These things (comic books) always begin with the cover. It’s what sells you on a book. In an age of Graphic Novels and Trade (i.e. a collection of individual issues) the art of the cover is largely lost. Nobody ever did covers better than Jack Kirby; number 2 on the list would be Alex Ross and his fine painting style, owes a whole lot to Kirby’s influence. All that said, the cover for issue 19 does nothing for me. Had I been a kid looking at this on the newsstand I would have said, I’ll pass this week, however, I would have missed a wonderful comic. I actually typed “fantastic” thought about it for a minute, then hit the delete button several times. With that, let’s take a deep dive into the Fantastic Four no. 19.
The story begins with our team in desperate need of Ben. The Thing is enjoying his day off with Alicia. Reed insists that Alicia comes, Thing balks at this. He’s a member of the team, she isn’t, she doesn’t have to come. Reed gets annoyed back.
This is the stuff that makes the Fantastic Four great. It’s at once a family and a job. Sure Reed could have explained to Ben that he may have found a cure for blindness, but when you get annoyed with your brother who just doesn’t listen, do you bother to explain it to him? Hell no! You yell at the fool. I swear I came from a loving functional family, also I was the youngest of four boys. By the way, Reed may have discovered an ancient Egyptian cure for blindness.
The team recalls their first time-traveling battle with Dr. Doom. They head to his castle to use his time platform to travel back to ancient Egypt. This certainly overlooks the logistics of how they changed location, but Stan kills it with the narration to explain the beautiful paradox of time travel. Stan writes “Seconds later… or, is it weeks… perhaps months, or ages?? There is no way to know when the myster of time travel is concerned! But, seemingly within the wink of an eye, the colorful quartet find themselves in the land of the ancient pharoahs!”
Upon their initial arrival, the team is attacked. At first, all goes well, until they find themselves suddenly without power. They’re overwhelmed and taken prisoner of Rama-Tut. We learn that Rama-Tut sapped their power with a future ray. In a funky twist and a whole lot of super-villain exposition, we learn that Rama-Tut is from the year 3000. There he grew bored, after all the only thing there is to do is watch 3D TV and lust after the historical adventures of the Fantastic Four.
Upon his arrival, from the future, Rama-Tut went blind, from radiation. “From radiation,” is generally used a lot to explain things in the Fantastic Four. His blindness is cured by a mysterious Egyptian herb. He enslaves the team, using future rays or something. He is also yet another villain to creep on Sue, saying he’ll make her his queen.
The team is put to work – Sue as a wife, Reed as a lookout, Johnny as a jester, and Thing as a boat rower. Rowing one day in the hot sun, the ray of said sun gets so powerful, as they were in ancient Egypt compared to modern New York (yes, really) and transform Thing back into the human form of Ben Grimm. This also breaks the enslavement.
Using his judo skills and good old human muscle, he battles his way free and to Sue. Dramatically, as he is transforming back into the Thing, he is able to steal Rama-Tut’s ray gun and zap Sue, reversing the enslavement effect. It’s wonderful.
Sue gets to zapping and the Fantastic Four dominos start to fall. The team is all eventually free, including Reed who was being used as a giant wall shield (kind of a literal domino, if you will).
United, the team fights to get back to the future (cue Alan Silvestri score). Rama-Tut is obviously angry. He blabs on about it and Thing has the most wonderful retort about how he feels like every bad guy says the same thing.
Rama-Tut escapes, to the past, to the future, to some unknown alternate dimension. The team hopes they never see him again, but Reed acknowledges they probably will. Everyone but Sue forgot the blindness cure, a.k.a. the reason they traveled to the past! She has a vial of the herb.
The team returns to the present, however, the end is so very tragically real. The herb was radioactive and the time machine prevented the radioactive restorative power of the herb from traveling forward in time. So it didn’t work, in a sense, it was all for nothing. Reed is sad but determined. Just as one day he’ll turn Ben human, one day he’ll cure Alicia’s blindness. Best of all, his hope is as genuine as is his resolve, because he knows it can be done. It’s a brilliant ending to a very good story. The lesson here, never judge a comic book by its cover. Particularly when what is inside the cover is by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.