Universal Monsters rewatch – Son of Dracula 1943

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Lon Cheney Jr. establishes himself as the official “face” of the Universal monsters with the title role in 1943’s Son of Dracula.

Here’s what happens: New Orleans heiress Katherine returns from Romania with a new fiancé, Count Alucard. (Get it?) Katherine’s father then mysteriously dies, leaving his fortune to her and her sister. Katherine’s now ex-boyfriend investigates, only to see Katherine die and then later be back from the dead. Things just get more complicated from there.

Monster!: I like Lon Cheney Jr. as much as the next person, but I don’t know that he was the best choice to play Dracula. His guy-next-door charm that made him so likable in The Wolf Man doesn’t translate to Dracula’s high-falootin’ dialogue about moonlight and immortality.

Also a monster!: The movie’s plot is driven by Katherine’s transformation into a vampire, so much that I wonder if Bride of Dracula might have been a working title. Except that vamp Katherine isn’t so much evil, wanting to reunite with her beau Frank is the third act.

Our hero: Frank is a real man of action, carrying a pistol and unloading bullets into Dracula. He gets more and more unhinged in the second act when he thinks Katherine is dead. Then it’s a tragic ending when he says goodbye to Katherine rather than saving her.

Hapless humans: Two stately elders, Dr. Brewster and Dr. Lazlo, team up for the Van Helsing role to investigate Dracula. One of the movie’s smartest decisions is having Brewster figure out the “Alucard is Dracula backward” bit in the first scene, so the audience doesn’t think he’s an idiot. Katherine’s sister Claire is also along for the ride, more or less acting as the two doctors’ sidekick.

Frights: Lots of bat action in this one. It’s the first time we see Dracula actually transform into a bat in that sweet old-timey animation effect, and a great bit where someone gets attacked by Drac in bat form. Dracula also transforms from a mist into human form and then floats over the swamp, in one of the movie’s best scenes. The final confrontation is also memorable, with a great death scene for the Count.

Laughs: Not a lot of comic relief this time, except for one scene where a goofy guy at the police station overhears Frank and Katherine talking, and just assumes Frank is talking to himself.

What’s all this, then?: The movie is called Son of Dracula, but the dialogue would have us believe that this is the one and only Drac, with characters merely assuming he’s the son due to his agelessness. The movie ends with no definitive answer one way or the other.

Thoughts upon this viewing: I was a little bored with this one at first, but it won me over as it went along. Even though Cheney’s performance didn’t work for me, but I really dug the doomed romance stuff between Katherine and Frank.

Next: A dish best served transparent.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Which ape is which?

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Vol. 3 issue #3 is the third and final issue with legendary artist Alan Davis, who co-wrote this one with writer Scott Lobdell. Davis originally intended to stay on Fantastic Four longer, but left when he got the chance to do his passion project The Nail at DC. For part three of the Davis trilogy, we’ve got apes.

It’s New Years Eve in NYC, and the Sue, Ben, and Johnny are in formal wear ready to go to a benefit gala. Reed is still in his lab working. The others break into the lab to find Reed performing an autopsy on last issue’s villain, the Iconoclast. The FF are horrified, but Reed explains that it’s not really the Iconoclast, but a holographic recreation of him. Reed says the Iconoclast is a human-sized single-cell organism, which somehow explains why he could not be detected. Sue, Ben and Johnny take off to the benefit, and Reed promises to catch up.

Cut to outer space, where readers are reunited with Alicia Masters. Readers who haven’t been following Silver Surfer during this time might not know that Alicia has been a supporting character in that comic for a time, and some might really be surprised to learn that Alicia and the Surfer have become a romantic couple by this point. The Surfer tells Alicia that his thoughts dwell on Earth after learning that the heroes who died/disappeared during Onslaught and Heroes Reborn have returned. Alicia says that although Ben has made no effort to contact her, she wonders if it’s time for her to get in touch with him. Then the Silver gets another premonition of Earth, saying that something is growing deep within the Earth, which may pose a threat to the planet.

Back in NYC, we’re at Empire State University, where we meet security guard Devin Chapman, who thinks of himself as a crimefighter called “Campus Defender,” and grad student Cathy Polombo, who is studying biopsy results on a test monkey. She discovers synthetic fibers in the monkey’s muscles and strange readings in its blood. She calls her student advisor, a “consulting professor,” and leaves a message. A voice tells her to hang up the phone. Cathy turns to face the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes. Note that the Super-Apes are now intelligent and can speak, while the Red Ghost only grunts and acts ape-like. The apes introduce themselves as Mikhlo, Peator (the gorilla), and Igor.

At Pier Four, Reed is still tinkering with the hologram when H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot alerts him to a phone call. Reed assumes it’s Sue, but it’s Cathy, revealing that Reed is her consulting professor. He flies to the scene in the Fantasticar and while calling the rest of the FF. At ESU, the apes trashing the lab. Devin Chapman the Campus Defender tries to intervene, giving the apes to show off their powers. The apes now have multiple superpowers, including shape-changing and telekinesis. The Super-Apes reveal that Igor has been posing as a lab monkey to secretly build a toxic nerve gas device in the lab when alone each night. They plan to release the gas in Times Square.

Reed busts into the lab and fights the apes, with Paetor the gorilla providing the only real challenge. Reed observes that the apes share each others’ powers, and the Red Ghost’s intellect is now distributed among the apes. Reed knocks out Paetor just as his teammates burst through the door. With the Red Ghost too innocent and childlike to fight back, Ben declares the crisis over. Reed, however, recalls that Red Ghost and the apes got their powers from the same cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers. Reed wonders if the FF will face the same fate.

Then, somewhere in the mountains of Tibet, two explorers come across an ancient monastery. They find a bunch of dead bodies inside and then they’re confronted by a man in the shadows who calls himself Crucible. Cut from there to Subterranea, where the Mole Man is getting out of a bath (!) to discover all his minions have disappeared. He senses a monster crawling up from the depths of the planet, and he says that although he doesn’t care about the surface world, he will fight with his dying breath to save his people.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: To spy on the Super-Apes, Reed stretches one eyeball through a grate (gross). Also for anyone who says Reed is boring, he is a man of action in this issue, taking out three super-powered enemies without breaking a sweat.

