Fantastic Friday: Totally iconic

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The Thing: Freakshow was a four-issue miniseries, part of a Marvel Icons imprint of sorts that gave solo adventures to various characters. This takes place when Ben had the ability to turn human and back, making it (initially) of interest.

Issue #1 begins with a flashback to Ben’s childhood, when he and a buddy sneak into a travelling carnival. They are grossed out by the freakshow and bully a monstrous-looking child. An old fortune teller woman casts a curse on Ben, saying “Cruel child. You will know tears one day.” In the present, the FF are in a parade in NYC, where the crowd still reacts to Ben as if he’s a monster. Nearby, the Wrecking Crew attacks a construction site. The FF save the day, but only Reed, Sue and Johnny are celebrated by the crowd. Ben was hurt by the Wrecker in the attack, so he can’t turn human again until the wound heals. He storms off angrily.

Then there’s some comedy where Ben boards a train for Myrtle Beach, only to get on the wrong train and end up in the countryside, in a small town in Michigan. There, he discovers the same travelling carnival he saw as a kid. That’s when he sees the monster kid from before, who is now grown into Thing-size of his own.

Ben initially wants to leave the carnival, but the monster breaks free of his chains and attacks. (This issue gives him the hugely unfortunate name of “the Accursed Albino,” but his name will later revealed to Istvan, so I’ll call him that.) The fight ends when Ben saves everyone from a crashing Ferris wheel. The carnival-goers celebrate Ben as a hero instead of fearing him, and he becomes a local celebrity in town.

At a diner, they fill up Ben with free food while the carnival ringleader, Paul Balk, chides Ben for not being a real freak because he was not born a monster. Then things get all Twilight Zone-y when the locals don’t know what a phone is or what cows are. Ben wanders off and finds a barn where he discovers the townspeople are Kree aliens in disguise, who have poisoned him. Ben flees back to carnival. Paul Balk reveals he is really Paibok the Power-Skrull in disguise, and that all the cows in town are fellow Skrulls.

Issue three starts with Ben fighting both the Skrulls and the carnival freaks, as Paibok says he now has mind-control powers which he has used to take over the carnival. Because he’s been poisoned, Ben isn’t able to fight at full strength. Then it gets really weird as Ben pukes up a small blue egg, which grows into an alien. Paibok says this is an Evolver, a deadly Kree assassin. The Evolver immediately grows into an adult female warrior Kree named Staak. The rest of the Kree in town drop their disguises and join the fight. Ben wanders off as the Kree and the Skrulls fight it out, hoping to find a way to contact Reed. Ben goes back to town, which is now deserted, and Istvan follows him.

Istvan can speak, and says he remembers Ben as the boy who was mean to him years ago. Ben apologizes, and he and Istvan share some apples for lunch. Ben decides to go back to the Kree barn to investigate what they’re up to. Inside, they learn the Kree are hiding a giant infant Watcher. The Kree have tied the Watcher’s see-everything powers into their computers, giving them a huge tactical advantage. Both the Kree and the Skrulls show up at the barn to fight over the Watcher, and Ben of course declares, “It’s clobberin’ time!”

Issue 4 kicks off with the big fight, where Paibok mind-controls Istvan into attacking Ben. After even more fighting, Istvan comes to his senses. He and the other carnival freaks, also free of Paibok’s mind control, help Ben get the Watcher baby to safety. The Kree and Skrulls attack again and Ben defeats Staak, turning her back into an egg (!). The Kree defeat the Skrulls, sealing Paibok inside a jar. Ben lies and tells the Kree that the Fantastic Four and the Avengers know that they are up to. The Kree believe him and depart. Other Watchers show up to collect the baby, and Ben is furious with them for not getting involved. The Watchers tell Ben they didn’t need to interfere because “the universe can count on beings like you.”

The baby, whose name is Talmadge, further explains that after he was abducted and taken to Earth, he saw Ben and Istvan in Ben’s memories and manipulated events so Ben would come to his rescue. The Watchers leave, and Istvan and the rest of the freaks, now free of their captors, hop a train. Ben feels like this is a victory. But then it rains on him as he makes the long walk back to New York, and he considers, “Things never change.”

Unstable molecule: Reed says he’s never seen the condensed flesh/muscle that’s directly under Ben’s rocky exterior, but we the readers have seen it a bunch of times. Maybe Reed means he hasn’t seen it since Ben got his ability to turn human again.

Fade out: Sue insists the FF participate in the parade, because it is not only good for NYC’s morale, but the morale of the FF as well. It has the opposite effect on Ben, however, making this a rare instance of Sue being completely wrong about something.

Clobberin’ time: Not only does this not explore Ben’s ability to turn human, that power is written out of the story right at the start. Still, these issues gets to the heart of who he is, in how he might look like a monster but he’s a good person at the end of the day.

Flame on: Johnny is running late for the FF’s parade because he’s watching a “swimsuit special” on TV.

Trivia time: This miniseries is the only appearance of Istvan and Talmage. Staak the Evolver will later show up in a group gathering of FF villains in the Fantastic Four: Foes miniseries.

