What If... The Fantastic Four had Different Super Powers? (Vol. 1, #6)
Face front, true believers! It's time for another senses-shattering saga. This is the first in a trilogy (or maybe more, but I can only readily recall three): "What if the Fantastic Four had [blank] powers?" That blank is filled by, in order, "Different", "No", and "the Same" (as in, they all have the same power). Watch out for those, because they're coming up soon!
Anyway, this is one of my favorite What If...?
s. I think this issue perfectly illustrates the best part of the concept, while at the same time exemplifying perhaps the only downside - we're never going to see this
awesome team's adventures again!
This cover's a right doozy, although there's a few errors that I can identify. The regular FF faces off against this issue's alternate FF, each member facing their counterpart. Invisible Girl contends with the stretching Ultra-Woman! The Human Torch comes to blows with the mechanical Mandroid! Mr. Fantastic endures a psionic assault from the cerebral Big Brain! And the Thing goes all out against the airborne Dragonfly! Dragonfly angrily shouts that "Right now, there's two
Ben Grimms... but in a minute, there's only gonna be one
!" The Thing finishes the thought: "Yeah, and it'll be me
, 'cause you'll be dead
Sadly, Covers Always Lie
. Though both teams are in the story, they never even meet one another, much less fight to the death. Still, it's a great cover, despite those errors I mentioned (On the cover, only Mandroid's arms and legs are metallic rather than his entire body, and they're golden instead of steel. That, and Big Brain seems to be levitating under his own power, which as you'll see he's not capable of in the story)
Anyway, let's get on with the show. The Watcher introduces us to the normal FF, who are foiling a bank robbery. The Thing's really cheesed because there's a movie he wanted to see on, and now he's missing it! I should probably mention that the Thing is one of my favorite superheroes, after Daredevil and Ghost Rider, and this is part of the reason why. Despite appearances, he's a normal hump. Anyway, everyone gets to show off their powers. After that's finished, Johnny gets to wondering... what if their powers were different?
We then get a ridiculously unnecessary recap of the FF's origin. I'm sure you're all familiar with it - unshielded rocket bombarded by cosmic rays, emergency landing, fantastic super powers. Anyway, the Watcher tells us that the cosmic rays' effects were far from random, acting on the unconscious minds
of the fated four! Sue felt herself a background player with no presence, so she became the Invisible Girl. Johnny was an energetic hothead, hence the Human Torch. Reed would stretch himself to any lengths for his work, thus becoming Mr. Fantastic. Ben was a big guy and a little rough around the edges, making him the craggy Thing.
It's here that the Watcher takes us to a new reality - where the cosmic rays had a slightly different effect by acting on other
character traits and unconscious desires. It is here that our story begins in earnest. The cosmic rays hit the rocket, and Reed immediately starts reeling from a killer headache. It feels like his skull's about to burst! Johnny feels an odd stillness in his body, as his insides feel hard, and cold. Ben lie on the ground, complaining of a searing pain in his back. Thankfully, the ship's autopilot manages an emergency landing in a vacant field.
Sue helps Johnny out, but remarks that he's feeling heavier by the minute. He tells her to lay off, because it's getting pretty hard for him to walk. Sue asks if Ben is alright, and he, well, lies. Sue and Johnny notice something: they've lost Reed! Meanwhile, Ben's pain reaches its crescendo as he thinks about the macho facade he's putting up in spite of the horrible agony he's in. Suddenly, large, leathery wings sprout from his back! Suddenly free of pain, he starts flying, shocking Johnny and Sue. The more he flies, the more he likes it. He stays airborne for a full minute, getting used to his new ability. He touches down on the ground again, smiling.
Johnny can't believe his eyes. Ben's turned into some freak, and he's actually enjoying it! As he lectures Ben, his body becomes shiny — metal! Funnily enough, just as he becomes fully metal, he's talking about how he's just fine being human. Apparently he's unconsciously aware of his new robotic state, because he vows to wipe the grin off Ben's face - with an uprooted tree! Sue stretches to Johnny's side, binding him in her arms before she realizes that she's also developed strange new abilities. Johnny's the first to notice that they'd all forgotten about Reed, but just as he raises the subject the ship explodes. Ben and Johnny try to comfort Sue, because No One Could Survive That
. Or... could they? They hear Reed's voice, but not with their ears... it's as though he were inside their heads!
