Johnny "Human Torch" Storm, Ben "the Thing" Grimm, and Franklin and Valeria "grounding agent" Richards have been trapped in the Negative Zone by Lyja "plot device" Storm, Johnny's bitter, vengeful, and Skrull ex-wife. Lyja blasted the upper storeys of the Baxter Building through the Fantastic Four's N-Zone portal and then busted up the controls, so none of them can get back. She then had a change of heart and tried to get into Johnny's pants (yes, really). Now, the exiled superheroes have decided to break into the government's super-villain prison facility, located elsewhere in the Zone, in the hopes that one of the prisoners therein will have the technical skills to repair the N-Zone portal and get them all back to New York.
Johnny, Ben, and the kids wait patiently in the Fantasticar as its automatic pilot conveys them through the void to Prison 42. Lyja's not around, as Johnny doesn't trust her enough to bring the woman he calls a "psycho" along. Everything's relative, of course... he does trust her enough to get his freak on with her while she's trying to kill him, but not enough to bring her along on a dangerous mission to save all of their lives.
Moving right along, some Nega-bats show up out of nowhere and exploit the Fantasticar's most obvious design flaw, namely the fact that it doesn't have a roof. The Nega-bats grasp the two kids, and pull them away into space, forcing the Torch to flame on and fly off in pursuit.
Those of us paying enough attention to remember as far back as last issue may wonder why the kids aren't still wearing their power armour, specifically designed to keep them safe in dangerous situations like this one. Keep wondering, as this story isn't going to let continuity or common sense get in the way of the obligatory first-act action sequence.
While Johnny flame-broils the Nega-bat holding Valeria, Ben growls "I'll just sit this one out... Not!!" and brings the Fantasticar around. For any kids reading this, saying "not" to connote humorous irony was a fad derived from Mike Myers' "Wayne's World" SNL sketches, nearly twenty years ago, which became trite and hackneyed almost immediately thereafter. I'll leave it to you to decide if it's the Thing or writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa who's embarrassingly out of touch. (But you can probably guess my opinion on the subject.)
Ben doesn't have a chance to spew any more stale quips, as Lyja turns up with Franklin in tow. Her rescue having provided her with some credibility, Johnny and Ben allow her to accompany them to Prison 42, a.k.a. Prison Alpha, a.k.a. Fantasy Island. Yes, we're all wondering about that last nickname, and Franklin even asks Ben to explain what it means, but he's too embarrassed and changes the subject.
And no, they don't return to the matter, even though it's important enough to be flagged in the story and in the story's own title. Huh.
While Ben clobbers his way inside the prison, Lyja and Johnny have a heart-to-heart. Seems that Lyja disappeared after the Onslaught storyline, which is a polite in-universe way of suggesting the writers realized she was a dead end and dropped her like a bad habit. The story is, Lyja just hung around New York for no real reason, not doing anything in particular, until the Skrull infiltrators made contact with her and ordered her to execute Johnny and Ben. She felt conflicted about that, and so she merely blasted the Baxter Building into the N-Zone, as a way of keeping Johnny et al. alive. So she really does love him!
Which explains why she was trying to kill him last issue. Oh, wait, no, it doesn't.
But I digress. Inside the prison, the Thing has broken enough walls and robot guards to gain access to the cells, and has made contact with Phineas "the Tinkerer" Mason. Ben puts Mason in the picture regarding the Skrull invasion, but Mason is unmoved. He thinks he's innocent of any crime: true, he never registered under the SHRA, but he fancied himself to be retired and thus not subject to that law. Seems flimsy to me, but as he points out, he never got a trial or due process, so whether he is in fact a criminal has never been formally settled. He's understandably bitter about all this, and consequently doesn't want to help Ben and Johnny, even to help save Earth from the Skrulls.
But beneath his sense of grievance is love for his grandkids, and so when Franklin appeals to him, his sympathy kicks in and he agrees to help. One Fantasticar trip later, Mason repairs the portal machinery and warps the Baxter building and its occupants back to Manhattan. Lyja's not one of those occupants, though, for she elects to stay behind in the Negative Zone. Why would she stay in such a hostile environment? So that she can do some soul-searching, or something. Maybe we'll see her again in another ten years!
If I had to pick an adjective for this mini-series, it would be "irrelevant."
The plot arc is flat: Johnny and the rest were sent to the N-Zone, but they got back, no worse for wear. The character arc is flat: Johnny's feelings for Lyja are no clearer than before, and as she's didn't come back with the others, he won't have any reason to think them through in the future. The whole thing took three issues to tell but only really needed one, and as a result was padded with splash pages, gratuitous fight scenes, and pointless asides.
I can see that Marvel wants the main story of Secret Invasion to be told in that book, and thus that these supporting books and mini-series can't make plot contributions. But they can make character contributions... only this one doesn't do that, as it can't introduce Lyja—or Johnny's feelings for her—as active concerns without stepping on the toes of the main Fantastic Four book. So if it can't disturb the plot or character status quo for these characters, which are being dealt with elsewhere, what's the point of this mini-series?
None I can see.
This issue, and Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four as a whole, is lighter than air. If the whole thing had been compressed into one issue, it might have made an entertaining one-shot; but dragged out over three issues, it's hard to see this mini-series as anything other than a cash grab. One web, and all the credit goes to Barry Kitson's pencils.
1) So why do they call the prison "Fantasy Island" anyway? I recognize the reference to the Montalban-Villechaise TV show, but I fail to see the relevance.
Yes, there's plenty of irrelevance to go around!
2) So, let me get this straight: Lyja chose to stay in the N-Zone to get her head together. Where is she going to live? What's she going to eat, or drink?
I guess the same magical fairies that supply the Zone with gravity, light, heat, and air will provide, but I still think this hasn't been thought through enough.
There's plenty of not-thinking-things-through to go around also!