When we last saw Paibok the Power Skrull, he and his buddy Devos the Devastator were believed dead after their spaceship was sucked into subspace. He says alien Centarians gave him his mind-control power, so maybe they’re the ones who saved him? While Paibok was originally described as having the powers of all the X-Men, this miniseries and the Marvel wiki agree that he only has Colossus’ strength, Storm’s lighting, and Iceman’s ice powers. No adamantium for Paibok. He will later return in the Annhilation crossover.

When does this miniseries take place? We’re told the parade is to thank the FF for saving the world after a recent cosmic event. It can’t be the Abraxas storyline, because Sue would have been pregnant with Valeria at the time. Instead, I believe this occurs right after the Inhumans/Hidden Ones story, which had NYC all riled up and could be considered “cosmic” in that the Inhumans left for the moon at the end.

The other characters who got Marvel Icons miniseries were Vision, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Iceman, Tigra, and Chamber. (I question whether Chamber is an “icon.”)

Fantastic or frightful? I like the carnival setting and Ben’s apology and subsequent friendship with Istvan. The story loses something when it becomes Kree/Skrull/Watcher weirdness, because it takes the focus from Ben. Bringing back Paibok of all characters seems especially random. Call this one a mixed bag, I guess.  

Next: Grant application.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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DuckTales rewatch – Magica’s Magic Mirror and Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Rewatching DuckTales! Two stories in one episode? What is this madness?!? Episode 51 is both “Magica’s Magic Mirror” and “Take Me Out of the Ballgame.”

Here’s what happens: In “Magica’s Magic Mirror,” Scrooge and the boys are at the ballgame when a mysterious woman leaves a magic mirror in Scrooge’s hands for safekeeping, saying she’s in danger and pursued by a mystery man. This is all a trick by Magica Dispell, however, in her latest plot to steal Scrooge’s lucky dime. She has an identical mirror, through which she can trick Scrooge and the boys into thinking the mirror can see the future. Through convoluted circumstances, she convinces Scrooge that the only way to save his diamond mines to give his lucky dime to the mystery woman (a.k.a. Magica) from earlier. The nephews figure out what she’s up to by peering into the mirror just a little too long. They then use the mirror to show Scrooge the truth. In an attempt to zap Scrooge, she accidentally zaps herself and teleports herself far away.

Then, in “Take Me Out of the Ballgame,” Huey, Dewey, Louie, Webby, and Doofus are playing in a Junior Woodchucks baseball game. Scrooge is going out of town, so he leaves his butler Duckworth in charge of coaching the kids’ team. Their opponents are the Beagle Brats, with Ma Beagle as their coach. Duckworth’s old-fashioned style of coaching doesn’t mesh well the rough n’ tumble kids way of playing, and the Woodchucks lose their lead. Then the Beagles start cheating, making matters worse. When Doofus breaks his glasses, he manages a home run thanks to Duckworth’s newfound understanding of having the game be fun, rather than prim and proper. The boys win the game, and the home run ball flies so far out of the ballpark that it hits Launchpad in the head as he and Scrooge fly back to town. 

Humbug: It might seem odd that Scrooge would bring his valuable lucky dime to a ballgame, but remember that he almost always keeps it on him, while the dime on display in the mansion is a fake (sometimes).

Junior Woodchucks: In addition to being a Boy Scouts-type organization, the Junior Woodchucks double as the local Little League. That’s quite a racket they’ve got going.

Fasten your seatbelts: One Magica’s predictions is that Launchpad will crash his incoming plane. But isn’t the joke that Launchpad always crashes? (Magica’s plan makes no sense.)

Maid and maiden: Webby is on the boys’ baseball team, using her doll as a catcher’s mitt.

Do the doo: Doofus is able to hit the home run by imagining the ball as a delicious dessert. Sigh…

Fowl fouls: It appears that the Beagle Brats’ names have never been revealed. The Disney wiki states that are “relatives” of the Beagle Boys, suggesting that Ma Beagle is not their actual mom.  

Down in Duckburg: Baseball must be hugely popular in Duckburg, as we see a huge stadium for the pro team, and a smaller ballpark for the kids.

Reference row: The song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer debuted way back in 1908, and has since become one of the most well-known works of music in history. The part we all know is the chorus. The additional verses tell the story of a baseball fan named Katie Casey, who wants nothing more than to go to the ball game and cheer for the boys on the team.

Thoughts on this viewing: An inconsequential slapstick episode, feeling more like two comedy skits rather than either being an engaging story. Amusing, but not essential DuckTales viewing.

Next: Future events such as these will affect you in the future.

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DuckTales rewatch – Duckworth’s Revolt

Rewatching DuckTales! Duckworth goes to space and gets an adventure of his own in episode #50, “Duckworth’s Revolt.”

Here’s what happens: In space, vegetable-based aliens are abducting creatures from all over the galaxy and they set their sights on Earth. On Earth, Scrooge and his butler Duckworth get into a spat after Duckworth says a job well done is more important than money. Scrooge fires him on the spot. As Duckworth prepares to leave, he and Scrooge’s nephews are abducted by the aliens.

The aliens have put their captives to work against their will in a giant garden on board their ship. Duckworth wants to lead his fellow captives in a revolt, and they laugh at him due to his status as a servant. Duckworth continues to plot, however, eventually winning the captives to his side. The aliens take Duckworth aside and tell him that the work in the garden is needed because their homeworld has fallen into an ice age. Duckworth argues that the captives shouldn’t be forced to work against their will.

