Random Warner Bros.: Chariots of Fire

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator enjoys long walks on the beach as it selects Chariots of Fire.

Here’s what happens: It’s the story of two gifted athletes in England in the 1920s. Abraham is a Jew facing much anti-Semitism at Cambridge University. Liddell is a devout Christian who believes his physical prowess is a gift from God. Their paths lead them to the 1924 Olympics, where there is much drama.

Why it’s famous: A group of guys running on the beach in slow motion while the stirring score by Vangelis plays. This, and the many times it’s been parodied, is pretty much the only thing the movie is known for.

Get your film degree: Most of the characters in the movie are proper English gentlemen, with scene after scene of them very proper and very, very English. The emotion and drama is there, but always simmering under the surface, never really coming out until the big race scenes. And there aren’t as many races as you’d expect from a sports movie.

Movie geekishness: A lot of cult-fave actors show up in this one, such as Ian Holm as a running coach, John Gielgud as a stately educator, and Patrick Magee as a hardass Olympic official. Best of all, though, is Alice Krige, Star Trek’s Borg queen, as a love interest. Turns out she is quite charming and lovely without her Borg implants.

Thoughts upon this viewing: This movie is beautiful to look at, but awfully dull at times. Maybe I’m just not English enough.

Next week: Viva la France… again.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Son of Simon

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The great Walt Simonson takes over both writing and art in issue #337, and he swings for the fences with an extra-length 30-page issue featuring big guest stars and time travel craziness.

Can we talk about Walt Simonson? He got his start at Marvel in the ‘70s, working a number of titles, notably Star Wars. He gained huge popularity during his now-historic run on Thor, where his storytelling style was defined, with big action, eye-popping alien landscapes, and quirky humor. (Anybody remember the Thor frog?) He then had a nearly as successful run on X-Factor, further solidifying himself as one of Marvel’s best. He was the writer on Avengers during the short time in which Reed and Sue were on the team. He allegedly had a bunch of scripts written with them on the team before Marvel editorial went in a different direction. Now given the reigns of Fantastic Four, Simonson took his Avengers scripts and rewrote them for the FF.

We begin with the intruder alarm going off inside Four Freedoms Plaza in the middle of the night, and our heroes investigate. The reach a dead end, until Reed opens a secret door none of the others knew about. Inside is a gigantic chamber with a huge machine it (it’s about the size of two-story house, if were to guess). Reed announces there is a volume anomaly, and he has Sue block part of the wall with a force field. The wall breaks apart with this odd pattern behind it.

Ben deduces that the anomaly is a sort of bomb. Reed finds a fragment of the bomb, and agrees. He runs a test on it, saying the bomb has to do with a “time bubble” somehow located inside of a renegade Celestial alien. The bubble contains 15 years that cannot be time-traveled into. Reed further explains that this hidden room, which technically should lead to outside the building, is a another space-time anomaly created using the Radical Cube, which you’ll remember as the shrinking device from back in issue #51. Reed tries time-traveling an object into the future, but he can’t. From this he deduces that something happening in the future is endangering the present. He says the FF must travel 35 years into the future to stop whatever’s happening.

Later, while working in the lab late one night, Red falls asleep at his desk and has a dream about a sexy blue-skinned woman seducing him. Ben and Sharon pay a visit to the Avengers temporary HQ, located in a hidden bunker underneath a diner (!). They ask the Avengers for help in their upcoming time travel journey. Thor says he and a friend will help out. Captain America and Hank Pym are standing right there, but don’t say anything. Back in Reed’s lab, Johnny also falls asleep at a desk, and dreams about the same sexy blue woman.

Thor shows up with Iron Man. This is treated as a surprise reveal, except it was spoiled on the cover. Inside Reed’s lab, he’s constructed a new craft, the Rosebud II, which Iron Man describes as a “time sled.” Johnny gives a kiss goodbye to Alicia (who is really Lyja the Skrull in disguise) and he briefly hallucinates the blue woman in her place.

