Fantastic Friday: By Crom

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #405, we learn tha–OMG it’s Conan the Barbarian!

While on an adventure in Brazil, our heroes have uncovered an alien device that might be able to save Ben’s life after he took a beating, while also turning him back into a human as well. Kristoff and archeologist Robeson man the machine’s controls, while Sue, Lyja, and Namor the Sub-Mariner look on. It works, and Ben returns to his human form.

Ben assures everyone that he feels fine, and he’s overjoyed to be human again. Robeson says the machine’s purpose was to create an army unstoppable warriors, and therefore included an “automatic healing factor.” It’s not all good news, however. Ben sees himself in a conveniently-placed mirror. He sees the scars on his face, given to him by Wolverine in issue #374, are still there. Robeson says the machine only heals recent injuries, so the scars stay. Sue promises to get Ben to the world’s best plastic surgeon, but Robeson is on hand to offer even more bad news. The healing effect might only be temporary.

Kristoff suggests teleporting the machine aboard the FF’s ship the Stealth Hawk, so Ben and benefit from it whenever he wants. Robeson argues that it might stay where it is because it is a major archeological find. Ben says a machine that turns people into monsters shouldn’t be left behind.

Back in FF headquarters, we pick up the previous issue’s other cliffhanger, where Kristoff’s aid Boris was reporting to a mysterious figure. Ant-Man and his daughter Cassie caught Boris in the act, and Boris is now attacking Ant-Man with a laser gun. Ant-Man makes it to the science lab, where Kristoff had prepared his new Ant-Man armor. He dons the armor, hoping that Kristoff and/or Boris hadn’t tampered with it.

The Stealth Hawk flies back to HQ, with everyone wondering why Ant-Man isn’t responding. For some reason, Namor chooses this exact moment to make a move, saying he and Sue should finally be a couple now that Reed is dead. She says she’s accepted Reed’s death, but isn’t ready for a new relationship. Namor says he’ll respect her wishes… for now.

At HQ, Boris seals the door to the lab, thinking that will stop Ant-Man of all people. He contacts the mysterious figure, saying the building is secured and he’s preparing for the rest of the team’s arrival. The mystery man, whom we the readers know is the mega-powerful Hyperstorm, tells Boris to proceed at his own discretion. Ant-Man predictably shrinks to teeny-tiny size and jumps out at Boris from an air vent.

Now things get really weird. Ant-Man is struck by a broadsword. Turns out it’s Conan the Barbarian, who has randomly appeared in the room. Although he’s not named, the Marvel Wiki insists this is the one and only Conan the Barbarian. He’s joined by a futuristic Iron Man, revealed to be the Iron Man of the distant future of 2020. Boris says he’s pulling enemies from other timelines to fight Ant-Man, because all this time Boris has secretly been… Zarrko the Tomorrow-Man.

Who is this? Zarrko first appeared as a Thor villain way, way back in 1962’s Journey Into Mystery #86. He would occasionally pop in Thor comics over the years for various time-travel antics. The Marvel Wiki insists that Zarrko has been impersonating Boris since Boris appeared way back in issue #258, also the first appearance of Kristoff.

Back to the action, Zarrko says he was never loyal to Doom or Kristoff, but is instead working for someone the FF hasn’t even met yet. He summons more Marvel characters, the gimmick being they are either dead or from an alternate timeline. So, in the next few pages, Ant-Man is under fire from the original Green Goblin, the original Bucky, the android Human Torch (a.k.a. Toro), the Red Raven, the original Thor (who had died and been replaced with Thunderstrike during this time), Snowbird from Alpha Flight, the Melter, Union Jack, Omega the Unknown, the Rawhide Kid, the original Black Knight, Blizzard, Blackout, Skurge the Executioner and the unfortunately-named Whizzer. The rest of the team arrives and joins the fight against all the alt-timeline cameos. Zarrko is apparently mind-controlling all these guys, because all they want to do is fight the FF.

During the fight, Ben’s healing effect wears off, and turns back into the Thing, still with his facial scars. Ant-Man uses his new armor’s grappling hook to detach Zarrko’s time displacement device from his belt. This causes all the alt-timeline folks to disappear. Ben grabs hold of Zarrko. Zarrko offers Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie in exchange for the device, but Sue says Lyja already got Cassie to safety during the fight.

With the danger over, Cassie runs into the room and into Ant-Man’s arms before he can change out of his armor. He doesn’t know how to tell her he’s really Ant-Mat. She says it’s okay, because she’s always known. Zarrko tries to negotiate for his freedom, saying he knows what really happened to Reed. Before he can anything more, though, he is killed by an energy blast from an outside source. Kristoff says his sensors locked onto the beam’s source of origin and they can track it to its source — and, hopefully, to some real answers.

Fade out: We all know Namor is a jerk, but his pursuit of Sue takes “jerk” to a whole new level. Even as Sue considers making a new life for herself, I was glad to see her shoot him down like she does.

Clobberin’ time: Ben refers to Zarrko as “my old sparring partner,” but I can’t figure out where they might have met before. The closest I can come up with is when Johnny and Spider-Man used some of the FF’s tech to help the Avengers fight Kang in multi-issue Marvel Team-Up arc, which also featured Zarrko.

Fantastic fifth wheel: This issue ends the running gag of Ant-Man always trying to keep his daughter from learning his secret identity. We haven’t seen much of this in FF, but it happened a lot during Ant-Man’s many Iron Man appearances.

Kristoff shows little surprise or anger that his loyal servant Boris turned out to be a time-traveling supervillain. I guess his Dr. Doom-programmed brain means he can take these sorts of betrayals in stride.

Commercial break: This comic has not one, not two, but FIVE pages of ads for Spider-Man Fruit Roll-Ups!

Trivia time: It’s Conan the Barbarian! In 1995, Marvel not only still held the license to the character, but it was still publishing Conan comics on a regular basis. It wouldn’t be until a year later that the license changed hands.

As for whether the Conan character is canon to the Marvel Universe, that’s where it gets confusing. Conan only interacted with Marvel heroes in What If?, except for popping up in a few big group shots of heroes during big crossovers. The Marvel Wiki states that these cameos are the alternate-timeline Conan from What If? and not his regular comic. On the other hand, Conan’s barbarian kingdom of the Hyborian Age is established in his comic as being Earth before the Ice Age, peopled by descendants of ancient Atlantis. Marvel still owns a lot of characters created for Marvel Conan comics that show up from time to time, such as the wizard Kulan Gath. The X-Men villain Selene was born during Conan’s time, and the Terrigen mists that created the Inhumans also existed in the Hyborian Age.

