"Bedlam at the Baxter Building!"
By Scott Casper, thanks to Stan and Jack for FF Annual #3
July 14, 1965
Treyden Castle, Latvia
Deep in the renovated castle that once belonged to a Latvian bishop, the absolute monarch of Latvia was so upset by the American newspaper in his hands that he crumpled it. The issue at hand, a five-cent edition of the Daily Press, had borne the headline: "Today's the Day: Wedding Bells for Reed and Sue!"
"Reed Richards," Victor Von Doom said as he tore the paper to shreds, "the only man in the world ever to defeat me, getting married today!" The hate dripped from his words as they poured out of his scowling mouth. "This is my greatest chance for revenge – now, when he will least expect it!"
Doom rose from his upholstered throne. He cradled his sore hands facing upwards. They were still sore from being broken by the Thing months ago and even the act of shredding the newspaper had hurt them. Alone and free from prying eyes, Doom wore a simple smoking jacket, slacks and a white, cloth mask that hid his scarred face, but he stormed across the room with all the presence he would have in full battle armor. "My attack must be foolproof!" he fumed. "Irresistible! All-powerful! Only by scoring the greatest victory of all time can I wipe out the humiliation of the past!"
Kicking open the door to his lab with his shoe, Doom continued to think out loud. "The only way to destroy the Fantastic Four is to create an even greater team – a veritable army of the most deadly beings alive!"
Already the plan was mostly formulated in Doom's brain. He turned on his latest machine in the room and waited for it to warm up. "By skillful manipulation of my high-frequency emotion charger, I can fan the flames of hate and evil in any heart! Every so-called villain on Earth will be bent to one thought – to transform their wedding day into their day of destruction!"
August 1, 1965
New York City. Baxter Building
Today was the day. The street out in front of one of New York's most famous skyscrapers was cordoned off by police, but excited crowds pressed in all around the officers. Some signs held up in the crowd read, "Luck to Reed and Sue!" and "Fantastic Four Fan Club, Brooklyn Chapter". A parade of limousines was lined up the street, dropping off guests. Cameramen stood at the edge of the crowd, as well as on the balcony over the entrance recess.
"Keep moving, folks!" a police officer tried to shout over the surrounding din. "Don't crowd around the TV cameras!"
"This telecast is being brought to you live as a public service…" a news reporter was saying on camera not far away.
"It looks like the whole city turned out today!" an onlooker from the sidewalk said to his friend next to him.
"Get another pan shot of the crowds, Charlie!" someone told a cameraman on the balcony over the Baxter Building's entrance.
"Right this way, Senator!" shouted one of Senator Rand's handlers as Don Rand exited his limousine.
The great-grandson of the Ringo Kid, Don Rand was a vocal supporter of New York City's superhuman community, even more so than his fellow Senator, Robert Kennedy, and his support had earned him this invitation to the wedding and the photo opportunity supreme. Right up front, he could see Johnny Storm standing by the front doors, greeting people and smiling for the cameras in his Fantastic Four uniform. Johnny was a huge celebrity; being an eligible college student of 20 and such a good-looking young man, the current holder of the name 'Human Torch' had fan clubs all over the world and some of the girls from his fan clubs were calling to him from the crowds and trying to get his attention. Senator Rand could hardly wait for a photo op like that.
However, Rand was halfway up to Johnny Storm when the Thing stepped out of the building. A hush fell over the crowd at the sight of him. A carefully tailored tuxedo was stretched over his massive frame that made him look even more man-like than usual, but it was still as disconcerting as watching a statue come alive and walk and talk.
"Ain't 'cha hogged the cameras out here long enough, Matchhead?" Ben Grimm asked sarcastically, jerking his big thumb towards the door. "Go 'wan – 'yer girlfriend Doris is gettin' lonely inside. Time fer' everyone out here ta' get a load of my baby blue eyes."
Johnny had a half-dozen pre-prepared zingers he could have got Ben back with at that point, but felt uncomfortable doing so in front of live television cameras and his fan clubs watching. Instead he smiled and nodded. "Sure…" he said. Inwardly, he would rather have stayed out here all day. Doris Evans, the fun-loving girlfriend of their first few months together, had slowly morphed into a domineering shrew. He made a five-dollar bet to himself that, before the wedding was over, she would complain that he hadn't ironed his costume before appearing in public in it.
"Hey, how ya' doin'?" Ben asked as he offered his hand to Senator Rand. He motioned with his other arm like he was going to put it around his shoulder, but Rand jerked back as if he was about to be struck.