Duckworth and the boys lead the aliens on a chase through the ship. When it looks like they’re cornered, Duckworth sends a message for the captives to revolt. This time they come around and all fight back. The ship flies out of control during the battle, crashing on a “gourdy green planet.” This world, rich with plantlife, is a new home for the aliens, and everyone learns to get along. Duckworth and the boys return to Earth, where Scrooge apologizes and rehires Duckworth.  

You rang? I haven’t written about Duckworth on this blog, but he has been part of the show since the start, never affecting the plot but always on hand for a droll wisecrack. If the Disney wiki is to be believed, Duckworth has no origin or backstory, all we really know about him is that he’s Scrooge’s lifelong butler, chauffer, and jack-of-all-trades.

Humbug: My thesis is that series-long arc of DuckTales is Scrooge learning his family is more important than his money. In this episode, he fires Duckworth due to his love of money, but he doesn’t quite dial back on that.

Junior Woodchucks: While Duckworth tries to reason with his alien captors, Huey, Dewey and Louie are more about action. They press buttons randomly to cause chaos (something they say they learned from Launchpad) and the lead the aliens on a chase in these cool space-cars.

Down in Duckburg: When Duckworth returns to Earth, he appears at a bus stop next to perpetual tourist Vacation Van Honk, who by this point was clearly a beloved background extra for the animators.

Reference row: Look closely and you can see one alien is totally E.T. from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Thoughts upon this viewing: I guess the characters are so used to meeting aliens by this point that they take this space adventure in stride. It’s a really simplistic plot with equally simplistic themes, but it’s always fun when the show expands its ensemble like this.

Next: Two-for-one.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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Fantastic Friday: Thick skinned

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The manga-themed stylings of Adam Warren and Keron Grant comes to and end in vol. 3 #59 legacy 488. And it’s not the only aspect of the series coming to an end.

Recap: A bunch of other Things have started growing out of Ben, at such a fast rate they will overcome the Earth if not stopped. Reed sent Ben and the other Things off to a temporary pocket universe that will only last eight hours. While Reed and the other FF work to find a cure, Ben fights his so-called “skin-spawn” which are animalistic versions of himself. He was then rescued at the last minute by even more Thing clones who are intelligent and on his side.

At the Baxter Building, Reed has built a device based on help he got from all the Reeds from other universes. He explains that the device will create “virtual time” that can create an “altered emulation of time’s passage.” With this, he says he will be able to see what Ben’s rocky skin will evolve into in thousands of years. In the pocket universe, Ben and one of the good Things fight a bunch of monstrous Things. To keep more “skin-spawn” from coming off of him, Ben transforms back into a human (remember he can do that during this time). The good Thing says he and the others don’t like seeing him like that.

The other good Things are doing the trick of compacting metal into highly-compact swords, able to defeat (kill?) the monstrous things. Reed’s future-predicting television, which followed Ben into the pocket universe, is now reporting on Ben’s upcoming death. A horde of monstrous Things march toward them. Their leader is lucid enough to explain that they all hate Ben for his newfound ability to turn human. A big fight breaks out, with the monstrous Things also learning how to use the super-condensed metal.

Reed’s device reveals a hyper-intelligent evolution of Ben’s skin from thousands of years in the future. He hopes to communicate with it. In the pocket universe, Ben leads the other good Things in battle with a combined cheer of “It’s clobberin’ time!” The battle goes well at first, but then the monster Things kill all the good ones, until Ben is the only one left standing. As he fights the other Things, Ben argues that he is not a Hulk-like monster destroying everything in sight. Instead, that’s what his enemies do. The monster Things’ leader says that every time Ben transforms into a human, he and the others cease to exist, which is a nightmare to them.

On Earth, Reed activates his device, and Ben and the other Things are teleported to the Baxter Building. Reed, Sue and Johnny join the fight, until the hyper-intelligent Thing skin from the future destroys the other Things. Reed explains that it can control its own molecular form, which includes its ancestral forms as well. The future-Thing-skin disappears, and Reed explains that every time Ben turned human, his rocky shell reverted a virtual state, which acted as a catalyst for his skin’s replicative and mutative processes. The only way to stop this from happening was to remove Ben’s ability to turn human. Upon hearing this, Ben simply says “What?” and the issue ends.

Unstable molecule: Reed has sent the others in the Congress of Reeds on their way, and he’s back on his own in this issue.

Fade out: Sue is back to doting over the baby and just asking the occasional question of Reed, while Reed is the only one who gets to communicate with the strange being from the distant future. Are we just forgetting that Sue communed with a Celestial back in vol. 1 #400?

Clobberin’ time: Can we figure out how this happened? Ben gained the power to transform into a human after a fight with the Grey Gargoyle, because people turned to stone by G.G. eventually turn human again. But Grey Gargoyle got his powers from a chemistry accident, so where’d all this temporal “skin-spawn” stuff come from. I think the answer comes from a few panels where the future-Thing-skin-thing blasts the monster Things with what looks like the cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers back in issue #1. I think we can assume the skin-spawn originated more from the cosmic rays rather than from the Grey Gargoyle.

