Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 38

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! The battle of Tir Asleen concludes with an exploding dragon head and some romance, 1:32:44 to 1:35:15 on the Blu-ray.

In some impressive combining of a live person and a stop motion effect, Madmartigan lands on the back of the Eborsisk, riding it bucking bronco-style. Willow watches from the bridge. In subsequent shots, the actor/stuntman is replaced with a stop-motion Madmartigan. That door that Willow has been trying to get into this whole time finally opens from the other side, with NockMaar soldiers behind it. One of the them spots the baby and says, “the baby!” Willow runs at them with the sword Madmartigan gave him, forcing both men into the door, and then down some stairs, in what could only be the lower floor of this building. General Kael rides his horse right in through the door, and we see Willow on the floor with the two men, apparently having fallen down the stairs as well. Even though he’s encountered Kael a few times by now, Willow’s eyes widen upon seeing him.

Back outside there are several quick shots of the NockMaar firing arrows at the Eborsisk, with Madmartigan still flailing about on the back of one of its two heads. Then another shot of Sorsha looking at Madmartigan with wonder instead of fierceness. We see Madmartigan stab his sword in the back of the Eborsisk’s head, only for the blade to go through the head and out through under its chin. It seems as though the monster’s head is too big for this, but maybe baby Elora Danan is helping things along with magic. Madmartigan jumps off the Eborsisk and hits the ground with a roll. He looks up at it. Sorsha walks up to him, holding her cool serrated sword. They stare at each other for a second. Then she grabs the leather strap on the front of his armor, pulls him up to his feet (she’s strong!) and they kiss. The music swells, and they look into each other’s eyes following the kiss. Then they’re distracted by the Eborsisk thrashing about.

What happens next happens awfully quick. The bulge under Eborsisk’s chin swells, and as soon we register this, it’s head explodes. Fire and gore fill the entire screen. The camera pulls back to reveal one head is now a gooey stump, while the other head roars in pain. Both heads fall, landing right in front of a Nockmaar on horseback. Clearly what has happened is that the sword blocked the fire building up inside the NockMaar, so the pressure built up until it burst. What’s interesting here is that the action doesn’t stop to explain all this. The filmmakers trust that the audience will figure it out on our own. There’s another wide shot of the entire courtyard, showing the Eborsisk is now defeated. Because this is an over-the-top battle scene, they go ahead and add a man on fire running through the scene.

Then there’s a short scene in which a NockMaar on foot says to two on horseback, “Airk’s army! Get Kael!” No clue who these characters are, but clearly they represent some form of leadership, perhaps right under Kael and Sorsha. Then there’s a shot to outside the castle of the Galladoorn army charging ahead on horseback. This shot is7 framed on either side by parts of the structure, as if we’re looking through a window. In the next shot, there is Airk, leading the charge in gold and brown army, with his crew riding behind him in matching brown leather uniforms and red flags. The movie doesn’t really say what led to Airk’s change of heart, or how he was able to rally the troops like this, but I believe we’re meant to think that Airk’s previous encounter with Madmartigan changed his mind about riding to Tir Asleen. Then we see the Brownies, Franjean and Rool, inside a pouch on one of the horse’s saddles. Franjean says “We are here!” and Rool adds, “You are rescued!” Then they yell “Charge!” in unison.

Kael rides back into the courtyard holding a bundle of blankets meant to be Elora Danan. This pulls a lot of first-time viewers out of movie, because there’s no way that bundle of blankets has a baby in it. Kael makes a growling noise, and then sees Sorsha and Madmarigan fighting side by side against some NockMaar. There’s a close-up shot of the baby crying, so we know that is supposed to be here in his hands, and then Kael rides off. He and the surviving NockMaar have apparently regrouped in the last few seconds, because they now lead a charge of their own, riding straight at the Galladoorn. “No mercy!” Kael says. Kael easy slices and dices his way through the Galladoorn, revealing that the Galladoorn troops aren’t that many guys after all. Kael cuts through their line and continues to ride forward with another battle cry.

Back inside the castle walls, Willow emerges with action-hero blood on his forehead, calling “Elora!” Madmartign and Sorsha run over to him as he collapses. Willow breaks down in tears saying, “Elora is gone. They’ve taken here. There were too many of them.” Warwick Davis’ acting here is heartbreaking, but the score starts getting light and heroic right away. Madmartigan’s not having these tears. He says, “Willow, can you ride?” Willow looks up at him, and Madmartigan says “Let’s ride.”

Next: Why not try a holiday in NockMaar this year?

****

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Fantastic Friday: Who watches the watchmen who watch the other watchmen?

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #397 has Dr. Doom (but not really) the Watcher (but not really) and the return of Reed (but not really).

We begin with some comedy antics of Johnny flying through an airport hoping to make it to his flight on time. All while recapping how he saw the mysterious apparition of Sue warning the FF danger. Lyja the Skrull is following him, having shape-changed into a piece of luggage.

Johnny arrives at FF headquarters, where Ben and Ant-Man are fixing up the FF’s Stealth Hawk ship, making it look even more like the Enterprise. They’ve apparently already compared notes, getting down to business about trying to locate Sue. Then the Watcher appears before them. He says a Skrull warship is approaching the Earth and he insists the heroes leave Earth immediately to stop it. Ben doesn’t believe him, though, saying that the Watcher went into self-imposed exile back in issue #392. When he asks why the Watcher changed his mind, the Watcher shows a rare moment of weakness and says, “I have apparently underestimated you.”

The Watcher then attacks, unleashing his comic powers on the FF. Ben and Johnny fight back, all while knowing that the Watcher has godlike power and is nearly invulnerable. Rather than fight, Ant-Man hops aboard the Stealth Hawk, forming a plan.

Cut to a secret lab in the mountains of Tibet, the home of the “Monastery of Doom,” where Nathaniel Richards has captured Sue and trapped her in a high-tech dome. There are two bodies in suspended animation in the lab, which Sue believes contains Reed and Dr. Doom, back from the dead. Sue escapes from the cage and threatens Nathaniel, but he doesn’t fight back, saying his goal is already accomplished.

Back at Four Freedoms Plaza, Ant-Man uses the Stealth Hawk engines to distract the Watcher. This allows Johnny to fly to the lab and recover a “Dekion pulse” specifically designed for use against a rogue Watcher. It starts to work, but the Watcher fights back, destroying the pulse.

Just when it seems all is lost, a second Watcher appears. The first Watcher calls the second one “brother,” and says the two of them can leave and go off to create their own universe. The second Watcher isn’t having it, saying that if “the one” dies, so do they all. The first Watcher departs, saying he will spare the FF’s lives in exchange for the second Watcher not interfering in his affairs. Johnny asks if the second Watcher is Uatu a.k.a. the Watcher of Earth, but he disappears without giving an answer. He does, however, leave an alien device behind.

