by Jason McDonald and Mike Shirley
Assistant Editor: Jason McDonald
in Chief: David Ellis
From Reed Richards' private journal, 20th century
First contact with an alien race is rarely a walk in the proverbial park.
The first alien I'd ever encountered was an enormous, irritable green creature named Gormuu of Kraalo. His mission was to conquer Earth; I had to outwit and defeat him. His appearance shortly before my infamous spaceflight had three notable repercussions: it increased my desperation to complete the project so I could find out what other menaces to Earth awaited in space, it frightened the government enough to cut my spaceship funding, and it set the stage for my future dealings with hostile aliens.
My next encounter with extraterrestrials occurred shortly after the formation of the Fantastic Four. A quartet of Skrulls used their shapeshifting abilities to masquerade as and discredit us through a series of daring crimes. Furious that they were on the verge of destroying the celebrity status my Four had only recently built, I resorted to my own brand of deception. I convinced the Skrull armada that Earth was defended by a menagerie of monsters that were actually comic book characters, and I hypnotized three of the imposters (the fourth had escaped) into believing they were mere cattle.
In retrospect, I can see why Sue, Ben, and Johnny gave me funny looks afterward.
Still, I have to admit there was a measure of wounded pride involved in my solution to the Skrull problem. I must be careful of any mistrust in alien species, as it may soon develop into a xenophobia that could damage my future dealings with extraterrestrials. I cannot allow that to happen. The Fantastic Four must be vigilant against threats against Earth, but we cannot overreact.
The Negative Zone, The Year 2099
"Stark-Fujikawa HQ to Station Four. Repeat, Stark HQ to Station Four. We have a situation. A horde of ... creatures just invaded this place, and they're out for blood! Watchdogs are holding them off, but I'd really appreciate it if you Four showed up here before they reach my office! I just had it painted!"
That message had been uttered by Evan Krieger shortly after the invasion began, but it was too little, too late.
The sudden arrival of seven bullet-shaped vessels the size of twentieth-century city buses had blindsided everyone at Stark-Fujikawa's Negative Zone headquarters. Each vessel had plowed right into a different section of the office-building-like structure, causing the Zone's toxic atmosphere to flood in and corrupt the carefully-maintained air within.
The Earth-based corporation had waged a brutal war against the Zone's indigenous species, so the headquarters and other buildings had been heavily reinforced to withstand gargantuan amounts of punishment and keep the interior environment breathable to humans. This architecture practice had been kept up even after the war, when there were apparently no more natives left to fight. Not that it really made much of a difference now; under the assault, it all still caved like a house of cards.
The only section that was spared the initial impacts was the top office section, but only momentarily.
Krieger, the Zone's appointed head bureaucrat, had been in the middle of biting into a submarine sandwich when the vessels hit and the building was shaken by what felt like a six on the Richter scale. The sheer force and volume of the impact had almost caused him to swallow the hoagie whole. The four security guards stationed in the office with him were startled as well, and they drew their weapons as Krieger checked the security monitors for the rest of the building.
He saw devastation. The bullet-shaped vessels had ravaged the building's interior and mowed down bystanders before melting into puddles of silvery liquid to release bizarre-looking creatures on the surviving workers. They brandished odd weapons that spat out blades of energy at the approaching Watchdog guards. The armed Watchdogs managed to down a few of the creatures, but not enough.
In fact, because the vessels' entry had created gaping holes in the building's exterior, it became a perverse contest to see what would drop the Watchdogs first: the creatures' savagery or the Negative Zone's poisoned atmosphere. Most of the faster-thinking guards managed to don their breathing masks in time only to have them ripped off by the creatures a moment later.
As the quartet of guards in his office steeled themselves for the creatures' inevitable march, Krieger pressed a button to open an emergency channel to every Stark-Fujikawa installation, starship, and flunky on record. Then he made a special, separate call specifically to the Fantastic Four's Station 4 headquarters. As soon as he finished shouting, "I just had it painted," all hell broke loose in the office.
To their credit, the Watchdog guards in the office lasted half a minute against the enraged beings, while the portly executive hid behind his desk and watched in a horror-induced stupor. But the fight was soon over, and then it was just Krieger and the intruders.
They were a diverse bunch, some larger than Krieger, while others were smaller than the average human. Half of them looked vaguely insectoid; another substatial portion looked like odd crosses between spiders and squirrels; one had a long slender form with a face like a slab of sharp metal; one was silvery and was forming itself into a barely-humanoid shape from the puddle that used to be the vessel; one was massive and brown with a bovine face and ridges of possible body armor. Surprisingly, a few of the larger, shaggier creatures looked familiar.
