WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel Two-In-One #3, by Chip Zdarsky, Valerio Schiti and Frank Martin, on sale now.
As Marvel’s first family, the Fantastic Four has, appropriately, always been a family first, explorers second, and heroes third venture. This is one of the central themes that has powered writer Chip Zdarksy’s Marvel Two-in-One, and with issue three of the series, he brings the notion to the forefront and, in the process, redefines the team.
The story, titled “Mad Company,” is bookended by a confrontation between Doctor Doom, and the Mad Thinker, who first appeared in Fantastic Four #15, back in 1963. Believing that he has stolen the Multisect — a device that permits inter-dimensional travel — Doom has sought out the thieving villain. Little does he know that Ben and Johnny have already found the device, and are going after their lost family members.
There’s a slight wrinkle in their plans, however: Johnny is losing his powers. Ever protective, Ben decides that he and the ailing Johnny can’t go traipsing through the multiverse. In his quest for a solution, the Thing seeks out Hercules, the Greek demi-god and gadfly who’d recently recovered his own abilities.
Their journey begins at a Brooklyn bar, where the “Prince of Power” informs them that Zeus could have cured him. But the prideful Herc refused his father’s divine intervention, and took to the Internet instead. He found a savior in the form of Dr. Rhana Koul, the same scientist Ben encountered at the Fantastic Awards Gala, two issues ago.
Trekking to the woods of Wyoming, the trio encounters the mercenary scientist. Specializing in Imperiumology, the biology of superpowers, she can cure Johnny, for a price. Rachna has no scruples about treating heroes and villains. Fire and water collide as the Torch takes on Hydro-Man, a low-grade bad guy being treated by the doctor.
As it turns out, Johnny and Ben can’t afford Rachna’s three-quarter million dollar fee, as their money is tied up in funding the Avengers. Upon learning what the multisect can do, she agrees to diagnose the Human Torch on one condition: they take her with them.
In another twist, we learn that Johnny is not the only one whose powers are fading. Ben has also lost some capacity, and admits he had trouble facing off against Doom. Koul, who has been scanning the pair since their arrival at her lab, reveals the origin of the problem; just as Hercules is tethered to a conduit of power, Johnny and Ben also draw their strength from elsewhere. In their case, they’re connected the other members of the Fantastic Four. Thus, in the absence of Sue and Reed, the pair have begun to lose their power.
The converse is also logically true, so the Richards are likely in trouble of their own. This sets up a race against the clock, and Ben is the wildcard here. With his powers gone, he will probably gain his fondest wish and revert to his unmutated form. Believing the rest of the family dead, and only seeking them out to boost Johnny’s morale, how will Ben play this? Will he pretend to go along for the sake of appearances, or will he seize the opportunity to end what he considers his own isolation?
The stakes are high. The survival of the entire team now depends on a reunion. As we saw in Marvel Legacy #1, Valeria and Franklin are already making their way back to our universe, perhaps beckoned by the hand of Doom. Are they also tethered to the Four, or does the connection extend only to those who survived the crash? And if they aren’t linked, will the gifted children come to the rescue of their elders?
As for our two protagonists, Johnny and Ben need all the help they can get, and a demi-god and scientific genius make good traveling companions when your destination is the multiverse.
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