Appearing in "Happy Birthday, Darling!"
- Fantastic Four
- Alicia Masters (Secretly the Skrull spy Lyja)
- Franklin Richards
- Wyatt Wingfoot
- Ben Grimm (Only in flashback)
- New York City
- Central City
- The Richards Family Estate
- Richards Rocket Group Headquarters (Only in flashback)
- Central City
Synopsis for "Happy Birthday, Darling!"
The Fantastic Four, Alicia, Franklin and Wyatt Wingfoot have surprised their leader Reed Richards with a birthday cake. Reed is genuinely surprised as his birthday managed to slip his mind. With many candles on the cake, Reed decides to delight Franklin by using his powers to expand his lungs to comic proportions allowing him to generate the gust of breath needed to blow out all the candles. Once the festivities being, Sue begins to notice that something is troubling Reed. Confirming her feelings, Reed takes his wife outside and makes an admission to her: he cannot remember his mother's eyes. Reed explains that while they were exploring the Negative Zone and he was made a prisoner of Taranith Gestal, who absorbed Reed's mind into an entire machine, he has realized that since being restored to normal there are gaps in his memories. As Reed tries to struggle to remember these missing memories, he tells his wife that the earliest thing he can recall is a few years before they became the Fantastic Four when they battled the being known as Gormuu....
Years ago, a much younger Reed Richards is driving through Central City, glad that his lover Susan Storm had decided to come out and visit him. As they are driving, they witness as a strange alien ship passes by their car. Driving to the landing site they are shocked to discover a horrible looking alien creature emerging from the ship. It introduces itself as Gormuu, the warlord of the planet Kraalo. When Reed questions the alien's purpose on Earth, Gormuu explains that he has come to Earth to conquer it. As Reed pleads to the alien visitor not to do so, it merely brushes off his pleas and walks away, growing with every step. Soon the United States Air Force is deployed, but their weapons have no effect on Gormuu, who continues to grow and become stronger.
Meanwhile, Reed is meeting with military officials to brainstorm on ways to stop Gormuu and his invasion of Earth. When reports that the creature is approaching Central City, an evacuation is ordered. When the general contacts the White House for assistance, the President tries to contact the Russians to get permission to launch nuclear weapons at the monster without any retaliation. The Russian premiere warns the President against such an action as it might be seen as an act of war. With the governments of the world locked in their nuclear rhetoric, Reed decides to try something out. Racing out to Gormuu's ship, Reed goes inside to investigate. There he discovers the device that is constantly pumping Gormuu with energy causing him to grow. Going out to investigate the footprints. Measuring the deepness of the footprints, Reed finally has the solution he is looking for.
Rushing back to the Richards Rocket Group facility, Reed begins building a device that will bombard Gormuu with more power. As he is working he is joined by both Sue and Ben Grimm. When Reed tells them what he is up to, Ben believes that Reed is betraying them to Gormuu and tries to stop him. Reed is forced to punch out his best friend then activates the device. When the beam from the device begin to strike Gormuu, he suddenly shoots up in size. The alien invader initially gloats, but when he cannot stop growing he begins to panic as suddenly Gormuu's body grows larger than the planet itself, loses all cohesion and fades away. In the aftermath of the invasion, Reed explains that he discovered that while Gormuu's body increased in size, it did not increase in mass. That by increasing Gormuu's size to an exponential level it would cause him to dissipate. With the threat neutralized, Reed takes Sue and Ben outside where his new experimental spacecraft is in its final stages, telling his two closest friends that today's attack make their future space flight all the more important...
... Finishing his recollection, Reed comments how they went on their unauthorized space flight not long thereafter which resulted in their exposure to cosmic rays and becoming the Fantastic Four. Reed once more chastises himself for being responsible for Ben Grimm's transformation into the Thing. When Sue reminds her husband that Ben has gotten over that and has become comfortable with who he is. Reed responds by saying he is not so sure, pointing out their recent involvement in the Secret Wars on Battleworld where Ben discovered he could change back and forth between his human and Thing form. Reed had deceived Ben into thinking it was the planet itself that triggered the transformation, when he knew full well that it was Ben's own force of will. Reed wonders how Ben will feel if he ever returns to Earth and discovers the truth. Sue tries to assure to her husband that what he told Ben wasn't really a lie per se, as he told Ben what he needed to hear.
Putting aside the conundrum for a time, Reed decides to make an announcement to the rest of the team: They are returning to Central City, and the Richards family home so that Reed can finally close any gaps he still has in his memory. They soon arrive at the Richards estate where Reed is reunited with Giles Peacock and his wife, the on site staff that has worked for the Richards family for years. After a round of introductions are made, the Fantastic Four and their friends all sit down to dinner. There, Reed explains that his father disappeared three years prior to the space mission that gained the Fantastic Four their powers. Reed's father had left him a few million dollars for his project. When Wyatt asks about how Reed still has this estate considering the Fantastic Four's early financial woes. Reed points out that his father's maintained separate ownership of the home from Reed, and that it had enough funds to be maintained and operated by the Peacocks in his absence.