Krieger coughed as the Negative Zone's poisoned air seeped in. "The Mole Men?" Indeed, the hairy creatures looked like the humans that had been genetically-engineered into beasts of burden to withstand the Zone's harshest conditions.
"Yes, that is what you humans named/labeled/designated them, is it not?" the slim figure asked with a raspy voice as it and the other creatures approached him. "They are our allies/accomplices/collaborators now. Did you call/contact/communicate with them?"
Blood pooled into his burning lungs, and he coughed again, pressing a handkerchief from his suit pocket to his nose and mouth. "Call ... call who?" A massive hairy paw clamped around his throat and hoisted him off his feet. Evan Krieger was not a small man by any stretch of the imagination, but the mole man lifted him as though he weighed nothing at all.
"You KNOW who I am referring/alluding/mentioning to," the scaly one snapped. "The Fantastic Four, they are named/labeled/designated! Did you call/contact/communicate with them?"
Krieger was torn between being too frightened to answer and too afraid not to. In the end, he nodded, his face turning purple from lack of oxygen -- even the poisoned kind.
"Excellent/magnificent/outstanding," the leader spoke, then turned to the beast that held Krieger and made a surprising order. "Put him down."
The mole man let go, and Krieger was dropped on his butt. The silvery being placed a breathing mask on his face. Surprised he was still alive for the moment, Krieger gulped in large lungsful of clean air, though the effort was painful with his damaged lungs. "You're ... you're letting me live?"
"For now," the leader answered. "You are our hostage/captive/prisoner."
Krieger decided that the Four had better get their butts in gear. They were obviously too late to save his freshly-painted office, but with any luck they would be able to pull his fat out of the proverbial fire.
Johnny Storm was so nervous, he was afraid he might burst into flames.
This was of course a real threat, considering his superhuman power was to spontaneously combust. He had that in common with his twentieth-century counterpart, the Johnny Storm from whom he'd been cloned. He also shared the original's blond hair, blue eyes, killer smile, and trim physique. What he didn't inherit from his predecessor, unfortunately, was an ease with the opposite sex. That apparently had been learned conditioning rather than inborn behavior in the original Johnny Storm, and the clone had yet to learn it.
But he needed it. Boy, did he need it, considering he was chatting with two attractive co-workers in the Fantastic Four's Station Four headquarters. The two curvy blonde women -- whatever they'd said their names were -- seemed particularly interested in him, and that was worrying.
"So is it true what they say about the original Johnny Storm?" one asked. She had short chin-length hair, so Johnny thought of her as Short Hair Blonde.
"Uh, is what true?"
"That you -- or he -- always had a way with the women," the other one answered. Her hair flowed past her shoulders, but that wasn't the most memorable feature about her. Rather, Johnny thought of her as Janice, since her nametag was attached to the body part that kept drawing his attention.
"Uh, yeah, no, I guess..." Johnny stammered, wondering exactly how his predecessor could think clearly enough to be charming whilst surrounded by beautiful women. It was certainly distracting. "I mean, he did; I'm still learning," Johnny admitted, finally stringing a coherent sentence together.
The girls giggled, and Johnny chuckled as well. He was dying out here. He glanced across the room to Sue, his sister, to make sure she wasn't witnessing him fumble like a drunken football player. She was busy talking to their friend Shandra Willis, thankfully, so Johnny decided to make a break for it. "Uh, listen, it's kinda too crowded in here," he spoke, gesturing to the large break room around them that was filled to capacity with station personnel.
"Yeah, let's go someplace else," Janice agreed, grabbing Johnny's arm while her friend clutched his other arm. They practically dragged him out of the break room into the cool metal corridors beyond.
The break room and the hallway corridors, like the rest of Station 4, differed greatly from the Maintenance Flight Nine base that had once stood in its place on the immense planetoid. For one thing, the entire station was three times the size of the former base, to allow for a crew of twenty and for more equipment and vehicles.
Another difference was function: while the workers of Flight Nine had repaired equipment at nearby mining installations, Station 4's crew were dedicated to to the study and repair of the damaged Negative Zone itself.
But for the moment, the most noticeable difference between the current base and its predecessor was architecture: the Flight Nine base was had been cold, grungy, and cramped; Station 4 was warm, polished, and open.
It was also unfinished, since it was only a week into construction. Luckily, the crew had worked quickly to erect the station over the remains of the former base that had been destroyed by a laser drill operated by the hallucinating late operations chief.
Johnny appreciated the station's superior size, as it allowed him the chance to escape his two female coworkers if necessary.
"Uh, listen," he told them, "now that we're outta there, wanna go check out the upper promenade? It's got a great view...."