And no, Zarrko isn’t really dead. He’ll later return during the Age of Ultron crossover where he’s enlisted to join S.H.I.E.L.D.’s time travel branch, simply called T.I.M.E.

Fantastic or frightful? Kind of a missed opportunity. If you’re going to re-introduce all these obscure characters, why not actually do something with them, rather than reduce so many of them to one-panel cameos? And after foreshadowing the Boris/Zarrko reveal for so long, Zarrko ends up being an underwhelming villain.

Next: It’s Hyper time.

****

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

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 43

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! This scene has four words that sum up the whole movie, 1:43:58 to 1:44:19 on the Blu-ray.

From the previous scene, we fade to an establishing shot of Castle NockMaar. There’s one guy on the wall, and two walking down an exterior staircase somewhere in the castle’s inner courtyard. The effect is that the place looks empty, as all the soldiers, thinking they are victorious after the “you’re all pigs” incident, have cone inside, possibly to get some sleep. Then we cut to the castle exterior where we see some decorative piles of skulls right outside, no doubt meant to frighten away any would-be attackers. It’s a long, slow pan of almost 20 seconds across the empty-looking field facing the castle, until Willow and Fin Raziel come into frame. Are the filmmakers pulling a little trick on us, and are all the stuntmen actually under the ground during this shot?

Then another shot of the top of the castle walls, and now a few more NockMaar are gathered, looking down at the pair. Willow turns to Fin Raziel and merely says, “Raziel.” She responds, “Willow, all these years I have waited to face Bavmorda. It is you who has made this possible. Whatever happens, I shall always admire you.” Willow looks pensive, and then considers Kaiya’s braid, given to him earlier in the movie at the start of his journey. The music swells, as he (and the audience) reflect on how far he has come. Raziel puts a hand on his shoulder and says, “Your children will come to remember this day.”

Atop the castle wall, General Kael shows up, looking down at the two, followed by another wide shot of the castle, again emphasizing how empty the field in front of the castle appears. A couple of birds fly overhead in that odd silhouette animation they used on the trolls earlier. Willow and Raziel take a few steps forward. Raziel says, “We call upon you to surrender.” Are they projecting their voices magically, Gandalf-style, or should we just suspend our disbelief that the characters can hear each other over what’s obviously a long distance? Willow adds, “We are all powerful sorcerers. Give us the baby, or we will destroy you.”

Kael actually cracks a smile upon seeing this. His skull-face mask isn’t on during at this moment, so we’re getting human Kael as opposed to he-thinks-he’s-a-god Kael. He and the others then break out into a huge laugh. Willow looks at Raziel again, now with a more determined look in his face. He’s turned a corner from being hesitant to prepared for what’s about to happen.

Kael points and says “Kill them.” The point seems unnecessary, because who else would be talking about? There’s yet another wide shot of the seemingly-empty field. In the reverse shot, we see the drawbridge slowly lowering. (They built a working drawbridge for this movie!) Willow and Raziel exchange glances, and then five NockMaar on horseback come riding out of the castle.

Willow raises his staff in an action pose. Raziel says, “Patience, Willow.” The camera zooms on Willow as he says to himself, “Courage, Willow.” What else can I possibly say about this four-word exchange? This is the movie’s mission statement, and it’s just pure movie magic.

The five soldiers ride closer. Then, with a “Hee-yaw!” Willow raises his staff and bangs on a drum conveniently placed next to him. With a second “Yaw!” he bangs it again, and then the Galladoorn troops  emerge from underground, having been hidden in huge holes in the earth covered with tarps. A couple of the horses with riders are simply lying under the tarps, with the horses springing up immediately and taking the rider with them. (Stuntmen love stuff like this.) The previous scene established that Willow got the idea for this by watching gophers in his village. I assume this means gophers burrowing and residing just under soil, because I’ve never heard of a gopher springing up from underground to attack. The Willow fan wiki, sadly, has no entry on gophers, so we don’t know how they differ on Willow’s world compared to ours.

Madmartigan gets a closeup, raising his sword and doing his own “Yaw!” battle cry. The five NockMaar stop, clearly outnumbered, and one matter-of-factly states, “Back to the castle.” There’s yet another shot of the Galladoorn troops riding forward, suggesting that there’s a whole lot of them. This whole strategy raises a number of questions. Were these holes preexisting, or did the Galladoorn stay up all night digging them? If they did, how are they in any shape to ride into battle first thing in the morning? Even though this scene opens establishing very few NockMaar atop the castle walls, did the NockMaar really have no lookouts during the night who could have seen all this? Anyway, the two Brownies pop up from their hiding place under a soldier’s helmet. They raise their spears and run forward. I guess they are also going to fight.

There’s a very quick shot of the Galladoorn overtaking the five soldiers, with one of them falling off his horse while making the classic Wilhelm scream (you know the one I mean). Then the movie’s main theme music kicks in as Madmartigan leads the troops over the drawbridge and into the castle’s main entrance in an awesome hero moment.

Next: To battle!

****

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Fantastic Friday: Rumble in the jungle

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #404 has the Thing fighting a bunch of other Things, and… that’s it, really.

We open with Namor the Sub-Mariner, seeking revenge for losing control of Atlantis to the Inhumans during the Atlantis Rising crossover. He’s arrived at FF headquarters in search of Sue, demanding an audience with her. The only team member there is Ant-Man, who tells Namor that the rest of the FF are in Brazil. We then go there, where Ben is fighting Sue, Kristoff, and Lyja, all of whom have been transformed into Things like himself. (Short recap: an archeologist named Robeson found ancient ruins that resemble Ben, only for criminal jungle guide Mico to take over and use an alien device in the ruins to Thing-ize our heroes.)

While Ben tries to go easy on his teammates, Mico stands to the side with the other members of the expedition, who have also become Things, and are under Mico’s command. Robeson escapes, running into the jungle. He fears the damage Mico can do if he ends up with a whole army of Things serving him. Ben manages to escape his teammates and also escapes into the jungle, in pursuit of Robeson.

At HQ, Ant-Man shows Namor that he’s been tinkering with Dr. Doom’s space-time platform, turning into the FF’s personal transporter. He offers to teleport Namor right to Sue’s location. Namor makes a big declaration, saying it is time for him and Sue to finally be together, seeing as how she’s lost Reed and he’s lost all of Atlantis. Kristoff’s aid Boris watches mysteriously from a distance.

Ben re-encounters Sue, Lyja and Kristoff in the jungle, where they reveal they still have their powers in addition to their new Thing strength. Namor teleports into the middle of the fight, and Sue immediately attacks him. Ben catches up Robeson, who theorizes that the effects of the alien device might fade over time, but he doesn’t know for sure.

