Fantastic Friday: All this and Namor too

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re continuing the Heroes Reborn event with celebrity artist Jim Lee. In Vol. 2 Issue #2, we’re not just establishing a brand-new Fantastic Four, but the entire Marvel Universe apparently.

In this newly-rebooted timeline, the FF made their fateful spaceflight to stop S.H.I.E.L.D. from destroying a space anomaly that might contain alien intelligence. Our four heroes were irradiated in the fight and gained their powers, only to crash land on a mysterious island and be taken prisoner underground by the Mole Man. As this issue begins, we see the Mole Man has the ship’s damaged quantum drive, and is threatening to use it to destroy the surface world’s greatest cities as a sacrifice to the “great one.” Reed and Ben agree that the damaged drive could explode, vaporizing the entire island.

Johnny attacks, but is no match for the Mole Man’s energy staff, which he uses to control not just the animals on the island, but the plants and the ground as well. He buries Johnny in mud and sends some of his strange monsters after the other three. Ben and Reed work together to stop the monsters, only for the Mole Man to say they can’t defeat all his minions. Sue and Ben then quickly work out a plan to shine light off a giant diamond (this cave is filled with diamonds) right into the Mole Man’s sensitive eyes.

The FF recover the quantum drive and escape to the surface of the island. A bright light shines in their faces, telling them their problems are solved. We then abruptly cut to the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. Lady Dorma meets with Lord Krang. Krang wants to meet with the prince to discuss revealing themselves to the surface world and conquering the Earth, but Dorma says the prince is still in mourning. Then another Atlantean swims up, saying his sister is near death, having been infected with “dark waters.” Krang has heard enough, and breaks in to meet the prince, Namor.

Namor gets a splash page (heh) introduction, explaining his half-human heritage and his recent ascension as the new ruler of Atlantis. The caption states, “He is perhaps the most powerful man on the planet.” Namor is moved by Krang’s description of the “black poison” from the surface world, and he says the time has come for humans to feel the wrath of Atlantis.

Elsewhere, the FF wake up, having been knocked out by a “synaptic scrambler.” They’re trapped in a plain white room, now wearing matching white suits. They figure out how to escape by using their powers in tandem. They’re attacked by gun-wielding guards, so Ben punches a hole to the outside, only to discover they are on board a giant floating platform. (You and I know this is a S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier, but the comic frustratingly never tells us that this is S.H.I.E.L.D. So much for attracting new readers.) The FF are captured again and taken before Director Nick Fury.

Fury believes that Reed went to space to destroy the anomaly, and Reed says he thought S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to destroy it. Before they can further compare notes, there’s an alert that Namor and the Atlantis army has attacked New York, converging on the UN Building. Reed says the FF’s new powers can be used to help. Fury agrees, adding that he had nothing to do with Wyatt Wingfoot betraying the team last issue. The heroes prepare for battle in some modified S.H.I.E.L.D. suits. (And here’s where the issue finally uses the name “S.H.I.E.L.D.”) Sue borrows some tape from a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (convenient!) and tapes a “4” logo onto the team’s suits, so show they are not S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, but a team of their own.

In NYC, Namor is out just randomly trashing cars when Ben and Johnny drop down from above. Namor easily punches out Ben, but decides his army isn’t enough. He uses his trumpet horn (which he just had on him, I guess) and he summons the giant monster Giganto, saying his vengeance will not be denied.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: By stretching part of his arm over the wall of their cell, Reed can tell what the wall is made of and how breakable and/or flammable it is.

Fade out: Sue turns part of the Mole Man’s cave wall invisible, just enough for light from outside to steam in. This again begs the question of how do her powers work around light again?

Clobberin’ time: Ben says he knows Nick Fury, that Fury saved his life once during the Gulf War. But then Fury suggests he’s a lot older, saying he hasn’t seen Namor since “the big one.”

Flame on: We’re continuing the running gag of Johnny being a money/merchandizing guy when he says the Fantastic Four name could be a great marketing gimmick.

Commercial break: Marvel spent five pages of house ads in this issue promoting Deadpool #1, in case you’re wondering how Deadpool ever got popular:

Trivia time: Surprise! This isn’t really Nick Fury in these issues. Captain America Vol. 2 #11 will reveal that all of Fury’s appearances in Heroes Reborn are really a Fury life model decoy working deep undercover to secretly sabotage S.H.I.E.L.D.

Fantastic or frightful? Instead of a hard reboot, this feels more like the same old Marvel Universe we all know. It’s also a case of too much content, as the Mole Man and his ARMY OF MONSTERS is completely forgotten about after a few pages just so this can be a Namor/S.H.I.E.L.D. issue. Jim Lee continues to bring the ‘90s “Image house style” to this, and unfortunately that’s the best thing about the issue.

Next: The outfit’s a bit much.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Getting the reboot

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Here’s Heroes Reborn, where comics superstar Jim Lee took over the series. This is vol. 2 #1, a whole new beginning… or is it?

After experiencing unprecedented success and popularity in the early 90s, the comic book industry faced an equal and opposite reaction with a crash of dismally poor sales around 1996-7. Marvel attempted to bounce back with Heroes Reborn, bringing back a bunch of the Image creators, who first rose to fame at Marvel, to breathe new life into long-running properties. Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Studios rebooted Fantastic Four and Iron Man, and the notorious Rob Liefeld and his Extreme Studios rebooted Captain America and The Avengers.

While this appears to be a hard reboot, we are technically still in Marvel continuity. When the FF and the Avengers appeared to die stopping the evil Onslaught, they were really sent to a pocket universe, starting their lives anew with no memory of what came before. More to the point, while their story starts over in Fantastic Four, it also continues in the regular Marvel Universe. The fight over the now-abandoned Four Freedoms Plaza continued in a lot of comics, most prominently Thunderbolts, and the still-alive Franklin Richards took on a supporting role in Cable, in an attempt to make him more of an X-Men character rather than an FF one. Despite Jim Lee’s involvement, these pocket universe issues are often dismissed as inconsequential, but I say let’s dig into them and see what we can see.

Gimmie a gimmick: This issue had a variant cover. The regular cover showed our heroes charging into action, while the variant showed them facing off against the Mole Man. (Whoa, spoiler!)

The issue begins with a familiar retelling of the FF’s origin, specifically the original four flying their spaceship through the cosmic ray belt. But there’s a twist — this is a dream that astronaut Ben Grimm is having while inside a space simulator. The simulation is overseen by scientist Reed Richards and his assistant, Isaac. Reed explains that Ben should be piloting a real spacecraft, if not for an injury he received fighting in the Gulf War. Reed and Isaac are busy preparing their new experimental aircraft, the Excelsior (get it?) capable of traveling outside Earth’s solar system. Ben gets a call from Sue Storm, who is asking for Reed. Sue is head of the Storm Foundation, who is funding the launch. She mentions her brother Johnny, head of Storm Casinos in Vegas. She adds that the Excelsior is being built in secret, and everyone has high hopes for when it goes public.

Sue is interrupted by Uncle Matthew, who shows up with US Secret Agent Wyatt Wingfoot. Matthew says Sue is off the project, and Wyatt is now in charge of the Excelsior, by orders of the president. A strange energy fluctuation has been discovered in nearby space, and the Excelsior is being commandeered by the government to investigate.

Cut to a TV reporter to “American Tabloid” doing a news report of possible alien sightings out in the desert. Reed and Isaac watch the report, dismissing it as hogwash. Reed, however, is study the same space anomaly as Wyatt. Reed suspects it’s fallout from a wormhole to another universe, and that this could result in mankind’s first contact with aliens.

Out in the desert, Ben is on a ride in his jeep, where he nearly crashes into a speeding sports car. The cool car is driven by Johnny, with his girlfriend Tiffany beside him. Johnny and Ben play chicken with their cars, driving right at each other while Tiffany panics. Tiffany goads Johnny into turning the wheel at the last second, losing the game. Ben drives off laughing, while Tiffany says she’s walking back to town.