Janice and her sister Clarice pouted. "So do the living quarters," Janice pointed out.
"I dunno, I think it's a great idea," Clarice countered. "The promenade could be a great makeout point if used properly."
"M-makeout ... ?" Johnny stammered, leaning against the wall to steady himself as his knees went weak. The mental image was intriguing and terrifying at the same time -- intriguing because the ten-day-old clone had never kissed anyone, let alone two attractive blondes, and terrifying because the ten-day-old clone had an opportunity to make out with two attractive blondes. "So, uh, Janice ... you were saying the living quarters had a great view of the Zonescape?"
Janice's lips slid into a sly smile. "No, I meant the quarters offered a great view of us."
Johnny's jaw dropped. Then he burst into flame.
The women -- thankfully clear of the flames' reach -- squealed in surprise, but their squeals (and Johnny's apology) were drowned drowned out by the blaring alarm system. An emergency had arisen.
Silently thanking the interruption, Johnny managed to dissipate his flame aura and make a quick "duty calls" excuse before retreating to the communications center, where Ben, Sue, Reed, and the other station workers were gathering. If any of them had questions or comments about what he'd been up to with the two blondes, they thankfully kept silent.
They had other worries anyway, as it turned out Stark-Fujikawa's Zone headquarters was under attack by some weird things. Johnny found Evan Krieger's transmission hilarious, but he managed not to snicker too loudly.
Just as the Fantastic Four were about to leave for the docking bay, the employees started chanting, "do it! Do it! Do it!" Once they figured out what that meant, the FF piled their hands together in a classic teamwork gesture. Johnny truthfully didn't see the point, but he was always one to make the crowd happy or die trying.
Station 4's docking bay housed a wide variety of vehicles and machinery. Chief among them was a spacecruiser designed by Reed -- dubbed 4 Freedom, it was as sleek and fast as Stark-Fujikawa's flagships, and and as strong and sturdy as the mining ships. At least, it combined those attributes in theory; it was still three weeks from completion. ZWARP
Until that time, the Fantastic Four had to use a flagship on loan. "Still miss the Heracles," Ben groused as he and his teammates boared the Hattori, a long slender affair that might have descended from the Blackbird line of twentieth century jets. As impressive as the flagship was, he preferred Maintenance Flight Nine's resident bulky repair ship.
"Oh c'mon, Ben, the Heracles was a piece of junk," Johnny retorted, "and it blew up. This baby's much better. I mean, it actually has upholstery."
"So? The ol' ship an' me ... we bonded. That thing was easy t'control, an' it had more personality'n this luxury jet." Ben's thick rocky fingers fumbled with the flagships' delicate instrument panel.
"I still say it was a dumptruck in space," Johnny maintained fastening his seat harness. "But slower and uglier."
"What c'n I say? A pilot never forgets his first plane."
"Boys, simmer down," Sue admonished, rolling her eyes. "We have a crisis to stop and people to save; you can talk shop later."
Reed, in the co-pilots' seat, stretched his armsand fingers to manipulate the onboard controls too small for Ben to operate -- most of them, in other words. "Honestly, as far as modes of transportation are concerned, I must admit I was fascinated by Oldskool's teleportation unit. I wish Stark-Fujikawa would have let us keep it."
"But they didn't, 'cause Oldskool's dead," Ben retorted, a clear edge in his voice. "They confiscated his cyborg tech an' shipped off his body to his family." He shot Reed a pointed glare. "Glad t'know you care more about his shiny gadget than you do about him."
Reed visibly shrank from Ben's glare. "Ben ... that wasn't what I meant. You know that."
Ben scowled, turning his gaze to the Zone expanse ahead as the Hattori cleared the dock. The rest of the flight to the headquarters passed in silence.
Soon the headquarters outpost was in sight, and Ben reduced the Hattori's speed as the Four prepared for the conflict ahead. "Damn," he breathed at the sight of the impact-cratered building structure. "They hit that place hard."
"Yeah, I can't tell where the planetoid ends and the HQ begins," Johnny agreed. "If that's their idea of remodelling, I'm glad we went with different contractors for Station 4."
"Scanning the interior for activity," Reed reported, working the control panel. "Several warm bodies have been detected, but very few of them have body temperatures that register in the human range. In addition, because the exterior's been compromised, the inside has been flooded with Zone atmosphere. We're already working at a disadvantage since Zone air is toxic to us--"
"I can breathe it," Johnny reminded them. "My lungs can handle it."
"Not in huge amounts under fight conditions," Sue pointed out.
"You don't know that!"
"Neither do you, Johnny, and this is not the time to test it out!"
