Fantastic Friday: All guest stars all the time

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #374 continues an ongoing arc with multiple plotlines and numerous guest stars — and this one has all the guest stars!

Recap: During a fight with villains, Johnny accidentally destroyed part of Empire State University, so now he is a fugitive from the police. Spider-Man got involved, hoping to find a way to help Johnny. Meanwhile, Dr. Doom has stolen the powers of Aron the rogue Watcher.

Spider-Man sneaks into Dr. Strange’s sanctum. (It appears that Doc merely left a window open. I guess he predicted Spidey would show up.) Spider-Man asks for help in looking for Johnny. Strange has a vision of Dr. Doom, and says Johnny’s disappearance has far-reaching, cosmic significance. Spider-Man asks Dr. Strange to contact three other superheroes who filled in for the FF with him a while back. Using his astral form, Strange reaches out to Wolverine, the Hulk, and Ghost Rider. It’s the return of the New Fantastic Four (with a capital N.)!

Back at HQ, Reed and Sue get into a huge argument about Johnny’s predicament, with Sue’s new take-no-prisoners attitude not helping. In the next room, Franklin is upset about the argument and his psychic powers manifest for a moment before he calms down. Supernatural nanny Agatha Harkness fears what Franklin might be turning into.

In Latveria, Dr. Doom has transferred Aron’s stolen cosmic powers into a special battery back, and he checks in on his tech guys, who are building a new suit of armor for him. As he dons his new shiny silver armor, Doom comments about how the Watcher is always up there on the moon, with seemingly godlike power that he never uses.

 

In New York, the FF split up, flying the four-part Fantasticar over the city, looking for Johnny. Johnny is hiding out in an abandoned tenement, looking all grizzled and homeless. Johnny says he can’t face his teammates after the mistakes he’s made. Nearby, the New FF has already assembled, with Dr. Strange’s astral form tagging along. Wolverine’s heightened senses are able to track Johnny with ease. Spider-Man just wants Johnny to turn himself in, but Wolverine, Hulk, and Ghost Rider are out for blood. Up in space, the situation is being monitored by Paibok the Power-Skrull, Devos the Devastator, and Lyja — the three who started all this. Lyja is having second thoughts about taking revenge on Johnny.

The New FF confront Johnny briefly, and then the original FF show up, and of course it’s a superhero misunderstanding fight. Ghost Rider knocks out Sue and then burns Johnny, because he has supernatural hellfire and not earthly fire. Spider-Man webs up Sharon before she can swing a punch. Reed makes his body so malleable that Wolverine has nothing to cut with his claws. Ben and the Hulk exchange a few punches, only for Wolverine to break free and slash Ben across the face. (!) This happens pretty quick, but it will have big consequences in issues to come.

Cut to the moon, where the Watcher has placed Aron in suspended animation. Dr. Doom, in his new armor with the cosmic battery attached, teleports into the Watcher’s home to pick a fight. We don’t see the results of because we go straight back to Earth, where Lyja appears, breaking up the fight between the two FFs. In space, Paibok sees this and declares that Lyja has betrayed him. We then see that Devos is also planning to betray him. On Earth, Lyja and the FF vanish, leaving the New FF behind. Dr. Strange, who’s still hanging around, says he fears they’ve finally seen the last of the Fantastic Four.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: It’s worth noting that Reed has started wearing his brown adventuring vest during this arc. In true ‘90s comic book style, the vest has tons of pouches that we never see being used.

Fade out: When Ben’s face is slashed by Wolverine, Sue reacts compassion, showing that her new attitude during this arc doesn’t have to be all rage monster all the time.

Clobberin’ time: Ben is still struggling with his feelings for Alicia. Sharon keeps confronting him, wanting to talk to him about it, but we don’t see them have that talk in this issue.

Flame on: I’m not sure what to think of Ghost Rider being more powerful than Johnny. We can chalk this up to Ghost Rider’s huge popularity in the early ‘90s, but still.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon knows how to fight and she has some superhuman strength, but she doesn’t stand a chance against Spider-Man.

Speaking of Spider-Man, this issue finds him at the end of the Return to the Mad Dog Ward story arc, which introduced the laughable Captain Zero to the Marvel Universe. He’s also dealing the mystery of whether his parents have returned from the dead.

The Hulk recently left his long-running Vegas mob enforcer role, and now has a new headquarters called the Mount, and new teammates in the Greek mythology-themed Pantheon. This issue, however, still references Las Vegas, so maybe it’s just before that change.

Wolverine came to this issue after experiencing a lot of trauma in his solo series. His love Mariko died, and then he descended into madness while trying to recover some of his lost memories. Maybe that’s why he’s so bloodthirsty in his fight with the FF.

Ghost Rider was all over the place in Marvel during this time, appearing in Shadow Riders, Midnight Sons Unlimited, Spirits of Vengeance, and Nightstalkers in addition to his own series, all doing the usual demon fighting stuff.

Four and a half: Agatha Harkness uses magic to help calm Franklin down, and she chooses not to reveal what she knows about Franklin to Reed and Sue. Why did they hire her?

The Alicia problem: Lyja once again mentions her and Johnny’s “unborn child” pretty much confirming that her pregnancy was not a hoax, but a tragic miscarriage. (EDIT: I just did a little bit more research, and this plot hole will be explained in a weird way coming up in issue #390.)

Commercial break: I don’t know if I can handle this much coolness:

Trivia time: The reason Dr. Strange hangs back and doesn’t join the fight is because his powers were severely weakened in Dr. Strange #50. This led to him recruiting other heroes to help him fight evil, which was the premise of The Secret Defenders. Because of this issue, the New Fantastic Four also count as members of the Secret Defenders.

It was also this month that Fantastic Four Unlimited #2 was published. Black Bolt and Medusa have a son, Ahura, who gets caught up in a fight between good Inhumans and bad Inhumans. The FF show up and join the good side. It ends with the Inhuman royal family relocating to a new home on Earth, leaving the Inhumans on the moon without traditional leadership.

Fantastic or frightful? The New Fantastic Four may or may not have been a cash grab the first time around, but they certainly are this time. This could have been any four guest stars. On the plus side, this issue serves to tie together some of the parallel plotlines of the last few issues, making it feel less random and more like one cohesive story.

Next: Ooh, shiny.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 19

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freaking Willow! Gentlemen, meet Llug: 43:53-48:58 on the Blu-ray.

 

We begin with Willow and the baby in the rain, walking out from behind some trees and coming across a three-story building. The wiki merely defines this as a roadside tavern, not giving it a proper name. There’s a lot of activity out front, with people and animals walking about, and a large crate being lifted up to the second floor balcony via some sort of pulley system. Willow looks down at the baby, and then Franjean pops up from inside Willow’s backpack, saying “We are not going in there.” Willow argues that the baby needs fresh milk, and that they’re drenched. Franjean insists that he’s in charge, calling Willow “shorty,” and Willow’s having none of it. He walks toward the tavern.

 Cut to inside, where Willow walks up some stairs with festive violin music playing. There are a lot of people inside, and a lot of activity. It’s hard to tell, but it appears two of the people are fighting. Behind Willow, someone has brought a white pony inside the building. Willow makes his way through the room, as two gruff, mustachioed men frown down at him. There’s a funny reaction of shot of the baby staring back at them, wide-eyed. Willow moves forward, and next sees a bald man with a red snake tattoo on his arm. This man is leaning forward with his head resting against a table, probably to suggest he’d been drinking.

