Fantastic Friday: Oh snap

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. I’m sure most comics fans are familiar with Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ modern classic Marvels, but did you know Marvels had a bunch of follow-up comics? Marvels Snapshots: Fantastic Four is one of those.

What’s all this, then? For those not in the know, Marvels retold four key moments in Marvel history through the point of view of an everyman, Paul Sheldon. Issue #2 is of interest to Fantastic Four fans, as it deals with the original Galactus trilogy. Marvels was a huge hit, and some lesser-known sequels and spinoffs followed. The idea behind Marvels Snapshots was Marvel as seen through the eyes of other non-powered characters. Other subjects included Spider-Man, Captain America, X-Men, Captain Marvel, and of course a Civil War tie-in. Busiek is credited as “curator” for this series, and Alex Ross painted all the covers.

We begin with a news reports telling us that this is Johnny’s ten-year high school reunion. Then we check in with Johnny’s former high school girlfriend, Dorrie Evans. She’s still living in the suburbs with her two kids. She’s attending the reunion alongside two reporters, hoping to spread the word that there’s more to Glenville than its fame as the birthplace of Sue and Johnny Storm. This is tough, because the town has become a FF-related tourist destination. The reporters and Dorrie tour a Fantastic Four museum full of recreations of their past adventures. Special attention is paid to Johnny’s solo adventures in Glenville.

Next, Dorrie and the reporters visit former supervillain Asbestos Man, who admits his motivation was mostly jealously and fear about the new wave of superheroes at the time. Asbestos Man is old and appears to be very sick. He has a young sidekick who seems much enamored with the old man’s life of crime.

Then Dorrie gets her interview segment. She talks about how Johnny was a “hothead” even before he got his powers. Once he did, she says it was like dating a “combination rock star, police officer, and astronaut.” She admits she grew anxious after a while, and started having nightmares about Johnny accidentally burning her. She admits and she and Johnny never officially broke us, so much as they just drifted apart over time.

Later that night, Johnny shows up at the reunion during a huge fireworks display. He’s surrounded by admirers while Dorrie and the reporters watch from a distance. Inside the reunion, Johnny is too busy partying for an interview, but the other attendees all give their thoughts on Johnny’s days in Glenville and life in town overall. A man named Bob confronts Johnny, saying he’s an Afghanistan war vet, and he asks why the Fantastic Four aren’t curing cancer or stopping terrorism. Johnny says the FF are private citizens, not gods, and they can’t do everything.

After the reunion, the lead reporter, Marcia, thinks something is up with the townsfolks’ behavior, and she wants to follow Dorrie home in secret. Something is definitely up, as Dorrie and several locals all meet at the beach, wearing sunglasses at night (heh). Johnny then reappears with the Inhumans’ teleporting dog Lockjaw. He’s brought marshmallows, and it’s an old-fashioned beach bonfire party. This is the real reunion, among old friends. Even Asbestos Man shows up, having reconciled with Johnny.

Johnny and Dorrie have a chat, with them agreeing he must play the part of a jerk to keep the town’s “secret identity.” The secret being that he still has deep friendships with many people in town. He signs Dorrie’s yearbook, something he never did back in high school. The reporters leave without documenting any of this, letting everyone have their privacy. Then the “4” signal appears in the sky, and Johnny and Lockjaw must leave.

Later, Dorrie is back at home, where her kids are watching the Fantastic Four on the news. We then see Johnny’s yearbook scrawl, which reads, “Dorrie! Thanks for being there through it all. So glad you are still in my life. Your friend 4-ever. Johnny. P.S. Flame on!”

Flame on: Who the heck is Asbestos Man? Back in the original Strange Tales issues, Orson Kasloff was a brilliant scientist who developed a special asbestos able to withstand the Human Torch’s flame, but the Torch defeated him anyway. While it’s suggested in this issue, the Fear Itself crossover will later reveal that he is indeed dying of asbestos poisoning.

Trivia time: This issue opens with a news report that offers a quick rundown of a lot of what’s happening in Marvel at this time. Public opinion continues to turn against the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. after Avengers Disassembled. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are Matt Murdock’s bodyguards, saving him from an attack by Typhoid Mary in Daredevil #48, and tabloid celebrity mutants X-Statix welcome new member El Guapo, in X-Statix #11.

Additionally, every page in this comic has multiple references to classic Fantastic Four and Strange Tales comics, for maximum nostalgia. I could take the time to list them all here, but geez, I’m only human.

Fantastic or frightful? While the relationship to this and Marvels is the thinnest of thin threads, this is a fun slice-of-life comic, with a ton of nostalgic references for old-school Marvel fans. It’s also definitely the most character development Dorrie Evans has ever had, making her feel like a fully-fledged part of the Marvel Universe for once.

Next: Man and manga.

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

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DuckTales rewatch – Attack of the Metal Mites

Rewatching DuckTales! Let’s all get swarmed by bugs as we watch episode ninety-five, “Attack of the Metal Mites.”  

Here’s what happens: Glomgold works with some scientists to genetically engineer metal-eating insects called metal mites, for the sole purpose of destroying Scrooge’s fortune. Glomgold then meets with culturally inappropriate pickpocket Dijon, last seen in the DuckTales movie, to sneak the mites into Scrooge’s money bin. Along the way, Dijon uses the mites to steal money from an armored truck, and then to escape the cops. The mites get loose throughout Duckburg.

The mites wreck the bean factory where Fenton once worked, which is owned by Scrooge. Fenton dons the Gizmoduck armor to rescue all the workers inside. Then they spot Dijon leaing the mites toward the money bin. The mites then attack him, eating their way through his armor. The National Guard arrives (!) and even they are no match for the mites. Scrooge goes to Gyro Gearloose for help.  Gyro is working on an automatic gum-chewing machine (!), only for the mites to get caught up in a giant gum bubble. The bubble floats towards the money bin. Dijon pops it, and the mites head for the bin.

There’s a lot of action as Scrooge and co. do their best to keep the mites out of the bin, but they ultimately fail, and the mites get in. In a panic, Fenton exclaims the code word “Blathering blatherskite.” This makes all the bugs fly to him in the shape of the Gizmoduck armor. The bugs then get scooped up by an electromagnet, thanks to all the metal in their stomachs. Fenton says he will resign if he can’t be Gizmoduck anymore. Scrooge talks him out of it, saying Fenton’s lightning-fast counting kept track of where all the mites were at all times. Fenton keeps the job, saying there will be another Gizmoduck suit.

Humbug: My thesis is that the series-long arc of DuckTales is Scrooge learning his newfound family is more important than his money. He’s back to being a greedy a-hole in this one. He shows no concern over all of Duckburg being in danger, and instead obsesses over every penny being accounted for.

Junior woodchucks: Huey, Dewey, and Louie pull a scam this episode by handing out free saltine crackers, and then setting up an overpriced ice water stand farther down the street. Scrooge approves of this new business venture of theirs.

Maid and maiden: Webby dons one of the boys’ Junior Woodchuck hats, suggesting that she’s joined the organization. Good for her.

Pro-rata: The Gizmoduck armor is destroyed, and yet Fenton (not Scrooge or Gyro) off-handedly states he’ll just get another one built. And yet, the Disney wiki alleges that this is the last time Fenton is seen wearing the armor (someone else wears it in an upcoming episode, but we’ll get to that). Could the writers have been toying with the idea of writing Gizmoduck off the show, knowing that another duck superhero, Darkwing Duck, was in pre-production?

