Pitchmas 2019, Part 4: Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four

The Fantastic Four, the world-famous explorers and adventurers, are all that stand between the planet Earth and an extinction-level asteroid heading for Earth. It’s LBJ who gives a speech as their rocket leaps into the air, about the fulfillment of Kennedy’s vision for space travel aboard a ship of Richard’s own design. We cut to black and white coverage of the launch, as a Walter Cronkite like character speaks to camera. “Joining the four intrepid explorers aboard this historic mission is Prince Victor, heir to the throne of Latveria, a nation most folks have never heard of. Victor, the world’s self-proclaimed smartest man, helped Richards, Grim and the Storm siblings construct the ship, as well as a device intended to change the asteroid’s path using… ‘worm’ ‘holes.’ What a strange, exciting time to be alive.”

Exterior shot of the interior of the solar system as their ship flies, and it’s perty. “According to the trajectories you two eggheads gave me, we won’t be within range for another 2 hours. Nothing right now to do but admire the view.”

Cut onto the ship as Ben flies. Reed is the oldest, barely 30, and already graying at the temples. Ben and Sue are in their mid to late twenties, with Ben looking and sounding older than he actually is. Johnny is 17 or so, still technically a child, and still very childish. Victor is in his early 20s, and gorgeous.

“Are you monitoring the pressures on the craft’s fuselage, you ignoramus?” Doom asks. “5% more torque than spec and you could twist us in half.” “Twist you in half,” Ben grumbles. “Settle down, Victor,” Reed says. “Ben’s been flying this ship since before you and I completely redesigned the engines, the wings and the life support system. He knows how she handles by feel- something neither of us could duplicate.” Doom glares, and is about to launch into a secondary tirade when Sue breaks in. “How are the figures for the, what did you boys decide to call the blasted thing?” “It’s an interuniversal relocation device,” Victor says, momentarily distracted, until the possible implication hits him, “and the figures are perfect. Doom does not make mistakes!” “So you’ve double-checked them, Victor?” Reed asks. “Because we’re talking the difference between the extinction of all life on Earth and safely redirecting the asteroid onto a similar trajectory to Haley’s comet. There’s no shame in having someone else go over your figures.” “Doom does not make mistakes,” he fumes. “But how would you know, Victor?” Sue asks gently. “If you never double-check, and no one else goes over your figures…” “Insolent,” he stops himself, “I have been tutored by the finest minds in Eastern Europe, and through my veins flow the finest genetics the species has ever produced.” He sighs. “I am weary. I would rest.” He stomps out of the bridge.

“You shouldn’t wind him up like that,” Sue says. “I wasn’t,” Reed insists. “My concerns are genuine. Victor earned his spot on this mission by being the only person on the planet smart enough to help me design a system to safely redirect the asteroid; I tried Howard Stark, and he fell asleep on the phone as I was describing the problem; fatherhood has sapped him. And Victor may well be smarter than me, Sue, but for the fact that I’m careful, and he isn’t. I triple-checked the figures for this ship; for every error of mine I found 2 of his- errors he never would have found himself, because he refused to even look- and forbade me from looking. And each uncorrected error compounds, because he continues to reuse compromised formulae and apply flawed understandings-“ “An unexamined mistake isn’t just one mistake, but the beginning of an array of errors. Or if you prefer an unoriginal thought: ‘He who mocked and laughed at correction should blame nobody for his shame and doom.’” “I prefer an original Sue Storm, no matter how apt the quotation.” Reed wraps his arms around her.

“Gross,” Johnny says, squirming in his seat. “Hey, just last weekend I had to watch you spend an entire movie trying to crawl inside Cybill Shepherd’s mouth- like a butterfly trying to wriggle back inside its cocoon.” “She tasted like strawberry Starbursts… and maybe if you’d let me choose the movie.” “You’d have picked Batman again- and I can’t watch two grown men run around in tights for another two hours.” “Yeah, but no one should have been afraid of Virginia Wolf. She wasn’t even a real wolf.” “Why did we bring Johnny along again?” “You never know when you’re going to need someone to test to see if a planet’s atmosphere is deadly, or a potential food source is toxic,” Reed deadpans. “Good one, stretch,” Ben says from the controls. “Think you might want to worry about yourself, blockhead,” Johnny says, before shooting a spitwad into Ben’s ear. “Why you crummy little,” Ben climbs over the pilot’s seat lumbering after Johnny.

Cut to the crew quarters. Victor is sleeping fitfully. We zoom in on his face, and we’re inside his head, where his mother teaches a young Victor how to perform magic, specifically of the healing variety. When her back is turned, the young Victor adds a flower to the concoction. Dissolve, and a few days later, Victor’s mother is tense. “Victor, honey, you have to tell me. If you added a poppy to the tincture, mommy won’t be mad. If we don’t give the princess the antidote, she’ll die. But the poppy antidote is fatal if she hasn’t had any poppy, understand? So you have to tell me, did you add poppy?” “No, momma.” Victor, now an adult, but still being talked to like he’s a child. “Your mother didn’t simply fail to save our beloved princess- she poisoned her. Therefore she’s been exiled to the steppes. Do you know what that means, Victor?” “She’ll die of exposure. Perhaps tonight, but certainly by the solstice.” “Yes. And you, you will be our new prince. A child for a child.”

Victor wakes up, wild-eyed. He pulls out a sheaf of papers, and glances at them. He hesitates, because it all looks correct to him. He glances nervously around, and removes a different slip of paper, this one torn from an assignment with the name “R. Richards” at the top of it in ink. He puts the pages side by side and compares. His eyes go wide as he notices a slight difference in calculation. He scribbles, quickly, with increasing agitation, before his equation completely matches Reed’s. “I’ve doomed us all,” he mutters, and runs from the room.

In the cockpit, Ben is flying again. “We’re approaching our intersection with the asteroid, stretch,” he says. “Want I should wake his highness?” “Given that Victor refuses to share his equations with the rest of us, I don’t see a reason to wake him.” “Are we ready to begin start-up procedure on the generator?” Sue asks. “Go ahead,” Reed says, and she pushes in a button. The ship trembles, and Reed and Sue look at one another, concerned.

Elsewhere, Victor is shaken nearly off his feet. He glances between the corridor back to the cockpit and the escape pod. “There’s no time to warn them,” he says, and runs to the pod, which launches an instant later.