 Willow tries to get the attention of two women, one of whom has long bone-like attachments in her hair. He asks the women for milk for the baby, and one says “Get out of here, peck!” and throws some lettuce from a nearby bowl in his face. More follow suit, with everybody throwing lettuce at Willow and shouting at him. Willow walks past a staircase which, oddly, appears to be in the center of the room. He kneels down next to it, out of harm’s way.

 The two Brownies pop their heads of Willow’s backpack, and notice a pretty Daikini woman nearby. “Look at her,” Rool says. “I could use a love potion on her. Franjean, give me the Dust of Broken Hearts. Come on.” Rool reaches for a pouch around Franjean’s neck, and there’s some slaptick of the two of them fighting over it. Franjean says the dust is “very dangerous” and that it belongs to the fairies.

 A small amount of the dust falls on Rool’s face, and he falls out of Willow’s backpack. The dust glows bright yellow. Willow asks the Brownies to be quiet, saying “Do you want to get us killed?” Rool, still with the glowing dust floating around his head, hits the floor and rubs his eyes. Franjean says, “Rool, always playing with those fairy love potions.” I believe this is the first time Rool’s name is said in the movie. This also establishes that Rool has messed around the dust before, suggesting that it hasn’t gone well in the past. I’ll discuss the Dust of Broken Hearts in more detail when it comes up again later in the movie.

 We then see a cat walk into frame, next to a huge animal skull. This of course leads to a comedy bit where Rool falls in love with the cat, saying it is beautiful. He praises the cat’s eyes and whiskers and moves forward to kiss it. The cat hisses at him, which somehow makes fly straight up into the air, so he lands on a counter of some sort. There’s even more slapstick as he stumbles around and falls into a mug full of liquid. He pokes his head back out, spits out some of the liquid, and cheers, “Beer!” He laughs and starts swimming around in the beer, which is pretty disgusting.

 There’s more rowdy behavior from the tavern patrons, where two men on two other men’s shoulders hit each other with flails. One of the men falls near Willow, conveniently knocking him, the baby, and Franjean through a loose board into the next room. There’s more activity in this room, as a panicking woman is running around saying, “If my husband catches you, he’ll kill us both!” The camera pans over to reveal Madmartigan… in a pink dress.

 Willow says “Not you!” and Madmartigan asks “Where the hell did you come from?” Like Star Wars before it, here is another fantasy universe that throws the word “hell” around casually. Willow says “I trusted you!” Franjean recognizes Madmartigan and informs everyone that he stole the baby from Madmartigan while Madmartigan was, um, relieving himself. (The movie uses cruder language.) This sort of explains how the Brownies brought the baby to Cherlindrea, but it makes Madmartigan look like a real jerk for hanging out with this woman in a tavern instead of searching for the baby.

 The woman instructs Madmartigan to cover his face, and Madmartigan points out that Willow is “crawling with Brownies.” The woman shrieks and says she hates Brownies. So this establishes that the Brownies have visited this place before, which in turn explains how the Brownies know what beer is.

 A huge man enters the room, knocking Willow to the side with the door, demanding “Where is he?” This is Llug. The woman is his wife. Her name is not revealed, and the script unfortunately just calls her “the wench.” The wench says there’s no one but her and her “cousin Hilda,” referring to Madmartigan in drag. We get reaction shots of Willow and the baby being incredulous about this. Llug and his wife even get some backstory in the tie-in books. She didn’t want to marry him, but he sat on her (!) until she agreed to. As seen in the movie, Llug’s whole philosophy is that the husband can sleep around all he wants, but the wife must remain faithful. Classy guy, our Llug.

 The wench says “this is my husband, Llug.” Madmartigan, in a comedic female voice says, “Big husband.” Llug’s demeanor switches immediately from rage to lust, and he gets all predatory towards “Hilda.” When Llug starts getting grabby, Madmartigan snatches the baby out of Willow’s hands, making a crack about Willow being a nursemaid. Willow reaches for the baby, but Madmartigan kicks him to the floor. Madmartigan again comes across as a real jerk in this scene. There’s a quick bit where Rool enters, asking if this is a party, only for Willow to pick him up. Llug gets right up into “Hilda’s” face and simply asks, “Wanna breed?” Not subtle, our Llug. “Hilda” answers with, “Tempting, but no.”

 Madmartigan backs up to the door and is about to make an escape when it opens, and several black-clad soldiers enter. We see the soldiers rounding up everyone in the tavern, including Madmartigan, Willow, Llug, and the wench. The camera pushes in close on Madmartigan’s face, as he realizes what’s going on and how the serious the situation is. Sorsha is there, checking another baby for the mark on its arm. “That’s not the one,” she says. Willow then reacts, realizing that this one of the head bad guys.

 Sorsha approaches “Hilda” and asks if she’s the mother. “Hilda” says yes. Sorsha demands to see the baby. Willow steps in between them and says “No, don’t let her.” This is a bold move on Willow’s part, seeing as how Sorsha and the other guards are all armed to the teeth. Sorsha kicks Willow to the floor (that’s twice in one scene he’s been kicked). Sorsha says, “I gave you an order, woman.” She reaches for the baby again, but Madmartigan pushes her back. This causes the other soldiers to draw their swords on him.

 Sorsha removes her helmet, and Madmartigan gazes at her, wide-eyed. He breaks character and says, “You’re beautiful.” She, however, has him all figured out, saying “And you’re very strong.” There are a couple of seconds of tense silence, after which Sorsha removes the scarf from Madmartigan’s face and announces “You’re no woman!” Madmartigan smirks, as if he already knows what’s about to happen.

 Cut to Llug and his wife. Llug immediately freaks out, shouting “Not a woman? Not a woman?” As if he planned this from the start, Madmartigan quips, “Gentlemen, meet Llug.” Llug takes a swing a Madmartigan, who ducks out of the way, causing Llug to punch one of the guards instead. This causes everyone else to start fighting the guards, with everyone running around and fighting like crazy, setting up for one of the movie’s most elaborate action scenes.

 Next: Runaway cart.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Down with reality

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #373 packs a ton of story into one comic. But is any of it a good story?

To recap: Aron the rogue watcher kidnapped Alicia, and used her to trap Reed, Ben, and Sharon Ventura in a “perfect” alternate reality based on Alicia’s subconscious. To rescue Alicia, Puppet Master has mind-controlled the Molecule Man to do his bidding. Meanwhile, Johnny is a fugitive after destroying part of Empire State University in a superhero battle.

We begin with Dr. Doom in his lab in Latveria. One of his underlings tells him that they’ve lost track of the agent Doom sent to infiltrate the Fantastic Four. Doom says he already knows, and he’s aware that “star-spanning power” is at hand. Elsewhere, the Puppet Master has mind-controlled the Molecule Man, using him to attack Aron and hopefully rescue Alicia and the others. They fight outside Aron’s mountaintop lab by bringing the environment to life around them, for some trippy visuals.

We cut to the alternate reality where Ben, Reed, Alicia, and Sharon have been trapped. In this world, Ben is a human, married to Alicia, and he works for a huge company alongside Reed and Sharon. Ben is having nightmares and feels like he’s being watched. Ben transforms from human back into the Thing, just as Reed and Sharon discover their powers as well. Alicia appears, seemingly knowing what’s happening, saying not to jeopardize this perfect life. They’re then interrupted by this world’s version of the Fantastic Four, wearing uniforms with masks and capes.