Sue arrives, and is greeted by the airport by Ben. They joke around a bit before Ben notices Wyatt and a bunch of other secret agents with him. At the base, Reed is furious that government is taking over the launch. Wyatt introduces himself as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is defined as a “deep cover black ops agency.” When Ben threatens to start a fight, Wyatt has both he and Reed locked up. He asks Sue and Johnny for the launch codes (it’s not made clear why casino-owning Johnny has launch codes). Johnny says he’ll sue Wyatt, so Wyatt punches him out. Then Wyatt uses a small electric weapon to murder Isaac (!). Wyatt says the energy in space is a “harbinger” which must be destroyed at any cost. They haul Sue away and Wyatt contacts his boss, a mysterious masked man named Victor Von Doom. Doom asks for a report, while letting the reader know that Wyatt’s S.H.I.E.L.D. credentials were faked. Wyatt says the Excelsior is being loaded with missiles and that “phase one” is complete.

Reed and Ben are locked up in a cell, which conveniently overlooks the launch site. Ben spots Wyatt’s men loading a nuke onto the ship. Reed fears they are helpless to stop Wyatt, but Ben says he has an idea. Nearby, Sue and Johnny are being taken away by Wyatt’s men, only to fight back with some sweet martial arts skills. They fight their way to Reed and Ben’s cell, freeing them. Reed and Sue share a kiss, revealing they’ve been in a relationship this whole time.

The Excelsior launches, so the four heroes make a plan to pursue it in the prototype, which is what Ben was using to run his simulation at the beginning. The prototype launches and pursues the Excelsior into space, with both ships reaching the space anomaly, depicted a green nebula-looking thing. Reed and Ben pickup an increase in subspace from the anomaly. Reed recognizes it as a pattern, confirming an intelligence coming from within the wormhole. They see what appears to be a humanoid shape come from inside the anomaly, and Reed mentions tachyon emissions directed at two specific points on Earth.

The Excelsior then fires the nuke. The anomaly explodes, and the prototype is bombarded with radiation. Reed, Sue, and Johnny hurry to the escape pods as the prototype falls apart around them. Ben stays behind in the cockpit in a last-ditch attempt to steer the ship back to Earth.

The prototype crashes on an island in the Bermuda Triangle. Johnny is the first to emerge from the wreckage, covered in flame. Despite being on fire, he manages to say, “I’m lit up like some kind of human torch!” The fire makes him lighter than air, so he’s able to fly to the nearest body of water. He then finds what looks like some sort of snake at first, only to discover it’s a human arm. It belongs to Reed, who can stretch his body to incredible lengths. Reed deduces that the radiation has mutated their bodies an given them fantastic powers.

Ben is next, also having survived, only for one hand to be mutated into a rocklike form. Then we catch up with Sue, who survived the crash alongside the prototype’s reactor core. Except the core is damaged and is threatening to explode, taking the entire island with it. Sue runs into Ben, now fully transformed into a huge rock monster. He says it best, “I’ve turned into a monster! Some kind of thing!”

Reed and Johnny hear a mysterious roaring sound, and they investigate. The ground falls out from under them, stranding them in an underground cavern surrounded by strange subterranean creatures. They surrender, not knowing the creatures intentions. Reed also spots cave marking similar to the signals he received from the anomaly, making this one of the two Earth locations mentioned in the alien signal. The subterraneans take them to where Sue and Ben have been chained to a stone pillar, about to be… Fed? Sacrificed? … to a giant monster. Sue turns invisible, distracting the monster long enough for Ben to get free and punch out the monster. Reed and Johnny join the fight, temporarily driving back the subterraneans.

The four heroes compare notes, and Sue insists they get back to the reactor core before it blows. Then they are approached by the leader of this underground world. It’s the Mole Man. He says he has recently acquired the power to bring mankind to its knees.

Unstable molecule: Reed wears glasses at the start of this issue, something I don’t recall him doing before. The glasses vanish mid-scene on page 4 and never return, though.

Fade out: One big change in this version is making Sue a high-up corporate type, except there’s very little information about what the Storm Foundation is, or its role in funding the space launch.

Clobberin’ time: Ben being a Gulf War vet instead of a World War II vet is one of the examples everyone always cites of how Heroes Reborn was an attempt to “modernize” the classic heroes.

Flame on: The other big change is making Johnny a casino owner, who’s shtick throughout this issue is making things marketable and making a quick buck whenever he can. Let’s keep an eye on how (or if) his character evolves during Heroes Reborn.

Commercial break: Beware the Kromaggs!

Trivia time: According to the Marvel Wiki, this is the only appearance of Reed’s friend Isaac. We hardly knew him. Johnny’s girlfriend Tiffany gets no entry in the Wiki, so let’s assume this is also her only appearance.

The Dr. Doom/Wyatt plotline will get an explanation in issue #5.

Fantastic or frightful? I’m fine with Jim Lee’s art. I’m fine with all the early Image guys, if we’re being totally honest. You can see in this issue the start of what would become the “widescreen comics” trend of the late ‘90s/early 2000s comics with an attempt to make comics more like blockbuster films. That’s the attitude here, as Lee and co-writer Brandon Choi make their own Star Trek movie for most of the issue. Lee’s depiction of Ben is especially eye-popping. So, it’s all good, and it makes me excited to read the next 12 issues.

Next: Titanic.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Challengers of the Fantastic

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Before we get to the big Heroes Reborn reboot, first we’ve got to talk about Challengers of the Fantastic #1!

Onslaught and Heroes Reborn weren’t the only big events of 1996/1997, because we also had the inter-company action of DC vs. Marvel (or Marvel vs. DC, as it was known for two issues). The plot concerned two cosmic brothers, one representing the Marvel Universe and one representing the DC Universe, learn of each other’s existence and decide that only one should survive. They force the heroes to fight each other in one-on-one slugfests. The universes were briefly combined into one, called the Amalgam Universe. But then everyone going back to their own universes thanks to Captain America and Batman teaming up to save the day.

The Amalgam Universe only existed for a few pages in DC vs. Marvel before being undone, but we can thank a new character named Access — co-owned by both companies — who used his new reality-bending powers to keep Amalgam going. As such Marvel and DC co-published a whole bunch of Amalgam one-shots, with Challengers of the Fantastic being part of the second wave of Amalgams.

In Challengers of the Fantastic, the FF get combined with DC’s Challengers of the Unknown, four adventurers who survived a near-death experience and decide to help others while they are “on borrowed time.” (If you ever read Challengers of the Unknown, you’ll read the words “on borrowed time” a LOT.) The first page gives us the lowdown on our new heroes:

  • Sue “Ace” Storm, secret agent — an amalgam of Sue and jet pilot Ace Morgan.
  • Reed “Prof” Richards, science genius — an amalgam of Reed and deep sea diver Prof Haley.
  • Johnny “Red” Storm, a thrill-seeking teen — an amalgam of Johnny and circus daredevil Red Ryan.
  • Ben “Rocky” Grimm, a brawling US senator (?!?) — an amalgam of Ben and Olympic wrestler Rocky Davis.

 

There’s a short version of the group’s origin. They take off on a dangerous space mission, only for it to be sabotaged by their former friend Victor Von Doom. The four survive, and decide to use their second chance on life to better mankind. They are (say it with me) on borrowed time.

In Washington DC, Rocky is negotiating a conflict between Wakanda and Gorilla City when he gets a message from the team. He travels to a mountain north of New York which is the Challengers’ headquarters, and also the HQ of scientist group Cadmus. There, Prof is investigating the existence of Universe-Two, and Red is pining away for his missing girlfriend, Dream Crystal. Note that Red has a miniature clone of himself for some reason, which will come into play later. (The Wiki says the clone’s name is “Johnny Stormtrooper.”) Ace summons them all to the briefing room, where they are met by Uatu the Guardian, a cosmic being who warns them, “Galatiac is coming!”

Uatu says Galactiac is the ultimate combination of mind and machine, draining the lifeblood of planets to recharge his energy cells. Because robots are involved, Rocky suggests calling the Challengers’ resident robotics expert, June Masters. June, who is blind, performs a calculation to determine that Galactiac will be defeated only if a Challenger dies.

The Challengers take their flying car, the FantastiWagon, to the Baxter Building, headquarters of Spider-Boy, only to find the place trashed. The attack was done by an Asgodian alien, the Silver Racer, in self-defense. The Racer tells them he has come with a dire warning. Galactiac has arrived, and is constructing his planet-eating machine on the roof of the building.

Prof tries and fails to reason with Galactiac, and Galactiac prevents Ace from calling in a S.H.I.E.L.D. airstrike. Uatu reappears and sends Red on a mission. Inside the building, June talks to the Silver Racer, asking for his help and reminding him of his long-repressed humanity. When Rocky tries destroying part of Galactiac’s machine, Galactiac responds by transforming him into a four-armed orange rock monster… a Thing!