As if compelled by an otherworldly force, they lurch toward the crater left by the explosion, where they find a somewhat large brain on the ground. It's Reed! Commanding Ben to pick him up (and promising he'll never do anything like that again), he expresses his intention to use his mental powers to guide the other three in an effort to help mankind. Ben's been calling Reed "Big Brain" throughout the story, and if the shoe fits... meanwhile, Ben chooses the name "Dragonfly", Johnny decides to go by "Mandroid", and after deciding "Rubber Girl" sounded lame, Sue goes with "Ultra-Woman".
The Watcher's back, explaining to us how these are also Personality Powers
. Ben is an Air Force pilot who loves to fly - so he got wings. Reed is a brilliant scientist, so he became nothing but a powerful brain. Johnny is a mechanic who loves cars and electronics, so he turned into a robot. And Sue's meek personality caused her to bend to the will of others, hence the stretching powers of Ultra-Woman.
Guided by Big Brain
, they defend the Earth now as the Fantastic Four! I'd like to mention something I don't really understand about this, though - why call themselves the Fantastic Four when only three of them are ever seen by the public or directly fight bad guys? I'm not saying they should be the Terrific Three or anything, because that wouldn't be truthful, I'm just wondering why a non-Notable Numeral
name wasn't used in this case. Still, that's a fairly minor hole in the story, I guess.
Sometime later, after dark in New York's Natural History Museum, a theft is being carried out. The desired object? A jeweled necklace once belonging to none other that Edward Teach, the infamous Blackbeard! The leader of the thieves is an odd creature, a ghoulish reptile man. He remarks upon grabbing the necklace that all is going as his master planned it. Too bad for him, then, that his master hadn't planned on the interference of the Fantastic Four! Dragonfly swoops down from above, grabbing the necklace and conking the lizardman on the head. As he does so, he thinks about how much that can hurt - sometimes he wishes he was strong like Mandroid. Meanwhile, Ultra-Woman entangles lizardman's goons, taking special care to separate them from their guns.
One of them says the FF doesn't have a prayer - because they've got a demon on their side! He's referring to the lizard guy, who I'm just going to call Demon from now on. Mandroid resents the implication that he can't take out a wimpy Demon, but doesn't account for the creature's deceptive speed, resulting in a face full of Eye Beams
! He's pinned down - whatever that beam is, it's slowing down his internal mechanisms. Dragonfly tries to give the Demon a Tap on the Head
, but due to a combination of the creature's Hard Head
and his normal human strength, it accomplishes nothing. The Demon turns to Dragonfly, giving him a vicious left hook and taking back the necklace. Enthralled by the treasure, the Demon is momentarily off his guard. Ultra-Woman takes advantage, tossing a wicked punch from a wide, elastic arc, knocking the Demon over and the necklace out of his hands.
The Demon's flabbergasted. He had no idea there were mere mortals with this kind of power! Convinced fighting the three of them at once is a fool's errand, he disappears in a puff of smoke, returning to his infernal home. Johnny still doesn't quite believe it was a real demon, but the important thing is that he's gone and the necklace is safe. Unbeknownst to the FF, however, a mysterious hooded figure watches them from afar. It's that dastardly villain, Dr. Doom! The Watcher momentarily laments that some elements on this world developed more or less identically - such as this one.
Evidently, the heist was of Doom's design, and he's furious. Not for another year will the heavens align in such a manner for him to summon another obedient demon - and he's not one for waiting! For the record, it appears his sole motive in desiring Blackbeard's treasure is so he can appreciate it in his private collection. He admits, that while their meddling enrages him, he's intrigued by the three who foiled his plot. If they can take on a demon, maybe he should get them
to get the necklace for him! Doom retreats to his laboratory, hoping to learn more of the interlopers via his unique combination of science and sorcery!
To his surprise, four
images are conjured up by his arcane chants... The fourth not of a human face, but a living brain! He now realizes that these must be the Fantastic Four that he's heard about. Ah, so I guess Big Brain's involvement is public knowledge despite his role as a coordinator. Anyway, his divination yields further information... images of titanic tussles with the Miracle Man, Mole Man, Skrulls, and "that pompous prince", the Sub-Mariner! Still, he's curious about this brain character, and intensifies his focus - until he's met with the visage of his most hated enemy, Reed Richards! Now we get a little origin recap for Dr. Doom, which I won't insult you by talking about. There's a funny moment here where Doom grabs an action figure that looks like Richards and pops its head off with is thumb. The Hell was that about?