“What in heck?” Ben asks as a light on the panel flashes. “The life pod launched empty.” “Not empty,” Johnny says, peering into space. “Victor took it.” “Why would he-“ Reed starts, before the ship begins to shake, more violently than before. The wormhole generator kicks on, tearing a hole in spacetime. “It worked,” Johnny says, excited that he can see a star at the other end of the hole. “Except it’s supposed to be a quarter mile in front of the ship,” Sue says, “not fifty feet.” Reed frowns, and scribbles some notes on a sheet of paper. “Goodness,” he says, “we’ll have to fly the ship right into the asteroid to get it into the wormhole, unless…” “What are you thinking, stretch?”

“I think I need you to land on the broad face of the asteroid. Sue, I need you to keep that field generator going.” “It wasn’t designed for long term use.” “I know. You’ll have to keep it powered enough to stay on, without drawing so much power we’re left floating dead in space, waiting to become a bug on that asteroid’s windshield.” “What can I do?” Johnny asks. “Make sure anything that can be secured is, because this is going to be an exceptionally wild ride.” Ben turns on the intercom. “We’re pulling up parallel to the asteroid. I’m going to need one last burst of speed. Sue, can you spare it?” “So long as you can give it back before it hits- otherwise there’s no guarantee we don’t pancake on impact.” “Johnny?” Reed breaks in. “You almost ready?” Cut to the crew compartment, where Johnny’s found Victor’s notes. He holds down the intercom button. “Be there in twenty seconds.” Johnny runs into the room and buckles into his seat. Then he hands Reed Victor’s notes.

An alarm goes off. “What else could go wrong?” “God,” Sue whispers, “it’s the advanced warning alarm. A cosmic radiation storm is incoming, ETA 30 seconds.” “Right,” Reed says. “We can get behind the shielding, and save ourselves… or we stay the course, and prevent all life on Earth from going the way of the dinos. Team?” “You get,” Ben says. “It only takes one of us to fly this heap.” “And one of us to keep the generator going. Reed, take Johnny.” “You might need his big brain,” Johnny says. “And if anything happens to blockhead, neither of you could fly your way out of a paper bag…” “He’s right,” Reed says. “Hey,” Ben complains. “Not about your head. We’re going to have to manually fire the wormhole generator, and get it precise- no mean feet, with two objects hurtling through the cosmos at these kinds of speeds.” “I don’t think I want to go out with Cybill again, anyway,” Johnny says. “She doesn’t even like Batman.” The ship is bathed in colorful light. “It’s been an honor,” Reed says. “I don’t feel so hot,” Ben says, slumping in his chair. Johnny’s there, and helps steady him in the chair. “I got you. Just help me, keep her, steady.” “Ship’s fighting us, stretch. Not going to hold much longer.” “She’ll hold a few more seconds,” Reed says, “because she has to. Susan?” “Ready, darling.” “Gross,” Johnny moans. “Now!” she hits the wormhole generator as the ship is struck from behind by the asteroid. Both slingshot around the curve of the nearest planet, striking Victor’s escape pod as all three objects disappear.

“Victor?” Reed asks, before the pod shakes loose and bounces away, disappearing when it strikes the colorful walls of the wormhole. To black. Slow titles appear on screen “Five Decades Later” The wormhole opens up, and fires the asteroid into the sun. In a tense scene, Johnny and Ben try to get the ship to turn while Reed and Sue try to get the ship repaired enough to steer; it’s been through so much it’s nearly dead stick- where their trajectory would carry them into the sun. They’re close enough to the sun, now, that it’s getting impossible to survive it, though they’re all starting to change, subtly, Ben swelling through his suit, Sue flickering. Sue and Reed get the ship repaired enough, as Ben passes out. Johnny, for some reason, isn’t impacted by the heat. “Get him out of here,” Johnny says, taking the controls. Reed and Sue start to drag Ben out. “You won’t make it,” Sue says. “If I don’t, none of us will,” Johnny says, sweat dripping down his brow. They get into the shielded crew compartment, and she turns, panicked, to Reed. “How long can he survive that heat?” she asks. Reed pauses, before looking at her, haunted, “I don’t know how any of us did… if my figures are correct, the four of us just became the first human beings to survive atmospheric temperatures of more than 100 degrees?” “That isn’t Fahrenheit, is it?” “My equation outputs Celsius.” They wobble as the ship jolts. “He’s done it.” Johnny comes over the intercom, “Think we’re out of the woods, if you want to come back into the cockpit.”

When they do, Johnny’s on fire. Sue grabs the extinguisher and puts him out, and is surprised to find that he’s largely untouched, except for a few singes on his uniform. “How, how are you not burned?” “I told the fire not to burn my clothes, and it worked. Sort of.” Ben’s swelling subtly, but also, his skin is getting harder. Subtly, as he scratches his face, small pebbles roll off, and the noise is audible.

They’re all starting to change as they make it back to Earth. The ship is damaged enough they aren’t going to make it to an airstrip, let alone to Florida where they launched. Ben manages to crash the ship into New York harbor to dump heat from their reentry. They’re picked up by harbor patrol, who hand them off to the NYPD. They ask to be taken to 4 Freedoms Plaza, home of the Foundation that backed their asteroid shot, only to find that the Four Freedoms Plaza has been turned into the Latverian Embassy. A portrait of a slightly older Victor hangs in the lobby. The moment they enter, the entire embassy goes into lockdown, with the screens showing wanted posters from Latveria showcasing the Four (as Ben gets increasingly more craggy, he’ll resemble his less and less). The lobby is stormed by Latverian marines, modernly trained but dressed and equipped for a different century, think the Vatican Swiss Guard, but dressed in grey and greeen. The lights go out, and there’s noise as fighting happens in the dark. “Come on, I know I can do this… flame on?” Johnny summons a fireball in his hand, and his eyes go wide, “Dude, look.” In Johnny’s flames we can see their rescuer. I’d pay Chris Evans to show up as Old Cap as a favor to Nick Fury (wearing what’s basically the stealth suit from Winter Soldier), though you could get some of the same mileage from having Winter Soldier. “We’d better go. We’re trespassing on Latverian soil, standing here.”

