Fantastic Friday: Base jumper

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #529, our heroes take on the government and then come to a surprise revelation that may change everything we know about them.

Recap: Reed takes a job at a secret government base in Nevada, where scientists want to recreate the FF’s original spaceflight and give a crew of astronauts fantastic powers. The base is sabotaged with a bomb. Even though Reed saved the day, the scientists suspect he is the saboteur. Also, a social worker is skeptical of the Richards kids’ safety, and Ben has become incredibly wealthy after having protected his one-fourth of Fantastic Four, Inc.

The scientists regroup and discuss their options, saying the ship has been totaled and cannot be replaced, so they’ll have to wait one year before the cosmic ray configuration is set to happen again. They ask Reed for his opinion, and all he says is, “Some things weren’t meant to be. He places a tiny tracking device on Dr. Crane. Reed’s narration captions state that he knows the others suspect him, and he doesn’t have much time. He then reveals to us the reader that he DID sabotage the flight!

Reed has another tiny device hidden inside a shaving cream can, which he uses to contact the new Baxter Building. Instead of summoning his teammates, however, he pilots the Fantasticar by remote control, remarking that it’ll take about two hours to reach Nevada. Sue sees the Fantasticar take off by itself, saying, “Some people just call a cab when they want to come home.”

At the base, Dr. Love convinces Dr. Crane that Reed is the saboteur. She wants to send the M.P. to arrest Reed, but Crane thinks they won’t be needed. He thinks that Reed’s stretching powers are useless, and he’ll be easy to apprehend. The M.P. show up to arrest Reed, mistaking the tracking device on Dr. Crane for the Reed’s.

The M.P. are ordered to detain Reed by any means. Alarms go off and the lights go out. Reed steals a jeep from two M.P. goons by stretching over its windshield, and then the chase is on. The M.P. jeeps chase Reed into the desert, shooting out a tire on his jeep. He stretches himself into a bouncy ball and bounces across the desert. They catch up to Reed and surround him. They draw their guns and tell him to put his hands over his head. He stretches them way, way over his head, just in time for the Fantasticar to arrive. He flies off with it.

At the Baxter Building, Sue and social worker Simone Debouvier meet with prospective nannies in the hopes of providing a “normal” environment for the kids. Reed then arrives in a panic, saying the entire team/family has got to move, because government agents are after him. Sue takes him into the other room explains who Debouvier is and what she wants. Reed tries to put on a good face for Debouvier, saying he’s been doing confidential work. Debouvier leaves, threatening to return with her supervisor. Sue leaves the kids with the group of nannies while the FF reunite and compare notes.

In a conference room, Reed says that Earth scientists have been sending signals to space for years hoping to communicate with aliens. The process, he says, must include a means for the aliens to receive and decode those signals. Because the FF’s powers align with their personalities, Reed says the cosmic rays were not an accident, but an attempt by some unknown aliens to communicate with Earth. He says the FF must act fast, because the exact combination of cosmic rays is about to happen again.

Reed wants the FF to return to space and reenter the cosmic rays to show the aliens that they’ve received the message. Reed says he doesn’t know what will happen. He gives Johnny and Ben the option to stay behind, but Ben answers for them both by saying, “Ya coulda saved time by just tellin’ us on the way up.”

The FF board their private spaceship and prepare for takeoff. Reed is contacted by U.S. Army General Bragg, who orders Reed to surrender. Reed says he can’t because the countdown has already started. The sidewalks outside the building rumble as the ship takes off the Baxter Building’s roof. Simone Debouvier sees this, and she writes it up as a safety violation.  

In space, Ben ruminates on the nature of fate. He wonders why this is happening now, at the time when he’s learned he’s rich. He wonders if the cosmic rays will turn him human again. The final page is the ship being bombarded by the cosmic rays.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Okay, so Reed sabotaged the scientists’ spaceflight because he deduced that the cosmic rays are messages from aliens and only the FF can and/or should answer them? Do I have that right?

Fade out: Sue is so furious about dealing with Debouvier that she talks about using her force fields to squash her between two force fields. She’s likely joking about that, but the artwork has her looking really ticked off as she says this.

Clobberin’ time: During the flight, Ben tries and fails to cross his fingers for good luck. He says that after all these years, it’s never occurred to him that he’s unable to do that.

Flame on: Johnny’s only line in this issue is when he jokes with Ben on board the ship. When Reed gives him the opportunity to back out of the spaceflight, he looks to Ben and lets Ben answer for them both.

Four and a half: Franklin tells the room full of nannies that monsters visit the Baxter Building on occasion. They think it’s his imagination, until they are startled to see Ben walk past.

Trivia time: Does this issue rewrite the nature of the cosmic rays, or doesn’t it? First, it’s been established in multiple Marvel comics that there’s a permanent cosmic ray belt outside Earth that all incoming and outgoing spacecraft must deal with. Second, plenty of others have been transformed by the rays like the FF, including Sharon Ventura, the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, the U-Foes, the Red Hulk, and the Red She-Hulk. Even the FF’s own Ben Grimm was transformed when he flew through them a second time. I believe this issue sidesteps all that continuity by this story involves a specific configuration of the cosmic rays, and one that happens only rarely.  

Fantastic or frightful? The idea of the cosmic rays being a message from aliens has been controversial among fans for many years, even though it’s been done a couple of times now. What makes this issue a standout, however, is Reed’s escape from the base. He uses his powers in creative ways, but also defensive. He never once strikes out against the M.P. guys, as he knows they’re just doing their jobs. It’s a fun and cinematic action scene, something I wish comics could/should do more often.