Fade out: Sue shows off her science-brain by pointing out that a single-celled organism is an amoeba.

Clobberin’ time: Ben says he’s uncomfortable in his New Year’s tuxedo, and sure enough he ditches it to jump into action.

Flame on: Johnny gives Reed a hard time for Reed being on a first-name basis with the three Super-Apes, but then Johnny remembers that the Red Ghost’s first name is Ivan two panels later.

Fantastic fifth wheel: H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot has been demoted to the team’s answering machine. Sue has programmed him not to respond to Reed’s “not now” when he calls, but Reed counters that with a code that automatically deactivates H.E.R.B.I.E. (Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.)

Medusa shows up in this one-page pinup by Alan Davis and inker Mark Farmer.

Commercial break: Cyberswine!

Trivia time: Which ape is which? This issue says that Paetor is the gorilla, but the Marvel Wiki claims Miklho is the gorilla, with Paetor being the orangutan and Igor being the baboon. Maybe their names/identities/consciousnesses got switched around along with their powers. (Alternatively, the Wiki also lists the Super-Apes appearance in a Hostess Fruit Pie ad as canon, so maybe the Wiki isn’t the definitive source we think it is.)

The story of how Red Ghost and his Super-Apes were transformed has never been revealed. They next appeared in Wolverine #164, where they were in jail and back to their usual selves.

Sharp-eyed readers will recognize the monastery as the same one from Dr. Doom’s origin story, where Doom crafted his armor. The Crucible storyline won’t be picked up again until vol. 3 issue #5.

This is the only appearance of security guard Devin Chapman, which is too bad. I wouldn’t have minded the further adventures of the Campus Defender.

Fantastic or frightful? How sad that this is all we get from Alan Davis and Scott Lobdell. This has a ton of great character moments and cinematic action. It’s a reminder of how comics can be pure fun.

Next: Mt. Clare.

****

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Universal monsters rewatch – Phantom of the Opera 1943

Rewatching the Universal monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. This 1943 version of Phantom of the Opera is the oddity in the box set, as it’s in color, and more of a romance/musical than it is horror. Is it a worthy inclusion?

Here’s what happens: Violinist and would-be composer Claudin believes the managers of the Paris Opera House stole his concerto. A fight breaks out, Claudin’s face is scarred with conveniently-placed acid, and he flees into the city sewers. He later reemerges as the Phantom, with a plot for revenge, and an obsession with up-and-coming singer Christine.

Monster! It’s not until 53 minutes into this 90-minute movie that we see the Phantom in all his masked glory. Claude Rains definitely gives it his all, though, starting as a sad sack, then becoming menacing, and ending in sadness again.

Also a monster! A woman named Claudette is the one who throws the acid in Claudin’s face, more or less turning him into the Phantom. While Claudin dishes out revenge throughout the movie, I find it odd he never goes back for Claudette.

Our hero: Christine DuBois (not Daae) spends most of the movie either frightened or mesmerized by the many men in her life. Her hero moment is of course when she unmasks the Phantom. But her real hero moment is the ending, where she chooses romance with none of the men, wanting to focus on her career instead.

Hapless humans: Christine has two would-be suitors — Raoul, a cop, and Anatole, a fellow singer. Add to this the usual collection of opera singers and managers, who, when not singing, are befuddled by the Phantom’s menace.

Thrills: When Claudin is finally revealed as the Phantom, there’s a big chase through the theater backstage. Later, the movie does the famous “bring down the chandelier” scene, as a big set piece. The final unmasking and confrontation has some cool makeup effects, but ends abruptly.

Laughs: Raoul and Anatole do a lot of bumbling romantic comedy hijinks as they try to woo Christine. It’s also at this point that it must be pointed out that the plot often stops for opera scenes. Lots and lots and LOTS of opera in this movie.

What’s all this then? Okay, so why is this version of Phantom of the Opera on the Blu-ray box, and not the 1925 Lon Cheney Sr. version, which is more well-known (and, I daresay, a lot better)? Further, the 1925 version was made by Universal and famed monster-movie producer Carl Laemmle. Even more further, Universal in the 1930s re-released that film with a new audio track with voice to sell it to fans of Dracula and Frankenstein. I suspect that because the 1925 film pre-dates the formation of Universal’s so-called “monster office” it doesn’t make the Blu-ray box. Everybody should definitely buy the Kino Lorber Blu of the 1925 film, a must-own for movie lovers.

Thoughts upon this viewing: I get it, it’s the 1940s and technicolor musicals are huge. But, man, there is so much opera singing in this movie, and so little of it has to do with the plot. I guess for a lot of 1943 audience members, this would be their only change to see an opera. But it’s a lot less a monster movie and more a lavish musical.

Next: “Gomez, get those out of his mouth.”

****

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Fantastic Friday: Pier Pressure

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In volume 3 issue #2, the short-but-stellar run of writer Scott Lobdell and legendary artist Alan Davis continues, with a new headquarters, a new villain, even a new mailman.

The issue begins with Ben and Johnny in battle against what appears to be some sort of giant silver blob. Turn the page, and this is revealed to be team’s new “mutating couch.” We’re in the FF’s new living room, where Reed explains that the couch is made of “psi-sensitive molecules” that conform to anyone who uses it. It works on Sue and Franklin, turning into a perfectly comfy chair for her and a swing for Franklin, but Ben and Johnny overloaded the couch by jumping on it at the same time. The couch becomes stable and explodes, but no one is hurt. Reed says the experiment is a failure, though Franklin asks how it could be a failure if they had fun.

Ben has had enough of the horsing around, saying he wants to go back to their headquarters at Four Freedoms Plaza. It’s here we officially establish that the FF have moved to a new HQ, Pier Four, described as being Reed’s former storage warehouses by the docks. Reed reminds Ben (and the readers) that hot newcomers the Thunderbolts took ownership of Four Freedoms Plaza after the building was stripped of its internal workings. Ben accuses the Thunderbolts of trashing the building, but Reed says he gave Four Freedoms Plaza to the Thunderbolts as a gift, and that it’s no shape for the FF now anyways.