Back in NYC, Sue is meeting with attorney Matt Murdock in hopes of getting Johnny out of legal trouble. Murdock says there’s not much he can do as long as Johnny is a fugitive. He hints, however, that he has other talents that might help. From there, we meet up with Silver Sable and the Wildpack, mercenaries who have been hired by J. Jonah Jameson to hunt and capture Johnny. Spider-Man shows up and confronts Sable, saying that Johnny is his friend. The Wildpack finds Johnny and, with their flying jetpacks, chase him around the city. He fights back and escapes.

On the mountaintop, Aron defeats the Molecule Man by sealing him in a vacuum, where there are no molecules for him to manipulate. (I fail to see why Molecule Man doesn’t use the molecules in his clothes or even his own body. I guess he didn’t think of that.) This knocks him unconscious and severs his connection with the Puppet Master. In Aron’s alternate universe, Ben, Reed and Sharon are easily able to defeat the alternate FF thanks to their years of experience. Alicia freaks out, not knowing what is real and what is a lie. Her emotional breakdown is what causes the heroes to escape from the other universe and return to Earth.

Outside, Aron is momentarily distracted by the goings-on in his lab. Dr. Doom appears and makes the most of this and attacks Aron with an energy-syphoning device he just happens to have. Inside the mountain, Reed frees Alicia from Aron’s lab, and she is okay, if upset over what she saw in the other universe. The heroes go outside to find the Watcher standing over the comatose Aron. Reed asks the Watcher if he’s the one who defeated Aron, but the Watcher stays silent, just watching.

In New York, Matt Murdock has donned his Daredevil uniform, and he watches from the shadows as Spider-Man meets up again with Silver Sable. Sable asks Spidey for his support, but Spidey swings away, saying that he needs to sort out his priorities and that it’s time to call in “the really big guns.” Elsewhere, the Molecule Man recovers and flies back home. Dr. Doom is also on his way back home, with his syphoning device pulsating with power. He says there is “another” he must visit to magnify this power, after which Doom will rule not just the world, but the entire universe.

Unstable molecule: Reed says the alternate universe version of him bears “a vague resemblance to that fictional super hero who died amid so much media ballyhoo!” That’s a very mild shot fired at DC over the then-recent Death of Superman event.

Fade out: In addition to meeting with Matt Murdock, Sue is also meeting with Makio Yakaki, the FF’s financial advisor (this character’s first appearance). Sue, in her new take-no-prisoners attitude, informs Makio to “buy off” Empire State University to clear Johnny’s name.

Clobberin’ time: The big dramatic moment in this issue is Ben revealing to Alicia that he still cares about her, in real life and not just in the alternate universe. We’ll  have to see how much of a seed this plants in them eventually getting back together.

Flame on: This story arc continues trying to paint Johnny as a dark antihero, by having him lose his temper as he fights the Wildpack, boasting about how they’re nothing compared to his power and experience.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Even though Sharon is the one who dumped Ben, in this issue she’s broken up about him being affectionate towards Alicia.

Commercial break: Prime Chuck.

Trivia time: Although described as a mercenary, Silver Sable is seen operating out of the Symkarian embassy. A quick re-read of early issues of Silver Sable and the Wildpack reveals that she’s both a secret agent for Symkaria and the head of her own mercenary business. That’s some serious multitasking. The members of the Wildpack, by the way, are Chen, Powell, Battlestar, Striklan, and Quentino, and a seemingly endless supply of anonymous grunts in full-face masks. The Sandman was also a member of the Wildpack for a while.

It was during this time that Marvel published five issues of Fantastic Four Unlimited. I won’t be writing full-length reviews of them, because they’re not very good. In the first issue, the FF join Black Panther for another battle against Klaw, revealing that Klaw and T’Challa’s ancestors were also enemies.

Fantastic or Frightful? This run of issues has multiple storylines, multiple villains, and tons of guest stars, but it all feels frustratingly directionless. It’s challenge trying to find those scant few moments of character development during all this.

Next: It’s a New world.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 18

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freaking Willow! In this short scene, we’re exploring the connection between this film and Akira Kurosawa, 42:52-43-52 on the Blu-ray.

The scene begins with Willow and Brownies walking through the woods, presumably leaving Cherlindrea’s dreamlike magical forest behind and reentering the regular world. I think for most viewers, the two Brownies are simply “the Brownies,” and thought of as one character instead of two. For this rewatch, I’m going to try to give each one his due. Rool says he knows the way, but Franjean says “You always think you know the way. I am the leader.” This shows that while Franjean considers himself the hero of this adventure, Rool also had the Brownies’ boisterous self-confidence.

Willow asks how long it will take to find Fin Raziel, and Rool says, “Not long. She has been exiled to an island, just over those hills.” Willow says, “She’s what?” And Rool responds. “Exiled by the evil Queen Bavmorda,” with him giving the name “Bavmorda” a dramatic flourish and a laugh. Franjean is more serious, however, chiding Rool for telling Willow everything. “I didn’t tell him everything,” Rool says, only for Franjean to say, “You told him enough.”

The two Brownies bicker, with Franjean saying not to mention the queen. Willow learned about Bavmorda in the previous scene, so I’m not sure where this concern of theirs comes from. Willow is more interested to know about the island, demanding answers while holding the wand. Franjean again is the serious one, saying “Don’t play with that wand. Cherlindrea told you it has vast powers.” This is the first time Cherlindrea’s name is spoken in the movie. I guess the viewers are meant to understand that this refers to the angelic being of the previous scene.

Franjean continues, “Only a great sorcerer can use it, not a stupid peck like you.”  The movie keeps the borderline-offensive “peck” running joke going, and Willow doesn’t like either, reacting with an angry glare. During all this, there’s some interesting special effects here with the Brownies running along a log, and then falling off of it, all while Willow walks at a normal pace. Physics demands that the Brownies would have be moving incredibly fast to keep with Willow, based on their differing sizes, but the movie’s VFX do a good job with the illusion so that viewers don’t question it.

Franjean points to the right, saying “This way,” but Rool corrects him by saying “No” several times. Franjean marches to the left, and Rool again corrects him with more nos. What to make of this? Franjean styles himself as the leader, but the less serious Rool appears to be the one with greater knowledge of the world outside their forest. Rool points upward (to the top of the screen, that is) and says, “This way.” Rool says, “That’s what I said,” with another overly dramatic flourish on the word “said.” Franjean, less show-offy and more direct, looks up to Willow, points in Rool’s direction, and agrees, “This way.” The two of them arguing over directions will come up again later in the movie. Willow asks if they know where they’re going, and Franjean says, “Of course. With us as your guides, no harm will befall you.” Then of course we smash cut to Willow trudging along in the mud and rain, for a cheap laugh.

This is a simple scene that provides a few small pieces of exposition, while establishing Franjean and Rool as Willow’s traveling companions and comic relief. Except that this scene has its roots in classic foreign cinema. It’s no secret that Willow is heavily influenced by Star Wars, and most everyone knows that Star Wars was heavily influenced by the films Akira Kurosawa, with The Hidden Fortress being the one cited most often. In The Hidden Fortress, a princess and a warrior are fighting for their kingdom, but most of the action is seen through the POV of two lowly peasants, Tahei and Matashichi. These characters are often cited as the inspirations for C-3PO and R2-D2. I rewatched The Hidden Fortress in preparation for this blog post (You’re welcome!) and I can’t help but see big similarities between the two peasants and the two Brownies.

Next: You big lug.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Did you order a Code Blue?

