Everyone’s a critic. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

People are judgmental by nature, from the early days when we judged whether or not to eat that sketchy-looking berry (don’t do it) to now judging whether or not we can beat that red light ahead (seriously, don’t do it). The thing is, as survival becomes less of a concern and more of a thing that just happens, that judgment is shifting to more and more trivial things. Like, for instance, movies.

The horrendously-titled Fant4stic was released this weekend and in an instant every critic regressed into primates who couldn’t wait to throw their word-poo at the lumbering monstrosity. If there were a way to harness all the hatred and bile poured onto that film, it could probably power the teleportation device it portrays. Admittedly I was among those naysaying the movie all the way up until its release. I wasn’t keen on the direction they’d chosen for the franchise and the near-constant reports of turmoil behind-the-scenes had me tempering my expectations for the project, along with that of anyone who would listen. I never dreamed it would be the mess it became.

I haven’t seen it, I have no plans to see it, and so I don’t have any real reason to continue deriding it. I’ve read the reviews though and I’m completely aware of its many flaws, most of which can be traced directly to “rumored” problems during production. The insane thing to me is how so many people profess that problem X, Y, and Z could have been solved if only they’d done A, B, and a little more C. Of course it seems that simple from the laptop they’re camped behind, but when you’re in the midst of a multi-million dollar production just trying to make it through the day, all those poor decisions become a lot more reasonable. I’m not trying to absolve anyone of blame here, because it’s obvious that there’s plenty to go around. But from my perspective, it all starts with the script.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written a treatment for Fox-produced Marvel films that had no hope of being made, bought, or even looked at. Yeah it’s a fairly pointless exercise, but I get to channel some frustrations with the real thing into something more creative. And hey, if it actually manages to entertain someone, even better. I am, however, deep in the throes of trying to write professionally, so I promised myself I would only spend a weekend on this (which I ended up doubling of course. In other words, a production weekend).

In an alternate timeline of real life, this is the movie that gets made by Marvel Studios to kick off their version of the franchise. As such, it is an origin story (wait, don’t go!) in that they start with no powers and acquire them during the course of the film. But really it’s a story about family. Assuming you’re a member of one of those, you know there is no real point of origin, they just flow from one generation to the next. Here our heroes aren’t teen prodigies anymore, neither are they full-fledged grown-ups, but somewhere in between trying to figure out how to interact with one another and find their place in the world (I’m almost 30, what did you expect from me?).  If you make it through all 4,500+ words, you should notice inspiration from films like Apollo 13, InterstellarIndiana Jones, and of course, parts of the comic books themselves. Also, dubious science. But that’s a given.

And I think I managed to avoid the dreaded “let me figure out how my powers work” montage, sans time jump. So there’s that.

Hope you like it.

Artist: Alex Ross
Artist: Alex Ross

“FANTASTIC IV”

Present day. A sandy beach looking out on the sprawling Atlantic Ocean. Two kids splash in the shallows, their skin deeply tanned from years of tropical sunlight.

One of them picks up a handful of wet sand and rears back to throw it when… the earth rumbles, the palm trees shiver in response. They look up: a mushroom cloud plumes from the center of the island. One of them stares in wonder while the other recoils in horror. They run into the ocean, swimming hard against the tide. The waves grow larger and larger as they get further out and they begin to tire. A massive wave threatens to push them under, when the trees on the shore are torn to shreds. The kids dive as the bomb’s impact washes over the shore and into the surf, flattening the wave.

One of the kids comes up for air, searching for the other in a panic and sighing in relief when they pop up nearby. They swim back to shore and follow the damage into the island, marveling at strange wisps in the air. When they reach the epicenter, they find a massive crater but no fire damage to speak of.

The media is whipped into a frenzy, questioning the source of the explosion on the supposedly uninhabited island. Was it North Korea? Russia? Some unknown new enemy? No one wants to know more than Agent Abigail Brand of SWORD. She puts her agency on full alert, scouring local coverage and satellite feeds alike. Blurry images of a UFO leaving the scene capture her attention. Upon closer inspection, the object becomes clearer: an advanced-looking aircraft with a distinctive emblem on the side. She knows exactly who she needs to find.

