Universal Monsters rewatch – Frankenstein 1931

Rewatching the Universal monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Dracula might get top billing, but for Universal Studios, Frankenstein was the definitive monster, and studio’s biggest cash cow.

Here’s what happens: Dr. Frankenstein has a theory, using electricity to bring life back from the dead. How could that possibly backfire on him?

Monster!: How do you act when you have no dialogue and you’re under tons of makeup? If you’re Boris Karloff, you make it work. He takes a childlike approach his portrayal as the monster. Along with his sad eyes, he makes the monster sympathetic. When it comes to being monstrous, though, he goes from childlike to animalistic, throwing people around the room, all fury and raw strength.

Also a monster!: Dwight Frye is back as the hunchback lab assistant Fritz. (Not Igor. We’ll get to Igor.) We’re never told why Fritz torments the monster like he does. Is this building off of Fritz’s superstitious nature, as seen in the start of the film, or does Fritz feel the monster is replacing him in Dr. Frankenstein’s eyes? It’s up to the viewer to decide.

Our hero: Dr. Frankenstein has often been analyzed for his God complex, but it’s his fiancé Elizabeth who is able to bring him out of his madness, and she’s the driving force for him to confront his creation at the end.

Hapless humans: There are a bunch of supporting characters, including Dr. Frankenstein’s friend Victor, his mentor Dr. Waldman, and the village Burgomaster. None of them can compete with Maria, the little girl the monster confronts by a lake in the film’s most controversial scene. Watching the movie today, I tensed up as soon as that scene started, knowing that little girl is about to GET IT.

Frights: Pretty much anytime the monster is on screen, it’s a set piece. The monster attacks with pure brute force, and is an unpredictable element throughout.

Laughs: Director James Whale snuck in a lot of humor into his horror films. I especially like Dr. Frankenstein’s bumbling father showing up at the castle with no idea what he’s in for. The elder Frankenstein later yuks it up some more in preparation for Henry and Elizabeth’s wedding.

Thoughts upon this viewing: Less than a year after Dracula, and you can see how the art and/or tech of filmmaking has taken a big step forward. Frankenstein really moves, with a lot of big blockbuster energy, and a truly epic climax. What else can I say? It’s freakin’ Frankenstein!

Next: Embalmer? I hardly know her!

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Re-Doom

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. This is issue #5 of Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four (a.k.a. volume 2, issue 5), courtesy of superstar artist Jim Lee. We can’t reboot the Fantastic Four without also rebooting Dr. Doom, right?

Recap: Reed and Sue traveled to Wakanda to investigate the space anomaly that gave the FF their powers, only to be abducted by Dr. Doom. We begin with the previous issue’s other cliffhanger, where a mysterious man snuck into the Baxter Building. Ben and Johnny confront him, only to reveal that it’s… Wyatt Wingfoot! Ben and Johnny are ready for a fight, but Wyatt insists that the “Wyatt Wingfoot” who sabotaged the FF back in issue #1 was an imposter.

Wyatt explains that he was on assignment for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Eastern Europe investigation some hacking into the FF’s original spaceflight. He was betrayed by his own people and locked up, only to escape and make it to New York as a fugitive, seeking Reed’s help. Ben tries to contact Wakanda only to get a message that Reed and Sue are unavailable. Wyatt assumes the worst and says it’s up to the three of them to save Reed and Sue.

Cut to Latveria, where Dr. Doom introduces himself to captives, Reed, Sue, and Black Panther. “After all these years, we finally meet,” Doom says. Reed says he knows who Doom used to be, back when he was grad school student Victor Von Doom. In grad school, Reed and Doom ran in the same circle of genius friends, which also included Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Henry Pym. In grad school, Doom tested his design for a new mech suit in hopes of conquering Latveria. The suit blew up in his face, horribly scarring him. After leaving school and hiding out in Tibet to heal, Doom eventually take over Latveria, ruling it as a feared dictator.