Everyone boards the time sled, and we’re off for several pages of time travel craziness. The time sled enters a space of infinite possibilities, where all unrealized futures exist simultaneously. The sled is also flying alongside hundreds of identical sleds, all from their own timelines running alongside the FF’s timeline. Reed regains control of the sled, and it pulls ahead of all the other timelines. Reed announces that there is a vortex ahead, but instead the sled crashes against a giant space wall in a huge explosion.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: By my count, this is the third time we’ve seen a hidden room inside Four Freedoms Plaza that only Reed knows about. This is odd, but it does finally give this headquarters some identity of its own. We’ll always wonder just how many other hidden rooms are in there.

Fade out: Sue is back to short hair in this issue, though there doesn’t seem to be any fan outrage over this one, as opposed to times she’s changed her hair in the past. I guess everyone’s just taking it in stride along with the new art style.

Clobberin’ time: Iron Man says he doesn’t recognize Ben now that Ben is human again. Except that they fought alongside each other during Atlantis Attacks. Yeah, Ben was wearing his Thing-shaped exoskeleton, but still.

Flame on: While Reed resists the advances of the mystery woman, but Johnny appears much more tempted by her. Is this the writer’s way of not approving his and Alicia’s marriage, or is this just because he’s the young hothead?

Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon shares a lot of the time travel technobabble with Reed, in the ongoing attempt to portray her as a science whiz along with her being the team’s muscle.

Four and a half: There’s a scene where Sue drops off Franklin to stay with the Power family (of Power Pack fame) while the FF is away. Alex and Jack Power have cameos, and this sets up a weird Power Pack versus Galactus story in their comic.

The Alicia problem: I wouldn’t read too much into Lyja “transforming” into the mystery woman, other than it being a hallucination. Even if some Skrulls have empathic abilities, able to transform into what others are thinking of, Lyja’s training as a super-spy would prevent her from losing control in front of Johnny, even if just for a second.

Commercial break: Once again, I dare somebody to call this number:

Trivia time: The Power family’s address is shown, at West 71st Street on the Upper West Side. Pretty nice digs considering that dad Jim Power’s job is merely “inventor.”

And, yes, there’s a sled named Rosebud. Do I really need to tell you what this is a reference to?

Fantastic or frightful? Walt Simonson allegedly wanted to bring a hardcore science fiction feel to Fantastic Four, and that’s just what he does with an issue full of far-out reality-bending. It also has a lot of fun character moments, and of course the art is great.

Next week: Doc, you disintegrated Einstein!

****

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Random Warner Bros.: The Dark Knight

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator would like to show you a trick it learned with a pencil as it lands on The Dark Knight.

Here’s what happens: Crime is down in Gotham City, thanks to the efforts of Batman, the dark knight, and hard-fightin’ district attorney Harvey Dent, the city’s new white knight. Along comes the Joker, bringing with him a new breed of madness that neither of them are prepared for.

Why it’s famous: A three-hour long Batman movie? One that crosses the superhero genre with crime suspense and drama? There have been plenty of superhero movies before and after this, but The Dark Knight legitimized superhero-ing for mass audiences more than any other movie.

Get your film degree: This is a movie with a lot Big Important Ideas on its mind, but it successfully gets those Big Ideas across within the context of a Batman adventure. The script is overflowing with surprise plot twists, but unlike most action movies, you can go through this one scene-by-scene and see where the carefully and deftly foreshadowed each twist ahead of time.

Movie geekishness: When you’re dealing with iconic characters who have been around for decades (or more), the audience expects a certain level of consistency in them. For as over-the-top as Heath Ledger is as the Joker, he never so far gone that we don’t recognize him as the Joker we all know.

Thoughts upon this viewing: Talk about firing on cylinders. It’s a miracle when all the elements of a movie work together as well as this one does, and it’s an even bigger miracle that this is happening in a Batman movie.

Next week: I like long walks on the beach.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: And I’m hoping that they’ll ratify me

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Our heroes continue to battle politicians and wacky villains as the Acts of Vengeance crossover comes to an end in issue #336.