Your move, creep: New Gizmoduck gadgets this episode include a “spritzer” which will apparently spray water on the bugs, but he confuses it with his built-in spray can, which paints a wall. Somehow, he’s also able to produce teeny-tiny handcuffs for all the mites when threatening to arrest them all.

Foul fowls: Glomgold gets his comeuppance at the end when Dijon steals a few of the mites to bring them back, only for them to start eating Glomgold’s gold.

Di-cringe: Scrooge and the nephews act as if they’ve never met Dijon before, after encountering him in the movie. I suppose this is a necessary evil, as not all viewers would have seen the movie, and it’s possible they didn’t know the movie’s release date when making the episode.

Down in Duckburg: The bean factory is the same one Fenton once worked at, but that’s not mentioned in this episode.

Reference row: The episode frequently cuts to news reports by reporter Walter Cronduck. This is a parody of famous newsman Walter Cronkite. Cronduck was portrayed by impossibly prolific voice actor Frank Welker. Among Welker’s many talents, he’s also known for his near-perfect Cronkite impersonation.

Thoughts on this viewing: Not a lot of story to this one, as it’s a series of gags as the characters think their way out of complications from a single what-if. The animators can’t quite keep up with the demands of drawings swarms of bugs throughout. There are few nice character moments, but they’re fleeting. Dijon continues to be the worst.

Next: No caper like a spy caper.

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

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Fantastic Friday: Salem’s plot

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Continuing our journey through Marvel Knights: 4, which was intended as a (somewhat) more grown-up interpretation of the FF. This week we wrap up the series with its final issues, #25-30.

Issue #25 is a series of short horror vignettes. It begins as Dr. Strange discovers his Sanctum Sanctorum has been broken into, and his pal Wong has been injured. We catch up to Johnny and his new girlfriend Kourtney Keaton, just as Kourtney learns her friend Stephanie has been died, after fallen from a tall building. Alicia invites ben over to her place, fearing there’s been a break-in. Ben finds her statue of the Fantastic Four, and someone has removed all four heads. Reed, Sue, and Franklin visit a butterfly sanctuary only to get trapped inside without oxygen. They escape, but all the butterflies are dead. Reporter Ben Urich investigates a graverobbing, to find someone placed the corpses around a table with odd symbols on it. That night at the Baxter Building, little Valeria’s eyes turn black as she tells her family, “You’re all going to die.”

Finally, we go to the town of Whisper Hill to catch up with the supernatural antiheroes Salem’s Seven – Brutacus, Reptilla, Gazelle, Vakume, Hydron, Vertigo, and Thornn. They’ve been summoned by the witch Agatha Harkness, who says she’s their grandmother, and that it’s “time to raise the devil.”

In issue 26, the family takes Valeria to the doctor… Dr. Strange! He gives her physical and concludes Val’s possession was temporary. He says magic has been happening all over New York, and he’s been tracking the movements of Salem’s Seven and he knows Harkness has come back from the dead. The Seven are the ones who ransacked Strange’s Sanctum to steal a book. He fears they’re planning to bring someone else back. The FF leave for Whisper Hill to investigate, and we see Strange and Wong are really Agatha and Reptilla in disguise. We then cut to Diablo, still in that other world where the FF trapped him in their last encounter. He hears a voice calling to him.

On the way to Whisper Hill, the FF are attacked by Salem’s Seven. The Seven catch the FF by surprise, but the heroes quickly rally and take out the Seven. They enter Agatha’s mansion to find her opening a magic portal. There’s another fight with the Seven, with the FF again easily winning. Agatha, however, opens the portal and out comes Shuma-Gorath, one of the dark gods of the universe. Agatha says she has banished Dr. Strange and will take his place as the new sorcerer supreme. Then Agatha drops another disguise, revealing that this isn’t Agatha but her partner in crime, Nicholas Scratch.

Issue #27 begins with Diablo wandering around inside the sanctum sanctorum. He frees Dr. Strange and Wong from a magic mirror. We learn Reed is the one who summoned him from the other world, having suspected the Strange he spoke to wasn’t the real Strange. Reed offered Diablo his freedom in exchange for his help. Strange and Diablo travel to Whisper Hill to stop Shuma-Gorath. In Whisper Hill, Scratch says his plan was to lure both the Seven and the FF there so they could fight, as Shuma-Gorath is a god of war and chaos.

There’s a big fight. Scratch uses magic to take away the FF’s powers. Reed pleads to Brutacus that the FF and the Seven must work together to stop Scratch and Shuma-Gorath. The two groups team up, but seems like not enough against Shuma-Gorath’s godlike power. Then Dr. Strange and Diablo arrive. Strange teleports himself and Shuma-Gorath away, and Diablo takes on Scratch, along with the combined forces of the FF and Salem’s Seven. To stop Scratch, they need someone pure of heart to read from a certain scroll, so Diablo transports Franklin and Valeria to the scene to do it. Sue is furious about this, but it works, as Scratch is sent “somewhere hot and scary.” Diablo then teleports everyone to Stonehenge, where a beaten and bloodied Dr. Strange has defeated Shuma-Gorath and send it to a world beyond time and matter. The Seven are left without a home. Dr. Strange gives Reed a dire warning that more evil gods are coming, while Scratch meets up with Mephisto and says, “At your service.”

Issue #28 drops the Marvel Knights moniker, and the series is renamed just 4. The Nicholas Scratch plots is abruptly dropped. Instead, we get Sue running the business side of Fantastic Four Inc., as one employee, Bethany Palmer, comes to her with concern that her husband has become abusive. Sue and Bethany confront the husband, and Sue goes all Punisher on him, threatening to kill him. She offers Bethany a place to stay at the new Baxter Building. Overwhelmed with worry about her actions, Sue tries calling Reed, but he doesn’t answer. Reed is with an old friend, Martin Simms, who dying in the hospital. Through a mental telepathy earpiece (!) Reed witnesses Martin relive his life in the last few moments of his death. That night, Sue is upset that Reed wasn’t there when she called. They talk things over, and all seems well, but the caption tells us this is the first step toward… civil war.

Issue #29 begins with the FF searching for the remains of Godseye, a sentient satellite recently destroyed by the Hulk. Any surviving piece of Godseye can attach absorb other machines and continue to grow. The search takes them to the Savage Land. Armed with metal detectors, it doesn’t take long for the FF to find a growing piece of Godeyes in the jungle. The Godseye pieces attempt to attach themselves to the Savage Land dinosaurs. They’re quickly destroyed by the FF. Sue confronts Reed reminding him that he promised her they would always be equal partners and there would be no secrets between them. Latre, Reed meets with a shadowy figure in secret, saying all evidence of Godseye has been destroyed.

The final issue, #30, opens with a lot of day-in-the-life stuff for our heroes. Sue is preparing an open house at the new Baxter Building, complete with a new mural painted of the heroes. Johnny and Ben have a playful bickering fight at the pool alongside Alicia and Kourtney. Namor the Submariner shows up Wanting to speak with Reed, but Reed is in his sensory depravation chamber, pondering infinite possibilities. The Inhuman royal family also shows up for the open house, having settled their differences from a few issues back. Elsewhere, Ben takes Alicia to visit her father the Puppet Master, who is in some sort of facility. He’s become a weary invalid, and she leaves him with a tiny piece of clay, asking what could go wrong. Dr. Strange shows up at the open house with the Salem Seven, saying they are friends now. Namor and Reed discuss “bridge-building” between super-folk like them and the general public. Sue asks Reed about his study of infinite possibilities, and we saw an alternate reality in which the FF waited until later to take their famous space flight, and instead enjoyed a lovely day in Central Park instead being bombarded by cosmic rays. Reed says, “That sounds fantastic.”

