Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Threat To Three Worlds!

OR: "Invaders From The Fifth Dimension!"

With both the X-Men and the Avengers having their share of encounters with Arkon, the Magnificent (whose ego is apparently the equal of his battle prowess), it was a pleasure to rediscover a four-part 1975 story that gave the Fantastic Four their own shot at the other-dimensional barbarian. Arkon's motivation for his aggressive incursion into our own dimension remains pretty much the same as it's always been: securing new energy sources that will supply his planet with the power it needs to survive, by force if necessary. Unfortunately, Arkon often uses force as a first resort, not the last--and this time, his plan will prove so potentially devastating that the fate of three worlds hangs in the balance.

Scripter Roy Thomas will no doubt have a lot of plates to keep spinning in this story--and things are started off with a bang when its two principal characters (aside from the FF, whose own involvement will be extensive) clash in the streets of New York City. But even though the Thing's girlfriend, Alicia Masters, arrives on the scene, is it really the Thing we see fleeing in panic from Arkon's attack--or is Thomas's intricate plot already underway?

Whatever's going on, it seems clear that this isn't the Ben Grimm we know. Nevertheless, the Thing is in dire straits, and in no condition to resist the approaching Arkon. His defeat above is a panel you'll want to scrutinize carefully, since a certain aspect of it figures prominently into the story that will unfold; but it's the next few moments that concern the blind Alicia, who must depend on her hearing alone to make sense of the final moments of her beloved's last stand.

Already, things don't look so good for the FF.  But then, "things" aren't what--who--they seem.

Naturally, Alicia heads directly to the Baxter Building, where the FF have just returned from the land of the Inhumans--all of the FF, including the Thing, to the astonished Alicia's surprise. After hearing Alicia recount the battle and describing the Thing who was present--particularly, that his speech was much like that of Reed Richards--Ben decides to follow up on a hunch that may yield at least part of the answer.

But Sue, Johnny, and Reed have pressing business, involving the bottom line--both Reed's and that of Fantastic Four, Inc.

It's a bit late in the game for Reed to off-handedly mention to DeVoor his caveat that the team will still call their own shots as to how they handle their affairs, and imprudent to simply accept DeVoor's assurances on the matter. It's certainly too important a point for Reed not to make certain it's in writing in that contract he was already in the process of signing--a contract that should also have spelled out precisely the extent of involvement which DeVoor's company intends to have. At any rate, Thomas has established the link between the earlier attack and the Fantastic Four--but how? Does Arkon really strike anyone as being this subtle?

Meanwhile, Ben has made a quick call to borrow the services of the Inhumans' dimension-spanning dog, Lockjaw, in order to travel once more to the parallel Earth in which he discovered another Reed Richards--a world where Reed, not Ben Grimm, was transformed into the monstrous Thing by their aborted space flight. And Ben finds the mystery of the other Thing's presence on his Earth deepens when the other Reed is nowhere to be found--and a logo, familiar to us but not yet to Ben, becomes a more eye-catching part of this story.

Around the same time, the Torch decides to soothe his girl troubles by making his own trip to another world--specifically, the Fifth Dimension, where he once met Phineas and his daughter, a girl named Valeria (no, not Dr. Doom's Valeria--that would be too convoluted a tie-in for even Thomas to attempt), and developed a fondness for her. On his return, he discovers that Phineas' world is under siege by murderous androids sent from an Earth of another dimension--as well as a conspicuous connection we've seen before, one which can't help but pique the interest of Johnny.

The Torch handily deals with the attacking "Andrones"--but Phineas goes a step further, and invites Johnny to lead the 5D forces in retaliation against those of the invading other-Earth.

Returning to that world, we find that it, too, is being invaded--not by conventional forces, but by aggressors from out of time itself. This time, however, the finger of blame is pointed at our own Earth.

Given the nature of the threat, Ben's first thought is of Doom's time machine (Looks like Thomas managed to include Doom, after all!)--but the how and the why remain unclear, since Ben is aware that the technology in question is currently in possession of the Fantastic Four. Regrettably, however, the world he's traveled to is marshaling its forces to go to war--and despite his actions on their behalf, Ben is taken captive and taken out of this mystery for the present.

