It’s the final battle between Reed Richards and Doctor Doom. (#25 in a series of #100: Collect ’em all!) Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Fantastic Four #500 awaits!
Writer: Mark Waid
Penciler: Mike Wieringo
Inker: Karl Kesel & Larry Stucker
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4.00
Previously in Fantastic Four: After making a deal with three literal demons and fashioning a new leather armor out of the skin of the only women he had ever loved, Doctor Doom stole Franklin and Valeria Richards away from their family. Trapping Franklin in literal hell, he revealed that Valeria was in fact his mystical familiar. When the Fantastic Four retaliated, he used his newfound diabolical powers to capture each member of the team in their own personal hell. For Mister Fantastic, it’s a massive library full of arcane tomes, each one full of the one discipline that Doom unequivocally knows better: Magic.
Though his body is trapped with Franklin (thanks to an attempt to save the boy from Hades), Doctor Strange can generate enough magical wherewithal to send his astral form to Mister Fantastic, and even to begin tutoring him in the ways of magic. It’s a moment that would seem to be unthinkable (TITLE DROP!) but it’s only the first such moment in this book. As Doom continues to torture his enemies, with the plan of making his new armor from Reed’s skin, which is as terrifying as it is imposing.
Mister Fantastic is able to precisely replicate the spells that he reads, but that exact precision is what makes his spells continually misfire. His need to control the situation makes it difficult for him to accept his place as a mage, using the powers of greater entities to power his spells, and his difficulties in accepting magic trip Doctor Doom to his location. Doctor Strange manages to give him a mystical artifact, triggered by a magic phrase, but Reed fails over and over to master it, finally intoning “I’m an idiot.”
Guess what the trigger phrase was? Wieringo does an amazing job with this issue’s art, giving us a vision of hell unlike any I’ve ever seen in comics, especially when paired with the excellent coloring job. Once Reed is able to use the magic, he blasts his way to Doom and manages to free one of his children.
With his family freed, Reed once again takes the fight to his old enemy, but is quickly overpowered by Doom’s demon-sourced mystical might. Doctor Doom pins him down, binds his mouth shut, and sneers that a real magician would be embarrassed to use “magic words…”
And that’s when Reed Richards gets angry.
Not only is finally angry enough to do the punching himself (a truly impressive character moment from Waid), Reed has realized exactly how to stop Doom once and for all, whatever that means in comics. He begins taunting Doom, mocking him as useless, reminding him that he got his new power from an external source and is nothing more than a prideful tool. When Doom snarls that he is beholden to no one, his demon benefactors appear and drag Doom away through a portal to the underworld. The FF races through to get Franklin, but Mister Fantastic pauses as his once-upon-a-time-friend Victor begs him for his help.
Reed rejects his plea, swearing that he’s going to forget Victor as soon as he can, but Doom takes one last moment to prove him wrong, scarring his face before Fantastic can stretch back through the portal, leaving Reed shaken and on a path to make the biggest mistake of his life. Fantastic Four #500 ends up being a fitting anniversary issue, even as it ruins everyone’s numerical order back issues, with lovely art by Wieringo, and Waid providing some of the most harrowing Fantastic Four plots since the Byrne days, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall. I know that the general opinion of this era of Fantastic Four runs toward the negative, but for my money, this issue and the stories around it are worthy of the Lee/Kirby days…
…it’s just a shame that the cover is so very, very ugly.
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FANTASTIC FOUR #500
It's an unexpected issue in a number of ways, and it comes smack in the middle of a much-maligned FF run, but I have to say I was entertained AND creeped out.