DuckTales rewatch – Don’t Give Up the Ship

Rewatching DuckTales! Is it a whimsical children’s cartoon? Is it some creepy greed-is-good brainwashing? Is it something more? Let’s find out together, starting with the first episode, “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”

New math: While most episodes of the show are stand-alones, the first five episodes acted as the show’s pilot, and were often packaged as a two-hour “movie.” Strangely, the first five episodes are volume 2 of the DVDs, instead of at the beginning, which makes no sense.

Here’s what happens: Donald Duck is joining the Navy because he wants to see the world. He leaves his three nephews in charge of their new legal guardian, his rich Uncle Scrooge. Scrooge and the nephews have trouble getting along, while the ruthless crooks the Beagle Boys bust out of prison thanks to the mysterious El Capitan. He wants the Beagles to steal an antique model ship from Scrooge’s trophy room. Scrooge and the nephews work together to stop the Beagles, wrecking Scrooge’s candy factory in the process.

Humbug: The episode begins with what is arguably the series’ most iconic image, Scrooge swimming in his money. Throughout the episode, he’s in real “rich jerk” mode, shooting down charities and complaining about the poor.

OK, real talk. If there is any series-long story arc to DuckTales, it’s that Scrooge starts out obsessed with his own wealth, but thanks to his relationship with his nephews, he learns that his family is more important than his fortune. That’s my hypothesis, at least. Will this rewatch prove me right or wrong? We’ll see.

Junior Woodchucks: Which nephew is which? Huey is in red, Dewey is in blue, and Louie is in green. In addition to moving in with Scrooge, the nephews also join the Junior Woodchucks in this episode, and their reading from the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook becomes their “superpower” as the show progresses.

The nephews are initially excited to move into Scrooge’s mansion, saying “We get to have our own room,” which makes me wonder what kind of living conditions they had with Donald.

 

Foul fowls: Which Beagle Boy is which? Big Time is the little one, who is the brains of the group. Bouncer is the big one with the missing tooth, who is the muscle. Burger is the Curly-from-the-Three-Stooges one, who contributes nothing to the group as far as I can tell. While they’re comedic villains, El Capitan’s presence raises the stakes, as he is more of a genuine menace.

Down in Duckburg: Scrooge’s money bin building also houses his business office and his trophy room. The nephews share a bedroom/apartment in the attic of Scrooge’s mansion. We’re told that Scrooge owns numerous businesses, including a candy factory seen in this one.

Reference row: DuckTales as a whole is a modernization as the Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics of the 1940s through the 1960s, notably the ones drawn by the great Carl Barks. Before the names of artists were published, fans knew Barks merely as “the good ducks artist,” a phrase that Barks has been known for ever since.

Carl Barks.

Thoughts on this viewing: This one is packed with information, establishing not just the “world” of the show, but also telling a whole character arc of Scrooge and his nephews learning to live with each other. But will the carry through to all 70-something episodes? That’s the question.

Next: Heart of flint.

****

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Fantastic Friday: The alt scene

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s another alternate timeline, more alternate versions of classic characters, and two new heroes who didn’t exactly become household names.

Recap: Ronan the Accuser attacked and teleported the FF to the moon, where he has mind-controlled Sue and is using her powers to help him steal advanced tech from the Watcher’s home in the Blue Area of the moon. Iron Man joined the fight last issue, which was then continued in Invincible Iron Man #14. In that issue, the heroes separate Sue from Ronan, but Ronan still manages to get ahold of a weapon, the Psyche-Magnitron. The heroes manage to short-circuit the weapon, which then teleports Ronan away, seemingly stopping him. The heroes leave the moon, while Ronan returns to his ship, now with the blueprints for the Psyche-Magnitron.

Fantastic Four #16 begins not on the moon, but in Limbo (described as a “place beyond space and time”) where three villains are watching the FF. They are X-Men enemies Destiny and Legion, along with a demonic-looking lady named Margali Szardos. All three characters, we’re told, have an imbalance in their souls, trapping them forever in Limbo. So, where is the Fantastic Four? We see they are still on the Blue Area of the moon, but they look out at Earth to find a artificial ring spinning around Earth, letting them know that, like Ronan, they were also teleported somewhere at the end of the fight.

Sue has come to her senses by now, but the so-called mannequin alien that caused the mind control is still transforming her into a half-alien. The FF then find a statue of the team, only it’s Reed, Ben, Johnny and Dr. Doom. Everybody concludes that this is another glimpse of the alternate timeline from last issue, in which Sue was Baroness Doom.

Iron Man flies up, only it’s not the Iron Man we know. He attacks the FF, and he’s joined by a group of Avengers – except that they’re all Kree versions of the Avengers. They unimaginatively call themselves the Kree Avengers, and their unimaginative names are Kree Iron Man, Kree Scarlet Witch, Kree Giant-Man, and an oxymoron, Kree Captain America.