"Excuse me! Excuse me!" a woman was shouting in the crowd as she pushed through to the policemen blocking them. "Senator! Senator Rand!"
Senator Rand turned back to see who was calling him, as the voice sounded familiar. He recognized Patsy Walker and, behind her, Hedy Wolfe at once. "Officer, let them through!" he called out, pointing to the two women.
The two women, smartly dressed and in their mid-30s, had no qualms about approaching either the senator or the Thing. "Senator, Rand, you remember us? We campaigned for you?"
"Of course I remember you…Patsy, Hedy," Don said as he recollected. "What can I do for you?"
"Take us in with you!" Hedy blurted out.
"Senator, we –" Patsy started to say, hoping it was not too late for the more practical explanation of why he should escort them both into the wedding that she had rehearsed on the way here.
It was not Don that interrupted her, but Ben. "What's this?" he called out loudly. "Some kind of a circus?"
At first Patsy thought he was talking about her, but as she turned around she saw a brightly-painted flatbed truck roaring down the street and nearly crashing into a limousine as it swerved in front of it. It had banners on the side of it that read 'Circus!' in big red letters and there was a cannon mounted on the flat bed surrounded by cut-outs of circus animals. Circus performers crowded around the cannon and a ringmaster in a green coat and purple top hat was calling out to the crowds on a loudspeaker. "Right this way! Yes, look right this way! See the most amazing circus spectacle every arranged for a celebrity wedding! Keep watching!"
"Reed didn't order no…" Ben began to say, but his voice trailed off as he saw the swirling, hypnotic stars appearing in the air around the Ringmaster's hat. Almost half of the crowd had looked at the hat as well by now and were being mesmerized, including Don and Patsy.
Just not Hedy. Having a fear of clowns, she had looked away as soon as she saw the Clown on the back of the truck. When she glanced around and saw everyone around her staring slack-jawed and silent at the circus performers, she knew at once that something was wrong.
So did the limousine driver who had just been cut off. Homer Hooper had never thought he would be nothing more than a limousine driver at the age of 27, but here he was and he was not happy about it even under normal circumstances. The indignity, though, of being cut off by a circus truck was simply too much for him. He could not see the Ringmaster from where he was sitting, nor hear him very well over the radio, but he could see some acrobats in purple tights on the back and one of them flipped him the bird. And that was the last straw. "I hope you're buckled in back there, sir!" he called out to his passenger before he floored the gas pedal and rammed the circus truck.
The circus truck lurched forward and the Ringmaster, already standing perilously close to the edge, stumbled off and fell to the street. He grabbed for his hat that had already fallen off his head.
At the entrance to the Baxter Building, Ben became vaguely aware that a pretty, dark-haired woman was standing in front of him and shouting at him.
"…ing! Mr. Grimm! Please wake up! What are they doing to everyone?" Hedy was shouting.
"Hey! What's goin' on here!" Ben shouted as he snapped out of the Ringmaster's spell. He started lumbering out towards the street and the circus truck.
"Form up around me!" the Ringmaster shouted. "I need time to re-establish control!"
The Clown and the Great Gambonnos were off the truck and on the sidewalk in an instant, flipping and cart wheeling back and forth all around the Thing, but he just shooed them away like bothersome gnats. Bruto the Strongman was next, hopping down and walking confidently up to the Thing.
"Ya gotta' be kiddin' me," the Thing said, as he flicked Bruto with a finger and sent him flying back into the Ringmaster. They both hit the side of the truck hard enough to stun them.
"Officers, arrest these …circus performers!" Don shouted authoritatively to the nearby policemen as he came out of his hypnotic daze.
"Aw..not again!" the Human Cannonball groaned from inside the unfired cannon.
"I hope this is the only thing that goes wrong at this wedding," Ben said. He watched as the police abandoned crowd control and chased after the fleeing clowns and acrobats. Most of the crowd stayed where they were, but some people started to surge from the right towards the entrance. "Hey!" Ben yelled at them. "You stay put an' don't make me mad!"
No one budged toward the entrance after that. Ben turned around and started to walk inside. As he passed Don, Patsy and Hedy, he slowed and pointed to Don. "You…you're bringin' these gals in with 'ya. I'm makin' 'em honorary guests."
