- So the Mole Man couldn't turn me back to normal! Normal isn't a thing I want to be right now--so to speak!
Appearing in "The Scenic Route!"
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Synopsis for "The Scenic Route!"
In the aftermath of their failed search to find the Mole Man to cure Sharon Venture of her mutation into a She-Thing, Sharon assures the rest of her team that she has come to terms with her transformation and has grown to like the changes her body has undergone, seeing it as a refuge after the brutality she experienced as a normal looking woman. After discussing the situation further, Ben becomes interested in a strange tunnel and asks one of the Moloids where it might go. When they are told that the Mole Man forbade anyone to travel that tunnel, Ben decides its time the Fantastic Four got back to doing what they do best -- exploring the mysteries of the unknown and believes the strange tunnel is just such a mystery. When he and Sharon knock away the debris blocking the tunnel they are assaulted by the pungent odor that is freed from the other side. Unswayed by the foul smell, the Fantastic Four venture into the tunnel to see where it goes. Suddenly there is a bright flash of light and they find themselves in a completely different tunnel. They are unnerved at first until Crystal points out that the sensation they felt is not unlike when her dog Lockjaw teleports people somewhere. To test the theory out, Ben walks back the way they came and suddenly disappears in a bright flash of light, only to return a moment later to confirm Crystal's hunch. As they continue on, the group begins to theorize that these transportals must be how the Mole Man is able to travel all over underground without the assistance of vehicles. As they continue on, Crystal and Johnny quietly remark about how well Sharon is adjusting and they are happy to see that she and Ben might be falling in love with each other, which is a great relief to Johnny after how upset Ben was after he married Alicia. In his mind, Johnny tries to reassure himself that he loves his wife and Crystal is no longer part of his life.
Meanwhile, back in New York City, Alicia Masters is showing off her latest sculptures. While discussing how her new marriage is an inspiration to her, suddenly she and the man she is showing the art to are suddenly shocked when a fire suddenly fills the sky.
Back with the Fantastic Four, the group comes across a massive magma fall, Johnny flies ahead to look around and Crystal calls out to follow after him. Thinking they are alone, Ben and Sharon begin opening up about their feelings for one another, when suddenly Johnny comes back wondering where Crystal is. Realizing that she didn't go with Johnny, they begin to frantically look around for another teleportal. While searching, Johnny comes upon a glowing pile of rubble blocking another tunnel. Ben and Sharon clear them away and they charge through. On the other side they are shocked to find a massive fortress was a massive flurry of bats flying over it. Going to the castle wall, Johnny tries to use his flame on it, but it has no effect. Suspecting magic at play, Ben and Sharon try to pry the gate open, and succeed.
On the other side they find Crystal a prisoner of the demon known as Belasco, who tells them that although she is nothing like Shanna the She-Devil or Illyana Rasputin, he wishes to make Crystal his mate. When the Fantastic Four balk at this decree, Belasco tries to keep them at bat with a mystical eye blast. Suddenly he is distracted when there is a massive burst of flame, suspecting that it is the Torch's doing. Johnny decides to take advantage of it and lunges towards their foe, but Belasco uses his magic to turn the hero into a pig. He isn't so lucky when Sharon and Ben charge at him, and Belasco is knocked out with a single punch. With Belasco knocked out, Johnny changes back to normal. With Crystal recovered, the Fantastic Four decide to leave Belasco and fall back. Going the way they came they witness another large fireball above them just as Belsaco awakens with a scream. Running to a dead end, Johnny discovers another portal in the ceiling of the tunnel when he tries to melt through the rock and the group uses it to escape.
They find themselves in yet another underground realm and before a strange underground city that is lit by an artificial sun. Ben recognizes it as the domain of the Cat-People that he visited during his brief time with the West Coast Avengers. Thinking they found salvation, Ben leads them to the gates and he asks the guards to let them in. However the felines are not as friendly as when Ben last came here and the FF are attacked. The Fantastic Four fight back until the Cat-People fall back. When they speak to their commander, the Cat-Man tells them that they will fight the intruders to the death. When Ben declines to fight and says they'll go back the way they came, Belasco suddenly appears before them. Belasco informs the group that the Cat-People are really demons that were ill informed when they helped Ben previously, and that they are loyal to him. They are surprised to know that while Belasco used to rule over these creatures but left them in favor to worship the Elder Gods, he was previously unaware that there was a portal that connected these two realms until he followed after his foes.