Ben is still angry, wanting to go pick a fight with the Thunderbolts. He’s stopped at the pier’s front door (unlocked, apparently) by a beautiful woman. She introduces herself as Billie, the team’s new mail carrier. Both Ben and Johnny are smitten, and decide that Pier Four might not be so bad.

Sue and Reed discuss the pier, and whether it can truly be a new home for their family. As they do, a mysterious figure watches from the shadows. Cut to New York’s Empire State University, where two researchers are concerned about the health of an ape they are experimenting on. When they leave the room, the ape speaks, saying “Soon you will all be dust beneath our paws.” In the streets of New York, Ben is wandering and comes across a display of some of Alicia’s sculptures, which he finds tacky. He considers finding Alicia to let her know he’s okay. Johnny then flies up and tells Ben that they are both are single now, and they should get to work at meeting some ladies. Then Johnny plays a joke on Ben, covering him snow and making him look like a snowman.

At the pier, Reed is tucking Franklin into bed, and Franklin says he likes the new home. Reed and Sue get ready for bed themselves (phwrar!) when Sue spots something. Someone invisible is the room with them, but her powers make him visible. It’s a creepy guy who calls himself the Iconoclast. He says he’s here to “null you before you null us.” A fight breaks out. Sue knocks the Iconoclast outside over the water, while Reed gets Franklin to safety. Reed then rejoins the fight after the pier’s security measures are in place. It’s a tough battle because only Sue can see the Iconoclast, while he fires his null energy bolts at them both. Franklin watches them from inside the pier and sends out a signal flare. Ben Johnny see it while bickering, and they run back to the pier to join the battle.

As the fighting continues, it’s revealed the Iconoclast’s powers aren’t just invisibility. Reed is unable to see, hear, or touch the Iconoclast, but the Iconoclast has no problem beating up Reed, with a lot of eye-popping panels of Reed’s face getting punched in. Sue has no such weakness, and she keeps up the fight. He says that millions of lives are at stake, depending on him destroying the FF. Ben and Johnny arrive, and Johnny makes the Iconoclast partially visible by generating heat. It only works for a second, before the Iconoclast blasts Johnny with an ice ray.

Sue tricks the Iconoclast into walking out over the water on one of her forcefields. She removes the field, dunking him in the water. Reed says that by making direct contact with the water, his cloaking device shorted out. The bad news is, the Iconoclast takes off in the water, making a clean escape. The team launches a search with Reed’s scanning devices but there’s no sign of him. Sue is convinced that he’s out there somewhere… watching.

Unstable molecule: Reed says his futuristic couch was a failure, but it looks like a lot of his new tech in the pier is similar silvery liquid metal stuff. So, maybe not a total failure?

Fade out: The small amount of fans online actually talking about this issue are debating how Sue’s powers work, and how she can see through another person’s invisibility. The general consensus seems to be that the Iconoclast’s invisibility powers are similar enough to Sue’s that she can see him.

Clobberin’ time: Ben ponders trying to find Alicia. It’d be a long search, because at this point in continuity Alicia was still flying around in space alongside the Silver Surfer.

Flame on: Johnny says Lyja has up and disappeared, with her shape-changing powers making it easy for her to hide in plain sight. In official Marvel continuity, the Secret Invasion storyline was already under way at this time. During Heroes Reborn, Lyja felt betrayed by Johnny and the FF, so went deep undercover with a Skrull sleeper cell on Earth.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Amid all the toys and junk in Franklin’s room, we can clearly see H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot off to one side. Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.

Four and a half: Franklin’s bedroom is treasure trove of references and Easter eggs. He has a Stretch Armstrong-style toy of Reed, a Jack-in-the-box with a Skrull face, a Dr. Doom punching bag, a drawing of his mom, blocks made to look like Ben’s rocky hide, a teddy bear, a tyrannosaurus rex, a Frankenstein toy, a model of the Enterprise from Star Trek, a model of the TARDIS from Dr. Who, a TIE fighter and X-wing from Star Wars, and the penguin diamond thief from The Wrong Trousers. He also has a telescope for his brainier side, and a soccer ball, baseball bat, and tennis racket for his sporty side.

Commercial break: “Ladies, ladies, ladies, Jay and Silent Bob are in the hizzouse!”

Trivia time: This is pretty much it for the Iconoclast. We learn a little more about him next issue, but nothing definitive. He’ll later appear in one panel of the 2005 miniseries Fantastic Four: Foes as part of a gathering of villains. Beyond that, the reason he attacked Sue and the millions of lives he says are in the balance have, to date, never been revealed.

Sue-per spy: In the 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries, we learn Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all this time. Could the Iconoclast’s attack have something to do with one of her secret spy missions?

Fantastic or frightful? I like the Baxter Building as much as anyone, but Pier Four is really cool. It’s right up there with the Batcave, the Turtle’s lair, and Challengers Mountain as hero headquarters you’d actually want to live in. Even though we only get the Iconoclast for a few pages, he has a different power set from what we’ve seen before, making him an interesting challenge for our heroes to up against. Another slam dunk from Davis and Lobdell.

Next: Ape escape!

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man 1942

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. It’s continuity-shmontinuity for our first big crossover, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

Here’s what happens: After rising from the grave, Larry Talbot, a.k.a. the Wolf Man, learns he is immortal. Wanting to find a way to die and therefore end his curse, he eventually seeks out Elsa Frankenstein, daughter of Dr. Frankenstein. This then leads to uncovering Frankenstein’s monster frozen in ice. Elsa’s boyfriend, the not-subtly-named Frank, decides to bring the monster back to life. This sets up the confrontation between the two monsters.

Monster! It doesn’t take long into the movie before Talbot becomes the Wolf Man, and the first half of the movie has some fun werewolf-lurking-in-the-city-streets action.