No sooner was Ben back indoors than the criminal called Egghead opened a window in the building opposite the Baxter Building. "Strange…" he muttered to himself. "I had fully intended to use my greatest creations against my greatest foe, Giant Ape, but I see now that I have to use them to destroy the Fantastic Four!" He turned back to look into the rented office that currently housed four large, robot apes. "Go, my Robo-rillas! Destroy the Fantastic Four!"
The electronic chatter of the Robo-rillas drowned out Egghead's maniacal chuckling as they leapt to the window and jumped out one a time. Though it was a three-story drop to the pavement, the shock absorbers in their legs allowed them to land effortlessly. It was not so easy for the innocent bystanders who had not moved fast enough before the 800-pound Robo-rillas landed on them, though.
Not quite 40 yards away, sitting in a wrecked limo that was tying up traffic and waiting for a tow truck, Homer was thinking he was going to be fired soon. His employer, Tony Stark, could not even suffer to stay in the same limo with him, but had grabbed his suitcase and left after giving Homer curt instructions to wait for the tow and then get his date home safely. Homer glanced into the back seat at the decidedly non-plussed television actress Jocelyn Lane and wondered how his boss could leave such an attractive woman alone like that. Then he saw the robot gorillas land in the street through the rear window. "I'd better get you outta here, ma'am!" he said as he re-started the engine threw the damaged limo back into gear.
Two minutes earlier, Tony Stark was regretting having given his regular chauffeur and best friend the day off, but after Homer's actions had inadvertently helped save the day he was thinking his back-up driver needed a pay raise. He was also mentally berating himself for not having foreseen this sooner – that criminals with some kind of grudge against the Fantastic Four might try to crash the wedding. "I'm not going to let that happen," Tony muttered out loud as he ducked into an empty alley. He unlocked his briefcase and sat it on the lid of a trashcan. Reaching inside, he turned on the remote control panel for the Iron Man armor and then flipped the 'emergency recall' switch. As the machine warmed up, Tony also muttered out loud, "I should have had Iron Man patrolling outside the Baxter Building all along!"
Inside the Baxter Building, the wedding was scheduled for a banquet hall on the third floor, but a reception area had been set up in an empty office space for guests to congregate before heading up to the banquet hall. That is where Johnny Storm found Doris Evans, talking to Alicia Masters by the windows.
"Guess who, babe?" Johnny asked playfully as he put his hands over Doris' eyes from behind.
"Johnny Storm!" Doris said with genuine surprise. She pulled away from him so she could see. "I thought for sure you'd be out there helping the Thing!"
"With what, crowd control?" Johnny laughed.
"Johnny, Doris was just telling me that some circus performers attacked Ben out there. And now there are robot gorillas?"
"What?" Johnny shouted, leaping to the window and pressing both hands against it. Looking down, he could see the four large robots shaped like gorillas lumbering across the street, unopposed, towards the Baxter Building. "Doris, pull Alicia away from the window! Flame on!" Burning plasma harmlessly enveloped Johnny Storm and, as the Human Torch, he melted the window pane and flew outside and rocketed down to intercept the robots. "Wahoo!" he yelled. "Against robots, I could really cut loose for once! But Reed would have a fit if I didn't let him examine you, so…"
The robots leaped and grabbed at Johnny as he flew past, but one after another crashed to the ground after him.
"Ha! I could have melted you into slag, but instead I just fused your hands and feet! Stupid robots!" Johnny laughed then cried out, "Ow! Ow!" Johnny tried to zig-zag away from whatever was burning him through his plasma sheath. He spun around and could see nothing at first but the gorilla robots laying on the ground staring at him, but then he noticed that the two facing him pivoted their heads to follow his movements. "Must be laser beam eyes!" Johnny exclaimed. "Ow, gosh darn it! He recalled quickly Reed once explaining how intense light was defused by the plasma and that explained why no one could see his face through the flames. Maybe that explained why the lasers were only burning him instead of cutting him. "So much for not slagging you guys!" Johnny said as he poured bursts of flaming plasma from his hands onto the heads of the robots and melted just the heads down.
Girls in the crowd of onlookers were just starting to cheer and shout "We love you, Human Torch!" when, just as suddenly, the ground began to shake.
"Oh, what now?" Johnny asked no one in particular as the street started to break apart under his feet.