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Dr. Reed Richards, master of physics, actual rocket scientist, and Senior Tour Guide for his company “Fantastic Voyages”. He stands at the bow of the “Fantastic II”, a boat of his own design, as it cruises along the coast of Puerto Rico. He recites a dull history of the island to his small crowd of passengers, much to their boredom. One of them asks when they’re heading back to shore and he points out that only the Captain knows: his wife, world-class biochemist, and marine biologist Dr. Sue Storm. She encourages them to try to enjoy the peace and quiet, emphasizing quiet. It’s abruptly interrupted by a helicopter soaring overhead, emblazoned with “Fantastic III”.

Johnny Storm, Sue’s brother, expert pilot, and resident pretty boy, sits in the cockpit with a trio of lovely ladies in tow. He pushes the limits of the aircraft, doing tricks it shouldn’t be able to do for the thrill of it. He even gives one of the riders the controls for a while. Watching his theatrics from afar is Ben Grimm, Reed’s best friend, ex-Marine, and the company mechanic. He sits alone on top of a mountain next to his beat-up jeep, the “Fantastic I”.

When Reed and Sue dock, one of the tourists approaches Reed and complements his knowledge and his vehicles. It doesn’t take long for Reed to realize the man is a military man, more interested in talking business than pleasure. Reed brushes him off, stressing that none of his inventions or his patents will ever be used for warfare.

The family meets up later that night and Sue chides Johnny for his reckless flying. He laughs it off, citing that helicopter tours are their money-maker thanks to him. Ben is annoyed at his flippancy, pointing out that his lack of professionalism wouldn’t fly in the service. Johnny quips that he’s a better pilot than all of them, plus he doesn’t have people shooting at him. Sue tries to get a distracted Reed to chime in, and his only input is to upgrade the helicopter’s safety features. His signature obliviousness diffuses the situation. Later Sue says she’s concerned he’s unhappy with the life they’ve built. He reassures her the restlessness will pass once he finds his next project. She jokes that he should build her a submarine. Unable to sleep, he goes into his workshop and looks over old plans that outline a high-tech spaceship.

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The next day, Reed finds a woman stranded by the side of the road and stops to help her with her car troubles. It’s Agent Brand, who doesn’t fool him for long. He fixes her car and is on his way, but when he gets back home she’s beaten him there, with Sue, Johnny, and Ben gathered. Johnny tries to flirt with her. She’s having none of it. Ben wants her gone, but Sue wants to hear her out. They do.

She gives them a rundown of the explosion in the Atlantic: the blast was more powerful than an atomic bomb but left no traces of its origin, but surveillance caught a mysterious aircraft that had been sighted around Eastern Europe. Mapping out their locations, they all center around one country in particular: Latveria, an isolationist dictatorship under the rule of the von Doom family. They had been quiet in recent years with the matriarch Cynthia’s rumored health problems, and Brand believes her son and heir Victor has taken power and engineered the explosion, being a brilliant scientist in his own right.

Naturally they question why they’re needed? Brand starts to explain the international politics at play but Johnny cuts her off, “We get it, you’re not allowed.” Reed is hesitant to get involved in any military operation, but Brand assures him it would only be reconnaissance and she’s actually hoping to rule out Latveria. But more importantly, it’s an opportunity for him to put his expertise to good use and make history as the first civilian space mission. She even offers to let them keep the ship.

She leaves them to think on it and they argue the pros and cons before deciding to take the decision to a vote. Johnny can’t vote yes fast enough. Ben votes no, not trusting Brand and pointing out they’re staking their already good their life on her word. Reed looks to Sue, who reassures him she will vote whichever way he does so they aren’t divided. Reed votes yes to which she replies, “Good. There’s no way I was letting you get between me and going to space.”

Construction of the spaceship commences. Reed and Sue design the vessel, him aiming for optimal performance while she sees to personnel needs like suits and sustenance. Ben and Johnny do the heavy-lifting, putting the ship together and trading barbs the whole time. As it nears completion, Johnny starts to drum up publicity for them, bragging about becoming the first civilian pilot in space to Ben’s chagrin. He takes his jeep out to his peaceful spot on the mountain and is approached by Agent Brand. She hears out his concerns and offers him weapons to install on the ship. Ben points out that Reed would never agree to it. Brand says not to tell him. Reluctant at first, he agrees, knowing he has a duty to protect his family at any cost.