Also a monster! This time it’s Bela Lugosi as Frankenstein’s monster, appropriate since this is technically Ygor’s brain in Frankenstein’s body. Allegedly, Lugosi’s performance was cut to pieces in the editing room. The story goes that Lugosi had speaking lines referencing Ygor and the monster’s blindness from Ghost of Frankenstein were going to be referenced, but all that was cut. Always great to see Bela on screen nonetheless.

Our hero: Larry Talbot is less a romantic lead this time around, and more of a tortured antihero. His quest for his own death makes him a little hard to relate to as protagonist. Once the mad science begins, Talbot’s character arc is kind of forgotten about, just so we can have the monster brawl.

Hapless humans: There are at least three Dr. Frankensteins in continuity by this point, with no reference to which one is Elsa’s father. Still, Elsa and Frank make an interesting couple, and a nice variation on the mad scientist trope. The rest of the cast, various cops, doctors, and villagers, are all familiar faces from previous Universal monster movies.

Thrills: There’s some fun Wolf Man action in the movie’s first half, but we’re all here for the big fight at the end. It’s pretty great, with Frankenstein’s monster being slow-moving raw strength, and the Wolf Man being agile and jumping all over the place. Maybe it’s pretty tame compared to the kitchen fight from The Raid 2, but it’s still fun.

Laughs: There’s no comic relief in the movie, but there’s a musical number! All the villagers in whatever town this is to sing the folk song “Faro-la Faro-li.” It takes Talbot a long, long time before he loses it and tells them to stop singing.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The movie is a little clunky, with occasional moments of fun stuff happening. Perhaps the two monsters meeting deserved better, but for more of a B-movie, it’s pretty fun.

Next: In living color.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Wizard Magazine

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The series gets a special 1/2 issue, courtesy of the one and only Wizard Magazine. You might think that 1/2 should come before 1, but this takes place between issues 1 and 2 in official continuity. Never change, Marvel.

This issue could only be purchased polybagged with Wizard #85. It’s a co-promotion so that first-time readers can check out the new reboot of Fantastic Four, and long-time Marvel fans could check out Wizard. While Scott Lobdell and the great Alan Davis were killing it in the first few issues of the reboot, this (sort-of) freebie is courtesy of writer/editor Ralph Macchio and artist Ron Lim.

We begin with archipelago in the Bermuda Triangle, containing an entrance to the Mole Man’s subterranean lair. Even though the previous issue had the Mole Man calling off an attack on the surface world, this one has him back at it. He has a device called a “tremor trigger,” which will wrack the surface world with earthquakes. He then plans to reshape the Earth in his own image. Then there’s several pages of retelling the Mole Man’s origin, how he fled into solitude because of his ugliness, only to find Subterranea and become its king.

Cut to New York and… it’s the first appearance of Pier Four! This will be the FF’s new headquarters for the time being. It’ll get a proper introduction in the next issue, but this is our debut glimpse of the new locale. Ben and Johnny argue over what to watch on TV, leading to some of their classic bickering. Sue breaks them up, and they all meet in the Reed’s “ancillary research laboratory,” where Reed is at work inventing an enlarging/reducing field to shrink or grow objects. He’s using Ant-Man’s Pym particles to help with this experiment. Reed has Johnny and Sue use their powers on the device, for this issue’s excuse-for-the-heroes-to-use-their-powers-for-a-few-pages thing.

The fun science is interrupted when a nearby city block is struck by an Earthquake. The FF rush into action, using their powers to rescue people trapped in the damaged buildings. Some cops show up with the Mole Man in custody, saying he’d just shown up nearby. He admits to being responsible for the quake, saying it was a mere demonstration of his power. He then says he plans to deliver an ultimatum to the United Nations. Ben threatens to clobber the Mole Man, so Mole Man uses his staff to summon his giant monsters from Subterranea. (Why didn’t the cops confiscate his staff?)

The FF battle the monsters, using their powers in creative ways. It’s still not enough, though. Reed has Johnny speed back to Pier Four to retrieve the particle projector used in his shrinking/growing experiment. Reed uses the device and shrinks the dinosaur-sized monsters down to the size of mice. The Mole Man admits defeat, but then bonds with the shrunken monsters. He says they’re like family to him and he promises to protect them. Reed lets the Mole Man return to Subterranea, and Ben says that Mole Man has finally found peace, in that an outcast can find acceptance among other outcasts. He admits to being “just a tiny bit jealous” of the Mole Man. “But tomorrow – I’ll deny it,” he says.

Unstable molecule: During the fight, Reed does his classic move of stretching into a big slingshot and hurling a boulder at a monster.

Fade out: Sue is in rescue mode during the fight, using her force fields to protect bystanders. Reed praises her, calling her power “the most remarkable of all.”

Clobberin’ time: The issue begins with Ben watching a Yankees vs. Red Sox game, and during the fight, he continues grousing about missing the game.

Flame on: When Johnny’s flame isn’t able to burn the monsters’ hides, he instead dazzles them with a blinding bright flame to slow them down.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Although Hank Pym and Pym particles are mentioned, this comic is intended to promote the reboot, so the Scott Lang Ant-Man and his recent membership in the FF goes unmentioned.

Commercial break: We all remember Wizard magazine, but who else also read Toyfare, the home of Twisted Toyfare Theater?

Trivia time: There’s mention of the Mole Man’s former love Nala, who left him for fellow underground kingdom ruler Tyrannus, a nice continuity nod for longtime fans. But wait – Nala was last seen in the short-lived Fantastic Four Unlimited #4 where she and the Mole Man reunited. This means there was an untold story at some point where she dumped him and went back to Tyrannus again.

The Mole Man’s monsters seen in this issue are Giganto, Tricephalous, and Vandroom. There’s some confusion among fans about the Mole Man’s island being in the Bermuda Triangle in the Atlantic Ocean instead of the South Pacific in the Pacific Ocean. I say read closer. This issue never says the island is the Monster Island, just an island. Who says Mole Man can’t have more than one island?