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #372 finds us in the middle of a multi-issue arc with competing storylines and tons of guest stars. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Previously, Johnny used his powerful nova flame to chase of the combined might of Paibok the Power Skrull, Devos the Devastator, and a recently-back-from-the-dead Lyja. In doing so, he set fire to most (all?) of Empire State University. This issue begins with Code Blue, the NYPD’s anti-supervillain response unit, showing up at FF HQ to arrest Johnny. Sue, in her sexy new costume and bold new take-no-prisoners attitude, fights the cops. Johnny breaks up the fight and surrenders to the cops. Furious, Sue insists that Johnny will be back on the streets within a day.

We then catch up to the other storyline going on, in which Aron the rogue Watcher has kidnapped Alicia, with Reed, Ben, and Sharon Ventura mounting a rescue mission. Puppet Master, who is Alicia’s father, decides to mount a rescue of his own, by creating a puppet to mind-control the Molecule Man. Quick recap: Molecule Man was brought back to life during the Korvac Quest crossover, thanks to the small portion of his power he left behind with Volcana. Volcana then dumped him, because someone as powerful as him can’t live a normal life. This issue finds Molecule Man at his new home in Alaska, still pining for Volcana, when Puppet Master takes over his mind.

In space, Paibok and Devos brag about Johnny’s arrest was their plan all along, to turn the public against him. They tell Lyja that it’s time for the next step. In New York City, at the Daily Bugle office, editor J. Jonah Jameson argues that Johnny’s arrest is proof that all superheroes are menaces, but photographer Peter Parker says they don’t know all the facts yet. Jonah sends Peter to the police station to get a photo of Johnny.

Outside the police station, a crowd has assembled to see Johnny do the perp walk up the front steps. Lyja is there, disguised as an assassin, and Paibok is disguised as a cop. The two pretend to fight, causing panic in the crowd. Peter Parker wants to help, but can’t risk revealing his secret identity. Johnny flies off, to draw danger away from the civilians, only for the cops to declare him a fugitive.

We then catch up with the rest of the team, trapped in an alternate dimension by Aron. In this other-world, Ben is a human, married to Alicia, and they have a bunch of kids. He and Reed own Richards/Grimm Industries where Sharon is their secretary. Ben keeps having hallucinations of himself as the Thing, though, as well as the creeping feeling that he is being watched. On Earth, Aron the Watcher is indeed watching all this played out from within his mountain hideout, when he’s interrupted by the Molecule Man, who’s there to rescue Alicia.

Back in New York, time has passed and now it’s raining. Spider-Man swings around the city trying to find Johnny, who is hiding out in a cardboard box in an alley. Johnny says he can’t go to anyone for help, and must solve this problem himself.

Back at the Daily Bugle office, Jonah has hired a group of mercenaries to find Johnny and bring him, as long as the Bugle gets the exclusive. These mercenaries are… Silver Sable and the Wildpack!

To be continued.

Fade out: There’s a short scene in which Sue confronts some of the tenants of Four Freedoms Plaza, who are concerned about the superhero battles going on in the building. Sue humiliates them by turning their clothes invisible and throws them out, another example of her new take-no-prisoners personality.

Clobberin’ time: In Ben’s alternate universe, he and Alicia have three kids, son Johnny (!), daughter Penny, and a third daughter whose name isn’t revealed in this issue.

Flame on: Johnny tries and fails to convince the panicking crowd there are Skrulls among them. We see that he burns so hot that the police bullets melt before they can touch. That must be really hot.

Fantastic fifth wheel: After everything Sharon has been through, it’s pretty sucky to see her reduced to being Ben’s secretary. I know she’ll be given more to do later in this story arc, but still.

Four and a half: Before leaving with the police, Johnny tells Franklin to be “the man of the house” while he’s gone. It’s possible that this is intentional foreshadowing.

The Alicia problem: One line of dialogue states that Lyja appears hesitant about the plan to defeat Johnny, but we don’t see this, as her own lines of dialogue are all about destroying him and the FF.

Commercial break: I can’t help but think Rob Lowe’s villain character created this:

Trivia time: Code Blue, the anti-supervillain SWAT team, mostly appeared in Thor and its spinoff Thunderstrike, occasionally showing up in various Spider-Man comics. The members are Lieutenant Stone, Fireworks Fielstein, Mad-Dog Rassitano, Rigger Ruiz, Jock Jackson, and Mother Majowski. They had no powers of their own, just high-tech cop gear.

Fantastic or frightful? This mish-mash of storylines and subplots can be jarring, and I know things are only going to get more convoluted before this storyline is over. Turning Johnny and Sue into edgy anti-heroes just isn’t working, especially when you consider that Spawn and The Punisher were at the heights of their popularity at this time. I’m just not feeling any of this.

Next: Reality in shambles.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 17

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freaking Willow! Let us commune with the spirits of the forest and all that, 39:48-42:51 on the Blu-ray.

Picking up where we left off, a mysterious light and heavenly voice speaks to our heroes from high above the trees. “Welcome to my kingdom,” the voice says. Fairies — yes, actual fantasy fairies — fly down and buzz around Willow and Meegosh, glowing with light. One even flies up to Willow and kisses him on the nose, for a nifty special effect. The tie-in books keep the fairies and their ways mysterious. The books state the Nelwyn and the Daikinis believe the fairies to be monstrous, putting curses on livestock. This scene reveals them to be more kind and playful.

While the fairies continue flying around, the light forms a human shape, and says “I am so happy to meet you, Willow Ufgood.” This is Cherlindrea, although we don’t learn her name in this scene. Willow asks how she knows his name, and she answers, “Elora Danan told me.” She then calls to Elora and says “Willow’s here.” A light shines on the baby, who is safely nearby. This lets the audience know the baby’s name for the first time.

So, who is Cherlindrea, exactly? The tie-in fiction doesn’t have much information about her, which is surprising, considering how much fantasy fans love this deep lore-type stuff. She is described as an “elemental,” except that other tie-in books say the elementals are invisible earth spirit types who act only on instinct and who do not communicate with humans. This contradiction gets hand-waved away by saying some scholars merely think she’s an elemental. Cherlindrea is the ruler of this forest, with the Brownies and the fairies as her subjects. Get this: Cherlindrea is married! Her hubby is the Stag Lord, who commands the animals of the forest.

Willow, who seems to be taking all this in stride, says “But she’s just a baby.” Cherlindrea responds, “She is very special. My Brownies have been searching for her ever since we heard she was born.” The camera cuts to the Brownies as she says this, letting the viewer know that these are the Brownies. Cherlindrea says, “Elora Danan has chosen you to be her guardian.” As she says this, the baby levitates into the air, and into Willow’s arms. “Me?” Willow says. Cherlindrea smiles and says, “Yes, she likes you.”  There’s a close up of the baby, followed by the only close up we get of the fairies. As many viewers have pointed out over the years, yes they do look nude.

In addition to learning the baby’s name, we also learn that Elora Danan is somehow intelligent, or at least has some sort of awareness where she is and what’s happening. She is also apparently communicating telepathically with Cherlindrea. In previous scenes, I’ve speculated how maybe Willow has been doing magic without realizing it. Upcoming scenes have events that stretch credulity, even for a swashbuckling fantasy adventure, so perhaps that is Elora Danan knowingly or unknowingly using magic as well. The Willow graphic novel adds an additional line of dialogue, where Cherlindrea says, “Elora is the daughter of sun and moon, and the empress of all kingdoms.” These kingdoms refer not just to the ones from the movie, but the thirteen realms described in the Shadow War tie-in novels.