Reed tried to exert calm on the rising tempers. "Johnny, we've gone through the effort of making a breathing mask for you that will withstand the heat stresses of your flame aura. The least you could do is put it to use."
Johnny gave the long-suffering sigh of repressed rebels everywhere. "Yes, dad."
Sue donned a breathing mask and watched as Reed and Ben did the same. Johnny just sat there. "Well?" she demanded. "Put it on, already!"
He shrugged. "I forgot to bring it. Sorry." Removing a standard-issue mask from a compartment in the seat, he added, "and this'll just melt it I wear it in Flame-On mode."
"Sue rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Fine. If you want to go without a mask, fine. But after this mission, you're getting a full-scale medical checkup, and there is no getting out of it."
"Unless I die in battle, right?" His grin was far too cocky.
"Speakin' of the mission," Ben declared, losing patience, "we gonna do this anytime soon? An' for that matter, where're we gonna land this crate, Stretcho? I don't see a runway or landin' pad that ain't clogged with debris."
"We're going to keep this ship in a holding pattern right where it is," Reed answered matter-of-factly, and teleport inside the building."
Johnny, Ben, and Sue all stared at him as if he'd lost his mind. "How're we supposed to do all that?" Ben asked.
Reed pointed to his wrist, which bore a complex mechanism resembling a stopwatch merged with half a dozen other gizmos. "As I said before, I was fascinated by the late Oldskool's teleportation unit. So I've been making my own version in my spare time, based partly on my observations of his technology and partly on the previous Reed's research into the--"
"Just cut to the chase," Ben interrupted. "Does it work?"
"It did when I tested it this morning." The Fantastic Four's leader tapped a button sequence into his wrist into his wrist-mounted teleporter. "Admittedly, there are still a few minor bugs to be worked out..."
Ben summed up the situation nicely: "Oh, sh--"
An instant later, the Four found themselves in the headquarters' expansive main lobby. What was once poshly decorated was now horrifically scarred. The only lighting came from the kaleidoscope of lights and colors offered by the Zonescape outside. The lightshow of blues and golds shone through the reinforced windows and gaping impact holes, mingling with the thick fog of Negative Zone air for a hypnotic, ethereal effect. Bright orange was added to the mix when Johnny coughed and flamed on, his aura burning some of the poison gas from the air.
"...it," Ben finished, breathing a sigh of relief in his mask. "A little warning next time?"
"At least your teleporter worked, Reed," Sue declared helpfully.
Brow furrowed, Reed tinkered with the device. "Mmm. Not precisely. I was aiming for Evan Krieger's office on the top floor. Pinpoint accuracy is one of the aforementioned bugs."
"So ... we could've just as easily ended up in Texas instead," Johnny guessed, not liking this at all.
Ben groaned. "Anybody else feel a mutiny comin' on?"
"Uh, mutiny later, people," Sue asserted, directing their attention to the group of armed alienesque beings converging on them from the shadowed corners of the lobby. "Right now I think we have bigger problems."
Quentin Card was the first to break the silence. "D'you think they'll have any problems against the monsters, or whatever they are?" he asked Shandra Willis and the rest of the Station 4 workers. The Fantastic Four's abrupt departure in response to the distress signal had them all concerned.
Shandra, seemingly the least concerned, shrugged as she and the other workers clustered around the communications area the Four had vacated five minutes before. "Dunno ... I'm pretty sure they've made it to HQ by now. Shouldn't be too long before they have it all wrapped up."
Quentin eyed her skeptically. "So ... you're not worried?"
"Should I be? I was there when they homeschooled Paranoid Keith, and when they laid the smackdown on the SIEGE guys. Trust me, they c'n handle this."
"When they laid the what?"
"Are you sure you're not worried, Shan?" Clarice Berg inquired, peering over their shoulders. "I mean, you're really close friends with them, right? Especially Sue Storm?"
Shandra turned to glare at her squeaky-voiced co-worker. "First, it's 'Shandra', not 'Shan'. Second, I'm worried but I'm not that worried. They can take care of themselves."
Quentin punched commands and coordinates into the console, bringing up an image of the HQ's devastated exterior on the main viewscreen. "Wow, that place has seen better days, ladies and gents," he commented. "FF's flagship's parked out front, but it looks like the real action's inside. So, here's the word problem: if the action's inside, and the surveillance cams are encrypted so only high-level Stark-Fujis can access them, how do we score a pay-per-view feed, minus the pay?"
Shandra glanced sidelong at him. "Well, obviously if we're masochistic and/or stupid, we risk thermonuclear amounts of heat and--"
"Shhh. Rhetorical question. We ghost the system. Watch me work." Quentin cracked his knuckles, preparing to glide his fingers across the touch-screen like a synth-instrument.