Before another fight can break out anew, suddenly the sky erupts in fire again. This time an image of Doctor Strange battling the demon Shuma-Gorath can be seen in the flames. Just as Doctor Strange tosses a flaming image of the Earth at Gorath, the image suddenly explodes. Fearing that all the realms will collapse, Belasco becomes focused on trying to stop that battle, allowing the Fantastic Four to slip away. They come to what the Cat-People call the River of Oblivion and find a boat and use it to slip down river. At the end of the underground river is a stone wall, but instead of slamming into it, the Fantastic Four find its another transportal that sends to a distant alien world. They fall before the demonic Master Pandimonium who welcomes them to the distant world of Arcturus IV.
- Sharon talks about the various traumas she experienced that got her to this point:
- As revealed in Fantastic Four #306, Sharon was raped by the minions of Karl Malus while she was his prisoner in Captain America #330-331.
- Later she was exposed to cosmic rays in Fantastic Four #310 and mutated into a She-Thing.
- Initially in Fantastic Four #311 the transformation made Sharon suicidal, but she started coming to terms with her transformation after meeting X-Factor's Beast in Fantastic Four #312.
- Ben mentions how he used to live with Mole Man, this was in Fantastic Four #296, before he rejoined the Fantastic Four after a long estrangement from the group.
- The dimensional portals that the Fantastic Four discover this issue were created by the enigmatic Caretakers as revealed in Fantastic Four #316.
- Johnny mentions how Ben was upset that he married "Alicia Masters" and almost broke up the team as a result. The situation is far more complicated than Johnny is making it sound. The drama is as follows:
- Ben and the real Alicia Masters dated for a long time, since Fantastic Four #9.
- Meanwhile, Johnny and Crystal dated between Fantastic Four #65-105 until the outside world's pollution forced her to return home to Attilan.
- Crystal ended up rescuing Quicksilver along the way and the two fell in love as seen in Fantastic Four #131-132. Crystal and Quicksilver later got married in Fantastic Four #150. Johnny had a series of failed relationships while Ben and Alicia remained together over the years.
- When most of the Fantastic Four were among those kidnapped by the Beyonder to battle in the first Secret Wars on Battleworld, Ben discovered he could change back and forth and believe it was because of Battleworld itself. He decided to stay there in Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #12.
- Ben remained in Battleworld between Thing #11-22 where he eventually lost his ability to change back into Ben Grimm and returned to Earth.
- As explained in Fantastic Four #358, Alicia was secretly replaced by the Skrull spy Lyja who was sent to infiltrate the Fantastic Four. With the Thing no longer part of the team she focused her attention on Johnny. Lyja took Alicia's place during the events of Fantastic Four #265.
- When he arrived in Fantastic Four #257 he discovered that Johnny was now in a relationship with "Alicia".
- In Thing #23 the truth of what Reed had known came out and the Thing quit the Fantastic Four.
- Ben ended up joining the Mole Man's society Fantastic Four #296, where he still held a grudge against Reed and the Fantastic Four for everything that happened to him. Despite this he grudgingly rejoined the team when they later came looking for him.
- Johnny recently married "Alicia" in Fantastic Four #300
- Meanwhile, Crystal had and affair with Norm Webster and was eventually caught during the events ofVision and the Scarlet Witch Vol 2 #6 through 12.
- In Fantastic Four #303 Ben realized that he still loved Alicia Masters.
- Reed elected Ben to replace him as leader of the Fantastic Four in Fantastic Four #304
- Ben then asked Crystal to join the Fantastic Four in Fantastic Four #305, Which Johnny believed was to force him to leave the team or ruin his marriage.
- Johnny went so far as to accuse Crystal of trying to break up his marriage in Fantastic Four Annual #20.
- Johnny and Crystal later buried the hatchet in Fantastic Four #306.
- Belasco appears here following the events of Ka-Zar the Savage #29 when he tried to interrupt the wedding of Ka-Zar and Shanna the She-Devil in order to make Shanna his bride. That plot ended in failure.
- Belasco mentions two other women he tried to make is brides they are:
- Ben remembers the realm of the Cat-People after he visited it with the West Coast Avengers in West Coast Avengers Vol 2 #6. Ben wasn't present when the Cat-People later turned on the Avengers in West Coast Avengers Vol 2 #15.
- The battle between Doctor Strange and Shuma-Gorath are depicted from the events taking place in Strange Tales Vol 2 #14. Following his brief appearance here Doctor Strange next appears in Strange Tales Vol 2 #15 while Shuma-Gorath next appears in the third story of Fantastic Four Annual #27.
- The narration borrows a line from Marvel Premiere #10 the story where Doctor Strange battles Shuma-Gorath for the first time.
- Master Pandimonium appears here following his last appearance in West Coast Avengers #15 When he fled both the Avengers and the Cat-People.
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