Prisoners of the Pharaoh! (Again…)
Quick Multiple Choice Quiz, True Believers!
Why has the protagonist and the Fantastic Four traveled to the past again, only to run into Rama-Tut?
A. It is one of the most heavily revisited issues in Marvel Comics’ time travel.
B. They need to get a radioactive medicine from Rama-Tut because Obamacare won’t cover it.
C. Sue really liked being treated like an Egyptian Princess by Rama-Tut and his handmaidens.
D. I had no excuse to draw Batman ’66/King Tut material, so this happened.
I know that you wanted to pick C. It seems like a good answer, and to be honest, it’s implied by the text on the artwork. However, A is actually the correct answer. That’s right, one of the most heavily revisited issues by time travelers. Kind of amazing, right, since this would be Fantastic Four No. 19, the first time the story was trotted out of the gate.
While studying an Egyptian exhibit, Reed Richards reads off a hieroglyph about a substance which apparently restored the blindness of a pharaoh during a mostly unrecorded era of the Egyptian empire. Telling Alicia of this discovery, the Fantastic Four decide to use Dr. Doom’s time machine to travel into the past and retrieve this element in order to restore Alicia’s vision.
There the FF are attacked by an Egyptian army that take them prisoner when their powers fail them. Brought before their master, the Pharaoh known as Rama-Tut, the FF learn that he is a time traveler from the year 3000 who came to this time because his future was one without conflict and adventure and he had grown bored. He explains that upon arriving in Egyptian times, he lost his vision but soon restored it with a radioactive isotope from his ship and was able to conquer the area and rule. Hoping to entice the Fantastic Four to travel back in time, he planted the hieroglyph so that he could battle the historic figures.
Making Sue his “queen” and putting the other members of the Four into slavery, all seems lost until the Thing spontaneously returns to normal. Escaping he is able to get a hold of Rama-Tut’s Ultra Diode-Ray and free Sue, however the radiation from the weapon returns him to his Thing-form. The Ultra Diode-Ray is the key to the whole thing…On high-power the Ultra-Diode Ray was capable of sapping its target’s strength and powers, causing unconsciousness. Its lower power setting could sap its target’s will-power, placing them under the user’s mental control. Another blast at low power could reverse this effect. Freeing the others, the FF bust up Rama-Tut’s operation forcing him to flee in his time ship, leaving the FF to find the isotope that could restore Alicia’s vision. However, upon traveling through Dr. Doom’s time machine, Reed realizes that it won’t transport radioactive substances, and so they return from their mission empty handed.
Seems straightforward enough, right? Not really something you need to keep going back to. In fact, Rama-Tut himself winds up turning into Kang, and then Immortus…they are just different parts of his own timeline.
Fun facts to know and tell, before we hit serious detail…
1. “Pharaoh” is missplled “Pharoah” in the story title. So Stan Lee is responsible for me having serious problems spelling that word. Thanks, Stan!
2. In terms of story continuity, Rama-Tut appears next in Cable (Vol 1) #57. That’s about thirty years later in publishing time, but about a week or two later in story. Time Travel, everybody!
3. This is the one we are all about: The events in Doctor Strange Vol 2 No.53, West Coast Avengers Vol 2 No.22, Rise of Apocalypse No.3 and Rise of Apocalypse No.4 all take place between the events depicted in this story. As in, directly INSIDE the story.
See, in Doctor Strange No. 53, he actually arrives in time, and the story, BEFORE the FF…in 2940 BC. (Just after teatime). Journeying along the past lives of Morgana Blessing in search for her soul, Doctor Stephen Strange arrives in Ancient Egypt, where he is startled to find himself in a futuristic Sphinx. I’d be startles by that too, since those words aren’t usually used together. Unknown to the Master of the Mystic Arts, this time period is also host to four members of The West Coast Avengers, trapped in the past during a long time-journey. Strange is knocked out by protective laser weapons inside the Sphinx…because no one expects lasers inside a @#$%ing sphinx, bro. Strange’s unconscious form is dragged through the Sphinx by robots, until they’re spotted by the West Coast Avengers. Really, look:
Cool, right? That’s literally where two other stories intersect with the issue that I’m talking about. Anyways, The West Coast Avengers attempt to rescue Dr. Strange, but in the confusion his body is taken away by other robots. Because there are tons of robots inside the sphinx, which has to be huge inside. Strange is placed in a stasis coffin…but ust before the robots seal him within its force field, Strange regains consciousness and sends his astral form out to freedom.