At HQ, Boris ducks around the corner for some privacy, thinking about how much he dislikes this “time era” and that he’d rather be dealing with Thor instead of the FF. He contacts a mysterious figure hidden in shadow. The man in shadow says that if history is to believed, the Fantastic Four are about to reach a critical juncture with huge consequences. Because this is a re-read and not a first-time read, I’m going to spoil it. This is the first ever appearance of Hyperstorm, who, although short-lived, is about to become one of the most influential baddies in FF history. Anyway, Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie eavesdrops on the conversation, and Boris catches her.

There’s a few pages of Sue fighting Namor, followed by Ben and Robeson returning to the ruins. There, Ben finds hieroglyphics showing men being transformed into Things and back again. Ben wonders if this could be his chance to become human again. Mico shows up with other Things, saying he’s going to turn them into his own personal mercenary squad and become with world’s most successful mercenary. This doesn’t seem like all that evil of a plan, but Ben won’t have it. He fights the other Things.

At HQ, Boris is in search of Cassie, who ran off. He runs into Ant-Man and immediately pulls out a laser gun and fires. Ant-Man dodges the blast. He wonders where Cassie is, and fears that if Boris is a traitor to the FF, then Kristoff might also be. Meanwhile, Ben fights the other Things inside the ruins, while Sue fights Namor in the jungle. The other Things finally get the upper hand on Ben, and beat him senseless. The effects of the alien device then wear off, and all the Things become human again.

Sue and Namor hurry to the ruins. Mico pulls a gun on them, but he doesn’t stand a chance against Sue’s force fields and Namor’s strength. Ben is unconscious, and Robeson fears that he may be suffering from internal injuries. He suggests using the alien device to turn Ben back into a human to save him, as long as Ben’s body can survive the shock of transformation. Sue agrees to try it. With Kristoff using his genius to man the device’s controls. The machine fires up, and we’re left to wonder the final fate of the Thing.

To be continued!

Fade out: The fight between Sue and Namor is an excuse for a rage-filled Sue to call out Namor on his years of creepy behavior, including his trying to take advantage of her as she mourned for her dead husband.

Clobberin’ time: This issue remembers that the scars on Ben’s face are highly sensitive, and really does look painful in panels when he gets punched right in the scars.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man says he bought advanced tickets to take his daughter to see the Disney movie Pocahontas. It’s Disney/Marvel foreshadowing!

Kristoff’s Doom armor appears to change size with him, first growing to Thing-size, and then, more interestingly, shrinking down to little kid-sized when little Kristoff becomes human again.

The Alicia problem: When Mico pulls an ordinary pistol on our heroes, Lyja doesn’t make a move to stop him, for fear that Mico might shoot Kristoff. Sue and Namor, however, don’t think twice about using their powers to disarm Mico.

Commercial break: Together at last!

Trivia time: I’ve given up trying to track the confusing history of Dr. Doom’s time machine, and all the places it’s shown up. Fortunately, the Marvel Wiki has done it all for me. The wiki insists that the original time machine is back in Latveria inside Castle Doom, and that the one seen in this issue is a replica created by Reed. Ant-Man’s tinkering means it’s now a plain ol’ teleporter as well as a time machine.

Fantastic or frightful? I don’t know. Kind of a placeholder of an issue, waiting to make the big reveals and the big drama for the next one. Some of the fights and action is interesting, but that’s about it.

Next: Moose and squirrel.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 42

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! It’s finally time to settle the debate between war and agriculture, 1:41:56 to 1:43:57 on the Blu-ray.

We begin with Bavmorda and her wide men continuing the all-night preparations for the ritual, starting with a creepy shot of Bavmorda holding a knife right over the baby. She very carefully cuts off a slice of the baby’s hair, and then holds for a few seconds, contemplating both it and the knife. Bavmorda says, “Black fires kindled within, let the second rite begin.” The fan wiki doesn’t specify how many rites this ritual has or which rite is which, so I guess we’ll just have to accept that this twelve-hour-long ritual comes with several steps. One of the wise men puts the hair in a bowl and then slowly pours blood-like liquid from that bowl into a larger bowl. Bright red fumes come from the larger bowl. These fumes will show up again in the movie’s climax.

 We then cut to the Galladoorn soldiers’ camp, where two of soldiers are sneaking from tent to tent, as to not be spotted. They duck inside one of the tents to join a makeshift war council, with Madmartigan, Sorsha, Fin Raziel, Willow, and Airk, with a few more unnamed Galladoorn. The fact that they’re being so sneaky suggests the Raziel has successfully transformed all (or most? or some?) of the Galladoorn from pigs back to human without the NockMaar soldiers on the castle walls seeing them. Also, this further establishes that this society has really excelled in tent technology, because, like Sorsha’s tent earlier, this one is huge.

 Airk’s first line of dialogue is hard to understand. According to the Blu-ray’s subtitles, he’s saying, “We can’t breach the wall. We can’t get inside.” Raziel says, “Elora will die unless we save her.” Interesting that they’ve all accepted her as one of her own. Is this just because she saved them, or has her fame as a great sorceress reached Galladoorn from Tir Asleen? There’s a quick shot of the Brownies, standing on the table, establishing that they’re no longer pigs, and that they’re somehow included in the war council. Perhaps they’ve been included to speak on behalf of Cherlindrea.

 Another unnamed Galladoorn, who looks a little bit like Eric Idle, says “Bavmorda’s too powerful.” Raziel says, “No. She cannot transform you again. My spell is protecting this camp.” Madmartigan asks Raziel if her magic can get them inside the fortress. She merely shakes her head. I’m sure a lot of viewers would prefer a real answer, but given that this world’s magic system is only given partial (at most) explanations, we have no choice but take Raziel at her word.

 Airk stands and says, “We can’t do it.” And what on Earth is that thing he is holding. It appears to be a ceremonial staff of some kind, made from a knotty tree root. He’s quick to set it aside. Willow pushes forward through a couple of soldiers and says, “Back home at my village, we have a lot of gophers.” Madmartigan then says one of my favorite lines, “Willow, this is war, not agriculture.” Willow keeps his cool and says, “I know. But I have an idea that can get us inside the castle. Without saying a word, Airk sits at the table, and listens to Willow. The other Galladoorn do as well. This is a total turnaround from Airk’s dismissive attitude toward Willow back in the snowy village.

 We then cut back to the ritual where Elora Danan is still crapped up on that altar thing, and she is still crying. Are they feeding her or changing her during these twelve hours? Bavmorda chants some more magic words, with some liquid cupped in her hands. It looks like water to me, but who knows? She seems happy almost to the point of delirium as she does this. Then another reaction shot of the baby, this time just watching instead of crying, suggesting that she is aware of what’s going on.