Cherlindrea says Elora knows Willow has the courage to help her. Cherlindrea then drops a ton of plot: “Take my wand to the sorceress Fin Raziel. She will guide you and Elora Danan to the kingdom of Tir Asleen, where a good king and queen will look after her.” As she says this, she holds out the wand, made out of curvy piece of wood. (I’ll discuss the wand in more detail in upcoming scenes.) “You need a warrior for a job like this,” Willow says. “I’m a nobody.” Again taking all this in stride, Willow addresses the baby, saying, “Elora, you don’t want me. Tell her.” Then there’s a bit of humor where he adds, “I’m short, even for Nelwyn.” Many viewers over the years have wondered why Cherlindrea doesn’t go on this quest herself. The answer is simply that she is unable to leave her forest. This is confirmed in the graphic novel when she says, “I would help you, but my powers are limited to these woods.”

Then there’s an odd bit where Cherlindrea just up and vanishes, leaving Willow, Meegosh, and the Brownies alone. Willow calls, “Hello?” but there’s no answer. There’s a shot of the Brownies looking around worriedly, as if someone or something is about to attack. There’s a gust of wind, and Cherlindrea reappears, now seeming gigantic, moving forward until her face and glowing robes fill the entire screen. She goes full King Lear and proclaims, “Elora Danan must survive. She must fulfil her destiny and bring about the downfall of Queen Bavmorda, whose powers are growing like an evil plague. Unless she is stopped, Bavmorda will control the lives of your village, your children, everyone.”

Cherlindrea starts floating upwards, and in a gentler tone of voice she says, “All creatures of good heart need your help Willow.” Her white robes flow behind her, looking like angel’s wings, to really hammer the point home. She adds, “The choice is yours.” She vanishes, and there is a sound of thunder. The rest of the fairies fly off, as the scene transitions from magical, heavenly lighting, to more naturalistic nighttime lighting.

We don’t get to see the conversation that immediately follows this, because the movie cuts to the next morning, where Meegosh is asleep at a makeshift camp site, and Willow is awake, walking around with the wand in his hand. The idea is that he’s been up all night pondering what he’s seen. Willow wakes Meegosh up and says it’s time to go home. Meegosh seems happy about this, and begins gathering his things. Willow says, “Listen, Meegosh, tell Kaia I love her and I think of her every day.” Meegosh gives Willow a what-are-you-talking-about look but just asks “Willow?” Willow continues, saying “Tell her I’m not going to let anything happen to the baby.” As Willow says this, we can see he’s putting the wand into his pack, reinforcing that he’s made up his mind. Meegosh asks Willow if he’s sure about this. Willow says “I hope so.” He hand Meegosh a pack — not the one he put the wand in, which is in his other hand — and the two friends hug. Meegosh tells Willow to be careful.

What’s interesting about this exchange is that Willow never actually says he’s decided to take Elora Danan to Fin Raziel. It’s merely understood that he’s made this choice, based on how the characters talk around it and how the actors play the scene with total seriousness. The Willow graphic novel adds a bit to their goodbye, by having the two of them repeat their rhyming greeting they did earlier in the comic. Meegosh: “Round the bend.” Willow: “Fat rear end.” Meegosh: “He’s a donkey.” Willow: “I’m your friend.”

Next: Cribbing from Kurosawa.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 16

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freaking Willow! This turns into a brief Gulliver’s Travels remake as we meet the Brownies, 37:19-39:47 on the Blu-ray.

The score is big and heroic as Willow and Meegosh walk through some tall brush, on their way back home. Willow tells Meegosh to slow down, and Meegosh says that if they hurry they can be home by tomorrow morning. It’s not clear how long they traveled to get here, but because they traveled via montage, it seemed like a long time. Perhaps they can travel quicker now that they believe they’re no longer being chased by Bavmorda’s troops.

Meegosh says they’ll be heroes when the return, and Willow asks, “Do you think so?” Meegosh acts out the part of villagers welcoming the two of them home, and Willow plays along, saying “Welcome back, boys. You deserve medals!” They laugh, but then Willow gets serious and asks if they did the right thing. Meegosh answers, “Absolutely. There’s nothing to worry about.”

On cue, they hear the baby crying nearby. (It really could be any baby, but because this is a movie, we know it’s the one we’ve been following this whole time.) Then we’re treated to an odd sight. The baby in a small pouch, being carried by a bird, with a tiny man riding on the bird’s back. “I have the baby!” the man cries, in a strange accent. We’ll soon learn this is Franjean, one of the Brownies. He gets a very quick close up, where we can see he has ‘80s music video hair.

The bird is flying very low to the ground in one shot, making this look very dangerous for the baby. The bird then flies over Willow, so close that he ducks. He shouts, “That’s my baby!” This is an interesting choice of words, considering his quest so far has been to give her away. This shows he still hasn’t let go. He calls for the bird and its rider to come back. Then we get our first taste of the Brownies’ comedy shtick as Franjean says, “Left, you stupid bird! Left!” The tie-in fiction reveals that this bird is an eagle, and its name is Canterfree.

Willow pursues, only for a tiny arrow to hit a tree next to him. There’s a quick shot of a Brownie on a tree branch with a bow, and then a second arrow strikes Willow’s arm. Meegosh says “Brownies! Let’s get out of here.” This suggests that he’s encountered Brownies before, or has at least heard of them.

Willow and Meegosh continue running, although it’s unclear if they’re still pursuing the baby or just trying get out of there. There’s a shot of a whole bunch of Brownies on a tree limb, firing arrows down at the two of them, with one arrow striking Meegosh. This repeats, with more shots of Willow and Meegosh running as the Brownies fire arrows from the trees. Willow says “Outrun them,” and then he and Meegosh fall through a hole in the ground as the Brownies can be heard laughing at them.

There’s a fade to later, to nighttime. Willow is asleep, and a Brownie voice says, “Hey ugly, wake up.” Water is thrown on Willow’s face. He wakes up and looks over, and we get our first real look at the Brownies. They all of big hair and are dressed in animal furs, all they have elaborate face paint. Most of them have a signature brown stripe down the center of their face, while others have a big brown circle painted over their left eye. I doubt we’re meant to understand the symbolism of this. One Brownie has a hollowed-out mouse’s head he’s wearing as a hat or helmet. This guy is Rool, the other prominent Brownie character.

The camera pulls back to reveal Willow and Meegosh tied to the ground, with about twenty Brownies surrounding them. One Brownie makes a comment about they are prisoners now. Willow asks Meegosh where the baby is. A light shines overhead, and heavenly voice says “Bring the Nelwyn to me.” Franjean says “You heard her,” to the other Brownies, suggesting that he is in charge. Also, Franjean is standing on Willow’s chest throughout this, for a nifty visual effect. Willow asks what’s going on, and Franjean, holding a spear, says “Shut up or I’ll break your nose. You are mine to toy with.” This is a recurring theme throughout the movie, that the Brownies never see themselves as small, but instead as equal or even superior to everyone around them.

The tie-in books have some information about the Brownies, but not as much as other characters or species. Despite being avid tree climbers, they live not in the trees but in underground burrows. They are an average of 9 inches tall. The Brownies live to be hundreds of years old (!). As the decades turn into centuries, the Brownies grow playful and mischievous to alleviate boredom. Because of this, the Daikini often consider them nuisances. Despite their playful nature, the Brownies are nonetheless fiercely loyal to their friends, and are skilled warriors with bows, spears, and swords. I’m having some trouble trying to identify the Brownies’ comedic accents. I think maybe they’re trying to sound French, but their voices are too exaggerated for humorous effect to know for sure. I’m pretty sure no one else in the movie talks with these accents.

As for our leader Franjean, the Willow graphic novel adds a line where he introduces himself as “the king of the world.” The music in Willow was composed by James Horner, who also did the score for Titanic. Could James Cameron have gotten “I’m the king of the world” from Willow via Horner?