The issue ends with the threat of the Mole Man’s tremor trigger earthquake machine still a threat. The Marvel Wiki has no entry for the tremor trigger, so let’s assume Mole Man dismantled it after his epiphany at the end of this issue.

Fantastic or frightful? This a simplistic story meant to introduce the Fantastic Four to first-time readers. As first issues go, I suppose there are worse out there. And after you’re done, you get to enjoy Wizard’s 25 greatest moments in comics history article, and wonder why almost all of them are from the ’80s.

Next: Iconoclastic.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – The Mummy’s Tomb 1942

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Good ol’ Kharis is back in The Mummy’s Tomb.

Here’s what happens: Taking place 30 years (!) after The Mummy’s Hand, we catch up with those characters as they come up with more magical Tana leaves with another plot to revive Kharis the Mummy. This time, one Kharis’ cult followers takes the mummy to the USA, to the small town of Mapleton, to enact revenge on the previous movie’s archeologists and their families.

Monster!: After playing the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s monster, Lon Cheney Jr. continues his tour through the monster roles by playing Kharis. You wouldn’t know it’s him though, as the filmmakers decided to have him wear a Kharis mask instead of makeup. The good news is that Kharis gets a lot of screentime in this one, sneaking around in the dark and strangling his victims one-by-one.

Also a monster!: Actor Turhan Bey plays Mehemet Bey, the cultist who serves as Kharis’ master. His revenge plot takes a creepy turn when he becomes obsessed with the hero’s fiancé, but it does set up the big third-act confrontation.

Our hero: John, the son of the first movie’s hero, eventually emerges as the protagonist this time. He’s not too shaken up about all the deaths around him, romancing his fiancé and happy to be offered a new job in Washington DC.

Hapless humans: There’s a bunch of folks around John’s household who serve as victim fodder for Kharis. We’ve also got an odd “cops vs. the press” subplot about the town being overrun by crime reporters trying to solve the murders.

Thrills: There’s a real slasher movie vibe to this one, with Kharis sneaking around at night, killing folks one by one. The conclusion is especially great, where a torch-wielding mob (in present times?) chases Kharis to a mansion which then catches on fire. Kharis then fights John and the cops on the mansion balcony as it burns all around them. Awesome.

Laughs: Babe, who was the comic relief in Hand, is back for more, only less wacky and more haunted by his previous adventures. He manages to show some of his quirky self when chatting with the crime reporters, though.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The Universal Monster sequels are often criticized for being diminished returns, and I can see it with this one. It feels cheap, and it relies way too much on stock footage. That big finale at the mansion turns things around, however, and makes the movie worth seeing.

Next: They did the mash.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Davis Squared

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. With Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return mercifully over, it’s time for a fresh new start. In vol. 3 issue #1, legendary artist Alan Davis and writer Scott Lobdell do a smashing job of bringing the FF into the modern age without undoing what was done before.

Gimmie a gimmick: This was a wraparound cover with the FF on the front and the villains on the back. Also there was a separately-sold alternate cover, featuring the FF standing behind a glowing gold “4” logo.

We begin in the Mole Man’s underground kingdom, where he has amassed an army of Moloids and monsters, announcing that the time has come for all-out war against the surface world. He then receives a message tha the Fantastic Four are still alive, and not dead as previously reported. He calls off the attack. Then, alone, he raises a toast to the FF, in front of a Mount Rushmore-style monument had built of them.

Cut to Antarctica, where it’s back to business for our heroes. Ben out on the ice, about to test one of Reed’s new inventions, an “electromagnetic meson velocirator.” Johnny interrupts for some horseplay, melting the ice under Ben and kicking off some classic playful brawling between them, with Reed and Sue breaking them up. It’s the old-fashioned excuse-for-the-characters-to-use-their-powers-for-a-few-pages thing.

Then we cut to Paris, France, where the locals are protesting the presence of an American company, DRC (short for Deterrence Research Corporation). DRC head Aaron Starr meets with protestor Yvette Diamonde to give her a tour of the company’s archeological dig, where they’ve uncovered a sculpture thousands of years old. Diamonde seems okay with this at first, until the DRC goons use a laser gun-like device to “breach” the sculpture. Diamonde tries to stop them and accidentally kicks the laser gun. As she and the other protestors keeping fighting to preserve the sanctity of the site, the sculpture cracks and starts to break apart.

Back to the FF, we learn that this arctic base is the team’s new headquarters, thanks to the fact that the Thunderbolts have taken over the old Four Freedoms Plaza. Nearby, Johnny and Reed construct a new Fantasticar in the style of the original. Johnny wants to jazz up the design, but Reed says, “Image isn’t everything, Johnny,” and “Sometimes there’s no improving on the original concept.” (Oohh, shots fired at Jim Lee and the Wildstorm guys!) Reed gets an alarm warning him of a “transpatial anomaly” and says it’s time for the team to regroup.

Back in France, Diamonde ducks for cover as strange lights burst from the sculpture. Everyone else in the area is transmutated into ancient aliens called the Ruined, led by B’arr, Exalt, and Stem. The Ruined say that what humans call “progress” is just one step closer to destruction. To preserve the past, the Ruined give Dimaonde a mystic sword and ask her to be their new leader. She raised the sword He-Man style, and transmutates into a barbarian swordswoman.

 

Reed and Sue show up, using their powers to sneak onto the DRC site. Reed says the general public is not yet aware the FF are still alive, and he wants to keep operating in secret for the time being. Ben and Johnny are a few blocks away, where they’ve been instructed to keep a low profile. Johnny flirts with a model named Arlise, when Ben goes for a walk and is pestered by France’s version of the Yancy Street Gang, here called Rue de Yancy.

When alien tentacles break through the ground to the surface, Reed signals the others for some action. The Ruined arrive and everybody fights. Daimonde shows up, now calling herself Martyr. With a single punch, she sends Ben flying across the city and into the bell tower at Notre Dame. Reed deduces that the Ruined are using the sculpture’s strange energies to transform all modern-day architecture back into structures ancient times. What’s more, the energy is following Martyr wherever she goes. Reed tries to use science to stop the energy, but the Ruined claim they are beyond science.