Next: Cosmic bowl.

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Gamera rewatch – Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)

Rewatching the Gamera movies! After making a big comeback, our turtle hero is back for more blockbuster thrills in Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996).

Here’s what happens: A meteor crashes into Japan, bringing with it giant insects and giant plants. The military fights the aliens for a bit, after which Gamera flies down from the sky to take them on. The aliens eventually form into a “Mother Legion” who battles both the military and Gamera.

Nice gams: This is set one year after the previous movie, and the public still sees Gamera not as a hero, but as something to be feared. (To be fair, Gamera causes a lot of destruction in this.) The movie ends with a warning. Gamera will protect the Earth no matter what, so humans better not endanger the Earth.

Turtle power: Gamera is CGI in some shots. Purists may not like this, but it gives him the ability to fly around a lot more than he did before. In the final fight, Gamera is touched by a heavenly light (from the children?) after which his chest opens up for a huge energy blast to take out Mother Legion.

Big baddie: The invading aliens are insects, who lurk in the sewers and who then swarm all over Gamera in an eye-popping set piece. Later, when the Mother Legion shows up, it fights with electric attacks (blue lightning!) for some city-leveling power.

Kid stuff: It’s the return of Asagi, the girl from the previous movie who had a psychic bond with Gamera. She’s able to use that bond to revive Gamera – with the help of a crowd of other kids – but then their connection is severed.

Hapless humans: An army colonel and a female scientist are more or less the main characters, as they work together to figure out what the aliens are and how they operate. But this is a real cast-of-hundreds movie, with soldiers, scientists, and TV reporters all acting and reacting to the monsters.

Thoughts on this viewing: This is ambitious alien invasion sci-fi, in the style of War of the Worlds or Independence Day. It also takes place during winter with snow everywhere, something I don’t recall seeing in other kaiju flicks. You could argue that the movie is too long, or spends too much time with the military and not enough with the monsters, but there’s still a lot to enjoy here.

Next: My, what big irises you have.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Gamera rewatch – Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Rewatching the Gamera movies! Gamera made a big, BIG comeback in the 90s with 1995’s Gamera: Guardian of the Universe.

What’s all this, then? It was a whole new era (era) for kaiju by 1995. The giant monsters came roaring back to big screens. They still had the retro performers in rubber suits, but with jazzed up effects and miniature work. The Godzilla films of the 90s are fan favorites, and Gamera again followed suit.

Here’s what happens: Scientists investigate a potentially dangerous floating atoll way out in the ocean. A second group of scientists investigate possible bird-related deaths on a remote island. The birds are three Gyaos, giant pterodactyl types. Then the atoll is revealed to be Gamera, who arrives in Japan to fight the Gyaos. After two Gyaos are defeated, the third grows to giant size. The monsters then fight it out at Tokyo Tower.

Nice gams: This is a hard reboot, with no continuity to the previous films. Gamera’s origin story is similar to the original. He was created in ancient Atlantis for the purpose of protecting the Earth from Gyaos. He’s been hibernating since then, only awakening when Gyaos returns. This leads to an interesting bit where scientists dig into sleeping Gamera’s shell and find ancient runes written inside.

Turtle power: Improved special effects means Gamera’s powers get new looks. The first time he flies, it’s filmed like a NASA space shuttle take off. His flame breath now comes out in short bursts rather than a long stream. Plus, Gamera steals another of Godzilla’s moves in an extended scene in which be battles the army and steps on a bunch of tanks.

Big baddie: I’m unclear as to Gyaos’ origins, aside from dialogue about them being “born perfect.” In the modern day, the Gyaos have returned to menace the Earth thanks to pollution and unchecked nuclear power. This Gyaos has both sonic breath and laser breath, and can they still create destructive gusts of wind with their wings.

Kid stuff: One scientist’s daughter, Asagi, touches a piece of Gamera’s shell and develops a psychic connection with Gamera. She provides exposition about what the monsters are up to, but also she’s in danger of being injured whenever Gamera is. It’s a fun way to have a kid character who is also integral to the plot.

Hapless humans: There’s a bit of a romcom happening in this movie, as the female bird scientist and the male island scientist get flirty as their paths keep crossing during the crisis.

Thoughts on this viewing: This movie freaking rules! While the previous films were Saturday morning cartoons at their best, this one takes a Hollywood blockbuster approach to the same formula. Everything in this movie is BIG, appropriate since it’s an enormous leap forward for the franchise.

Next: Does this bug you?

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Fantastic Friday: My Fantastic Four movie

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. But, why am I doing this? This blog series started out of my ongoing frustration with the 2005 Fantastic Four movie, and how going back to the comics might provide a better understanding of these characters and their world, and thus envision what a truly great FF movie might look like. I’ve reached July 2005 now in my loosely structured timeline, so it’s time to go back to that question – what would my Fantastic Four movie be?

NOT THIS.

Yes, I know this is a futile effort, because Marvel/Disney has already teased a Fantastic Four movie in the works. The script and pre-vis are likely already done, and there are flurries of casting rumors every day. So, consider this mere speculation. A lot of you will likely disagree with my suggestions. If so, remember that these are just suggestions.

NOT THIS.

How to do a Fantastic Four movie? Here are some don’ts:

  • DON’T do Dr. Doom. Only tease him for future movies. This first movie should establish the FF’s characters and their relationships, so we’re invested in them before Doom shows up to mess with them. Introduce the idea of Dr. Doom, but keep him in the shadows for now.
  • DON’T do Galactus. In Infinity War, the MCU already did the world-ending apocalypse action that a Galactus story would have done.
  • DON’T do the Negative Zone and Annihilus. All this stuff about the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man and Endgame is basically the Negative Zone already, and the upcoming Quantumania movie looks to be even moreso.
NOT THIS.