Finally the day arrives. The spaceship built, they christen it the “Fantastic IV”. The launch goes off without a hitch but Reed, ever calculating, notices they’re coming in a tad heavy. They pass the international space station and continue to the Exosphere, where they enjoy a stunning view of space. After taking a moment to enjoy themselves in near-zero gravity, they get down to business, powering up Brand’s surveillance equipment and pushing it into orbit. They monitor the photos it takes, noticing Latveria’s geography that allows it to be so guarded. They’re too busy to notice an advanced-looking aircraft locking them in its sights.

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Suddenly their spaceship is rocked by an energy surge that envelops them and knocks Reed unconscious. Sue rushes to his side as they plummet back through the Thermosphere. Johnny exclaims they’ve lost flight control in a panic and Ben takes over and tells him to man the engineering station. Johnny restores some of the ship’s functions but is incapacitated himself just before they enter the Mesosphere. Sue collects him and yells for Ben to get in a shielded emergency pod with them, but he shouts back that none of them will survive if they don’t crash correctly: he’s prepared to go down with the ship. As they plunge through clouds in the Stratosphere, Eastern Europe comes into view. The windshield cracks and Ben is bombarded by the energy as they come crashing down.

When Reed awakens, he finds himself in a room of stone, outfitted with uncharacteristic advanced medical technology. When he reaches for his call button, he doesn’t notice how his arm stretches inhumanly to reach it. He does notice when an android answers his call. Baffled and intrigued, his newly malleable body allows him to slip out of the room and he finds that he’s in an actual castle in the middle of an aged city. Latveria appears to be stuck in the dark ages.

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The android extends an invitation to meet with Dr. Victor von Doom, the country’s supreme monarch. As it leads Reed through the castle, he marvels at ancient tapestries and suits of armor. When he arrives, he’s shocked by how cordial and young Doom is, who explains that his drone detected the “Fantastic IV” as a threat and responded appropriately. Reed asks about his family and is assured they’re alive and recovering, though much changed. He theorizes that as they passed through the each layer of the atmosphere, their biology was affected in different ways by the dark matter they were blasted with. Reed is amazed that Doom has figured out dark matter but he readily admits he hasn’t learned everything. The explosion was indeed his doing, an experiment gone awry in an attempt to concentrate a greater mass of dark matter and use it to empower his country. He tells Reed invites him to join him in his studies, a mission of pure science free from politics and interference. Reed wants to ask his team but Doom insists he make a decision for them in their time of weakness, promising that he is free to leave whenever he chooses, “So says Doom.” Reed agrees to his terms.

Reed finds Sue and Johnny confused by unharmed, the former happy they’re alive and the latter ecstatic about his fiery new abilities. Sue is less thrilled about her invisibility but more concerned about Reed’s deal with Doom. He reasons that it’s an opportunity for them to come to terms with their new selves, “Without being poked and prodded like government lab rats.” Sue directs his attention to Ben, who is in a coma, his skin cracked and scarred, rocky. A dozen androids already poke and prod at him but can’t get through to operate. Reed counters by pointing out that  they can gather even more intel for Brand than she wanted and understanding the dark matter that made them could be the key to saving him. Sue concedes and agrees to stay put until Ben gets better.

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Working alongside each other, Reed learns about Doom’s humble upbringing and his parents’ role in overthrowing the previous dictator. He admires Doom’s ambition for his homeland and his thirst for knowledge but warns dark matter is so difficult to analyze that it may not do what he wants. Doom insists any use at all will be a boon to Latveria. Meanwhile Johnny and Sue explore the country, getting to know its citizens, who champion Doom as the greatest being to ever live. Johnny sees that as a challenge and shows off by using his power to fly. Sue takes a more subtle approach, learning she can extend her powers to other people to diagnose the injured and ill. When the family reconvenes later that night, they report their findings and question whether Agent Brand was overreacting to the incident. Sue visits Ben and uses her power to examine his internal organs, which are all as rocky as his outside. Reed finds the battered “Fantastic IV” and inspects the damage, which is mostly cosmetic. When he spots parts that weren’t in his original design, he’s shocked to discovers the hidden weapons.