Red travels through space on Uatu’s mission, to destroy a piece of space machinery. Back on Earth, Ace and fight the now-monstrous Rocky. Ace uses a force field belt, and Prof helps himself to some Dr. Octopus arms from inside the Baxter Building. The damage from the fight draws the attention of Galactiac, just in time for Red to return from space, and for the Silver Racer to join the fight.

There’s an explosion, following which Rocky is turned back into a human and Galactiac flies off into space, swearing to return someday. Red is found still alive. It appears that June’s calculation was incorrect, but Red reveals that it was his tiny clone who died. That when Red was in space, it was really the clone shrunk down to microscopic space, and the alien device was part of Galactiac’s brain.

Elsewhere, the Silver Surfer is attacked and left for dead. The culprit is the Challengers’ old friend Victor Von Doom, now transformed into the monster known as Dr. Doomsday.

Yeah, this story is nonsense. The comic only exists to show off and/or reference as many Amalgam characters and concepts as possible:

  • June Masters is an amalgam of Marvel’s Alicia Masters and DC’s June Robbins (from Challengers of the Unknown).
  • Galactiac is an amalgam of Marvel’s Galactus and DC’s Brainiac.
  • Uatu the Guardian is an amalgam of Marvel’s Watcher and DC’s Ganthet (from Green Lantern).
  • The Silver Racer is an amalgam of Marvel’s Silver Surfer and DC’s Black Racer.
  • Dr. Doomsday is an amalgam of Marvel’s Dr. Doom and DC’s Doomsday.
  • Dream Crystal is an amalgam of Marvel’s Crystal and DC’s Beautiful Dreamer.
  • The Bronze Panther is an amalgam of Marvel’s Black Panther and DC’s Bronze Tiger.
  • Congo Red is an amalgam of Marvel’s Red Ghost and DC’s Congorilla.
  • Spider-Boy is an amalgam of Marvel’s Spider-Man and DC’s Superboy.
  • The Un-People are an amalgam of Marvel’s Inhumans and DC’s Forever People. Their members are:
  • Vykin the Black Bolt, an amalgam of Marvel’s Black Bolt and DC’s Vikyn the Black
  • Triserinak, an amalgam of both Marvel’s Karnak and Triton with DC’s Serifan.
  • Medusa Moonrider, an amalgam of Marvel’s Medusa and DC’s Mark Moonrider.
  • Big Gorgon, an amalgam of Marvel’s Gorgon and DC’s Big Bear.

Wait, there’s more! In addition to characters appearing, there are also references to others:

  • Universe-Two is an amalgam of Marvel’s New Universe and DC’s Earth Two.
  • Spitfire and the Blackhawks is an amalgam of Marvel’s Spitfire and the Troubleshooters and the Blackhawks.
  • Infinite Kickers Inc. is an amalgam of Marvel’s Kickers Inc. and DC’s Infinity Inc.
  • The Mother Cube is an amalgam of Marvel’s Cosmic Cube and DC’s Mother Box.
  • Diablo the Volcano Man is an amalgam of Marvel’s Diablo and DC’s Volcano Man.
  • The Multi-Master is an amalgam of Marvel’s Puppet Master and DC’s Multi-Man.
  • Ultivac the Multi-Robot is an amalgam of Marvel’s Destroyer and DC’s Ultivac.
  • Cosbie is an amalgam of Marvel’s H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot with DC’s Cosmo. (Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.)

It’s not made clear which DC character has been amalgamated with Dr. Octopus. All we get is that his arms are called “anima-tentacles.” Additionally, Moon Boy from Marvel’s Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur can be seen in the Washington DC scenes, except he hasn’t been amalgamated with anyone. Why’s he the one who gets a pass?

Trivia time: The main DC vs. Marvel miniseries has a few additional mashups for Fantastic Four characters. Ben fought the Martian Manhunter, and Johnny fought Firestorm. The outcomes of these fights remains unknown. She-Hulk is matched up against Supergirl, but they don’t fight each other. Instead, they immediately team up to stop some criminals.

The Marvel Wiki alleges that Dr. Doomsday’s storyline was resolved in Secret Crisis of the Infinity Hour, but I suspect this is an inside joke and not an actual published comic.

The Marvel Wiki further alleges that the entire DC vs. Marvel event place in an alternate timeline, entirely outside of continuity. This includes that Access guy and all the Amalgam characters.

Fantastic or frightful? Challengers of the Fantastic is kind of a disappointment, as the story and characters are secondary to the huge list of references. As an event overall, DC vs. Marvel isn’t without its charms, but this type of thing would be done much more successful a few years later in the awesome JLA/Avengers.

Next: Getting the reboot.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Off and Onslaught

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #416 is the final issue of the original series (or Volume 1, if you prefer) of Fantastic Four. It’s also smack in the middle of the epic Onslaught crossover, so this is a lot to cover.

Gimmie a Gimmick: This final issue has a wraparound cover, with the FF on the front, and a bunch of their classic villains on the back, with Onslaught peeking through some streaks in the foreground.

A lot of story has happened between the last issue and this one. After kidnapping both Franklin and Professor X, Onslaught made his move. He took over the mutant-killing Sentinel robots and turned them into his personal army. After setting off an EMP, Onslaught used the Sentinels to attack Manhattan, while constructing his personal citadel in Central Park. The combined forces of the X-Men, Avengers, and Fantastic Four use the FF’s Four Freedoms Plaza as a makeshift headquarters.

The issue begins with Dr. Doom watching Onslaught’s NYC invasion. After learning that Onslaught kidnapped Franklin, Doom says this crisis might need his “personal attention.” At HQ, Sue tends to the wounded superheroes. At first glance it appears as if Goku from DragonBall Z is also there, but it’s just one of Franklin’s toys. Ant-Man is already out of the fight, after Onslaught’s EMP knocked out his cybernetic Ant-Man helmet. Sue and X-Men’s Beast tell him to get some rest, adding that Kristoff is acting as bodyguard for Ant-Man’s daughter during the crisis. Reed is all business, saying he’s working on a device to counterattack Onslaught’s powerful telepathy, but Nathaniel Richards says he’s seen the future, and knows that Onslaught kills a lot of the superheroes during this time. Bishop, who is also from the future, de-confuses continuity by saying that there are multiple future timelines.

We catch up with Franklin trapped in some sort of shadow world inside Onslaught’s armor (weird). He recently was able to communicate telepathically with Nate Grey, a.k.a. the X-Man, and now he’s trying it again to contact his parents. Onslaught is aware of Franklin’s plan and is letting him do it. Reed and Sue have a heart-to-heart, worrying about whether they’ve been good parents for all the times Franklin’s life has been endangered. Reed says that once Onslaught is defeated, they will make time for them to be just a family.

Elsewhere in headquarters, Ben spies Reed and Lyja down one end of a hallway, remarking that the two of them are a couple again. Then Alicia shows up with her father the Puppet Master. Puppet Master offers a helping hand, even though he and the FF have been enemies in the past. He and Sue leave Ben and Alicia alone so they can talk. (Alicia’s recent space adventures in Silver Surfer go unmentioned.) But then we cut to Kristoff and Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie. She offers an update on their classmate Donald, saying Donald’s abusive father was reported and is now in counseling. That ends that subplot, just in time for time-travelling villain Kang to appear in the room. Kang says he’s there to kill Dr. Doom’s heir. Kristoff doesn’t buy it, and reveals Kang to be nothing but an illusion.

This kicks off the FF-villains-on-parade part of the issue. Psycho-Man arrives to menace Ben and Alicia, while the Super-Skrull and Paibok the Power-Skrull both show up to attack Johnny and Lyja. The latter fight is joined by the Inhumans, Black Bolt, Karnak and Gorgon (who, let’s not forget, once single-handedly defeated the FF). Next in the villain parade is Blastaar, who dukes it out with Medusa.

The issue just goes on like this. Reed fights the Wizard, and Sue fights the Mad Thinker and his latest Awesome Android. Reed is quick to deduce that Onslaught is using Franklin’s powers to manifest fears from Franklin’s mind, taking the form of the FF’s foes. Devos the Devastator is next to appear, only to be punched by Namor, in a surprise return to HQ. Namor says that even though he and the FF recently parted on bad terms, Onslaught is a threat to them both. He and Reed agree to an alliance.