In Tibet, the Nathaniel opens the tubes, awakening the two held in suspended animation. It is not Dr. Doom but Kristoff, the pretender to Doom’s throne. The second is Boris, Doom/Kristoff’s loyal retainer. We get a short recap of Kristoff’s origin, that he was an orphaned Latverian child taken under Doom’s wing, only to go insane and believe he was Doom, to the point where he lives 24/7 in an adult-sized Doom-shaped armor. To bring home the ridiculousness of this concept, there’s even a big panel of unmasked Kristoff, showing his little kid face in full Dr. Doom regalia. Sue asks about Kristoff’s father, but Kristoff says he never knew his father.

There’s a short scene of Lyja arriving in New York, just in time for the Stealth Hawk to fly off without her. This is followed by another short scene in the Watcher’s lair, where a mysterious stranger chides the Watcher for his “performance” in front of the FF. The stranger emerges from the shadows and it’s… Reed! (I’ll spoil it: This is the Dark Raider, the alternate-universe Reed from a few issues back.)

In Tibet, Ben, Johnny and Ant-Man are already reunited with Sue, Nathaniel, Kristoff and Boris. Sue takes Nathaniel aside and says she assumed Dr. Doom is Nathaniel’s son, but Kristoff is really Nathaniel’s son. Nathaniel doesn’t give a definitive answer, saying “it is less than prudent to make any assumptions.” Kristoff looks over the device the Watcher left behind, saying it is a weapon powerful enough to extinguish a sun. He says they must all do something about the Watcher, because the Watcher’s “treachery” threatens them all.

To be continued.

Fade out: Sue has to struggle to escape from her cage/dome thing she’s in, fearing that she suffered a concussion when Nathaniel knocked her out last issue. She seems to recover from it pretty quick.

Clobberin’ time: Ben enacts the plan to stop the watcher by saying “Execute plan 4-W!” Possibly this is a holdover from his time as team leader during the Steve Englehart years.

Flame on: Johnny uses concentrated nova-level bursts of fire against the Watcher. Again, it’s inconsistent as to when he has this ability and when he doesn’t.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ben, Johnny and Ant-Man wear matching blue and white “4” jackets in this issue. That makes this a good one to show people who argue that Ant-Man isn’t really an alternate member of the team. He’ s wearing the “4”!

The Alicia problem: Lyja’s motivation in this issue is not to trick or seduce Johnny to win him back by helping him save the day.

Commercial break: Hey, I remember Ren and Stimpy. Wait… this isn’t Ren and Stimpy!

Trivia time: The last time we saw Kristoff was back in issue #352, when Dr. Doom seemingly killed him. Why the monks at the Monastery of Doom saw fit to secretly revive Kristoff is anyone’s guess.

An NYC bystander, upon seeing Lyja and the Stealth Hawk, says “You don’t see sights like this in Gotham City!” Gotham City is arguably canonical Marvel, having appeared in JLA/Avengers, Batman/Punisher, Spider-Man/Batman, and Batman/Daredevil. The Marvel wiki insists that these crossovers are alternate timelines, however, making this bystander really some sort of interdimensional being. What do you mean, “It’s just a joke”?

Fantastic or frightful? I imagine a lot of people are confused by this issue, what with the two Watchers, the Kristoff/Nathaniel stuff, and so on. It’s all a set up for next issue, which finally explains what’s been going on. So this one’s not really its own story, but part of a bigger whole.

Next: I am… not Groot?

****

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Fantastic Friday: Saturday Morning Car-Doom

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #396 really gets the ball rolling, building up to issue #400 and, more importantly, writer Tom DeFalco’s eventual end game in issue #416. Also, cartoons!

The issue begins with “Dr. Doom” making a public appearance in the streets of Latveria. Of course it’s really a Doombot, used by Nathaniel Richards to convince the world that he’s Doom.  Sue is still hanging around Castle Doom, still demanding answers. Nathaniel says he must pretend to be Dr. Doom because he has a personal stake in safeguarding Latveria’s interests. When she insists on even more answers, there is a short fight between her and more Doombots, he doesn’t answer any of her questions about Reed or this other son Nathaniel mentioned. He says that if he and Sue are to discover Reed’s true fate, then she has to stick around and play along.

At Four Freedoms Plaza, Ben thinks the building is under attack, but it’s just Ant-Man watching the new Fantastic Four TV cartoon. (It’s not named, but this is supposed to be The Marvel Action Hour, featuring both the FF and Iron Man, which debuted around this time.) They see the mysterious apparition of Sue, once again attempting to give them a dire warning. Both Ben and Ant-Man agree that they thought this apparition business was done with during their recent time travel adventure (The “No One Gets Out Alive” story arc) and Ben says they should find Sue immediately. Elsewhere, we find the Watcher, who is of course watching all this. A mysterious man tells the Watcher that the FF will soon become suspicious of his actions, and the Watcher says if the FF come after him, they will be destroyed.

In Latveria, Nathaniel equips Sue’s FF time sled with a device that will take them to Nathaniel’s unnamed son. At FF HQ, Ant-Man uses Dr. Doom’s old time machine, which the FF still have, to follow Sue and Nathaniel. Sue and Nathaniel arrive on a snowy mountaintop in Tibet, where they are attacked by monks with laser weapons, calling themselves “the Monastery of Doom.” Sue somehow recognizes them as the ones who originally trained young Dr. Doom in the “dark arts.” While Sue fights the monks, Nathaniel sneaks into a cave, in search of his real objective.

In “the Great Western Desert,” Johnny is still at the ESU archeological dig, where he flirts big time with hot blonde Laura Green. Laura is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise, still following Johnny. She can’t believe he’s actually flirting with her. Then they see the apparition of Sue. Johnny flies off the rejoin his old teammates, and Laura/Lyja catches a ride to the airport for the same reason.

In Tibet, Sue follows Nathaniel into the cave, where she fights a Hulk-sized blind monk, whose hearing is so sharp that he knows where she is even when invisible. It’s a short fight, though, as his heightened hearing can’t stop her force fields. (This character is never named, and he never returns after this, which is too bad. Just imagine him fighting Daredevil.)

Sue makes her way through the monastery, apparently located inside the cave, where she finds a high-tech lab and two bodies in suspended animation pods. She thinks she has found Reed and Dr. Doom, but before she can open the pods and know for sure, Nathaniel steps out of the shadows and shoots her in the back. With her unconscious, Nathaniel makes a big speech about he will now gladly and eagerly unleash total evil onto the world.

To be continued!

Fade out: Inside the monastery, Sue walks past locales seen in past retellings of Dr. Doom’s origin, most notably issue #5, issue #278, and the miniseries Books of Doom. She comments about the contradictions in the different versions of Doom’s origins, and she speculates that these stories originated from Dr. Doom himself, always rewriting his own history.

Clobberin’ time: Apparently, Ben signed away the FF’s TV rights to help them get through their recent financial downturn, after all the troubles caused by Johnny destroying part of ESU a ways back.

Flame on: Johnny remarks that he has put the dark times behind him, and he’s feeling a lot more like the carefree, youthful “hothead” Johnny of classic Fantastic Four comics.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Although Ant-Man makes jokes about how awful the FF cartoon is (great cross-promotion work, Marvel) he later says he’s just kidding, and that his daughter Cassie has a Thing lunchbox (!).

The Alicia problem: In previous issues, Lyja said her “Laura Green” plot was to win back Johnny, but in this issue she seems repulsed at how he is flirting with her. I guess it’s because he’s flirting with “Laura” and not Lyja.