Half a block away, unnoticed because of all the excitement in the open, the Iron Man armor rocketed on auto-pilot over the alleyway where Tony Stark waited. The roar of the boot jets started to attract people's attention, but Tony Stark hid his face behind his briefcase until the Iron Man armor landed right in front of him. A 20-foot tall red and gold suit of computerized and mechanical fighting armor made for good cover. At a press of a button on the control panel he held, Tony was able to make the armor open up, the torso folding down into a ramp for Tony to run up to enter the Iron Man. He removed the control module from the briefcase with practiced ease and placed it into the control panel built into the Iron Man armor and slide the briefcase into the slot built for it. He switched the armor from auto-pilot to manual control and slid his arms and legs into place to work the limbs.
Now in control of the armor, Tony made Iron Man walk sideways through the alley to reach the street outside. "Loud speaker," he said for the voice-activated command, paused, and said, "Everyone, please stand back from the alleyway! Iron Man coming through! Don't be alarmed, this is just a routine patrol of the wedding route."
Or it might have been, had he not stepped out into the street to see the Human Torch circling overhead what appeared to be a giant, two-headed version of the Thing, only with horns on each head.
"That's not something you see every day!" Tony exclaimed.
"What are you? Some kind of...two-headed Thing?" Johnny asked as he tossed small fireballs down around the monster to distract it.
"Yes!" the Two-Headed Thing roared. "Revived at last and ready to destroy all surface-dwellers!"
"And you took the time to learn English before you did it?" Johnny mocked as he produced blinding flashes of light that dazzled and distracted the giant monster, keeping it from noticing the Iron Man coming up behind it. "Hey, I think you're better at it than Ben! We need to get him out here to get a load of you!"
"Your powers are great, little human!" the Two-Headed Thing roared from its other head. "Great enough to burn down the building you guard and all in it!" As it spoke, it began to quickly shrink in size and absorb its extra appendages.
"Hey, what gives?" Johnny asked with alarm as he, at the same time, began to disappear.
The now-man-shaped form that had been the Two-Headed Thing suddenly ignited into flames just as Johnny vanished. "Now to–" it started to say, just as Iron Man reached out and wrapped foot-long fingers around it.
"Hold on there!" Tony's electronically-obscured voice broadcast from the giant armor. "I'll bet my asbestos-coated right hand that you know an old sparring partner of mine called the Space Phantom! I've seen your trick before, mister, so you make the Human Torch reappear before I squeeze you like a grape!"
The would-be Human Torch turned up the heat, but only managed to fuse the giant hand tight around its body. "Fool!" it yelled. "You I can best in my true form!" It extinguished and began to grow in form again. Metal fingers, brittle from being fused, snapped and broke off as its rough, orange hide expanded and a second head began to regrow from its widening shoulders.
"Hey! Where was I?" Johnny yelled with alarm as he reappeared right where he had been.
Iron Man did not wait for the Two-Headed Thing to fully re-assume its former size, but gave it a fast left-handed jab to the fully-formed face as it broke away. The monster reeled from the blow, coming dangerously close to the sidewalk where onlookers were still watching. It ignored the little people scurrying away, but it did lift a limousine off the street from beside it with one giant hand just as the last of its occupants jumped out. It hoisted the limousine up high, surely intending to use it as a club, when it roared "Ahhh!" and dropped it.
"What's the matter? Too hot to handle?" Johnny asked as he came flying back past the monster.
"I have not forgotten you, flying ember!" the monster roared from both heads at once.
"Don't forget me either!" Tony yelled as Iron Man used its broken right hand as a club to the monster's torso, followed by another left-handed clubbing to the right head.
The monster just roared with anger and frustration as it held its ground and grappled with Iron Man's head with both hands, trying to tear it off. "I tunneled from the Earth's core with bare claws!" its left head yelled. "Do you think you could be the stronger?"
A compartment opened on the armor's left thigh and the left hand snatched up a device that rose out of the opening. "You want a reward for it? How about a snack!" Tony said as Iron Man smashed the device into one of the open mouths of the Two-Headed Thing. Iron Man lunged now to grapple the monster at closer range, wrapped an arm around the head with the device in its mouth, and tilted the head back while keeping the mouth closed.
"Keep at 'em, Iron Man!" Johnny yelled as he landed nearby and poured burning plasma onto the street around the Two-Headed Thing's feet. "I'm also increasing the heat on him to wear him out for ya!"
Better still, though it had not been Johnny's original intention, the dehydrating heat made the Two-Headed Thing involuntarily swallow and gulped down the device in its mouth.
"There!" Tony said. "You like being underground? Let's see how much you like outer space!" Iron Man knelt down, thrust an arm out underneath the giant monster, and let his magnetic repulsion field repel the super-magnet the monster had just swallowed. The repulsive force flattened Iron Man to the street, but lifted the entire monster into the air.