Our heroes are in Washington D.C., where Reed is testifying against the government’s proposed superhuman registration. (This group is “the committee” and several characters are identified as “congressmen” but that’s as specific as it gets.) The meeting keeps getting interrupted by bumbling C-list villains who are attacking the FF as part of the Acts of Vengeance event, in which all the villains are working together to fight heroes they don’t normally fight. As this issue begins, a Representative Pertierra accuses the FF of secretly orchestrating the villain attacks just to make their point. Reed dismisses this argument, saying that if were to send supervillains to attack Washington, it’d be “a better class of villain,” which is a rare glimpse into Reed’s dark side.

There’s also some talk about the mysterious electronic device, planted in the room by a shadowy stranger who’s been following the FF this whole time. The committee believes that the machine is what drew the villains to this location. Reed speculates that perhaps the device is also somehow influencing the minds of the committee. Someone announces that more supervillains are gathering outside. Ben, Johnny, and Sharon head outside to fight them. This leads to a funny bit where Sue tries to give a speech with the sounds of a superhero battle coming from outside.

The electric device goes off again, mind-controlling all the members of the committee, who try to kill Reed and Sue. They’re no match for Reed and Sue’s powers, of course. Reed and Sue hold them back while Reed finally disables the device. Outside, we see that Ben, Johnny, and Sharon have successfully defeated a whole gang of lesser-known bad guys — Whirlwind, The Owl, Orca, Man-Ape, Armadillo, Baron Brimstone, and Stilt-Man.

Reed then produces a device of his own, which scans the genotypes of everyone in the room, to show whether someone is a mutant, or at least has the potential for superhuman abilities. Two members of the committee (we’re not told which two) have more-than-human genotypes. Reed not-so-subtly threatens to release this information to the public, and then the committee votes to indefinitely table the superhero registration bill. (This is blackmail, right? Reed just went and blackmailed the government?)

The FF leave Sharon behind to track the electric device back to its source, which takes them to an industrial park in Albany. They kick down a door and find Dr. Doom waiting for them. Doom explains what Acts of Vengeance is all about, and that’s he’s no longer working with the rest of the AoV villains (they split up in Avengers #311). Johnny attacks, only to discover that this is yet another Doombot.

 

This defeat causes yet another villain to emerge, the Super-Adaptoid, who has “adapted” the FF so that he now has all their powers combined. Note that this is not one of Mad Thinker’s power-adapting androids that the FF have fought in the past, but a similar one who has been an Avengers villain since the early days of Captain America.

The fight is over pretty quick. Ben is able to knock out the Super Adaptoid with one punch. The explanation for this is because Ben is human now, he has no super powers for the Adaptoid to adapt. He is wearing his Thing-shaped exoskeleton at the time, but the comic pretty much says that doesn’t count. (It’s okay. I can’t figure out the logic of any of this either.) The issue ends with one last “bumbling villain” joke in which Hydro-Man and Water Wizard show up to fight the FF, only to crash into each other and create a big splash.

Unstable molecule: Reed is anti-registration in this story, but he’ll later be pro-registration in Civil War. Many have called this poor continuity, but because this blog series is a re-read and not a first time read, I’m going to be looking out for what will happen between now and then that gets Reed to change his mind.

Fade out: Sue is the first to suspect that the device is affecting the politicians, calling one of them “weak of mind” only to then show that man thinking, “Cheese dip?” This has got to be a reference to Groo the Wanderer, right?

Clobberin’ time: It’s not mentioned in this issue, but Ben did fight the Super Adaptoid once before, in the incredibly awesome Marvel Two-In-One #75.

Flame on: Upon discovering that this Dr. Doom was another Doombot in disguise, Johnny says he wonders if Doom was ever a real person at all. This is something to keep in mind as we continue on into Walt Simonson’s take on these characters.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Reed says he didn’t bother trying to stop Flying Tiger last issue, because he trusted that Sharon would save them all. He added that she did it “elegantly.”

Four and a half: Franklin appears in only one panel, paying off the running gag of him wanting to see dinosaurs at a museum with him and Sharon off to finally see those danged dinosaurs. (Franklin has been to the Snark homeworld. Aren’t the Snarks more or less dinosaurs?)

Commercial break: I hope Marvel paid artist Marc Silvestri a lot for drawing this.