 Back to the tent, and Airk has done another 180 turn. “Come on, Madmartigan,” he says. “You and I are soldiers. You know the peck’s plan will never work. There’s a second of silence as Madmartigan contemplates this. Raziel says, “If the baby dies, all hope for the future is lost.” She and Willow exchange a nod, and she says, “I’m going to fight.” Willow stands and says, “Me too.” Madmartigan and Sorsha both stand. Madmartigan takes charge, starting with, “All right, we’ve got to decide who’s going to go and who’s going to stay.” This is followed by a series of shots as all the characters exchange glances. I suspect this is to generate suspense as to whether Airk and the other Galladoorn will stay and fight, or if they will bail. Notice Airk is holding that weird staff again. What is that thing?

 Next: Go go gophers.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Thing ring do your thing

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #403, we’re getting back to basics with some old-fashioned jungle adventure.

We begin in the lab inside Four Freedoms Plaza, where Kristoff has designed a new Ant-Man suit for Scott Lang, one that will enhance his “physical abilities.” Scott is grateful, but Kristoff remains a jerk, even though they are teammates now. Kristoff boasts that his intellect is superior to Scott’s. Scott reminds Kristoff that he’s a 12-year-old who “models himself” after Dr. Doom.

Scott is then called to the lobby, where he receives a surprise visitor — his daughter Cassie. There’s a lot of fun shtick as he gives her a tour of FF headquarters, and Kristoff even shows up not wearing the Dr. Doom armor to flirt with the pre-teen Cassie. Kristoff’s aide Boris is also still hanging around, still harboring a dark secret unknown to our heroes. This is followed by two pages of follow-up to the Atlantis Rising crossover, establishing that the Inhumans now rule Atlantis, protected from the outside world by a Negative Zone barrier. Namor the Sub-Mariner, all alone at the bottom of the ocean, swears revenge.

Cut to Brazil, where we are reunited with Professor Kenneth Robeson, the archeologist we met briefly in issue #389. He’s investigating the ruins of an ancient civilization that left behind sculptures with an eerie resemblance to the Thing. He chides his jungle guide Mico for illegally shooting animals for sport, and then Nico leads him and his team to more ruins, the Temple of the Ancient Sun Demons. These sculptures also resemble the Thing. Robeson and team find alien-looking machinery inside the temple. When one goon messes with the machine, it zaps him with a blast of energy.

Then there’s some business with Johnny, officially announcing he’s leaving to the team for work the Fantastic Force spinoff team, who could use his help with all the drama going on in that comic. He then goes on a date with love interest du jour Laura Green, still not knowing that Laura Green is Lyja the Skrull in disguise. After Johnny takes off, Lyja goes to HQ, where Sue has invited her for a meeting. Sue says that with Johnny leaving and Kristoff still not entirely trustworthy, the FF could use a hand. Lyja says she’s happy to help.

The FF then receive a distress call from Robeson, who tells them Mico’s “things” are attacking the archeological site. Although the FF don’t know what this means, but they are ready to help. Kristoff uses his genius to track Robeson’s signal. Ant-Man stays behind to be with Cassie, so Lyja volunteers to take his place.

The FF arrive in the jungles of Brazil, and must march through the brush to reach Robeson’s camp. Ben scouts ahead, where he is attacked by a bunch of other Things. They introduce themselves as the “Dark-Spawn of Mico” and they fight Ben calling him a “has-been.” The rest of the team, meanwhile, make it to Robeson’s camp and find it deserted. Sue and Lyja are knocked out with poison darts from an unseen attacker. The same attacker takes out Kristoff’s Doom armor with a futuristic adhesive liquid.

Been defeats all the other Things, and then makes his way to the ancient temple, where Mico is waiting for him. Ben demands an explanation, but Mico says he has other ideas. Ben turns around to find that Sue, Lyja, and Kristoff have been transformed into… Things!

To be continued!

Fade out: Sue speaks on behalf of the FF when communicating with NATO on the Inhumans/Atlantis situation. The NATO officials promise to keep Sue informed of future developments.

Clobberin’ time: Referring the enemies as “Spawn” feels like a cheap shot fired at Image comics, with a lot of talk during the fight about other Things are nothing but cheap imitations of the original. During the fight, Ben even says, “Image ain’t everything!”

Flame on: The last time we saw Johnny in this comic, he was being mind-controlled by Maximus the Mad. What this issue doesn’t tell you is that Franklin freed Johnny from Maximus’ thrall in Fantastic Force #9, which was part 9 of Atlantis Rising.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Kristoff continues the unlikable thing by always telling his new teammates they have inferior intellects. His flirtation with Cassie, though, gives him a little more personality than just kid-who-thinks-he’s-Dr.-Doom.

After referencing Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie several times, she finally shows up in Fantastic Four. She’s also been aged-up from kid to pre-teen so she can get flirty with Kristoff. Cassie being a superhero fan has been well-established in her many Iron Man and Marvel Presents cameos, even wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt in her first appearance.

The Alicia problem: Ben is the only one who has a problem with Sue asking Lyja to join the expedition, remembering that Johnny still feels betrayed by everything that went down between them. Lyja tells herself that her Laura Green persona was only meant to keep an eye on Johnny, and that she never intended to attract Johnny.

Commercial break: It’s the Citizen Kane of parachuting elephant movies:

Trivia time: The country of Brazil hasn’t been visited too many times in Marvel history. There was some World War II action with Captain America and Bucky. Other than that, it’s mostly been Avengers visiting there for various world-saving missions, as well as an amusing story about Jarvis the butler teleporting to Brazil to gather gourmet coffee beans. Brazil got the most play in New Mutants, thanks to the mutant hero Sunspot being Brazillian. Most interestingly, though, is that Brazil is the home of Nova Roma, the secret society where people live as if it is still ancient Rome. Magma from New Mutants was originally from Nova Roma.

Fantastic or frightful? After all those long-winded and baffling subplots, not to mention a bunch of crossovers, it’s refreshing to have an issue that’s back to the Fantastic Four going on a Fantastic Four adventure. It’s a simplistic issue, but there’s plenty of fun to be had.

Next: Rumble in the jungle.

 

****

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Fantastic Friday: Still more Atlantis

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #402 is part ten of the eleven-part Atlantis Rising crossover. I don’t know about you but I’m getting Atlantis’d out.