Commercial break: This issue has not one or two but three pages of ads for Nintendo’s Tin Star. It’s the WACKY wild west!

Trivia time: The Marvel Action Hour cartoon is canon, existing in Earth-534834, for those of you keeping spreadsheets. This is the third Fantastic Four comic in which the characters watch a TV cartoon based on their own exploits. The first was in issue #10, and the second was in issue #209.

Fantastic or frightful? A lot of this issue is Sue asking perfectly reasonable questions and Nathaniel refusing to answer to he can look all mysterious. It’s mostly setting up things to come. The references to Dr. Doom’s past are nice for fans, and the cartoon tie-in makes this an interesting trivia footnote, but that’s about it.

Next: Who watches the watchmen who watches those watchmen who watch those other watchmen?

****

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

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 37

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! You want a two-headed fire-breathing monster? You got it, 1:29:04 to 1:32:44 on the Blu-ray.

The NockMaar army bursts through the front gate, and so much happens in so few seconds, I’m having trouble recapping it all. Madmartigan lets out a battle cry and fires one of the crossbows, hitting a NockMaar in the chest. A shot of the water bubbling, reminding us where the slimy troll fell into. Three arrows hit the barrel Madmartigan is hiding behind. He pops his head up with the crossbow and fires again, hitting a second NockMaar, again in the chest. Then a closeup of him trying to reload the crossbow. It won’t work for some reason, so he throws it over his shoulder. He stands, yells again, and does his signature move of flipping his sword around, all while more flaming arrows hit the barrel.

Madmartigan’s battle yell reaches its height just as a large object rises up from below just behind him. The NockMaar halt, with several of them saying a contemporary-sounding “Whoa!” They begin to retreat. Madmartigan smiles, thinking they’re all afraid of him. He turns around, does a comedic jaw-drop, and also runs.

The camera pans up and we see what everyone is so afraid of. This is the Eborsisk. Yep, the big two-headed beastie. But what is it, exactly? I always assumed that Willow merely mutated the troll into some unholy never-meant-to-exist creation. Instead, the official tie-in lore insists that the Eborsisk is simply a dragon. Dragons were mentioned fleetingly earlier in the movie, but they’re all over the tie-in books, especially the Shadow War novel trilogy, where a dragon even narrates part of one book. Dragons come in both one- and two-headed types and can fly. They’re also intelligent and capable of speech, though we don’t see that from the Eborsisk.

We all know that the name “Eborsisk” is poking fun at film critics Siskel and Ebert, but where did the name come from? It’s not spoken anywhere in the movie, or seen in the credits. Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer have said in interviews that they’re the ones who came up with the name during promotional interviews for the movie, but I find that unlikely. This is because it’s also used in the novelization and the graphic novel, which long lead times and are often based earlier versions of a movie. Most likely, somebody came up with a funny name during pre-production and it stuck.

Each of the Eborsisk’s two heads have large bulges on the snout and chin. These are apparently to assist with fire-breathing, which one does right off the bat. It appears that the streams of fire come out of both its mouth and its snout simultaneously. Again not waiting around, one of the NockMaar gets burned up in the fire. Most dragon movies make you wait a little while for fire-breathing action, but not Willow.

Then it’s time for more comedy shtick, as Madmartigan is now outside the castle, standing alongside all the NockMaar as they all stare in awe at the monster together. They then look around confusedly among each other, with Sorsha giving him a “What are you doing?” look. General Kael, however, isn’t having it, saying “Get him!” Madmartigan runs back into the castle, toward the monster, with everyone following him with their swords drawn.

Cut to Willow on the upper level where we last saw him, backing up from the monster, whose heads are about level with him. He has a stone gargoyle on one side of him and the actual monster on the other, for a nice juxtaposition. The Eborsisk appears to take notice of Willow.

Madmartigan runs over to one of the catapults, which we see is only a little taller than he is. He cuts it loose and it tosses a small object (what is that?), hitting a NockMaar soldier on horseback, knocking him off the horse. Willow picks up the baby and attempts to run across the bridge connecting parts of the castle, but the Eborsisk moves in and breathes fire again, burning up the bridge in front of him.

There’s a shot of Sorsha shouting “the other side!” Of what, though? We don’t know where she is. Then we see the Eborsisk again, now several arrows stuck in it as the NockMaar attempt to fight back. One reaches down, snatches a man off the back of his horse, and rears up with the man’s legs dangling from its mouth. It then gobbles them man up. A NockMaar aims an arrow and fires, hitting the Eborsisk in the neck. More arrows follow. Instead of each head doing its own thing, in this shot they are unified, moving as one as they stare down at the soldiers and roar at them.

General Kael orders “Destroy the beast! Find the baby!” He’s not letting a little thing like a two-headed dragon slow him down. Next, Fin Raziel, in goat form, runs into frame, saying “Take that!” She knocks a soldier off a ledge, though I’m not clear on what part of the castle this is. As if all this wasn’t busy enough, we also catch up to one of the trolls, who can be seen jumping around some rubble, and then springing up behind Willow as Willow tends to the baby. Willow picks up one a flaming piece of wood, as half the place is fire by now, and uses it a makeshift weapon, swinging it at the troll.

Cut to another soldier, stepping in one Madmartigan’s bear traps. Two more kick open a door, setting off two crossbows inside that Madmartigan had rigged to fire. Then there’s a bit where a bunch of NockMaar are standing next to a bunch of boxes, only for them to fall over, revealing Madmargian on the other side holding two crossbows. With a “Ha!” he fires, killing two more NockMaar. He then scrambles into a small round hole carved into the wall for his escape. I’m guessing this is some primitive sewer system?

Then it’s back to the bridge, still on fire, with Eborsisk’s heads looking around angrily. Willow continues to use his fire stick to keep the troll at bay. He stops and digs through his pouch for one of the magic acorns the High Aldwin gave him earlier in the movie. In this shot you can also see the braid of Kiaya’s hair still affixed to Willow’s belt. Willow withdraws an acorn, only to drop it. There’s some debate as to what happens next, and whether the acorn turns part of the bridge under Willow into stone. Watching carefully, you can definitely see a special effect where part of the bridge becomes stone. I don’t like this, as it removes the “ticking clock” quality of the magic acorns, answering too soon the question of what will happen when Willow finally uses them.

There’s a quick shot of the baby crying, suggesting that she understands what’s happening. Then the troll turns around and appears to start to climb over the side of the bridge. Willow runs at it with his fire stick. He stabs the troll right in the butt, and it does a comedic reaction shot. That doesn’t finish him off, though. Part of the bridge breaks, and Willow and the troll fall through. The troll is hanging on the bridge, and Willow is hanging onto the troll. The Eborsisk is still right there, and notices them both, one of its heads goes in for a chomp, its open mouth coming right at the camera. It bites down on the troll, pulls it off the bridge, and, in one of the movie’s more violent moments, the Eborsisk’s second head also bites down on the troll, and they pull its body apart. Then we cut to Willow hanging onto a different part of the bridge, having apparently jumped to safety.