Franjean orders, “Forward!” and the rest of the Brownies start dragging along the ground via their Brownie-sized ropes. Struggling against the ropes, Willow asks where Franjean got the baby. “I stole it from a stupid Daikini,” Franjean says. We in the audience assume Franjean means Madmartigan. Later in the movie, we’ll get a slightly more detailed version of how this happened.

The light and the heavenly voice reappers, saying “Franjean, release the Nelwyns and stop pestering them. Yes, the voice says “Nelwyns” as the plural, whereas everyone else in the movie has said just “Nelwyn” as the plural. Franjean says “Uh-oh,” and jumps off of Willow’s chest and on to the ground, for another nifty effect. Rool and another Brownie cut one of the ropes around Willow’s ankle, and this loosens him up enough so he can move. The next shot is like something out of King Kong, where Willow frees himself from the ropes, stands up, raises his arms, and roars at the Brownies, scaring them off. The Brownies run off into the trees, with one of them clearly crying “Yee-haw!”

The heavenly light appears again. It’s going to have a lot to say, so we’ll end here for now.

Next: A midsummer night’s Willow.

****

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Fantastic Friday: New looks, old flames

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #371 begins a multi-part story that contains a lot of what everyone remembers from this early ‘90s era of Fantastic Four, starting with a wild new look for Sue.

Gimmie a gimmick: Here we have an embossed cover, where the book’s logo and the image of Johnny are raised and, dare I say, touchable on special hardstock paper. The hard-to-find first printing was all white, while the much easier to find subsequent printings were all bright red. On the letters page, six people and two separate companies are given special thanks for their work in creating the cover.

At the end of the last issue, our heroes learned Alicia had been abducted. This one begins with our heroes already mounting a rescue. (The Marvel wiki insists that the Citizen Kang crossover took place between these two issues, but it goes unmentioned here.) Alicia was abducted when time froze during Infinity War, so Reed sets up a “trans-temporal reflector” inside Alicia’s apartment, revealing that Aron the rouge Watcher, who was not stuck in time, appeared and teleported Alicia away. Reed instructs Puppet Master to stay behind at Alicia’s apartment, while the FF come up with a rescue plan back at headquarters. There, Ben is reunited again with Sharon Ventura, who says they have another lunch date. As they take off, Reed goes looking for Sue and finds…

Yeah. She says she was starting to feel like “an old frump” in her regular costume, and then she lashes out at Reed for never noticing her. What goes unsaid here is that this behavior is more fallout from Sue mind-melding with Malice, the darker side of her psyche. Franklin is in the hallway outside, secretly watching Reed and Sue’s conflict. He swears to do anything to stop them, with glowing red eyes to confirm that his potentially world-ending powers are coming back.

Ben cancels his lunch with Sharon so he can join the search for Alicia. Sharon contacts her unseen “master,” who was eavesdropping on them the whole time. Reed tries to contact the Watcher for info on Aron, but the Watcher doesn’t respond, preferring instead to observe silently. Sharon returns, now wearing a brand-new green and purple costume, going by the name Ms. Marvel again.

Cut to Johnny, back in college at Empire State University, where he tries to make peace with Bridget O’Neil, the girl he argued with in issue #366. It doesn’t go well, because she’s frozen in block of ice. This is because Johnny is being attacked by the combined forces of Devos the Devastator and Paibok the Super-Skrull. Johnny fights back, leading the two of them on chase all over campus, all while hoping there’s some way to save Bridget.

At HQ, Reed devises a way to track Aron and teleport the team to Aron’s location. The “team” in this case is Reed, Ben, and Sharon, with Puppet Master staying behind to contact the Avengers in case something goes wrong. Puppet Master, however, thinks Sharon is there to prevent Ben and Alicia from reconciling, and he muses that he has no intention to stay on the sidelines. The heroes teleport to a cave in a snowy mountaintop, where Aron has his lab. He has Alicia there in an artificially induced coma. Aron shows up, revealing that he has created a miniature replica of the entire universe, based on his personal vision, and he intends the FF to spend the rest of their lives in it.

Back with Johnny, he manages to free Bridget from the ice while the college is evacuated. Then a third enemy joins the fight, It’s Lyja, still alive. Johnny doesn’t believe it’s her, especially seeing her new energy-blasting powers. She explains that Paibok gave her these powers, and she introduces her new moniker, Lyja the Laserfist! The three of them are too much for Johnny to fight at once, so he fires the ol’ FF emergency flare. Sue sees it and runs off to join the fight.

Johnny, however, is overwhelmed by all three villains, and decides the only way to defeat them is to use his mega-powerful nova flame. Sue arrives on the scene to find the villains gone, and Johnny weakened from the fight, admitting that he panicked and lost control. Then we turn the page and see that Johnny’s nova blast has destroyed most (all?) of Empire State University.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: We never see any resolution to Reed and Sue’s argument. On one page, they’re arguing, and then a few pages later, he’s on an adventure with Ben and Sharon, with no explanation of Sue’s not joining them.

Fade out: So, Sue’s new costume. I have no problem with a woman wanting to dress sexy, but when she’s doing it to get her husband to notice her, that’s troubling. When she’s doing it because of sci-fi mind-meld weirdness, that’s even more troubling. The real issue is how out of character this outfit is.

Clobberin’ time: Ben is still uncertain how he feels about Alicia, but he certainly doesn’t want her to come to harm.

Flame on: Johnny once again considers leaving the team, thinking that FF are not as extreme as the newer heroes in town. He doesn’t immediately call his teammates during the fight, because he wants to he can be as vicious as Wolverine or the Punisher.

Fantastic fourth wheel: Sharon is back with the team, albeit temporarily. The issue wants to set up a mystery as to who her new boss is, although it was revealed in issue #367 that it’s Dr. Doom. One line of dialogue states that Sharon is able to lift ten tons.

Four and a half: Franklin is seen with a Ninja Turtle toy. The coloring is slightly off, but it looks like Donatello.

The Alicia problem: Lyja originally sacrificed herself to save Johnny, but now she wants to kill him with furious anger. Lyja makes a few references to her and Johnny’s unborn child, even though that originally a lie. Johnny’s demands for further details go unanswered.

Commercial break: How does this work, exactly?

Trivia time: Spider-Man fans are already familiar with Empire State University, where Peter Parker has attended off and on over the years. Other superheroes who were or are students there include Squirrel Girl, White Tiger, and even Captain Britain. Villains who taught at ESU include the Jackal, the Lizard, and even the original Green Goblin for a while. Daredevil’s sidekick Foggy Nelson got his degree from ESU. In the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, Spidey attended Columbia University, but Empire State was mentioned in Spider-Man 3.

Fantastic or frightful? This is a big step up in quality from the crossover nonsense of the last few issues, but it still feels like our heroes are acting just enough out of character so that it is frustrating.

Next: NYPD Blue.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 15

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freaking Willow! We’ve entered a world of war and warriors, 30:35-37:18 on the Blu-ray.

It’s morning at the Daikini crossroads, and Willow, Meegosh, and the baby are asleep by their campfire. A man approaches on horseback, galloping a high speed. The horse wakes them up as it races by. Madmartigan is already awake, and watching them from inside his cage. Note that Madmartigan is cleaning his teeth with what looks like a piece of leather. In the previous scene, his teeth were all yellow and gross when he meant to appear threatening. Now that we’ve seen him be less of a threat and more humorous, there’s no more gross yellow teeth.