Sexy sorceress Morgan Le Fay has taken over Atlantis and raised it to the surface. The Inhumans, under the leadership of the Inhuman Genetic Council, believe that Atlantis belongs to the Inhumans, and everyone’s getting caught up in the conflict. While flying Atlantis aboard their Stealth Hawk spaceship, the FF are attacked by Thor, who is under Morgan’s thrall. We begin with a pretty cool Top Gun-style aerial battle between Thor and ship, with them outmaneuvering and battling each other. Kristoff fires a “graviton torpedo” at Thor, knocking him unconscious. The FF flies off, not to Atlantis but to Heathrow Airport where NATO is holding an emergency session to discuss the Atlantis situation. (How do our heroes know this?)

In Atlantis, it’s revealed that the battle severed Morgan’s psychic link with Thor. She still has her energy field intact around Atlantis, though, and she reveals she has aquatic Ihuman Triton trapped in a “geneti-globe” and she hopes to use him as her pawn. She also has the Inhuman city of Attilan, shrunk down to tiny size and trapped in a bottle. Nathaniel Richards is also there, having been taken prisoner by Atlanteans. He tells Morgan that he has the means to restore Attilan to its proper size.

We then catch up with the Inhuman Royal Family, still living in exile in a New Jersey circus. They are contacted by their enemy Arcadius, head of the Genetic Council. They agree to set aside their differences, only for Arcadius to saw that if the Inhumans are to survive this conflict, they must destroy Namor the Sub-Mariner. We then appropriately cut to Namor, who has been rescued after a defeat earlier in the crossover. He’s been nursed to health in an undersea cave by Atlantean sorcerer Vashti. Namor says he wants vengeance against those who displaced Atlantis, but Vashti argues that Namor’s people need a leader and a healer instead.

The FF arrive in London, and the Inhuman Royal Family see a news report about them. The FF meet with NATO officials in a conference room inside an unidentified mansion (could this be Downing Street?!?) where they debate about what to do about Atlantis. The Royal Family teleports right onto the conference table. The NATO guys think this is an attack, but Sue vouches for the Inhumans. Then there really is an attack, when Namor bursts through a window, hoping to get his revenge, rather than the “leader and healer” stuff. Vashti apparently never filled him in about the whole Royal-Family-living-in-exile-at-the-circus thing.

Black Bolt fights Namor, and the two are pretty evenly matched. The exchange blows, and Black Bolt actually uses his energy antenna as a proper weapon, something we don’t see him to that often. Meanwhile, Ant-Man fights Lockjaw, Karnak fights Ben, and Gorgon (who, let’s not forget, once single-handedly defeated the FF) fights the NATO security guards. Sue breaks up the fight by putting a force field between Black Bolt and Namor.

In Atlantis, Morgan reveals to Arcadius that she has procured the city in the bottle and the means to restore it. Arcadius then contacts the Royal Family and says they must teleport to Atlantis at once. They do, leaving the FF behind in England. Sue says they must pursue, except that they have no way of breaking through the energy barrier around Atlantis. Then Thor shows up again, saying that he’s free of Morgan’s spell. He says he can get them to Atlantis, where he will have his revenge.

Fade out: Sue spends the whole issue trying to act as negotiator, hoping to stop the fighting and get everyone to listen to reason.

Clobberin’ time: This issue’s letters page announces a new Thing solo series coming later that year. It never happened, though. Ben wouldn’t get another solo series until Thing: Freakshow, seven years later.

Flame on: Starting this month, Johnny took over as the new leader of the spinoff team Fantastic Force, which is why he won’t appear in this or the next few issues.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Lockjaw defeats Ant-Man by pinning him to a wall, so that Ant-Man can’t get to his shrinking gas.

Kristoff continues to question the FF’s no-killing rule, suggesting that they might have to kill Thor, even if he ultimately chooses against it. Later, none of the officials in London question why someone who looks and acts just like Dr. Doom is with the FF. Maybe Sue phoned ahead and informed them that Kristoff is on the team now.

Medusa’s only role in this issue is to act an interpreter for Black Bolt. Her and Black Bolt’s son Ahura appears in one panel while at the circus, in case anyone’s wondering whatever happened to that character.

Commercial break: Whatever happened to Combo Man?

Trivia time: How did Atlantis Rising end? Morgan Le Fay was defeated, and Attilan was restored to its original size, trashing Atlantis in the process. The Atlantean people were displaced and the Inhumans took over ownership of the now-combined Attilan/Atlantis.

One of the guards in London asks, “Where is Captain Britain when we need him?” The answer is that month in Excalibur #87, where Captain Britain and the Excalibur team were in Genosha, searching for the mythical “mutant-killing bullet.”

Fantastic or frightful? There’s a lot of fun action in this one, with the spaceship vs. Thor fight and the Black Bolt vs. Namor fight. Unfortunately, I have a hard time caring about all this Atlantis vs. Inhumans conflict as it gets more and more dense. Yet another mixed bag.

Next: Thing ring, do your thing.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 41

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! It’s morphin’ time! Alpha, bring my Zune.

We begin with Bavmorda and her wide men setting up for the ritual, so I guess now is as good a time as any to get into what this ritual is, exactly. This is the Ritual of Oblivion, also known as the Rite of Oblivion. It takes twelve hours to prepare (this is important for later) a purified copper altar (the “purified” part will also be important later, a thunderstorm, several rare ingredients, and a “large quantity” of human blood. (!) The idea is that over this twelve hours, vast magical entities are built up, enough to not just kill a living being, but kill that living being by banishing his or her soul to the netherworld. Just killing Elora Danan wouldn’t have been enough, Bavmorda needs this ritual to destroy both the baby’s body and soul. Also, the caster, Bavmorda, cannot leave the ritual chamber once the ritual begins, or else the magic fails.

 We see the wise men preparing the baby in a red blanket with what appear to be black straps around her (to keep her from crawling away?), while one of the wise men strikes a gong that has an almost-but-not-quite ying/yang symbol on it.

 Back outside, Willow steps outside his tent to see what the audience already knows, that the whole Galladoorn army has been turned into pigs. This is demonstrated by a wide shot of the whole area covered with actual pigs (no CGI here). A couple of horses run by in the background, no doubt wanting to get out of there. Willow sees two piglets underfoot, meant to represent the two Brownies. Many viewers over the years have pointed out that the two piglets are actually much larger than the Brownies, but it’s still a good gag. 

 Willow runs back into the tent, throws himself onto all fours, and punches the ground in frustration. We’ve seen him angry and frustrated at other times during the movie, but never pushed to the edge like this. He says, “We’ve come all this way and Elora Danan is going to die.” I’m not sure this exposition is needed this late in the film, but it’s not so bad. Fin Raziel, still in her goat form, says there is still a way to defeat Bavmorda. Willow says Bavmorda is too powerful. Then there the camera does the heroic push-in on the goat as she says “Transform me, and I will destroy her.”