Trivia time: That’s a wrap on Acts of Vengeance. A few interesting things happened during the crossover, most notably Spider-Man temporarily gaining the cosmic powers of Captain Universe, and the bizarre Daredevil versus Ultron fight which was psychedelic and dreamlike. Acts of Vengeance came to end in West Coast Avengers #55, in which Loki was revealed to be behind the whole thing, only for Thor to bury him deep beneath the Earth.

Fantastic or frightful? This issue cuts down on the political discourse and brings back more action and humor, which is welcome. Artist Ron Lim continues to be an unsung hero of Fantastic Four, giving all the characters a lot of personality through his great facial expressions.

Next issue: It’s about time.

****

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Random Warner Bros.: The Exorcist

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator serves up some delicious pea soup at it selects The Exorcist.

Here’s what happens: Something is very wrong with young Regan McNeil. As her behavior goes from erratic to downright supernatural, her mother turns from medical science to exorcism, courtesy of the kind but troubled Father Karras and experienced demon expert Farther Merrin.

Why it’s famous: Because it’s terrifying! The movie was a sensation when it debuted in 1973 (the day after Christmas, no less), as controversial as it was popular. According to the internet, some cities even organized “Exorcist bus tours” to theaters to the see the flick.

Get your film degree: All the action that goes down during the actual exorcism contains the big scares the movie is known for, but none of that works without the deliberate character-building and world-building in the movie’s first half. This eases you into the horror, so that you end up deep in the nightmare without even realizing it.

Movie geekishness: The Warner Bros. box set contains only the extended cut, famously marketed as “The Version You’ve Never Seen.” I prefer the theatrical version (which you can also get on Blu-ray). The extended has Regan acting too creepy too soon. The notorious spider-walk scene is eye-popping but doesn’t really add anything. The new final scene is too on-the-nose by stating the movie’s themes outright rather leaving it to the audience’s imagination.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The Exorcist is a horror masterpiece, yet it doesn’t do a lot of what we expect horror to do. For example, a main character is killed off-screen, instead of it being a big scary set piece. For as intense and over-the-top the movie gets, it never forgets the human drama.

Next week: Hey, what are you doing with that pencil?

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: You gone got me talking politics

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #355 finds us still in the middle of the Acts of Vengeance crossover, in which our heroes face both politicians and villains. There’s a joke somewhere in that, isn’t there?

The FF are on their way to Washington DC so Reed can testify regarding the government’s hotly-debated superhero registration bill. Meanwhile, this is Acts of Vengeance, in which all the supervillains are working together to attack heroes they don’t normally fight. We begin with three pages of the FF landing at the airport in Washington DC, being followed around by reporters, and then making their way to the Capital Building. The small electronic device that a stranger planted on the Fantasticar by a mysterious stranger last issue is still with the team, able to fly around and follow them in secret.

The FF make it to the Capital to testify before the committee. That’s the wording the comic uses, making it unclear just what this committee is or what the nature of this testimony is. The words “congress” and “congressman” get thrown around a lot as well. Basically, this is debate class, where a bunch of characters arguing different sides of superhero registration. Oh, and the mysterious electronic device flies into the room and attaches itself to the ceiling and no one notices.

The first person to speak is a General Nettington, who argues in favor of registration for the safety of all Americans, saying that superhumans have great potential military applications. Next up is a guy named Hamilton Nathanson, representative for the NRA, who says that registration could lead to a ban on superhumans, which would force superhumans underground and into criminal activity.

At this point, an alarm goes off. The X-Men’s villain Apocalypse is flying straight for Washington DC. The FF rush into the nearest bathroom (!) to change into their uniforms. By the time they do, however, Apocalypse flies right over the city and out beyond Chesapeake. The meeting is about to resume, when it is interrupted by Ramrod, a Daredevil villain with skin as hard as steel. I guess it’s not that hard, because as he leaps into action, he trips and knocks himself unconscious before our heroes can do anything.

The next person to testify is Henry Peter Gyrich, a government stooge who often made life miserable for the Avengers and others. He is in favor of registration, just as he was in favor of the mutant registration controversy a few years earlier in all the X-Men comics. He says superhumans in government employ can track down the criminal ones. To remind us that he’s a jerk, he adds that mutants aren’t human, so he believes the constitution doesn’t apply to them.