Here’s the big pitch: My ideal FF movie is an adaptation of Fantastic Four #1. The Mole Man is the villain.  

THIS.

We begin with a short pre-credits scene of Reed and Ben in college. Reed tells Ben that someone named Victor is doing an experiment to open a portal, but he’s miscalculated. Reed and Ben try to break down the door to Victor’s lab, only for them to be thrown back in a huge explosion. Cut to the Marvel logo and the title.

From there, we cut right ahead to Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny sneaking into a NASA (or NASA-like) launch site. Everybody’s seen Lightyear by now, right? It’s not the best movie, but the scene where Buzz steals his own spaceship is a fun and exciting action beat. The FF movie can open with something similar. We don’t need to see the scenes of the government cancelling the flight at the last minute, and our heroes deciding to steal the ship. These things can be told through quick, Marvel-quippy dialogue. We see the four heroes without powers, but working as a team and thinking on their feet.

THIS.

Upon successfully launching the ship, Reed gives a big speech about how the ship is a research vessel, and what they’ll learn about space will help everyone on Earth. He adds that he’s glad he’s got the three people he considers family on board to share this with him. Then KABOOM! The ship gets hit with cosmic rays. It’s a frightening, chaotic sequence as everyone tries to survive as the ship comes crashing back to Earth.

From there, we skip the scene of the FF discovering their powers as the emerge from the ship’s wreckage. Instead, we time-skip ahead six months to a year. NYC is shaken by a mysterious earthquake. The “4” flare goes off in the sky, and then we’re off. This is a version of the FF’s mad dash through the city in issue #1, except with real life-or-death urgency this time. Sue, Ben, and Johnny use their powers to help New Yorkers get to safety. The locals have no idea who they are, so the FF are not famous yet.

THIS.

Once the crisis has passed, the three meet up with Reed. Because this is an adaptation of the first issue, there’s no Baxter Building yet. The first two issues had the characters’ HQ in a series of “secret apartments” in Manhattan, so that’s their HQ in this scene. Reed praises his teammates’ efforts during the crisis, and then he lays out the plot. There are mysterious quakes and sinkholes happening all over the Earth. This crisis isn’t coming from space or another universe, but from deep underground.

This scene can also give us more quippy Marvel banter, establishing the characters and their relationships. Reed and Sue are engaged. Johnny is a wisecracker who takes nothing seriously. Ben pesters Reed about working on this instead of working on a cure for him. He does this in a joking manner, but there’s some underlying tension there.

THIS.

Reed uses his super-science to deduce that the source of the earthquakes is a small island in the North Pacific. He says it’s up to them to investigate. They travel to what we Marvel fans know is Monster Isle. The heroes are attacked by giant monsters upon arriving, and they are separated. The Mole Man eventually makes his presence known, further complicating things.

At this point, I see the movie going in four (heh) directions, depending on which character is the protagonist.

If Reed is the protagonist: This is the most obvious route, as he’s the team leader and the brain of the group. It depends if you want to portray him as a stuffy scientist who never leaves the lab, or if you want to portray him as a Doc Savage globetrotting adventurer type. Either way, when the team is separated and things look bleak, Reed breaks down and he learn he’s not the man with all the answers. First, he lost Victor. Then, the ship crashed and Ben is now a monster. Turning his family members into superheroes is his way of helping them through what happened. When everyone is reunited, Reed rallies his team not by being the scientist or the adventure, but by being the loving family man. The Mole Man offers Ben a new home on Monster Isle, but Ben responds to Reed as his best friend, despite everything that’s happened, and he rejects the Mole Man in favor of Reed.  

If Ben is the protagonist: This is the next obvious choice, as the Thing is a fan favorite. We see Reed and Sue’s romance through Ben’s eyes. When they’re kissing and whatnot, Ben is heartbroken at being a monster. When Ben encounters the Mole Man on Monster Isle, Mole Man offers him a new home. He could even try to turn Ben against his teammates. Then Ben could realize that Reed had his best interests in mind by turning him into a superhero. He and Reed can have the big handshake and become friends again before taking on Mole Man.

THIS.

If Johnny is the protagonist: This is a tricky one. I suggest loosely following Johnny’s story from issues 3-4. Johnny gets sick of his teammates’ bickering, He decides he doesn’t need them and flies off on his own. On his own, he finds some crucial information or a doohickey that the FF needs to defeat the Mole Man. Johnny must then grow up a little and rejoin his teammates when they need him.

If Sue is the protagonist: Sue is often portrayed as the glue that holds the team together. When the team is split up and all seems lost, Sue convinces Reed to get his head of the clouds and focus on his family. She convinces Johnny to grow up a little and take the situation seriously. She convinces Ben that he’s more than just a monster and he does have people in his life you love him. As she’s the one who rallies everyone together, it’s Sue and not Reed who takes on a leadership role.

THIS.

Then there’s the Mole Man. He felt rejected by his fellow humans, and found solace living among monsters. There’s a lot that could make him a relatable villain in this, as he could stand in for anyone who feels rejected. Except that he takes things too far. How, exactly, did he become ruler of Monster Isle? Perhaps he has an unseen benefactor…

Our heroes are reunited as a team, and they have confronted and rejected the Mole Man. Then we move into the action finale. The Mole Man sends Giganto, the monster from the cover of issue #1, off to attack human civilization. The Marvel Wiki says Monster Isle is near Japan, so let that be the exotic locale for the finale. Tokyo is a little obvious, so why not have the monster attack Hokkaido? It has lots of scenic sites that filmmakers can use. (At the very least, they made it look like a nice place in Love Hina.) Now that they’re working as a team, the FF are put to the test to find some way to defeat Giganto. Whichever character is the protagonist should be the one to deal the final blow.