 Willow immediately snaps out of his funk, and he gives a Raziel a serious nod. Instead of the usual magic words he’s been saying throughout the movie, this time he chants in English. “Elements of eternity, above and below, balance of essence, fire begets snow.” Then he begins with the fantasy magic words. The tie-in material has less to say about this spell than it does the Ritual of Oblivion. This is simply called a transformation spell, and it’s defined as using magic to transform one thing into another thing. Yeah, thanks for that. The tie-in fiction says most magic-users in this world consider transformation unethical, but we’ve seen it a lot in the movie. In addition to Fin Raziel and all those pigs, this is the same spell that turned the troll into the Eborsisk, and it’s even how the High Aldwin turned a rock into a bird.

 Now the camera pushed in on Willow as he chants, and we hear Raziel say, “Willow, believe in the words. Concentrate.” Then we get crazy special effects as the goat transforms, its neck stretching upward in a grotesque way, until Raziel turns into an ostrich. She says, “Oh, no,” and Willow opens his eyes for a second, sees this, and then goes back to chanting. Note that this time it actually is CGI, one of the first and biggest uses of “morphing” in a movie. This scene’s transformation effects were a huge leap forward in VFX tech.  

 Then the ostrich feathers are drawn into Raziel’s body, and she shrinks down to small size, becoming a turtle. She says, “Stop, Willow,” but he keeps going. The turtle’s front legs grow into big fuzzy paws, and Raziel quickly transforms into a tiger. You’d think this would come in handy during the upcoming battle, but the tie-in books state that Raziel can’t perform magic unless human, and her magic is what’s needed now.

 The tiger form doesn’t last long, turning into a naked lady. (Wa-hey!) Notice that she keeps some tiger stripes on her legs. Let’s assume they’re permanent. Exhausted, Willow collapses from exhaustion. Raziel sits up, and we see she is back to human form. The score gets all heavenly-sounding as Willow sees Raziel. She looks at her hands and smiles. He covers her with a convenient blanket and hands the wand to her. She looks down at herself again and says, “Has it been so long?” Raziel then takes the wand, stands, and gets all determined. She says, “We have work to do. Give me the wand.” He hands her the wand and says, “We must undo Bavmorda’s sorcery.” He too stands and nods. (Lots of nodding in this scene.) She points to the side and says, “Let them in, now.”

 This next shot is hilarious. Willow opens the tent door, and a single pig walks in and stands in place. Does this mean all the pigs have retained their human intelligence? Further, if this pig knows what’s going on, were all the pigs just outside the tent eavesdropping. Anyway, Raziel starts to chant and the wand glows blue. This is all visual cue we need to know that she’s going to turn them all back to human.

 Next: Agriculture, or not?

****

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Fantastic Friday: Honey I shrunk the Inhumans

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Now that all the excitement of issue #400 is over, we’re at issue #401, smack-dab in the middle of yet another convoluted ‘90s Marvel crossover.

This is part eight of the eleven-part Atlantis Rising crossover, in which Atlantis rises to the surface thanks to Morgan Le Fay’s magic. Meanwhile, the Inhuman’s moon-based city of Attilan is rocked with earthquakes, so the Inhuman genetic council decides to invade Atlantis, claiming it for their own. Various Marvel superheroes get caught up in the conflict. The FF used Ant-Man’s shrinking tech to shrink all of Attilan to save the city. Then, Maximus the Mad swept in and shrunk the FF, trapping them in the tiny city.

This issue begins with four of the currently five FF — Sue, Ben, Ant-Man and Kristoff — fighting Inhumans in Attlilan, while Maximus has Johnny trapped in a “brain transcendentalizer,” reprogramming Johnny’s brain to make him loyal to Maximus. Then there’s several pages of Atlantis Rising tie-in plot, where Morgan Le Fay and the Inhuman Genetic Council work out an uneasy alliance. Thor, who is under Morgan’s thrall, wants to fight, but she calms him down, saying she will work with the Inhumans but won’t surrender Atlantis.

Aboard the FF’s spaceship the Stealth Hawk, Maximus outlines his plan, saying he’s going to sneak the shrunken Attilan into Atlantis, and then restore all the Inhumans to regular size and have them attack, so he can be the one to rule Atlantis. Kristoff’s servant Boris is also there, with more hints that he is keeping a secret from everyone. The FF, meanwhile, reach the top of the dome containing Attilan and break free. But they are all still Ant-Man sized, and are spotted by one of Maximus’ goons. Then more tie-in plot, where some Atlantean soldiers find Namor the Sub-Mariner still alive after his fight with Prince Llyron in an earlier Atlantis Rising tie-in.

In Latveria, Nathaniel Richards  still has the world convinced the world that he’s Doctor Doom. After monitoring the Atlantis situation, he dons a “vibro vest” which lets him turn invisible, and then he teleports on board the Stealth Hawk. There’s several pages of action as the Inhumans chase the teeny-tiny FF around the ship. Maximus turns the tide unleashing Johnny, now loyal to Maximus, to destroy the FF.

In Atlantis, Morgan and the Genetic Council get word of the Stealth Hawk coming for them. Arcadius, leader of the Council, reveals to the other Inhumans that he has a plan, and that there are still more Inhumans who can join the fight. He then does the unthinkable and contacts the Inhuman Royal Family, who are still hiding out in the circus. (This is a big deal because the Genetic Council are the ones who exiled the Royal Family to Earth a while back.)

Aboard the Stealth Hawk, the FF put up a good fight against Johnny and Maximus’ henchmen, despite their size. Nathaniel tries to steal Attilan, only for Johnny to catch him in the act. Nathaniel teleports away, accidentally taking Johnny with him. Ant-Man manages to reach his enlarging gas, which restores the FF to regular size. Just as they are about to clobber Maximus, the whole ship is rocked. Cut to outside, where Morgan Le Fay sent Thor into space to destroy the ship.

To be continued!

Fade out: Sue lifts the team to the highest point of Attilan on a force field, which wears her out to the point of exhaustion, even though we’ve seen her a lot more elaborate stunts with her force fields before. I guess they were fighting Inhumans for a long time before this issue started.

Clobberin’ time: Ben uses his smarts while shrunken, to use wires to electrocute an enemy, rather than just punch him.

Flame on: Johnny is able to reveal Nathaniel’s invisibility by blanketing the room with heat rays. It’s suggested that he knows this will work on Sue’s powers, though I don’t recall him doing that in the past.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man is wearing special “boot springs” that allow him to jump to great heights. I guess the compressed-mass-makes-him-strong-when-small thing means he can only super-jump so high without help.