Back to Madmartigan, he has now removed that goofy helmet as he slashes another enemy soldier across the gut. Sorsha is sitting on her horse, watching him intently. Madmartigan kicks a guy in the face and runs up some stairs. Sorsha keeps watching him, as the score goes from action-y to all romantic for a few seconds.

Finally we get a wide shot of the castle’s courtyard. It’s not that huge of an area for everyone to be fighting in. Also, the Eborsisk appears to be half-buried in the ground. It breathes fire again, even as we can see a bunch of fires around it that it already started. Madmartigan reaches the top of the stairs, putting him on the same upper level as Willow. He calls Willow’s name. In another wide show, we see the Eborisk eyeing them menacingly while another troll climbs around the castle walls. The Eborisk breathes fire fight at the camera, only for Madmartigan to duck behind a wall and out of the fire’s path.

 

Willow now has an unlit metal torch in his hands, which he’s using to try to force open the door at the end of the bridge. He hears the troll and looks up as it falls on him. The score goes back from romantic to heroic as Madmartigan stands on a much larger catapult while kicking and swordfighting three soldiers. He’s fighting with a sword in each hand now, slicing and dicing these guys real good. Sorsha is on foot now, mesmerized as she watches him. Willow calls for Madmartigan’s help.


Madmartigan cuts the rope on the catapult, sending himself flying through the air. He soars over the Eborsisk heads, smacks into the castle wall, and then falls onto the troll. Many people have pointed out that the arc of the catapult arm does not match the arc of Madmartigan’s flight. I like to think this Alora Danan and/or Willow helping out with magic. Willow says “Get him, Madmartigan!” (Anybody else reminded of “Get her, Ray” from Ghostbusters?) The troll roars at Madmartigan, only for Madmartigan to roar right back at him, for another comedic beat. He then goes ahead and kicks the troll. The troll falls of the bridge. We don’t see it land, but we do an Eborsisk head lower down to eat it. Madmartigan says “Here,” and gives Willow a sword. The actors play this sword exchange as if it’s a big dramatic moment, but it gets lost in the midst of all this action and carnage.

An Eborsisk head then rears up right next to Madmartigan for a real Jurassic Park moment. Two more arrows hit it and it looks away for a second. Madmartigan sighs in an I-have-to-everything-around-here kind of way, and then he leaps on to the back of the dragon’s head.

And… we’ll get to the rest of the battle next time.

Next: The rest of the battle.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Adam-Ant-ium

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Wolverine slashed up the Thing’s face way back in issue #374. Now we’re at issue #395 and it’s time for a rematch — not to mention another sales-boosting Wolverine guest appearance.

We begin at the Last Gasp Saloon, an old-timey cowboy bar located on the shore of Lake Erie. The place has been trashed, and Wolverine is inside, alone, nursing a drink and a cigar. He is dwelling on how he slashed the Thing’s face, and he thinks “Time has come to see how deep those scars run.” A Fantasticar lands outside, and Ben enters, decked out in his trenchcoat-and-fedora look.

A bum outside the bar makes a phone call (with a 1995-era cell phone!) to the Mad Thinker, who still insists on calling himself just “the Thinker,” who as usual brags about how he predicated this would happen and all is going according to his plan. The Mad Thinker is still doing his mental projection thing, using his super-brain to manipulate his lab while his body is safely locked up in jail. Back at the bar, we see Ant-Man has snuck aboard the Fantasticar while all teeny-tiny, here to give Ben some backup, whether Ben wants it or not.

We then cut to the “Great Western Desert,” where Johnny and She-Hulk are messing around with their powers, using the desert as a makeshift Danger Room. Johnny wants to talk to the mysterious blonde who helped him out during the battle last issue, but she runs off before he gets a chance. The blonde instead meets up with feisty coed Bridget O’Neil. Bridget says the blonde is a source of much gossip. The blonde introduces herself as Laura Green, and she says she was a last-minute addition to this, their school archeology trip. They talk about Johnny, with Bridget says Johnny is recently divorced, and she tells Laura to “keep your distance.” Laura then reveals what the reader already knows, that she is Lyja the Skrull in disguise, in hopes that “Laura” will make Johnny forget he ever knew Lyja.

Ben shows a lot of anger toward Wolverine, saying that although he was already a rock monster, his scarred face didn’t make things any easier. Wolverine tries to apologize, saying he was in a bad place at that time, and that things have changed. He offers Ben a beer and says he wants to make amends. Ben refuses, smashes some furniture. Wolverine unleashes his claws and they’re about to fight. Then Ant-Man interrupts with a classic “We’ve got company!” Three guys in sci-fi body armor burst through the door, also looking for a fight.

In Latveria, Sue is staying at Castle Doom with Nathaniel Richards, who has tricked the world into thinking he’s Doctor Doom back from the dead. Nathaniel says he’s in search of his missing son, and Sue insists that Reed is still alive. Nathaniel won’t explain any more, saying he must first make improvements to his high-tech battle armor. Sue then sees an apparition of herself, seemingly the same one from issue #387. The apparition says to believe in Nathaniel, and “Only he holds the key!”

Back at the bar, Ben and Wolverine fight the three attackers. Okay, so who are these guys? One has Iron Man-like body armor, one has high-tech bullwhips, and one has an ice gun. The bullwhip guy is named “Kerekes” and the others’ names are never revealed. Further, the Marvel wiki only has one sentence about them, naming them assassins (not “the assassins” mind you, just “assassins”). It should come to no surprise that Wolverine and Ben defeat these guys with no problem.

Then a new opponent enters the bar, a new version of the Mad Thinker’s Super-Adaptoid, called the Super Android Model F-4. Just like the original Super-Adaptoid, the Super Android has the combined powers of the Fantastic Four. It punches Ben into the next building over and then starts choking Wolverine. Ant-Man watches from his teeny vantage point, wondering what he can do.

In Latveria, Nathaniel tells Sue about one of his earlier time-travel adventures. He crash landed (crash materialized?) in Latveria and was injured. A beautiful young gypsy woman took him in, healing him with “exotic potions” and “a form of witchcraft.” She and Nathaniel fell in love, and eventually had a son, whom Nathaniel calls the “absolute monarch of Latveria.” Sue (and the reader?) assumes this means that Reed and Dr. Doom are in fact long-lost brothers.

Meanwhile, Ben and Wolverine continue fighting the Super Android. It burns Ben in the face, where his scars are still more sensitive than the rest of his rock body. Ben admits it’s not appearance that upset him about the scars, it’s about having to feel vulnerable.  While they continue fighting the android, Ant-Man leaps onto its shoulder and attaches a container of “shrink gas” to it. The android shrinks down to ant size, an attack it has no defense for. With a flick of his finger, Ben sends the android flying into the lake. This apparently destroys it. The issue ends with the Mad Thinker in jail receiving a “Wish you were here” postcard from Ben, Wolverine, and Ant-Man.

Fade out: You might be thinking the mysterious apparition of Sue was from an alternate timeline where Galactus killed everybody. You’re right, it was. This version is all part of Nathaniel’s increasingly far-fetched plot to manipulate the FF. We’ll get there eventually.