THIS.

How to end the movie? We can have the expected scenes of Reed promising to cure Ben, or maybe Reed considering proposing to Sue. I like the idea of ending it with the FF becoming world-famous know, and them realizing how much their lives have changed now that they’re out of hiding.

In the mid-credits scene, the FF arrive at Castle Doom in Latveria, searching for Victor. The castle is abandoned, the only thing left behind is the word “Doom” scrawled on one wall. See, the audience already knows who Dr. Doom is, so instead of teasing Dr. Doom in the credits, we instead establish the mystery of “Where is Dr. Doom?” to keep everyone excited for more. If you want a joke at the very end of the credits, maybe bring back the John Krazynski version of Reed from Multiverse of Madness (he survived somehow) and have him comment on this new FF. Or just tease something from whatever Marvel movie immediately follows this one.

NOT THIS.
  • Part 2 sequel: The Puppet Master is the villain. Romance between Ben and Alicia. Puppet Master’s automatons attack Reed and Sue’s wedding. Puppet Master has the same unseen benefactor as the Mole Man…
  • Part 3 sequel: …It’s Dr. Doom! Doom makes his presence known, conquering Latveria and making a play at conquering the Earth. It’s all about him proving he’s greater than Reed, however. The final fight is based on the Reed/Doom fight from issue #200.
  • Human Torch spinoff movie: Bring back Namor from Wakanda Forever. Johnny could also romance Namorita, who was briefly seen in Wakanda Forever. Then Attuma goes rogue, so Johnny, Namorita and Namor must work together to stop him. It’s a modernized take on the 1930s Human Torch vs. Namor classics.  
SORT OF THIS.

Keep in mind that these are just suggestions, and if I were to go through all the work of turning this into an actual screenplay, it’d need a lot more work. And yes, the superheroes-on-an-island-setting thing evokes The Incredibles, but The Incredibles heavily evokes Fantastic Four, so all’s fair. Whatever the MCU Fantastic Four movie is, I hope a lot of thought and care goes into who the characters are at heart, because that’s what didn’t happen in 2005.

Next: Escape the base!

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Gamera rewatch – Gamera Super Monster (1980)

Rewatching the Gamera movies! Parent studio Daiei was on its last legs financially, so the cheap and hastily-put-together Gamera Super Monster (1980) was something of a hail Mary to earn a few quick bucks before the lights went out.

Here’s what happens: After a battle in outer space, evil alien dictator Zanon comes to Earth with his intention to conquer the planet. Zanon revives the giant monsters that have attacked Earth in the past. Three high-flying superheroes, the Spacewomen, meet a kid with a supernatural connection to turtles. They recruit him to call upon Gamera to save the world.

Nice gams: It’s said that the little kid’s pet turtle somehow transforms into a new Gamera, but this isn’t seen on screen. The finale has Gamera colliding into Zanon’s battleship and disappearing in a flash of light. It’s said that Gamera heroically sacrificed himself. Is that true, or is Gamera still out there somewhere?  

Turtle power: Yes, all the footage of Gamera and the other monsters are footage from the earlier Gamera movies. This was marketed as a movie in which Gamera fights all his previous enemies at once, but really it’s a supercut of the previous battles. Freakin’ clip shows.

Big baddies: All the enemy Kaiju are seen only in the clip footage. Zanon has an evil henchwoman on Earth, who is sneakily pursuing the kid. Her fight with one of the Spacewomen is the movie’s only real highlight. Zanon is never seen on screen, just his ship.

Kid stuff: Keichi is a kid who loves comic books, turtles, and playing his electric organ. (The organ playing gets a surprising amount of screen time.) Once he successfully summons Gamera, his story is basically over, except the evil alien woman keeps pursuing him anyway.

Hapless humans: The Spacewomen aren’t given any origin story or background, except that previous Gamera movies had alien women running around pretending to be human, so why not? There’s also Keichi’s mom and a friendly policeman with a pet turtle (get it?).

Thoughts on this viewing: This is just tedious. You’d think you’d want a kaiju movie that’s just the fights, but this spends way too much time with the kid singing songs, and the old footage is just thrown in here and there with no rhyme or reason. If the series ended here, it’d be a pretty sad final entry. Fortunately, Gamera’s about to make a big comeback.

Next: New year, new look, new Gamera.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Fantastic Friday: Calling Dr. Love

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. J. Michael Straczynski continues his run on the series with an issue full of family drama and science intrigue.

Recap: Still struggling with financial and political woes, Reed takes a job with the government. He’s gone to a top-secret military base in Nevada, where scientists want to recreate the FF’s original spaceflight into cosmic rays, giving fantastic powers to a whole crew of astronauts. Also, Ben learned his one-fourth of Fantastic Four Inc.’s fortune is intact from before the team’s troubles, making him incredibly wealthy.

Reed calls Sue from Nevada, filling her (and the reader) in on what’s happening. An AI system censors any confidential information, so Sue’s side of the phone call has chunks of Reed’s dialogue replaced with white noise. Sue says that Simone Debouvier of New York Child Welfare office has an appointment with her, and Sue assumes this is about some charity fundraiser. Reed says “I love you” to Sue as they hang up, and the AI censors the word love. Sue finds this strange. Meanwhile, Ben enjoys his newfound riches by going shopping for tuxedos, with Johnny tagging along.