Soon, we see the Baxter Building. Big Brain travels throughout the complex by way of pneumatic tubes. Though he appreciates the mobility, he can't help but be jealous of the others - at least they still look human (for the most part)! That reminds him, he should check on them with is viewscreens. He sees Dragonfly being hounded by fans, eventually forced to take to the skies to escape. "Sheesh!
It ain't easy bein' the idol of millions!" Haw! That's one of the Thing's classic catchphrases - but here it's not meant as a joke!
Anyway, Big Brain then takes a look at what Johnny, his "once-future brother-in-law", is up to. Mandroid is checking out the merchandise at a local electronics store, where he weathers insults from another customer before leaving in a huff - though only after he exhibited one of his lesser known powers: the empathic ability to operate any machine! He turns on all the stereos in the store and sets them to full blast, giving that bully a real earful.
Ultra-Woman, meanwhile, is at a local playground, where she wistfully watches children at play. She wishes there was still something between her and Reed... or that there could
be, even! The more time she spends with Ben, the fonder she grows of him instead! Back at the Baxter Building, Big Brain laments that he still loves Sue, and imagines the only reason he hasn't gone insane is the fact that he's been keeping himself occupied - between keeping an eye on his teammates and maintaining the Baxter Building, he's always busy. Emergency lights flash - there's an intruder in the building!
It's Dr. Doom. And what's more, he knows Big Brain's true identity! He proposes a way that he could help him. Doom claims to be a master of robotics, and says he can create a humanoid form to house Reed's consciousness. Big Brain actually declines! Odd as it may seem, he's gotten used to his new life, and considers the Baxter Building to be a suitable body. Realistically, Doom's idea would only limit his abilities compared to his current arrangement!
Doom tries to take a different tack, then. "If you will forgive my boldness
, Richards, do you never long for the simple pleasures
in life?" Pleasures not
denied the rest of the team? Reed plays a Straw Vulcan
, but Doom can see through his lies. He may have lost his human body, but he retains a human soul
, with its capacity to feel
, to envy
, and, indeed, to love
. Doom points Reed to his own viewscreen, where he sees Sue, Johnny, and Ben together. Johnny comments about how hard it is to get a private moment, and Ben agrees. Being crowded all the time is a huge hassle. And you know what they say about crowds, right Johnny? "What they
say? I don't dig you, Ben... unless you mean about three
being a-" "Hey! You ain't so dense after all!" Johnny can take a hint, and goes to the Baxter Building. Ben actually tells him to go "give yourself a nice lube job
", which I can't help but take as extremely
filthy and insulting.
Doom asks if Reed is truly without envy after seeing that, and Reed's still dumbstruck by Sue and Ben's clearly burgeoning relationship. "Losing the woman I love has been the only
loss I've never conquered!" Doom promises that he can make Reed whole again, give him a new body with which to win back the woman he loves. Reed acquiesces, and Doom places him in the container he uses to travel - for now they away to Dr. Doom's laboratory in grim Latveria! Reed warns that being away from the building is a strain on his powers, but Doom assures him the flight won't be long thanks to his personal jet.
Johnny sees Doom loading Reed's canister onto his jet, and assumes the worst. The thing is, he's right! Doom has switched on a "cerebro-shield" preventing Reed from communicating with anyone, and blasts Mandroid with a forceful beam from his gauntlet. He's now abandoned all pretexts of wishing to help Big Brain, attacking Mandroid without reservation - knocking him unconscious with a dizzying blow that tosses him into the wall! He reveals his precise identity to Big Brain, having to this point only introduced himself as "a doctor". As Doom's plane takes off, Mandroid comes to. Weak, but desperate, he attaches a tracer device to the jet as it leaves. This accomplished, he shuts down...
And eventually awakes in bed! No, it wasn't All Just a Dream
, thankfully. Seeing Sue and Ben standing over him, he gives them the 411. Doom? Ben knows that creep! He tells them about his encounters with Doom in college, before Mandroid relays his
encounter with Doom just today! The FF heads for Latveria in their Pogo Plane, but on the way, Dragonfly wonders... is Sue really in love with him, or is he just her silver medal because she can't have a meaningful relationship with Reed?
Meanwhile, in Latveria, Doom reveals his plan. Big Brain is the greatest mind the world has ever known - and Doom would use him to power his time machine. In the process, this would destroy what remains of his humanity. Finally, Dr. Doom will have his revenge! An alarm sounds - intruders approach! Hidden sentry guns strike the Pogo Plane, forcing the team to bail out. The trio note that after the plane was shot down, the castle's defenses seemed to simply... stop. Dragonfly suspects it's a trap, but they can't just abandon Reed! At a crossroads, the team splits up to cover more ground.