Unstable molecule: These issues have several references to Reed and Namor being part of the Illuminati. Reed leaves one of their meetings to take a phone call, and he and Namor commiserate over having to deal with Tony Stark’s increasing paranoia.

Fade out: One of Sue’s daily-life activities is visiting an Army base to inspire the troops with a speech. One soldier calls her a “dish,” but she just brushes this off.

Clobberin’ time: Johnny plays a joke on Ben by painting the words “Material girl” on his chest. Ben says the paint can only be removed with a sander.

Flame on: Johnny’s girlfriend Kourtney is never seen outside of the Marvel Knights: 4 series. The Marvel Wiki says she was only dating him to boost her own celebrity profile, and her current whereabouts are unknown.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal and Medusa catch the reader up on Renyo and Alecto, the two Inhuman teens who had a doomed romance a few issues back. Turns out the romance is back on. Not only have Renyo and Alecto reunited, but they’ve run off to the dark side of the moon (heh) to start a new life together.

H.E.R.B.I.E. continues to hang around, serving as babysitter for Valeria, even holding her at times. Would you trust your baby with H.E.R.B.I.E.? Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.

Four and a half: In the Savage Land, Reed says seeing dinosaurs makes him feel like a kid again. Sue says Franklin must have inherited his love of dinosaurs from Reed.

Our gal Val: No mention is made of how Nicholas Scratch’s possession of Valeria is similar to Dr. Doom once pulling a similar trick with her. Dr. Strange assures the FF that Scratch’s possession spell was only temporary, and Valeria will be fine.

Trivia time: Agatha Harkness was killed by Scarlet Witch during all the craziness that went down in the Avengers Disassembled event. She’ll later be brought back to life by Natalya Romanov in the Scarlet Witch solo series.

The Salem’s Seven also mostly appeared in Scarlet Witch/Agatha Harkness stories. Their home base of New Salem was destroyed in Vision and Scarlet Witch #3. These issues are pretty much it for them, though. Aside from an appearance in New Warriors, they’re no longer in continuity.

A big deal is made of Nicholas Scratch coming back from the dead in this story, but that happened earlier, in the three-part Hellcat miniseries. Also, this is the final appearance of Nicholas Scratch. Whatever he’s up to with Mephisto, it’s never been followed up.

The fight between Hulk and Godseye occurred in Incredible Hulk #91. The whole thing was a setup by the Illuminati to get Hulk off Earth and into space, hence Reed’s mysterious phone call in issue #29.

Who’s this Martin Simms guy? He’s the person Reed rescued from the rooftop in Marvel Knights: 4 #14. The Bethany Palmer character, however, has this as her only appearance.

Fantastic or frightful? The Salem Seven story is typical Marvel with too much plot and too many characters running around. The Civil War set up story has everyone acting out of character, but maybe that’s what Civil War was about. The final issues try to wrap up everything, as if all of Marvel Knights: 4 was one big saga. This entire series is a great read, but the earlier issues are definitely the better ones.

Next: Return to mainstream.

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

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DuckTales rewatch – Ducky Mountain High

Rewatching DuckTales! The show’s final season begins with episode ninety-four, “Ducky Mountain High,” just as Disney enters a new era (era).  

What’s all this, then? With the Disney renaissance kicking off in theaters, interest in DuckTales was waning. Previous seasons had wrapped up production and the DuckTales movie did poor box office. However, Disney was kicking off a new initiative, The Disney Afternoon. This was a two-hour block of cartoons running five days a week, in a rather cutthroat move to dominate after-school kids’ programming. Seven new episodes of DuckTales were made to help with the much-hyped Disney Afternoon premiere, and these became the show’s fourth and final season.  

Here’s what happens: Scrooge spends $1 million buying a peanut farm from Glomgold. Glomgold thinks he’s finally gotten the better of Scrooge, until Scrooge reveals his plan for an eco-friendly car that runs on peanut oil instead of gas. Back home, Scrooge detects the scent of gold embedded in some stationary. The family flies off to the Great Ducky Mountains to find the trees that made the paper. In Duckburg, Glomgold gets Scrooge’s $1 million check, and he can also sense the gold paper.

In the mountains, Scrooge and co. discover a forest of gold trees, worth a fortune. He checks the property records and discovers the trees are not on his land, but on land owned by his former flame, Glittering Goldie. Glomgold shows up in town to enlist the aid of three mountain man Beagle Boys, Backwoods, Binky, and their pet pig Bacon. Scrooge meets with Goldie, who says her claim in the Yukon dried up, so now she’s in the Ducky Mountains to pursue lumberjacking. Just as their romance starts to rekindle, Glomgold arrives to romance Goldie as well.

There’s a bunch of romantic comedy stuff as Glomgold and Scrooge both try to woo and/or swindle Goldie. Goldie finally makes a deal with Scrooge for the land, exchanging her land for a useless part of his land. But when Scrooge gets there, all the trees are already cut down and removed. They follow the trail to Glomgold and the Beagles. Scrooge and Glomgold fight on a raft before it goes over a waterfall. Scrooge wakes up in a sawmill for the classic tied-to-a-log-as-it-heads-for-the-sawblade act. The villains try to escape by train, but Bubba uses his awesome strength to destroy the tracks. Then the boys and Launchpad pull off a last-minute rescue for Scrooge at the sawmill.  

Scrooge and co. return to the land and start digging, hoping to find the underground gold deposit that turned the trees gold. He finds it, except that it’s under his former land that he just traded to Goldie. Goldie shows up and admits that getting her hands on Scrooge’s land, complete with the gold deposit, was her plan all along. Even though Scrooge is out-swindled, the episode ends on a romantic note, as she gives him a kiss.

Humbug: My thesis is that the series-long arc of DuckTales is Scrooge learning his newfound family is more important than his money. In this episode, he flat-out loses. Glomgold and Goldie get all the gold. But he does, however, get his romance with Goldie going again, and that’s the episode’s happy ending.

Junior woodchucks: Scrooge puts Huey, Dewey and Louie to work digging for the gold deposit, to the point where the collapse from exhaustion. Not a good look for Scrooge.

Fasten your seatbelts: Launchpad almost gets an awesome action hero moment to save Scrooge at the sawmill. He looks cool, but he bungles the rescue. The nephews have to do it instead.

Everybody walk the dinosaur: Bubba’s subplot is that he’s discovered sports, and he’s all into them. He uses basketball skills to run circles around the Beagle Boys, he deflects an oncoming boulder as if he’s hitting a baseball, and he takes out the train tracks by rolling another boulder as if he’s bowling.

Foul fowls: Why is Bacon Beagle a pig, and not a regular Beagle Boy? We’re told it’s because he has “swine flu.” Har-har.

Reference row: There’s a lot of talk online by car enthusiasts (car weirdos?) about converting diesel engines into ones that run purely on peanut oil or vegetable oil. I guess that’s a thing, then. The Planters Peanuts’ Nutmobile allegedly runs on peanut oil-based bio diesel.

Thoughts on this viewing: A fun episode with a lot of nice continuity nods, and some of the screwy logic the old Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics are famous for. The rescue at the sawmill is especially good, as the animation really pops during that scene.