In Nevada, Reed again meets with Dr. Crane, who introduces fellow scientist Dr. Debra Love. She says they’ve had to make intuitive leaps in recreating Reed’s original spacecraft down to the smallest detail. In caption narration, Reed remarks on how this is like stepping into his past, and how one fateful choice of his changed his and so many other lives forever. He adds that this is making him feel old.

Sue meets with Debouvier, who is not there to organize a fundraiser. She’s opening an investigation into whether Franklin and Valeria are in a safe environment, or if they should be relocated. She argues that FF headquarters has been attacked and damaged on regular occasions, that “persons of dubious character” have been seen coming and going from the building, and that the kids are often left along for prolonged periods of time. Debouvier asks about the children’s babysitters. Rather than say the Inhumans watch the kids, Sue lies and says, “They’re from New Jersey.”  

Debouvier then talks to Franklin, who admits he doesn’t go to school but is taught by his parents. She asks about outside friends and places he’s been. Franklin retells the Latveria incident from his point of view, including him being stuck in Hell for a while. Sue tries to brush this off as “Kids, they say the darndest things.” Debouvier asks Franklin where his father is, and he says, “Nobody knows.”

Reed and Dr. Love have a chat. She says the one variable she and her team can’t figure out is why the cosmic rays affected the FF in four wildly different rays, when the outcome of radiation should be uniform. Reed admits that this question is an x-factor, something he himself has never been able to deduce over the years. Dr. Love says this variable is something they will have to compensate for before the new ship launches.

In New York, Ben treats Johnny to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Ben has bought a huge diamond necklace for himself, and women are attracted to him upon seeing the size of the diamond. Alone in the men’s room, he daydreams a conversation with his human self, saying that if it wasn’t for the diamond those women would have run away. Human Ben argues that there should be nothing wrong with feeling attractive, even if just for a little while.

Back at the Baxter Building, Sue tells Debouvier that the FF don’t wear masks and don’t hide their headquarters. She says it’s important for them to set a good example, demonstrating that a family can overcome any difficult circumstances. Debouvier says she will continue the investigation and follow it wherever it goes. Ben and Johnny return, and Sue tells her that the FF have a new enemy – bureaucracy.

In Nevada, Reed reminisces about how the FF’s powers reflect their personalities. Sue was ignored by her parents as a child, Johnny is a short-tempered hothead, and macho Ben lived life with a rough exterior. Then Reed considers himself, always stretched thin in his various scientific projects and among his family. He fears someday he might be stretched to the point where he’ll snap. Reed again meets with Dr. Love, contemplating the Voyager probe, which contained messages for possible aliens. He describes it as a signal, and an attempt to communicate.

Then an alarm goes off, as the ship’s fuel core is about to explode. Dr. Love helps with the evacuation, while Reed tries to dampen the core. He stretches his whole body over it just before it blows. Later, Dr. Love and Dr. Crane discuss whether they can keep to the launch schedule. Love says that the fuel core wasn’t supposed to go online yet, and would not have exploded on its own. She believes that someone deliberately sabotaged the ship, and it’s possible that person is Reed.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed’s arm is in a sling following the explosion. Remember that he can be hurt and break a bone in extreme circumstances.

Fade out: When Reed is considering Sue’s powers, we get a one-panel flashback of her childhood, including another rare glimpse or her and Johnny’s mother, Mary Storm. The Marvel Wiki alleges that Mary only appears on-panel three times, with this being the third and final one. (The others are issues 32 and 510.)

Clobberin’ time: In his daydream, Ben remarks that he’s still in love with Alicia. This is something of a big deal, because they separated way back in issue #265. Although Alicia is still one of the family, both she and Ben have had other potential love interests since then.

Flame on: Johnny is comic relief in this issue, poking fun during Ben’s shopping spree. He later takes a sec to ask Ben “You okay?” showing that he can see Ben is troubled.

Four and a half: We were previously told that Franklin had overcome the trauma of being in Hell, but this issue shows that experience is still with him.

Trivia time: Debouvier says that the FF’s home has been attacked seventeen times. I’m not sure that math adds up for the new Baxter Building, and it certainly doesn’t add up when taking the original Baxter Building and Four Freedoms Plaza into account.

Fantastic or frightful? JMS packs tons of story and world-building into this issue, juggling three storylines, and introducing a lot of ambitious ideas. This story arc is sometimes controversial among fans for the directions it goes, but for now there’s enough going to make you want to know what’ll happen next.

Next: At the movies.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Gamera rewatch – Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)

Rewatching the Gamera movies! The series goes green for some eco-friendly messages among the monster carnage in 1971’s Gamera vs. Zigra.

Here’s what happens: It’s fifteen years into the future, setting this in an alternative 1985 or 1986, when aliens called Zigrans attack mankind’s first functioning moonbase. They then arrive on Earth. They destroyed their own planet with the technology, and now want Earth to be their new home. After some business with a Zigran infiltrating the human world, it all comes to a watery battle between a big Zigra and Gamera.

Nice gams: There’s no new information about Gamera in this one. When the kids are in trouble, he flies down from the sky to save them. When he’s unconscious at the bottom of the ocean at one point, a surprise electrical storm manages to revive him.

Turtle power: Gamera can breathe fire underwater. (Hey, if the Human Torch can do it…) I like the bit where he holds up a giant boulder as a shield to block lasers. Later, once Zigra is knocked down, Gamera shows his sense of humor by playing the ridges on Zigra’s back like a big xylophone.