The FF escape the Kree, steal a nearby spaceship, and head for Earth. Reed and Ben speculate that the timeline has changed because of the weapon Ronan stole. They reach Earth, to find the remains of a Brood invasion, and a destroyed, unpopulated city. After fighting off Kree Iron Man, the FF then run into two humans, Lucas and Redwing. They explain that in this timeline, the Kree invaded after a worldwide cataclysm, and have been battling the Brood on Earth ever since. On cue, the Brood attack for a few more pages of fighting.

Lucas and Redwing fight their way to the Brood queen, revealing that their mission is to kill the queen. The queen puts up a good fight, managing to incapacitate the FF. But this leaves an opening for Lucas and Redwing to jump in and strike the final blow. Then the FF teleport away, by the same means that brought them there. We then cut to the three characters from the beginning. Margali says that the FF were brought from the timestream to this very moment, because their actions in the fight helped change the course of this timeline. Now the heroes are on their way again, to parts unknown…

Unstable molecule: Reed continues to use the built-in computer on his FF uniform, tracking Lucas and Redbird as the pair are several stories below him.

Fade out: The Iron Man issue reveals that the mannequin alien isn’t just Ronan mind-controlling Sue, but that she follows orders given to her by anyone. Basically, she’s Ella Enchanted. This seems to have worn off by the FF issue, although she’s still transforming into a half-alien form.

Clobberin’ time: Ben is again a pilot in this issue, managing to fly a Kree ship from the moon to Earth, and just barely landing it on the surface.

Flame on: Johnny is able to go toe-to-toe in a fight against Kree Iron Man, with the two evenly matched. Johnny suspects the same is true if he ever fought the “real” Iron Man, but we can only speculate on that for now.

Commercial break: “Tobias, if you don’t morph, you’ll be a bird forever! Oh no, Tobias!”

Trivia time: This Margali character has a confusing backstory involving a lot of Marvels demon characters, and she figures heavily into Nightcrawler and Mystique’s elaborate origins. You don’t need to know any of that for this issue, though, because this is an alternate-timeline version of the character, who only appeared once. Similarly, if you want the further adventures of Lucas and Redwing, you’re out of luck. This issue is their only appearance to date.

Hey, what happened to Charlotte Jones, the NYPD cop who was the FF on the first part of this story? It’s mostly skipped over in the Iron Man issue, but she made it back to Earth. She’ll show up again a year later in a couple of X-Men books, and she has cameos in the House of M and Heroic Age crossovers.

The Iron Man issue has a subplot about James Rhodes (a.k.a. War Machine) in Casablanca, searching for a man named Parnell. This would be Parnell Jacobs, a wealthy mercenary who also wore the Iron Machine armor for a while. This plot would wrap up (more or less) in the Machinery of War storyline, and Parnell returned much later during the Dark Reign crossover.

The other subplot in Iron Man has Iron Man’s pal Happy Hogan starting a romance with a woman named Hannah Donleavy. She went on to make a few more appearances around this time, always at Happy’s side. The Marvel Wiki says they’re just friends, but it looks like a lot than that to me.

Fantastic or frightful? This era (era) of the series keeps throwing the characters around from alternate universe to so often and so chaotically, that I have alt-timeline whiplash. And because it’s another universe, that means it feels like there’s no real stakes for the characters. I keep hoping Chris Claremont is going somewhere with all this running around of the last few issues, but I don’t know anymore.

Next: Matchstick men.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – The Creature Walks Among Us 1956

Rewatching the Universal Monsters. The ones on the Blu-ray box set, at least. We’ve come to the end, as Universal’s so-called “monster office” was on its last legs by the 50s, but the good news we get The Creature Walks Among Us.

Here’s what happens: The heroic Dr. Morgan and the unhinged Dr. Barton capture the Creature in the Florida everglades. Barton experiments on the Creature, turning it partially human. Overprotective of his wife, Barton goes into a murderous rage, with the Creature caught in the middle.

Monster! The big deal here is that the Creature mutates into a half-human Creature. Frankenstein is clearly an influence, as the monster spends a good chunk of the movie bandaged up in the lab. Then they put him in a broad shouldered coat, making him look even more like Frankenstein’s monster.

Also a monster! Described as “deeply disturbed,” Barton rubs everyone the wrong way. He tries framing a murder on the Creature, which is what sets of the movie’s finale.

Our hero: Morgan is the classic 1950s manly man of manliness, so much so that I almost wonder if this is an intentional parody of ‘50s movie science-heroes.

Hapless humans: Marcia is Barton’s fun-loving wife, who seems a little too unaware of how rotten Barton is. Jed is the poor sap who romantically pursues her. Another scientist, Dr. Borg, provides some nice everyman charm to his scenes.

 

Thrills: The first half of the movie is a rough remake of the first one, with everyone on a boat hunting the monster through the swamp. They’ve clearly made an effort to improve the underwater photography, which looks great. There’s a great fight where the Creature gets shot up with harpoons and then catches fire. His final rampage is also a good one, with him showing off a lot Hulk-like strength.

Laughs: This is a sad, somber movie, so no room for comic relief.