Next: Dude, that’s totally metal.

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

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DuckTales rewatch – Treasure of the Lost Lamp

Rewatching DuckTales, and… OMFG, they made a DuckTales movie!!! DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp was released on August 3, 1990, to mixed reviews and poor box office, but nonetheless remains a big part of the show’s history.

What’s all this, then? DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp was the first film produced by Disney’s Movietoons studio, created to produce mid-level (some might say lesser) animated movies to run alongside the big blockbusters made by Disney Animation Studios. Most of Movietoons’ output were those numerous direct-to-video sequels to Disney classics that flooded stores in the late ‘90s/early 2000s. Movietoons’ biggest success was 1995’s A Goofy Movie, which most Disney fans have accepted as part of the Disney renaissance canon. Tracking the history of this stuff can be maddening because as time went on, Movietoons changed its name a few times and became a different type of studio, calling itself Disney Video Premieres and then Disneytoon Studios. Wikipedia alleges that the studio went defunct in 2018. Additionally, DuckTales the Movie was co-produced by Disney Television Animation, who made the TV show, and Walt Disney Animation France S.A., who contributed additional animation.

Here’s what happens: Scrooge and family travel to an unnamed foreign country in search of long-lost treasure of Collie Baba (heh). The shape-changing wizard Merlock and his pickpocket sidekick Dijon are also after the treasure. After a big action scene, Merlock gets the treasure, except for a seemingly useless oil lamp, which Scrooge lets Webby keep for her tea set.

Back at the mansion, Webby rubs the lamp, and of course there’s a wisecracking genie, whom the kids nickname Gene. We get a bunch of comedy bits where the kids make wishes, only to learn how easy it is for the wishes to turn out bad. He warns the kids that if the lamp is combined with Merlock’s magic amulet, then Merlock will gain godlike power. Scrooge figures out what’s going on, gets the lamp, and wishes for the treasure of Collie Baba, to impress the Duckburg Archeological Society at the annual ball. Merlock and Dijon show up at the ball. After another big action scene, Dijon is the one who gets the lamp. He wishes for Scrooge’s fortune for himself.

Dijon has Scrooge thrown in jail for trespassing. Launchpad bails him out, and then it’s another action scene as Scrooge and family break into the money bin to steal back the lamp. Merlock transforms into an insect to sneak along with them, snatching the lamp before Scrooge can. He combines the lamp and the amulet, basically giving him unlimited wishes. He transforms the money bin into his own giant flying castle. Huey, Dewey and Louie manage to get the lamp away from Merlock and to Scrooge. As Scrooge falls from the castle, he wishes everything back to normal. Merlock chases after Scrooge, only to fall to his death (!) after Scrooge knocks the amulet out of his hand.

Then there’s the question of what to do with Gene and the lamp. Scrooge wants to bury the lamp in the center of the Earth. The kids want to keep Gene around, though, as he’s become their friend. Scrooge grows a heart and uses his final wish to turn Gene into a real boy. With no more magic in it, the lamp turns to dust. Gene asks if he can call Scrooge “Uncle,” and Scrooge tells him not to press his luck. Then there’s an ending gag with Dijon stealing some of Scrooge’s coins from the money bin, and Scrooge chasing him through town.

Humbug: Scrooge wants the treasure not to add to his own wealth, but to show it off in front of the Archeological Society. When push comes to shove, his final wishes are to save his family and to help Gene, showing he does have a heart after all.

Junior Woodchucks: The movie starts with Huey, Dewey and Louie messing around with their marbles, and this becomes their super-power throughout the movie, even using them to separate Merlock from the lamp during the final fight.

Fasten your seatbelts: Launchpad’s most significant scene in the movie is in the first few minutes, when he of course crashes his plane. Knowing this was for the big screen, it seems the animators approached this as being the biggest crash they can do. It’s a big set piece, as the plane knocks over a bunch of pillars and causes all kinds of destruction.

Maid and maiden: For her wish, Webby wants a pet baby elephant, which she says is the one thing she’s always wanted. Okay, sure. Mrs. Beakeley is on hand for comic relief. While everyone else uses binoculars during their break-in on the money bin, Mrs. Beakeley uses her opera glasses.

In the Navy: You may have noticed that the movie is only 1 hour and 14 minutes. To hit the 80-minute mark for theatrical releases, they padded the runtime with 1951’s Dude Duck. It’s an unbelievably weird cartoon about Donald visiting a dude ranch along with a bunch of beautiful women (!). He wants to go horseback riding, but the horse would rather be ridden by the women. Dude Duck is not currently on Disney Plus, probably because of how horny it is.

Di-cringe: Yes, Dijon is culturally insensitive to a nightmarish degree. Even worse, the creators decided that out of all the new characters introduced in the movie, freakin’ Dijon would be the one to break out and become a recurring character in the next season of DuckTales. Not the smartest move.

Foul fowls: Merlock gets a heck of a backstory. He’s immortal, and he’s the genie’s former master. During that time, he used his wishes to cause the destruction of both Atlantis and Pompeii. Never mind that this wasn’t mentioned when Scrooge visited Atlantis in episode #38, “Aqua Ducks.”

Down in Duckburg: Gene the Genie never appeared again, except for a one-panel cameo in a Darkwing Duck comic. Let’s all hope he got adopted by some loving family.

Reference row: Let’s not forget that Scrooge and company met a genie (djinn) back in episode 12, “Master of the Djinn.” Also recall, however, that episode ended with the timeline being reset to where Scrooge and co. never actually found that lamp, and no one has any memories of that incident. And once again, stories about the djinn originated from ancient folklore, but popularized in the classic work 1,001 Arabian Nights, also known 1,001 Nights or just The Arabian Nights.

Thoughts upon this viewing: Of all the concepts they could have done for a DuckTales movie, why do another genie story? I’d rather see the ultimate clash of Scrooge versus the Beagle Boys and/or Glomgold on the big screen, but the filmmakers wanted this to be “entry-level” for newbies. That results in a simplistic story with a lot of running around and very little plot. On the plus side, the movie looks great for its mid-range (cheap?) budget. The scene where the money bin transforms into Merlock’s castle is especially eye-popping. So, the movie is entertaining but the best episodes of DuckTales have more story and adventure than this.

Next: Like a rock.

  • * * * *

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Fantastic Friday: Pharoahs, golems, and popups

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Continuing our journey through Marvel Knights: 4, which was intended as a (somewhat) more grown-up interpretation of the FF. This is issues 15-24. The remainder of the series can wait until next week.  

Just as Franklin hits the winning run in his Little League game, weird temporal events happen all over the world. Reed is later contacted by the otherworldly bureaucrats of the Time Variance Authority. Mr. Mobius of the TVA says Earth is the epicenter of temporal problems throughout the multiverse. They say the problem is caused by the multiverse missing eight minutes of time. The FF hop on their time platform to investigate, with Reed promising Franklin this will only take a few minutes. The timestream fractures while they’re in transit, though. The heroes get split up in the timestream, while a man who says he is Ramades, son of Kang, shows up in the Baxter Building, claiming to have killed the FF thousands of years earlier.

As the next issue begins, the man says he didn’t kill the FF so much as he stranded them in the desert in ancient times. Cut to Reed, Sue, and Ben doing the desert survival thing while Johnny is missing elsewhere. In the present, Ramades extends his influence with an army of mummies, taking over the world’s governments. Then Reed’s long-lost father Nathaniel appears, saying he’s been looking everywhere for Reed.