Flame on: At the start of the fight, Johnny cried out, “Flame extra on!” My guess he’s trying to sound cool, and this doesn’t relate to how his powers actually work.

Our gal Val: Sue keeps hold of baby Valeria during the fight, telling the baby, “It’s only a game.”

Commercial break: I love that they included the Spider-Buggy as a game piece.

Trivia time: Years later, in Johnathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four, Hickman made some waves among FF fans by establishing that Ben is immortal, and he will never age so long as he is in his rocky body. This issue, however, beats Hickman to the punch by depicting a version of Ben still alive thousands of years in the future.

Someone in this issue’s letter column asks whatever happened to Bounty, the interdimensional bounty hunter and potential love interest for Ben. Assistant Editor Mark Sumerak responds, saying Bounty returned to space in search of (what else?) new bounties.

Fantastic or frightful? This three-issue arc was done just to remove Ben’s ability to turn human, a bit of clearing off the table so the new creative team can start fresh. I suppose it’s good that they devoted an entire story to it rather than just tossing it in at the end of whatever big crossover event was happening this month (that would be Weapon X: The Draft). But Ben’s human side was never explored at this time like it could have been. We had one moment several issues back where Ben was the normal one and Johnny’s out-of-control powers made him the monster of the team. This was just a panels’ worth of character-building, and that was it.

Next: Carnivale.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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DuckTales rewatch – Luck O’ The Ducks

Rewatching DuckTales! Let’s go back to Ireland and get totally sloshed on Guinness while we watch episode 49, “Luck O’ The Ducks.”

Here’s what happens: Scrooge receives a shipment of linen from Ireland, which he plans to sell at high prices. Inside the box is… a leprechaun. The little guy takes a liking to all the gold in Scrooge’s vault, leading through a wild chase first through the money bin then around town. After saving the leprechaun from danger at a construction site, the leprechaun introduces himself as Fadoragh. Scrooge doesn’t like the thieving little guy, but Webby takes a liking to him. Fadoragh wants to return to Ireland, and he lets slip that whoever rescues him gets one wish granted. Scrooge and company travel to Ireland, where Scrooge hopes to get his wish.

Fadoragh takes everyone to meet King Brian, described as richest monarch in the world. Scrooge isn’t convinced this is true, but is impressed with Brian’s riches. Brian is revealed to be a fellow leprechaun, and he and the rest of the leprechauns abduct our heroes on charges of thievery and threaten to feed them to snakes. Brian changes his mind at the last minute, and invites Scrooge and family to a banquet.

Scrooge reveals his wish: He wants King Brian’s fortune. Brian and Fadoragh conspire to get Scrooge to change his mind. Webby keeps insisting that Fadoragh is her friend, but Scrooge insists the leprechaun is a liar and thief. Later that night, everyone is visited by ghosts warning them to leave Ireland. The next morning, Scrooge is insistent on being taken to the king’s golden cavern. Fadoragh and the other leprechauns plot to trap Scrooge inside the cavern. Fadoragh tricks Webby into disguising the entrance to the cavern for her, and then he blocks the entrance to the cavern with a boulder. If Webby hadn’t disguised it, Scrooge would have been crushed by the boulder. Scrooge decides to grant Webby a wish, and she says she wans Fadoragh to stay with them all summer.

Humbug: The episode’s conclusion wants us to think Scrooge has learned some lesson, but his wish is never undone. I don’t see what’s stopping him from going back later with a construction crew (the one from the start of the episode, maybe?), moving that boulder and taking the king’s treasure.

Junior Woodchucks: In an earlier episode, Huey, Dewey and Louie were unable to swim through money like Scrooge does. In this one, however, they swim through the cash just as skillfully as he does. I guess this is character development.

Fasten your seatbelts: Launchpad gets into the Irish vibe in a big way, first by flying a green-painted airplane, and then by wearing full-on leprechaun clothes throughout the episode.

Maid and maiden: Webby’s sole reason for trusting the obviously duplicitous is because he’s little, just like her. Webby doesn’t appear to learn any lesson from this.

Foul fowls: King Brin would seem to be the villain, what with the whole snake-pit thing, but really Fadoragh is the antagonist, constantly screwing with the other characters for his own gain. The two ghosts are really cool.

Down in Duckburg: All we see of downtown Duckburg is one construction site. Scrooge and his family walk right into the place with no one stopping him, suggesting that this is one of his properties.

Reference row: I didn’t get anywhere searching for the origins of the leprechaun myth. Seems like they’ve just always been around. This episode, however, specifically calls back to the wish-granting leprechauns of Disney’s own Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) based on the novel by Herminie Templeton Kavanaugh.

Thoughts upon this viewing: A mixed bag. There’s some amusing slapstick, and we get little Indiana Jones-style action with the ghosts and underground caverns. But the plot is all over the place, and the attempts at a moral are wholly unearned. Fadoragh the leprechaun is supposed to be lovable, but he remains a selfish creep from beginning to end. Is this what I’ll be saying about Scrooge once the series ends?

Next: You rang?

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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Fantastic Friday: Is that a universe in your pocket?

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Hope you like rock monsters fighting each other, because that’s what you’ve got in vol. 3 #58 legacy 487.

