By John Byrne

Collects Fantastic Four #241-250.

This is another classic collection: the FF and Avengers against Galactus, the FF teaming up with Dr. Doom against Zorba, the monarch of Latveria, and the FF versus Gladiator.

The first issue, “Render unto Caesar”, was a pretty weird one. There’s a powerful energy source in Africa near Wakanda and so the SHIELD sends the FF to investigate. After a meeting with the Black Panther, the FF continues their journey on foot until a group of Africans takes them captive. The Africans are mute and dressed like Roman soldiers.

Once again the FF win by using their brains more than brawn, which is always nice.

The next three issues are the classic Galactus story: in the first one, Terrax, the former Herald, battles the FF and then raises the whole of Manhattan up to space. He uses the city as hostage and tries to blackmail the FF into destroying Galactus. However, when they break into Galactus’ ship, they talk with him instead. Galactus is very low on energy and that’s why Terrax thinks that the FF can destroy him now. Of course, Galactus is still immensely powerful and takes way Terrax’s powers. Then, he needs to feed and the only suitable planet near enough is Earth. The FF and some of the Avengers have to fight him.

This is a truly classic arch and I’m amazed that it took Byrne only three issues to get all the way to Frankie Ray’s destiny. I’m also amused by the fact that Byrne is apparently an ElfQuest fan. The short theater scene is straight out of the early issues.

The next story is “Childhood’s End” where Susan is being interviewed in TV when a mysterious man attacks the other FF. This issue deals with Franklin’s powers, as well.

I’m always of a two minds when journalists are shown in comics. It’s realistic, of course, but because the FF would be (if they were real) A-list celebrities so they should be practically hounded by paparazzis all the time. So, it feels like they aren’t spotlighted enough. So, either the journalists should be ignored or the FF should be constantly showered with media attention the same way that real life celebrities are. Of course, it could become tedious quickly, so maybe these infrequent journalists are better. After all, they have other superfolk to chase after and maybe all of them aren’t as suicidal as the worst cases in comics are shown.

The next two issues are Doom-centered and some of my personal favorites: “Too Many Dooms” and “This land is mine!” Doom is always entertaining and here we see another side of him: the monarch who loves his country.

The FF take Doom’s body to the Latverian embassy. However, another Doom is already at the embassy instructing the ambassador to lure the FF into a trap. Then each of the FF members has to fight a Doombot on their own. While they are fighting, the other bots restore Doom’s mind to his real body. When the bots are defeated, the real Doom shows himself and shows the FF what their earlier meddling has caused. Under the rightful king Zorba, Latveria has succumbed to poverty and crime and only Doom can save his beloved country!

There are a lot of things going on here. First of course, there’s Doom and his love of his country and how Byrne subverts the whole “rightful king” trope; the rightful king is actually bad for the country and the usurper (Doom) has to save Latveria. Then the FF has to doubt their previous actions: could Doom be a good king after all? Finally, I love it when sworn enemies are forced to work together like the FF and Doom in this story.

The next issue is another weird science fiction one-off: “Nightmare”. The FF have been invited to Attilan for Crystal’s and Quicksilver’s daughter’s naming day (and a huge thanks for not calling it ‘christening’ by the way and for not giving the girl godparents when the real parents aren’t, you know, Christian…). Suddenly, there’s a disruption when a huge space ship tractors the whole Moon into the ship. Things get rapidly weirder.

The rest of the trade is a big fight: the FF vs. Gladiator from the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard vs. X-Men vs. Spider-Man and Captain America. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of mindless fisticuffs (but I’m not against them, as such, either or I wouldn’t be reading superhero comics in the first place) but this one I liked. Of course, I’m a fan of Gladiator.

I’ve always found Gladiator to be a fascinating character. He’s very powerful and honorable but honorable in his own way; he’s almost like a Shi’Ar Superman but one who is loyal to the throne and whoever is currently sitting on it rather than to a person. This is, technically, how it should be in democratic nations; the people should obey the office (president, prime minister, mayor…) instead of the person. Yet, at least in fiction this is still rarely the case and so, Gladiator is the exception rather than the rule. The irony is, of course, that Shi’Ar isn’t a democracy but a monarchy.

Overall: many enjoyable stories here.