While all this is going on, Johnny is in an alternate future where Dr. Doom has conquered the Earth. He’s rescued from Doombots by an adult Valeria, who has Sue’s powers. Johnny joins her resistance movement to fight Doom. They fight their way into Doom’s castle to Doom’s time machine, and Valeria gives her life so Johnny can use it to escape. In the past, Nathaniel brings dire warnings about Ramades, while Sue is frustrated about Nathaniel never being a good father to Reed. After an argument, Nathaniel transports everyone back to the present, right into Ramades’ hands.

Franklin, the help of a brand new H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot, finds a device containing the missing eight minutes of time. Our heroes reunite in the present and battle Ramades’ army. Franklin hits the eight minutes of time like a baseball. Ramades is trapped inside the eight minutes, and the TVA bureaucrats press an actual “reset” button to restore the timeline. Reed asks Nathaniel to stay and be proper father and grandfather to his family. Nathaniel refuses, saying “I’m too far along a certain path.”

The next story arc begins with Inhumans, where Gordon’s daughter Alecto and her friend Renyo steal a spaceship and travel from the moon to the Earth. They fly straight to FF headquarters to ask for help. They’re terrified of something in the Inhumans’ city of Attilan, but they won’t say what. Gorgon (who, let’s not forget, once singlehandedly defeated the entire FF) shows up for kids, and he and Sue fight. Turns out the two kids have a romance going, but they can’t be together because they’re from two different castes.

The kids take off into NYC, with the FF and Gorgon chasing them. While Sue and Gorgon bicker, Johnny finds the kids and brings them back. Gorgon wants to separate the kids upon returning to the moon. Sue wants to offer the kids sanctuary, fearing Gorgon and other Inhumans will harm them. But the FF have no jurisdiction. Black Bolt and Medusa arrive, and the FF return the children to Gorgon. Sue is frustrated because the kids came to them for help, and she feels they did nothing. Alecto undergoes the ritual of the Terrigen Mists, transforming her into a musclebound giant, and newest member of the Inhuman royal family. She tells Renyo “bloodlines are bloodlines” and asks him to never speak to her again.

The next storyline is Reed and Sue’s anniversary, except Reed is unexpectedly called away. Instead, it’s a night on the town with Sue and her girlfriends – Alicia, She-Hulk, Sharon Ventura (!), and Emma Frost of the X-Men (!!!). Sue says she’s never cheated on Reed, but Alicia says there was something going on between her and Black panther. There’s a flashback to the FF’s meeting with the Panther, where he takes her on a tour of Wakanda one night while everyone else is sleeping, and things do a get a little steamy. She goes back to Reed in the end, though. The flashback ends with Reed surprising Sue with her anniversary gift, flowers from another planet, and this is why he was gone all day.

The next story begins with reporter Ben Urich and private eye Jessica Jones recruiting Ben to investigate murders on Yancy Street, committed by a rock monster of some kind. Turns out it’s an ancient golem, brought back to life after being awakened by construction. Ben, with his Jewish background, befriends the monster and offers it a new home, lurking at the bottom of the East River.

 In the next issue, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa includes himself in the story, as a recently hired Marvel writer struggling to come up with scripts for the Fantastic Four comics, based on the FF’s actual adventures. The FF battle evil duplicates of themselves, which turn out to be the Impossible Man and his partner, the Impossible Woman. The Impossibles kidnap Franklin and Valeria. Aguirre-Sacasa researches old Marvel comics and discovers that the Impossible Man created the Impossible Woman as a clone of himself to experience a similar love Reed and Sue have. Aguirre-Sacasa concludes that something tragic has happened to the Impossibles’ children, and that’s why they’ve taken Franklin and Val. He further deduces that the “tragedy” was merely their kids growing up and leaving home, and the Impossibles felt loneliness for the first time. The FF rescue the kids, who never in any real danger, and then they invite Aguirre-Sacasa to dinner with them and the entire Impossible clan.

Unstable molecule: A flashback scene to Reed’s childhood shows Nathaniel being a jerk dad. More interestingly, it’s a rare glimpse at Reed’s mother, Evelyn Richards. The Marvel Wiki states that she was a scientist alongside Nathaniel, and she died when Reed was only 7 years old.

Fade out: One scene has Sue meeting with Hollywood executives about a potential Fantastic Four blockbuster film. This is a jokey scene that takes shots at the Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four movie, which was cheaply made and never officially released.

Clobberin’ time: The golem storyline leans heavily on Ben’s Jewish background. It ends on a sour note, as he tells Ben Urich and Jessica Jones to stay away from him.

Flame on: In the alternate future, Johnny fights Dr. Doom, burning so hot that he cooks Doom inside his armor. Except, surprise, turns out that was just another Doombot.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Medusa is friendly and chatty with Sue at first, but when things get serious, she puts on her regal act when speaking on behalf of Black Bolt.

Interesting to see Sharon Ventura show up again. She was written off as living in Wyatt Wingfoot’s tribe’s reservation, where she was learning inner peace and dealing with her PTSD. I guess there’s no reason why she can’t take a teleporter or Fantasticar to NYC for a visit. She does say she thought the FF forgot her number, which strikes me as rather sad.

It’s a little tricky sorting out where She-Hulk is in continuity during this time. She pops up in cameos in Avengers, Defenders, and of course, Fantastic Four. Her next appearance after this will be in the House of M crossover event, and shortly after that, she’ll get her own series again, where she joins the law firm of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway.

Tracking the history of Impossible Man is even trickier, since the character is so often used for parody and fourth wall-breaking stories. The tale of him creating Impossible Woman by cloning himself was told in Marvel Two-In-One #60. Their children, known only as the Impossible Kids, first appeared in Marvel Two-In-One #86, and were prominently featured in the Impossible Man Summer Vacation parody comic.

Nathaniel Richards is back, after unceremoniously being written out of the series during the Onslaught crossover. Since then, he’s been time traveling, having all kinds of adventures that only he is privy to. He’ll be back for more during the Jonathan Hickman run on Fantastic Four.

And, yes, Reed has built a new version of H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot. This one is humanoid, complete with legs. Later, when his head is removed, his head sprouts spider legs so he can get around. Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.

Four and a half: Franklin continues to be a budding athlete. He plays Little League baseball in the first story arc, and in the next one he’s shown playing soccer.

Our gal Val: The alternate-future version of Valeria is reminiscent of the Marvel Girl version of the character we met during Chris Claremont’s run, although this isn’t mentioned outright.

Trivia time: How are Sue and Emma Frost friends? They met in the manga-style X4 miniseries. I’d thought that was an alternate universe, like all the Marvel Mangaverse stuff, but I guess not.

Fantastic or frightful? Now that the initial premise of the Fantastic Four dealing with real-life problems is over, writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa seems to be using the series to tell whatever kinds of FF stories he likes. So we get a time travel story that tears apart the entire Marvel Universe and puts it back together, some slice-of-life stories, and then a wink-at-the-audience comedy tale. It’s a lot to take in, but I must admit I’m enjoying this series.

Next: Dr. Strangehead.

  • * * * *

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DuckTales rewatch – A DuckTales Valentine

Rewatching DuckTales! The series returns to prime time to celebrate freakin’ Valentine’s Day in episode 94, “A DuckTales Valentine.”

