More time travel! This issue features the humble beginning of one of my favorite comic book villains. Brace yourself for…a rendezvous with Rama!
I’ve lost track of how many times the theme of an issue has been “captured” or “imprisoned” or the like. Maybe every twenty issues or so I’ll do a roundup of notable statistics like that.
The action gets started this issue when Reed makes a shocking discovery while researching Egyptology at the Museum of Natural History.
So everyone gets super excited about this potential news. But what good does this do them? This cure, if it indeed exists, existed thousands of years ago.
Doom’s time platform! This will be the second of many appearances.
Listen. I don’t want to be the asshole, but maybe the blind girl isn’t the best one to leave behind in your archenemy’s lair, in charge of the delicate machinery that might leave you stranded in time. I mean, Doom is definitely dead now, and Alicia is a capable, intelligent woman. But still. This is what happens when you have such a small supporting cast, Fantastic Four.
At any rate, Alicia throws the switch, and our heroes find themselves thrown back…to the past!
There are actually a number of carved sphinx statues from various periods of Egyptian history, but this one appears to be the big one, the Great Sphinx of Giza, which puts their destination at around 2500 BC (experts’ best guess, anyway – no one really knows exactly when it was built).
The team immediately finds itself under attack!
The team is handling these primitive noobs without breaking a sweat — until disaster strikes! One by one, the team is struck powerless by an unknown source! The Torch finds his flame doused! The Thing is suddenly as weak as a kitten! Reed’s body loses its elasticity! Sue is the last to fall. All seems lost! What fresh horror will our adventurers wake to next?
If you think this looks familiar, check out Doom’s welcome for the team back in Issue 16, or even back in Issue 5. The guy’s a fan of throne rooms, and Rama-Tut here seems to be cut from the same cloth. More on that soon!
Rama-Tut reveals that he’s quite familiar with the Fantastic Four, and explains to his shocked captives that he, too, is from the future!
When Rama-Tut is from, society is in the grips of an unprecedented period of wretched peace and prosperity, and everything is super boring. He was a Man of Action, born in the wrong time, and yearned for a life of action and adventure!
Those trusting rubes in the year 3000 apparently let just anyone roam around in ancient ruins, though, and our man found the parts and schematics for a time machine! What’s interesting here is that this time machine was apparently invented by an ancestor of his. And check out that background! Is Rama-Tut the descendant of one Victor Von Doom?
Before they can move against him, Rama-Tut zaps the team with his weapon again, enslaving them. He has special plans for Sue.
Things are looking pre-tty good for Rama-Tut, but not so good for our heroes.Talk about sun burn! Apparently, the sheer heat of the Egyptian desert sun has caused Thing to revert to his soft-skinned self. No longer Thing, Ben breaks free of the influence of Rama-Tut’s mind control rays. We’ve established in previous issues that Ben and Thing have significantly different genetic makeup, so this is pretty consistent with that. The cause of the change, though, is ridiculous.
Ben embarks on an epic (but brief) journey to escape his captors, and finds his way to Rama-Tut’s palace.
Rama-Tut has, in his Man of Action overconfidence, left his weapon around unguarded. It’ll cost him! Inside the palace, the effects of the sun are starting to wear off, but as Ben transforms back into the Thing and loses consciousness, he manages to zap Sue and free her from the mind control!
She quickly frees Johnny, entertaining them nearby, and Rama-Tut makes a quick getaway under fire from the Torch. They make use of the ray to free Ben and Reed and regroup to begin their search for Rama-Tut. The answer seems obvious – the Sphinx! They make their way through a secret tunnel and up into the Sphinx, finding advanced machinery and booby traps, but no sign of the false pharaoh. Finally, they come across a sealed room that must be his hiding place! Reed and Ben ponder the ramifications of Rama-Tut’s story and his potential identities.
This is what they were after all along! A cure for Alicia’s (and presumably, anyone else’s) blindness! Suddenly, the team feels the Sphinx rumbling ominously, and make a quick escape just as a self-destruct sequence wipes out all the internal machinery of the artifact, erasing all evidence of Rama-Tut’s origins. They move fast to get to their extraction location.
I disagree with Reed’s analysis slightly, however. This doesn’t strike me as a critical fault so much as a critical safety feature. The last thing Doom would want is someone passing a bomb or who-knows-what futuristic device through the portal directly into his throne room. Depending on how strict the filter is, it might explain why Doom didn’t just send a Doombot through back in Issue 5.
What’s so fascinating about this issue is it’s long-term effects on the Marvel Universe. This story will be referenced for decades to come, and Rama-Tut and his various other yet-to-be-revealed identities (Kang, Immortus, Iron Lad, and others) will be involved with numerous stories. Even the time-traveling Sphinx has further memorable appearances.
Future writers will return to this exact moment in time as well. There’s a Dr. Strange issue where he travels to this time period for other reasons and invisibly helps them out on this adventure. It’s revealed that Strange, not the older, hotter sun, is the real reason for Thing’s timely reversion to Ben Grimm. An arc of West Coast Avengers in the ’80s (a really fun set of comics I actually have at home somewhere) had that team stranded in this time period, too, having an adventure parallel to the Fantastic Four’s. Hawkeye and company keep Rama-Tut’s troops busy while the FF make their escape. X-Men villain Apocalypse has his origins in ancient Egypt, and there is at least one story detailing his interactions with Rama-Tut.
So, yeah. This is a great little slice of Marvel history right here. It’s a great example of what you can do with the serialized nature of these sorts of shared universes. People complain about dense continuity sometimes, but you could never do stories like this in a universe of limited scope.
What’s disturbing about this issue is Rama-Tut’s affection for Sue Storm. Wife-hostage is pretty much the default status for women superheroes or women supporting cast, sadly, so mostly this is just an unfortunate case of the story templates of the time.
BUT. At some point in the future it’s revealed that Rama-Tut’s real name is Nathaniel Richards. There is a strong chance that the future Susan Storm-Richards is his great-great-etc. grandmother or similar relation. (Which implies that at some point the Doom and Richards family lines merge, unless Rama-Tut is simply wrong about his ancestor being the one who invented the time machine.) Granted, Rama-Tut has managed to make a complete hash out of his own personal timeline, but still. So it’s a little weird.
I’m a little unclear on why the troops would have different outfits from the original period. I could see him outfitting them with new technology, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case, as the FF fend off their ancient weapons with ease. Maybe Rama-Tut was just a bit of a fashion-police wannabe? He definitely has a thing for the color purple.
We close this week with a piece of the letter column that I found interesting:
This Steve Gerber guy would go on to work in comics starting in the 1970s. He’s probably most well known for the creation of Howard the Duck. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve read anything he worked on, though I’m familiar with him generally.
What I found funny about this letter is that I disagree with nearly everything he has to say – I specifically noted how awesome the Kirby/Ditko team-up on Issue 13 was, and how much I enjoyed the Red Ghost, and I think the FF adventures off Earth have been some of their strongest. Issue 14 I didn’t regard as highly as he did. He claims Issue 9 as a masterpiece, but yeeesh. He’s only like 16 years old here, though, so I guess you can’t hold it against him. He’s not wrong about Issue 15, though, that one was weak.
Next time: A powerful new cosmic-level enemy! And the return of…The Watcher!