Thoughts on this viewing: While there’s a lot of monster action and human drama, the signature visual of the movie is the Creature staring longingly at the ocean, wishing he could return to the water. Kind of a fitting final sendoff for the Universal Monsters, looking back at another time…

 

That’s a wrap on this series. What should I watch next for this blog?

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Stark raving

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Iron Man guest stars in vol. 3 issue #15, as does another character who will eventually become a big part of FF lore.

Recap: Ronan the Accuser returned to Earth and picked a fight with the FF, ending with him using an alien called a “mannequin” to mind-control Sue. He and the FF teleported to the Blue Area of the Moon, where Ronan plots to break into the Watcher’s home and steal the advanced alien tech inside. Reed, Ben, and Johnny defeated three Kree criminals Ronan sent after them and now they’ve regrouped. As this issue begins, Ronan explains that the Kree have recently been conquered by the Shi’ar, so he needs the Watcher’s tech to properly mount an resistance.

Nearby, the moon-located S.H.I.E.L.D. Starbase has taken note of the situation, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents call for help. From there, we go to a mansion on an island at the center of Lake Washington, current home of Tony Stark. Tony isn’t doing well lately, as his Iron Man armor has been generating an energy field that’s made him fatally ill. For this occasion, however, he dons a special never-before-seen prototype armor to save the day.

Cut to the moon, where Reed, Ben, Johnny, and NYPD officer (and friend of the X-Men) Charlotte Jones make their way through underground tunnels toward the Watcher’s home. Reed’s uniform is equipped with sensors that keep him informed about what Ronan’s up to. Jonny wants to fly off and fight right there, but Reed stops and him and tells Johnny to keep his anger in check. Meanwhile, Ronan continues blasting the outside of the Watcher’s house, while the mannequin starts transforming Sue into an alien creature. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents attack, but Sue and Ronan drive them back. Sue’s eyes tear up, showing that some part of her knows what she’s doing.

What happens next is a little confusing. Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Charlotte pass through some strange energy pulses, and then enter a room to find Alicia there, working on a large sculpture of the FF. Caledonia is there, wearing an FF uniform, and she’s joined by Sue, who is introduced as “Baroness Von Doom.” The explanation is rushed through pretty quick, and it’s that this tunnel they’re in contains “pockets of warped time,” which apparently include alternate timelines. Alt-Sue enters wearing Dr. Doom-like armor, joined by a grownup Franklin, and a daughter… Valeria!

Franklin spots Reed, and they exchange some strange dialogue before Iron Man shows up (his prototype armor has a teleporter) and disrupts the connection between the two timelines. Or something. Ronan and Sue, meanwhile, manage to punch a hole in the Watcher’s house, and they finally make it inside. Then it’s back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, where they report a worldwide electromagnetic pulse on Earth, which for some reason has activated and armed every nuclear bomb on the planet.

The rest of the issue is a fight, as Iron Man’s new armor goes haywire, attacking the FF by itself, with the FF fighting back. There’s a lot of technobabble about the teleport and the electromagnetic pulse, but the gist of is that Iron Man can stop the nukes by rebooting his armor, but he can’t do it while the armor is under attack. Ben manages to hold Iron Man down as Reed activates the reboot. There’s enough residual charge in the armor to transport them all inside the Watcher’s home. With all systems back online, Reed catches Iron Man back up to speed, and they rush off to stop Ronan.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed says his uniform is his “wearable computer” complete with Star Trek-like sensors. Let’s see how often this comes up in the future. Also, why don’t his teammates have this built-in computer?

Fade out: Sue’s force fields are crucial in penetrating the exterior dome of the Watcher’s house, showing that Ronan’s attack on the FF was about more than just revenge.

Clobberin’ time: Ben wraps his arms around Iron Man instead of punching him, claiming that this is his “ju-jitsu” [sic] skills. I’m going to assume that Ben is joking, as he’s never been shown to be any sort of martial arts master before this.

Flame on: Johnny takes Sue’s abduction deeply personal, giving a big speech about how his and Sue’s parents are both dead, and how she’s his only family. (I thought the FF was your family, dude.)

Four and a half: OK, what is going on in this alternate timeline? It’s partially foreshadowing upcoming storylines, as if to say that this is what will happen if upcoming events don’t turn out the way they will eventually turn out. Anyway, Franklin’s warning for Reed is “You have to let Galactus go!”

Our gal Val: Welcome to the series, Valeria! Can we or can’t we count this as her first appearance? No one can seem to agree. The Marvel wiki has all the other alt-timeline characters labeled as such, except for Val. Either way, this lets readers know there’s a Fantastic Four daughter on the way, and she’ll be here sooner rather than later.

Commercial break: This ad stretches across the tops of two pages, forcing this month’s Bullpen Bulletins to be only a half-page. I hope Marvel got paid a lot for this one.

Trivia time: The Shi’ar overthrew the Kree empire during the Operation: Galactic Storm crossover. They would continue to fight each other since then, with the Kree eventually rising up and succeeding in defeating the Shi’ar during the War of Kings crossover.