What’s all this, then? By 1990, production on DuckTales has pretty much ceased, except someone at Disney was invested in keeping the party going. This included a mid-budgeted feature film in the works and a handful of new episodes to kick off an all-Disney afternoon programming block. And then there’s this, a one-off episode made as part of a Magical World of Disney Valentine’s Day special, airing in prime time on ABC. It was the only new animation in the special, as everything else was old-timey Disney cartoons from the archives.

Here’s what happens: It’s Valentine’s Day, but Scrooge can’t be bothered. He’s preparing an expedition to find the lost temple of Aphroducky. He says the trip is too dangerous for the kids, so of course they stow away. Scrooge catches them, and then everyone’s off in a minisub to explore the sunken temple. They find a message saying love is the greatest treasure of all, which Scrooge dismisses another lame Valentine, and then some golden arrows. A shark attacks, poking Launchpad with one of the arrows. The arrows are magic, and Launchpad falls in love with the shark (!). Everyone escapes to the surface with the arrows.  

The scene shifts to Mount Olympos, with the gods Aphroducky and Vulcan. He doesn’t approve her using her arrows to mess with humans’ love lives, and they bicker. She discovers her arrows are missing and sets out to find Scrooge. She appears in Scrooge’s office demanding the arrows back. She threatens him with her magic. In defense, Webby pokes her with an arrow, causing her to fall in love in Scrooge.

Aphroducky moves into the mansion, driving Scrooge crazy. The kids try to come up with a way to undo the spell. Their plan backfires, as they accidentally poke Scrooge with arrow, and now he loves Aphroducky as she loves him. He tears up his property to build her a new temple. The kids think Scrooge has abandoned them. Launchpad has still been in love with the shark this whole time, but then it wears off. The kids deduce that they must get Scrooge to choose between Aphroducky and his beloved money. They trick Aprhoducky into thinking that she’s allergic to gold.

At a press conference, Scrooge announces he’s giving up fortune to be with Aphroducky. In Mount Olympos, Vulcan sees this too, and he is outraged. Scrooge packs up the arrows and decides to leave and live with Aphroducky on Mount Olympus. When the kids say they’re not going with him, that’s the choice he must make, and this breaks the spell. Then Vulcan attacks. After a lot of fighting, the kids poke Aphroducky with the arrows, making her fall back in love with Vulcan. The gods return to Olympos and Scrooge says his family is all the treasure he needs.

Humbug: My thesis is that series-long arc of DuckTales is Scrooge learning that his newfound family is more important than his money. In this one, he first chooses Aphroducky over his money. Then, when the spell wears off and he comes to his senses, he states that his family is the real treasure.

Junior Woodchucks: Scrooge doesn’t want his nephews on the expedition with him. Once he learns they’ve stowed away, he lets them explore the ruins with him in the minisub. He must’ve known all along that they would stow away, right?

Fasten your seatbelts: Launchpad falling in love with a shark is odd, but it provides an important plot point. During the big fight, he uses his jet to distract Vulcan.

Maid and maiden: Webby spends the whole episode wanting to give Scrooge a cupcake as a Valentine gift, but spiteful Aphrodite smooshes the cupcake under her foot. Harsh.

Foul fowls: Vulcan on this show seems a little more based on Zeus, living atop Mount Olympos, appearing as a giant, and throwing lightning bolts all over.

Reference row: There are dozens (hundreds?) of myths about the goddess Aphrodite out there, most of them contradictory. For as long as there have been people, it seems, there have been stories about a goddess of love. The main consistency about the Aphrodite myths, from what I can tell, is not romantic love, but her furious jealously. That says a lot about the human condition, doesn’t it?

Thoughts on this viewing: Definitely a throwback to the early DuckTales episodes, where each one felt like a 30-minute Indiana Jones movie. They must have known this was for prime time, because I get the sense the animators were really striving to put their best webbed feet forward.

Next: I love lamp.

  • * * * *

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

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Fantastic Four: Knighthood

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Time for a different and more grown-up version of our heroes (or is it?) in Marvel Knights: 4.

What’s all this, then? Marvel never quite figured out how to compete with DC’s edgy Vertigo imprint. There was Marvel Max, featuring adults-only stories starring characters such as the Punisher, Nick Fury, and even Howard the Duck. Max also gave us Alias, with the debut of Jessica Jones. Similarly, the Marvel Knights line gave select characters a “hard PG-13” treatment, beginning with Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada’s Daredevil. Other titles included Black Panther, Inhumans, Wolverine, more Punisher, and a team book simply called Marvel Knights. And then the FF had a turn with 30 issues of Marvel Knights: 4. This was a (somewhat) more grounded and serious take on the characters, running concurrently with the far-out and fantastical stuff Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo were doing on the main series.  

After their controversial takeover of Latveria, the Fantastic Four’s PR hit rock bottom and they lost their fortune. They are so broke, in fact, that they are evicted from the new Baxter Building, and they all need regular jobs. Ben works construction, Johnny tries to get his acting career restarted, and Sue becomes a substitute teacher. Reed withdraws into himself, obsessed with finding a way to turn things back around. He eventually agrees to take a job at a law firm, as their office’s computer tech guy.

Reed is then contacted by mobster Hammerhead, who says the FF were scammed out of their fortune by Terry Giocometti, who recently stole his fortune as well. Johnny, with no acting gigs to be found, once again begins training as a NYC firefighter. Then there’s several issues of the family going on a camping trip, where the encounter an alien who is the true source of the Jersey Devil urban legend. They defeat the alien, and this is a romantic/bonding moment for Reed and Sue.  

The second story arc begins with Johnny struggling to fit in as a firefighter. Then Namor the Submariner shows up unannounced in Sue’s classroom. It’s the same old story. Namor wants to Sue to leave Reed and come live with him in Atlantis. Reed hears about this, and he and Namor fight. Johnny breaks up the fight and enlists the two of them to help the NYFD search for a missing child who fell through a frozen lake. They’re too late to save the child, but they do manage to set aside their differences.

Things get spooky in the next storyline, when all the characters have the same nightmares. Psycho-Man has returned to New York, and he is looking for way to return to his home universe of Sub-Atomica. Then reality itself starts to unravel around the city as Psycho-Man taps into people’s emotions and then makes their emotional states warp their surroundings (or something). The crisis gets so extreme that even the sun is blotted out.

Reed deduces that Psycho-Man is causing all this chaos from inside the Baxter Building. The FF storms their former home to fight back, with Psycho-Man attacking them with more nightmare imagery. Sue confronts Psycho-Man, only it isn’t Sue but Alicia disguised as Sue. This allowed Sue to foil Psycho-Man’s plans while invisible. On the roof of the Baxter Building, Reed and Sue have heart-to-heart chat, where Reed says that although this time in their life has been challenging, their family has “blossomed.” Sue agrees, saying that their family doesn’t really want to be normal anyway.

The next issue begins with FF back in the Baxter Building, as their finances are now again on the upswing. The Puppet Master, meanwhile, has abducted Alicia and coerced a doctor into performing experimental eye transplants to cure Alicia’s blindness. In their wake, Daredevil finds corpses of eyeless bodies around New York. While the rest of the FF are off in space, Puppet Master mind-controls Sue with one of his puppets. He plans on replacing Alicia’s eyes with Sue’s. Alicia manages an escape by using Puppet Master’s mind-controlling clay against him. The FF and Daredevil show up to free the doctor. Reed offers to try to replicate the eye replacement surgery, but Alicia’s answer is simply, “I don’t think so.”