Cap (or Nick or Bucky- or Sam, if we’re not too worried about the number of movies left on his contract) lead them to a safehouse. Johnny stares at him for a good solid minute without saying anything. “Nick thought you could use a friendly face, from someone who’s been where you’ve been. And few know what it’s like to come back to a world that’s grown decades since you saw her last.” “Wait,” Johnny breaks his silence, “you’re Captain America.” “That’s right,” Steve says, standing up a little straighter. “Dude, you got really old.” “That’s true.” “You were old when you disappeared- not like Reed old- but still old, but now? You’re like Reed’s going to look next week.” “You should probably just ignore him, Mr. America,” Sue says. “Mr. America was my father’s name- well, it was Joe. But you can call me Steve.” “Steve, what the hell happened back there?” Reed asks.

“Near as Nick could tell, Victor Von Doom ejected during your mission in the 60s. He showed up ten years ago, and went to work hoovering up all of Reed’s old work. If you weren’t a genius, you might not have known that he was burying everything the Future Foundation ever patented, but SHIELD had its share of those on the payroll. As far as we can tell, Victor’s pissed off, at Reed, specifically. Not only has he disappeared all of his innovations, but he prepared that little welcoming committee in case you ever did show up.” “But why?” Sue asks. “What did Reed do to Victor?”

In the penthouse of the Latverian Embassy (or Castle Doomstadt, he keeps both identically adorned), Victor looks pristine, giving an easy smile before hanging up a video call. His smile fades, and he peels off his faux face, technically metal but also mixing some space age plastics, to a point where it is mostly flexible. It should be the stuff of nightmares, as this face’s mouth seems to scream as he peels it away from himself and then throws it in into a trashcan. We play coy for a moment, before revealing that he bears a scar from his trip through the wormhole; it’s not overly large or hideous.

“What did I do to Hitler? What did Milli do to Vanilli? What did Thor do to Loki? Some people are just born mean, determined to grind those around them under their heel.” “Who’s Vanilli?” asks Johnny. “One of Tony’s favorite musicians. But the important take-away is this: your old rival is now the richest man on the planet, leader of a sovereign nation with diplomatic immunity, and seriously wants to hurt all four of you.” “Who’s Milli?” Johnny asks. “Tony’s other favorite musician. They had a feud, or battle of the bands or- it’s not important right now. Nick told me to bring you here, and to consider this safehouse burned. All the tech here is yours to use, and the location is yours, too- though the longer you come and go from here, the more likely Victor tracks you back to it.”

“Is there anything else you can do to help us?” Reed asks. “Von Doom is one of the most brilliantly ruthless men on the planet, and because of his position is virtually untouchable by anyone in law enforcement. He’s also crooked; his regime has been linked to terrorism, human trafficking, arms and technology smuggling. I wish I could give you your lives back. But Nick did give me one last thing, something that might be enough for you to take them back yourselves.”

Reed follows Cap’s gaze to a table, with a single folder on it. Reed picks it up and begins to peruse. Cut to later, Reed still reading. “Fascinating,” he says, and pulls up a news clip on the screen at the rear of the room. “Following the Sukovian tragedy, Victor Von Doom, the often elusive Latverian ruler, challenged the Iron Man, better known publicly as billionaire Tony Stark, to a contest, to see whose armor was superior. The challenge read in part, ‘Anything that preening industrialist can do, Doom can accomplish to an even greater degree of precision, and with a more impressive pedigree of engineering elegance. There is not a task at which his armor is superior, and several for which I have designed brilliant solutions to problems which he has scarcely considered.’ “Stark famously declined the contest, replying in an open letter that Doom ‘can shove that low-rent knock-off armor where his Iron Throne pokes him.’” (I imagine they hire an amusing sound-alike, billed as ‘Tony Snark’ to read the quote) “What’s an Iron Throne?” Johnny asks as he helps Ben hobble to a chair. “Where an Iron Man pops an iron squat?” Ben suggests. 

Cut to later. Johnny is looking out over the city, at 4 Freedoms Tower (possibly through a web or traffic cam on a nearby skyscraper). “I want to go home,” Johnny says, wrapping his arms around his legs. “I know,” Sue says, “me, too. But it’s not our home anymore.” She wraps an arm around him and leans her head on his shoulder.

Sue wakes first, roused by the smell of breakfast cooking in the kitchen. She follows it, to find one of Reed’s arms flailing somewhat wildly as it cookies (looking kind of like the Swedish chef from the Muppets). She follows the arm into the next room, where Reed is. “Ah, Susan. My models suggested there was a 57% chance you would wake before the others, which I was hoping for, since I wanted talk.” “What’s going on with your arms?” “That was what I wanted to discuss with you,” he says, and turns, and she can see that one of his eyes is missing- because he’s shifted it onto the arm in the kitchen to be able to see what he’s doing in the kitchen. She gasps, and starts to fall, and he catches her. “Oh, no,” he mutters, as dishes clatter in the kitchen, and an instant later his own hand rubberbands into his own face, knocking him off his feet (though he manages to steady Sue on her feet before he falls).

Reed picks himself off the floor, picking eggs off his cooking arm. “It’s a bit discombobulating, like rubbing your stomach while using a graphing calculator, but it should be a surmountable difficulty.” He sees that she’s still just as confused and concerned as he is. “We were exposed, both before and during our trip through the wormhole, to cosmic radiation and other exotic energies. As a result, we’re changing. That’s why Johnny was able to survive the extreme heat, or create fire. It’s why Benjamin has been swelling, why his skin is petrifying and now has a hardness of 9.5 on the Moh scale- and might well hit a ten before its done. Obviously, my tissues have become incredibly flexible, while also granting me extraordinary control over said tissues. I’m uncertain what- Susan?” She’s invisible. “I’m here,” she says. “Fascinating,” he says, stretching his fingers out towards the sound of her voice, before one stops. “Ow. What the heck was that?” “I can’t see you,” Reed says. “Can you?” “Of course I can, oh, I can’t. Is this safe?” “Theoretically. Of course, I know of no scientific explanation that would account for mutations such as these. Which admittedly make safety estimates less certain. But I’ve been running tests on hair and skin samples.” “Reed, did you ask any of us for samples?” “Most of them were mine. Though I did brush a few of Ben’s skin flakes off the couch, just to be certain my results weren’t an outlier.” “And?” “And our results appear to be retreating from entropy, rather than rushing towards it. Meaning, our conditions are stabilizing- but stabilizing as a new status quo. Epithelial cells in the small intestine are all replaced within a 2 to 4 day window. Sampling indicates my altered genetic profile has gone from 40% when we arrived last night, to over 66% this morning. Incidentally, I can see you.” “I’m learning to turn it off, and turn it on.” She disappears again. He reaches for her again, “Ah, ah, Mr. Handsy.” This time his fingers stop in a perfect cylinder around her. “Susan… how to put this delicately… has your body-shape become more cylindrical?” “What? No, of course…” “Then do me a favor, and push, not with your hands, but with your mind, push back against me…” his hands start to spread further as her invisible forcefield expands. “Whoa, I can… I feel it. That’s so strange.” “Goodness,” Reed says, “I didn’t tell you to push so hard, but I… you’re much stronger than I am.” The forcefield drops, and she’s actually standing beside him. She pecks him on the cheek. “I’ve always known that, but I’m proud you could finally admit it.” He narrows his eyes, and swings his hands to grab her, but misses. “Gross,” Johnny says sleepily from the door. “I followed the smells of breakfast, and instead find the two of you literally playing grabass.”