Doom says both he and the FF are seeking the same mysterious object that emerged from the space anomaly in issue #1. He reveals that he has it — and it’s the Silver Surfer. Well, he’s not called that yet in this continuity. In this introduction scene, he’s just “humanoid.” Doom is attempting to syphon cosmic energy from the Surfer. When a scientist says they’ve hit a delay in the process, Doom kills the man right then and there. Doom then says that Reed will analyze the Surfer’s the powers. If Reed won’t comply, Doom will kill Sue.

Sue won’t have this, using her force fields to fight back. She, Reed, and Black Panther fight Doom’s robot guards, but they’re no match for Doom, who knocks Reed and Sue unconscious with energy blasts. Black Panther, however, escapes into Castle Doom’s ventilation system. Doom orders Wyatt Wingfoot to search for him. One of Wyatt’s cronies refers to him as “Kl’rt,” suggesting that this is the imposter. Later, Reed awakens to find Doom has rigged a still-unconscious Sue to a deathtrap-like device. Defeated, Reed says he’ll help Doom.

Johnny, Ben and the real Wyatt enter Latverian airspace flying an ECM (short for “electronic counter measure,” which I’m not sure is a type of aircraft), following Reed and Sue’s trail. They encounter a hologram of Dr. Doom, telling them “resistance is futile,” and then more robots attack. Wyatt says these are Doom’s “war-bots” and they are programmed with advanced combat skills. They’re no match for Ben and Johnny’s powers. Wyatt leads the two heroes into a nearby sewer drain.

More war-bots attack, and the heroes this time are rescued at the last minute by Black Panther. Once they escape, the imposter Kl’rt shows up and destroys the war-bots, saying the Fantastic Four’s survival is essential to his plan. He says he’s also planning on deactivating all of Dr. Doom’s defenses, leaving him vulnerable to attack.

In Castle Doom, Reed has invented a “flux inhibitor” that Doom can use to absorb the Surfer’s cosmic power. Before he and Doom can properly test the device, Reed, Johnny and Black Panther smash into the room. Everyone fights, while Reed frees Sue from the deathtrap. Then the imposter Kl’rt grabs hold of the flux inhibitor, absorbing the powers in place of Doom. Then he reveals to everyone that he’s not Wyatt Wingfoot, but Kl,rt, warrior of the Galactic Skrull Empire. Doom is ready for a fight, but Kl,rt says he’s already evolved from a Skrull into a Super-Skrull.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Dr. Doom initially offers Reed the first chance to absorb the Silver Surfer’s power. When Reed accepts, Doom stops him, saying this was only a test of Reed’s faith. What is this scene even about?

Fade out: Sue wears a white lab coat throughout the issue, perhaps to emphasize her a science-adventure and not just a damsel in distress (which she pretty much is in this one).

Clobberin’ time: I know it’s a cliché to point out stuff like this, but what are those tiny pouches on Ben’s belt? How can he even open them with his giant rock-monster hands?

Flame on: Johnny using his flame to burn off Wyatt’s homeless man beard is an intentional shout-out to the original Fantastic Four #4, when Johnny did that when he met Namor the Sub-Mariner. Also, Wyatt naps on the flight to Latveria, a shout-out to Wyatt napping in the Fantasticar in issue #52.

Commercial break: I love that the release date is “ahead.”

Trivia time: The other guy in the flashback alongside Reed, Doom, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Hank Pym is Rebel O’Reilly. Rebel is a new character created for Heroes Reborn: Iron Man who became a villain. He wore the Promethean armor, but was never called “The Promethean” as his villain name. When Tony Stark returns to the regular Marvel Universe, Rebel became a good guy and took over as Iron Man in the Heroes Reborn universe.

Fantastic or frightful? Once again, this is almost too much plot for one comic book. We’re retelling Dr. Doom’s origin, we’re paying off plotlines set up in the first issue, it’s a Black Panther team-up, and we’re introducing yet another new villain. None of these important events are given any breathing room, and it all still feels like a straightforward remake rather than any sort of creative reimagining.