Recap: Ben has spontaneously started producing “skin-spawn,” a bunch of monstrous, volatile clones of himself, that are multiplying by the hundreds. Reed shuffled Ben and his clones off into a pocket universe that will only last eight hours. Reed hopes to find a cure for Ben during that time. If he can’t, the skin-spawn will return and overwhelm the Earth.

We begin in NYC, where Sue and Johnny are on the phone, trying and failing to contact the Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Dr. Strange, and the Inhumans for help. In the other universe, the skin-spawn (I really dislike the phrase “skin-spawn”) take a moment from raging to adorn themselves with war paint, then they pursue Ben through the abandoned Skrull city that happens to be there. Ben comes up with the idea of crunching up a car into a tiny ball, with the idea being that all six tons are compressed to such a weight that it will penetrate the clones’ skin. Also, Ben has Reed’s future-predicting television with him (the TV can fly around, apparently) and it warns him that the weapon will not work. This does, however, set up a pun for Ben to say, “It’s compactin’ time!”

At the Baxter Building, Sue and Johnny check in with Reed, only for his to only partially remember them. He then lets them in on what’s up to. He’s contacted a bunch of other Reeds from other universes, with them all brainstorming possible solutions. Sue names this a “congress of Reeds,” but Johnny has his own name for it, a “boatload of Reeds.”

In the pocket universe, the clones attack Ben, and he fights them off with the condensed metal balls. It seems to work at first, until a Rhino-like Thing knocks down the building they’re all in. Then Ben is surrounded, and all the clones beat the crap out of him.

One of the clones gets ahold of the compacted balls and is about to kill Ben with it, when someone else throws a ball from the side, beheading the clone (!) and saving Ben. Turns out not all the clones are monstrous, and that some of them are intelligent and on Ben’s side. There’s also a baby one, who keeps repeating “idol o’ millions… idol o’ millions…” The good Thing clone says there are only a handful of good things against a boatload of evil ones, and he suggests everyone group up for a climactic showdown.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: You might have heard Fantastic Four fans over the years refer to the “Council of Reeds” storyline. That’s NOT this issue. We won’t meet the Council of Reeds until later. This issue’s group of alt-timeline Reeds is not the Council, but the Congress of Reeds.

Fade out: Sue tends to the baby while also working the phone trying to contact her fellow superheroes. She has a wireless phone with a headset, while Johnny has yet to cut the cord on his landline.

Clobberin’ time: On this issue’s letters page, there’s an illustration of differently-colored Things in place of the letters. Why?

Flame on: Reed says Johnny is male in most other universes, although a red-headed girl on one of Reed’s screens says “Me as a guy? Oh, yuck!” upon seeing Johnny.

Our gal Val: Baby Valeria is wearing a blue-and-white FF uniform of her own, complete with little white gloves and boots.

Commercial break: These “Mini-Marvels” comic strips were all over Marvel during this time, written and drawn by Chris Giarrusso. This one seems to be a cross-promotion between Marvel and startup site Perpetual Comics. Perpetual Comics doesn’t appear to exist anymore, but Giarrusso is still in comics, currently publishing his creator-owned series G-Man.  

Trivia time: What were the other heroes up to this month that they couldn’t come to the FF’s rescue?

– The Avengers were under investigation by the Maria Stark Foundation after the damage caused during their recent fight with supervillains the Elements of Doom.

– Dr. Strange was in space for the Infinity Abyss crossover, where he and a bunch of other Marvel heroes confronted clones of Thanos, called the Thanosi.

– Thor was right there in New York, searching for evil Viking warrior Thialfi and preventing a nuclear missile from destroying the U.N. Building.

– Iron Man was abducted by a villain named Ty Stone, who hooked up Iron Man to something called the “Dreamvision System.” Tony spent most of the issue confronting his personal demons in a hallucinatory landscape. (Looks like writer Mark Grell was trying to turn Iron Man into Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.)

– The Inhumans didn’t appear at all this month, so we have no idea why they didn’t answer Sue and Johnny’s calls.

Fantastic or frightful? This is mostly a big fight between Ben and all the other Things. This business about the compacted metal balls gives the fight some interesting dimension, so it’s more than just punching. I wonder if the Congress of Reeds is a first draft for the upcoming Council story, but we’ll see. I think Adam Warren’s three issues are likely best read in one sitting, because that’s where it’ll feel like one complete story.

Next: Back to rocky basics.

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DuckTales rewatch – Double-O-Duck

Rewatching DuckTales! Launchpad is both shaken and stirred in episode 48, “Double-O-Duck.”

Here’s what happens: We meet Bruno Von Beak, an international spy, as he dodges a bunch of goons at the airport. In Duckburg, Launchpad is abducted by rival spies working for J. Gander Hoover of the D.I.A. (Duckburg Intelligence Agency). Bruno has been arrested and revealed as a double agent. Launchpad bears a striking resemblance to Bruno, so he’s recruited to impersonate Bruno to infiltrate F.O.W.L. (the Foreign Organization for World Larceny) to root out its leader, Dr. Nogood. All this plot happens during the episode’s first two minutes.

From there, it’s a Bond movie. Gyro is here, working in the “Q” role under the codename “G.” His gadgets include a wig gun, a comb phone, elevator shoes, a bowtie camera, and of course a high-tech car. Launchpad travels the globe, bumbling his way through various spy encounters. He eventually meets Feathers Galore, a lounge singer and spy informant. Feathers and Bruno were once an item, but Launchpad has trouble romancing her.