"Card, I'm going to have to advise against that," Jack Bostwick, the station's financial liaison, stated in his usual monotone. It was clear he was upset, because he was on a last-name basis with everyone but skipped the "Mr.", "Ms.", or other similar honoriffics when pissed. "Hacking into a corporate security system, I shouldn't have to remind you, is subject to a death sentence. For starters.
"Hence why I used the words 'masochistic' and 'stupid'," Shandra added. It was the absolute first time in history that Shandra and Bostwick had agreed on anything.
"It can be done," Quentin insisted. "Betcha a month's pay it can be done."
"Of course it c'n be done, but not easily, and not without gettin' caught and S-F playing 'Deliverance' with our collective butts."
Quentin wouldn't back down. "It can be ghosted without the net coming down. I'm positive."
"D'you know how?"
Shandra puffed out her cheeks and blew stray bangs away from her eyes. The gauntlet had been thrown.
The Fantastic Four ran the gauntlet of hostile creatures at the headquarters. Their battle had started in the lobby and made its way down a long dark corridor, where more creatures joined in.
"Okay, who keeps ordering the really ugly things?" Johnny inquired as he fired jets of flame at them to keep them at bay.
"What's you expect, Bic-Head?" Ben retorted as he waded into the sea of claws, teeth, and weaponry. "The Swedish Bikini Team was gonna overrun this place and take hostages?"
"It'd be nice," Johnny muttered as he spotted a trio of S-F workers. "And speaking of hostages...."
"Curious," Reed spoke, his elastic body stretched, twisted, and contorted to evade the sizzling energy beams. "These beings are likely native to the Negative Zone, but they conform to no Zone-born xenoculture of which my predecessor was aware. And I'd thought the original Mr. Fantastic had catalogued them all."
"Worry about that later," Sue's disembodied voice echoed over the noise. True to her codename, the Invisible Woman had rendered herself unseen. A moment later, Johnny noticed the S-F workers vanishing as well.
A quartet of large shaggy beasts surrounded Ben, lancing his thick armored hide with their energy weapons. "Ow! Hey! What're you hittin' me -- gah! -- with? That stuff hurts!" Ben grabbed one beast by the scruff of its neck and slammed it into the one next to it. Grasping the third's energy weapon -- which looked like a cattle prod designed by Pablo Picasso during a week-long meth binge -- he twisted it like a pretzel around the hairy creature. "There, now y'can't hurt nobody." He took a closer look at it. "Hey, waitasec ... I saw pictures of you the other day. You're one of those 'Mole Men', aintcha?"
Countless more energy beams drilled into Ben's back, driving him to his knees. "Torch, Stretcho -- what're you waitin' for?"
Johnny and Reed descended on the warriors, moving with surgical precision now that they'd had a chance to regroup. Johnny melted their weapons with concentrated flame bursts; Reed hammered them with oversived fists and corralled them with outstretched arms.
"Relax, big guy," Johnny answered, surrounding the native creatures with rings of fire once Reed withdrew. "We've got these uglies under--"
The insectoid beings screamed, filling the corridor with a racket that sounded like a cross between nails on a chalkboard and an electrical surge.
The Human Torch's flame dissipated as he fell to the hard floor, covering his ears. Ben and Reed dropped in similar fashion, and the natives scrambled to seize the opportunity. The mole men returned to Ben and attempted to pin him to the floor, while the two spider-squirrels attended to Johnny and Reed, and two silver-skinned humanoids raced to one end of the hallway where a pained Sue and her three rescuees writhed on the floor and glitched in and out of invisibility.
The two insectoids continued screaming, rendering the Fantastic Four unable to do much of anything.
Johnny gritted his teeth as he looked up at the spider-squirrel standing over him. It was even uglier up close, with fur all over its body, spindly legs emerging like long fingers from a small round body, four large round eyes arranged in on its head in stacked rows of two, and segmented jaws that resembled a spider's mandibles. It drooled a thick purple liquid. That last part was really gross, and Johnny panicked as a long stream of drool hung from a jaw and dropped toward him.
Johnny burst into flames again, causing the spider-squirrel to squeal and leap off him, its ablaze. This development distracted the other creatures, including the insectoids. If Johnny regretted setting the spider-squirrel on fire, he was relieved the insectoid air raid siren had ceased.
"'Bout time," Ben grunted, shoving the mole men off him. "Looks like what this party needs is a little bit o' the 'Sweet Science'."
"Astrophysics?" Reed inquired, scooping up the cattle-prod energy weapons to keep them away from the opposition.