Next: Galactic town.

****

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

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Univeral Monsters rewatch – Spanish Dracula 1931

Rewatching the Universal monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. In 1931, there wasn’t just one Dracula movie, there were two. Here’s the Spanish language version, known among fans as “Spanish Dracula.”

Here’s what happens: You’ve all heard the story by now. The Spanish language version of Dracula was made by casting Spanish-speaking actors who filmed their scenes at night on the sets of Dracula, using the same script. The two versions of the movie are mostly the same, but all the little differences are fascinating.

Monster!: Carlos Villarias plays Dracula as bug-eyed and grinning throughout. It gives the impression that this is all a game for him, and Drac is merely toying with his future victims

Also a monster!: As Renfield, actor Pablo Alvarez Rubio takes a go-big-or-go-home approach as the character, screaming and shrieking his way through every scene. The guy exhausted me. Dracula’s three brides are considerably different in this version, more animalistic than ghostly.

Our hero: Eduardo Arozamena plays a younger and more rugged version of Van Helsing, but without Edward Van Sloan’s gravitas. He has one great scene, though, when he tricks Dracula with a cross.

Hapless humans: The movie’s best performance is definitely Lupita Tovar as Eva (formerly Mina). She brings the “feisty Latina” thing to the role, outshining all her costars. Eva’s friend Lucia (formerly Lucy) expresses some romantic desire for Dracula. Could this be the beginning of the evolution of Dracula as a romantic figure rather than a horrifying monster?

Frights: One of the reasons this version is beloved is how it ups the ante with sex n’ violence, including some actual teeth-on-neck action. Pretty tame when compared to, say, Dead Alive, but it must have really been something in 1931.

Laughs: Manuel Arbo doesn’t make much of an impression as Martin, the blue collar voice of reason. He laughs at his own joke at one point, which is kind of annoying.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The camera work is a lot flashier and the movie spells out things left vague in the original. But, what we gain in clarity we lose in Tod Browning’s shadowy gothic atmosphere. Everything is brightly lit, and the fog and shadows are sorely missed. Even though I had a lot of fun watching it, it’s a mixed bag.

Next: Let’s all get promethean.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: The Wakanda walk

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four #4 (a.k.a. vol. 2 #4), in which superstar artist Jim Lee continues to recreate the Marvel Universe by making it just like the regular Marvel Universe.

Gimmie a gimmick: This issue had a variant Christmas-themed cover, drawn by Whilce Portacio.

We begin in the African nation of Wakanda where a Wakandan soldier is killed after investigating a strange object that fell from the sky. Then we cut to the “concrete jungle” of New York, where Johnny is being chased Beatles-style by all his female fans. He sees the FF’s signal flare in the sky, and he flies off. Ben is also out in the city. He sees a woman he thinks is Alicia, but is mistaken. He too sees the signal flare.

Johnny arrives at the Baxter Building, where Sue announces that she was just testing the signal flare. Inside the building, Reed continues to investigate the mysterious space anomaly from vol. 2 issue #1. He says an object from the anomaly has crash-landed within Wakanda. Reed and Sue fly the team’s brand-new Fantasticar to Wakanda. They’re met by two Wakandan stealth ships. The pilots escort them to the city, where they are to have audience with the king. Back in New York, Ben says Alicia called, and then he and Johnny discover a homeless man has snuck inside the building. The man pulls out a gun and shoots at them, but then says he needs Reed’s help.

Reed and Sue meet with King T’Challa of Wakanda, who says he too is investigating the anomaly. He dons the garb of the Black Panther, saying he is not just king but “warrior avatar” of the Wakandans. The heroes investigate the jungle along with a bunch of Wakandan warriors. They are attacked by a mysterious lizard creature, who leaves behind an explosive device. Sue protects her and Reed with a force field.