Here’s where I can see why so many fans think Kristoff is annoying. He has all of Dr. Doom’s arrogance-speak, but without any of Doom’s menace. He also wants to flat-out murder all the Inhumans they’re fighting, only for the others to remind him more than once that FF don’t kill. If Kristoff has all of Dr. Doom’s memories and genius, shouldn’t he know that about them already?

Medusa is back for one panel, doting over Black Bolt as he is ill. Why is he ill? Because of heartbreak over the Inhumans losing their culture and way of life.

Commercial break: I wish they still made this.

Trivia time: There’s a lot of talk in this issue about Attilan being a city beneath a dome (the Marvel Wiki alleges this is a “parody” of DC Comics’ bottled city of Kandor), hinting that it was always under a dome. It looks to me like the dome was part of the shrinking process, because Attilan was originally relocated to the Blue Area of the moon, because the Blue Area has its own breathable atmosphere.

More Inhuman names. Along with Arcadius, the Inhuman Genetic Council includes Cynas, Porcal, Furgar, Targon, Kitang, and Sapphiras. Maximus’ henchmenm meanwhile, are Nebulo, Leonis, Stallior, and Timberius.

Fantastic or frightful? With Ant-Man on the team, it’s about time they did a story where the whole team gets Ant-Man’d. Unfortunately, the fun of this is overshadowed by the overall Atlantis vs. Inhumans plot. So, a mixed bag.

Next: Still more Atlantis.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 40

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! It’s nightmare fuel time with the infamous pig scene,  1:36:33 to 1:39:21 on the Blu-ray.

It’s nighttime now, with an exterior shot of NockMaar castle, lined with torches. The Galladoorn troops march in the foreground, also with torches. Bavmorda and one of her wise men step atop one of the walls overlooking the troops. Note the guy to the far left wearing the really cool skull mask.

The reverse shot shows the Galladoorn have made camp. Apparently time has passed, because everyone looks settled in and they are just casually strolling about. Bavmorda starts to laugh. Her voice takes on an echo-y quality, and Airk and the other Galladoorn take notice. Either this is her using magic, or the castle has great acoustics from this spot. There are also reaction shots from Willow and Brownies as she continues to laugh.

“This is not an army,” Bavmorda says. Fin Raziel, in goat form, weaves through the crowd saying “Willow.” She can guess where this is going. She comes up to him and says, “Hide.” They both duck into a tent. There’s a quick shot of Madmartigan and Sorsha, then back to Raziel inside the tent, who says, “Use the septor chant. Protect yourself.” He asks, “Why?” and she says, “Just do it.” He pulls out the wand and sits down.

We then cut back to Madmartigan and Sorsha, walking to the front of the Galladoorn troops. “We’ve come for Alora Danan,” Madmartigan says. From her perch on the castle, Bavmorda says, “You dare to challenge me? You’re not warriors.” She takes a minute to grin, as if the thought of what to do next just occurs to her, and she says, “You’re pigs.”

Madmartigan immediately flinches in pain. He falls forward, and we hear Bavmorda chanting magic words in the background. In the next closeup, Madmartigan has developed underbite fangs. Then there’s a shot of his hand turning into a hoof, and there can be no doubt in the audience’s mind at this point as to what’s happening. Airk and Sorsha look on in horror. Bavmorda smiles and says, “You’re all pigs!” She waves her arms in a crazy manner, apparently doing magic. Airk then falls forward in pain, as do some of the background extras. Bavmorda repeats “Pigs!” and the Brownies fall over, from their spot next to a campfire. Bavmorda waves her hands through the air again, making comical pig-oink noises.

Inside the tent, Willow holds out the wand and chants magic words, as the wand glows with blue light. Then there’s an absolutely terrifying shot of Madmartigan in half-human half-pig form, complete with pig snout. Squealing sounds are added to the soundtrack, just to make it more nightmarish. Bavmorda laughs some more, and there are shots of other half-pig soldiers. Sorsha shouts, “Mother, no!” Bavmorda considers her daughter for a moment — her facial expression here is hard to read — but then says another magic word with a flourish and Sorsha doubles over in pain.

There’s even more body horror stuff as all the soldiers are half-pigs, now with some 100 percent pigs walking around in the background. There’s also a man who is human from the waist up and pig from the waist down. Then it’s back to Willow in the tent, who’s now struggling to keep it together as he casts the protection spell.

Inside the castle, it’s our first look at the room where Bavmorda’s big ritual will take place. I’ll have more to say about this ritual in future entries. She walks in and says, “Begin the ritual.” A wise man lights a candle as she adds, “This baby will not destroy me.” Another wide man helps Bavmorda out of her robe and into a new one, revealing the mummy-like body suit she wears underneath.

 

She hears a storm brewing outside, and she walks to the altar at the center of the room and says, “Come, thunder!” We see an opening in the ceiling, protected with metal bars and spikes, with lighting and thunder outside. Then there’s a wide shot of the whole room, showing all the candles the altar, and the huge opening in the ceiling. Bavmorda says, “Touch this altar with your powers!” Classic 1980s fantasy blue lightning shoots down and strikes the altar. Then a wide man approaches, carrying a crying Alora Danan.

Let’s make the cliffhanger for next time.

Next: Ritual behavior.

****

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Fantastic Friday: FOUR hundred

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s issue number FOUR hundred!

Gimmie a gimmick: This the third of three covers using an iris-in effect, with a rainbow foil surface framed around the characters, getting larger with each issue. In this one, it covers almost the entire space. There was also a separately-sold regular cover.

We begin with a one-page text into from Stan Lee, saying pretty much the same things he’s said in every interview about the Fantastic Four, that he and Jack Kirby wanted them to be feel like real people living in the real world, while also having crazy superhero adventures, and how the FF kicked off the entire Marvel Universe.

In the comic itself, a whole lot of plot has happened between the last issue and this one, in which the FF and Kristoff confronted Aron the rogue Watcher on the moon, and Sue ended up teleported to the Negative Zone, where she was stranded. It’s at this point where the series crossed over with the spinoff Fantastic Force #7. The Fantastic Force team rescued Sue, courtesy of Huntara’s teleporting weapons. Both teams, with Kristoff, Lyja, and Nathaniel Richards in tow, traveled to the Watcher homeworld to get to the bottom of what’s going on. We open on the heroes standing on the chest of a giant Watcher with even more giant Celestials hovering over them. (Keep in mind that these are the giant armored Celestials who remain motionless in a distant planet, and the group made up characters like the Collector, the Grandmaster, etc. Although sometimes called “celestials,” that group is the Elders of the Universe.)

Franklin becomes overwhelmed with psychic energy, saying “he” is near, and Huntara opens a portal. Sue then spots Uatu, Earth’s Watcher, who explains The big Watcher is “the One,” the living repository of all observations of all Watchers. The Celestials decided that the One was declared to be a threat to the “cosmic balance of power.” Further, the Celestials have decided that all the Watchers must die. The FF ask Uatu how to defeat Aron. Uatu doesn’t answer, but gives them a strange device.