“Somebody say breakfast?” Ben asks from the opposite door; he’s really starting to resemble the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing we know and love- but they haven’t grown to love him yet, so his appearance causes a stir. “Jesus,” Johnny says, “I’m suddenly thankful I haven’t had breakfast yet.” “Johnny!” Sue says, reappearing. “Jesus,” Ben yelps, stumbling back, and when he does, his footsteps shake the building. Johnny holds up something reflective for Ben to see his reflection, and Ben moves his hands, at first not putting together that he’s the rock monster he sees. “What a revoltin’ development,” he says, his voice hollow.

Over a breakfast spread, mostly finished, the four sit, contemplative. “I can’t be sure about our prognosis,” Reed says. “I’ve looked over his data,” Sue starts, “and while it’s hard to call any of this good news, I think Reed’s right. We’re stabilizing.” “At least as best we can tell with his equipment.” “What’s wrong with the flasks, and flanges, and…” Ben asks, clearly out of his depth. “We’ve spent fifty years outside of time, but most of this was low-tech even before we disappeared.” “We need cutting edge equipment if we’re going to verify our condition,” Sue agrees. “But Victor’s seen to it we can’t move publically,” Reed says, turning on a monitor. News footage is looping of their escape from the embassy, with the title, “Terrorists strike Latverian Embassy in the heart of NYC.” Artist renderings of each of them looking extra disheveled and ‘murderer’ flash across the screen; Ben’s is especially grotesque and hurtful. “We need to clear our names if we’re going to find the equipment we need. But it’s worse than that. The story he planted wasn’t a lark- he’s left no tragedy unexploited. Victor has put in place a plot to ensure that we’ll never be able to repair our damaged reputations.”

Reed puts four images up on the screen, four people bearing at least a passing resemblance to them; as he describes them, the image zooms (we can also cut to CCTV security and other footage captured of them at various crimes). “Victor has assembled these four convicted criminals, who called themselves the Wrecking Crew. His internal documents describe them as the ‘Frightful Four,’ a play on the name the newspapermen gave us back before Victor joined our expedition. On paper, they appear to have no connection to Latveria or Victor, but Fury’s dossier proves links to mystical artifacts or operatives of Doom. Wrecker has a degree of military experience, and uses a crowbar forged using the largest extant sliver of Mjolnir after Hela destroyed it, combined with infernal magics. Piledriver’s gauntlets were based on those worn by Crossbones, a deceased mercenary, but have been augmented with an exoskeleton. Reports indicate Doom acquired the helm of the champion of Cytorrak, and gave it to Bulldozer, granting her a degree of extrahuman strength and durability. Thunderball uses a wrecking ball once owned by one Crusher Creel, and seems able to absorb the properties of items when he’s touching the ball, though his real weapon is his intellect. It’s no coincidence there are four of them. Victor’s plans include dozens of potential targets, all dependent on the circumstances of our return, and designed to give him maximum flexibility in undermining us.” “So we’re screwed?” Johnny asks.

“No. Victor, as always, is too dependent on his formulae, which I’ve been able to increment upon. I know, with 90% certainty, which target he’ll choose first, and with 98% certainty which two are the likeliest targets.” Johnny: “Am I the only one who notices the hubris involved in him noting Doom’s hubris?”

Wrecker smashes in the glass façade of Latveria’s embassy. “Doom wants property damage,” he bellows, “mutilated corpses, fire. We’re going to make Reed Richards, the Storms and that Thing famous- let’s get those pricks on the evening news.” Wrecker falls to the ground, the pavement cracking underneath him. “That’s no way to talk to or about a lady,” Sue says. She’s immediately speared by Bulldozer, who rams her into a wall. “I’ll tell you if I see one,” Bulldozer says, then yelps, as Reed uses his arm as a snare to fling her back out of the embassy, past Ben who is running inside. He collides with Piledriver, and they trade blows before Ben is knocked over from behind with a wrecking ball by Thunderball. He hovers over Ben, preparing to smash him with the wrecking ball when it catches fire, causing him to drop it next to Ben’s head.

“Try not to set the whole place on fire,” Reed says. Johnny helps Sue up, “How is it I’m doing this with my older sister and somehow he’s the mother hen?” He’s knocked back by Bulldozer; Sue pops her into the air, and yells “Reed!” His fists swell in the air before he brings them down on Bulldozer, knocking her so hard onto the marble floor that she bounces, groaning after the second landing. Wrecker, who’s gotten back up, punches Reed in the back with his magic crowbar, but Reed forms around it, then uses his torso like a fist to tear it free from Wrecker’s grasp (he’s surprised when his hand comes out of Reed empty). “What?” Reed smacks him in the face with his own crowbar. Thunderball grabs Reed, temporarily absorbing his stretchiness long enough to get Wrecker’s crowbar back. “Think we made our point,” Thunderball yells, tossing Wrecker back his crowbar, and leading their retreat. On the way out, Wrecker smashes one of the four corners of the building, threatening to bring it down. Reed coaches the others through lifting, supporting and then welding it in place. By then, the Fearsome Four are gone.