Johnny tries to destroy the source of the energy, only for it to absorb his flame. He starts to get drawn into the energy, but Martyr rescues him. She joins the fight against the Ruined, after they knock out Reed, Sue and Johnny. Martyr says the Ruined are doing more damage than DRC was going to do. Exalt tells her there’s nothing she can do now that the Fantastic Four are defeated. Ben returns, telling him he needs to learn to count. Reed comes to just long enough to tell Ben that “triangular harmonics” are needed to stop the energy. Ben lifts up that big pyramid thing at the Lourve and throws into the energy, which shorts it out and returns everything back to normal.

Not everything, though. Dimaonde is still transmutated into the superhuman Martyr. Starr, now human again, insists that Martyr’s armor and sword are now DRC property. Another fight is about to break out, but Martyr says she’s willing to work alongside DRC as its new spokes-superhero. She says she will fight to make sure that technology will not tamper with the natural order. Reed lets them go, saying “Science without morals is a disaster waiting to happen.” As the Fantasticar flies over Paris, the city’s population comes out to cheer them on, revealing to the world that the Fantastic Four are back.

Unstable molecule: Reed says he’s had this arctic base all along, but absent-mindedly never mentioned it to Ben and Johnny. Was this his and Sue’s secret private getaway?

Fade out: In the introductory text page states that Sue’s responsibilities include the non-profit/charitable arm of Fantastic Four Inc., something I don’t recall coming up before.

Clobberin’ time: Unlike the others, Ben is still struggling with the events of Heroes Reborn. He’s bothered by the fact that he got to live his whole life all over again, and still made most of the same mistakes.

Flame on: The Marvel Wiki insists that Arlise, the model who flirts with Johnny, turned into the one of the Ruined, named Katar. We’ll have to see if she shows up again when the Ruined return in a few issues from now.

Four and a half: After a year of Franklin crying about the death of his parents in Generation X and Daydreamers, Franklin is back to being a happy-go-lucky fun-loving kid in this issue. The state of his reality bending mutant powers remains unmentioned.

Sue-per spy: While this blog was on a break last year, Marvel went and published an Invisible Woman miniseries that revealed Sue has had a double life as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all this time! Moving forward, you can bet I’ll be looking for anything that might suggest Sue’s spycraft.

Commercial break: Police state.

Trivia time: Again according to the Marvel Wiki, the other members of the Ruined not named in this issue are C’hin, Casque, Feuille, Griffe, S’pyke, Touffe, and M’stapha.

Fantastic or Frightful? The reason I started this blog way back when was to put into words why I was disappointed in the Tim Story Fantastic Four movies, and what elements from the comics could make for a good movie. This issue fulfils the unfulfilled promise of Heroes Reborn by being a fresh new start for first-time readers while also being big and cinematic. It’s a blockbuster action movie in a single read. Too bad we’re only getting Lobdell and Davis for three issues, but the good news that this issue #1 is an all-timer.

Next: Half of one.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – The Invisible Agent 1942

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. The series crosses over with WWII propaganda in 1942’s The Invisible Agent. Buy war bonds, etc.

Here’s what happens: Frank Griffin, grandson of the original Invisible Man, still protects the invisibility formula. When he’s discovered, he’s recruited to help the war effort. He skydives into Germany where he outwits Nazis, finds romance, and saves the day.

Monster!: Allegedly, the studio mandate during the war years was depict the Nazis as stupid and incompetent, so there’s a lot of the “bumbling villain” trope throughout the movie, leaning way more into comedy than action or horror.

Also a monster!: Although most of the villains are slapstick clowns, the great Peter Lorre is on hand to supply some real menace. His character is supposed be Asian (what the heck, old-timey Hollywood?!?) but Lorre downplays that instead sticks to his “creepy Peter Lorre” act, for which we should all be grateful.

Our hero: Frank Griffith starts the movie as a nondescript shopkeeper, but once he’s the Invisible Man, he becomes the “charming rogue” stereotype, having fun with his invisibility and goofing around before learning to take the mission seriously.

Hapless humans: Ilona Massey plays the feisty love interest for the Invisible Man, and they do the romantic comedy banter thing nicely. Their Moonlighting-style back-and-forth wordplay is the highlight of the movie.

Thrills: The filmmakers continue to up their game in the invisibility special effects department. Instead of the bandaged-up look, this Invisible Man covers his face with white cream, with some nifty face-floating-in-air effects. Later, the Invisible Man grabs an envelope, carries it through a window, down a ladder and onto the street. It’s a huge set piece where we follow his actions by following the letter.

Laughs: As noted above, there’s a lot of slapstick whenever the villains are on screen. Heiser, the main villain, has a running gag about food spilled on his uniform, and everyone humiliating him about it.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The Nazi talk and the old-fashioned racism make this an unpleasant watch, so that I just can’t recommend it. It’s too bad, because the movie could have been a lot more fun otherwise.

Next: Tomb raider.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Fantastic Friday: Heroes Return and Return Again

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. When the Heroes Reborn reboot fell below expectations, Marvel was quick to re-reboot it. Time for the FF, the Avengers, and more to reenter regular Marvel continuity, and it was decided that the FF’s own Franklin Richards as the reason for it all, hence the notorious Heroes Reborn: The Return.

By now, everyone knows the story – everything that happened in the Heroes Reborn Universe (hereafter called “HRU”) took place in a pocket universe created by Franklin Richards’ reality-bending powers. When a bunch of superheroes sacrificed their lives to defeat supervillain Onslaught, Franklin subconsciously created another universe for them to live, where their lives began anew with no memory of their previous lives in the Marvel Universe (hereafter “MU”). We the fans already know this, but how did this play out in the actual comics, exactly?

