Marvel's first family has been through the wringer, lately. They've lost, well, almost everything. Watching them fall apart has been engrossing as hell; which is why it's disconcerting to see things slip back into place for them… with little to no effort. (Spoilers follow.)
The issue starts with Wyatt Wingfoot and Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, dangling Johnny Storm off a skyscraper. They seem to hold a two-man intervention on Johnny. Intervention for what, you ask? Well, since he lost his powers, Johnny has spent a lot of time hanging with his fans, at bars. Drinking. The intervention feels out of place, and more than a bit wrong:
A) Johnny has a lot of free time on his hands.
B) He's ridiculously popular, so hanging with his fans seems like a natural outlet.
C) We've seen zero negative effects to his drinking. No hangovers, no violent outbursts, no drunk driving, no lapses in judgment. No impact on his health. Johnny's essentially been having a well-deserved good time. Wyatt and Spidey are concerned about him as if he's falling off the deep end.
The other part that doesn't really work here, is that if it is an intervention, it works far too easily. Johnny turns things around immediately, to the effect of, "Welp, guess I'm done drinking and partying." (Not an actual quote.)
It bugged me. Anyway.
Johnny visits Ben in prison, and they patch things up, again with no effort. They're back to being pals without so much as an apology from either of them. Johnny mentions never-before-divulged information that the Puppet Master's body has gone missing. (More on that in a bit.)
Grimm visits Flint Marko, the Sandman. In what is the genuinely sweetest moment in the comic (one of the best so far this series), we learn that Ben has been sending care packages to Flint's daughter. In typical manly fashion, Grimm "[doesn't] know what you're talking about." Daww. Sand and Stone begin hatching a break-out scheme. About. Damn. Time.
Latveria has taken a beating, following a disastrous visit from Sue Richards. (FF Annual #1) Sue tried and failed to bring her three year old daughter under control, who left some time ago to stay with her godfather… Doctor Doom. Now, when absolutely nothing has changed, Valeria Richards up and changes her mind. She decides her mom needs her after all, and takes off.
This comes out of nowhere. The only explanation for it is timing. As in, this is the part of the plot where the heroes rally together. It would work better for me if there had been any catalyst for Valeria to change her mind. She already knew, when she saw her mom, that her Malice personality might be coming back to the fore. Literally the only thing that's happened has been the passage of time.
The scene's main redeeming factor comes in Doom's admission to himself that the girl was getting "tiresome". Valeria is a genius, but for all her smarts, she's still a self-righteous three year old. Doom has plans of his own— he intends to take the altruistic steps Valeria kicked into motion, and use them to conquer the world. I'm legitimately glad to see that babysitting hasn't rubbed off on him.
And then there's the climax. Working at Eden (for John Eden), Reed Richards hasn't stopped thinking on his most spectacular failure: the disaster that unleashed hundreds or thousands of monsters on New York, spinning out into the domestic nightmare that's been the past few months.
Reed openly confronts John, saying that all the parts that failed on the dimension gate/vault/thingy came from Eden's manufacture. Whoops. Richards accuses Eden of trying to destroy his family, up until the man confesses he's not John Eden.
ZAP. Turns out the man hired to be Reed's assistant is the real John Eden, who's masterminded the FF's downfall for one simple reason. "I hate you." Without batting an eye, Eden asks Iron Man to obliterate Reed Richards. He proceeds to wipe out the building's entire floor.
Well. I, for one, did not see that coming. But it does betray something larger at work. John Eden didn't exist in the Marvel Universe, prior to this series of the FF. To my knowledge, there's never been any mention of him. The Puppet Master, on the other hand… he's been around for decades.
A classic move in mysteries of every stripe, is to remove yourself from the pool of suspects by winding up dead. The Puppet Master died several issues ago.
Let's back up a step to the archer that attacked Wyatt at the end of the last issue. He's in jail— thanks to Spidey— and still insists that he's Hawkeye. (That's pretty much all he'll say.) He looks like Clint Howard, but Spidey confirms that the Big H is off Avenging with the Avengers.
This MO screams 'Puppet Master' to me. He could have come up with a makeshift Hawkeye. He could whip up a fairly decent Iron Man on the fly. He could find a legitimate genius like John Eden (I'm guessing), and build an empire of scientific endeavor worthy of hiring Reed Richards when the time is right. I don't think John Eden is in his right mind. [Creepily singing] There are some strings on him…
Anyway. That's my two cents. I hope you've enjoyed the review, and that you pick up the comic. This wasn't their strongest work, but it is part of a larger arc that's been very satisfying, so far. I intend to see it through.
Casey Jones is a writer and voice-over artist. He's taking part in NaNoWriMo, because he is a glutton for punishment.