Big baddie: Just what is Zigra? At first, it’s a spaceship, then an intelligent alien aboard the spaceship, but then the ship transforms into gigantic shark-like Zigra. Zigra makes some big moves in his conquest of Earth, causing mostly unseen earthquakes all over the planet. He’s weak out of the water, though, and Gamera is able to bring the pain once he gets Zigra onto land.

The real villain, though, is the woman doing all the speaking on Zigra’s behalf, whom the wiki identifies only as “Woman X.” She abducts the human characters to lay out the plot, and she makes threats to all the Earth governments. In a baffling twist, it’s revealed that she’s a human from the moonbase, brainwashed to do Zigra’s bidding. Why?

Kid stuff: Although Woman X pursues the children because they know about Zigra, the kids this time are mostly a Greek chorus. The movie cuts to them for reaction shots and exposition as needed.

Hapless humans: The kids’ parents are oceanographers at Sea World (!) investigating strange goings-on affecting sea life. They argue on behalf of saving the environment throughout. Our comic relief is a goofy dolphin trainer who comes with an idea to use sonar against Zigra. The usual soldiers and bureaucrats fill out the cast.

Thoughts upon this viewing: This is more serious and plot-heavy Gamera movie, with a lot of time devoted to the aliens-hiding-among-us intrigue, and the save-the-environment messaging. It takes a long time before Gamera does any Gamera-ing. The final battle is mostly underwater, and it doesn’t have as many fun gags as the previous movies. They tried their best, but this is a lesser entry in the series.

Next: When returns diminish.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Fantastic Friday: Our last best hope for peace

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. I had just settled down, ready to explore an era (era) of Fantastic Four I’d never read, from Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett. But after only two issues with them, we’ve left-turned right into J. Michael Straczynski’s famous run on the series, starting with issue #527.

Straczynski, known as “JMS” to fans, is a fascinating guy. He’s most famous for Babylon 5, an ambitious five-year long “novel for television” he had plotted from day one. After cast changes, budget slashes, and constant battles with producers, he did the impossible and crossed the finish line at year five (plus a few spinoffs). Then there’s his career in comics. He made a big splash with his creator-owned series Rising Stars, and then wrote Thor and Amazing Spider-Man before taking over Fantastic Four.

There’s far less biographical info out there about penciler Mike McKone. He’s most well-known for Marvel’s Exiles, and he’s also drawn Punisher War Zone for Marvel, and Justice League and Teen Titans for DC.

The issue begins on an alien world, where an unseen narrator has been studying the place for five years and “the end is always the same.” Time passes faster on the planet than it does for the narrator, so that we see the rise of civilization over a short time. The society becomes advanced in arts and culture, but also warfare. It comes to an end with falling missiles and mushroom clouds. The lone survivor of this apocalypse simply asks “Why?” As he dies.

Turn the page, and Reed is our narrator, watching all this play out on a tiny planet inside his lab. Sue interrupts to tell him they’re having dinner with their new accountant, Mr. Onoffon. Reed has no interest in this. He’s feeling depressed, saying, “Some days I have more questions than I have answers.” He and Sue strike the same pose that two of the aliens from his tiny planet had on the first page.

The FF meet with Onoffon, and we catch up to what’s happening with the FF’s finances. During the time when the team was broke in the Marvel Knights series, Reed managed to develop some new patents to bring in fresh income, but now he owes income tax on those new patents, and is now being audited. Ben jokes about wanting to get paid, and Onoffon says his fortune is secure. Turns out that when the FF was broke it was only Reed, Sue, and Johnny’s percentages that were turned over to the government, because Reed has power of attorney for himself, Sue, and Johnny. Ben, however, didn’t lose his one-fourth of the business. He still has all his FF money from before. Got all that?

Onoffon can’t answer how much money Ben has, because there’s not enough space on his calculator for that many zeroes. Ben is rich, and Johnny facepalms and says, “This is so going to be bad.” Ben jumps up and down on a couch (without destroying it) chanting, “I’ve got money! I’ve got money!” Then there’s a cheap gag where he runs into the bathroom because he’s eaten too many hot dogs.

Later, Nick Fury visits Reed, saying that the S.H.I.E.L.D. and the US government are willing to forgive the FF for the Latveria incident (long story). Fury says the government wants to hire Reed as a consultant on a confidential project, Reed can only offer with an address and a date to begin, and no other info. Reed agrees. This is followed by a gag of Ben sitting on the FF’s Xerox machine, photographing his own butt.

That night, Reed explains to Sue that they could use the money, and it’s important to get back on good terms with the US. He reveals to her that the meeting is scheduled the next morning at an air force base in Nevada. He plays some music for her, that he says comes from “very far away,” and we the readers surmise that music came from the planet and the start of the issue. Then there’s a gag where Bill Gates gets a package from Ben, containing what Gates thinks is a photo of the Grand Canyon. Get it???

Reed arrives at a top-secret hidden base in Nevada. His plane must fly through some kind of shield or portal to get to it. Reed meets with a unnamed scientist, whom the Marvel Wiki identifies as Dr. Crane. He hints that the base was paid for by the funds the government seized from FF inc. Crane has been studying the cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers. He says attempts to recreate that event have been inconsistent, because it required a multitude of factors all meeting in the right quantities and the right moment in time. He says that the event, nicknamed “the jackpot” is about to happen again in just a few weeks.