After Onslaught, Franklin spent a short amount of time as a supporting character in Cable, where it looked like Cable might become his new father figure. Franklin next showed up, however, in Generation X, finding a new home at the Xavier School. When the school was attacked, he and a bunch of others fled to the nexus of all realities, home of Man-Thing. There, they formed their own super-team, the Daydreamers. That’s all well and good, except that through this all, Franklin can be seen carrying around a blue sphere, which he’s had since the last issue of the Onslaught event. This sphere contains the HRU, but for the life of me I can’t figure out when this was officially revealed. After a while, it’s as if readers are just meant to pick up on it. If anything, it looks to me like the fact that Franklin created the HRU wasn’t revealed in a story, but in all the ads for this event. Whatever. Let’s just get on with the story.

 

Every issue of Heroes Reborn: The Return begins with the same four-page text piece catching new readers up to speed. This is a little awkward for the first issue in that it summarizes what we’re about to read, but whatever. The issue begins with Franklin Richards alongside a mysterious woman as a storm hits NYC. The woman tells Franklin his parents are still alive, “elsewhere and elsewhen.” Franklin is teleported away from her to the Florida swamp, home of his new Daydreamers teammate Man-Thing. Back in New York, Peter Parker and Aunt May watch a news report recapping Onslaught and the first appearance of the Thunderbolts. Then we see the Hulk is also in New York, wandering the back streets in his anger. Remember that Onslaught separated Bruce Banner and the Hulk into two individuals. The Hulk stayed in the MU, while Banner was in the HRU where he of course transformed into a second Hulk. (You getting all this?)

Back in the swamp, Man-Thing fights an alligator (he always fights alligators), while Franklin looks into his sphere and sees a vision of Bruce Banner and not one but two Hulks. He then sees images of the HRU where Ben and Thor are fighting the Hulk. The mystery woman reappears and fights Man-Thing, burning him with his own fear (dang). She tells Franklin her name is Ashema and that they have to talk. She tells Franklin that when his father was done with an experiment, he cleaned up afterward. Now, she says, Franklin has created an experiment that he has to clean up. Ashema teleports Franklin to the HRU, explaining that this is a universe he created. She says Franklin has a choice. Only one of the two universes can survive – either one that’s his home or one where his parents live but don’t know him – and he has to choose.

Issue #2 begins with Franklin astral-projecting to his parents’ room (hey, the comic remembers his “Tattletale” powers from Power Pack). He warns them the “Cestials” are coming before he vanishes. Sue says she feels like she knows him somewhere, and the FF agree to find him and help him. In the MU, Dr. Strange is contacted by Loki, who warns him about another world where powerful beings are trapped, and that Strange must find a “nexus point” to deal with the upcoming crisis. Ashema appears and takes Loki from the scene, saying he is not to interfere with the Celestials’ business. In the MU, Spider-Man learns about the Hulk wandering the streets during the storm, so he swings off to investigate. Outside of a Broadway theater (!) the Hulk fights Doc Sampson, the Thunderbolts, and Thor, all of whom are trying to get him to calm down. The street is torn open in an earthquake, allowing the Hulk to escape while Thor rescues some civilians. Dr. Strange travels to Man-Thing’s swamp and finds Franklin’s sphere. He too sees an image of the Hulk in it, and considers showing it to the Hulk.

In another wilderness, Franklin and Ashema talk some more. He doesn’t want to destroy an entire universe full of people’s lives. They find a wounded bear cub, and Franklin insists Ashema use her powers to heal it. She does, but then turns around and kills it right in front of him. Angered, Franklin lashes out at her with his own power. She says that Franklin can’t make his choice, the Celestials will make it for him.

Back in New York, the Hulk is now fighting Spider-Man, Hercules and the Thunderbolts in Central Park, when Dr. Strange appears. Spidey and the Hulk are both drawn into the sphere, teleporting themselves to the HRU, where the Hulk is confronted by… another Hulk!

Onto issue #3. In the HRU, Reed and Iron Man work in the lab, discovering two giant fireballs headed toward the Earth. Sue interrupts to say she can somehow sense Franklin is in danger. Then there’s additional science talk as Iron Man has been getting strange readings from rocks at the Earth’s core (how’d he get those?) and he flies into the Negative Zone to test them. Reed, meanwhile, considers asking Dr. Doom for help, since Doom recently helped them fight Galactus.

The MU Hulk thinks the HRU Hulk is Bruce Banner and attacks, with Spider-Man caught in the middle. The Hulks fight their onto the Brooklyn Bridge and then down into the water. Spider-Man follows them there, wondering what to do, when the Avengers show up, along with Ben and Johnny. Spidey is relieved to see they’re all alive, but they have no idea who he is.

In the MU, Franklin runs off and accidentally falls off 100-foot cliff (!). Ashema is willing to leave him for dead, but then she receives a telepathic message from the rest of the Celestials, telling her to bring Franklin back to life. She does, and in doing so she experiences what it means to be human, through his experiences and through the experiences of all humanity who are connected through Franklin’s reality-bending powers. Now emotionally transformed, Ashema agrees to help Franklin.

In the HRU, Iron Man returns from his test, which determined that the Earth’s core is only one year old. He and Reed are baffled by this, while Sue insists that Franklin and the Celestials hold the answer. Franklin then appears in the room, and runs into Sue’s arms. Elsewhere in New York, a giant ship flies out of the water near the Brooklyn Bridge, having captured both Hulks. Spider-Man, and the HRU heroes jump into action, learning that Dr. Doom is piloting the ship. Doom flies the ship to FF headquarters, saying he’s discovered transdimensional energy leaking from another world into theirs. The heroes and Doom all regroup, and Reed says Franklin, Spider-Man, and the Hulk all reveal the existence of another world, and that they should take Doom’s ship there.

Ashema is also there, and she says Franklin has made his choice. Franklin admits he has, and that he couldn’t allow everyone in the Marvel Universe to die. At that moment, the group alerted to activity from outside. They look to see a Celestial appearing in space, looming over the Earth.

Issue #4 begins with the rest of the HR heroes also on the scene, including Iron Man’s Hulkbusters team, and Rikki Barnes, a.k.a. the new Bucky. Also, everyone has now been clued into the fact that the HR universe is only a manifestation of a young boy’s imagination. Rikki is not happy about having to stay behind. Then things get complicated when Ashema says the heroes will return to the Marvel Universe, but not with Franklin. Franklin is coming to space with her to fulfill his destiny. The heroes aren’t having this, saying that whether they remember him or not, Franklin should stay with his parents. Ashema is about to start to fight, but Franklin talks her out of it. She demonstrates her power, though, by temporarily transforming Thor into… Thorg! This is, of course, the frog Thor from back in the Walt Simonson days.