Ant-Man deduces that the device combines with the others the Watchers left behind in previous issues to create a weapon. Franklin tries to read Uatu’s mind, and he can see Aron’s plan. Aron is building a secret base in the asteroid field between Jupiter and Mars, where he plans to trap Earth’s solar system in his own pocket universe.

The heroes decide to split into two teams. Ben’s team will take on Aron, and Sue’s team will help save Uatu and the other Watchers. Ben, Franklin, Ant-Man, Huntara, Nathaniel, and Vibraxis travel to Aron’s asteroid, where Aron summons classic FF villains from other timelines to fight them. This includes Blastaar, Dragon Man, and the original Frightful Four. As the issue goes on, it keeps cutting back to this fight, as Aron introduces more classic villains in their classic forms, including Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, and finally the Mole Man and all the giant monsters from way back in the first issue. Even more past villains join in as the fight continues.

While that’s going on, things get cosmic back on the Watchers’ planet with Sue, Johnny, Lyja, Nathaniel, and Devlor. Lyja shares some Skrull knowledge about the Celestials, saying they actually exist in hyperspace, and the giant suits of armor conduits for them to interact with this plane of reality. So the plan is to get inside the armor somehow. Nathaniel conveniently explains that Sue draws the energy from invisible force fields from another dimension, and this somehow allows her to break through armor with a force field, after much concentration.

Inside the Celestial’s body, the heroes fight their way through alien antibodies, the team comes to a strange door. After busting through it, everyone is attacked by more antibodies, and only Sue gets away. Alone, she finds the Celestial’s brain and touches it. Her mind is filled with memories of the fateful spaceship crash that gave the FF their powers. She is then confronted by a perfect replica of herself, who explains a bunch of sci-fi gobbledygook about a big bang and the creation of the multiverse and about how the One is somehow slowing the expansion of the multiverse, so the Celestials are stepping in to prevent this. Or something It’s very confusing.

The Celestial succeeds in killing the One, but then Sue uses a force field to destroy the Celestial’s nerve center, declaring “the cosmic balance of power is restored!” Back on the planet’s surface, the Watcher says the One and the Celestial will regenerate in a thousand years, and start this conflict all over again. By that time, the Watcher says he hopes humankind will have evolved to the point where they can step in and save the day themselves. Sue chews the Watcher out for all the times he broke his oath to only watch and instead help out, and she asks him to do it again.

On the asteroid, the super-weapon is destroyed, and Ant-Man proves he doesn’t need it by growing to Giant-Man size and destroying Aron’s mechanism that way. Sue’s team arrives with the Watcher, who attacks Aron. The Watcher says that humans must be allowed to evolve on their own, rather than be trapped in the past. The Watcher transforms Aron into pure energy to be used in the One’s eventual regeneration.

It’s still not over. Another Watcher, known only as He-Who-Summons, shows up and says the Watcher has violated his oath too many times, and is condemned, and banished from the Watcher race. He still has cosmic powers, though, and teleports everyone back to their ship. Then there’s a weird bit of business about finding a fourth member of the Fantastic Four. They offer it to Franklin, who doesn’t really answer. Ant-Man says he doesn’t belong. Kristoff volunteers, but is rejected. The reason why none of this makes sense is that in issue #401, we’re going to have a Fantastic Five situation, with both Ant-Man and Kristoff on the team. It ends with Sue ruminating on the Watcher, saying that even though he’s been cut off from his people, he’ll continue trying to make the universe a better place.

Then there’s a three-page text piece, where writer Michael Marts argues that Fantastic Four earns the title “world’s greatest comic magazine.” Then there’s a backup story, “In Memoriam” where the FF holds a funeral for Reed, and Sue finally gives in and acknowledges that Reed is dead. A bunch of Marvel heroes show up for the funeral, where there’s another flashback retelling the FF’s origin story.

Fade out: This is a big issue for Sue, witnessing the creation of the multiverse, and then changing the course of her own universe. Her accepting Reed’s death is another big character moment.

Clobberin’ time: Ben makes a joke about the OJ Simpson trial, in case you were wondering what year this issue came out.

Flame on: There’s still more drama between Johnny and Lyja. Johnny can tell that Lyja still has feelings for him, and he tries to resist the thought that maybe they could get back together.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Welcome to the team, Kristoff! This issue firmly establishes that Kristoff has come to terms with him not being Dr. Doom, but Doom’s adopted son with all of Doom’s knowledge. And some fans think this character is ridiculous.

Ant-Man worries that he’s the weakest member of the FF, only to surprisingly save the day again, except that last-minute saves has pretty much been his shtick since he joined the team.

Among the Marvel heroes attending Reed’s funeral, we have former alternate team members Crystal and She-Hulk, as well as future alternate members Spider-Man and Black Panther.

Medusa appears in the asteroid fight alongside the original Frightful Four. The Marvel wiki says this version of her was taken from somewhere between Fantastic Four #36 and #38.

Four and a half: Franklin gets a lot of praise for his leadership of the Fantastic Force team, but if you’ve been following that series, you know the team is kind of a mess.

The Alicia problem: Lyja says the Celestials created the Skrulls. This is later confirmed during some Skrull/Celestial action in Silver Surfer #5 and Blackwulf #9.

Commercial break: I have no idea what this ad is selling.

Trivia time: The Watcher being cut off from his people is never really resolved. His next appearance after this is will be in Uncanny X-Men #355 where he acts like everything’s normal. Later, in She-Hulk #18, we see him working alongside other Watchers as if nothing happened.

While the Celestials are normally a bunch of unmoving giants on a distant planet, this issue is one of the rare times that they actually get and do stuff, even acting as individuals. The Celestial in Red is Arishem the Judge, who judges the One, and the blue and yellow one that Sue defeats is Exitar the Exterminator. The other Celestials appearing in this issue are Tefral the Survivor, Nezarr the Calculator, and Ziran the Tester.

You might be wondering how Tony Stark and Iron Man could attend the funeral at the same time. At the time, Tony was big into controlling his suits remotely (like in the movie Iron Man 3) so an unmanned Iron Man armor is there, acting as Tony’s “bodyguard.”

Fantastic or frightful? I daresay I really enjoyed this one, and I think it’s one of the best of writer Tom DeFalco’s oft-derided time on series. Putting Sue at the center of cosmic Marvel in place of Reed was a great choice, and it shows a lot of growth for her character. All the villain cameos made for some fun nostalgia along the way.

Next: …and keep her by the sea.

****

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

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