Crane asks for info about Reed’s original spaceship that took the FF into space. He then goes on to say that giving people superpowers is unpredictable, but in this case, they can use the jackpot not just to replicate the creation of the FF’s powers, but to control the creation of those powers. Not just for four astronauts, but more than thirty. He shows Reed a team of astronauts ready to go, and he tells Reed, “You’re about to change the face of the known world for a second time.”

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: There’s no backstory on where Reed got this tiny planet from, or why he’s studying it so intensely. It works as metaphor, though, in that Reed feels like up to him to take care of the entire world.

Fade out: Sue is back to classic Sue in this one, trying to get Reed out of spending too much time in his lab instead of with his family. I’d thought the characters had moved beyond this by now.

Clobberin’ time: Ben gets queasy after earing seventeen hot dogs. With his super strength, you’d think his metabolism could handle that. I wonder if it’s psychosomatic, and his body is really reacting to the shock of learning he’s rich.

Flame on: Johnny uses his powers to heat up Ben’s hot dogs, rather than use the oven. I assume this is because they’re having company over.

Four and a half/Our gal Val: Franklin and Valeria are shown at home playing with a dog. What dog is this? Where’d it come from? It’s not the teleporting dog Puppy from the Chris Claremont days, so who is it?

SUE-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all along. There’s no way of knowing how the Latveria incident affected that, yet Sue is not present for Reed and Fury’s conversation. Was this her maintaining her cover?

Trivia time: Can we consider Bill Gates a Marvel character? He has no page on the Marvel Wiki, which instead just links to Gates’ Wikipedia page.

The accountant Mr. Onoffon never appeared again after this. With a name like that, I expected him to be revealed as a robot or something, but it never happened.

Fantastic or frightful? JMS is clearly thinking in terms of long arcs, because this issue is all setting up things that will play out over the next several issues. I’m not a fan of the toilet/butt jokes, but, hey, that’s comics. The best bit in the issue is the opening, where JMS does his “sci-fi philosophic musings” thing he did so well on Babylon 5. A mixed bag, but it’s exciting to get an interesting new voice on the series.

Next: Forbidden Love.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Gamera rewatch – Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)

Rewatching the Gamera movies! Gamera returns to Earth in Gamera vs. Jiger (1970), with a powerful new enemy and a look deep inside Gamera. As in, really deep inside.

Here’s what happens: It’s time for Expo 70, a type of high-tech World’s Fair. Archeologists want to unearth a mysterious statue found on an island near the equator to display it at the Expo. Wouldn’t you know it, the statue is cursed. Moving it awakens the giant monster Jiger. Gamera tries to stop Jiger from attacking the Expo, but he fails. The humans, including a couple kids of course, race against time to revive Gamera.

Nice gams: Once again, Gamera can somehow sense when humanity (not just children this time) is in danger, and he flies in from parts unknown to save the day. Gamera attacks Jiger on first sight. Because we know the Earthbound kaiju have all been hibernating since ancient times, can we assume that Gamera and Jiger battled each other before, back in the days of old Atlantis?

Turtle power: After Gamera is partially paralyzed by Jiger’s darts, there’s an extended scene of him figuring out how to use the environment to his advantage to get back on his feet.

Later, to save Gamera, the two kids must pilot a minisub into Gamera’s lungs (!) to fight off some larvae that Jiger implanted there. It turns into family-friendly Alien during this part, and it’s wild.

Big baddie: Jiger has got quite the power set. She has paralyzing darts, a disintegration ray, nifty suction cup paws, and rockets like Gamera’s. The Gamera larvae fight the kids by shooting a glue-like substance at them.

Kid stuff: One kid is with the science-types at the Expo, while his friend is globe-trotting with the archeologists, giving both storylines a kid POV. Once they’re reunited, the kids are the ones who deduce Jiger’s connection to the statue, and then they save the day by reviving Gamera during their minisub adventure. A precocious little sister tags along for some comic relief.

Hapless humans: A scientist at the Expo argues that all ancient statues are connected somehow. Another, who is father figure to the kids, has built the mini-sub (this franchise loves mini-subs). All the archeologists don’t believe Gamera is the good guy, and the open fire on him. They all later get mysteriously ill on the boat ride back to Japan, slightly reminiscent of the Demeter scene from Dracula.

Thoughts on this viewing: While the previous two outer space movies were fun romps, this feels more like a real movie with real dramatic stakes. Also, it’s a faster pace and Gamera gets a lot of screen time, so the audience isn’t sitting around wondering when Gamera will show up.

Next: From A to Zig.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Fantastic Friday: Gold fingered

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Time for more alchemy, dream-sharing weirdness, and possible Northern Exposure references in issue #526.

Recap: After an adventure in the Microverse, the Fantastic Four had an encounter with Diablo, the master alchemist. Diablo has recovered the legendary Philosopher’s Stone, and he says he will turn all the lead in New York into gold unless the FF allow him use of their time machine so he can go back and stop the Spanish Inquisition. Diablo gave the FF a few days to think about his demands, during which the heroes started having each other’s dreams, making them irritable and uneasy.

We begin with a flashback to the Inquisition, where Diablo (who is immortal, remember) being captured for blasphemy and buried alive as punishment. We then see that this is Alicia, having one of Diablo’s dreams. She was sleeping in a machine in Reed’s lab, helping him determine that this “dream fever” is spreading and infect the entire Earth in a matter of days (!). Ben and Johnny argue, while Sue says that Diablo’s deadline is in the morning. If he succeeds, it’ll cause a frenzy in NYC.

In Diablo’s apartment (hotel room?) he wakes from a dream about Reed and Sue’s children. He sheds his skin like a snake (!), which he calls his . He monologues to himself about the Philosopher’s Stone, which he says can do much more than turn lead into gold.