And that’s the issues 1-14 of Marvel Knights: 4. I’ll attempt to cover 15-30 next week. We’ll see.

Unstable molecule: Reed’s talk of hacking the stock market never comes of anything. Seems out of character for him. His rarely seen teaching and lecturing gigs never come up in the job search, so I guess we can chalk that up to the FF’s poor PR during this time.

Fade out: What’s the deal with Alicia impersonating Sue? Remember that when Alicia was first introduced, a big deal was made about her and Sue looking so alike they could be twins. Most Marvelites forgot this detail over the years, but the creators of Marvel Knights: 4 didn’t.

Clobberin’ time: Ben’s subplot as a construction worker is that he’s doing such a good job he’s making his coworkers look bad. It’s at the construction site where he’s the first one to find the sinkholes and tentacle monsters created by Psycho-Man.

Flame on: I’m unclear as to how or when Johnny becoming a firefighter in this series lines up with his firefighter training in the recent Human Torch miniseries. In the mini, though, he trained alongside the firefighters, but never actually got a job with them.

Four and a half: The series begins with Franklin’s birthday party (his age isn’t given), where Reed gives him an old-timey kid’s wagon that was his when he was a kid. Franklin doesn’t like the wagon at first, but later he takes it to school to show off the other kids, revealing he’s proud of his dad.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal is mentioned babysitting the kids on the moon, while the FF still have access to their teleporter in the last few days before being evicted.

Speaking of being evicted, H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot is among the junk seen being carried out by movers. Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.

Trivia time: Who is this guy Terry Giocometti, who is allegedly behind the FF being evicted and who has wronged Hammerhead? I have no clue. The Marvel Wiki states that this series is the only time he’s mentioned, and that he never actually appears in any comic. (Maybe Hammerhead gave him the old cement shoes treatment.)

While some Marvel Knights and Marvel Max series were designated alternate realities, Marvel Knights: 4 is in regular continuity. The Marvel Wiki states that this entire series occurs between issues 516 and 517 of Fantastic Four.

Fantastic or frightful? Although slower-paced than most superhero comics – dialogue scenes to go on for multiple pages – Marvel Knights: 4 is a great read. The first part is best, as our heroes must deal with “normal life” stuff. The return to the Baxter Building and their wealth is abrupt, feeling like an editorial mandate. The later issues lean toward the horror genre, with the Puppet Master story being especially dark and violent. These feel a little rushed and out-of-place for Fantastic Four. Another mixed bag.

Next: Time keeps on slippin’.

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DuckTales rewatch – The Masked Mallard

Rewatching DuckTales! The show goes full Tim Burton with a visual style not seen anywhere else in the series in episode 93, “The Masked Mallard.”

Here’s what happens: At a public event, Scrooge is confronted by Lawrence Loudmouth, a controversial TV host. He argues that Scrooge’s new job creation plan is a scam to line Scrooge’s own pockets. Privately, Loudmouth admits to Scrooge that his attacks on Scrooge are all about rating, truthful or not. It gets worse back home, when Gizmoduck’s young fans believe Loudmouth’s claims that Scrooge is a greedy, rich jerk. Huey, Dewey, and Louie come home with black eyes after the other kids picked on them because of Loudmouth’s show. Scrooge sees a movie about a masked pirate saving people, and he gets an idea.

Later, the Beagle Boys are about to steal a diamond from a museum, and they’re stopped by cape-and-cowled crimefighter the Masked Mallard. At Gyro’s place, we learn the Masked Mallard is really Scrooge, and Gyro built all his crimefighting gear. In a montage, the Masked Mallard stops crime all over the city. The people love him, but Lawrence Loudmouth keeps ranting about him. When villains hold City Hall hostage (!), the Masked Mallard saves the day, except this time Scrooge’s nephews learn his secret identity. He says he plans to reveal the truth to Duckburg to prove that he’s a good person. The press conference is interrupted by Loudmouth, though, with evidence that the Masked Mallard robbed a bank.

At an art museum gala, the fake Masked Mallard steals a golden popcorn bowl (!), and he’s chased by Gizmoduck. The imposter takes him out with a rocket. Scrooge decides he must become the Masked Mallard again to find and defeat the imposter. Instead, he’s confronted again by Gizmoduck, who still think he’s the thief. Gizmoduck catches the Masked Mallard and reveals to the city that it’s really Scrooge. Scrooge escapes and becomes a fugitive.

Scrooge deduces that only Loudmouth has footage of the imposter. He investigates Loudmouth’s mansion and finds the imposter Mallard costume. Loudmouth knocks out Scrooge and ties him up atop a building. He plans to continue framing Scrooge and profiting from it. Loudmouth, dressed as the Mallard, steals some gold and then fights Gizmoduck. Gizmoduck thinks Loudmouth is Scrooge, though, so he pulls his punches. Scrooge escapes, and he joins the fight in a nearby junkyard. Loudmouth traps Gizmoduck with an electromagnet. Scrooge shows up in his Mallard costume, and the two Mallards fight. Scrooge wins, and exposes Loudmouth in front of the cops and TV reporters. Scrooge destroys the Masked Mallard costume, saying he no longer needs a mask to do good deeds.

Humbug: Is Scrooge a rich jerk or isn’t he? The inciting incident of this episode is him wanting to do good deeds, but he feels he can’t because he’s in the public eye. I don’t know what to make of it, either. Let’s call this one a mixed message.

Junior Woodchucks: The end-of-episode gag is Huey, Dewey, and Louie in their own Masked Mallard outfits, calling themselves the “Titanic Trio.”

Great gadgeteer: One of the gadgets Gyro makes for the Masked Mallard is a whistle-activated laser, which the Mallard uses to escape from being tied up at the end of the episode.

Pro rata: Fenton is at the museum gala because he loves the free food. Don’t you need an invitation to get into fancy galas?

Your move, creep: While Gizmoduck has been pretty much unstoppable in the past, in this episode a missile and then a magnet defeat him. I guess this has to happen so the Masked Mallard can swoop in and be the hero.

Foul fowls: Nobody on the internet can agree which real-life person Lawrence Loudmouth may or may not be based on. In one scene, he broadcasts while standing in front of a huge image of his own face, in a parody of Citizen Kane.

Reference row: We’ve all seen 1989’s Batman, right?

Let’s get dangerous: Several episodes of DuckTales are singled out for being concept for a potential spinoff series, usually starring Launchpad. This one, more than any other, is a proof of concept for what would soon become Darkwing Duck.

Thoughts on this viewing: Later episodes of DuckTales are often considered weaker ones, but somebody came to this one with something to prove. The animators are working overtime to capture that sense of Burton/Batman atmosphere. We saw a little bit of this in the dream sequence from “The Unbreakable Bin,” but this time it’s the entire episode. The fights and action are also impressive, with a lot of fluid movement and awesome cape-flowing-in-the-wind money shots. One of the best episodes of late-era DuckTales – if not the best.

Next: V-Day.

  • * * * *

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Fantastic Friday: The Superman of Marvel?

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Occasionally, somebody at Marvel remembers the popularity of the 1930s Human Torch, which rivaled Superman at the time. This leads to attempts to turn Johnny into a bigger deal. That’s the idea behind the Human Torch 12-issue miniseries written by Karl Kesel, and art by Skottie Young, Joseph Dodd, Howard Porter, and Paco Medina.