Ultra-Woman reaches a room with calls that close in on her! Desperately searching for any opening to slip through, the room starts flooding with wet concrete! A quick thinker, she makes herself super-thin and navigates through the air pockets of the hardening concrete, eventually escaping through a tiny crack in one of the doors. Though she's relieved to be safe, she can only worry about Dragonfly and Mandroid.
Dragonfly, meanwhile, is worrying about her! And how things will turn out once - or maybe if
- they rescue Big Brain. Suddenly, he comes across a peril all his own in a room where metal rods extend from the walls! He uses his unparalleled speed and agility in the air to evade them, leaving the room unscathed.
Still elsewhere, Mandroid thinks he's doing alright. He's been walking through corridors for a while now and nothing's happened. "Maybe we overrated
this Doom guy and — Uh oh! Guess again, Mandy!
" My feet
— they're magnetized to the floor!
" Then, the walls of the corridor slide up to reveal giant studded rollers coming at him from both sides! He manages to hold them in place, but at no small strain on his mechanisms... if he has to do this for much longer, he'll go to scrap! But if he can just hold on for a little bit, he can... yes! He absorbed the energy that powered the rollers - magnetic
energy. Reversing the polarity to repel them, the Mandroid walks free!
Moments later, the team re-unites, having boldly faced challenges unlike any they'd seen before. As they continue to make their way through the castle, Doom taunts Reed as he prepares seal his fate. But Reed doesn't answer back - has the Big Brain given up! Hardly; he's been mustering up every last ounce of mental energy he can manage so he could unleash them on Doom at full force! As Doom prepares to counter-attack by switching on the cerebro-shield, he's interrupted by Mandroid smashing into his lab! The FF is together again as Big Brain's teammates, his family
rush to his aid. Dragonfly's in Hawkman
mode by this point, having acquired a mace from somewhere in the castle. Unfortunately, it doesn't so much as scratch Doom's armor!
Mandroid thinks this isn't a big deal - because he and Ultra-Woman have their own tricks up their sleeves! Doom pretty much dares them to try whatever they're thinking of.. if they can! He unleashes a torrent of energy at them, knocking them across the room. Mandroid wishes he knew what kind of energy he was throwing at them so he could absorb it. Ultra-Woman is knocked out by the force when she tries to cushion her brother's fall. Things aren't looking so hot for our heroes!
However, the momentary diversion of Doom's attention is all Dragonfly needs to get to Reed. He can't lift Big Brain's case, but maybe with that mace he'll be able to break it! But Dr. Doom shoots him with a ray gun before he can get the chance! Mandroid thinks it's high time Doom went the distance against someone who's metal on the inside
, too! Doom tires of Mandroid's antics, but as a robotics expert he's interested in the prospect of dismantling him to see what makes him tick!
Johnny learned his lesson from before. This time, he goads Doom to make the first strike - and punches Doom's fist with all his might! Doom's armor is partially busted, but Mandroid lost his whole right arm to the elbow from the force. He wants to finish this fight man to man. Doom agrees - and shocks Mandroid with lightning hurled from his other arm! However, by now Ultra-Woman has revived, and this time It's Personal
! Well, moreso than last time, at least.
This is a pretty nice touch. While fighting Ultra-Woman mano-a-mano, Doom thinks about how much he hates having to raise his hand to a woman. I guess nobody's all bad, right? But as Dr. Doom knocks the still-dazed Ultra-Woman around, Big Brain is roused to action, literally pulsating with rage! He unleashes a psychic attack that puts Doom in such horrible pain as to be completely unbearable... but Dr. Doom won't be beaten that easily! Struggling, he reaches for his control panel to activate a Self Destruct Sequence
A figure rises from the ash, but in spite of how it appears, it's Reed Richards - his consciousness now held in Dr. Doom's body! Changing his hero name to "Mr. Fantastic" after a comment Sue made upon seeing his new body, he leads the Fantastic Four in defending the Earth thereafter.
The Watcher ends the tale, and addresses the burning question: Will They or Won't They?
? Now that he has a body, could Sue come to love Reed's scarred face? He quotes Thomas Lynch, saying "A strong and beautiful soul will show
itself as such, though its body
be feeble, sick, or ungraceful." I take this to mean "probably", but that's just me. Anyway, he says it's their choice to make - he, after all, is an impartial observer.
SO IT WAS ON THIS WORLD. BUT WHAT IF...?