Reed, Sue, and Black Panther continue to investigate, discovering a strange aircraft landing in the jungle, piloted by Wyatt Wingfoot, who in the Heroes Reborn continuity is a corrupt S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who betrayed the FF in the first issue. The three heroes sneak aboard the aircraft, only to be knocked out by a neural disrupter. Taking them prisoner, Wyatt flies off.

Reed, Sue, and Black Panther wake up in a strange place. Black Panther says he heightened senses tell him they are no longer in Wakanda, or in Africa. They turn to face Dr. Doom, who welcomes them to Latveria. It’s revealed that Reed and Doom know each other. Doom says he will prove himself to be Reed’s intellectual superior, and that none of them will leave Latveria alive.

Unstable molecule: Reed and Sue already know the Black Panther, having met at a “pan-African economic summit” one year earlier.

Fade out: This is the first time Sue uses her force field powers in Heroes Reborn continuity. A caption tells us she’s been working on developing this power between last issue and this one.

Clobberin’ time: Ben has a friend named Richie, whom he’s hired to drive him around New York. Ben destroys Richie’s car by jumping out of it when he thinks he sees Alicia, and then tells Richie he’ll invest in a convertible. The Marvel Wiki has no entry for Richie, while the Marvel Appendix fan site has an entry on a Ritchie character who appeared in Thor #332, who kinda/sorta looks like this character. (My theory: Could Richie be Franklin Richards, subconsciously checking in on this pocket universe he’s created?)

Flame on: Johnny dons a red FF uniform in this issue, similar to the one he wore for a while in the ‘70s. He says this is to help sell Fantastic Four toys, so he’s back to being a money/marketing guy in this continuity.

Commercial break: Bone claws!

Trivia time: Johnny says Toy Biz is making the FF toys. Toy Biz was a real company who produced Marvel action figures in the ‘90s. Marvel eventually bought Toy Biz, renaming it Marvel Toys, only for it to then go out of business when Marvel hit some financial woes.

Fantastic or frightful? After three issues with too much plot, here’s one with very little plot. Jim Lee’s versions of Black Panther and Dr. Doom look pretty cool.

Next: Latveria is lovely in the springtime.

****

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Universal monsters rewatch – Dracula 1931

Rewatching the Universal monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. This means we begin with one of the biggest and best, Dracula. Bela forever!

Here’s what happens: Count Dracula purchases a piece of property in London. Turns out he’s really a vampire, and he’s left the old world to come to London in search of new blood.

Monster!: What can I possibly say about Bela Lugosi as Dracula that hasn’t already said? It’s a rare thing for a single performance to define a character for all of history.

Also a monster!: As the demented Renfield Dwight Frye threatens to steal the movie from Lugosi. You could argue that the characters bring him in to be interviewed not once or twice but three times is too repetitive, but that third interview gives us Renfield’s “Rats!” speech, which is all good.

Dracula’s three brides don’t do much except add to Dracula’s dark mysteriousness, and they do that well.

Our hero: After Lugosi and Frye, the movie’s other powerhouse performance is Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing. Although he’s a far cry from the action hero Helsing of recent adaptations, the scene where he stands up to Dracula personifies the movie’s “logic defeats superstition” theme.

Hapless humans: Helen Chandler as Lucy has a great scene near the end of the film where she is partially mesmerized by Dracula. Beyond that, characters from the original novel, Jonathan Harker, Dr. Seward, and Lucy Westerna don’t make as much of an impact, and their scenes are the ones some people use to criticize the movie as too talky or old fashioned.

Frights: It’s true there’s not a lot of action in Dracula. The scary scenes are all atmosphere, with violence happening offscreen. This is partially because of censorship of the time, and partially because director Tod Browning loved classic gothic literature and wanted to capture that feel. The real fear of Dracula is not necessarily biting and blood, but that feeling that someone might be sneaking into your bedroom at night while you’re sleeping with you unaware.

Laughs: For comic relief, Charles K. Gerrard plays sanitarium worker Martin. Although he’s represents the lower class, and yet he too represents logic defeating superstition. His funniest lines come from how he has zero patience for any of this supernatural craziness.