The next day Reed makes a breakthrough in being able to stabilize higher concentrations of dark matter, but before he can celebrate the achievement, Doom starts formulating possible uses. He imagines being able to create wormholes across the world while Reed cautions a black hole is just as possible. Elsewhere, Johnny continues to put on a show for the locals, incinerating objects as kids toss them in the air and eventually being goaded into blasting an abandoned building with a plume of fire. Sue continues to help medically but is troubled when she finds a young girl with severe stomach cramps hasn’t eaten in days. She decides to follow her home and spy on her family, stunned to find that, in spite of their outward appearance, they’re living in squalor. Their livelihoods have been sacrificed in dedication to Doom’s experiments, hoping for a better Latveria. Back at the castle, Ben wakes up and is horrified by his transformation. He starts to tear the room apart when Reed and Doom arrive to calm him down. Ben refuses to hear them out, insisting they find Johnny and Sue.

Not far away, the fire Johnny started rages out of control, lighting up neighboring houses and trapping people inside. He tries to rescue them but is only safe himself in fiery form. Sue locates them and charges in with little concern for her own safety. As she leads them out, the ceiling collapses and she instinctively creates a force field to protect them. Reed and Ben arrive in time to get them out and put out the fire. Doom watches on from his castle. Sue chews Johnny out, enraged by his recklessness. He tries to fly off but she uses her newfound power to ground him. Angry and embarrassed, he lashes out and the two get into a superpowered sibling fight. Soon Ben has seen enough and intervenes, insisting it’s time to go home. Sue agrees, but Reed and Johnny don’t: the vote is split. They decide it’s time to go their separate ways.

Doom makes the arrangements for Sue and Ben’s departure… but instead imprisons them, nullifying their abilities using the data he gathered on them and assigning human guards to them. He justifies the move by calling Ben a war criminal and Sue a spy, stating flatly, “I told Dr. Richards he was free to leave. I said nothing about you.” Unaware of the situation, Reed puts the finishing touches on the dark matter device but still urges caution before they test it. Doom dismisses his concerns, insisting that great scientific progress requires great risk. He dons a custom suit of armor designed to protect him from the effects of the dark matter.

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Reed protests as he turns it on, draining power from all of Latveria. Across the city, the outage catches Johnny’s attention and he heads back. Sue and Ben seize the opportunity and break out of their cells. As the device reaches peak levels of activity, the insufficient power causes a violent reaction that lashes out at Doom, attracted to his suit instead of repelled by it. Reed rushes to shut it down but the damage is done. Doom is disfigured and his armor fused shut around his body. He accuses Reed of intentionally failing him and attacks, beating him bloody. Johnny arrives in time to fight him off, but his fire can’t pierce the armor and Doom fights back. Sue and Ben rush to the scene and gather up the injured Reed, loading him into one of Doom’s airplanes they’ve stolen. Just as Ben calls Johnny off, Doom deals a grievous blow. Sue lashes out and gives them just enough space for Reed to grab Johnny and they narrowly escape Latveria.

Crash landing once again, in friendly territory this time, their reappearance makes headlines worldwide: they were presumed dead when their ship disappeared. Johnny is rushed to the emergency room, Sue staying with him and insisting on helping the doctors herself. Ben sees himself referred to as a “thing” in the news and is ready to put all of the distance between he and the rest of them. Reed doesn’t argue and lets him go. When Agent Brand makes contact, Reed starts to explain the science but she asks for the short version. She’s horrified by Reed’s story and the thought of a black hole at Doom’s command. Reed shamefully admits he helped create it. She agrees not to rat him out to her superiors but has to leave immediately and prepare for the worst.

Sue returns to Reed with news that Johnny is in stabile condition. His apologies come pouring out. She reassures him it isn’t the first time they haven’t seen eye-to-eye and it won’t be the last. She recalls the petty disagreements they had planning their wedding and how they relied on Ben to keep the peace. Reed already knows he has to work it out with his Best Man.

Back in Puerto Rico, Ben tries to relax in his favorite spot but is interrupted when a pair of lovers who mistake him for part of the landscape. He scares them off in anger. Reed drives up in the “Fantastic I” and sits down next to him without a word. Ben laments that he can’t even drive his own car anymore. Reed suggests they finally make some upgrades for the first time since they built it together. They exchange non-apologies, Reed confessing he was naive to trust Doom and Ben admitting he endangered the mission from the start. They both agree he has to be stopped but Reed is hesitant given the trouble they might be in. Ben remarks, “That never stopped us before.”