Clobberin’ time: This issue answers the long-standing question of why Ben didn’t just use Marvel Universe super-science to fix his face. It’s because the real scars are the emotional ones.

Flame on: Johnny says he has no plans to return to the FF, even though he’s still wearing a blue shirt with the “4” logo on it.

Fantastic fifth wheel: The Marvel Wiki insists that Ant-Man’s “shrink gas” is actually Pym particles, the stuff that makes shrinking possible.

She-Hulk is just now learning that Reed is dead. She offers to re-join the FF, but Johnny tells her she’s talking to the wrong the person.

The Alicia problem: Lyja is secretly pursuing Johnny in the hopes of seducing him in the “Alice Green” persona. Just what are we to think of Lyja by this point? Villain? Love interest? Troubled victim? I just don’t know anymore.

Commercial break: “Alpha, bring me my Zune.”

Trivia time: Why is Wolverine so interested in making amends with Ben? This issue is following X-Men #25, where he lost all his Adamantium and X-Men #30 in which he was sad about Jean Grey marrying Cyclops instead of him. So the newly no-longer-invulnerable Wolverine has been making the rounds in the Marvel Universe hoping to make amends for all the bad things he’s done. Yes, this also means that this issue features Wolvie’s notorious bone claws, though they’re drawn and colored to still look all metallic.

The Super Android makes one more appearance after this, in the Fantastic Four Unplugged miniseries of the mid-90s.

Fantastic or frightful? An okay-to-good issue, where the heroes fight actual villains instead of each other. It’s also nice to see Ant-Man finally do some actual Ant-action as a member of the team. So, yeah, I guess I liked this one.

Next: Saturday morning car-Dooms.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Terrible dactyl

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The FF have split up and gone their separate ways, so in issue #394 we’re catching up with old friends and fighting a supernatural dinosaur man, like you do.

Gimmie a gimmick: This issue originally shipped to stores polybagged (wrapped in plastic) containing a 16-page minicomic promoting the Marvel Action Hour Saturday morning cartoon. The ‘toon featured Iron Man and our very own Fantastic Four. Somehow, Biker Mice From Mars first debuted as part of this cartoon, but they’re not in the minicomic.

Issue #394 a variation on the classic “the characters show off their powers for a few pages” thing with Wyatt Wingfoot riding his cool motorcycle through an obstacle of Johnny shooting fire at him and She-Hulk throwing boulders at them both. As noted in my recent Fantastic Force write-up, She-Hulk’s solo series had recently ended with her working for Millie the Model (!) and acting in a soap opera (!). These issues find her back practicing law while also reconnecting with her old Fantastic Four pals. Also, she and Wyatt split up in the miniseries She-Hulk: Ceremony, but they’re still good friends. Everybody’s out in the “Great Western Desert” where Johnny and feisty coed Bridget O’Neil and some ESU students are helping Wyatt’s tribe on an archeological dig. Also working the archeology dig is the mysterious blonde woman from the previous issue, who is secretly Lyja the Skrull spying on Johnny.

But all is not well in the desert, as tribal leader Stalking Fox is angry at the students for disturbing a sacred burial site. We discover that the students have uncovered an ancient totem. Stalking Fox is ticked off, saying they will soon face the wrath of… Raptor the Renegade. (In case you’re wondering, this issue was on shelves a year and a half after Jurassic Park.)

In New York, Alicia shows up at the Baxter Building asking to see Ben, only for Roberta the robot receptionist tell her that Ben asked not be disturbed. Alicia leaves, angry. Ant-Man confronts Ben about this, and Ben says it’s time that he and Alicia both got on with their lives. He also admits he’s been dwelling lately on how Wolverine slashed up his face back in issue #374. This also foreshadows next issue.

At the dig site, local cop Officer Chavis mediates the dispute between Stalking Fox and students, while archeology professor Simon Janson secretly reassembles all the pieces of the totem, saying it’s his “important work.” He accidentally (or not?) cuts his finger and spills a drop of blood on the totem, which of course causes dark magic to stir. The totem zaps Janson with an energy beam, transforming him into Raptor the Renegade, a half-man half-pterodactyl.

While flying around and terrorizing the students’ camp, Raptor takes time to explain his origin. He and his fellow dinosaur-men once ruled the Earth, only for primitive men to trap him in a totem and bury him, so that humanity could be free of his evil and whatnot. Bridget gets on the radio and contacts Johnny, who is out in the desert with Wyatt and She-Hulk. Lyja transforms into a dinosaur herself to protect Bridget from being harmed.

Cut to Latveria, where Sue is staying as a guest in Castle Doom. She is apparently on better terms with Nathaniel Richards, who has convinced the world that’s Dr. Doom come back from the dead. Nathaniel proudly announces that he’s located his son. Sue assumes this means Reed is still alive, but Nathaniel responds, “who’s talking about Reed?”

Johnny and She-Hulk fight Raptor, with nothing they harming him. Meanwhile, Wyatt deduces that the totem is the source of Raptor’s powers. Raptor boasts that only a “sun god” can destroy the totem. Johnny is hesitant to use his super-powerful nova flame, remembering that the last time he used it he nearly destroyed Empire State University. He overcomes his fear and goes nova, destroying the totem. This transforms Raptor back into Professor Janson. Johnny and Bridget embrace, all with him wondering who that blonde was.

Back at FF HQ, Ant-Man receives a message from Wolverine, telling Ben that Wolvie wants to set up a meeting. Ben says, “I’m giddy with the prospect.”

To be continued?

Fade out: Sue finds a classic FF uniform inside her guest room at Castle Doom, and she tells a Doombot to “burn it.” Did that uniform belong to Dr. Doom or to Nathaniel? And which is creepier?

Clobberin’ time: Other than his scars being unusually sensitive, Ben has shown little anger over his already monstrous face being scarred. Never underestimate the power of a profitable guest star, I guess.

Flame on: I’m not sure if this issue means Johnny and Bridget O’Neil are a couple now, but I like her in this issue. She keeps her head and helps out during the crisis, making her solid “superhero love interest” material.

Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk jokes (or not?) that she dislikes being called “Greenskin,” saying that nickname is reserved for her more famous cousin.

Crystal appears in this issue as well, in this Marvel house ad:

The Alicia problem: The dinosaur Lyja transforms into is a “Gammara tortoise” and it not surprisingly looks like giant movie turtle Gamera.

Commercial break: I have no idea what this is for or what it’s trying to say:

Trivia time: This is the one and only appearance of Raptor the Renegade. The comic hints at Professor Janson being his civilian identity for future stories, but it never happened. There are, however, five other characters named “Raptor” in the Marvel Universe. One is a lizard-man who fought Spider-Man and Moon Knight, one is a guy in a high-tech bird suit who also fought Moon Knight, one is a half-human half-bird who helped the West Coast Avengers fight Ultron, one is a Hulk-like green-skinned cyborg who fought Death’s Head, and the fifth is a Hawkgirl-style flying thief who eventually became a hero in the “MC2” alternate future.