Thoughts on this viewing: Is Dracula truly a masterpiece, or is it a movie with some great scenes and some boring scenes? I’ve gone back and forth over the years, coming down on the “masterpiece” side. The too-talky scenes demand your attention, containing important character and story beats that can help you appreciate the spooky atmospheric scenes. And Lugosi is terrific, of course.

Next: Up all night.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Crossovers reborn

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re on the third issue of Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four (a.k.a. volume 2 issue 3) and it’s already a crossover. Marvel’s just gotta Marvel.

In this new continuity, the FF have just barely gotten their powers, only for them to team up with S.H.I.E.L.D. as Atlantis is (of course) attacking the surface world. This issue begins not with the FF, but with the Avengers, who also got the Heroes Reborn reboot. For this week’s blog, I tracked down and read Rob Liefeld’s Heroes Reborn: Avengers. I know I’ve defended Liefeld in the past, but not this time. His Avengers is completely unreadable, making Youngblood look like freakin’ Watchmen.

Anyway, Captain America and Thor fly in with a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents along for the ride. The fight the giant whale monster Giganto, who can now shoot energy beams out of his mouth. Nearby, in the center of the conflict, Sue uses her invisibility to get to Namor, arguing for a peaceful solution. Namor actually starts to listen, only for Red and Johnny to attack him. Ben is there as well, but he’s distracted by New Yorkers who think he’s one of the monsters. Namor awesome strength makes short work of Reed, Johnny, and Ben.

Just when it looks like Namor has won, he gets struck from by Thor’s hammer. Both being immortal (or at least long-lived), the two of them have some familiarity with each other. Captain America joins them, pulling off his mask. Namor is shocked, as the two of them knew each back in World War II.

From there, we cut to “Elsewhen,” which is not Huntara’s home dimension but a flashback to Sue asking Ben to pilot the FF’s initial space mission. Sue reminds Ben (and the reader) that there is a mysterious anomaly out in space, and she adds that someone in Eastern Europe has attempted to hack the spaceship’s data files. Ben says he’s done with fighting and action, and wants a quiet life, but Sue disagrees, saying Ben has always wanted to be an astronaut. This is all a dream, though, as we cut back to Ben waking up in the present, having crashed into the home of a woman named Alicia. She is a blind sculptress, who has been working with the city to temporarily convert her art gallery into a makeshift hospital during the attack. Ben says he admires her guts.

 

Reed, Sue, and Johnny catch up with Namor and the two Avengers. Namor collapses, overcome by surface world pollution. Atlantean warrior Krang, protected from the pollution thanks to his armor, sees this as his opportunity to seize power. The FFers and the Avengers fight him. Lady Dorma is also there, and she asks for Reed’s help to save Namor.

Elsewhere in NYC, Nick Fury flies down in a S.H.I.E.L.D. quinjet to pick up Ben. Only Ben throws Fury out, essentially hijacking the quinjet. He flies to battle Giganto, to fight the big monster. To add insult to injury, Ben even lights up one of Fury’s cigars along the way. (Remember, though, that this is not the real Nick Fury, but a life-model decoy secretly working undercover for the Sons of the Serpent, which will later be revealed in Heroes Reborn: Captain America.)

Reed deduces that Namor has not collapsed because of pollution, but that he’s been poisoned by a rare “sea wasp.” Dorma says Krang has deceived Namor, and Namor regains consciousness to swear revenge. Nearby, Ben sets the quinjet to self-destruct and flies it right into Giganto’s mouth. Giganto dies in a fiery explosion. It looks like a kamikaze flight, until Johnny swoops down from the sky and saves Ben from the blast.

Namor has recovered thanks to Reed’s help, and he orders the Atlantean army to stand down, telling his troops that Krang has deceived them all. Namor and Captain America share a salute, with Namor saying Atlantis will fight pollution through “more appropriate channels.” Then a paparazzi snaps a photo of the FF, with Johnny proudly telling reporters their name is the Fantastic Four.