"Naw, I meant boxing," Ben clarified, putting up his dukes and throwing his weight behind a punch that sent the mole man sprawling. "'Astrophysics'?" he mumbled. "Where'd he get that one from?"
He reared back to paste another shaggy customer ... but he hesitated. The brutes still standing grabbed his arms, trying to tear him apart.
The unsinged spider-squirrel spit its thick purple saliva at Johnny, whose flame only managed to evaporate some of it. The rest of the substance splashed on his uniform and skin, scalding hot. Since being scalded and being burned was different from being burned, Johnny's powers couldn't fully protect his skin from the resulting splatter of steaming liquid. And his power was absolutely useless against the saliva's primary effect: either the drool contained a powerful drug, or lawn gnomes with baseball bats really were growing from the walls.
A wave of exhaustion slammed into him, and Johnny sank to his knees, his flame dissipating once more. He glanced at Reed -- who shapelessly onto the floor as if he'd also been splashed with the same spider-drool -- and Sue, whose location was evident by the silvery creature using long bladelike arm formations against the thin air that was probably her forcefield. "Ben ... little help?" Johnny shouted, voice hoarse, throat dry.
Ben shrugged off the mole men pulling at his arms, slamming them against the corridor walls before returning his attention to the third brute, who was recovering from Ben's previous punch.
The Thing clasped his hands together, raised his thick arms above his head and prepared to drive the creature into the floor.
"Nnnnnoooo...!" the creature bellowed, sounding almost ... human. It was human, Ben remembered. Indeed, it cowered meekly from Ben, like a pet that feared a beating. Or worse, like a human slave who feared abuse. Red blood trickled from its forehead.
"I ... I'm sorry," Ben whispered, staring at his hands. They were large, craggy, and thick-fingered, but they trembled all the same.
"Ben," Reed slurred, "what're you...?"
"C'mon, man," Johnny added. "Pull it ... t'getherrr...."
Benjamin J. Grimm stumbled backward against the bulkhead, sliding down into a sitting position, still staring at his knuckles.
The native warriors converged on him.
Before Johnny passed out, the last thing he heard was Ben's whisper, "...I'm not a monster."
Then it was down to Sue.
TO BE CONTINUED
Hey gang (gawd, I promised myself I'd never sound like Freddy from "Scooby Doo")!* * *
Now that the first issue of this here Fantastic Four 2099UGR ongoing series has been released, we're dyin' to hear what you folks think of it! But for the moment, feedback's been great on #4 of the mini-series, so this issue's lettercol will be devoted to responses to that issue.
The first letter is from Rena, who's a devoted fan of FF 2099 if her past e-mails have been any indication:
Was that ever great!! Wow... I don't know where to start, God can you ever write! Plot, pacing, dialogue, characterization, the mix of humor, everything. Again, I don't want to repeat myself or overly gush, but I have to say that this is the greatest writing of the FF I have seen outside of the best FF comic issues. Now I've got your ongoing series along with Lost to look forward to in September lol. Going to be a long wait.
Heh, well, my prediction for a September release was obviously a month off, but better late than never, right?
Some thoughts. First I liked your reference to Reed saving Galactus's life in the latest journal. The Trial of Galactus TPB I read a few years ago remains my favorite FF story arc with Terrax, Nova, fighting Galactus at the World Trade Center, etc. (as well as my favorite FF art) and aside from saving earth so many times Reed saving Galactus from death was probably the most important thing he's ever done or maybe ever will do, and the magnitude of it would weigh on him, especially a man with his intellect who can even more deeply appreciate his actions and their consequences. Why he saved Galactus though I was never totally clear on, and as I got to become more familiar with Galactus from other stories I was more confused. Now I know the trial of Reed when Eternity came made it clear that Reed's actions were correct, that Galactus is a necessary cosmic force, but that wasn't known to Reed at the time, was it? So how could he in good conscience save Galactus when it meant condemning trillions of people's lives to death in the process, and potentially endangering his own world. I understand how he could feel sympathy for Galactus, and definitely be very scientifically curious about him, but why he would let this override what would be clearly the greater moral good in Galactus's demise doesn't make sense to me, or for that matter why all the other heroes like Captain America and Tony Stark went along with Reed's gamble. Cap especially, who hugely values life and goes to great pains to never kill still knows there are extreme times when its an absolute must, like when he slew the vampire Baron Blood. Dr. Strange who was also present might have had an inkling to Galactus's cosmic importance and value, but Reed didn't. To Reed, while this was an amazingly unique entity, the World Devourer was nevertheless still an unapologetic mass murderer, or rather maybe not much different than a dangerous animal that unfortunately needs to be put down. Did Reed maybe just beyond his intellect, intuitively grasp that it was the right thing to do? A calculated risk like stealing the ship that got them their powers, his instincts just told him was right in his gut? I never used to think of Reed as someone who much goes with instincts but someone of his genius may have really, really good ones, and/or unconsciously he figures things out that he's not quite consciously aware of maybe? How you have him there in the journal, he's reflecting on this and I guess he doesn't even know entirely himself. Is that right?