Just as Reed is about to begin his testimony, the room is attacked by two more supervillains, the Quill and Plant-Man. The Quill is a mutant covered with tiny sharp spikes and a member of a group called the Resistants, hence the “R” on his costume. Plant-Man, with his Poison Ivy rip-off powers, has been around since the ‘60s, even fighting the Human Torch a bunch of times back in Strange Tales. As they both leap into action, they clumsily crash into each other, knocking each other out.

Reed finally gets a chance to speak. He says that most superhumans, including the FF, have received their superpowers through accidental means. To show the usefulness of superheroes, he pulls a Miracle on 34th Street by producing stacks of files showing all the good superheroes have done over the years.

Then there’s another villain attack, the Flying Tiger, a half-man half-tiger who often fought Spider-Woman. He gets punched out by Sharon. She says that all the attackers have been hiding in the backrow in hats and trenchcoats, and there are still three guys back there wearing hats and trenchcoats. On cue, three more villains attack — Thunderball (of the Wrecking Crew), the Eel (a Power Man and Iron Fist villain), and Mad Dog (a Defenders villain). This fight lasts a little longer, with the Eel able to electrocute Johnny. But the three villains go down easy.

Before the meeting can resume, the electric device on the ceiling goes off, mind-controlling a security guard, who pulls his gun on Reed. Ben tackles the guy, and Sue notices the electric device. Reed fiddles with the device, hoping to track it back to its creator. Then a Congressman Pertierra interrupts, accusing Reed of planting the device in the room. Pertierra says Reed orchestrated all the supervillain attacks just to convince the committee of the value of superheroes. And that’s the cliffhanger.

Unstable molecule: As part of his Miracle on 34 Street routine, Reed regales the committee with the story of when the FF stopped the Mole Man from hitting NYC with blindness rays. This happened way back in issue #89.

Fade out: Sue, Ben, and Johnny also give testimony for one panel each. Sue says she is against registration because wants her son to grow up in a country of freedom.

Clobberin’ time: Ben says ID cards aren’t going to matter much when two superhumans start opening fire on each other.

Flame on: Johnny says the government won’t have any luck trying to register the likes of Dr. Doom or Annihilus. This is the only time in the debate that magic-users and aliens are mentioned. Also, neither of those characters are Americans.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon called herself “She-Thing” for the first time in this issue, correcting a congressman who calls her “Ms. Thing.”

Four and a half: During the Apocalypse fly-over, Franklin dutifully stays in his seat while everyone else runs for cover. (Why did they even bring him to this meeting?)

Commercial break: The winner got a free trip to Disney World. Did Disney even know about this?

Trivia time: The Eel in this issue is the second Eel, Edward Lavell. This is a different character from the first Eel, Leopold Strike, who fought the Human Torch a couple of times in Strange Tales.

I’m not sure why Apocalypse is in this issue, or what he’s up to. His next appearance after this was in X-Factor #51, where he was spying on X-Factor after they returned from space. So, I guess he flew over Washington on his way to do that.

Fantastic or frightful? If you’re going to introduce real-world issues into your fantasy superhero comic, it’s best done with a light hand. This issue, however, is the heavy hand. In addition to what I’ve summarized above, the issue also comments on racism, sexual harassment, gun control, and even the Vietnam draft. All this talk adds up to very little. I’m also not digging these villains being portrayed as bumbling losers. They may seem silly, but any one of them could be a credible threat if written well. I want this story arc to be over so we can back to some good stuff.

Next week: …and I’m hoping that they’ll ratify me.

****

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Random Warner Bros. – Million Dollar Baby

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator punches you in the face as it selects Million Dollar Baby.

Why it’s famous: Clint Eastwood re-teams with Morgan Freeman after Unforgiven for more Oscar gold, trading the vistas of the Old West for dingy gyms, with a toughened-up Hilary Swank on board as a wannabe boxer.