“I… may have put my phone in the girl one’s pocket,” Johnny says. “We’re going to have to have a long talk about the appropriateness of putting your hands in women’s pockets without their permission,” Sue tells him. “It was only so we could track them. It’s not like I make a habit of it or anything.” “Is it a habit if it happens more than once?” Ben asks. Reed uses his phone to remotely activate the microphone on Johnny’s phone. They hear the Fearsome Four talking to Doom; he demands they continue with the plan, they demand to be given the tech they were promised to complete the job. He refuses to budge, but Thunderball has figured out where the cache is, and they decide they’ll help themselves.  

They track the Fearsome Four to a memorial for those killed in the Chitauri invasion (designed similar to the 9/11 memorial), where Doom has a weapons stash because he’s a monster. They gear up, and Reed & Co. think they’re going to have a hard fight, with the linchpin being they need to capture them without letting them destroy any of their equipment, so it can be traced back to Doom. Doom, pissed they’re robbing him, floats down from the sky. He’s wearing green robes over his powered armor, looking more like medieval plate male than what Iron Man wears. His face (specifically his faux face) is exposed; he refuses to cover his face in public, even during a fight. Doom quickly takes down the Fearsome Four all on his own (if we’re somehow under budget at this point, we could always have Reed and the rest fight all five of them, but I’m assuming we’d rather have Doom be the big bad on his own, and it ups his threat for him to one-hit take out the other bad guys). “I am DOOM!” he booms, and it’s a very dramatic moment, until Johnny asks, “Wait, are you our doom or are you our Doom? That’s kind of confusing.” Doom attacks, zapping Johnny first, “Insolent pup!” he bellows. “Arrogant, uh, what’s the opposite of a pup? Old dog?” “Dick!” Ben suggests, ducking under one of Doom’s blasts.

“He’s wielding some kind of exotic interdimensional energies,” Reed says as one of Doom’s blasts zings past his head. “Say ‘magic,’” Ben yelps, “you can just call it ‘magic.’” “That nomenclature only applies if we lack sufficient knowledge to quantify-” Sue yanks him out of the way of another blast with a forcefield. “Don’t pull his string unless you want him to keep talking,” she yells.

Sue uses one of her forcefields to absorb one of Doom’s magic bolts, seeming to disappear. Doom considers a moment, before casting a spell to transmute the air in her field into chlorine gas. She collapses, gasping and coughing. “Sue!” Johnny yells, banging on the forcefield. Doom opens a portal similar to those opened with sling rings, venting the chlorine at Johnny, making it harder for him to breathe and putting out his flame. Doom then manages to goad Ben into lunging at him, dodging at the last second so Ben gets caught up in Reed’s extended torso, and gets rubber-banded several blocks away.

Reed sighs, pulling his limbs back to his body. “Victor, I’m sorry, truly, for everything that’s happened to you. But this fight? It diminishes us both. Do we want to be children slap-fighting at a memorial? Or should we take our rightful places at the head of a pantheon of intellects, building a better future because we could stand on the shoulders of men like Stark and Pym?” “A false dichotomy, Richards. I choose instead to take my place uncontested at the top, standing triumphantly on your corpse, held aloft on the shoulders of the men you admire so.” “That was uncalled for, Victor, and beneath you.” “The only thing beneath me here is you, Richards.”

“Very well, Victor,” Reed says, filling his lungs and inflating his chest, growing increasingly large. “You know what they say about the bigger the foes.” “Wrong lesson, Victor,” Reed says, and lets the air go, blowing the gas clear or Johnny and Sue. “You’ve rescued the Storms, who I’d already subdued. I’m scarcely quaking in my boots.” As we pan down to his metal boots, a street sign, from Yancy Street, embeds like a spear between his feet. “We taking off the kid gloves?” Ben asks. He’s holding a few more makeshift weapons formed from street signs, lengths of rebar, etc. “Yes, Ben.” “Then it’s clobberin’ time.” Ben cracks his knuckles as he advances. He uses a stop sign as a shield when Doom tries to blast him, then flings the sign into Doom’s metal chestpiece with a loud twang.

“How are you, Sue?” Reed asks. “Going to have one hell of a headache, tomorrow.” “I need you to reverse an invisible field around Doom- so he can’t see us or what we’re doing to him.” “I… think I can do that.” “Hold it as long as you can- or until we’re in place.” Cut to Doom, suddenly floating in a black hole. He tries to use his blasts to light his way, but can’t see anything but himself. “Johnny, I want you to heat the air around the forcefield; when Sue drops it, I want him to think we’ve dropped him on the sun.” “You got it.” “And me?” Ben asks. “I don’t care what kind of exotic materials that suit of armor’s made of, you can’t both protect the wearer and redirect the heat. He’s going to be worse for wear when Johnny lets up, his armor will be at its weakest. Rip him out of it.”

Cut inside the bubble, where Doom howls, attacking the forcefield. Outside, Sue screams, the force of his attack hurting her. “Sue, drop it. Johnny!” Doom says, “Finally” as the forcefield starts to dissipate, only to be replaced by a wall of flame. Subtly, he covers his face with his gauntlets to protect his faux flesh. Johnny continues to pour the flames on, but Doom continues to advance. “Not sure how long I can keep this uh,” Johnny falls, his flame extinguishing. “Ben!” Reed yells, pulling Johnny away as a glowing red doom, most of his robes burnt away, swipes at him. Ben hits him so hard he leaves a big rock-fist-shaped dent in Doom’s shoulder. They trade blows, becoming more savage as they go, until finally, Victor hits Ben with a haymaker that splits a new crack in his face. Victor grabs Ben by the head, levering the considerable strength in his armor to try and crush Ben’s head. It’s working, new fractures showing in Ben’s face as he cries out.

“Let him go,” Johnny says. Ben screams as his rocky skin cracks under Doom’s continued pressure, “Let him go!” Johnny yells, blasting Victor in the face with the last of his flame. Doom screams, his faux face having been melted by the heat, scalding Victor’s face. He stumbles away, the molten metal and plastic melting into his flesh and dripping off in sizzling globules. He covers his face as he runs. A moment later, a doombot, in full face mask, appears, and blasts at Red and Sue. She hits him with an invisible forcefield square in the chest, smashing his armor inward on the edge of the memorial as a helicopter arrives, lighting the battlefield with a spotlight.    