Yeah, that's definitely it, Rena. Choosing to save Galactus' life was a HUGE decision, one that had serious consequences no matter what he chose. Reed was second-guessing himself in his journal, as he's prone to do. For a man with as much intellect as Reed has, he's still driven by a lot of gut instinct (which is necessary if he's going to have a career as an explorer), so the pull between those two aspects of his character provides quite a bit of driving conflict within Reed.
The great thing with the clone concept is there can be a lot of examination of the originals that shed more light and understanding on their characters, which you did very well with Reed and Sue particularly. I have so far loved what you've come up with and your creative choices. I agree that the introduction of Doom ought to be an event like a big cross-over mini maybe, but unlike Marvel with an emphasis more on a good story warranting it, rather than just a commercial gimmick lol. I'll look forward to this, maybe some time next year I guess?
Well, as you've already seen, one attempt at revisiting Doom unfortunately fell through, but I promise he still has a presence in the 2099verse.
I was sorry to see OldSkool get killed, although which at the same time was good since I didn't expect it. I would like to see more of him again though definitely. I had looked forward to seeing him as a companion to the FF, but I guess that will be Shandra. Shandra is alright, but sorry, I do not want to see her get into a relationship romantically with Sue. I'm not prejudice or anything; I loved Willow and Tara on Buffy, but the Invisible Woman becoming a lesbian just doesn't work for me. At least not at first thought. Although yeah, it would go very well for the clones evolving a bit beyond the characters we know, as the door is interestingly more than left open for them all to do.
Yeah, Oldskool's death scene wasn't pleasant to write, because I truly came to care about the character, and his murder was abrupt. But it leads to interesting themes being explored in the ongoing, since Ben was the one who'd accidentally killed him. As you've seen in this issue, that event weighs heavily on Ben's psyche, and it affects (and will continue to affect) the way he sees himself and others.
Regarding the issue of Sue's sexuality: please note that while I revealed in #4 that Shandra Willis is a lesbian, I didn't make any such revelations about Sue. Future issues will explore Shandra's dynamic with Sue, and hopefully in ways that will surprise people.
Finally, placing the series in the Negative Zone is a good idea and the way you set it up makes it make sense. It's for one got so much untapped potential storylines, the locale helps distinguish the series from anything else, the origins of the clones most likely resides in the Zone now that I think about it, and with an environmental catastrophe Reed is partly to blame for and that threatens to expand beyond the Zone to other dimensions including earth's it is the main priority that would have to be dealt with first, before, say, helping mankind topple the corrupt rule of the
megacorps (is that what they're collectively called?) Which reminds me, I need to find a bio for Hikaru since he seems to be the main baddie of 2099 that I would like to know what is at least known about him. Did he ever clash with Doom?
The origins of the Fantastic Four's clones will be revealed, Rena, but not until around #12 or so, since they have (obviously) quite a lot of stuff to deal with.
Two good places to find info on Hikaru and other 2099 characters are ComicBoards' 2099UG message board (run by The Driver), and 2099Comics.Com (run by Maquiavelo).
I'll wrap this up by just lastly commenting on something about your writing, that this for me has a lot of the same fun
feel of reading a comic, more than a novel or short story. Is that
something you were going for, or is that just in my head? Hopefully I'll see a couple new writings from you over the summer. I'm going to read the Hand tomorrow who I am only vaguely familiar with. I think Wolverine fought them in Japan once with Psylocke and Lady Deathstrike was involved maybe? Not sure.
--Rena, via e-mail
Thanks for all the kind words, Rena! I'm sure you'll let me know what you think of this issue, and if the ongoing series lives up to the high standards you're expecting.
Next is a recent fanfiction review by Derrick Ferguson, a respected member of the fanfic community who serves as a writer, editor, and reviewer:
I wasn't all that crazy about Marvel's 2099 books when they hit the stands. I did pick up The Punisher 2099, Doom 2099 and surprise, surprise, surprise X-Men 2099, all of which I thought were pretty cool, especially Doom 2099, but the rest of the titles didn't turn my crank all that much, especially Spider-Man 2099 which seems to have achieved a sort of cult status among both Spider-Man and 2099 fans alike. So I'm really not familiar with 2099 fan fiction which made me curious to check out FANTASTIC FOUR 2099 as I'm always interested in the Fantastic Four and this series would give me a chance to read the work of David Ellis whos a writer that I've not read anything by before and I'm always excited when I have the opportunity to read something new and different by a writer who is also new and different.