Here’s what happens: Country girl Maggie Fitzgerald travels to LA hoping to be trained as a boxer by famous trainer Frankie Dunn. It takes a lot of convincing, but Frankie eventually comes around. The two enjoy great success in the ring, until a near-fatal accident brings it all crashing down.

Movie geekishness: Many people love this movie, but boy does it rub me the wrong way. The downbeat, bummer second half of the movie is at odds with the underdog-sports-hero tale of the first half. I’m left with the feeling that the creators are trying to be tearjerky just for the sake of being tearjerky.

Get your film degree: Your screenwriting 101 teacher has told you over and over that screenplays shouldn’t have voiceovers, even though The Shawshank Redemption did it well. This movie offers another Morgan Freeman narration, and despite his awesome voice, this narration shows just how unnecessary most narrations are. It offers no new information, no extra flavor. It’s just there, and Million Dollar Baby would be the same movie without it.

Thoughts upon this viewing: No to this movie. Just… no.

Next week: Pea soup, anyone?

****

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Fantastic Friday: Not so vengeful

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Last week, we wrapped up the Atlantis Attacks crossover, and this week, in issue #334, we’re right in the middle of the Acts of Vengeance crossover. That’s Marvel for you — a new crossover every week.

The premise of Acts of Vengeance is that all the superheroes are fighting villains they wouldn’t normally fight. The plot description is pretty much the same as that description of the premise — a bunch of megavillains, including Dr. Doom, the Kingpin, Magneto, and the Red Skull, get together with a plan to organize all villains and send them after heroes they don’t normally fight. It’s later revealed that the whole thing was secretly orchestrated by Loki as a way to bring down Thor.

This issue begins with a mysterious figure skulking around the outside of Four Freedoms Plaza, with a device that can hack into the building’s defenses. Ben, who is still in human form, and Sharon, still in her Thing form, are returning from a night on the town, with the security tech going haywire. After some jokey bantering about this, we see Reed, Johnny, and Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) discussing the government debating a superhero registration act. There’s also more business about building security as Reed plans to install retinal scanners for all members of the team.

The security alarms go off again, and the heroes rush into action, only to find that the building’s defenses have defeated the Constrictor, whom Reed describes as a “two-bit hood.” The police show up and take the Constrictor away. The team then resumes discussion of the registration act. Reed says some people fear that registration means the government will militarize superhumans, while others think it will lead to an increase in superhumans hiding as outlaws and fugitives.

From this point, the issue becomes a repeating cycle in which the building’s defenses defeat another villain, after which our heroes discuss registration some more. The Beetle and the Shocker are both defeated without the FF lifting a finger. Reed eventually decides to testify in Washington DC on behalf of superheroes everywhere, not necessarily for or against, but to keep the lines of communication open.

The FF take off for Washington DC. After they leave, Thor and Iron Man show up at Four Freedoms Plaza. The Avengers’ Hydro-base was recently destroyed (in Avengers #311) so they are there to ask the FF for a place to crash. Because Cap and Thor don’t have the retinal scans, however, the building’s defenses attack them, too. I don’t know what the building’s energy beams are, but they’re powerful enough to hurt the all-powerful Thor. The two of them leave, with Thor joking that next time they should phone ahead.

There’s an entire page devoted to the mysterious figure from the start of issue navigating his way through NYC’s public transportation, eventually hopping a bus for DC. The FF then arrive at the Capitol Building, not aware that another one of the mystery man’s hacking devices is affixed to the Fantasticar. To be continued, I guess.

Unstable molecule: Reed doesn’t appear to take a side for or against superhero registration in this issue, although that will change in upcoming issues.

Fade out: Sue appears to be against registration, arguing that heroes with secret identities be allowed to keep those secret identities. She shows sympathy for the pro-reg side, though, saying “they’re just scared.”

Clobberin’ time: Ben remarks that flying the Fantasticar is a lot easier with human-sized hands. So much for the thought that Reed built controls specific to his size as the Thing.

Flame on: This isn’t the first time that Johnny has encountered the Beetle. They duked it out back in the Beetle’s first appearance in Strange Tales #123.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon is seen reading The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav, a real-life book about advanced physics published in 1979. This is the creators still trying to play her up as “the smart one.”