Sue returns home with Johnny, who is still weakened from his injuries, and is happy to find Reed and Ben already tinkering on a new project. When she learns they’re trying to recreate the dark matter device, she’s decidedly less happy. Reed explains he thinks he can create a wormhole that opens to Doom’s end so they can dismantle it. Clearly not what she wanted to hear, Ben suggests they put it to a vote, but Reed rejects the idea: it has to be all of them or it’s none of them. Johnny limps in and jokes, “So we’re the Four Musketeers now?” Sue orders him back to bed but he refuses, pointing out that he’s a crucial part of the “all”. He tells her she can’t protect him forever, but they can protect the people who need it most: the citizens of Latveria. Sue gets on board, but only because, “If he destroys the world I’ll never hear the end of it.”

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They finish the crude device and gather around it, geared up and ready to make the jump. It powers up, the lights flicker, the room shakes, and… nothing happens. Puzzled by the false start, Reed realizes there isn’t enough dark matter in the vicinity to make it work. Just then Agent Brand appears. Johnny asks if she was worried about him. She insists she was not, “Just keeping an eye on you guys in case you did something… exactly like this.” To their relief she likes their plan and how it circumvents the politics, then suggests a place they can find more dark matter: the island where the initial explosion happened. She even offers to give them a ride. Ben questions whether her ride can handle him. She retorts, “It’s handled bigger.”

She flies them to the island in her own fancy ship with the device in tow. They touch down at the center of the massive crater and get everything in position. Reed points out because of the device’s crudeness, it’s only good for one jump. That in mind, they brace themselves and fire it up. Brand’s ship can’t supply enough power and it struggles to collect the residual dark matter. The Four quickly combine their abilities to form a human generator and the surge helps create an unstable wormhole. Brand wishes them luck as they dive in, the device falling to pieces once they’re through.

They emerge on the other side unscathed but set off all the alarms in the process. A host of Doom’s androids attack and the team dispatches them easily with their powers. Reed is troubled by the amount of dark matter Doom has amassed, having made additional modifications to the device. He says they can’t risk destroying it on Earth and they quickly decide they have to load it onto “Fantastic IV” and dismantle it in the relative safety of orbit. Ben has to carry it and Sue stays with him to protect it from being damaged while Reed goes ahead to make necessary repairs and Johnny joins him to get it ready to fly.

Reed and Johnny reach the ship with little resistance and get to work. Johnny starts going through the launch sequence and Reed calculates upgrades he needs to make to account for the extra weight. Johnny suggests they take out the weapons but Reed thinks they’ll need them. As Sue and Ben follow, they encounter Doom and a host of human guards. Ben starts to put the device down but Sue tells him to keep going, that she’ll handle it. She incapacitates the guards with ease and Doom is impressed by her boldness, addressing her as, “You will make a worthy opponent Mrs. Richards”. She spits back, “It’s Dr. Storm.” They fight, Doom’s armor protecting him from her violent attacks. He strikes back, her shields protects her from his. They’re evenly matched.

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Ben arrives with the device as Reed finishes his upgrades but is troubled by news of Sue staying behind. He rushes off, telling Ben to take off as soon as the ship’s ready, with or without them. Ben refuses the order, “All or nothing, remember?” He and Johnny keep prepping the ship, bickering the whole time. Doom and Sue continue to battle it out, but the constant use of her powers takes its toll while his armor is as strong as ever. With a flourish he reveals he’s outfitted his gauntlets with weaponized dark matter and uses it to seize the upper hand. She decides to cut her losses and leads him on a brief chase. Just when he thinks he has her cornered, he’s stopped in his tracks by an invisible force: Sue’s using her power on Reed, who is stretched like a slingshot and aimed at the window. Sue waves goodbye. Reed launches Doom out of the castle. Reed stammers trying to come up with a witty one-liner. Sue shushes him and they hurry off.