For those of you making lists of all the Iron Man armors, the one in this issue is the “Experimental Safe Armor.”

The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in this issue are Callie Yeager, Gene, Jake, and Lucian. The Marvel Wiki says this story arc are their only appearances, but Iron Man and Callie have some sort of history, as he trusts Callie wouldn’t call him unless it was really important. (I have no idea why these four are wearing their civilian clothes – on the moon! – instead of their S.H.I.E.L.D. uniforms.)

Fantastic or frightful? I don’t know. It feels like the alternate timeline thing and the EMP/nukes thing are just filler. They’re roadblocks keeping us from getting to the Ronan story, which is what we’re here for. I want to give writer Chris Claremont the benefit of the doubt that he’s going somewhere with all this, but it nonetheless feels like another case of comics’ meandering plot syndrome.

Next: Avengement.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – Abbott and Costello meet the Mummy 1955

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Abbott and Costello meet the Mummy was the duo’s last movie with Universal, and their second-to-last movie overall.

Here’s what happens: Archeologists dig up the mummy Klaris (not Kharis), who has a medallion leading to a buried treasure. Abbott and Costello play two tourists looking for work, only to get involved as the followers of Klaris will do anything to get the medallion. And let’s not forget Klaris himself, who gets up and shambling in no time.

Monster! Once Klaris rises from the tomb, he doesn’t act all that menacing. He seems more curious than anything. But this does lead to a memorable finale in which both Bug and one of the villains dress up in mummy wrappings, resulting in three mummies bumbling about. Klaris’ final rampage scene is short, but memorable.

Also a monster! The Klaris cultists have a whole crew of sinister no-gooders out to get our heroes, including weirdo leader Semu and femme fatale Madame Rontru.

Also a monster! Along the way, Lou is also menaced by a couple of snakes, a bat, a skeleton (!) and a totally random giant iguana.

Bud and Lou: Although the credits list them as “Pete” and “Freddie,” Abbott and Costello use their real names throughout the movie. Their characters have no backstory, so it’s full-on meta with them playing themselves.

Hapless humans: The supporting characters are almost entirely the villains or rival agents, leaving only the occasional doctor, waiter, or local kid to fill out the cast.

Thrills: There are a few scrapes and near misses before we get to the end, for some proper mummy carnage.

Laughs: The movie is structured so that every couple of minutes, the plot stops to Abbott and Costello can do a bit, and then we’re off again. A lot of bits are winners, though, and they’re short so they never overstay they’re welcome. Of particular interest is the “Slipping the Mickey” and “Take your pick” routines, which allegedly originated in A&C’s standup acts.

What’s all this, then? By my count, there are at least four other Abbott and Costello movies produced by Universal that could have made it onto the Blu-ray box, Hold That Ghost, Abbott and Costello meet the Killer Boris Karloff, Abbott and Costello meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the monster-adjacent Abbott and Costello go to Mars.

Thoughts upon this viewing: I really liked this one! It’s a real pulp comedy-adventure caper. A lot of the jokes land, and everything zips along at a quick pace. Just a good time at the movies.

Next: No day at the beach.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Moon pie

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. You want mayhem on the moon? Vol. 3 issue #14 has mayhem on the moon.

Recap: Ronan the Accuser returned to Earth, attacking the Fantastic Four on the eve of S.H.I.E.L.D. transporting three Kree criminals off Earth. Ronan forced Reed and Ben into surrendering by taking Sue and Johnny hostage. He then transported the team’s former headquarters of Four Freedoms Plaza onto the surface of the moon. Specifically, they’re in the Blue Area of the moon, where there is breathable air. The Blue Area also is home to an abandoned alien city, where FFP now stands.

This issue begins with Ronan bragging about how superior the Kree are to everyone else. We see Sue is only pretending to be unconscious, and attacks Ronan. Ronan doesn’t lose his grip on Johnny however, so Sue can’t attack him with full strength. This is an opening for Ben and Reed to join the fight. Ronan throws Johnny into space, so Reed has to stop and save him. Ronan is able to re-form his all-powerful hammer that was destroyed last issue, and he smashes Ben through the floor. Ronan then procures a tiny alien he calls a “mannequin” that attaches itself to Sue, which puts her under Ronan’s mind-control.

Then there’s an interlude, at a dive bar full of kooky creatures on an alien planet. A shadowy figure named Bounty walks through the door. There’s a huge gunfight in which Bounty kills everybody. A woman approaches Bounty with a job, to capture Alysande Stuart, a.k.a. Caledonia (the interdimensional swordswoman currently living with the FF).

Cut to the moon, where Ronan meets up with the three Kree prisoners and he names them his deputies. Nearby, Reed hides out with unconscious Johnny and unconscious NYPD officer Charlotte Jones, her did not die last issue. She mentions she’s worked with the X-Men in the past, and Reed looks for any tech he might have left behind in Four Freedoms Plaza, but the building has been cleared out.