"Terrific! I can help with a thermal updraft!" Johnny yelled as a whirlwind of flame erupted in the air between giant battle armor and giant monster.
"Everyone, clear away!" Tony yelled to the last of the crowd who had not yet run away. He stepped back and ignited his boot jets. Iron Man took off into the air like a rocket, leading with its hands that generated the repulsion field. The floating monster rolled end over end higher into the air away from Iron Man like a giant volleyball.
"Phew! I hope he can get that big lug clear of the city before dropping him!" Johnny said as he looked around to see how many people had been hurt.
By now, Ben had rode the private elevator to the upper floors where Reed and Sue were still preparing for the ceremony. Ben headed straight for Reed's room, skipped knocking and turned the doorknob with practiced ease despite the size and strength of his fingers.
"Ben, there you are!" Reed said. Inside, he had obviously been pacing in front of his mirror and fidgeting with his tie. "A fine way for a best man to act, wander–"
"Reed," Ben interrupted, "we got trouble."
Reed sighed. "I know!" Reed walked over to Ben and put a hand on his shoulder. "You haven't started your three hours of being normal yet. Is the treatment not working?"
"It should kick in any time now, but that ain't the trouble, Stretch. The problem is that we just got attacked outside!"
"What? By whom?" Reed asked with mounting alarm.
Before either could say something else, they were interrupted by a knock on the window. To their mutual surprise, Spider-Man was at the window.
Reed's tuxedo was not made of unstable molecules, so he stretched his arm out of the sleeve across the room and unfastened the window. Spider-Man placed the palms of his hands on the glass and pushed it up before sliding his body inside.
"Sorry to crash the wedding, guys!" Spider-Man said. "I just wanted to warn you about what's going on around the front side of the building. The Torch and Iron Man just fought a giant monster out there!"
"Giant monster my eye, Webhead!" Ben exclaimed. "It was circus performers!"
"This is getting serious," Reed said and sounded it. "Ben, I want you to go to Sue. Don't tell her about what's happened, but make sure she's safe. Stand guard outside her room if you have to. This could be bigger than just random attacks."
"Yeah, okay, Stretch. It's your show," Ben said. He nodded to Reed and gave Spider-Man a suspicious glare before leaving.
"Spider-Man, will you stay and assist me?" Reed asked. "I need you to check the surveillance cameras in the communications room. It's three floors above us."
"I—I guess I'd be honored!" Spider-Man said. "Can you lead the way?"
"I can't get up there as fast as I'd like in this tuxedo, but I can show you to the stairs…" Reed pointed – and pointed – as his hand kept stretching out thinner and thinner down the hallway, bent around a corner and pointed to an unmarked door.
Spider-Man only paused for a moment to stare at Reed about the unusual request before jumping into the hallway after the disappearing hand. He leaped onto the right hand wall of the hallway and bounced further down the hall after the swiftly stretching wrist and hand. "I never thought I'd get my first tour around the Baxter Building like this!" Spider-Man joked as he bounded around the corner, almost as far as the Thing, heading his way in the hallway.
Ben grunted at the sight of Spider-Man, as little could surprise him today now. He turned to the door closest to him and knocked.
"Come in!" Sue said. "Oh, Ben!"
Ben walked in and was stunned by how beautiful Sue Storm looked in her wedding gown. "Just checkin' ta' make sure yer' okay, Suzie," Ben said, trying to sound as casual as he could.
"Why?" Sue asked, suddenly scrutinizing Ben's rocky face. "Is something the matter."
"Naw, you know how Stretch is, though. He prob'ly calculated there was a one-percent chance of ya' gettin' a run in yer' stockings an' got himself all worked up." No sooner had he made his joke, though, than Ben winced in pain.
"Ben!" Sue said, running to his side and holding his arm.
"Errgh...back up a bit, Suzie," Ben said, waving her away. "The change is startin' an' I don't wanna accidentally hit ya."
"Oh, Ben..." Sue said, taking just one step back. "I know the transformations are still painful for you. You didn't have to do this..."
"An' let ya' have an ugly monster ruin the ceremony? Guhhh!" Ben clutched his stomach and hunched forward so hard that he split out the back of his tuxedo jacket. Then his clothes began to fall loose around him as he lost body mass.