Four and a half: There’s a running joke about Franklin wanting to go to a museum to see dinosaurs, leading to this terrifying panel of Reed stretching into a dinosaur shape for him:

The Alicia problem: If Lyja is wearing contact lenses to simulate blindness (as will later be revealed), then how does Reed’s retinal scanner work on her? I think we can assume she did some shape-shifting switcheroo at the last minute so the scanner read her “real” eye at that moment.

Commercial break: Be a video warrior!

Trivia time: What happened in Avengers #311? The Avengers Hydro-base, also known as Avengers Island, was attacked by Doombots in the opening chapter of Acts of Vengeance. Quasar and a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, including Peggy Carter, were the only the only ones home at the time, and not able to stop the Doombots from sinking the island. Years later, the Hydrobase was restored when the Avengers were rebranded as “Avengers Idea Mechanics,” but that didn’t last long. According to the Marvel Wiki, the Hydrobase’s current status is abandoned.

Fantastic or frightful? The joke here is supposed to be that these are lame villains, not good enough to fight the FF. But when the headquarters defenses also defeat frickin’ Thor, the joke instead reads that the building is ridiculously powerful. Still, it’s amusing to have a “hangout” issue seeing our heroes do everyday stuff.

Next week: It’s getting political up in here.

****

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Random Warner Bros. – Dr. Zhivago

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator looks great in a turtleneck sweater as it selects Dr. Zhivago.

Here’s what happens: In old-timey Russia, Dr. Zhivago is married to one woman, but loves another. Then the Workers’ Revolution happens, and everyone’s lives get really complicated.

Why it’s famous: There’s no kind of epic like a Russian epic. Master filmmaker David Lean gives an otherwise intimate story a sense of massive scope with huge production value and elaborate crowd scenes.

Get your film degree: Steven Spielberg has spoken of his admiration of David Lean in several interviews, and he allegedly watches a Lean film just before starting production on one of his own films. In Dr. Zhivago, I noticed a lot what influenced Spielberg’s ‘80s classics in the way the sets are lit and the way the actors are placed in the frame.

Movie geekishness: Lean allegedly fought long and hard to cast Omar Sharif against type as a dashingly handsome Russian. That’s all good, and Sharif is good in the role. What I don’t understand is all this talk on the Blu-ray commentary about how Sharif “taped” his eyes to look more Russian. Taped? What?

Thoughts upon this viewing: With most of these older movies, I find I’m responding to them more on an intellectual level, such as how they were made and their place in history, rather than becoming immersed in the story. That was the case with Dr. Zhivago, where it was technically impressive but the plot left me (heh) cold. Will that change upon future viewings? Who can tell?

Next week: How much is that baby in the window?

****

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Fantastic Friday: Atlantis Attacks, and I feel fine

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. This is Marvel, so of course it’s time for another big crossover. This is annual #22, in which Atlantis Attacks.

Fantastic Four gets the distinction of being the grandiose final chapter of the 16-part Atlantis Attacks storyline that crossed over all of that year’s annuals. That’s a lot to recap. The villain is Ghaur, an ancient alien who founded the undersea kingdom of Lemuria. After coming back from the dead, Ghaur united Lemuria and Atlantis, urging them both to wage war on the surface world. What Attuma, the current ruler of Atlantis, and Llyra, the queen of Lemuria, don’t know is that Ghaur has an ulterior motive. The war is just a cover for his quest to re-create the Serpent Crown, which will unleash the Egyptian snake god Set onto the Earth, which would be bad. To accomplish this, Ghaur has abducted seven “brides of Set” made up of She-Hulk, Jean Grey, Scarlet Witch, Storm, Dagger, Andromeda (an Atlantean princess) and the FF’s own Invisible Woman. The FF, Spider-Man, and the Avengers stopped the Atlantis invasion in NYC, while Thor, Dr. Strange, and the West Coast Avengers defeated Set. Ghaur then escaped to Lemuria with the seven brides.

The annual begins the FF and the two Avengers teams heading deep into the ocean in high-tech submarine-like ships in pursuit of Ghaur. (We’re not told why Spider-Man stays behind.) The heroes arrive in Lemuria and enter the “damp zone,” a space where air-breathing and water-breathing creatures can coexist. (How convenient.)

