s nuts. “And you are at my mercy,” Crucible replies.

Johnny insists he doesn’t understand the risk he’s running: his Human Torch mustn’t ignite his flame… Before he finishes his phrase, Johnny screams in pain and kneels in the ground. Crucible advises him to be careful. The body Johnny currently inhabits, that of Harry Soong, is that of an old, obese man. His new body can’t handle stress! Crucible advises them to rest and get accustomed to their new bodies: they’ll be in them for the rest of their lives. Johnny mumbles that this will last until Harry, in Johnny’s body, will flame on. Ben reminds him they’re not dead yet and they will not die. Crucible departs, leaving them locked in that room.

Later, Johnny accuses Ben and Sue they’ve got nothing to complain about. Their new bodies are young and beautiful whereas he can’t even climb a flight of stairs without his heart going like a trip-hammer! Ben admits he’s tired of Johnny’s bellyaching, after which Sue asks them to stop. They should find a way out of this instead of fighting amongst themselves. Ben shoves her aside, confessing he’s sick of fighting. If they win, he’s back to being a monster. At least, this way he gets a fresh start. Johnny moves against him, telling him to leave his sister alone. Ben punches him in the stomach, in response. Johnny collapses to the ground, mumbling something about his heart...

One of the guards watching to a monitor calls Medicalert to the Security Wing: it looks like one of the prisoners is having a heart attack! A doctor rushes in the room, escorted by two armed guards. Sue begs the doctor to help her brother: she can’t find the pulse. The doctor retorts that this is probably because she doesn’t know where to look. As she turns Johnny around – lying face down until then – the latter sports a huge smile and assures the doctor that, when he was a boy scout, his sister taught him what he needed for his first aid merit badge! Johnny kicks her away and together with Ben and Sue they take out the guards. Ben declares it’s time to go, although Johnny believes they have to take the guards with them, otherwise they will die.

In Crucible’s laboratory, the villain is about to test Human Torch’s powers. One of the system operators informs Crucible that there’s an incoming communication, demanding to speak to him: Harry Soong! Seeing Johnny/Harry on monitor, Crucible realizes they’ve escaped and assumes they haven’t just called to gloat. Johnny delivers his final warning: Crucible has to abort the Human Torch test before it’s too late. He begs him to consider the lives of the others in the building. Would he condemn them all? Crucible assures him that, to achieve his goals, he’d gladly make any sacrifice! Turning to his Torch, he orders him to obey and flame on! As Harry Soong ignites the Torch’s flames, a light of blinding radiance is released. Watching from the monitor, Johnny recalls how the first time he used his power he had no control. He couldn’t help himself and ignited his nova flame!

The upper part of the building is torn apart from an explosion of fire. Sue remarks that it feels like the building just got hit by a bomb! Luckily, they’re in the parking sub-basement. However, she realizes she spoke too soon as she sees the blast wave surging all the way from the top to the bottom of the building, heading towards them. Sue, Ben and Johnny get into a truck, together with the captive guards and drive away. They only have seconds before this blast wave turns the garage into a white-hot blast furnace. Sue pleads Ben to go faster and faster. The flames, however, start chasing the truck. In order to avoid the flames, the vehicle exits the garage and goes all the way over the catwalk, crashing down on the street underneath.

Characters Involved: 

Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Thing (all Fantastic Four)

Franklin Richards

Caledonia/Alysande Stuart

Alyssa Moy



Jomo Kimane, Farisa Mansour, Harry Soong (all Genoshan accomplices of Crucible)

Genoshan doctor, guards and system operators

Dr. Valerie Cooper

Charlotte Jones

Police officers

In news report:

Manoli Wetherell

Genoshan metahumans

In flashback:

Ben Grimm, Reed Richards, Johnny Storm, Sue Storm (all future Fantastic Four)

Story Notes: 

The cover pays homage to Fantastic Four (1st series) #67.

Mr. Fantastic was kidnapped by members of the Press Gang in last issue.

Prior to this issue, the X-Men’s adventures in Genosha can be found in Uncanny X-Men #235-238, the X-Tinction Agenda crossover, X-Men (2nd series) #1-3 and the Bloodties crossover.

Mr. Fantastic and the Thing fought Crucible in Stockholm in Fantastic Four (3rd series) #5.

Ayesha has previously gone by the aliases of Paragon, Her, J’Ridia Starduster and Kismet.

The flashback sequences are basically a rather altered re-telling of the origin of the team first told in Fantastic Four (1st series) #1.

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