Ben is relieved when Reed and Sue arrive. They board the “Fantastic IV” and prepare for launch once more. Latverians pour into the streets, captivated as they watch the ship lift off into the Statosphere, then startled as Doom’s air defenses slam into action. Dozens of drones rocket into the sky, chasing after them. Ben jumps on the weapons controls and fends them off, but there are too many for him to handle. Johnny takes his cue and gives Sue the wheel, jumping out of the ship, bursting into flame, and tearing into the drones with reckless abandon.

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The tide is turning in their favor as the ship breaks into the Mesosphere and Reed starts to break down the device. Suddenly Sue shouts that the ship is taking on a substantial amount of weight. Reed watches in horror as the dark matter twists into a wormhole and Doom emerges, gauntlets smoking from expending their dark matter reserves. Reed stretches into action, trying to retrain him but is tossed aside. Doom tries to reload his gauntlets, but Ben stops him, grabbing him by the arms: it’s finally clobberin’ time.

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As the ship enters the Thermosphere, it pulls away from Johnny, whose flames start to flicker out. The last of Doom’s drones locks its weapons on him and… explodes. Agent Brand flies her ship up alongside him. He gets in, flirting, “You can be my wingman anytime.” Still nothing.

Reed finishes deconstructing the device as Ben batters Doom across the ship, destroying everything in their path. He punches Doom into the dark matter reserve and it sets off another violent reaction, tearing a whole in the hull that sucks Doom out. They start to lose velocity and Sue rushes to seal the breach with a force field while Ben takes the controls.

Reed drags the pusling dark matter over and prepares to toss it out into the Exosphere… but Doom grabs on, still clinging to the outside of the ship. Reed pleads with him to let go but Doom refuses, prepared to die with his life’s work. The dark matter starts twist and warp, leaving Reed no choice: he throws it into space and Doom with it. He watches in regret as it fades into the darkness, then explodes.

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Power nearly tapped and damaged beyond repair, the “Fantastic IV” drifts back toward Earth, picking up speed. Agent Brand flies up next to them and Sue creates a corridor across to it. She and Ben climb through, but Reed lingers, also reluctant to let his life’s work go. He gives it a final goodbye and leaves it. They watch in reverence as the ship catches fire on re-entry and plummets toward the ocean. After a long moment, Johnny breaks the silence, “So I take it we won? I kinda missed that last bit.”

Reed sits in a darkened garage, tinkering with a new vehicle of some sort. There’s a knock at the door, Agent Brand once again. She informs him that he’s free and clear of potential charges and that Latveria is on the mend thanks to trade opening back up. He thanks her but knows she has more to say. She offers him a position with SWORD, promising him a new ship and an entire crew at his command. Reed graciously declines, “I don’t need a crew, I have a family.” She figured that would be his answer but leaves behind a docket of information on some unusual seismic activity, just in case he gets bored.

Reed asks Sue what she thinks: she appears from the corner, eavesdropping the whole time. She questions whether he’s really happy with where they are or just saying it. He replies, “Both.” She sighs, “Too bad. I kind of miss New York.”

Outside, Johnny takes one last shot at wooing Brand, pointing out she could have called and must have a good reason for being there in person: him. She laughs hysterically, “You’re a cute kid. You’re just not my type.” Just then, Ben comes roaring in on his beefed up jeep. Brand climbs into the passenger’s seat. Johnny’s jaw drops. Ben shoots him a rocky wink, then drives off.

 

An island in the Atlantic Ocean. The two kids dash toward the center of the crater, finding the scraps of Reed’s device flickering with energy. They spot a set of deep footprints leading away and into the woods. They follow them to the beach. At the end of the trail, collapsed in the shallows: Doom.

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So there it is. Like most superhero origins these days, it sets up quite a few possibilities for the sequel; more space exploration, a New York base, the return of Doom, Mole Man… and Namor if you were paying attention. Of course none of those things will ever happen, particularly with Fox probably moving forward on their own sequel in spite of their movie’s many failures. Still, I enjoy imagining the possibilities. It’s like a slightly more sophisticated way of playing with action figures.

If you made it all the way down here, I applaud your commitment to my frivolous pursuits and sincerely apologize there aren’t more pictures. Honestly, googling good Fantastic Four art is not easy right now. Even if you (yes, you) are the only one who sees this, it made drudging up this ol’ blog worth it. Now you’ll have to excuse me while I go edit out all the embarrassing stuff.

Thanks for reading.

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