First off, David gets what makes The Fantastic Four work and why they're unique: they're not superheroes. I say this to writers who answer back: "But they've got superpowers!" Sure, one can have superpowers but that doesn't necessarily make one a superhero. The
Fantastic Four are first and foremost a family of
explorers/adventurers. They boldly go where no other Marvel character has gone before. Sure, they may square off against the occasional supervillain and there's nothing wrong with that but The Fantastic Four are at their best when they're pushing the boundaries of The Marvel Universe, discovering new lands, new worlds, new dimensions and new characters.
David starts his story deep in The Negative Zone where the maintenance crew of a Stark/Fujikawa mining installation finds a mysterious metal pod during a particularly nasty storm. They open the pod and find four human beings inside who by their clothes, appearance and actions would appear to be the legendary Fantastic Four. Upon awakening they are surprised to find themselves not only in The Negative Zone but also in the year 2099 with no memory of how they got into the pod or why they are in another time period. What I really liked about that scene is that instead of the maintenance crew falling down on their knees and worshipping The Fantastic Four (as a lesser writer might have been tempted to do) the crew see the heroes as a shockin' nuisance who are getting in the way of them doing their jobs and getting paid. And Reed sees their strip mining of The Negative Zone as a grossly reckless thing to do as The Negative Zone apparently has been contracting all of these years, indeed, ever since Reed discovered it. At least I think that's what's happening; it's one of those concepts that only Mr. Fantastic understands and one of the story's supporting characters even asks how can an infinite universe be finite but that's okay; David is a good enough writer that he makes Mr. Fantastic's explanation of how such a thing can be sound plausible and that's good enough for me.
The Fantastic Four quickly comes to blows with Stark/Fujikawa to decide the fate of The Negative Zone and the opening four-issue mini-series resolves this conflict in a way that was so intelligently
written and leaves the door open for so many fascinating possibilities that really made me look at the way the story was written in a whole new way. David Ellis obviously had this whole thing planned out right from the start and he's to be admired for resolving the many conflicts of the story in such a logical manner whereas a lesser writer would have went in a more pedestrian and ultimately boring direction.
I like David's writing style a lot. It's very clear and he uses just enough exposition to set up the scene and let you know where you are and who's doing what to whom. And he really excels at characterization. Although I'd have liked Sue to be a bit more assertive, he nails Reed down cold. Ben is the gruff and lovable powerhouse of the Lee/Kirby days and thank The Norns that David doesn't feel the need to twist Johnny Storm's sexual orientation all
outta whack simply for shock value, which seems to be the main reason writers want to do Fantastic Four fanfic these days. I don't know if the Maintenance Crew that discovers the Fantastic Four are David's original characters or if they're from the RealMarvel 2099 book but either way they're portrayed very well indeed and I ended up being very interested in their roles as the story progressed.
So should you read FANTASTIC FOUR 2099? I certainly hope that you would. So far there's just the 4-issue mini-series and it's an entertaining, exciting read. The story is one of the most intelligently written I've read lately and it's done with style, charm and wit. David Ellis is an excellent writer and I hope he'll be continuing this series in future. If you haven't read it yet, this is the perfect time to jump on board. I think you'll like it a lot. I know I did.
-- Derrick Ferguson, via listserv
I had the widest grin on my face when I saw this review on the HEROES Fanfic Mailing List. I'm definitely glad you enjoyed it, Derrick, and that you're willing to spread the word about it. Does this mean you'll be sticking around for the ongoing? ;)
Oh, and folks, check out Derrick's fanfic (and original) writing. This guy knows the business. He's written -- deep breath -- Avengers #9 - #18 and a few related specials at Avengers2000, Mon-El #1 - #4 at DC Heroes, Red Skull at DejaView, Amazing Fantasy #3 - #4 and the current Hulk #1 - #2 at Marvel Omega, and A Man Called Mongrel (original fiction) at Artifice Comics, along with probably a bunch more stuff I missed. Derrick gets around, yo.
-David Ellis, firstname.lastname@example.org
October 19th, 2005
NEXT ISSUE: Sue Storm versus the Negative Zone warriors!
Shandra Willis versus the Stark-Fujikawa database!
Three members of the Fantastic Four versus a surprising adversary!
Just what's the deal with these native beings anyway?
And that rascally Reed Richards writes in his journal about dental floss. Okay, maybe not.