Giles tells Reed that things have been going smoothly with the exception of the occasional ghosts that appear in the night. He tells the Fantastic Four that they have been regularly visited by strange specters that periodically emerge from the lab owned by Reed's father. Curious as to what these ghosts might be, Reed and the rest of his team go down to the lab. He stops She-Hulk before she can smash the door open, warning about traps. Instead, Reed has Sue use her powers to make the wall transparent so Reed can spot the triggers and has Johnny uses his flame powers to melt through them, deactivating the traps. Getting into the lab, they are all shocked to see a massive time platform just like the one the Fantastic Four confiscated from Doctor Doom early on in their career. Examining the controls, Reed sees that it was set for yesterday's date and realizes that his father had traveled back in time to try to get to this point in history and something must have happened along the way and ended up strapped in a parallel universe. Reed tells his friends and family that there is but only one course of action: use the time platform and try to find his father.
Aliens attack! They'll stop at nothing to defeat the Fantastic Four - and they can change their very shape! Could it be the Skrulls? Or somebody worse? Who could be worse than the Skrulls?
- Members of the Fantastic Four were last seen in the following stories:
- This is not the real Alicia Masters, but a Skrull spy named Lyja. As per Fantastic Four #358, Lyja replaced Alicia to infiltrate and spy on the Fantastic Four.
- The number of candles of Reed's cake count to 40. Reed's actual age should be considered a matter of interpretation. A previous reference to his age was in the letter pages of Fantastic Four #11 that states that Reed was in his late 30s that time. Per the Sliding Timescale of Earth-616, for every four years of real time, roughly one year elapses in the Marvel universe. As such, roughly six years of time had passed between Fantastic Four #11 and this issue. So by the point of this story, Reed should be in his mid to late 40s. One could argue that the candles represent Reed's physical age after he was de-aged in Fantastic Four #214.
- Reed mentions how his mind was pulled from his body by Taranith Gestal during their exploration of the Negative Zone. The Fantastic Four ventured into the Negative Zone between Fantastic Four #251–256. Reed's mind was harvested and trapped in Gestal's ship in Fantastic Four #254–256.
- This is the first time Reed's parents are mentioned. Reed's father is identified as Nathaniel in Fantastic Four #273, his mother Evelyn is named in Fantastic Four: Unplugged #2. Fantastic Four #273 also reveals that Reed's mother died when Reed was only seven years old.
- Reed mentions how Ben stayed behind on Battleworld during the Secret Wars. As seen in Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #12, Ben decided to stay on Battleworld when he discovered he could change back and forth between his human and Thing forms. Ben remains on Battleworld between Thing #11–22, when he discovers the truth about his ability to change back-and-forth, only to lose that ability in the process. This, along with the discovery that Johnny and "Alicia" are dating in Fantastic Four #277 leads to Ben being estranged from the Fantastic Four until he rejoins the team in Fantastic Four #296.
- Wyatt makes mention of the Fantastic Four's previous financial problems early on in their career. This is a reference to Fantastic Four #9 when the Fantastic Four filed for bankruptcy and Reed had to sell off their assets.
- Reed states that his father disappeared three years prior to the space flight that created the Fantastic Four. From the perspective of this story, the events of Fantastic Four #1 happened roughly six years prior per the Sliding Timescale. This would place Nathaniel Richards' disappearance nine years prior to this story.
- Reed makes the observation that his father's time platform resembles the one they confiscated from Doctor Doom following their first battle in Fantastic Four #5. This is somewhat accurate, as revealed in Fantastic Four Annual #11, Reed did indeed confiscate it but was forced to return it for diplomatic reasons, but not before he was able to duplicate the device for his own use.
- Following their appearances here, "Alicia" and Franklin are seen in Marvel Team-Up #148 and Amazing Spider-Man #260 respectively.
- Reed, and Sue's last chronological appearance from this point in time was in a flashback from Fantastic Four: First Family #5. While Ben's previous chronological appearance is in the flashback from Thing (Vol. 2) #1.
- All Cold War references in this story should be considered topical references per the Sliding Timescale of Earth-616. As the modern age slides forward so as not to prematurely age the character, such is the same with everyone's past prior to the birth of the Fantastic Four.
- As revealed in Conspiracy #1, General Edward Harrison provided Reed with the equipment he needed to defeat Gormuu, and was later responsible for covering up the whole incident from the general public.
- Naturally, the spaceship seen here is the one that Reed and his friends pilot in the accident that turn them into the Fantastic Four way back in Fantastic Four #1.
- Following these events, Reed and Sue are next seen in Marvel: The Lost Generation #12 where they are being observed by the Watcher and Doctor Strange.
- Ben is seen next in the flashback in the second story of Marvel Fanfare #46 where he began a romance with Dr. Linda McGill.
A flashback in this story affects the chronology of the following characters:
- The flashback sequence, as well as the cover, is presented in Jack Kirby's stylized, "monster-era" (prior to 1961) manner with John Byrne's artwork also reflecting this motif.
- This issue also contains a letters page, Fantastic Forum. Letters are published from Stephen Scott, Beau Smith, Charles Ardinger V, Gregory Hrynchyshn, Vicki Newton, Sean Twist, and Mary Francis O'Malley.