Then even more cameos as the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes appear, menacing Nathaniel Richards. Nathaniel is rescued by Black Panther, and to everyone’ s surprise, three of the original Fantastic Force — Devlor, Vibraxus, and barbarian swordswoman Huntara. As more of the villains are revealed to be mere illusions, Nathaniel also deduces that Franklin is the cause.

Reed makes it to the lab to work on his device, a “neuromantic disruptor.” Ben fights Tyros (formerly Terrax) and gets some last-minute from She-Hulk, who donned a classic FF blue-and-white uniform for the occasion. While Ben and She-Hulk high-five, Reed says the device is complete, but needs an energy source to protect it from another of Onslaught’s EMPs. Ben sacrifices the alien device that can turn him human, saying he will gladly give it up to save his godchild Franklin.

Outside the building, Johnny fights Dragon Man and Annihilus, only to be rescued by Dr. Doom. Doom insists he is no mere illusion, and he demands an audience with Reed. Sue, meanwhile, is attacked by Malice, who at this point in continuity was her own psychic being. Sue is rescued by supernatural nanny Agatha Harkness, conveniently teleporting into the room.

 

Reed throws the switch on the disrupter. It works, causing all the illusory villains to disappear, including a bunch more cameos at the end — Miracle Man, Mole Man, Diablo, Molecule Man, Impossible Man, Hate-Monger, and Invincible Man. (I have no idea who’s wearing the Invincible Man costume this time, but I’m guessing it’s the Dark Raider.)

Reed says this is a minor victory, because Onslaught is still out there, but Sue counters by saying this proves Franklin is still alive, which means they still have a chance. Then Johnny shows up with Dr. Doom, who offers his aid in defeating Onslaught. Sue says Doom can help, but they’re making a deal with him. “He does things our way!” she says. She adds that the upcoming fight with Onslaught may very well be their final battle. The original four join hands one last time. Then it’s Reed and not Ben who ends the original series of Fantastic Four by saying “It’s clobberin’ time!” But then Ben has to get the last word with a classic Marvel “‘Nuff said.’”

The end.

Except it isn’t the end, because we still have the Onslaught crossover to deal with. Onslaught revealed his plan to create a second sun, which would destroy the heroes (and, I’m assuming, all life on Earth). In the final battle, the unlikely duo of Jean Grey and the Hulk shattered Onslaught’s armor, leaving behind a being of pure psychic energy. Into to fully destroy the energy being and restore Franklin and Professor X, the heroes had to fly straight into the energy, which would kill them. One catch: Only non-mutants could enter the energy, which meant that the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the Hulk, and even Dr. Doom were the ones to give up their lives. Onslaught was defeated, but some of Marvel’s greatest heroes were dead, and the world mourned.

The end, for real this time. (Except it isn’t.)

Unstable molecule: If all this wasn’t enough comic book for you, issue #416 also has a backup story, a flashback to Reed, Ben, and Doom first meeting at college. Reed and Ben clash instantly, while Ben suggests all three of them share a dorm room. The Watcher, who is narrating tells the reader that if one of the three of them had said something in the crucial seconds that followed, then history would have been different. But, alas, all three went their separate ways.

Fade out: It would appear that Sue is still team leader by this point, as she orders all the other heroes around while Reed works in the lab. She has also apparently forgiven Agatha Harkness for letting Franklin get time-traveled. The last time we saw Agatha was Sue kicking her out of the place.

Clobberin’ time: The machine that can turn Ben into a human is an abruptly dropped plotline. The original idea was that it was going to make him angrier and angrier every time he used it. But, editorial demands for the reboot means we never got to have that story.

Flame on: During the fight, the Super-Skrull gives Johnny grief for his romance with Lyja, calling it unnatural. If these are psychic projections, could this be Johnny’s own subconscious saying this?

Fantastic Fifth Wheel: This is a wrap for Ant-Man. Scott Lang goes back to being an Iron Man guest star after this, just in time for the Armor Wars event. He will eventually return to Fantastic Four once the whole Future Foundation thing gets going.

She-Hulk had been all over the Marvel Universe since the cancellation of her solo series. She was a regular in Thunderstrike and Doc Sampson before temporarily joining the Fantastic Force team, leading to her appearance in this issue. Following Onslaught, she becomes a regular in Heroes for Hire, with guest appearances in Avengers, BlackWulf, and more.

Medusa again speaks highly of her time with the team, saying it is with great pride that she fights alongside them, and that she considers them family. All this while fighting Blastaar!

Crystal is one panel, still recovering from Onslaught’s attack. Impossible Man, who was a member of the FF during the “Fantastic Seven” storyline in the ‘70s, also appears in one panel.

When Kristoff confronts Kang and Kang calls him Doom’s heir, there’s a closeup of Kristoff’s eyes and it looks like he’s all teary-eyed. Does part of him still long to stand by Doom’s side?

Dr. Doom working alongside the FF means we can count this as another instance of him acting as an alternate FF team member.

A lot of fan sites list Namor as being an official member of the team during this time in the ‘90s, but I always felt he was more of a guest star. In this issue, though, Reed clearly welcomes him to the team, so I guess from here forward we must consider him an alternate team member.

Four and a half: Franklin’s scene has one panel of him astral projecting, remembering that was his power during his “Tattletale” years as a member of Power Pack.

The Alicia problem: This is a wrap for poor Lyja. After all this drama, she is out of the series, and pretty much written out of continuity. Once we get into Heroes Return and beyond, she won’t get so much as a mention until returning much, much later for Secret Invasion.

Commercial break: Matilda was the original Thanos:

Trivia time: This is also more or less a wrap for Nathaniel Richards. He’ll occasionally show up after this for some time travel fun in X-Force and S.H.I.E.L.D. He won’t make a return to Fantastic Four until after the Future Foundation gets started.

I’m at a loss as to how the Fantastic Force team can be here, when it seemed they all went their separate ways at the end of their series. This is especially true of Huntara, who left Earth to explore “Elsewhen.” Seems to me that if Huntara appears in Fantastic Four, the story should be about her and Reed dealing with how they are long-lost step-siblings, but no luck.

Fantastic or frightful? I read the entire Onslaught crossover in preparation for this blog (you’re freakin’ welcome) and it’s not as bad as people say. The Onslaught character is given a proper introduction and feeling of true menace, unlike other villains of this type (cough*Hyperstorm*cough). There’s a lot of character work throughout, including more X-Men drama, a Peter Parker/Ben Reilly team-up, and even the Phil Urich Green Goblin getting in on the action. As for issue #416, all of the cameos are kind of cheesy, but keeping things in the family means we get end the series on an FF-centric high note, rather than be overwhelmed by crossover-mania. The good news is, there’s a lot more Fantastic Four to come.

Next: Rise to the challenge.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Onslaught or not

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. With much hype, the Onslaught crossover took over a bunch of Marvel comics in 1997, and it was used to conclude the original run of Fantastic Four, starting with issue #415.

I’m going to try to keep this short. Over in X-Men comics, Professor X decided he’d had enough of Magneto, and tried psychically removing all the evil from Magneto’s mind. This had unfortunate consequences, as the evil parts of both Magneto’s and Xavier’s minds combined and took on a life of their own, a being called Onslaught. That brings us to Fantastic Four #415, which is still in “phase one” of the Onslaught crossover, where the villain is still running around in secret before putting his plan into motion.

We begin with Franklin — now a child again, having returned from being lost in time — and his new friend Charles at an old-timey circus. Charles says Franklin generated the circus with his mind. A woman named Magda (who is from Magneto’s past) warns Charles to stay away from Franklin. Charles and Franklin return to Four Freedoms Plaza just in time for the FF to arrive in space from the previous issue. Charles asks Franklin to keep him a secret, and then Charles mysteriously vanishes.

It’s a mostly happy reunion as the FF return home, except that Johnny and Lyja agree they have to talk. Ben is still angry at Nathaniel Richards for waiting so long to inform the team about Onslaught. Then the team gets a priority call from the Avengers and an in-person visit from Professor X. Ant-Man takes the call from the Avengers, only for Onslaught to appear and knock him unconscious.

The rest of the FF don their brand-new uniforms to meet with Professor X. He says he wants legal custody of Franklin (!) and for Franklin to live at the X-Men’s school. Sue and Reed won’t budge on this, saying their headquarters has security second to none (this will come into play later during the crossover). Johnny, meanwhile, tells Lyja he wants to talk to her about his new girlfriend Laura Green. He almost reveals that he knows Lyja and Laura are the same person, when the Inhumans’ teleporting dog Lockjaw appears with two X-Men, Iceman and Bishop, and two Avengers, Hawkeye and Crystal. They have a dire warning for the FF.