 

In yet another part of the building, the three prisoners find Ben, and another fight breaks out. Ben beats them by brining the roof down on them. Reed and Charlotte, meanwhile, seek medical help for Johnny. Reed spots a recently-constructed facility at the edge of the Blue Area. The three of them head there. Except they don’t, because next is a bit where Reed, Ben, and Charlotte use the FF’s old robot receptionist Roberta in the Four Freedoms Plaza lobby to distract the criminals. (If all the building’s tech was cleared out, how is Roberta still there?) Johnny then wakes up and joins the fight. One of the criminals flies off with Johnny, so Reed and Ben do the old slingshot gag to send Ben flying into the sky to save Johnny.

With the prisoners defeated, Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Charlotte regroup. Reed says he’s managed to triangulate Ronan’s location (when did he do that?) and says Ronan is headed for the Watcher’s home, which is filled with alien so advanced it drives visitors to madness. We then catch up to Ronan and Sue outside the Watcher’s home, where Ronan makes a big speech about raiding the building and using the alien tech for the benefit of the Kree. Sue, still being mind-controlled, says, “Your will be done.”

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: When Reed discovers Charlotte’s X-Men uniform, he’s surprised to see it has restorative properties. But wait, Marvel continuity states that Reed provides the X-Men with unstable molecules for their uniforms. That must have been undone at some point in an X-Men comic, because Charlotte says her outfit is of alien origin.

Fade out: The mannequin alien is able to eat its way through Sue’s force fields. We’ve seen the Hulk shatter a force field, but this is the first time one is eaten.

Clobberin’ time: Ben uses his brain, not his fists, to defeat the Kree. He knows exactly where the room’s weakness is, so he can bring the ceiling down on them.

Flame on: The issue says Johnny is seriously injured, but he’s fine once he wakes up. He is able to subdue a Kree by keeping a consistent flame burning on the exterior of the Kree’s body armor.

Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent the whole time. This issue states that Reed has had her sitting going through hours of training and research into how to defeat a Kree. Could that also have been part of her spy training?

Commercial break: It’s the Joe Kubert Cartooning School! This was the ‘90s comic book equivalent of all those YouTube Master Class ads.

Trivia time: We’ll learn next issue that the recently-build structure on the moon is the S.H.I.E.L.D. Starcore LunarBase. The Marvel Wiki says next issue is the LunarBase’s first appearance, but we see it in one panel in this issue.

The three Kree prisoners are named Cha-Mont, Clar-Roc, and Dor-Art (a combination of names of writer Chris Claremont, artist Salvador Larocca, inker Art Thibert, and editor Bobbie Chase). They’re members of the Lunatic Legion, leftover characters from a recent alien invasion story in Avengers.

The abandoned city in the Blue Area of the moon is simply named Blue City. It has a confusing history. The Blue Area was constructed by the Skrulls to experiment on the Kree. The Kree then built the Blue City. Later, the Skrulls returned all the Kree to their homeworld after a conflict with another Kree-born alien race called the Cotati, leaving Blue City abandoned ever since. (LAST-MINUTE EDIT: Writer Al Ewing obviously read the same Wiki page I did, because the recently-published Empyre: Avengers #0, Ewing retells this Kree/Skrull/Cotati/Blue Area story.)

Fantastic or frightful? It’s a classic all-they-do-is-fight issue, just barely moving the overall story along. The three prisoners aren’t much a threat, and don’t have personality, though. It’s always great to see the heroes thinking their way through a fight rather than just brawling, but that’s about it.

Next: Stark raving.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – Revenge of the Creature 1955

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. After the first one was a big hit, a sequel got rushed into theaters. It’s Revenge of the Creature.

Here’s what happens: A second expedition to the Amazon succeeds in capturing the Creature. He’s then taken to a Sea World-like aquarium/theme park to be studied and put on display. We all know it’s only a matter of time before he gets loose.

Monster! The Creature is called the “Gill-man” in this movie, which he’s often known by. I think “Creature” sounds cooler.

Also a monster! The filmmakers show an interest in real wildlife, with shots of crocodiles in the Amazon, and real sharks and barracudas swimming alongside the Creature inside the aquarium.

Our hero: A scientist named Clete (Clete?!?) wants to study the Creature, but the Creature falls for his fiancé, complicating matters. When the Creature goes on the run in the third act, Clete becomes Tommy Lee Jones type hunting the Creature as a fugitive.

Hapless humans: Helen is the girl in question, but she’s a scientist herself and takes part in experimenting on the Creature. There’s also a rival scientist, Joe, who also has eyes for Helen and complicates matters. Lucas, the crusty ship captain from the first movie, is back again for more easygoing charm. And yes, that is young Clint Eastwood in his first movie role as a lab tech.

Thrills: The first part of the movie is a short remake of the first, as scientists face off with the Creature in the Amazon, complete with underwater fighting. When he first wakes up at the aquarium, there’s a fun scene where he rampages and almost escapes right away. This is followed by another, bigger rampage when he escapes for real, and later trashes a seafood restaurant.