Dr. Strange takes Franklin’s sphere to outer space, where he speaks with an unknown power. He says this unknown being has always refused to help in the past, but Strange urges them to help just this once. Strange hands the sphere over to the mystery figure. In the HRU, Iron Man takes some time to say goodbye to Pepper Potts, knowing what’s going to happen. Everyone then boards Dr. Doom’s ship, where Reed explains that they must first take the ship into the Negative Zone, and from there to edge of this reality – in this case, the edge of Franklin’s imagination. The ship takes off, with Ashema flying outside, alongside it. She transforms into some sort of energy being and says it’s time for the heroes to “see the light.”

The ship enters the Negative Zone, and that’s when Doom makes his move. He abducts Franklin and flees the ship, with the intent of stealing Franklin’s powers for his own. Doom plans to rule over both universes as a god, believing not even the Celestials can stop him. They’re in the distortion area of the Negative Zone, where air breathers can fly around in space with no problems. Reed and Thor pursue Doom and Franklin. Reed rescues his son while Thor beats up on Doom. Thor says his hammer has the power to tap into dimensional energies to create a rift between universes (could Thor always do this?). Iron Man takes the controls of Doom’s ship, to ensure that everyone enters the rift at the same time, as per Ashema’s instructions.

Then it happens. All the Heroes Reborn characters get their Marvel Universe memories back. Sue remembers her family. Bruce Banner remembers his traumatic childhood. Iron Man remembers his addictions and his anger. Captain America remembers a lifetime of battles. Then there’s a whole two pages dealing with Bruce Banner and Hulk reintegrating, becoming one person again. The caption reads, “To put it simply, the heroes return.”

Somewhere on Earth, the Fantastic Four regroup in a forest. Ashema appears before Sue, and Sue is done putting up with Ashema. Sue asks, “Who are you to decide that Franklin has been ruined by us?” Ashema responds, “Someone who has also been ruined by you.” Ashema disappears, telling Sue to take care of her “precious cargo.” There’s a quick glimpse of the Heroes Reborn universe, still existing, with Rikki watching over it. Then we see Ashema having returned to her Celestial form on the Celestials home planet. She is asleep, surrounded by the other Celestials. The captions say that granting Franklin the power to create this other universe was an experiment on the Celestials’ behalf, and that is how they learn and grow. When Ashema experienced the human condition, she too was transformed. As she sleeps, she dreams.

On the last page, we see the stranger Dr. Strange spoke to earlier. It’s Eternity, the living embodiment of reality itself. Eternity is now the keep of Franklin’s sphere. Eternity muses whether the dreams of a Celestial could be figment of someone else’s imagination. Perhaps we all are.

Unstable molecule: Reed rescues Franklin by stretching from Doom’s ship and out into space to grab hold of his son. His teammates then reel him back into the ship as if he’s one big fishing line.

Fade out: Sue’s certainty that she has a long-lost son she doesn’t remember is more or less the inciting incident that kicks off the whole adventure.

Clobberin’ time: We don’t see how Ben’s fight with the Hulk ended, except we’re told that the Hulk merely ran off. Later, the comic remembers that Ben is a pilot when Ben grouses that he should be flying Doom’s ship instead of Iron Man.

Flame on: Johnny barely appears in these comics, his only function is to look cool when standing next to his teammates.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Where is Crystal?!? Previous issues made the point that Crystal in Heroes Reborn was the same on from the Marvel Universe, but she doesn’t appear in this miniseries. The Marvel wiki insists that her and the Inhuman Royal Family were aboard Doom’s ship, but just in the lower decks where we couldn’t see them. The HRU versions of the rest of the Inhumans were merged into their MU selves, the wiki says.

She-Hulk and Spider-Man act all flirtatious with each other, with Spidey making the most of how this version of She-Hulk has no idea who she is. Since when was there romantic inklings between these two? Also, the Marvel wiki says the HRU She-Hulk also merged with her MU self.

Four and a half: Using Franklin’s powers to fix comic continuity might be convenient, but it’s also consistent, as there’s been a fear from the beginning that his powers represent a potential threat to reality itself. Throughout his appearances in Cable, X-Man, Generation X, and Daydreamers were all about Franklin coming to terns with his parents’ deaths, only for him to turn a corner in Heroes Return, where he succeeds in bringing them back.

Commercial break: Each of these four issues concludes with a tiring eight pages of ads for the upcoming Fantastic Four, Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America reboots.

Trivia time: This is not the final word on the HRU. Rikki Barnes, the new Bucky, later crossed over into the MU where she fought crime as Nomad for a while. Then the HRU got one last chance as superstardom with the miniseries Onslaught Reborn where Heroes Reborn did its own take on the Onslaught event that created it, courtesy of controversial artist Rob Liefeld.

Why is a Thor a frog? It’s a reference to a famous Walt Simonson Thor comic in which Loki transformed Thor into a frog, only for Thor to fight back after transforming again into a half-Thor, half-frog form. Since then, Marvel keeps coming up with ways to bring back “Throg” as his own character.

Fantastic or frightful? This whole thing is a mountain of Marvel continuity, with sole purpose of streamlining said continuity. Yet, somehow, writer Peter David finds a way to break through the editorial mandates and find the human story beneath. The debates between the all-powerful Celestial and the kid who just misses his parents are great moments, enough to make this worth reading.

As for the entire 16-month Heroes Reborn experiment, it was a disappointment overall. At its best, Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four was familiar stories retold with some nice Jim Lee art. At its worst it was overly confusing writing with plots that never needed to be so confusing. I wanted to deep dive into Heroes Reborn hoping to make some great discovery, but there’s just nothing there. It was swept under the rug for a reason.

Next: Davis squared.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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