Cut to Ben, in the hospital, recuperating, trying (and failing) to eat his Jell-o cup (I’m thinking a montage of him, first trying to open the cup with his big stony fingers, then shattering his spoon, then squeezing the cup too hard, firing ballistic Jell-o at one of the nurses). Eventually Johnny opens it for him. “My he-ro,” Ben says, and spends a moment staring at the open cup. “I mean it, matchstick. I wouldn’t be breathing, if you hadn’t” he tries to pick up his spoon, and it’s a puddle. “You melted my spoon.” “In my defense, I didn’t know you were going to get all-” “Genuine?” “Yeah. You’re the dumb older brother who I play pranks on for picking on me. But when you get all maudlin, I start to feel-” “Mean?” “Like a jerk. But yeah. Pretty much.” “Tell you what. You get me another spoon, we’ll call it square.” “Okay. Sure, Ben.”

Johnny passes Reed and Sue in the hallway. Reed sighs. “I knew Victor was dangerous, that his arrogance, that his ego, made him a ticking bomb. I thought I was smart enough I’d know when it was time to disarm him, and how. And I called him arrogant.” “We needed him,” she soothes. “Without him we never would have been able to stop that asteroid.” “And with him? We have nothing. No identity, no home. Fury’s rations won’t last forever-” “Especially not at the rate Ben and Johnny have been eating through them.” “I put all of you in harm’s way. Victor hurt you, all of you, to get to me- left us with no one willing to help us, with no resources, with nothing.” “We have each other,” Sue says, guiding his gaze to Johnny, bringing Ben a new spoon. Ben tousles Johnny’s hair. Pull back, keeping Ben and Johnny in the background, but now we can see Reed and Sue, too. Reed stretches his arm so he can wrap it around Sue, then we fade to black.   

Pre-credits scene: Johnny runs into Cybill Shepherd (or any other beautiful celebrity woman who would have been born around 1950 or so). “Johnny Storm; you haven’t aged a day.” “Did you used to babysit me or something?” “Haven’t gotten any smarter, either.” His jaw drops. “Cybill? Oh, man, I made out with an old lady.” “Nor have you gotten any more mature,” she sighs.

Mid-credits scene: Johnny emerges from a second-run theater with “Batman v Superman: Moms of Justice” on the marquee. “Something really bad happened to Batman. And Superman’s kind of a humorless jerk, too.” Ben, in a trenchcoat and hat, loudly sucking at a huge soda, walks behind him. “Eh, I kinda liked it.” “Yeah,” Johnny snatches his hat, “that’s cause you’re a humorless jerk, too.” “Gimme that back, matchstick.” Ben runs after him offscreen to the right, and after a moment he runs back on screen and stops, panting as Johnny flies off in the opposite direction. “It goes with the coat.” Johnny sets his trenchcoat on fire. “Then don’t look behind you.”

Bonus: Pitch 1.0

Note: Around the time of Fant4stic, I wrote up a pitch to do a version as unlike that movie as possible set within the MCU, so it jumped off the Ultimate FF, and used a then-alive Tony to do for them what he did for Spider-Man in Homecoming.      

Tony Stark starts and partially funds the Baxter Initiative, a mostly-US collection of scientific upstarts. It looks like an international Science Fair, but really it’s an excuse to bring together some of the world’s greatest young minds to figure out the Chitauri portal. Their entries are just that- their entry into the Baxter Initiative.

The initiative is headed by the other funder, eccentric, wealthy, handsome and brilliant Victor von Doom. He is the only noble remaining in the small country of Latveria, but wishes to transform his nation’s economy into the first completely tech-based economy, where it is currently purely agrarian. He’s essentially emptying his country’s coffers to future proof. To that end, he has been granted exclusivity rights to 50% of the initiatives work (and 100% of his own). We’re introduced to him when Dr. Storm introduces Sue to him; he’s discussing a political matter at home with the current Prime Minister, Lucia von Bardas (or somesuch).

The primary technology they’re focused on is the teleportation used to push the Chitauri invasion force to Earth. To that end they have countless Chitauri artifacts, as well as every item that ever came into contact with the portal, including Iron Man’s armor (which he disarmed personally). Tony introduces the initiative, and explains he believes things should always be run by the smartest guy in the room, and that’s why, the moment he’s gone, Victor will be in charge.

Victor is approximately Sue Storm’s age, both on the cusp of adulthood (somewhere in the 17-20 range), and are the oldest prodigies there. Sue was volunteered by her military father, a DARPA scientist who is one of the elders overseeing the prodigies. In tow, because their mother is dead, is Sue’s younger brother Johnny. Not an idiot, but not quite a genius. He is, however, enrolled in the sister piloting program, having the kinds of reflexes (honed in gaming) thought to be necessary for flying drones, and potentially one day piloting a craft through one of these portals. Also enrolled is Reed Richard’s childhood friend, Ben Grimm, something of a flying prodigy who already has flight experience, and has pre-qualified for a pilot’s license (which he’ll receive once he’s old enough).

We hit the usual beats, Doom is a little too aggressive/entitled with Sue, so she chooses the geekier Richards for her workmate (also pointing out to Doom that he scored one point higher on their ASVAB test [or whatever might be more appropriate]). Initially, several different teams coalesce with different ideas/proposals, but as each fails in succession, they disband and join the still flourishing teams of Doom and Richards. Doom’s prototype uses a suit similar to Iron Man’s, designed to work both as life support in the unknown area they’re trying to open, as well as a power source and projector for the portal.

Doom’s proposal fails, and Doom is only saved when Reed pulls him out of the portal at the last minute; his face is nearly sheered off by the closing portal, which cuts the metal mask off his face (a tease, since Doom getting his face mangled is part of his origin), but aside from a few minute cuts he heals. The next day Reed gives it his try. And also fails. It’s only when Doom and Reed combine their intellects (and research) that all of the puzzle pieces fall into place. Sue is somewhat the unsung hero in this, proving to have not just scientific but managerial acumen, and balancing the needs of the various team members to allow the now massive team to work in tandem. They manage to open a portal.

The first portal is small, just large enough to permit the drones to enter, flown by the best pilots, including Ben and Johnny, flying with the first squadron. The drones fail. The portal creates enough electric feedback that they aren’t able to communicate back with their pilots. Even their back-up programs, meant to automate the drone’s return in the event of a lost connection, is killed by the electricity.

They fly one more volley of drones; Reed attaches rope to one, and is able to pull it back through the portal, and get some reading off of it. The military-minded want to bomb the portal. Reed and Sue argue that it’s wrong to bomb a people they can’t even see, that they don’t even know if they’ve succeeded in opening a portal to the Chitauri. Doom doesn’t back them up, mostly due to uncertainty, driving a further wedge between them and allowing the military minded (led by Stark and Dr. Storm) to decide on a preemptive strike.