There’s a huge battle, in which most of the Avengers are defeated, or at least held back. Namor the Sub-Mariner shows up, and this is supposed to be a surprise since he “died” at the start of the crossover. The final battle comes down to Ghaur and Llyra versus Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Namor. Reed describes this makeshift group as “a fantastic foursome.”

Llyra uses her mental telepathy to coerce the FFers into fighting each other. She also torments Namor with visions of his dead loves, Dorma and Marrina. Ghaur uses his new Serpent Crown to achieve godlike power, but then he is interrupted abruptly by Naga of Lemuria, a demonic figure who once wore the crown. (This seems to come out of nowhere, but it was foreshadowed in the “saga of the Serpent Crown” backup stories that run through all these annuals.) Naga and Ghaur destroy each other, and Llyra vanishes without a trace.

The seven brides, now free from Ghaur’s influence, work together to bury the Serpent Crown deep beneath the ocean floor, where we’re told no one will ever find it again. The kingdoms of both Atlantis and Lemuria are fallen, their inhabitants spread out across the oceans. Namor is reunited with his young cousin Namorita, who is hanging around Lemuria after her role in the New Mutants’ part of the crossover. Namor says he has been both a king and a lone wanderer, but he’s truly happy now that he has family. So, this was his story all along?

Unstable molecule: In the Web of Spider-Man annual, Reed is seriously injured while trying to help Spidey swing around, which seems like an uncharacteristic miscalculation on his part. The plot demands it, though, because the Atlanteans abduct Sue while he’s out cold.

Fade out: While Sue is being mind-controlled by Ghaur, there’s a subplot in West Coast Avengers where she and Jean Grey steal a magical gizmo from a Chicago museum.

Clobberin’ time: Even though Ben is human currently, in most of these annuals he’s drawn as though he’s still the Thing. This gets explained away here and there by having him wearing the Thing-shaped exoskeleton from way back in issue #169. (Or, more likely, Reed built him a new one after the destruction of the original Baxter Building.) Many have speculated that the annuals were drawn before it was decided to keep Ben as a human.

Flame on: During the battle, Johnny is reunited with the WWII android Human Torch, currently a member of the West Coast Avengers and going by the name “Torch.” There’s a quick reference to how they were enemies the last time they met, but that was only because of the Mad Thinker’s influence. They’re buddies now.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon doesn’t do much except throw a lot of punches during the battles. This does show, however, that the rest of the superhero community has accepted her as one of their own.

Reed comments that She-Hulk always had “a weird Hollywood-type personality.” I’m not sure what in their history would have Reed think this. She-Hulk later fights a giant sea monster while mind-controlled by Ghaur.

One-time FF member Tigra shows up alongside the Avengers, even though she was out of continuity at this time, having devolved into a full-on cat. Marvel later published a cartoon explaining that Tigra’s appearance in Atlantis Attacks was a mistake, asking readers to just imagine Tigra was never there. (Continuity!)

Commercial break: Here’s an Atlantis Attacks promo. Take the plunge.

Trivia time: As far as I can tell, the Serpent Crown never did actually return. An evil priestess named Nagala was later shown wearing what looked like a Serpent Crown, but it was never revealed what this crown was or where she got it. There were then a couple of stories about the “Thorn Crown,” which was basically the same thing, but different.

This was Ghaur’s last shot at real supervillainy, appearing only sporadically after this. Llyra, however, would continue to be involved in Atlantis-based intrigue. She had a son, Llyron, who became king of Atlantis for a short time.

Fantastic or frightful? When Atlantis Attacks works, it does what these big crossovers are supposed to do, by generating a real sense of excitement that comes with getting all the superheroes together for one big battle. The Avengers, Web of Spider-Man, West Coast Avengers, and Thor annuals do this the best. The same can’t be said the Fantastic Four chapter. I counted thirty-three Marvel heroes in this one issue, only for most of them to be forgotten about after the first few pages. And, yes, it’s more of an Avengers story than an FF story. A mixed bag, I guess.

Next week: Acting out.

****

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

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