The 25th anniversary issue of the Fantastic Four will be issue 296 which at 64 pages is not just a double-issue, such as they did with FF 236, the 20th anniverary story, but a triple-issue! Writer/artist John Byrne describes FF 236 as being comparable to doing Fantastic Four: The Movie while 296, the triple-issue, will be the ultimate comic book version of the FF. It will tie into so many things which relate to the earlier years of the title.
Of his appraoch to these stories, Byrne says, "The whole thrust of FF 236, the 20th anniversary story, was to do a story that was more or less completely divorced from the regular book so that it could sort of stand on its own as a 'movie.'" By this he means that anyone who'd just stepped off the moon and had never heard of the FF could read issue 236 and understand everything that was going on.
"In the 25th anniversary issue I'm going to be doing essentially the same thing in that you'll be able to pick up on these guys even if you've never seen them before. But I also want to fill it up with all kinds of little, almost subliminal, fanish type styff that people will recognize as being references to earlier stories."
The title of FF 296 is "Return to Monster Island," a reference which will mean something if you're at all familiar with Fantastic Four number one.
"The basic premise," Byrne reveals, "is that Reed, Sue, Johnny and She-Hulk are out in California and they go out to the old rocket base in Central City. It's all grown over with weeds and looking pretty scraggy, the way Cape Canaveral is these days. The first part of the issue, as it now stands, will be a retelling of Fanastic Four number one, as they tell their origin to She-Hulk -- their first battle with the Mole Man and all that." But things start happening as the world is assaulted by wide-ranging earthquakes, which Reed Richards pinpoints as having their source at Monster Island. But Monster Island blew up at the end of FF 1 -- or did it?
"So they go tripping off to Monster Island," Byrne continues, "or where it used to be, and discover that what is now there is basically a very large hole -- into which sea water has been pouring for years. It's been gushing down into the tunnels that the Mole Man appropriated from the Deviants and has managed, in many cases, to work its wat quite a ways down into the vicinities of the center of the Earth. As a result, it's coming back as super-heated steam which is causing vast pressures to build up underneath the crust of the Earth -- which is what's causing all of these giant earthquakes, globally.
"They are about to do what they can to undeo this damage when... the Mole Man turns up. He's still there, still lurking around, and he's got all kinds of things happening involving that group of outcasts he put together." One important facet of this story involves a sequence from Fantastic Four number one in which the Mole Man revealed his mammoth Valley of Diamonds, a concept which has not been dealt with since. But Byrne has managed to work it into the story in a surprising way.
"The Mole Man has discovered that the Valley of the Diamonds is not in fact a natural phenomenon. The diamonds are mystical, and he's discovered that if he melts down the diamonds he gets this glib which, if you immersed yourself in it, you are transformed into whatever you are in your heart of hearts."
What follows is a story in which the FF try to avert final disaster for the world while the Mole Man is convinced that they're just there to make trouble for him again. But if that's not enough (remember this is a triple-issue filled with triple-threats and triple-promises), an important former member of the FF turns up there -- the Thing. Certain changes planned for the Thing, which have not yet been revealed but will have come to pass by late summer, will have driven him to Monster Island, convinced that it is the only place for a monster such as himself. There, the Thing comes face to face with what he is in his heart of hearts.
The Thing is reunited with the FF in this adventure, and at the end, "We get back to New York for an anniversary party!" Byrne explains. "It's kind of a separate story at the end of the issue which unveils the FF's new headquarters and has virtually the entire Marvel Universe guest-starring, including folks from Marvel."
Beyond FF 296 will be the aftermath of the return of the Thing. For instance, what will happen to the She-Hulk, a character John Byrne happens to have a certain fondness for? "We will have to address the very serious questions of whether they will be the Fantastic Four or the Fantastic Five," Byrne reveals.
Other stories in the FF's future include a possible wedding in issue 300 and the finale to "The Last Galactus Story" continued from the pages of the now-defunct Epic Illustrated. It looks as though 1986 will be a landmark year for the Fantastic Four in numerous ways.
On History: John Byrne's Unused FF