The first story arc flashes back to Johnny’s high school days in the small town of Glenville. Yes, this is a throwback to the barely-in-continuity Strange Tales solo stories, in which Johnny had small-town superhero adventures, complete with a secret identity. In this retelling, Johnny is the school troublemaker, running afoul of star athlete Mike Snow. Johnny reveals he is the famous Human Torch of the Fantastic Four in front of the whole school, only intensifying his rivalry with Snow. Snow confronts Johnny during a snowstorm, somewhat appropriately. They fight, only for Johnny to lose control of his powers and seriously burn Snow.

In the present, Johnny test-drives a new rocket car while being pestered by sleazy tabloid reporter Sheila Donner. A grown-up Mike Snow shows up at the Baxter Building, still scarred from that fight. He’s now an NYC firefighter, and he asks for Johnny’s help investigating a firefighter who spontaneously burned alive. Johnny and Snow do the detective thing, while Johnny helps the fire department. During a fire, the flames act on their own, targeting a specific firefighter. Johnny concludes that some unseen intelligence is controlling the flame, and that he’s never seen anything like this before.  

While on a training exercise, Johnny and the others are attacked, with the villain making herself known. It’s a woman dressed head to toe in black, calling herself Firefox. She says she wants revenge on the NYFD for not acknowledging her genius fire-controlling tech. Johnny captures her, but she threatens to sue if he unmasks her, violating privacy laws. Johnny flies off with Firefox, where we learn she’s really Sheila Donner. Moreover, the Firefox thing is a ruse to find the real killer, with Johnny faking all of Firefox’s fire effects.

Johnny and Snow fight another fire, while Sheila investigates Snow’s girlfriend Rose, who was spotted at the scene of the murder after denying she’d been there. Snow follows the clues to a warehouse to learn that Rose is the real killer. She was born with fire powers, not knowing if they’re magic or if she’s a mutant. She says she did it all out of her love for Snow. After a fight, Snow is still in love with Rose and he sides with her. They try to make a run for it, with Johnny in pursuit. Rose realizes she can’t ruin Snow’s life, so Rose blows herself up (!) so Snow can have his life back. Later, Snow reveals that that he was burned ended up being a good thing because it put him on the path to being a firefighter. He relocates to Portland, a.k.a. the city of roses.

In the second story arc, Johnny and Jian, his business partner in Fantastic Four Inc., journey to a small town in the Balkans. A science organization called the Locust Project set up shop in a nearby castle with plans to end world hunger, only for everyone to disappear. Johnny and Jian investigate, attacked by automatons and giant spiders. He’s knocked out and awakened in an underground city. He meets the Locust King, named Ambrose, and his daughter Shyla. Johnny is quick to learn that he and the whole underground city have been shrunk down to Ant-Man size, and that’s Ambrose’s plan for ending world hunger.

When Johnny tries to escape, he, Jian, and Ambrose are taken captive by the automatons, under Shyla’s control. Shyla plans to take over Project Locust herself. Johnny leads something of a rebellion of all the people that Shyla has enslaved (!). Hugo, a villager they met at the start of the story, drops a rock on Project Locust an destroys it. The enlarging machine, located outside the city, returns everyone to normal, and back to the Balkan village. There’s a joke about how Jian thinks Johnny is a little bit taller.

The third story arc of the series begins with Johnny responding to an emergency call on one of those big ocean drilling platforms. Scientists there were experimenting with teleportation when the whole thing exploded. Johnny puts out the fire with his powers. He investigates and finds Atlanteans unconscious all around the scene, including… Namorita! This is interesting because Namorita (cousin to the Submariner and member of the New Warriors) is Johnny’s ex-girlfriend. Their romance lasted for years in real-world time, except that their relationship occurred almost entirely off-panel, in both Fantastic Four and New Warriors. These issues of Human Torch are their most significant interaction with one another.

When Namorita comes to, she explains that Atlantis worked alongside the human scientists to show that Atlantis is just as advanced and important as the likes of Wakanda. Turns out this experiment was to open a portal to the Negative Zone. Johnny says this is too dangerous, that merging Earth with the anti-matter of the Negative Zone could destroy everything. Then the portal opens again, powered by someone on the other side.

A female form appears in the portal, and one scientist says that it’s an anti-matter echo of Namorita. There’s a lot of action as the heroes and the scientists try to prevent the anti-matter from clashing with Earth’s matter. Namorita feels drawn to the echo until Johnny drops her into the water. This brings her back to her senses. She fights her ill-defined attraction to the echo while Johnny and the scientists destroy the portal. In th wreckage, the scientists find Johnny and Namorita kissing (wa-HEY!).

Johnny and Namorita have a heart-to-heart talk. He wants them to get back together, and he invites her to move in with him. She insists that she’s her own woman and not merely the Fantastic Four’s sidekick. He says the two of them are like matter and anti-matter, opposites who can’t be together but who are nonetheless drawn to each other.

In the final issue, Ben and Johnny attend a football game at State University, when they’re attacked by Dragon Man. Professor Gilbert, Dragon Man’s creator, thought Dragon Man could be controlled, but now he wants it killed. Johnny and Ben say they won’t kill – not even a giant android dragon. While waiting in Gilbert’s lab, Ben and Johnny discuss how Johnny never finished college even though his grades were excellent. Then Dragon Man attacks again, along with Gilbert’s newest android creation, a beast named Zzord. Dragon Man fights Zzord while Gilbert is revealed to be a Skrull in disguise. Johnny defeats the Skrull while Dragon Man destroys Zzord and rescues the real Gilbert. The dean offers Johnny an honorary degree, but Johnny refuses it, wanting to earn one the real way.

Unstable molecule/Fade out: Reed and Sue only appear in a dream Johnny has when unconscious. At the drilling platform, Reed is unavailable because he’s lecturing in Brussels, and Sue can’t make it because she’s helping refugees in Rwanda.

Clobberin’ time: Ben gets tossed out of the lab during the Dragon Man and Zzord fight, disappearing for the rest of the battle. He says he never would have graduated college without Reed’s help, and the degree meant that he was more than a dumb jock from Yancy Street. The reason why he’s not on the drilling platform is because he was bowling in Brooklyn.

Flame on: Is Johnny Marvel’s equivalent of Superman or not? I’m going to say not. A running thread throughout this series is him wondering if just him on his own is enough to save the day. He really struggles with this in the Project Locust story. One of the reasons why the Marvel Universe is so great is that no one hero is top dog the way Superman is over at DC.

Trivia time: There’s a running joke about how tall Johnny is, whether he’s 5’9, 5’10, or 5’11. Our old friend The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition settles the debate by stating he’s 5’10.

Namorita has blue skin in this, when she’s normally portrayed as more human-looking. Johnny asks her about this, and she says, “It’ll wear off.” The Handbook states that most Atlanteans have blue complexions, but there are a lot of exceptions, including human-looking ones, and green-skinned ones.

Fantastic or frightful? Although only the first arc is a mystery, Karl Kesel writes the whole thing like they’re mysteries, with a lot of red herrings and surprise twists. This makes the comic a little hard to follow at times. Skottie Young’s art is cartoonish, but not as much as more popular stuff. Old-school fans will like the Strange Tales throwback, but I think the most interesting part is the Johnny/Namorita stuff, finally seeing what was only suggested for so long. So, it’s not perfect, but it’s an entertaining read nonetheless.

Next: Fantastically broke.

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