WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Marvel 2-In-One Annual #1 by Chip Zdarsky, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, in stores now.
The Fantastic Four are no more -- but that doesn't mean the team is gone...
Ever since the end of Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic's 2015 event Secret Wars, Reed Richards and Susan Storm have been missing, exploring the Multiverse and creating new worlds alongside their children Franklin and Valeria. But while Marvel Comics readers know this, as far as the rest of the Marvel Universe is concerned, Sue, Reed, Franklin and Val are dead.
Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm, the only two surviving members of the team, dealt with their grief the only way they respectively could -- on their own -- but recently, the two found each other once again in the pages of Marvel 2-In-One.
The series is as close to a Fantastic Four title as we can get right now, something that was made all the more apparent when Doctor Doom joined the series' core cast. The comic started with Ben and Johnny using the Multisect to travel to other realities in order for them to have adventures that would carry the torch of the Fantastic Four. As they did so, they found a few allies along the way that would bring the total of their group to four. The first was Rachna Koul, a brilliant and blunt scientist with ulterior motives, and the second is quite surprisingly their worst villain, Doctor Doom.
Doctor Doom may have been the main villain of Secret Wars, but Mister Fantastic's nemesis underwent a major change at the end of the event. When reality had been re-written and fixed, Doom no longer had his scars, and he was looking at a brighter, more heroic future. This future led him to become the Infamous Iron Man, a would-be successor to Tony Stark. He's a little (read: a lot) rough around the edges, but Doom has been on the side of good now for the better part of three years. He still sees himself as an intellectual superior to everyone else, but he now strives to protect the world instead of trying to rule it.
In Marvel 2-In-One Annual #1, Doom's turn to heroism is taken even further. With Ben Grimm at his side, Doom comes across an alternate reality version of himself, one who is still quite villainous -- and victorious against the Fantastic Four. This is almost a crossroads of sorts for the character, who sees the path taken by his darkness, as opposed to the one he currently finds himself on. At a certain point, it looks like Doom might return to his old ways, but thanks to the intervention of the new Council of Reeds, Doom makes a startling confession. With the new outlook and purpose he has, with his more heroic mission, he somehow sees himself responsible for Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm, who were left all alone by Reed Richards.
Even though they were his enemies for decades, Doom now sees the two as lost souls he can help defend and guide. This definitely marks a turn for the character, who has always looked down on the Fantastic Four. The truth is he still does, but the fact that he sees himself responsible for them is surprisingly heartwarming.
The Annual ends with a quiet splash page that actually speaks volumes. With Castle Doom in the background, the once-villain appears to be walking away from it, and what it represents. But more than that, he walks away from it alongside Johnny Storm, Ben Grimm and Rachna Koul, as a full-fledged placeholder version of the Fantastic Four. If Rachna is a stand-in for Sue, then that makes Doom the new Mr. Fantastic. That's quite different from the Doctor Doom we once knew: once the sworn-enemy of Marvel's first family of superheroes -- and now one of its unofficial members.
At least, until the real team finally comes back in August. Here's hoping Doom still sticks around after that.