Sue clutched Ben to her, knowing he would be too weak for a moment longer to stand. She had such a jumble of feelings whenever Ben changed back. She was happy for him and yet, at the same time, she felt strangely vulnerable without the Thing around. And particularly so now, as the window of the room shattered inward.
"No!" Sue shouted in alarm. Luckily, Sue had a fast reaction time and had practiced a lot with her invisible force fields. Her force fields could keep out a bullet at medium range now; they were certainly capable of blocking the shower of glass. She still shielded the now-ordinary body of Ben Grimm with her arms – especially once she recognized the object flying through the window was no object at all, but the Wingless Wizard.
The Wizard flew straight for Sue and Ben, using the magnetic repulsion field in his close-fitting battle armor, and Sue's second instinct was to turn both her and Ben invisible. But the attack did not come. Instead, the Wizard uncharacteristically called out, "Sue Storm, protect me!"
Sue was completely clueless as to what the Wizard was talking about until she saw Thor appear at the window.
"Get back here, coward!" Thor's voice boomed. He stood on the windowsill, hammer in hand, leaning menacingly into the room. He looked rugged and savage in his four days' growth of reddish-blonde stubble, antiquated quilted tunic and Viking helmet he wore. "I warned you not to approach this building on this special day!"
"Stay back!" the Wizard cried. "I am not defenseless, even against a self-styled god!"
"Self-styled, eh?" Thor said, stepping into the room and swinging his hammer by its thong in a circle at terrifying speed. The wind kicked up by the swinging rose in intensity at an impossible rate, filling the room with a tiny hurricane that swept the Wizard around, banging into walls. Thor's red cape billowed in the wind, but otherwise he stood unmoved by it.
"Thor! Stop!" Ben and Sue yelled as they became visible again, both also being tossed about by the room-sized tempest.
"Enough, then!" Thor shouted as he swung his hammer towards the window and stopped it. The winds roared through the window, sucking the Wizard out with them, but left Ben and Sue lying on the floor of the room, no longer affected. "My apologies to you both," Thor said. "I will finish this fight outside and leave you to prepare for the ceremony." And with that he simply hopped back through the window.
"Ben, Ben, are you okay?" Sue asked as she helped him to his feet.
"Only my pride's hurt, Susie. That was pretty bad timin' on my turnin' back to plain ol' Ben Grimm, huh?"
"We've got to warn Reed and Johnny!" Sue said as she tried to run to the door of the room. She nearly tripped, as the train of her wedding dress was tangled around her legs. "It might be the whole Frightful Four back for a rematch already!"
"Whoa, hold on there…'cuz it's bigger than that…" Ben said, reaching the door ahead of her. "But ya' ain't supposed ta' be worryin' about it." He helped support her with one hand but used the other hand to block the exit.
That was not lost on Sue. "You sound like Ben, but that idea sounds like it came from Reed," she said, scowling. "I don't need extra protection just because I'm becoming Mrs. Richards. Now, what is going on out there?" she asked while wagging a scolding finger at Ben.
"Aw…ya' ain't gonna' like this…" he said.
Outside, on another side of the building, Spider-Man came running down the side of it towards where Reed Richards had stretched out the window, now wearing his stretchable Fantastic Four uniform.
"Grab hold, Spider-Man!" Reed called out as he stretched downwards towards the street.
"I sure hope you're anchored for this!" Spider-Man called out as he jumped off of the building, grabbed hold of Reed's pliable body, and started swinging down and around him like he was sliding down a fireman's pole. "Yahooooo!" Spider-Man shouted as he slid.
When they touched down on the street, to the pointing and staring and scattered applause of onlookers, Reed uncrossed his legs in the room above and pulled himself down. "How many?" he asked Spider-Man.
"After I called you on the intercom and before I left the surveillance cameras? Dozens."
"Right. This way, then," and Reed led the charge around the side of the building and through the main lobby entrance on elongated strides.
"Excuse us, coming through, nice hat," Spider-Man said to the people they pushed past. They made their way to 'Staff Only' door and Spider-Man kicked it in. The door hit a subterranean humanoid in the face and sent it flying backwards into more of them coming up the stairs.
"The basement's crawling with them!" Spider-Man as he waded in, kicking these monsters down the stairs. "Are they the Mole Man's monsters?"
"They appear to be, but I thought we'd seen the last of him," Reed answered as his elongated arm and oversized fist struck three monsters in a row.
"You have!" someone shouted from the bottom of the stairs. The monsters parted for a blonde man in a red and gold suit of Roman-style lamellar armor with a gold girdle and blue cape. "All the domain of Subterranea now belongs to Tyrannus!"
