TERROR IN A TINY TOWN
PART ONE: AS I LAY DREAMING...
The story opens with a scene Fantastic Four fans have long been familiar with: Four astronauts sneak onto the government base to pilot an unauthorized test flight to the moon. They are Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm, and they are about to make the jump into outer space that will become one of the most significant events in their lives as well as the world around them!
The secret flight has been planned in haste due to expected budget cutting, and as they hurtle upwards into outer space, they fear the shielding against the cosmic rays will not be enough to protect them. As they enter the cosmic storm, their worst fears are realized as the rays penetrate through the ship’s siding, and a bizarre transformation takes place within the four passengers aboard the ship as the rocket crashes back down to earth.
But here is where the familiar story diverges into a new and different story from the one we know…unlike the famed test flight when they crash land and are reborn as the Fantastic Four, in THIS scenario, the ship smashes down and explodes in a gulf of flame! Suddenly we see young Johnny Storm screaming up out of bed- the vision we have just seen has been no more than a bad nightmare of his!
But as Johnny crawls out of bed and gets ready for his day, we see at once that something is different- Johnny doesn’t appear to be the superhero Human Torch of the Fantastic Four, instead, he seems like a regular teenage boy living in a small town on his way to work at Sal’s Garage. He waves to the pretty girls on the street, and makes a visit to his favorite couple… Reed and Sue, who also appear to be no more than a normal married husband and wife in a quiet neighborhood!
He drives past Ben and Alicia, another happily married couple outside their café, and we are treated to another surprise- Ben is Human, and Alicia can see! Cleary we are dealing with an alternate reality of the Fantastic Four…or are we? As Johnny drives off, we see a man across the street observing the exchange of pleasantries with obvious delight. He is Phillip Masters, the father of Alicia, and as he tells himself, “Perfect! It’s All Going Exactly as I Want It!”, we realize that whatever is transpiring here is some kind of conspiracy, and it is happening to the REAL Fantastic Four.
That night, Sue is haunted again by the mysterious dream, and this time, after a heated argument, she sees Ben turning into a monstrous thing, she sees him stretching a pliable Reed, and finally setting Johnny on Fire! It is clear the dreams are becoming worse, and when Johnny and Reed are discussing it the next day at Ben’s café, he sheepishly admits that HE’S been having the same kind of dreams, too! Reed tries to wrap his mind around the subject, but then Phillip Masters and Alicia arrive, and they turn the conversation to more pleasant things.
After a long and particularly frustrating day at the university dealing with Mr. Vaughn, Reed sits alone in the dark and ponders the coincidence of all three of them having such similar dreams. Johnny on fire. Ben as a monster. Reed as a rubber man. And the space ship. It always comes back to the ship…
Reed drifts off to a troubled sleep. He dreams… and all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place: The Space Flight. The Cosmic Rays. The Crash. The birth of the celebrated Fantastic Four, the Baxter Building, and then, something sinister…the Puppet Master hypnotizing them…and leading them down to a secret lab, with one other waiting in darkness... He almost has the complete story, but just as he reaches for the answer, Reed falls out of his chair, crashing awake! The fall has left him clear-minded and positive of one surety: THE DREAM IS THE TRUTH. And as he knows that, he knows that whoever has imprisoned them in this fairytale town must also be a dangerous villain who must be stopped. But he must accomplish his first great task: Convince the other team-mates that their life has been a lie!
Reed arrives home at an ungodly late hour, his arm covered in matted blood. He has sliced his arm with a scalpel to prove to himself that the bodies they inhabit are not real bodies, but in fact some sort of synth-clone puppets that their minds are inhabiting. The others, of course, do no believe a word of it, and think Reed is delusional from the loss of blood. “You Don’t Believe me”. states Reed, “But you will. Our very lives may depend upon it. I WILL MAKE YOU BELIEVE ME!”
Phillip Masters is sweeping the front of his toy store when he is accosted by the angry members of the team. Reed has been successful in convincing them the truth, and their real memories have come crashing back. Seeing the ruse is over, the former Puppet Master admits that he had a hand in the deception, but only because he wanted to see his daughter Alicia happy. But Masters didn’t have the technological knowledge to implement this kind of project, and brought in someone who did. “Who?” asks Reed, and just then a voice booms from above, “SURELY, REED RICHARDS, THAT IS NOT DIFFICULT TO DEDUCE?” Their captor all along has been DOCTOR DOOM!
PART TWO: IF THIS BE DOOMSDAY!
With the illusion lifted, Doctor Doom grandly reveals the complete picture: They are indeed trapped in synth-cloned puppets of their real selves, and have been sentenced to live out their lives in the tiny constructed town of Liddleville! Enjoying the bizarre prison he has made for them, he’d even occasionally “entered” the town by “jumping” into a robot body to harass Reed Richards…Yes, Doom was Mr. Vaughn! So now what? “What do you intend to do?” asks Reed, and Doom laughs. He doesn’t plan on doing anything to them- he has reduced them to his play-things, and will leave them there in the Liddleville prison, trapped in their puppet bodies, while he leaves to reclaim the throne of Latveria!
Reed knows there is a small spark buried within each of their little cloned bodies that is in all of them that made them become the Fantastic Four. He must find a way to get their powers back, escape this prison and stop Doctor Doom- and he remembers something that just might do it… Earlier, the University had received a special piece of machinery, a PARTICLE ACCELORATOR, a device that can recreate any type of radiation, whether it be radiation from the sun, or…cosmic rays! After examining the equipment, Reed determines that is a real, functioning device, and all that is left is for the group to make the decision to change back to the Fantastic Four.
One by one, the members each step up to the accelerator, and get dosed with the equivalent of the space flight’s cosmic rays, reverting them back to the Fantastic Four, albeit a much smaller version! Using their powers, they break free of the Liddleville town prison, and soar out into Doom’s laboratory, where they have been secured away. They get to the control console , but find Doom has removed the Power Module that will start the controls and free them.
They lure Doom back to the lab and get him to “jump start” the module with an energy blast, and railroad him into setting off the controls, which frees the group at last from the puppet bodies they’ve been imprisoned! The group leaps up and quickly prepares for a battle with Doctor Doom, but find that the energy shock has left him strangely immobile. Not quite dead, he seems to be in a type of coma…
The reason we find, is that Doom has jumped back to his little robot body, and with only a twist of a ring, is ready to jump back when the Fantastic Four are off their guard! He is about to commence departure, when the ring is smashed by a thrown rock. It is Phillip Masters, and he has re-programmed the entire town to his will. All he wanted was for his daughter to be happy, and Doom has ruined it for them. He orders the townspeople to destroy Doom, who flees for his life, knowing that if he should “die” in robot form , his mind will perish as well. He knows that in the robot body, he can run forever…but so can they!
A Terrific story by John Byrne, celebrating the story of the Fantastic Four and their origin.
There is a bonus story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, adapting an episode of the Saturday Morning Fantastic Four cartoon (yes, the one with Herbie the Robot) that was originally based on Fantastic Four #5, Doom’s first encounter with the FF.
As an added treat, every inker who'd ever embellished FF has returned to ink a few pages of this bonus story!