The prodigees can’t sleep in their dorm. Sue is restless, and wants to act. Reed has an idea of how they can. He says they’ll need pilots, dragging along Ben and Johnny. Reed offers Doom a chance at redemption, to come and help them. He reluctantly agrees.

Reed’s initial entry was a flying car design, which was meant to be modular, cheap and easy to reproduce with 3D printing. With some quick design tweaks, they’re able to print out four more, which interlock into a proto Fantasticar.

Reed tests his design remotely first, with Ben flying it into the portal. It’s designed to be as electronics free as possible, and EMP-hardened, for safety reasons. Ben loses control of the drone as soon as its inside, but this time the tweaked ship is able to return via the portal. What readings they get don’t indicate any known radiation or danger. It’s a risk, but less than blindly firing nuclear weapons, possibly at peaceful alien worlds. They decide to chance it.

Doom insists on wearing his Iron Man derived suit, in part because he has designed his own offensive capabilities into it. Reed is against it, given that the tech might react similarly to how the drones did to the portal. Doom reasons that Stark managed to fly his suit through the portal without incident, and he’d feel better to be prepared for the unknown.

They fly into the portal, this time projected over New York to allow room for the Fantasticar to fly through it. Doom’s suit immediately shorts as they pass through the portal, reacting violently to the unknown physics of this strange environment. The violence is enough that his part of the Fantasticar explodes, and hurtles away from the other cars, crashing against a vaguely alien monolith. More subtly, they all start to react to the strange dimension.

Back on Earth, Dr. Storm discovers the portal is open. He’s about to turn it off when he decides to check the cameras in the facility, and realizes his children and some of their equipment is missing.

Ben and Johnny work together to guide the plane down to Doom. Johnny takes a picture of the monolith with his cell phone, which survived the portal by being shut off. They argue, briefly, about what to do. Reed says it isn’t safe to help him, Sue says it isn’t right to leave him. Ben complains about not feeling well, while Johnny freaks out about them going there secretly, that they shouldn’t have gone without the adults. Sue tells him the adults wouldn’t have helped, and she’s not going to be like them, and reaches for the button to open her hatch.

But Reed’s already out of his ship. He tells Sue he knows her well enough than to think he could talk her out of helping Victor. He tries to lift him, to get him into his part of the car. He can’t lift him. Matter works differently- especially on his metal suit- and he can’t even lift him. In fact, when he tries it feels like his arms are stretching (and we see it, ever so subtly).

Suddenly they’re attacked, with blasts of strange radiation hitting the ship. Reed tells Ben to fly off, get the others to safety. Ben tells him he’s not abandoning him. Sue’s about to get out of the car, and Johnny tells Reed they will come back for him, but he doesn’t want to have to explain to his dad why his sister’s been irradiated. Ben gets out of the plane, and they try to lift Victor. Johnny flies off, trying to save his sister, as the blasts follow the plane.

They still can’t lift Doom. Ben apologizes, then cold-cocks Reed. Johnny brings back the plane- because Sue wouldn’t let him leave them, either. Ben dumps Reed in and they fly off. Ben promises Sue they’ll come back for Doom as soon as they can.

They take evasive maneuvers, even breaking the Fantasticar in half (with Reed and Ben flying in one part and Johnny and Sue in the other). This destabilizes the car and they’re both barely able to crash back through the gate, which, to their surprise, has been pulled back inside the lab, so they crash against tables and equipment.

Ben is screaming, but the sound he makes is becoming increasingly less human. Johnny looks fine, but says his skin is on fire. Reed can barely keep his mind together. That’s when the thing pursuing them starts to push through the portal. Reed is able to shut down the portal as it enters, severing the creature’s hand but leaving it stranded in its own dimension. But Reed is still across the room from the portal controls, with his arm stretched to it. He screams, and his arm snaps back like a rubber band, knocking him to the floor.

Except he doesn’t hit the floor. He’s caught, by something invisible. Sue realizes she’s holding out her hands, as if to catch him, and pulls them back, and he immediately falls.

Lady Sif arrives from Asgard. She explains that the portal opened on an area called the Negative Zone. It’s essentially been used as an interdimensional prison for a monster some other reality couldn’t destroy. The Asgardians accidentally found their way there, once, when the Bifrost malfunctioned. He killed several of their warriors before they were able to lock him back in his prison, a fight that broke Thor’s arm.

We cut back to inside the strange zone, with Doom, his flesh essentially melted into his suit, being tortured by the creature (It’s called Annhilus in the comics). It uses an ancient magic in its torture of him, trying to figure out how to get out of its prison.

Reed translates the hieroglyphs on the monolith Johnny got a picture of while Sue argues with her father. She wants to mount a rescue operation to get Doom back. Storm is more convinced than ever that they should nuke the area. She isn’t making headway. A haunted Reed tells them that the glyphs are a warning, not to release the creature. “He is annihilation, plague made flesh. Release him, and all worlds will die.”

The portal opens again, for a moment, and they see the creature, and can hear Doom’s screams. Dr. Storm is now more adamant about said nuking. The F4 are escorted by soldiers back to their dorm, to be kept there under guard until it’s done.

Reed asks Johnny for his phone, then has Ben and Johnny create a distraction. Or at least, that’s the plan. Ben and Johnny starting picking on each other loudly. Johnny starts smoking- smoke billowing off him. The room starts to fill with it, and the guards come in. Johnny bursts into flames, and goes running down the hall screaming. As he picks up speed, he starts flying down the hall, through the window at the end of it and out into the sky over New York. He falls, screaming, but the scream becomes jubilant as he realizes he isn’t falling at all, he’s flying.

Back in the lab, the military are prepping a tactical nuclear weapon. On the main screen Lucia pops up, and says that while Doom is considered their head of state, and while he remains in the portal, any attack launched against the portal will be considered an act of war against Latveria. At that moment, Reed, Sue and Ben arrive, pursued by their military guard. Von Bardas thanks Reed for the message. Ben sends the guards flying into the wall when they try to lay a hand on him.

Dr. Storm is pissed off. Reed interrupts him, and says they need to go, now, if they want to have any chance of saving Doom or preventing the creature from reverse-engineering the tech they left behind. Storm wants a proper military intervention.