Cut to one week later, where the FF have moved into their new headquarters in the Baxter Building, courtesy of wealthy philanthropist Saul Baxter. Nick Fury tells the team that the White House has given the FF special license to be “officially sanctioned troubleshooters.” Sue says that she and Johnny have severed their ties with the family business, making the FF its own organization. Then Fury ends the issue on an ominous note, saying that S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Wyatt Wingfoot, who tried to sabotage the FF’s original spaceflight, is still missing.

Unstable molecule: In addition to being an astrophysicist, Reed is also a medical doctor. It’s the classic comic book trope of “genius” being an expert in multiple sciences.

Fade out: Namor is once again attracted to Sue, but not just for her beauty but also her intelligence and willingness to fight to do the right thing.

Clobberin’ time: Ben’s whole story arc in this issue is regaining his confidence by reclaiming his fighter pilot skills. His meeting Alicia, who is not horrified by his appearance, no doubt helps as well.

Flame on: We don’t know strong or weak the characters’ powers are in this continuity, but I find it unlikely that Johnny can carry Ben while flying. Let’s just assume Johnny created a cushion of hot air under Ben to carry them both.

Four and a half: Remembering that Heroes Reborn is taking place inside a pocket universe created by Franklin Richard’s reality-bending powers, this Thor is not the same Thor who disappeared at the end of Onslaught, but a Thor construct of Franklin’s creation. The “real” Thor shows up near the end of Heroes Reborn: Avengers to set the stage for Heroes Return.

Commercial break: I don’t know that I’d want to play a game called Three Dirty Dwarves.

Trivia time: Heroes Reborn: Avengers was a pretty crowded comic, with a membership of Captain America, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Tigra, Hawkeye, and Swordsman, with Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, who became Ant-Man and Wasp, and a comic relief robot who would eventually become Ultron. Also among the supporting cast was the FF’s own Agatha Harkness, serving as Scarlet Witch’s mentor.

In Heroes Reborn: Avengers #1, it’s said that the Fantastic Four cannot help the Avengers fight Kang because they’re in the midst of some other conflict. But in this issue, they meet the FF for the first time. And this can’t take place before Liefeld’s Avengers #1 because that’s when Thor joined the team. The Marvel Wiki just throws up its hands and says, “This is a chronological error.”

And never forget that Liefeld’s work on Heroes Reborn gave the world this image:

Fantastic or frightful? Jim Lee and company are packing a lot of plot into one comic, almost to its detriment. There is so much ground to cover that we never really get the sense of New York being invaded by Atlantis. And, again, what is supposed to be an updated, modern take on the characters feels more like the same old Marvel we’ve always known.

Next: Wakandarama.

****

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Fantastic Friday: All this and Namor too

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re continuing the Heroes Reborn event with celebrity artist Jim Lee. In Vol. 2 Issue #2, we’re not just establishing a brand-new Fantastic Four, but the entire Marvel Universe apparently.

In this newly-rebooted timeline, the FF made their fateful spaceflight to stop S.H.I.E.L.D. from destroying a space anomaly that might contain alien intelligence. Our four heroes were irradiated in the fight and gained their powers, only to crash land on a mysterious island and be taken prisoner underground by the Mole Man. As this issue begins, we see the Mole Man has the ship’s damaged quantum drive, and is threatening to use it to destroy the surface world’s greatest cities as a sacrifice to the “great one.” Reed and Ben agree that the damaged drive could explode, vaporizing the entire island.

Johnny attacks, but is no match for the Mole Man’s energy staff, which he uses to control not just the animals on the island, but the plants and the ground as well. He buries Johnny in mud and sends some of his strange monsters after the other three. Ben and Reed work together to stop the monsters, only for the Mole Man to say they can’t defeat all his minions. Sue and Ben then quickly work out a plan to shine light off a giant diamond (this cave is filled with diamonds) right into the Mole Man’s sensitive eyes.

