Warning: Contains spoilers for Superior Four #1!
In the Devil's Reign spinoff, Superior Four, Doctor Octopus used Reed Richards' technology to assemble a team of versions of himself from alternate realities, preparing to take over the Multiverse. What not every fan may have noticed, however, is that Doc Ock's team is a callback to one short-lived but popular version of the Fantastic Four from the 1990s.
In Superior Four #1, by Zac Thompson, Davide Tinto, Matt Milla, and Ariana Maher, Octopus has gained access to the Bridge, an "alternate reality viewer" invented by Reed Richards. He uses it reach out to three variants of himself who have all "colonized" heroes' minds, exactly like Octopus did with Spider-Man in the recent past. The three "superior" heroes are Hulk (Otto Banner), Ghost Rider (Otto Blaze), and Wolverine (Otto Howlett). If Earth-616 Otto can be considered as a stand-in for Spider-Man, considering he inhabited his body during the Superior Spider-Man arc, then the lineup of the Superior Four is exactly the same as that of the New Fantastic Four, created by Walter Simonson and Arthur Adams, and introduced in Fantastic Four vol. 1 #347, in December 1990.
In that issue, the Skrull villainess De'lila uses her shapeshifting abilities to take out the original Fantastic Four, keeping them prisoner while she, posing as Sue Richards, declares the rest of the group dead and assembles a new team, composed of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk (in his grey Joe Fixit persona), and Ghost Rider (Danny Ketch). De'lila needs the heroes to recover a powerful item from deep beneath Monster Island, and while her plans are foiled after only three issues, with the original Fantastic Four rescued and the new team disbanded, this is enough time to let the motley crew of heroes shine. Putting together characters who usually work alone makes for great interaction, and it is especially fun to see Spider-Man trying to adjust to the personality of three notorious anti-heroes: "This is too much like having a couple of older, meaner brothers!" he exclaims at one point.
Part of the reason for the success of the story is that it does not take itself too seriously. The cover for issue #347 proudly declares it to be "The World's Goofiest Comic Magazine," mocking the phrase appearing on the Fantastic Four covers ("The World's Greatest Comic Magazine"). However, it resonated with fans, to the point that the New Fantastic Four lineup came back several times. In Fantastic Four #374, the New Fantastic Four gets back together as Doctor Strange's Secret Defenders. They clash with the original FF, and during the fight Wolverine scars the Thing's face, an injury that would remain with him for three years of publication. Three different What If...? stories revisited that lineup, once in 1995 and twice in 2008, proving the enduring popularity of the concept. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that Doctor Octopus did, in fact, come face to face with the New Fantastic Four, in the pages of Spider-Man vol. 1 #22, by Erik Larsen. Otto was leading the Sinister Six, and Spider-Man had to ask for help from his "older, meaner brothers" to take the villains down.
The creative teams behind Devil's Reign and Superior Four surely took inspiration from these stories for the lineup of Otto's new team. Marvel Comics characters have decades of publication behind them, which makes for rich lore and a vast background, so fans always appreciate when artists make some callback to past stories. The New Fantastic Four, while being a ragtag assembly of loners and anti-heroes, proved to be extremely popular, and perhaps it will be up to them to stop Doctor Octopus and his Superior Four from conquering the Multiverse.
Next: Alex Ross Pens First Graphic Novel With Fantastic Four: Full Circle
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