Meegosh asks “What was that?” But Madmartigan doesn’t answer. He says “Morning boys. Rough night last night, wasn’t it?” Then he decides to introduce himself, stating his name is Madmartigan. He asks the Nelwyn their names. Meegosh gets a dopey smile on his face and walks forward to shake Madmartigan’s hand, but Willow stops him. Willow says not to go near Madmartigan, that he’s dangerous. “I am not,” Madmartigan says.

Another rider on horseback approaches. There’s a little bit of slapstick as Willow tries to get the rider to stop, only to have to jump to the side as the rider speeds past. Willow asks what’s going on, and Madmartigan says “Smells like a battle.” Is he speaking metaphorically, or there the actual smell of blood and sword metal in the air? I’m thinking it’s a metaphor because we don’t see this battle.

Willow says he doubts Madmartigan is a warrior. Madmartigan says, “I am the greatest swordsman who ever lived.” This line is spoken with absolute seriousness, in sharp contrast with his jokey wheeling and dealing in the previous scene. This is not Madmartigan saying whatever he can think of to get out of the cage, but instead this is something he truly believes. He then asks once more for some water, politely this time. Coldly, Willow sips his own water, giving Madmartigan nothing but an intense stare.

The tone then shifts from serious back to comedic, as Madmartigan breaks down in overly-phony crying, doing that thing where he covers his face with his hands, but peeks through his fingers to get Willow’s reaction. Willow shows some sympathy and walks over to the cage with the cup of water and says, “Here.” Madmartigan stops the fake crying and casually says “Thanks, man.” But Willow is distracted by something and steps away, leaving Madmartigan high and dry (heh).

We then see a whole fleet of soldiers on horseback marching in their direction. (No CGI here, that really is a couple hundred extras on horses, all in full battle armor.) Madmartigan does the math, saying it’s two to three hundred horses, five or six wagons, “and about a thousand fools.” He keeps reaching for the water as he says this, for a little more slapstick. Distracted, Willow tries to hand Madmartigan the water, but drops it. Only a few drops of water hit Madmartigan’s fingers. Then there’s an odd beat with him desperately licking the water off his hand, to show just how dire his circumstance is.

Willow and Meegosh take the baby out of her travel pack, which I guess doubles as a sort of crib. Then there’s another shot of the soldiers getting closer. They’re wearing black and brown, with shiny silver helmets. There’s also a shot of several of them carrying large banners, with many of them ripped and torn. There are some symbols on the banners, but it’s hard to tell what they are.

Willow tries to get the attention of the man in the lead, but he says “Out of the way, peck.” This is a joke (a mean one) but it also establishes that these soldiers come from a similar place as Madmartigan. There’s a shot from Willow’s point of view, looking up at the horses, making them seem gigantic, as Willow continues trying to get their attention.

One of the soldiers stops, eyeing Madmartigan, who just glares back at him. Willow explains to the man that they found the baby in his village. “Will you please take care of her?” The soldier takes off his helmet to reveal a gruff figure with red hair and a red beard. In full tough-guy mode, he says, “We’re going into battle, little ones. Find a woman to take care of her.” Madmartigan shoots back with an insult, “I thought you were a woman, Airk.” (“Airk” is pronounced like “Eric.”)

This character is Airk Thaughbaer, a knight of Galladoorn. The tie-in books have surprisingly little background about Airk, except to emphasize his loyalty to the kingdom of Galladoorn. Airk asks Madmartigan “What did you do this time?” and Madmartigan answers, “Nothing you wouldn’t have done in my place.” “I always knew you’d end up in a crow’s cage,” Airk says. “At least I’m not down there herding sheep,” Madmartigan answers. Several more soldiers cross by on horseback as he says this, illustrating his point.

Once again, the jokey tone switches to something more serious, as Airk says “The NockMaar army destroyed Galladoorn.” Madmartigan asks, “The castle?” and Airk answers, “Bavmorda’s troops are crushing everything in sight.” Madmartigan asks to be let out of the cage, and then says one of the movie’s most famous lines, “Give me a sword, I’ll win this war for you.”

The last of the soldiers ride past, and Airk gives us a hint of his and Madmartigan’s history, saying “Madmartigan, I still serve Galladoorn. You serve no one. Remember. Sit in your coffin and rot.” Airk places his helmet back on and rides off. Madmartigan tells Airk “You need me,” and “I’ll be around long after you’re dead.” This part is some nice foreshadowing, but the next part is not, when Madmartigan has to add, “When I get out of here, I’m going to stick your head on a pig pole.” (Sadly, the wiki doesn’t have an entry for pig pole, but there will be plenty of talk about pigs before the movie is over.) Willow and Meegosh are shown watching this exchange with concerned looks on their faces.

Just what is the history between these two? The tie-in books inform us that Madmartigan was born into one of Galladoorn’s wealthiest and most powerful families, where he got the finest education and excelled at sword training. He joined the knights of Galladoorn, but his recklessness and troublemaking ways clashed with other, more disciplined knights. Madmartigan was booted from the knighthood after an illicit romance with a princess from Cashmere. Sometime later, Airk gave Madmartigan a second chance at knighthood by asking him to join the troops to fight Bavmorda’s army at Land’s End. For unspecified reasons, Madmartigan deserted the troops before the battle began, losing his honor. The tie-in fiction states that Madmartigan is in these cages as punishment for his desertion, but Airk is acting like Madmartigan’s predicament is new information to him. My guess is someone else arrested Madmartigan for desertion without Airk’s knowledge while Airk was off fighting the good fight.

There’s a shot of the road with only dust on it, signifying that the soldiers have moved on. Willow steps into frame, holding the baby. He and Madmartigan eye each other silently, and then Willow says he misses his family. Meegosh says they’re running out of food, and Madmartigan says there’s no one around who will take care of the baby. “You know why?” he says, “Nobody cares.” He says they want to go home and he wants out of the cage. He offers to take care of the baby as if she were his own. Meegosh says he believes Madmartigan. Or, perhaps Meegosh is just saying that because he wants to leave. Willow argues that Madmartigan knows nothing about babies. Madmartigan half-explains and half-brags that he knows a lot of women who do.

Now we shift from serious back to jokey, where Madmartigan returns to comedic wheeling and dealing, saying if he had someone to take care, perhaps he would have a reason to go on living. You’d think this tactic wouldn’t work, because he’s making it about his well-being and not the baby’s, but that also speaks to his rouge nature. “You can’t leave me in here to die,” he says. “Not when all I want to do is protect her.” Willow is shown contemplating this.

It’s hard to tell what happens next. It appears that a sword or knife strikes a lock on the on the cage, resulting in the entire bottom of the cage opening like a trap door. Madmartigan falls through it onto the ground. When the camera pulls back we see Meegosh was the one that struck the lock. First, I think we can assume this is lock Madmartigan wanted to pick in the previous scene. But then, who designed these cages so the bottom is the opening? How did Madmartigan’s captors get him in there to begin with? Did one person hold him up through the bars while another lifted the floor in place? Perhaps this opening is merely to empty out bodies after they’ve died, and there’s a separate traditional cage door among the bars that opens.

Madmartigan is immediately overjoyed to be out of the cage. He lifts Meegosh up and says “I feel better! You’ve done the right thing!” He jumps and spins around in the air with a “Whoo!” It’s interesting that although he’s dying of thirst, he’s not going straight for the water. Willow is all business, saying “You’ve got to promise to feed her.” Madmartigan appears enthusiastic about keeping his end of the deal, saying “Come to daddy.” Willow adds, “and keep her clean.” Madmartigan says “Absolutely.” Despite Madmartigan’s newfound positive attitude, Willow is deadly serious about reminding him of what’s important.