You might think that Stalking Fox is Wyatt’s grandfather, seen back in the Lee/Kirby days, but no. Wyatt’s grandfather was Silent Fox, who died back in issue #269. That story arc ended with Wyatt choosing to travel the world rather than taking his grandfather’s place, so I guess we can assume that this Stalking Fox guy is now chief in Wyatt’s place.

Fantastic or frightful? Enjoyable but forgettable, I suppose. A generic plot and a generic villain, but at least it’s a story with structure and a beginning, middle and end, as opposed to the soup of subplots that the comic has been for most of this era.

Next: Rock, paper, adamantium.

****

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

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 36

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow one scene at a time. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! The battle of Tir Asleen kicks off with a lot of info, including some serious troll action, 1:27:19-1:29:03.

We’re in “preparing for the battle” mode, but this is all shot and edited as if the fighting has already started, with a lot of pulse-pounding music and quick-chop cuts.

Outside the castle’s main gate, Kael says, “Assault! Sorsha, battering ram!” Not sure why she’s the one who should get battering ram duty, except to let the audience know she’s on the scene.

 Madmartigan rolls a large barrel over a bridge over a pool of mossy green water.

 On horseback, Sorsha selects a tree and orders two NockMaar soldiers to, “Cut it down!”

 Willow prepares a catapult, lowering it and hooking into place with a big metal chain, all while holding the baby.

 Madmartigan drags a bunch of suits of armor behind him.

 Outside, one Nockmaar with an axe hacks away at the tree. It appears as if he’s just started.

 Madmartigan prepares another catapult. I’m not clear on why there are catapults on ground level inside the main gate, but these are smaller ones, only a little taller than Madmartigan, so perhaps this is what they were designed for, in case enemies get through the gate.

 Here’s our first hint that time has passed. The Nockmaar fall the tree, having successfully cut through most of the truck by now.

 Madmartigan sets up a bear trap in the mud. Is this typical soldier behavior in this world, or did Madmartigan also find a stash of hunting supplies?

 Willow looks out a window and sees the finished battering ram being used on the door. More time has passed, because all the branches have been cut off the tree, and it’s been fully carved into a full-on battering ram. Further, in the background we can see several Nockmaar sitting around a campfire. So… have days passed? Kael says, “Bring it down!”

 Willow runs across a bridge in the upper part of the castle, and we finally get our first glimpse of a troll, climbing on the wall and then the bridge underneath Willow. A second troll climbs down a wall on the top left of the screen. This was done with animation, with animated trolls being mere silhouettes, standing out against the background. The animated troll becomes practical in the next shot, keeping pace with Willow as he runs across the bridge.

 Willow bangs his shoulders against a door, and there’s our first close-up of a troll, ape-like with a blueish-black face with some pink flecks in the skin. It seems really angry, shaking its head back and forth in rage. The tie-in fiction offers little additional information about trolls other than what we see in the movie, describing them as animalistic and more of a nuisance than a full-on monster. There is one curious detail, though. About one out every hundred trolls, the books say, are born with human level intelligence. For some reason, these are called “Troll Sports.” Further, the books say that Bavmorda was fond of the Troll Sports rounding them up and putting them to work (against their will, one assumes) in her castle.

 Madmartigan sets up some crossbows on a barrel, possibly the same one from seconds earlier.

 Outside, the battering ram makes some damage against the door.

 Willow places the baby down on a small stone structure outside the door he couldn’t open. Then the trolls jumps down (from where?) and spooks Willow. On the ground below, Fin Raziel has apparently been watching this, and says “Willow, use the wand on that troll.” The troll moves to attack. The wand starts to glow blue before Willow even does anything. Then he aims it at the trolls and says a magic work, “Bellanockt!” This throws the troll backward, with yellow smoke flowing from under its fur.

 Then things get really gross. The troll’s body curls up into a ball, only two tentacle-like arms to come of it, rips of its own skin, revealing a gooey brain-like shape underneath. Willow looks at the wand and then back at the slimy thing. In a nice bit of foreshadowing, two little heads pop up out of the blob, looking a little bit like the chestburster from Alien.

 Willow looks appropriately grossed out, and kicks the thing off the bridge, it falls and lands in what looks like the mossy green water from earlier. (Is this supposed to be a moat? Why is the moat inside the courtyard? I’m rather confused as to the geography of this place.) The water starts bubbling, so the audience knows something is up.

 Outside, we see the battering ram making more progress on the gate, with Kael shouting, “Break it down! Forward!” The gate opens, while Madmartigan continues to ready the crossbows. We see Nockmaar soldiers on the other side, raising swords into the air, and others arms with flaming arrows, ready to fire. And now it’s time for the battle to begin.

 Next: Arrow-smith. 

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Puppet Power

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The splash page for issue #393 calls this “quite possibly the most haunting tale ever produced.” Yeah, let’s see.

The issue begins with a whopping seven pages of recap, in which Ant-Man makes a record of the FF’s activities, starting the whole Alicia/Lyja thing, up to Reed’s supposed death, and finally the team’s recent break-up, concluding that the Thing is currently going it alone as a “Fantastic One.”

We then catch up to Ben back in his old neighborhood of Yancy Street, where he’s responding to a mysterious summons. After scaring off a thug, Ben encounters the Puppet Master as the one who sent for him. Ben is immediately suspicious, as Alicia hasn’t been seen since Alicia ran off and/or disappeared way back in issue #376. Turns out Ben is right to be suspicious because the Puppet Master gases Ben into unconsciousness.

Then there’s a quick scene of Johnny applying to start school at Empire State University, but is refused because of the damage he caused in issue #375. He also is reunited with feisty coed Bridget O’Neil, and they flirt while a blond woman watches them from a distance. We cut from there to Latveria, where Sue sneaks into Castle Doom, investigating how Dr. Doom could be alive when it appeared he died fighting Reed. Rather than fight, Dr. Doom reveals that he’s really an imposter, Sue’s own father-in-law Nathaniel Richards. She slaps him (!) and accuses him of abducting young Franklin and not using his knowledge of the future (the past, now?) to save Reed. Nathaniel says he is on a quest to find Reed, and he asks Sue to join him.

 

Ben wakes up in what appears to be Alicia’s apartment, she makes a big speech about how much she admires his nobility and sensitivity, and it’s as if they are a couple again. The romance is interrupted by Johnny, for some 1960s-ish playful banter. Not only is there, but so are Reed and Sue, and it’s as if the FF are back together and everything is the way it used to be. Ben concludes, “Something’s real wrong!”

 

Ben wakes up again to reveal that Puppet Master has him hooked up to a machine. What he just experienced was the puppet version of him living in Liddleville, which you’ll remember is an entire town of miniature robot people last seen inside Castle Doom. Puppet Master says he only has the best of intentions, that in Liddleville, Ben and Alicia can have the happiness they’ve always wanted.

Ben smashes the Puppet Master’s mind control device (but he leaves Liddleville intact), saying “Ya can’t live in the past!” As Alicia starts to regain consciousness, Ben leaves, saying she and Puppet Master have a lot to talk about.

Unstable molecule: Sue initially assumes that Nathaniel is another Doombot posing as Doom, referencing all the times the FF has been fooled by Doombots in the past.