At the new Baxter Building, Ben suspects General Quark, the unseen enemy they fought in the Microverse, is the cause of the dream fever. Reed says there’s no way Quark will talk to them. Sue interrupts and asks Reed to turn on the external cameras. This reveals that the entire exterior of the building is now gold. While the FF are worried about looters coming after the building, Diablo shows up on a flying carpet. He tells them accept that he’s already won their conflict.

A short fight breaks out, with Diablo turning his flying saucer into fiery snakes. Reed breaks up the fight, deducing that Diablo has the dream fever as well. Diablo uses the Philosopher’s Stone, which reveals the infection. Dibalo then uses the stone to cure himself, but he won’t use it to cure everyone else unless Reed lets him use the time machine. They fight some more, with Johnny and Reed getting the Philosopher’s Stone out of Diablo’s hands and into theirs. Sue surrounds their HQ with a force field. Stuck outside, Diablo warns, “You forget you’re dealing with Diablo! You’re dealing with the devil.”

Reed attaches the Philosopher’s Stone to a device and activates it, turning the Baxter Building back to normal. The FF are thrown back by energy as it does this, and then Diablo appears in Reed’s lab, saying “It worked perfectly.” Reed deduces that once the stone was activated, it acted like a doorway, allowing Diablo to bypass all the building’s defenses. There’s another fight, with Diablo using smoke to confuse the heroes. Ben, still acting erratic thanks to the dream fever, inadvertently leads Diablo to the time machine. With the stone in hand, Diablo enters the time machine, ready to change history so he becomes ruler of the Earth.

It looks like the Fantastic Four have lost, but Reed then explains that this is not the time machine, but the interdimensional portal. Diablo has ended up not in the Microverse, but in an unknown dimension that has survivable living conditions, but it is completely uninhabited. Sue remarks that Diablo finally got to rule a world, one with himself as the only subject.

Later, Sue and Johnny have a heart-to-heart chat. She reveals that she was seeing his dreams. In his dream, Johnny is surrounded by several of his ex-girlfriends. He loses control of his powers and burns them all, crying, “You don’t understand what I can do to you!” Sue says this is a part of Johnny that he never shares with anyone, that he never had a girlfriend for long for fears that he might harm someone he cares about. Johnny says his power is like a gun, in that no matter how careful he is, there’s always a danger. He tells Sue she’s lucky to have someone like Reed in her life, and that he loves her more than Johnny will ever be able to love anyone.

Reed and Sue then have a heart-to-heart, establishing that Reed managed to cure the dream fever with the stone before Diablo disappeared with it. Reed says he doesn’t know who had his dreams. Sue wonders if this means someone out in New York dreamed of blackboards with endless equations. Reed says dreams aren’t just stress and worry, but also wants and desires. Sue asks Reed what he wants, and he tells her, “Only you!”

Unstable molecule: How strong is Reed? He stretches his arms around a lamppost, pulls it out of the street, and uses it as a huge club against Diablo.

Fade out: Sue is getting stronger. During the John Byrne years, she struggled in surrounding just the top of the Baxter Building with a force field. In this issue, she surrounds the entire building with one without breaking a sweat.

Clobberin’ time: Diablo uses his alchemy to trap Ben in the floor of Reed’s lab, leading to jokes about how he’s now shorter, or like a piece of the furniture. Johnny then frees him.

Flame on: What to make of Johnny’s feat of burning a loved one paralleling the temporary nature of his relationships? I’m not sure. I’d argue that’s an aspect of Johnny’s character, but not one that explains everything.

Our gal Val: Baby Valeria shows up in a few panels. She looks like she’s back to normal and has overcome having Ben’s nightmares.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal appears in Johnny’s dream, asking if he ever truly loved her. He says he loved her more than she’ll ever know. Frankie Raye is also in the dream for one panel.

The Alicia problem: Lyja shows up in Johnny’s dream as well. She reminds him that they were once married, and she asks him if that meant anything to him. His only response is, “You don’t understand.”

Trivia time: In addition to Crystal, Lyja, and Frankie, the other ex-girlfriends in Johnny’s dream are Dorrie Evans, Cole from the new Frightful Four, and the Valeria of the fifth dimension (unrelated to Valeria Richards, or Dr. Doom’s lost love Valeria). Johnny romanced this Valeria back in the Strange Tales days.

Diablo’s timeline is a little off compared to the timeline I set for myself on this blog, but that’s okay. After this, he appeared in the Marvel Knights 4 spinoff, in that unfinished story involving Nicholas Scratch. Then he was one of several cameos in that supervillain gathering in Fantastic Four: Foes. He’ll be back in issue #551.

The Microverse villain Captain Quark is only mentioned and never seen, and the story of his conflict with the FF has never been told. That’s expected, but the real question is what became of Quark? In this issue, he and his soldiers are being held prisoner in the new Baxter Building, and that’s the last we hear. Have they been there all this time? (No word on whether this is related to the Ratchet and Clank character of the same name.)

None of the comic fan sites I frequent have mentioned this, but I feel it’s worth noting that this story arc bears similarity to the 1994 Northern Exposure episode “Mr. Sandman.” That one featured the townsfolk of Cicely, Alaska experiencing everyone else’s dreams, and wrangling with knowing each other’s private thoughts.

Fantastic or frightful? Kind of a simple story, and I’m not sure the dream stuff gels with the Diablo plot. But there’s a lot of fast-paced action and nice character moments, in the classic Marvel style.

Next: Our last, best hope…

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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