Xavier then cuts the meeting short, by revealing he’s really Onslaught in disguise, and that he’s taking Franklin no matter what. He disappears, and the FF, X-Men, and Avengers split into teams to search the building. Johnny and Crystal (together again!) find Onslaught first and attack him. Onslaught defeats Johnny with brute force, and then knocks out Crystal with telepathy. Nathaniel Richards fights Onslaught next, only for Onslaught to telekinetically destroy Nathaniel’s armor.

Onslaught finds Franklin in his room, except that “Franklin” is Lyja in disguise. She, Ben and Hawkeye attack. Onslaught mentally tricks Ben into punching the wall instead of him, and he makes Hawkeye’s arrows fly back at Hawkeye. Sue and Bishop are the next to fight Onslaught. Bishop has Sue strike him with her most powerful force fields, in the hopes that he will absorb their energy and use them to strike Onslaught. It appears to work at first, as Onslaught transforms back into Professor X. But it’s a trick, and Sue and Bishop are knocked back with a wave of powerful energy.

Elsewhere in New York, we find the Watcher and X-Men villain apocalypse watching this from a distance. They do this throughout the entire crossover, acting as a Greek chorus of sorts. Apocalypse says Franklin’s reality-bending powers could eventually make him one of the most powerful mutants, and he accuses the Watcher of being impartial. Apocalypse believes the Watcher genuinely cares about the Fantastic Four.

Onslaught finally finds Franklin who is sitting on a ledge on the outside of the building (!) only for Reed and Iceman to attack. Reed stretches himself into Hulk-like musculature (!!) to land a few blows on Onslaught. Reed swears he will find a way to stop Onslaught. In another part of the building, Johnny catches up with Lyja again, saying that he’s figured out she’s Laura Green. Instead of being mad at her for tricking him, he’s into it this time. He kisses her back, saying they will figure things out later.

All the heroes regroup as Onslaught goads Franklin into joining him. There’s a huge explosion inside the building, knocking the heroes out. Onslaught takes Franklin into his arms, saying, “You will give me a gift. A gift beyond reckoning!”

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: If Reed can stretch his muscles to give him Hulk-like strength, why has he never done this before? Maybe this is another new skill he developed when he was lost in time after being abducted by Hyperstorm.

Fade out: Sue also demonstrates a new use of her power, by gently filling up a room with a thin lightweight force field to show that no one invisible is hiding inside.

Clobberin’ time: I have no idea what’s happening on this cover. It’s Ben’s hand holding a broken Wonder Man action figure (Wonder Man does not appear in the actual comic) while an image of Onslaught with Franklin appears reflected on glass in the background. I just don’t get it.

Flame on: Starting with this issue, Johnny’s speech bubbles when flamed on are colored in a yellow-orange with little fire effects around them. This will be his speech’s look for the next couple of years.

Fantastic fourth wheel: Before being the first to be knocked out, Ant-Man and Ben pal around, revealing they have a favorite type of pizza — extra pepperoni and extra sausage.

Would you believe that Crystal is still an Avenger after more than 100 issues? She really found her niche. As to why Onslaught chooses a nonviolent and humane way to take her out of the fight, it’s because Onslaught is half Magneto, and Crystal is married to Magneto’s son. Crystal is Onslaught’s daughter-in-law!

Four and a half: Young Franklin seems unfazed by all the reality-bending happening around him, due to Onslaught’s psychic influence. In Franklin’s rooms, we can see a Power Rangers video, Calvin and Hobbes stuffed dolls (bootleg, I’m assuming), and (gasp!) a Batman: The Animated Series poster.

The Alicia problem: A lot of the Johnny/Lyja drama goes back to him rejecting her, hurt that she spent all that time impersonating Alicia. It feels really out of character for him to come back around to having romantic feelings for her again, especially after she’s revealed tricking him a second time.

Commercial break: I actually feel bad for this dog:

Trivia time: Who is Magda? She was Magneto’s first love, who might be one of the most tragic characters in Marvel history. She and young Magneto fled from the Nazis and lived in hiding for a while, only for her to reject him when his mutant powers first manifested. She later died on Mount Wundagore after giving birth to mutant twins. Except it was much, much later revealed Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are not really Magneto’s kids. So we don’t know what really happened on Mount Wundagore.

The other two Avengers seen in the background in one panel are Giant-Man and the Wasp. You can be forgiven for not recognizing them in their edgy ‘90s outfits.

Fantastic or frightful? This issue actually does a good job of bringing an X-Men story into FF, by keeping the focus on Franklin the whole time. Onslaught wants the kid and everyone else is protecting him. This gives the issue focus, despite a ton of characters in it. Chris Pacheo’s artwork is also great, bringing some of that ‘90s extremism, but in a good way this time.

Next: It all ends, except it doesn’t.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Gone Frankie gone

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #414 is more or less the end of Tom DeFalco’s run on the series, with the remaining issues before the reboot, so we’re pressing reset buttons all over the place.

Recap: At the end of the previous issue, godlike villain Hyperstorm meddled with the timestream again, taking teenage Franklin away in a time platform and replacing him with young Franklin, at the state he was in when first abducted in time. This issue begins with a narration caption boldly proclaiming, “Young Franklin is back!” Sue is happy to see the kid again, who says he remembers a man in armor taking him away, and nothing else prior to this moment.

Ben is ready for a fight, demanding answers from Nathaniel Richards. Nathaniel says that Hyperstorm has changed history, so that Nathaniel raising Franklin in an alternate timeline never happened, therefore teenage Franklin, a.k.a. Psi-Lord of Fantastic Force, never existed. Nathaniel decides it’s finally time to spill the beans. He tells the FF about the Days of Future Past alternate future, in which teen Franklin had a romance with the X-Men’s Rachel Summers. Then, in an alternate-alternate version of that timeline, Franklin and Rachel had a child, a mutant with the power over hyperspace itself — Hyperstorm!

Nathaniel further explains that all his time-traveling machinations, including his abducting and raising alt-timeline Franklin, was because in every timeline, Hyperstorm destroys the FF. Nathaniel was only trying to prevent this. Reed says he’s one step ahead of Nathaniel, and he’s already working on a plan to defeat Hyperstorm by employing the power of Galactus. Galactus was recently destroyed by his new herald, Morg. Now Galactus’ power cosmic is floating out in space, just waiting for Reed to use. Reed says he has to go on this mission alone, to keep Hyperstorm from knowing what he’s up to. The rest of the team doesn’t like this, while we see that Hyperstorm watches in secret.

Then it’s time for more soap opera stuff as Ben walks in on Lyja, who is on the phone pretending to be Johnny’s new girlfriend Laura Green. Lyja admits to Ben that yes, she is Laura. She explains the Laura persona was originally just to keep an eye on Johnny, and that things got out of hand. Later Johnny is on a walk in Central Park with “Laura.” He gives her a goodbye kiss before leaving for the Galactus mission. He reacts to the kiss with shock, saying “You!” and then he flies off.

Back at HQ, the team prepares for the mission to space. Reed leaves Franklin in the care of Ant-Man and Kristoff, adding that in case the FF don’t return, Franklin is to be enrolled in Professor Xavier’s school. Reed, Sue, Ben, Johnny, and Nathaniel board the FF’s wormhole shuttle and travel into the Negative Zone, which takes them to subspace, and from there directly to Galactus’ last known location. Johnny takes a moment to fret to Ben about his love life, while Reed locates an exhaust trail that can take him to the remains of Galactus’ worldship. Reed then deduces that Galactus is alive, having fled into a parallel dimension at the last minute.

With Reed’s plan revealed, Hyperstorm appears, revealing that he is indeed Reed’s future grandson. He says that after seeing his mutant parents and their friends hunted and killed, he had devoted his life to bringing peace to all realities. Further, he believes true peace can only be achieved by removing personal freedoms from all intelligent life. A fight breaks out, with the heroes unmatched by Hyperstorm’s raw power. During the slugfest, Hyperstorm announces his real name is Jonathan R. Richards.

Back at HQ, Franklin is upset at his family leaving him alone to go on a dangerous mission so soon after being reunited with him. A portal opens up, and out steps another little kid named Charlie. Charlie says he’s here to help Franklin, and the two are about to become best friends. I’ll spoil it: This is not Charles Xavier of the X-Men, which is what many thought at the time, but it is in fact X-Men megavillain Onslaught, putting together his master plan. We’ll get into Onslaught next week. Oh boy, will we.