Laughs: Lots of comedic shenanigans going on the science lab, including a playful monkey.

Thoughts upon this viewing: Honestly? I get The Shape of Water a lot better now. There are so many scenes of the Creature locked up in the tank being sad while the humans get to about their lives. Instead of terrifying, you really feel for the poor guy.

Next: Mums on the run.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Ronan on the roam

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Vol 3 issue #13 brings back Ronan the Accuser. But, sadly, it doesn’t end in a dance-off.

First a quick look at Fantastic Four annual 1998. Ben travels into an alternate universe, with the gimmick being what if the characters had aged in real time since 1961? Reed and Sue are retired, Johnny and Crystal are married with a son named Cosmic Ray and a daughter named Spike. Also, an adult Franklin is married to a Wakandan princess named Zawadi. This new team fights the Wizard, and then Reed helps Ben get back to his own universe. Funny how this and Fantastic Five came out at the same time, with both of them having a similar premise. Also this same month was the first issue of DC’s Superman/Batman: Generations, which also did the real-time-aging stunt, courtesy of former FF artist John Byrne.

Onto issue #13, we’re back in continuity with the good ol’ Marvel Universe. We begin with the FF sitting around the breakfast table chatting, only to be interrupted by Ronan the Accuser, who comes crashing down through the ceiling. A convenient opening text page explains Ronan, saying the Kree Empire has given him authority to enforce the empire’s will anywhere he goes – including Earth. They fight for several pages with Ronan’s hammer, called “the Universal Weapon” has a superpower to counteract each of the FF’s powers.

Just as Ronan proclaims victory, we turn the page to see the caption “End training simulation.” Ronan muses that the first time he fought the Fantastic Four, it was the first time he’d ever been defeated in battle. Then he says the Kree never accept defeat.

Back in NYC, the FF’s sexy new mail carrier Whilhemina “Billie” Lumpkin arrives with mail. She sees a strange woman on the roof of Pier 4, but that’s just interdimensional swordswoman Caledonia (a.k.a. Alysande Stuart) who’s currently staying at the pier. She and Johnny share a coffee, and she says she had a troubling dream the night before. Over breakfast, Franklin also had a bad dream, and it turns out everyone had a dream about Ronan attacking the FF. Johnny tells Caledonia that Ronan originally came to Earth to punish the FF for destroying a Kree sentry, and the FF sent him packing.

Later, Johnny and Caledonia have a practice sparring session in front of some students from NYC’s Stuyvesant High School, which is next door to Pier 4. The school’s vice principal later calls Reed to complain about the two of them making a disturbance. Sue, meanwhile, has been investigating the mysterious dreams. She tries accessing the Avengers archives, but she lost her login status after the FF were believed dead during Heroes Reborn. Ben takes over, contacting Firestar at Avengers HQ. Firestar says she wants to give them info on Ronan, but there’s a security block on the FF’s files. Then the Vision joins the call, saying that both the US government and the United Nations have forbidden the FF from accessing Avengers data. Vision then terminates the call.

That’s when Johnny chimes in, saying he’s done some investigating of his own. He says there’s been strange activity around Cape Canaveral, and that a moon base is being constructed near the Blue Area of the moon, which contains breathable air, and is the home of the Watcher. And of course Reed has been investigating too, saying that he’s detected a Kree energy signature coming from the FF”s former headquarters at Four Freedoms Plaza.

Cut to the Plaza, still abandoned from when the Thunderbolts left it, where S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have secretly constructed a teleportation platform, to send three Kree prisoners back to their homeworld. (This is a follow-up to the recent Live Kree or Die crossover, in which the Avengers stopped a full-blown Kree invasion.) The teleportation device activates and Ronan steps out. He says he’s here to pass judgment.

The FF are quick to arrive on the scene, and everybody fights for real this time. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in mech suits join the fight, except they attack the FF instead of Ronan, saying the FF are interfering with federal officers. Ronan takes out the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and then knocks out Sue and Johnny. He threatens to kill them, so Reed and Ben surrender. Ronan then teleports Four Freedoms Plaza to the blue area of the moon, saying this is where Kree Empire will fulfil its destiny.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed tells the team to attack Ronan, “just as we practiced.” We never see this practice, but it’s clear that they’re taking on Ronan with a plan in mind.

Fade out: Yes, Sue is an Avenger. She and Reed officially joined that team back in Avengers #200, only to leave the team three issues later due to a change in editorial.

Clobberin’ time: Firestar says Ben is one of her childhood heroes, but she still can’t help him. Ben considers contacting Carol Danvers for help as well, only to learn she recently left the Avengers (in Avengers vol. 3 issue #5) and left for parts unknown.

Flame on: Caledonia says she’s sticking around because she owes a debt to Johnny, which Johnny says sounds a little too much like a commitment. When Ben jokingly calls Caledonia Johnny’s girlfriend, Johnny says they’re just friends.

Four and a half: With everyone having disturbing dreams, Franklin reminds everyone that he used to have dream-based powers, including prophetic dreams. This is of course a reference to his time spent as a member of Power Pack.

Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent the whole time. We can only speculate whether she lost (and later regained) her secret agent status along with her Avengers status.

Commercial break: Disney’s marketing department kinda phoned this one in, didn’t they?

Trivia time: Instead of telling readers when the FF first met Ronan, a caption invites readers to write in if they know the answer. I know – it was Fantastic Four #64-65. Now everybody send a postcard to Marvel and tell them.

This is the first time Firestar meets the FF. A mutant, Firestar was originally caught up in conflict between the X-Men and the Hellions. She then joined the New Warriors, for which she is probably most well-known. Then came her time with the Avengers. During Marvel’s Civil War event, she gave up super-heroing. She came out of retirement to be a mentor for the Young Allies, and she taught at the Jean Grey School. In current continuity, she’s been a player in House of X/Powers of X crossover and the Absolute Carnage crossover.

Also present in this issue is police sergeant Charlotte Jones, a supporting character from X-Factor. It looks like Ronan kills her, but we’ll see her still kicking in upcoming issues.

The three Kree prisoners are members of the “Lunatic Legion,” a group of Kree who often showed up as villains in Avengers and Iron Man during the 90s.

Fantastic or frightful? After the plot-heavy Genosha story, it’s nice to have an issue with more character stuff. I liked all four members of the team investigating the mystery each in their own way. Ronan continues to be a one-note baddie, but this helps the issue feel like classic Fantastic Four.

Next: Moon madness.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Universal’s so-called “monster office” was in diminishing returns during the 1950s, but there was more bona fide classic to come, Creature from the Black Lagoon. Here’s what happens: After discovering a mysterious fossil, a group of scientists travel deep into the Amazon for more. They encounter the amphibious Creature, who foils their efforts to leave, and takes an interest in Kay, the expedition’s only female member. Monster! The look of the Creature, designed by artist Millicent Patrick, is terrific. Out of the water, he’s all wet and glisten-y, and his neck bulges as he breaths, suggesting gills. In the water, we actually see him swim around, making us believe that he really does live in this hidden lagoon. Our hero: The protagonist is David, a heroic man of science, although he’s one of several heroic men of science on the expedition. David is very much a 1950s science-hero. He always has the answer and always knows just what to do. Hapless humans: Kay, played by the great Julie Adams, is super-likable, enjoying the sense of adventure that is the expedition. She’s stuck in the “damsel in distress” role, but she also smashes a fiery lantern over the Creature’s head at one point. The other scientists are Mark, Carl, and Edwin, who are kind of interchangeable. Thrills: It’s a lot of fun to see the Creature rampage through the scientists’ ship, trashing everything in his path. But he’s also a stealthy monster, often sneaking up on his prey. He also gets a fun underwater fight involving a spear gun. Perhaps his best moment is the so-called “water ballet” where he swims alongside Kay as she doesn’t know he’s there. The scene is both beautiful and spooky. Laughs: Our comic relief is Lucas, who captains the ship chartered by the expedition. Instead of being a bumbler, Lucas is super self-confident, believing himself to be the story’s hero. I especially like when he proclaims, “I, Lucas, can do it!” What’s all this, then? The movie opens with a prologue… in outer space? Where we see the big bang? OK, if you say so. Thoughts upon this viewing: Pretty much everything you could want from a monster movie. The monster is threatening but also somewhat sympathetic. The human characters are likable, and the visuals are gorgeous. Maybe the score is a bit obnoxious, but other than that this is a great time at the movies. Next: Fin-al vengeance.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Fantastic Five-day

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Today we’re diving into Marvel’s MC2 line, featuring Fantastic Five, which will seem really familiar if you read FF in the ‘90s.

Fantastic Five takes place in the MC2 continuity, which takes place approximately 15 years in the future. The Marvel heroes are now a little older and wiser, and there’s a new class of young up-and-coming heroes. The main series of MC2 was the cult favorite Spider-Girl, which was saved from cancellation (for a while) by a fan letter-writing campaign. The MC2 line also gave us A-Next, Wild Thing, and American Dream.

Who are the Fantastic Five?

  • Johnny is now the team leader.
  • Lyja is his wife, Ms. Fantastic, and she and Johnny have a young son.
  • Ben is now a cyborg, and is divorced.
  • Teenage Franklin is telekinetic, and again going by the name “Psi-Lord.”
  • Big Brain is a robot with Reed’s brain inside it, but not is all as it appears.

In issue #1, we get to know this new timeline as our heroes fight the evil Dr. Kangshaw (no relation to Kang), who has created this weird mind-controlling cloud monster. Big Brain sacrifices himself to save the day, and we learn that Reed is actually remote-piloting Big Brain from some unknown location.

Right from the first page, it hits you that we are back in Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan’s version of FF, before they got booted so Jim Lee could take over the book. This whole MC2 thing is just an excuse for DeFalco and Ryan to keep doing what they were doing before, no matter how unpopular Lyja and teen Franklin (and more!) might have been.