Seconds after that, Doctor Strange’s astral projection escapes into the Sphinx just as the West Coast Avengers arrive to try to save him……but they’re unsuccessful and move off again. They really weren’t that great a superhero team, when you look back. They spend more of the rest of these events running around the Sphinx in seeming circles, trying to find some way to time travel back to their own era while battling robots and warriors of Rama-Tut. More or less meanwhile, while traveling back in time to 2940 BC in search of a radioactive herb to cure blindness (remember that, the original plot?), the Fantastic Four are captured by the despotic pharaoh Rama-Tut. As Rama-Tut gloats over his captives, they are observed by the non-corporeal Doctor Strange, and via close-circuited television elsewhere in the Sphinx, the West Coast Avengers.
Whew! That’s a heavily referenced scene.
As the Fantastic Four is dragged off, Doctor Strange catches sight of a young slave girl, whom he detects is the possessor of Morgana’s soul fragment. That’s what he’s here for, so that’s a big @#$% deal to him. He follows her to another chamber, where he spies on the preparations being made to Susan Storm for her unwilling wedding to Rama-Tut, while the slave girl waits in the background. Seeking to free the Fantastic Four, Dr. Strange observes a slave ship on which the Thing now serves as a slave rower. Unseen by anyone, he transmutes the cosmic rays of the sun upon the captive Thing, forcing him to transform into human Ben Grimm. So…let’s be clear. Doctor Strange can just DO this. He can make Ben back into a dude more or less at a whim, since he does it here without HANDS. Still, Ben remains cursed for decades. Doctor Strange is a @#$%.
Spearheaded by Ben, the FF break free, causing Rama-Tut to flee into the depths of his Sphinx, where he comes face to face with Doctor Strange and the slave girl. You know…a girl he paid no attention to, and a dude that was easily bested by his robot minions. He is NOT bothered. Rama-Tut activates the Sphinx’s self-defense lasers, forcing Doctor Strange and the girl to flee, at the same moment the floor of the room begins to melt, revealing only seconds later that the Fantastic Four have burned through the floor in their own escape attempt.
The FF pursue Rama-Tut to his control room, where the pharaoh has sealed himself inside an escape pod. Rama-Tut blasts off, observed by Strange and the slave girl (from outside the Sphinx) and by the West Coast Avengers, watching the scene on another close-circuit television.
Before they escape, the FF discover the optic nerve restorative they came for:
Only a few moments behind them, the West Coast Avengers arrive in the control room, now escape-pod free. Still, the escape pod is no time machine, so those guys are still pretty boned. Three’s Company style, The FF flee the Sphinx, only just missing the West Coast Avengers AND a controlled explosion that destroys all of Rama-Tut’s futuristic technology. Dr. Strange and the slave girl observe the explosion from outside, but the West Coast Avengers are caught inside in the blast. Luckily, it only destroys the machinery and leaves them unharmed…because explosions do that? Hmmmm.
The slave girl professes her love for Dr. Strange, while in the background the Fantastic Four make their departure back to their present using Dr. Doom’s time machine. Strange then magics himself back to his time, ditching the very clingy girl he just met, and doesn’t even know the name of. Very 1970’s, Doc. The West Coast Avengers get back to their own time as well.
I’m not even going to discuss the Rise of Apocalypse books, since I don’t like them much. Instead, I will point to this panel in “Avengers Forever,” which is a fantastic story by Kurt Busiek:
Which of course brings us full circle to today’s art. Plot wise, I have NO IDEA why the FF would want to go back to that point in time at this point in time. Maybe to get something to restore Johnny’s powers? Maybe so that Sue Richards can feel pretty? I’m pretty rough on Sue Richards, I know. I just feel that they are woefully inconsistent with her portrayal. She’s either the beautiful prize for the male characters to bicker over, and attempt to marry, or she’s the kind of tantrum driven “strong female protagonist” written by guys who don’t know what all those words mean. Look at any of the Malice storyline issues, and that point is MADE.
Clearly, in continuity here, she has reasons to not like our hero…despite living in the Fortress of Togetherness, not that the FF is homeless.
Anyway, here’s today’s art, with Sue Richards being fickle and a bit @#$%@,but without cover logos:
So remember, when planning your time travel vacation…all of the tourists go to this one pretty crummy day for Rama-Tut. He might not even have time to enslave you with his Ultra Diode Ray, his day is so booked solid. You might want to try another time frame.
This, True Believers, have been an extended commentary on when comics used to be fun. This fits together like a weird puzzle, told wildly out of sequence. It has robots inside a sphinx, which is just mental.
Good times, even if Sue is Self Absorbed.