Back at the battle, Reed activates the device he was using to search for Galactus, saying everything is proceeding as planned. He opens a portal to the dimension where Galactus escaped to. Somehow the FF can all tell that Galactus hasn’t fed in some time, and might consume them all right on the spot. Reed tells Galactus that Hyperstorm contains enough energy to end his hunger once and for all. Galactus attacks, drawing raw energy from Hyperstorm.

The FF flee back to the ship while Reed explains the hyperstorm draws his power from hyperspace, a limitless source energy. Galactus, meanwhile has a hunger that can never truly be satisfied. This locks the two of them in Galactus’ dimension in this state for all eternity.

On the flight home, Nathaniel apologies for how much of a jerk he’s been, saying he was wrong to mistrust the FF. Reed thanks his teammates for their help, saying he couldn’t have done it without them. It’s the big happy ending as Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny share smiles as the original super-team, the Fantastic Four.

Unstable molecule: Reed’s whole arc in this issue is initially pushing his family away, only to realize how much he needs them. This shows DeFalco, despite the clunkiness of his writing during this time, does understand these characters.

Fade out: Sue insists she’s strong enough to be included on the mission, but she doesn’t do anything except stand in the background the Hyperstorm fight. Maybe she’s using her force fields and we can’t see them.

Clobberin’ time: Ben chooses to keep Lyja’s secret, and offer her some understanding. Is this because he has a still-developing crush on Lyja, or is he wise enough to let and Johnny work things out for themselves.

Flame on: Johnny figuring out Lyja’s secret is telegraphed pretty far in advance, leaving him not sure what to do about his love life. It’s a bit much for him to think that Laura Green might be “the one” when they’ve never kissed before now, but that’s comics for you.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man’s job is once again to monitor things at home while his teammates are away. He debuts a cool new red jacket with an “A” on the shoulder.

Reed gives Kristoff the brush-off by saying Kristoff is “not needed” on the mission, with no further explanation. I guess he’s as sick of Kristoff as ‘90s readers were.

Four and a half: Not only will teenage Franklin never appear again, according to official Marvel continuity, he never existed. Let’s talk about this. After being raised in an alt-timeline hellscape, teen Franklin was finally reunited with his family, only for them to reject him. He got a found family of his own in Fantastic Force, only for that team for fall apart. Then he was finally welcomed back by his family, only to wiped out of time by the original Franklin. If any Marvel character needs to be brought back from obscurity, it’s this Psi-Lord Franklin, who got a raw deal in life, and who never truly found his place in life.

The Alicia problem: When Alicia is impersonating Laura Green on the phone, she’s drawn with having a glowing red effect around her. Is this just to show that she’s shape-changing, or is this something that happens to some Skrulls when they impersonate voices only?

Commercial break: “It makes Spider-sense!”

Trivia time: This is also a wrap on Hyperstorm, who was never seen again. Galactus returns in Silver Surfer #144, with no mention of what became of Hyperstorm. After tracking down that issue, I was surprised to learn the FF’s own Alicia Masters was a Silver Surfer supporting character at this time, where she got a special spacesuit that let her fly around the cosmos with the Surfer.

Fantastic or frightful? This is a real checking-stuff-off-the-list issue. Marvel editorial clearly gave the creators a mandate, with plans for rebooting the series on the horizon. It’s nice, though, to get a happy ending for our heroes before everything goes to Hell, which it is about to.

Next: Bring on the slaught.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Party like it’s 2099

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re only a few issues away from the big reboot, but that won’t stop a crossover from happening, so in issue #413, the FF are running head-first into the Marvel 2099 timeline.

In true Marvel fashion, this issue begins unexpectedly in middle of a crossover, starting where Doom 2099 #42 ended. So, let’s talk about Marvel’s 2099 comics. This series of comics explored the future of the Marvel Universe. Spider-Man 2099, Punisher 2099, and Stan Lee-created newcomer Ravage 2099 all squared off against the powerful Alchemax Corporation, while X-Men 2099 explored an all-mutant city out in a Mad Max-style desert wasteland. Doom 2099 had Dr. Doom time-traveling from the present to the year 2099, where he and a ragtag group fought to retake the Latverian throne. After a lot of mystery over whether this is the real Dr. Doom, Doom 2099 succeeded in conquering Latveria (which is when this issue takes place) and he later conquered all of North America by the time the series was done.

In Doom 2099 #42, future Latveria has been attacked by a deadly neurotoxin, turning Latverians into zombie-like shamblers. Doom 2099 traveled to the present for a cure, found in a rare breed of sea crab. Present-day Dr. Doom teamed up with Namor (who didn’t wait long before diving into the I’m-a-villain-again thing) to stop Doom 2099 from getting the crabs. Along the way, he also fought Daredevil and the FF’s own Thing. Having lost the fight, Doom 2099 got away and at the start of this issue, he’s lurking in the tunnels beneath Four Freedoms Plaza.

In Reed’s lab, he’s inventing a dimensionally-transcendental probe. He’s going to send it into subspace in the hopes of contacting either the Silver Surfer or Galactus, and then enlist their aid on getting Hyperstorm off their backs. (Remember that the FF are only currently alive because the godlike Hyperstorm is allowing them to be alive.) Instead of just launching the probe into space, he’s sending it into the Negative Zone, and from there to the Crossroads of Infinity, where its message can cross all realities. Nathaniel Richards is still hanging around. He says Hyperstorm can’t be defeated, and Reed and Sue shut him up by again pointing out he knows more than he’s letting on.

There’s a short comedy scene of Ben picking up cars and carrying them around to through NYC traffic. Then present-day Dr. Doom and Namor arrive in New York. Back at Four Freedoms Plaza, Reed and teenage Franklin are operating on Black Bolt, in the hopes of repairing his damaged antenna. Later, Reed reports to the Inhuman Royal Family that the operation was successful and Black Bolt will make a full recovery.

While Doom 2099 sneaks into the building, Reed gets a signal that the probe has made contact. Reed dons a cool astronaut suit and prepares for a journey to the Crossroads. He goes by himself, saying he’ll safely skip past the dangers of the Negative Zone. It works, and Reed enters the Crossroads, where he finds the Silver Surfer has responded to his signal.

Ben arrives at HQ, and calls for Johnny’s help. He says the two of them have to start looking for Doom 2099, only for them to spot him on one of the building’s security cameras. Doom 2099 is synthesizing the crab venom in a lab (a different one from the Negative Zone portal) and Ben and Johnny attack. Doom 2099 holds his own against them thanks to his futuristic armor.

At the Crossroads, the Silver Surfer tells Reed that Galactus is dead, having been killed by his new herald, Morg. (This happened in Silver Surfer #109.) Reed says he needs to know where this happened, and the Surfer gives him the coordinates before flying off. Reed signals Franklin to bring him back to HQ, but the fight against Doom 2099 breaks into the Negative Zone room, interrupting Franklin’s retrieval efforts.

The Inhumans join the fight against Doom 2099, who holds his own against all the heroes. Franklin, meanwhile, struggles to maintain his connection with Reed before Reed is forever lost among the Crossroads. Doom 2099 eventually gives in and makes a retreat. He flies out of the building, only to be attacked by present-day Doom and Namor. They knock Doom 2099 unconscious and take him back to Latveria. Neither the FF nor the Inhumans recognize present-day Doom’s aircraft, so they have no idea who abducted Doom 2099.

That mystery is put on hold when Franklin successfully brings Reed back from the Crossroads. Reed says the Silver Surfer’s information has finally given the FF a way to defeat Hyperstorm. As he says this, we see that Hyperstorm is secretly watching them. Then a time platform (like from Dr. Doom’s old time machine) appears above teenage Franklin. Too fast for anyone to react, it takes Franklin away in time. Seconds later, Franklin reemerges from the time portal, only this time he’s back to being a little kid again, just like before the whole “teenage Franklin” thing was introduced.

To be continued! (Sort of.)

Unstable molecule: To deal with the PTSD of being trapped in time for so long, Reed has been in therapy with Doc Sampson, the gamma-irradiated scientist who is a rival for the Hulk. Sampson instructed Reed to shave his beard.

Fade out: Doom 2099’s attack on the building includes knocking out the power. Sue’s role during the fight to re-route emergency power back to the building’s main systems.