Issue #2 introduces the S.H.I.E.L.D. Superoid, based on the Mad Thinker’s Android, which can replicate our heroes powers. The ‘droid is stolen by a new version of the Frightful Four, called the Wizard’s Warriors. They’re Dominator, Impact, Bullet, Freefall, and Binder. The F5 save the day, but not until the Wizard deduces that Reed is not Big Brain, and he starts tracking down Reed’s location.

Big Brain gets a new body this issue, and we get to know Johnny and Lyja’s son, Torus Storm, who has his parents’ combined powers.

In issue #3 Franklin and Spider-Girl team up to investigate and then fight the Wizard’s Warriors. It’s all a trick, as the Wizard learns that Reed is still alive and hiding in the Negative Zone. Meanwhile, we learn Ben is the father of twins, and his ex-wife is not Alicia, but Sharon Ventura (WHAT???).

Issue #4 is a flashback to what Reed’s deal is. At some point, Hyperstorm returned. (Yes, DeFalco is using this series to bring back Hyperstorm as well.) We learn Reed is hiding out in his “Fantasti-station” in the Negative Zone. Sue is in suspended animation, forever perpetually fighting the hole in hyperspace, with Reed watching vigilant over her. Oh, and the F5 defeat the Wizard and his Warriors pretty easily.

In issue #5, the team receives a message from Dr. Doom, only to learn immediately that this is not Dr. Doom, but Kristoff (See? DeFalco is bringing back everybody!). Cassie Lang, daughter of Ant-Man, is now an Avenger named Stinger, and she tags along. Kristoff is being held captive by Diablo, who sends a bunch of elemental monsters to attack the F5. Kristoff escapes and defeats Diablo. Kristoff then announces he’s joining the F5. Then Torus says he’s joining the F5. Then Ben’s twins Jake and Alyce reveal they have powers, and they also want to join the F5!

To be continued… when the series gets a short-lived revival in 2007.

Unstable molecule: Reed is shown losing control of his powers after the fight with Hyperstorm, so he wears an exoskeleton to keep himself from turning into a formless blob.

Fade out: Trapping Sue inside a machine for the entire series is unfortunate, but she gets some great scenes in the fight with Hyperstorm, pushing her powers to the limit.

Clobberin’ time: The series doesn’t reveal how Ben became a cyborg, he even has his cyborg parts before the Hyperstorm fight, even though that’s depicted as the moment everything changed.

Flame on: Johnny has grown as both team leader, and as father figure. He keeps insisting that his son not become a superhero, but we’re not necessarily shown why. Johnny also has his red-and-yellow uniform back.

Fantastic fifth wheel: In this timeline, Kristoff has accepted who he is, yet goes by the name “Doom” (that’s without the doctor part). Basically, he’s Dr. Doom, except as a good guy. Then, when he and Cassie are reunited, they kiss on the lips! Had DeFalco seriously planned this all along?

It’s not made clear whether Big Brain is being remote-controlled by Reed the whole time, or the robot is autonomous and merely programmed to act like Reed. In addition to being a genius, Big Brain can zap enemies with electrical blasts.

The comic doesn’t bother explaining how Sharon Ventura became human again, or the circumstances of her Ben’s reunion, marriage, and divorce – or anything else about where her story might have gone.

In the revival, Ben’s two kids do indeed go on to become members of the team. Alyce goes by the codename Rad, and Jake’s codename is Grim.

Cassie Lang says her dad Scott (a.k.a. Ant-Man) is “grumpy as ever.” When was he ever grumpy?

Four and a half: Franklin is back to being Psi-Lord, but without the cool jacket and the edgy attitude from the Fantastic Force spinoff. The Spider-Girl team-up suggests that he and Spider-Girl might be more than friends.

The Alicia problem: How ballsy is it of them to bring back Lyja as Johnny’s wife, after so many readers disliked the character? Lyja doesn’t do much in these issues, though. She’s basically just the loyal wife and superhero teammate.

Commercial break: But does his computer wear tennis shoes?

Trivia time: The purpose of MC2 was to draw in first-time readers, and the many new characters were designed to appeal to young readers who’d never picked up a comic before. Allegedly, a deal to sell the comics at K-Mart and Target fell through, so MC2 never really took off. MC2 officially ended with two miniseries, Last Hero Standing and Last Planet Standing, although Spider-Girl and American Dream appeared sporadically after that. There’s much debate among fans as to whether the Spider-Girl who appeared in the 2014 Spider-Verse crossover was the MC2 one, or one from yet another alternate timeline.

Fantastic or frightful? I was going to skip this series on the blog, but then I couldn’t believe how DeFalco and Ryan are so brazenly just picking up where they left off before Jim Lee took over the series. Nobody misses Ljya, Kristoff, and Hyperstorm, and yet here they are! DeFalco and Ryan’s Fantastic Four was overstuffed with too many characters and too much plot, so it’s no surprise that their Fantastic Five is overstuffed with too many characters and too much plot.

Next: Dance-off, bro.

****

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

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