There’s a comedy bit where Madmartigan spins the baby around, followed by a reaction shot of her looking scared. He says “she likes me,” and the baby’s next reaction shot is a smile. Willow gives Madmartigan the baby’s changing rags, which look like just one rag. (I doubt that will last long) and a “milk bladder.” Madmartigan asks if there is milk in it, and Willow says it’s for her. Offended, Madmartigan says “I wouldn’t steal from a baby.” Like the greatest swordsman line earlier, this line is said with just enough seriousness that we believe it.

“You worry too much, peck,” Madmartigan says. “It’s Willow,” Meegosh says, and Madmartigan corrects himself with, “I mean, Willow.” He tells Willow that Willow worries too much, and assures him he’s done the right thing. He gives Willow a friendly pat on the shoulder and says to get home. Willow kisses the baby goodbye. Madmartigan gives a reassuring smile, and then walks off. “Please take care of her,” Willow says. Mardmartigan responds, “I give you my word of honor.”

Savvy viewers will no doubt suspect that this is not the end of the story, but there will be complications to come. They’re about to.

Next: Recipe for Brownies.

****

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Fantastic Friday: You need to work on your anatomy

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Annual #25 is part three of the four-part Citizen Kang, one of Marvel’s most forgettable crossovers with some spectacularly bad art.

Before going any further, we just have to talk about this artwork. Image Comics were the hottest thing around at the time, thanks to art by cool dudes like Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Eric Larsen, and the always-controversial Rob Liefeld. The art in this annual is an all-too-blatant attempt to mimic Liefeld. Every page features ridiculously over-muscled characters striking poses that the human body was never meant to strike. How did this happen? Penciler Herb Trimpe had been a Marvel mainstay since the early ‘60s, normally drawing in the Marvel “house style” standard of John Romita Sr. and Sal Buscema. Perhaps the culprit is inker Brad Vancata, who drew a lot in the “extreme ‘90s” style similar to the Image founders when he was with Marvel. He seems to have gotten his 90s-isms out of his system since then, having worked on designs for the Spider-Man multimedia attraction at Universal Studios and the videogame Hearthstone.

My point is, people don’t like Rob Liefeld, but he looks a lot better when compared to someone trying and failing to imitate Rob Liefeld.

Then there’s the story. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d never heard of Citizen Kang. The normally-detailed Marvel Wiki has only one sentence about this crossover: “The Avengers and the Fantastic Four become embroiled in the latest scheme by Kang to conquer time.” The fan-made Marvel Wikia, meanwhile only says “The full synopsis of this event is unknown.” This is part three. In Captain America annual #11, The Vision became lost in time when investigating strange goings-on in the town of Timely, Wisconsin. Then Captain America became lost in time looking for him. Then, in Thor annual #17, Thor went looking for Captain America, encountered a strange factory, and also became lost in time.

The annual begins with Dr. Druid and Nebula appearing at Fantastic Four headquarters, asking the FF to help them defeat Kang. It’s revealed that this is not really Nebula, but a Nebula from alternate timeline who now goes by the name Temptress. Dr. Druid says the time-traveling Kang has returned to the present and is up to something. He can’t go to the Avengers, because he and the Avengers split on poor terms. Reed prepares his time machine, the Rosebud II, for a trip to Timely, Wisconsin. Then we see the Avengers — Black Widow, Black Knight, Hercules, Sersi, and Crystal — also leaving for Timely in hopes of finding Vision, Captain America and Thor.

The FF arrive in Timely, where Temptress points them in the direction of the factory where we saw Thor disappear in his annual. As they fly into the factory, they become lost in time. First they fight a bunch of pterodactyls, and then the Punisher Gangs from the distant future (from the early ’90s Guardians of the Galaxy comic).

The Avengers show up in Wisconsin. They fly their quinjet through the factory and end up in the same timeline as the FF. Because she believes the Avengers are her enemies, Temptress convinces the FF that the Avengers are really Kang’s agents in disguise. The Avengers assume that Tempress has “ensorcelled” the FF, and the typical superhero misunderstanding fight breaks out.

The two teams are pretty evenly matched, with the brawl breaking down to Reed versus Black Knight, Sue versus Sersi, Ben versus Hercules, and Johnny versus Crystal. After several pages of fighting, Dr. Druid breaks everyone up, revealing that they’ve been tricked. Then a portal opens up, and there’s Kang. He says the heroes have arrived in his future city, Chronopolis, where he rules. Kang then summons his elite warriors, the Anachronauts, to defeat the heroes.

That’s the “to be continued.” The story picks up in Avengers annual #21. All the Wisconsin stuff was Kang seeding the present with his advanced tech, ensuring he’d rule in the future. While the superheroes fight the Anachronauts, Temptress reveals she is really Ravonna, Kang’s former love. She changes her name again to Terminatrix. Kang sacrifices himself to save her life, and she takes over as the new ruler of Chronopolis, and returns all he heroes safely back to the present.

Back to Fantastic Four annual #25, there are four backup stories. One is Reed teaching Franklin (and the reader) about a bunch of the FF’s villains. The second is Ben babysitting Franklin while getting angst-y about being a monster again. Third is part three of a four-part retelling of Kang’s origin that runs through all four of these annuals. Finally, there is a fight between Mantis and Moondragon, after Mantis tried to convince Moondragon to help rescue Mantis’ son from the Cotati aliens. (So that deeply-buried subplot is still going on.) Moondragon loses the fight, but she gains Mantis’ respect, so Mantis lets Moondragon go on her way.

Unstable molecule: Black Knight tries to reason with Reed scientist-to-scientist, comparing Reed to Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

Fade out: Although Sersi is a Thor-ish godlike character, she’s no match for Sue, who tricks her with invisibility and wallops her with spear-shaped force fields.

Clobberin’ time: There’s a line of dialogue saying that although Ben is normally the team’s pilot, Reed doesn’t want anyone else touching the controls of the time sled.

Flame on: The Johnny versus Crystal fight also reveals that they have some unresolved issues. She thinks he’s still bitter about her leaving him for another man. His anger at her would suggest that she’s right. Reading between the lines, though, we know Johnny is really hurting at the still-recent loss of Alicia/Lyja, and not so much Crystal.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal more or less joined the Avengers in Avengers #334, just in time for the Operation: Galactic Storm crossover. Other than hints that there might be romance with Black Knight, Crystal didn’t do much as an Avenger, but she was nonetheless a loyal member of the team for many years.

Four and a half: The video game that Franklin plays with Ben is called “Bad Pac Dudes.” After Ben accidentally breaks the controller, Franklin cheers him up by suggesting they go outside and toss a football instead.

Commercial break: I can’t even.

Trivia time: The Anachronauts are Apocryphus (Sersi’s son from an alternate universe), Raa (a magic wielding caveman), Ssith (a lizard-man from 12,000 years in the past), Tyndar (an unkillable Trojan warrior), Wildrun (the 18th century version of the Red Wolf character), Sir Ralston (an ancestor of the Black Knight), and DeathHunt 9000 (a cyborg from the future). They’ve only appeared sporadically over the years, which is too bad. I’d love to see someone at Marvel do something interesting with these guys.

Fantastic or frightful? What a disaster. I really dislike how dumb the heroes look by being tricked into fighting each other so easily. Then there’s the trying-too-hard-to-be-just-like-Image artwork. Those old issues of Youngblood you still have in your collection are way, WAY better than this.

Next: Don’t Lyja to me.

****

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