Then Feathers is revealed to also be a double agent, secretly working for Dr. Nogood. She aims to murder Launchpad, who eventually escapes after a lengthy chase. He later catches up with Feathers and follows her to F.O.W.L.’s secret hideout, hidden inside a deli. Dr. Nogood’s plan is to use “money ink vanisher” to wreak havoc on the world’s money supply. Launchpad is caught and revealed to be not the real Bruno. Nogood traps Lauchpad in a lion pen (!) alongside Feathers, who is being punished for letting Launchpad escape.

Launchpad uses the elevator shoes to free himself and Feathers. Nogood’s henchman, Oddduck, pursues them. Feathers is now on Launchpad’s side, and she helps him contact the D.I.A. Troops are sent in to stop Dr. Nogood’s plan. Nogood tries to escape, only to run into Launchpad and Feathers. They chase him into the lab with the vanishing ink. Launchpad uses the flash on his camera to distract Nogood, and Feathers karate-kicks him into the ink. (And this… kills him?) Later, Hoover offers Launchpad a full-time job with the D.I.A., but Launchpad says the spy game is not for him. Feathers wants to stay with Launchpad, but it’s the Casablanca ending where he says her heart belongs not to him but to the real Bruno.

Humbug: Scrooge is Launchpad’s one phone call after Launchpad is arrested. For as much as Scrooge claims not to like Launchpad, he shows up in person to help Launchpad out with the D.I.A.

Fasten your seatbelts: According to unsubstantiated internet rumors, this episode is a stealth pilot for a Launchpad spin-off series, which would have been less of an Indiana Jones pastiche, and more of a secret agent and/or superhero-themed series. Many years later, this concept became Darkwing Duck, where concepts like F.O.W.L. and the D.I.A. reappeared but were heavily re-written.

Great gadgeteer: Gyro says he works for the D.I.A. because working solely for Scrooge doesn’t pay all his bills. Pay your people a fair wage, Scrooge!

Fowl fouls: Dr. Nogood is named after Dr. No, he’s patterned after Blofeld (complete with cat) and his plot is straight from Goldfinger. It’s Bond villain stew.

Down in Duckburg: The existence of a Duckburg Intelligence Agency suggests that Duckburg is not a city but… its own nation? Maybe each local Intelligence Agency branch adopts the name of its hometown.

On a map, we can see Duckburg is located in the southeast, somewhere around West Virginia. According to the Disney Wiki, though, Duckburg is canonically located in the state of “Calisota.”

Reference row: This one runs down the tropes of the James Bond series, most prominently 1964’s Goldfinger. Real-life lawman J. Edgar Hoover and the movie Casablanca are also referenced.

Thoughts upon this viewing: If you’ve seen a Bond parody, then you’ve pretty much seen this, but there are a few gags. I know this is a show for kids, but it’s odd how Launchpad is not a romantic lead but remains flustered and intimidated by the love interest throughout. So, this is a basic episode, but with some good bits.

Next: Guiness, anyone?

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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Fantastic Friday: A thing for manga

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The series get a little anime flair in vol. 3 #57 legacy #486, and we’ve got Things all over the place.

The revolving door creative teams of this era continues to revolve, as now we get Adam Warren writing with Keron Grant on pencils. Warren was a big deal at the time thanks to his edgy, sexy anime-style artwork. He was most well-known for The Dirty Pair and Bubblegum Crisis: Grand Mal for Dark Horse, and Livewires at Marvel. He has since written and drawn Empowered since 2007. Grant comes to Fantastic Four from Rob Liefeld’s Awesome Comics group, and he went on to draw New Mutants and Marvel Mangaverse for Marvel, and Son of Vulcan and Young Justice for DC. I suspect that Grant is drawing this issue based on Warren’s drawn thumbnails, but I cannot prove that.

We begin with Ben and Reed pulling an all-nighter in Reed’s lab, where Reed is constructing a prototype pocket universe generator. Ben’s been up all night, and he greets the rest of the family as they gather for breakfast. Ben sits in his favorite recliner to watch some TV, except this is Reed’s special future-predicting television. He sees an image of cheering multitudes erecting a statue in his honor.

Ben falls asleep while Reed continues to work in the lab. Ben wakes, only to find himself surrounded by other Things, each one slightly different from him. The other things speak only in Ben’s catch phrases as they smash up the place. Ben discovers these weird growths all over himself, and the other Things are growing out of him. He says they are distorted replications of Ben’s physical structure. Reed insists he transform back into a human (remember that Ben can do that during this time).

The other Things regroup and attack. They temporarily knock Reed out, so Ben turns back into the Thing to fight them. Reed rushes to the lab and retrieves the temporary pocket universe generator. He says it will activate a test universe that is finite in size and duration, lasting only eight hours. Reed tells Ben to avoid the other Things while in the other universe. Ben activates the device, taking a huge chunk of the new Baxter Building with him. Reed explains the plot a second time to Sue and Johnny, saying he has eight hours to find out what’s wrong with Ben and save him. If he can’t the Earth will be swarmed with endlessly self-replicating Things.