As for our other two FF members, they're drawn into this developing crisis in a major way when they learn of attacks launched against Earth by the Fifth Dimension--and are stupefied to find one of their own in the thick of it.

Judging by the manufacturer's imprint on the 5D weaponry, DeVoor's company cast a wide net in its pursuit of those whose impressive technology inventory could be acquired for the right price, which seems to be the case. Even taking into account the possibility that a version of I.T. could have established itself in different dimensions, the speed at which this crisis has erupted--combined with the fact that it wasn't confined to a single world--suggests that DeVoor's company is the common denominator. So far, the rundown consists of:

  • Interlocking Technologies, Unltd. - the company which our Reed Richards sold FF Inc. to;
  • Inter-Related Technocracies, Unltd. - taking over ownership of the robotics company of the parallel Earth's Reed Richards;
  • Inter-Politan Thermo-Dynamics, Unltd. - now the proud owners of the technology harnessed by the Fifth Dimension.

But despite the evidence, and the fact that practically any business is capable of working behind the scenes to further its own interests to the detriment of the consumers it seeks to exploit, we learn that the real common denominator has been right in front of us all this time, and is only now stepping from the shadows just as his plans are bearing fruit.

Granted, Arkon's plan hinges on a single crucial coincidence--that Phineas, as well as two Reed Richardses, could not only be coerced into selling their assets, but that they'd also release inventions and technology which they'd otherwise insist on keeping under lock and key. In the case of our Reed, that includes the shocking decision to turn over Doom's time machine* to a for-profit business whose Board of Directors might do who-knows-what with it.

*We'd learn in the following year's Fantastic Four Annual that Reed now has legal standing to do so, having returned Doom's machine after duplicating it for his own use.

At this point, it's prudent for Thomas and artist Rich Buckler to break down the chain of events that Arkon has set in motion, since Thomas will now begin focusing on putting the pieces in place to resolve the situation--assuming that's even possible, in light of how things have escalated. But the captive Reed Richards/Thing, now held prisoner on his own Earth, might have discovered a way to do just that, thanks to an oversight by Arkon.

Another apparent mistake is made by DeVoor himself, when Reed and Sue fall under attack by time-lost savages who could only have appeared through use of Doom's Reed's time machine.

Following the attack, Reed receives communication from his counterpart on the parallel Earth, who fills him in on the plot we've all seen play out. More importantly, he divulges that it's Arkon who's behind DeVoor's involvement, with the goal of destroying all three worlds using each other's weapons.

It's here that Thomas slips a bit with his own script, which isn't surprising considering the number of concepts and details floating around--confusing the I.T. companies (through Reed, of all people, who now thinks there's something called Interlocking Technocracies, an amalgam of the companies active on each Earth), while also later having the two Reeds reveal that DeVoor isn't of either Earth (though the story would make it clear to the contrary). Again, the man has a lot of plates to keep spinning on their poles; otherwise, he's crafting an intriguing story that's now beginning to have everyone comparing notes and assembling the pieces of this puzzle.

And that starts with DeVoor, since his blatant move against the FF makes him their first stop.

Meanwhile, the other Reed has used his freedom to locate Ben and join forces. The latter Thing, as you might imagine, is fit to be tied--probably not the best mood to confront one of this world's ranking armed forces generals whose own temperament is well-known.

But before the confrontation turns into open hostility, a new development literally breaks out when the forces of the Fifth Dimension begin to cross over to Earth--and this time it's the Thing whose jaw goes slack at who's leading the charge.

With cooler heads prevailing (not an easy thing to say with this crew), it's just the time for the FF's Reed to break in and clue in his teammates and his counterpart on just what's been going on, the reasons behind it, and the identity and goal of the true culprit--along with a resounding declaration which makes it clear that it's now the Fantastic Four that Arkon has to deal with.

It's a penultimate issue which brings this story to its tipping point. But can the FF face and defeat the forces of Arkon? And with three other worlds gunning for each other, will any of them survive?


Fantastic Four #s 160-162

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: John Buscema / Rich Buckler
Inks: Chic Stone / Joe Sinnott / Dan Adkins
Letterers: Ray Holloway / Joe Rosen

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