"Whoa, didn't catch all that!" Spider-Man quipped as he leaped to the ceiling and sprayed webbing from his wrists over the edge of the stairs and down on the heads of the monsters below. "Did you just say something about somebody's butt?"
Reed's elongated right arm snatched an exotic-looking rifle out of Tyrannus' hands with lightning speed. His left arm lanced out and smacked Tyrannus in the face immediately after. Tyrannus lunged for his stolen weapon and grappled for it, but found himself wrapped up in Reed's stretched out torso before he could retrieve it.
"Who sent you?" Reed demanded.
"No one commands Tyrannus!" the self-appointed ruler of Subterranea growled as he touched a button on his girdle and electricity stunned both him and Reed.
Though Tyrannus had gambled on recovering faster than Mr. Fantastic, he had not accounted for Spider-Man's speed and agility. Spider-Man had somersaulted through the air from the ceiling to land behind Tyrannus and delivered an open hand strike to Tyrannus' shoulder blade that sent Tyrannus tumbling to the floor in pain.
"Uh, Reed, I could use your help here…" Spider-Man said as he stared down at least a dozen gargoyle-like monsters massing towards him.
"Right…behind you…" Reed said, catching his breath. "We need to end this. Find who's behind it…"
"Can you believe who was behind all this?" Johnny asked as he rushed back into the Baxter Building's lobby. "Some SHIELD agents just caught the Puppet Master out front!"
Hank Pym, the science-hero known as Giant Ape, and his partner and fiancée Janet Van Dyne, also known as Monkey, stood in the lobby on either side of a man in suit and glasses resting in a chair. Hank Pym was in a suit, minus his suit jacket, which was hanging over a nearby chair. Janet was in an expensive dress, no doubt still dressed for the wedding, with only the hairy tail hanging out from under her dress incongruously.
"Did you hear that?" Jan asked the man in the chair calmly. "It's all over now. You can relax."
"Who did you catch?" Johnny asked.
"This isn't a prisoner," Hank said. "This is Dr. Bruce Banner."
"Aw man! In all this chaos I forgot we invited you, Dr. Banner. How are you handling this?"
"You mean," Bruce said, "will all this stress trigger a transformation into the Hulk? I'm on tranquilizers, which should keep me from accidentally transforming. At least during the day."
"That's all I've been waitink' to hear," said the Red Ghost as the old Russian stepped right through the wall of the lobby. He fired a strange-looking gun that vented a cloud of thick, swirling gas into the lobby.
While the Hulk could have easily resisted the gas, Bruce could not transform into his monstrous form fast enough even if he had wanted to. He fell out of his chair choking. Hank reached for the inhaler that allowed him to change into gorilla form, but also succumbed to the gas and fell to his knees coughing. Jan sprang away from the gas cloud, doing one back flip on her way to the lobby corner and maintaining her dignity by holding her dress down with her prehensile tail at the same time. Johnny was able to react fast enough to will his plasma sheath into being around him and, while thus encased, did not need to breathe.
"You left me on the Moon to die, Mr. Storm," the Red Ghost said as he began to back through the wall. "I will have my revenge now on each of you." And, with that, the Red Ghost went completely back through the interior wall and vanished from sight.
"Heck no you won't!" Johnny said as he leapt into the air and flew to the back of the lobby and the doors to the inside hallway where the Red Ghost had just fled. He was no sooner in the hallway when he saw people on his right. They looked to be wedding guests and Johnny recognized the girls as being old friends of Sue's, but before he could think of what to say to them by way of a warning, a stream of water soaked Johnny from the hallway's emergency fire hose coming from the opposite direction.
"Get back! Find an exit! The building's not safe!" Johnny shouted, getting out all of his good advice at once. He had to scare them away because he had to really turn up his heat to evaporate the water on contact before it could snuff his flame. The hallway was filling quickly with dangerously hot steam.
"You're all washed up, Human Torch!" the Red Ghost yelled with a laugh over the 'woosh' of the water as he kept the fire hose trained on Johnny.
"Bro-ther!" Johnny exclaimed sarcastically. "You came all the way back from the Moon just for corny lines like that?"
The Red Ghost kept the hose steady, confident that the Human Torch was already extinguished and he would see for himself as soon as the steam cleared. By the time he saw Johnny in front of him through the steam, it was too late to react. Johnny lunged forward, grabbed the hose nozzle and melted it shut just as the flame retreated from his soaked arm.