Ben arrives in the temporary universe, which has taken the form of an abandoned Skrull city. The future-predicting TV is there as well, and it tells him that the other Things will eventually return to Earth after killing Ben. Ben faces off against all the other things, who say to him, “It’s clobberin’ time!”

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Lots of new Reed Richards inventions in this one. In addition to the temporary universe creator and the future-predicting TV, there’s also a special recliner made to support Ben’s weight, and a food replicator-like thing that produces a summer ale for Ben and a genetically-engineered hyper-caffeinated coffee for himself.

Fade out: Sue is back in full-on mom mode, seen only when taking care of the baby.

Clobberin’ time: The catch phrases spouted by the other Things include, “I’ll pulverize the bum,” “Sheesh,” “What a revoltin’ development,” “Blasted,” “Rotten creep,” “Crummy,” “Gangway,” “Sunday punch,” “Knuckle sammich,” “Aunt Petunia,” and of course, “It’s clobberin’ time.”

Flame on: Johnny asks how the super-strong and nearly invulnerable Ben can get tired after being awake for 24 hours. That’s a good question.

Our gal Val: Baby Valeria is described as being very feisty.

Commercial break: Not cool, Cable.

Trivia time: The letters page halfheartedly announces that this was “Thing Month” at Marvel, with the publication of this issue, the Thing/She-Hulk: The Long Night one-shot and the Thing: Freakshow miniseries all coming out this month.

Fantastic or frightful: Basically, this whole issue is just a setup for the big cliffhanger, but that’s all right. Adam Warren brings that over-the-top anime sensibility to this, with crazy technology, silly humor, and big stylized action.

Next: Congress is in session.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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DuckTales rewatch – Scroogerello

Rewatching DuckTales! The snake eats its own tail when Disney spoofs Disney in episode 47, “Scroogerello.”

Here’s what happens: Scrooge has the flu, and his family insists that he spend the day in bed. This just makes him more miserable. Webby tries cheering him up by reading him the story of Cinderella. Scrooge falls asleep and dreams he is “Scroogerello,” with Glomgold as his wicked stepfather and the Beagle Boys as his wicked stepbrothers. The villains plot to swindle a fortune from Princess Goldie at the royal ball, and Scrooge hopes to stop them.

Scrooge gets locked up in the castle dungeon along with Huey, Dewey, and Louie, who are meager servants. Mrs. Beakeley appears as a fairy godmother, transforming Scrooge into a gold-clad prince. At the ball, Princess Goldie is being wooed by a long list of suitors. Scrooge appears, and he and Goldie start to hit it off, but then the Beagle Boys abduct her.

Scrooge pursues the Beagle Boys, but the clock strikes midnight and he loses all his magical wealth. Then we lose the narrative somewhat as Launchpad appears in the form of a frog (!) whose castle was overthrown by the Beagle Boys. He and Scrooge agree to work together as everyone is chased through the hedge maze outside the castle. Then there’s more running around as the Beagle Boys are transformed into bullfrogs, as in half-bull, half-frog.

Goldie is freed, but only finds Scrooge’s top hat left behind. Then it’s the Cinderella’s glass slipper gag, but with the top hat in place of the slipper. She tries the hat on Scrooge, and they are reunited. Then the Beagle Boys return, and it looks like they’re about to break up Scrooge and Goldie. Scrooge then wakes from his dream, feeling better, and being kinder to his family.

Humbug: My thesis is that the series-long arc about DuckTales is Scrooge learning his family is more important than his money. In this episode, he’s a jerk to everyone else at first, but then kind and appreciative to them by the end.

Junior woodchucks: The three nephews are put to work polishing shoes in the dungeon. Later, the fairy godmother’s magic later transforms their car into one made of giant chocolate chip cookies for reasons I can’t determine.

Fasten your seatbelts: They begin a whole subplot about Launchpad’s character with him being hexed by a witch and then overthrown from his castle, but this is never followed up on.

Maid and maiden: We’re told that all the fairy magic wears off at midnight, but then Webby’s fairy-godmother-in-training character makes all kinds of crazy magic happen inside the hedge maze, none of which seems to have anything to do with the plot.

All that glitters: Although Scrooge and Glittering Goldie hadn’t seen each other in years before they were reunited, and haven’t seen each other since then, she remains prominent in his dreams.

Great gadgeteer: Gyro appears in Scrooge’s dream as the king and Goldie’s father, with a crown adorned with propellers.

Foul fowls: The Beagle Boys in this one are Big Time, Burger, and Bugle. The episode mistakenly refers to Bugle as Bebop Beagle. We can explain this way by having it all be a dream.

Down in Duckburg: The mansion’s dining room has been redesigned to have giant picture windows along one wall, which Scrooge almost walks out of while delirious with the flu. Also this means the dining room is on an upper floor. Perhaps there’s more than one dining room.  

Reference row: The origins of the story of Cinderella are murky, with some historians arguing that it can be traced back to ancient Greece. It was popularized in the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, first published in 1812, but this episode is all about spoofing Walt Disney’s film version, which opened on Valentine’s Day weekend (!) in 1950.  

Thoughts upon this viewing: I have nothing against a dream episode or a fairy tale parody episode, but the meandering storyline full of narrative dead ends kills the whole thing. This is the weakest episode so far.