Clobberin’ time: Ben says a younger version of him would have clobbered the thug on Yancy Street, but now these days he’s mellowed out some.

Flame on: Johnny learns Bridget is a history student, and is heading out west for an archaeology conveniently setting up next issue.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man says that although the FF has split up, he is still on their payroll, so he’s going to stick around as long as the checks keep coming in.

The Alicia problem: The blonde spying on Johnny and Bridget is secretly Lyja in disguise, so the soap opera is still soap opera-ing.

Commercial break: Power Rangers! But wait, did the Rangers ever actually use this sword on the show?

Trivia time: This is the last time we’ll see Liddleville in Fantastic Four, but not in the Marvel Universe. After one appearance in X-Force, the teeny town becomes a semi-regular fixture in various Hulk comics, where a puppet Bruce Banner gets to enjoy the quaint small-town life the real one never had.

There is no mention of where Puppet Master’s hideout is, or how he got Liddleville away from Dr. Doom. (Maybe they’re in Doom’s castle, but I find it highly unlikely that this is happening a few doors down from Sue confronting Nathaniel.) The Appendix of the Marvel Universe fan site suggests that Puppet Master built his own Liddleville just for this occasion.

Fantastic or frightful? Shrug. The long opening recap and the ongoing subplots mean we don’t have a lot of time to explore the Twilight Zone-ishness of the Liddleville concept. It’s not a bad comic, it’s just we’ve been here before.

Next: Cowboys vs. dinosaurs.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Fantastic Force Part 2

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. After the Fantastic Four broke up in the mid-90s, Marvel published 18 issues of the spinoff Fantastic Force. How well did these new young heroes fill the FF’s void, and how did end?

Fantastic Force is:

  • Franklin Richards, now a telepathic teenager thanks to time travel craziness.
  • Huntara, barbarian swordswoman and long-lost stepsister to the FF’s Reed Richards.
  • Vibraxas, a teen Wakandan mutant, with earthquake-creating powers.
  • Devlor, an inhuman teen who can transform into a giant apelike monster.
  • Black Panther, who acts the mentor/Professor X type for the team. His Manhattan loft is the team’s HQ.

Issue #10

The child Franklin who appeared at the end of the last issue is not here via time travel, but is instead a psychic projection of Franklin’s, along with another known as the “Ego-Spawn.” There’s some talk of Franklin being “the Avatar” of these various “psycho-plasmic entities.” After much in-fighting among the teammates, Franklin agrees to turn leadership of Fantastic Force over to the Human Torch. This new team then travels to Turkey in search of the Omnivirus, which could cure all diseases but could also (of course) be used for evil. They encounters villains Lord Moses and Zarathrustra, also in search of the virus.

Issue #11

Franklin and his other-self constructs return to the alternate universe of Elsewhen, where he learned to be a warrior during his years of time-traveling. He is reunited with alien warlord Kargul, who warns him of doom. On Earth, the Fantastic Force manage to defeat Lord Moses and stop the Omnivirus, but not before Devlor is exposed to the virus. The team then travels to Elsewhen where they are confronted by a new villain, Vangaard.

Issue #12

Fantastic Force teams up with Kargul to fight Vangaard, who is revealed to be Johnny Storm from an alternate reality, last seen way back in Fantastic Four #163. Everyone but Franklin escapes, while Franklin heads out to fight Vangaard on his own. He unleashes the full extent of his potentially world-ending powers to stop Vangaard, seemingly killing himself in the process. It doesn’t work, as Vangaard survives. The team re-confronts Vangaard, and Johnny manages to reason with him, helping Vangaard regain his humanity. Meanwhile, She-Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot show up again, where they encounter a mysterious homeless man in New York.

Issue #13

Franklin is alive, placed in a “zero chamber” to heal, and his psychic constructs have been absorbed back into his brain (or something). Huntara then announces that she is leaving the team, as Elsewhen was always meant to be her home. Back in New York, the team encounters She-Hulk under control of the Puppet Master, stealing artifacts from a museum. Johnny invites She-Hulk to join the Fantastic Force, filling in for Huntara, and she accepts.

Issue #14

The team travels to Wakanda, where Vibraxas stands trial for the gang member he inadvertently killed in issue #5. She-Hulk conveniently acts as his lawyer. The homeless man from two issues ago is revealed to be Diablo, who says he has She-Hulk in his “thrall.” Vibraxas is reunited with an old girlfriend, R’Shumba, and his father, N’Kano. Vibraxas tries to destroy a vibranium research facility, which was the source of the accident that gave him his powers, accidentally unleashing a vibranium monster from underneath the building.

Issue #15.

Fantastic Force fights the vibranium monster, called the Vibravore. The monster contains the “psychic-static” of everyone who died in the accident that gave Vibraxas his powers, including Vibraxas’ mother. It’s a big fight, with Devlor rapidly losing control of his animalistic side. The fight ends with no trace of Vibraxas’ long-lost mother. Back at the trial, the Wakandans find Vibraxas not guilty, but they also vote to revoke Fantastic Force’s funding. At that moment, Devlor loses control, transforming into an even more beastly form.

Issue #16

Back in NYC, Devlor continues to mutate out of control, thanks to his exposure to the Omnivirus. Johnny has departed, leading everyone to wonder whether Fantastic Force is even a team at all anymore. Vibraxas takes a job from a friend, a Korean shop owner, to help fight off local street gangs. Villainess Zarathrustra escapes from the cops and battles encounters fellow villain Go-Devil, who is also part of the street gang plot. Finally, Devlor appears to die, only for his body to give “birth” to a new Devlor, looking just like he did back in issue #1. Gross.

Issue #17

The Wakandans evict Fantastic Force from Black Panther’s loft in Soho, so She-Hulk has the team use her apartment as its new HQ. Once there, the team experiences a bunch of weird hallucinations, revealed to be the work of Diablo. What’s more, Diablo reveals he’s working alongside the demon Mephisto.

Issue #18

With the team still under Diablo’s spell, Diablo reveals his partnership with Mephisto is all an act, and that he really wants to use Franklin’s powers to destroy Mephisto, like Franklin did back in Fantastic Four issue #277. Diablo mind-controls She-Hulk to attack her teammates. Each team member overcomes Diablo’s influence, and they work together to destroy Diablo’s potions. Thinking he’s won, Diablo travels to Hell, only to be attacked by Mephisto’s minions. Back on Earth, the series ends when the heroes are reunited with the one and only Fantastic Four, revealing… well, this blog will get there soon enough.

Four and a half: Franklin is really put through the wringer in these issues, first by sacrificing himself to save the day, and then trying and failing to keep his new team together. Also there are a ton of continuity nods to his character’s history.

Barbarian swordswoman: This is pretty much the last hurrah for Huntara. She will appear again briefly during the Onslaught crossover, and in Civil War she is mentioned but not seen as a potential recruit for the Fifty States Initiative. (Does this mean she came back to Earth at some point?)

Good vibrations: Vibraxas will go on to occasionally guest star in Fantastic Four, and has been a recurring character in various Black Panther comics over the years.