Clobberin’ time: During the fight, Karnak kicks Doom 2099 in such a way that Doom 2099 falls face-first into the path of Ben’s oncoming fist. Sweet.

Flame on: It’s not said why Ben recruits only Johnny and not the whole team to search for Doom 2099. Johnny suggests using the “citywide monitoring system” to look for Doom 2099.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Medusa gives Reed a big hug at one point, a nice reminder of all the years she spent as a loyal member of the FF. She later wraps up Doom 2099 in her super-hair, and we never see how he escapes from her. He goes straight from that to flying out of the building. (Maybe Medusa chucked him out the window.)

Ant-Man and Kristoff don’t appear, but they’re still considered members of the team from now until issue #416.

Four and a half: Teenage Franklin struggles heroically to bring Reed home from the Crossroads, realizing he’s never felt closer to his father than at that moment. Little did anyone know it at the time, but this was the last hurrah for teen Franklin. More to the point, it’s his last appearance, as next issue reestablishes kid Franklin as the one and only.

Commercial break: In addition to Silver Surfer guest-starring in this issue, this month’s Bullpen Bulletins page is all about promoting his solo book, notably Silver Surfer #117, which introduced the Legion of Substitute Surfers.

Trivia time: Doom 2099 eventually returned to the year 2099, after successfully escaping his present-day counterpart. He used the rare crab venom to save the Latverian people of 2099, with the side effect being some Latverians transformed into half-human half-crab monsters. The 2099 comics were weird.

In addition to all the 2099 stuff, this issue also takes us to the Crossroads of Infinity, made famous in one of the all-time great Hulk story arcs, from Incredible Hulk #300 to #313.

This issue’s letters page has a note telling readers to be on the lookout for a new villain who is bringing an ONSLAUGHT (in all caps) with him. It has begun.

Fantastic or frightful? Really, this issue and the next are all about clearing the slate and wrapping everything up before the series ends, with a focus on setting things back in place to as like classic Fantastic Four as much as possible. Bringing in Doom 2099 and the Crossroads of Infinity seem like an afterthought.

Next: Gone Frankie Gone.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 49

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! It’s the big happy ending, 1:56:20 to the end of the credits.

We cut from the previous scene’s “Well done!” to the exterior of a castle. There’s some debate here and there among fans as to which castle this is, but a quick comparison to earlier in the movie easily reveals that this is Tir Asleen. The unanswered question is just how much time has passed? It’s assumed that all these people are the ones frozen around Tir Asleen, who have now been unfrozen, and that they’ve cleaned the place up. A whole bunch of folks have gathered around for some sort of ceremony, with Willow and Fin Raziel in the center.

Raziel says, Willow Ufgood, receive this book of magic. You are on your way to becoming a great sorcerer.” There’s a shot of Madmartigan and Sorsha, with Sorsha holding baby Elora Danan. It appears as though the two of them have more or less adopted the baby. A man with a long white beard stands alongside them. I believe this is Sorsha’s father, and that they are now reunited, concluding this deeply-buried subplot. Willow looks through the book of magic, which looks like it’s about to fall apart. The Brownies are here, with Rool saying, “Willow the sorcerer” and Franjean adding, “You make us proud!” Willow gives them a smile and a nod.

Sorsha steps down and holds the baby up to Willow. He says, “Goodbye, Elora Danan.” Madmartigan sneaks up behind Willow, lifts him up, and places him on a size-appropriate Shetland pony, secured just for him. Madmartigan, wearing some sweet Ren-faire brown leathers, shakes Willow’s hands. They don’t say anything, just a knowing nod between them. Franjean is heard saying, “Goodbye, Willow!” Madmartigan gives the horse a gentle whack, and it trots forward. It cuts back to the Brownies, as Rool says “Farewell!” He takes off his mouse-head helmet to reveal he is bald underneath, and Franjean reacts with surprise, as if he didn’t know this. Then there’s a big exterior shot of the whole crowd in front of the castle, now with bright red banners hanging from the castle walls.

Fade to the Nelwyn village, and the recognizable area where the fair was held earlier. In the next shot, Willow reappears on his pony. A Nelwyn farmer spots him and cheers, “Willow! Willow!” Willow responds, “Hello, Regan,” so I guess they’re friends. Regan calls out to the rest of the Nelwyn, “Willow’s back!” In the next shot, Willow is surrounded by Nelwyn, happily cheering his name. Meegosh shows up and waves to Willow, and Willow says, “Hey, Meegosh,” reminding us of him from earlier in the movie. Burglekutt is there, pointedly not smiling and celebrating. The Grand High Aldwin quickly makes it the front of the crowd, putting his hand on Willow’s with a fatherly smile.

Willow takes a green apple out of a pouch and tosses it into the air. Calling back from earlier, the apple transforms into a bird. A little girl’s voice is heard saying, “A bird, he turned it into a bird,” in case we don’t get it, I guess. In yet another callback from earlier, the bird poops on Burglekutt’s face, like the baby barfed on him. The Aldwin gives Willow another knowing look.

Willow then looks out over the crowd. Kiaya and the two kids approach, apparently not noticing the crowd but going about some ordinary business. Willow calls out her name, gets off the pony, and runs over to her. There’s quite a bit of drama as the two of them run at each other, calling their names, before finally embracing and kissing. The kids are next, running over saying “Dada!” and “I missed you!”

Then the camera puls back, taking in the whole crowd surrounding Willow and his family. It pulls back even farther then, taking in this part of the Nelwyn village, and the Nelwyn valley beyond. Then it’s time for the end credits, which play over the image of the valley for a while, until the background goes black. Interesting end credits trivia: Famed comic book artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud is credited as a concept artist. The two on-set nurses both have the first name Nicky. The soundtrack was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, home (sort of) of Beatles!

And then this happened:

In first few pages of Shadow War, the world of Willow as we know it is destroyed by a worldwide cataclysm, killing most of the main characters and leveling most locations from the movie. Willow survives and renames himself “Thorn Drumheller,” transforming into a musclebound Viking type. Teenage Elora Danan eventually fulfills her destiny by leading the war against her true arch-nemesis, the Deceiver. Opinions vary about these books. I’ve read all three, and personally, I felt they were too dreary and downbeat, and not in the fun and adventurous tone of the movie. If the Willow sequel revival ever happens, these three books will likely be erased from continuity.

And that’s it for the Willow rewatch. What should I do with this blog next? Taking suggestions!

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: It’s about freaking time

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #412, Reed decides he’s finally had enough of Namor the Sub-Mariner. I’ve never been a Namor fan, so it’s pretty easy for me side with Reed on this one.

Picking up from the last issue, Sue has been knocked unconscious after the fight with the delusional Black Bolt. Reed and the rest of the FF rush her to the lab at Four Freedoms Plaza. Reed calls a Dr. Clooney to join them. Reed blames Sue’s condition on Nathaniel Richards, saying that Nathaniel pushed Sue too hard when she led the team in Reed’s absence. Clooney orders them to stop fighting, saying Sue needs her rest.

In another part of the lab, Black Bolt is in stasis, until his antenna weapon can be repaired. Reed checks in on Black Bolt, only to be interrupted by Namor, who demands an update about Sue. Reed tells him to stay away from Sue, but Namor won’t listen. In another part of the building, Ben is still struggling with his newfound romantic feelings for Lyja. Lyja, however, still has feelings for Johnny. Johnny flies off to attend a car rally, leaving Lyja and Ben to commiserate about the whole unrequited love thing.

Sue wakes, only to find Namor at her bedside. He tells her he loves her, and he tries to convince her to leave Reed and run away with him. Reed walks in on them and decides he’s had enough. He punches Namor out through the window. Sue tells Reed to take it easy, and that Namor’s just reacting to having recently lost his kingdom. Reed says Namor has crossed a line, and now he’s going to pay. Reed jumps out the window to pursue Namor. Sue tries to stop him with a force field, but she’s still too weak from the Black Bolt fight. All alone, she says, “Oh, Reed… it’s you I love! Only you!”

Out in the streets of New York, Reed and Namor fight. The slugfest includes a lot of classic Mr. Fantastic moves, such as Reed stretching his arms into glider wings, turning himself into a spring, turning himself into a catapult, and wrapping himself around Namor like a big snake.