Next: Shaken, not stirred.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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Fantastic Friday: In the Yancy heights

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Writer Karl Kesel only solo wrote two issues of FF, but in vol. 3 #56, legacy #485, but he certainly made his mark on FF history.

We begin with a man wandering the streets of NYC and ending up in a bad neighborhood, where he encounters the Thing. Ben chases him off, saying, “In this part of town, some things aren’t so nice.” Turn the page and we see this little drama has been playing out on Yancy Street.

As Ben wanders down the street alone, we cut to flashback, where child Ben is in trouble with local shopkeeper Mr. Sheckerberg, who has caught Ben throwing rocks at windows. Ben’s older brother Daniel tries to bribe Sheckerberg, but Sheckerberg won’t have it. Ben agrees to work weekends to pay for the damage. Then it’s a second flashback, where Ben comes across Daniel on the sidewalk just after Daniel had been in a fight. He says he was fighting to protect to Yancy Street neighborhood. Ben says he wished they lived somewhere else, and he points to the stars above. The third flashback has a cop telling Ben and his mother “sorry for your loss,” and that Daniel is in “a better place.”

Then the next flashback, where Ben is again on the run from Mr. Sheckerberg, after having stolen a Star of David necklace from Sheckerberg’s pawn shop. This was Ben’s initiation into the Yancy Street Gang. Back in the present, grown-up Ben, as the Thing, returns to the pawn shop, and Sheckerberg is still there. Ben is just there to say hello, but Sheckerberg says he’s been getting threatening letters and phone calls, and he thinks the Yancy Street Gang has something to do with it. Ben promises to investigate.

Cut to another flashback, where teenage Ben is now leader of the Yancy Street Gang, but others have all voted him out of the gang, because Ben is leaving town to live with his uncle the doctor and pursue training as a pilot. In classic Yancy Street fashion, they dump garbage all over him. In the present, they again dump garbage on him. They also shoot him with paintballs, hit him with a stink bomb, and blast him with a fire hose.

A humiliated Ben returns to the pawn shop, where a mystery man is holding Mr. Sheckerberg hostage, saying he’s the one behind the threats, not the Yancy Street Gang. There’s a fight, and the man is revealed to be the supervillain Powderkeg, who creates explosions with his “explosive aura.” Mr. Sheckerberg is injured by one of Powderkeg’s blasts, so the Yancy Street Gang joins the fight by pulling all their pranks on Powderkeg. This gives Ben the chance to take the villain out with a big punch.

Ben returns to Sheckerberg, who is unconscious. Ben wants to help, but, despite all his strength, he is unable to. Then, he realizes there’s something he can do. He stands over Sheckerberg and recites a Jewish prayer. Sheckerberg comes to, and he’s just fine even though he was just in an explosion. He chides Ben for being a celebrity all these years and never telling the public he’s Jewish. Ben says it’s not something he’s purposefully hidden, just something he doesn’t talk about much. He then tells Ben that Ben deserves all the harassment the Yancy Street Gang gave him over the years because he left the neighborhood and they didn’t.

Ben then reveals that he was there that night to return the stolen Star of David necklace from all those years ago. Sheckerberg tells him to keep it. Sheckerberg tells him to keep the necklace. Ben says he’s not ready to start going to Temple again. Sheckerberg says that’s okay, but he does expect Ben to clean up the mess made of the pawn shop. The cops and the paramedics arrive. As Ben hands Powderkeg over to the police, the issue ends when Powderkeg does a “You don’t look Jewish” joke.

Unstable molecule: The “4” emblem on Ben’s belt has a hidden compartment in it, in place of pockets. This is some Batman utility belt action right here.

Clobberin’ time: After many years of fans speculating on whether Ben is Jewish, mostly because his personality is loosely based on his co-creator, artist Jack Kirby, this is the issue that makes it canonical. Now that this is done, expect more stories about this aspect of Ben’s history and personality from here on.

Commercial break: I don’t remember this episode of The Twilight Zone.

Trivia time: The full story of Daniel Grimm’s death and Ben leaving Yancy Street was told in The Thing #1.

The prayer that Ben recites for Mr. Sheckerberg is called the Shema. According to Wikipedia, it’s something of a centerpiece for various prayer services. There appears to be many variations of it, but from what I could find, the Jewish Virtual Library website has a translation closest to what Ben is saying: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one,” followed by, “Blessed is the name of his glorious majesty forever and ever.”

This is the first appearance of Mr. Sheckerberg, who will go on to have other appearances as Ben’s old friend.

Other Marvel Jewish characters include (but are not limited to) Kitty Pryde, Magneto, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Polaris, Moon Knight. Across the street at DC, Harley Quinn, the Kate Kane Batwoman, and Colossal Boy are Jewish.  

Who’s this Powderkeg guy? He was originally a rival for the Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel, and later fought Iron Man and the whole Avengers. His big thing seems to be escaping from super-prison the Vault. Seems like whenever have those scenes of a bunch of villains escaping the Vault at once, Powderkeg is usually there, escaping alongside them.

Fantastic or frightful? I’m on the outside looking in, but to my outsider’s eyes this would appear to be a tasteful enough story, and one that’s a nice look at Ben’s internal character. If nothing else, it changed the way we all look at Ben moving forward.

Next: Manga or not?

* * * *

Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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