Talking about my de-evolution: Poor Devlor pretty much disappeared from the Marvel Universe after this. His only other notable appearance was when he joined a group of characters all interviewing for the job of nanny for Jessica Jones and Luke Cage’s baby. Other potential nannies included D-Man, Squirrel Girl, Groot, Molly from Runaways, Beverly from Howard the Duck, and (of course) Deadpool.

Wakanda forever: I’m not clear on who these Wakandan judges are, who boss around Black Panther, their king. But, hey, what do I know about politics?

Flame on: Bringing Johnny on board as team leader for five issues then abruptly writing him out stinks of editorial interference. His confrontation with his alternate self Vangaard is interesting, but Vangaard remains a hokey character.

Force-tastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk appears here shortly after the cancellation of her solo series which, at the end, had her working with Millie the Model and acting in a soap opera (!). Also, she and Wyatt split up in the miniseries She-Hulk: Ceremony, so they are hanging out in this series just as friends.

Trivia time: Fantastic Force had one other notable appearance, in Secret Defenders #25. That issue had a variety of psychic characters around the world sensing the appearance of supervillain Sloriath, including our own Franklin.

The title Fantastic Force returned in 2009 with none of these characters and an entirely different premise. Six superheroes from a post-apocalyptic future — including Hulk and Wolverine — traveled to the present to stop their apocalypse. The other members of that team were Lightwave, Psionic, Natalie X, and Alex Ultron. This version ran only four issues.

Fantastic or frightful? While I enjoyed the first half of this series quite a bit, it unravels in the second half, with meandering storylines and the obvious dark cloud of Marvel editorial forcing the Human Torch and She-Hulk into the series to make it more like FF. Still, Fantastic Force is fun when it sticks the more character-based stories. Unfortunately, plots are way too interested in alternate realities and alternate timelines which too often distract from the good stuff. So, a mixed bag. Here’s hoping someone incredibly talented can bring these characters back someday and make them work.

Next: Puppet power.

****

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

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 35

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! This is the start of the battle of Tir Asleen, which I’ll be breaking up into several parts, because there’s a lot to go over, 1:24:27-1:27:19 on the Blu-ray.

This skips over a scripted-but-unfilmed scene that was included in the graphic novel, where Tir Asleen is surrounded by a wall of thorns created by Bavmorda. Raziel has Willow and Madmartigan chants magic words together, which creates a magic fire to burn down the thorns. This scene just doesn’t work. It’s out of character, in that Madmartigan shows no interest in doing magic anywhere else, and it ruins the reveal that Bavmorda has already been here.

Back to the movie itself, there’s something from an abrupt cut from the previous scene, there’s a shot of Madmartigan riding their horses through the countryside to a short but very big and bombastic piece of the score. They then approach Tir Asleen castle, with Fin Raziel helpfully announcing “Tir Asleen! At last, Tir Asleen!” While the tie-in books describe Tir Asleen as this vast kingdom with city-sized universities and libraries, but here the castle is standing alone, surrounded only by grass and trees. Remember we saw a similar setup with Bavmorda’s castle earlier. It appears that in the world of Willow, these castles that serve as seats of government and home to the monarchy also double as border forts, situated right on the kingdom’s borders. I suppose this would aid in both defense and with welcoming visiting diplomats.

Our heroes ride through the castle’s gate/portcullis which is conveniently left open for them. The music becomes ominous as the camera holds on Madmartigan, looking around in confusion. We then see the castle’s interior courtyard, all grey brick and mud, with no people in site. As Madmartigan calls out “Hello?” the camera pans over to the what looks like a person frozen in a block of ice. Throughout the scene, we’ll see more of these frozen people placed around this location.

Madmartigan says “Why did I listen to you, peck?” He then impersonates Willow sarcastically, saying, “It’ll be all right once we get to Tir Asleen.” Willow gets off his horse and examines another frozen person. Madmartigan says “The only army around here is the one that’s about to ride across this valley and wipe us out.” Also showing disappointment, Willow says, “But Cherlindrea said we’d be safe here.” Madmartigan points to another frozen person and says “Safe? Look at these people. This place is cursed, Peck. It’s falling apart. Open your eyes.” He then steps in some yellowish-brown stuff (fine, it’s poop) and deduces, “Trolls.” Willow looks around fearfully and says, “I hate trolls.”

“This is the work of Bavmorda,” Raziel says while perched on top of a frozen person. Okay, this one line explains a lot, so let’s get into the tie-in lore for specifics. Remember that this is where Bavmorda and Fin Raziel were raised. After Bavmorda successfully seduced the king, she froze him and the rest of the populace not in ice but in crystal quartz. It was after that that Bavmorda went north and recruited the NockMaar as her personal army. The lore states this happened years earlier, which begs the question of why our heroes didn’t know Tir Asleen had fallen. I suppose Galladoorn and Tir Asleen had little to no interaction, and Cherlindrea didn’t know because she is unable to leave her forest. Back to the scene, there are reaction shots from the baby, Madmartigan, and Willow, and then Raziel says, “Willow. The wand. Turn me back into my human form.” He answers, “Are you sure?”

Madmartigan opens a door somewhere else in the courtyard. He’s in a room full of weapons. He excitedly checks out two crossbows, throwing one over his shoulder and laughing. He picks up a sword and does that swing-it-around move we saw him do earlier, and says “good.” He then looks up and sees a suit of armor, lit dramatically from behind. This puts a big smile on his face. Why did Bavmorda’s forces just leave all these weapons here after taking down the kingdom? She have thought she didn’t need them, with her sights set on the NockMaar instead.

Outside, we get the movie’s next deleted scene, where Raziel points out one of the frozen people is the king of Tir Asleen, Sorsha’s father. The lore reveals his name is King Tanthalos IX. Raziel says, “Hurry, Willow. Transform me.” He says, “I can’t do it. I’m just not a sorcerer.” Raziel says, “But you can be. Speak and be one with the words.” Willow says the magic words, and the wand starts glowing blue. It appears as though Raziel’s feathers begin turning white, but it’s hard to tell. She hopes around and flutters her wings, saying, “Oh Willow, you’re losing me.” Willow hears the sound of horses and looks up to see the Nockmaar soldier approaching towards the open gate. He calls for Madmartigan and says Kael is coming.

We then hear Raziel’s voice, slightly different this time, say “Willow!” He looks over and discovers, she has been transformed from a bird into a goat. “You idiot,” she says. I guess this means her “You can be” line a minute ago was just her placating Willow, and she still has doubts as to whether he can truly help her.

Madmartigan comes out wearing the armor, along with a silly-looking helmet with a crest of long white hair atop it. He says to Willow “Arm that catapult up there.” He then rushes over to the door and pushes it shut, having to press against the wall behind him with his legs to do so. Note that this is a different gate/portcullis then the one the heroes rode through earlier, as it’s much larger. We can assume Madmartigan shut that one as well. It takes a lot of effort, but he gets both doors closed as the NockMaar ride at full gallop right out of it. They stop as Madmartigan bars the door shut. He takes a second to laugh at them through a small opening in the door. He turns around and sees Raziel, who says, “Good work, Madmartigan.” He stops with shock and says, “What the hell happened to you?” This usually gets a big laugh from viewers.

Next: Trolling.

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