Back in HQ, Black Bolt becomes destabilized and needs Reed’s genius to help. Ben uses the alien machine he got in issue #405 to temporarily turn himself human again. He says he’ll go look for Reed, but is wracked with terrible pain. In the city, Reed leads Namor to a construction site, where there is less chance of their brawl harming civilians. This includes more classic moves from Reed, such as turning himself into a bouncing ball, and then a big balloon.

Lyja transports Sue to the construction site, in the hopes of stopping the fight. It doesn’t work, as the two guys continue their fight. Reed gives a big speech about his own self-pity, and how he unintentionally kept Sue from reaching her true potential. Reed then does the classic makes-his-fists-gigantic move and beats the crap out of Namor.

Namor is knocked unconscious, and Sue and Reed reconcile. They head back to headquarters to deal with Black Bolt. Lyja stays behind to take are of Namor. Namor awakes, and Lyja tells him she could tell he was faking it, and that he let Reed win the fight. Namor admits to doing so. So it seems like Namor did the right thing, until the last few panels, in which he says this is all part of his plan to eventually win Sue back. He flies off, suggesting that he and the FF are enemies again.

Unstable molecule: In addition to revisiting all his classic fight moves, Reed also does a bit where he turns one of his arms into a fan and blows a “maelstrom” of debris at Namor. Let’s assume he taught himself to do this while living in that cave in Hyperstorm’s timeline.

Fade out: We’re told that Sue’s powers are on the fritz not just because of exertion, but because she’s been tapping into hyperspace to generate her force fields.

Clobberin’ time: This issue makes it clear that Ben is suffering ill effects from his alien machine. Just how far those effects go remain to be seen.

Flame on: What is Johnny doing flying off to a car rally while Sue is gravely injured? Maybe this is just his way of dealing with the stress of it all.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man is put in charge of Black Bolt’s medical stasis device, and is on the verge of panic when Reed’s not there to help. Remember he’s with the FF as an electronics expert, so medical science is outside Ant-Man’s expertise.

Kristoff sits this issue out, unless that’s him and not Ahura standing beside the Inhumans (they’re both little brown-haired kids).

Medusa is here with the rest of the Inhumans. She says she has faith that Reed will save Black Bolt. Reed returns the favor, saying the Inhumans have always been there for the FF. (Have they, though?)

Four and a half: Teenage Franklin is only in a few background panels in this issue. A note in the letters page states that any readers who had a monthly subscription to the cancelled Fantastic Force spinoff will now get a Fantastic Four subscription in its place.

The Alicia problem: During the fight, Lyja shape-shifts into a Barsoomian snow ape to slow down Namor. “Barsoomian” just means “Martian,” right?

Commercial break: Viewer beware, you’re in for a scare.

Trivia time: This Dr. Clooney character has no entry in the Marvel Wiki, so I’m guessing he’s not going to be a major character. The question is, will he ever appear again after this story arc?

Fantastic or frightful? I believe the creators were hoping to pay off the Reed vs. Namor tension created by Reed coming back from the dead, but knowing that that we’re only a few issues away from the big reboot, it feels like this is the payoff to Reed vs. Namor tension that’s been brewing for more than 400 issues. If this one ended with Namor taking a dive for Reed and Sue’s stakes, it would have been great. Those last few panels, though, undoes that. This “nothing has really changed” ending makes this a missed opportunity.

Next: What year is this?

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Seeing green

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re on issue #411 and now that Reed is back from the dead, he’s learning that being alive again is harder than he thought.

We begin with what appears to be young Black Bolt, in either a flashback or a dream, being pursued through a forest by green-skinned monsters. He fights them off his forehead-antenna. We turn the page to discover this is modern-day Black Bolt. He is delusional, and has been fighting Medusa, Karnak, and Ahura.

The newly-reunited Fantastic Four arrive in Colorado aboard their Stealth Hawk ship, and we’re reminded that Gorgon of the Inhumans (who once single-handedly defeated the FF in battle, let’s never forget) explains why he collapsed on the FF’s doorstep last issue. Black Bolt’s antenna was severely damaged during the Atlantis Rising event, and now he’s losing control. Reed says the antenna harnesses free-floating electrons, which he uses for powerful blasts, but also collects energy for Black Bolt’s super-destructive speech.

The FF land in the woods and follow Black Bolt’s trail to a nearby cave. The FF — along with teenage Franklin and Namor, who’s still hanging around — decide to split up. Johnny flies overhead and finds Medusa, Karnak, and Ahura unconscious. Reed encounters Black Bolt in the woods, but Black Bolt is still delusional, believing himself to be a kid, and believing Reed to be another monster. Reed and Gorgon fight Black Bolt, while trying to reason with him.

Back at Four Freedoms Plaza, Nathaniel Richards is planting “transmat receptors” all over the building. He says now that Dr. Doom has retaken control of Latveria, nothing is stopping him from teleporting into the FF’s HQ whenever he wants. Lyja is after answers, asking why Nathaniel once suggested that Kristoff might be his long-lost son, and what secrets Nathaniel knows but won’t reveal about godlike supervillain Hyperstorm. He of course won’t answer, and then ponders another secret, that he secretly has a container of the Inhumans’ terrigen mist. Kristoff and Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie discuss their classmate Donald, who was found covered with bruises. Kristoff wants to force answers out of Donald’s parents, but Cassie says no to threats, saying that Kirstoff might be a genius, but he doesn’t know about his fellow kids.

Back in the fight, Black Bolt holds his own against the FF, as well as his fellow Inhumans. When Namor attacks, Black Bolt punches him through the Hoover Dam (!). It then comes down to Ben versus Black Bolt, with Ben finally managing to knock Black Bolt out. But it’s still not over, as Black Bolt cuts loose with his voice, throwing everyone back.

Sue manages to stop Black Bolt’s voice by cutting off his oxygen with a force field, knocking him out for real this time. The dam, however, is even more damages, already causing flooding. Everyone retreats while Sue stays behind to hold the dam together with her force fields. Once the heroes make it back to the ship, and it’s decided that Namor should go back for Sue, despite Reed’s misgivings.

Namor arrives to rescue Sue just as she passes out from the strain of holding the dam together. The dam collapses, flooding the whole area. At first it looks like they didn’t make it, but Namor and Sue emerge from the water. (Who’d have thought the undersea guy could handle water?) Back aboard the ship, both Black Bolt and Sue are put in stable condition, and Reed is not cool with Namor’s now-obvious obsession with Sue.

Unstable molecule: This issue is all about Reed playing catch-up on everything he missed while he was “dead.” He’s fascinated by all the FF’s new tech, and he’s struggling to get used to Sue leading the team in his place.

Fade out: We see that Sue can use her force fields to block Black Bolt’s destructive voice, but at great strain to herself. This is why she struggles to hold the dam together right afterward.

Clobberin’ time: Ben says Black Bolt was always his favorite sparring partner, suggesting more of a friendship between them than we’ve seen.

Flame on: There’s a page devoted to Johnny pondering his romantic future, with flashbacks of his past girlfriends.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man doesn’t appear, but we learn he’s the one who invented the FF’s new communication headsets.

The scene with Kristoff doesn’t seem like much, but it shows the progression of his character, as he’s trying be both another Dr. Doom and an ordinary pre-teen.

Medusa is back, but doesn’t do much this time except to worry about her husband.

Crystal shows up in Johnny’s parade-of-ex-girlfriends flashback.

Four and a half: Teenage Franklin is barely in this issue, shown running alongside the FF here and there, and is shown using his telepathy to help those who get knocked out during the fight.

The Alicia problem: Lyja acts as Nathaniel’s assistant as a pretense to get info from him, calling back to her Skrull spy training.

Commercial break: The Spider-Man cereal! They tried convincing kids that the rice chex were “webs.”

Trivia time: Colorado has appeared more often than you’d think in the Marvel Universe. Famously, a suburb of Denver was transported to space during the first Secret War, and from that we got Titania, Volcana, and the second Spider-Woman. Molecule Man and Volcana later lived in Colorado for a while. Colorado has also been home to supervillain prison the Vault, Thunderbolts Mountain and War Machine headquarters. It’s the home state of the New Mutants’ Danielle Moonstar.

Fantastic or frightful? In the pre-Wikipedia days, I don’t know how many readers at the time were really invested in the Inhumans’ ongoing story, as it was told not in a comic series of their own, but as they guest-starred in various other characters’ comics. It’s not a bad issue, though, and I’m starting to think writer Tom DeFalco is better at these smaller, more character-based stories than he is at the big sweeping epic stuff.

Next: Super smash dads.

****

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

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