Johnny crashes through the skylight. Storm sprays him with a fire extinguisher, and covers him in his lab coat. Reed explains that there’s clearly some kind of unknown energy in the other dimension, and that they’ve already been exposed, and he can’t even guarantee that their continued presence on Earth isn’t a danger to all of humanity. They can’t send anybody else- they’re the only ones who can or should go.

Sue has to convince him that it’s the right thing, and to be a soldier, not a father. He relents. They stitch the Fantasticar back together. Dr. Storm sends them with some energy weapons, just in case. They reopen the portal, and the creature flies down into an unsuspecting New York, landing in Times Square. New Yorkers are pretty freaked out, given that the portal resembles the Chitauri one.

The creature immediately blasts the buildings around it, sending people scattering. Johnny pops the cockpit on his car, and goes flying out, on fire, of course yelling, “Flame On.” He engulfs the creature in fire, and Johnny, assuming he’s won, lands in front of a crowd, and extinguishes his flames. They immediately start snapping pictures of him, and he flies off. 

But the creatures isn’t dead. It gets back up. Ben is circling in the car, trying to see what’s going on. The creature fires a magical blast through his windshield. It’s absorbed by his flesh, that has already started to rock out, causing him to crush the controls in his hands. He continues to grow until he pops, like a piece of popcorn, out of the bottom of the car. 

The creature stands, still burning, in front of the terrified crowd. Thing lands on him, smashing him into the concrete. He gives a confused wave to the crowd. An instant later he’s flung by the creature, flying several streets.

Reed flies the car, badly, as Sue coordinates with her dad to get control of the Times Square boards. Reed is then projected there, so he can coordinate Johnny and Ben, to tell them they need to get the creature back through the portal, that if they can get him into the air, he’ll do the rest. Johnny distracts him, strafing him with fire, while Thing makes the long slog back from where he landed. He’s dragging a street sign from Yancy Street with him. 

Thing glances at the car overhead, and then smacks the creature in its crotch, knocking it into the sky. Reed smacks into it, and the momentum of the car sends them flying through the portal.

The weapons don’t make the trip. Reed is unconscious, and the creature is about to attack, when it’s blind-sided by Thing. Punching ensues. The creature is too strong, and gains the upper hand, until Johnny, on fire again, attacks it. They give it a run for its money, but eventually it wears them down. Sue, meanwhile, is trying to get Reed to wake up. She notices the creature getting closer and tries to use one of the guns, but it fizzles. The creature towers above her and Reed, and she holds up her hand as it’s about to strike a killing blow. The blow lands on thin air, and she and Reed are gone.

The creature is confused for a moment, before figuring out that she has invisible forcefields. He uses some of his alien magic to make her appear to him. Then he blasts her with more magic, slowly compressing her bubble. Until Johnny and Thing come back for round 2. Sue changes her tactic, and uses her forcefield to hold the creature in place while Johnny and Thing beat on it. Reed wakes up, and assists, tying up the creature, freeing Sue up to join in the smashing, while he studies the hieroglyphics. He realizes there’s a way to seal it back in the monolith, if they can get it back inside.

That’s when things start to take a turn. The creature winds enough of Reed around it’s fist to use him as a whip. Sue, in trying to protect herself, hits Reed. The creature manages to deflect Johnny’s fire into Thing’s eyes, temporarily blinding him.

That’s when the creature is hit from behind by a blast very much like his own. A bleeding, humbled Doom hobbles out of the monolith. In his hand are pages torn from the alien’s magical text. It asks how he could wield power it took him millenia to absorb. Doom replies that he’s a quick study, and unleashes another blast.

Thing grabs the creature’s right side. Sue gets on one side of the creature, and uses Reed as a rope with her power to lever in the opposite direction. Doom and Johnny hit the creature down the center with fire and magick, and he tears in half. It’s gruesome… but it’s not dead, either. The pieces are already starting to mend themselves back together. Reed scoops it up in his belly with everyone else’s help, then stretches the creature inside the monolith. Sue and Thing hold the broken pieces of the monolith back together, and Johnny superheats them so they fuse back in place. Doom also whispers some magic underneath his breath, though he doesn’t want them to know that he’s the real power binding the creature to the rock.

Their plane is screwed, so they can’t fly back out of the portal. Sue concentrates, and is able to create a platform to lift all of them (except the flying Johnny) through the portal. When Reed tries to help Doom onto the platform, he pulls angrily away from him, and steps up himself. They land safely on the ground back at Earth. Military ambulances meet them, to take them into quarantine. Doom is intercepted, and taken into von Bardas’ custody, instead.

Cut to a secluded military hospital. Dr. Storm asks Hank Pym if his children will be all right. He says that their cellular structure is unlike anything he’s ever seen. It might be unstable, and could kill them tomorrow. Or they could be immortal. But there’s nothing wrong with them, that he can find. Storm then asks Pym how he’d handle their other problem, and turns up the volume on the television. Video taken of the fight in Time Square shows Reed and Sue on the plane, along with plenty of video of Johnny and Ben, asking who were those fantastic four? Pym shrugs, and maybe says it’s too late to sweep it under the rug, that if he’s learned anything it’s that you have to embrace your legacy, let your kids make their own mistakes. 

Inside the quarantine, Reed is doing research. He stretches a pair of boxer shorts that he’s working on, and they stretch with the same flexibilty as he does. Sue asks what he’s working on, and he says he’s trying to adapt Dr. Pym’s particles into a material to make clothes for all of them- mostly so they can have pants that will keep up with Johnny and Ben (who is wearing only an oversized beach towel). It’s a light moment, we see the beginnings of their little dysfunctional family growing.

Cut to a gothic castle in Latveria, lit mostly by candle and torch. Von Bardas wants to have doctors remove the suit from Doom, she says they have some of the best surgeons in Europe standing by. He refuses, and retires to his private chamber. Alone, he stares into a mirror. He’s wearing regal green robes over the metal suit fused with his skin. His fingers curl over the edge of the mask, and he pulls. His face has been badly burned and scarred, and there’s some tearing as he pulls the mask away, where the burnt tissue scarred or healed around the metal, and we finally get to see the grotesque deformity. He screams Reed’s name as he smashes his hands down on the counter, shattering the marble countertop and the mirror, too.

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