"When we last met, a hose like this would have snuffed me in two seconds," Johnny said. "I've been practicing since then."
"Then we are at a stalemate! I cannot hurt you, but neither can you hurt me," the Red Ghost said grimly.
"Maybe stuff like my fist can't hurt you, Ivan, but are you so sure you're immune to heat? 'Cuz I'm cranking it up all around you right now."
"I told you I cannot be – ugh!" the Red Ghost cried. He felt no pain, but the sudden discomfort had surprised him. He realized with a shock that he had long ago miscalculated; intense heat could still affect him after all! At this thought his courage faltered and he turned to flee, but had not run more than two steps when a wall of fire blocked his retreat. His concern turning to desperation, the Red Ghost dove for the floor and seemed to wriggle into it like he was trying to sink in mud. Johnny tried in vain to grab his legs, which were the last things to vanish into the floor. At the last moment, the Red Ghost wriggled out of his black boots, leaving them behind.
"Well, I'll be…" Johnny said as his flames began to die down.
"Johnny!" Jan cried from the doorway. "Hank and Dr. Banner need medical help!"
"I'm on it," Johnny said, racing to the nearest phone. Would this ever end so they could get to the wedding?
His wedding vows were still on Reed's mind as he stuffed the last of the monsters back into the hole in the basement floor.
Spider-Man poured webbing from his wrist shooters into the hole to block it up. "This should keep them out until you come up with a more permanent solution, Reed," he said. "Uh-oh – my 'spider-sense' is telling me we've got more danger coming, from above!"
Both heroes looked up to see the Red Ghost floating down towards them. "How right you are!"
"How many bad guys did you invite to this wedding?" Spider-Man asked, half-seriously and half out of frustration. He knew he was low on web fluid after webbing up all those monsters and filling that hole, but he figured he had enough for one more prisoner. But when he fired a web line at the floating man in the red coat, his web line went right through him.
"I didn't invite any of them!" Reed said hotly as he picked up a wrench, stretched out his arm, and smacked the Red Ghost hard across the face with it. With his other arm, he toppled a crate from a low table and spilled its contents all over the floor – lots of pieces of piping. "Quickly, use your web on that piping to hold it all together and we'll wrap Ivan up in it before he sinks through the floor and gets away."
"Neat trick," Spider-Man said, complying, "but how do you know this stuff would touch him when my webbing didn't?"
"Observe his bare feet," Reed said. "I hypothesized after my first meeting with the 'Red Ghost' that he could not pass immaterial through denser elements, which he had to have lined his boots with, or he would have always sank through whatever floor he was standing on. That was a lead wrench and the crate held some old lead pipe I'd not disposed of yet. With luck, we can build a cell that will hold him now until he can be deported."
"That's great, Reed, but I can take it from here," Spider-Man said as he wrapped up the Red Ghost. "You've got to get back into your tux for the ceremony!"
"You're right. Sue must have figured out what's going on around here by now. I've got to get up there!"
"Reed Richards, I'm right here!" Sue called from the door at the top of the cellar with a hint of anger in her voice. Gone was her wedding dress and she was back in her Fantastic Four uniform like Reed was.
"Sue!" Reed said, stretching to the stairs. "Thank Heaven you're alright! Did you have any trouble getting down here?"
"Yes, and it's not over – Ben had to change back to fight the Mad Thinker's android and Nick Fury is dealing with Dr. Strange— no, not the one we know, another mad scientist calling himself Dr. Strange. The Baxter Building is crawling with mad scientists! We've got to get up there and help, but first –" and here Sue paused, leaned into Reed as he came up the stairs to her and kissed him. "You're the only mad scientist I want around me, Reed Richards. I'm not mad that you tried to keep me shut in my room during all this. I love that you try to keep me safe. That, in the midst of all this craziness, I still feel safe because you're here."
Reed responded by wrapping his arms around Sue and kissing her back. It was a long kiss.
"Uh, guys…" Spider-Man said from behind Reed.
Reed came up for air. "You're right. Sue?"
"Nothing's being canceled, only delayed," Sue said, anticipating Reed's question. "Now let's beat all these bad guys so we can get married still today!"
And so it went…
To Be Continued...
Next: For more of what happened at the wedding, go back and read FF Annual #3. But if you're ready to rejoin the 1970s FF on their quest from God to stop Galactus, then stay tuned for… "Galactus Unleashed!"