The FF recover the quantum drive and escape to the surface of the island. A bright light shines in their faces, telling them their problems are solved. We then abruptly cut to the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. Lady Dorma meets with Lord Krang. Krang wants to meet with the prince to discuss revealing themselves to the surface world and conquering the Earth, but Dorma says the prince is still in mourning. Then another Atlantean swims up, saying his sister is near death, having been infected with “dark waters.” Krang has heard enough, and breaks in to meet the prince, Namor.

Namor gets a splash page (heh) introduction, explaining his half-human heritage and his recent ascension as the new ruler of Atlantis. The caption states, “He is perhaps the most powerful man on the planet.” Namor is moved by Krang’s description of the “black poison” from the surface world, and he says the time has come for humans to feel the wrath of Atlantis.

Elsewhere, the FF wake up, having been knocked out by a “synaptic scrambler.” They’re trapped in a plain white room, now wearing matching white suits. They figure out how to escape by using their powers in tandem. They’re attacked by gun-wielding guards, so Ben punches a hole to the outside, only to discover they are on board a giant floating platform. (You and I know this is a S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier, but the comic frustratingly never tells us that this is S.H.I.E.L.D. So much for attracting new readers.) The FF are captured again and taken before Director Nick Fury.

Fury believes that Reed went to space to destroy the anomaly, and Reed says he thought S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to destroy it. Before they can further compare notes, there’s an alert that Namor and the Atlantis army has attacked New York, converging on the UN Building. Reed says the FF’s new powers can be used to help. Fury agrees, adding that he had nothing to do with Wyatt Wingfoot betraying the team last issue. The heroes prepare for battle in some modified S.H.I.E.L.D. suits. (And here’s where the issue finally uses the name “S.H.I.E.L.D.”) Sue borrows some tape from a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (convenient!) and tapes a “4” logo onto the team’s suits, so show they are not S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, but a team of their own.

In NYC, Namor is out just randomly trashing cars when Ben and Johnny drop down from above. Namor easily punches out Ben, but decides his army isn’t enough. He uses his trumpet horn (which he just had on him, I guess) and he summons the giant monster Giganto, saying his vengeance will not be denied.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: By stretching part of his arm over the wall of their cell, Reed can tell what the wall is made of and how breakable and/or flammable it is.

Fade out: Sue turns part of the Mole Man’s cave wall invisible, just enough for light from outside to steam in. This again begs the question of how do her powers work around light again?

Clobberin’ time: Ben says he knows Nick Fury, that Fury saved his life once during the Gulf War. But then Fury suggests he’s a lot older, saying he hasn’t seen Namor since “the big one.”

Flame on: We’re continuing the running gag of Johnny being a money/merchandizing guy when he says the Fantastic Four name could be a great marketing gimmick.

Commercial break: Marvel spent five pages of house ads in this issue promoting Deadpool #1, in case you’re wondering how Deadpool ever got popular:

Trivia time: Surprise! This isn’t really Nick Fury in these issues. Captain America Vol. 2 #11 will reveal that all of Fury’s appearances in Heroes Reborn are really a Fury life model decoy working deep undercover to secretly sabotage S.H.I.E.L.D.

Fantastic or frightful? Instead of a hard reboot, this feels more like the same old Marvel Universe we all know. It’s also a case of too much content, as the Mole Man and his ARMY OF MONSTERS is completely forgotten about after a few pages just so this can be a Namor/S.H.I.E.L.D. issue. Jim Lee continues to bring the ‘90s “Image house style” to this, and unfortunately that’s the best thing about the issue.

Next: The outfit’s a bit much.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Getting the reboot

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Here’s Heroes Reborn, where comics superstar Jim Lee took over the series. This is vol. 2 #1, a whole new beginning… or is it?

After experiencing unprecedented success and popularity in the early 90s, the comic book industry faced an equal and opposite reaction with a crash of dismally poor sales around 1996-7. Marvel attempted to bounce back with Heroes Reborn, bringing back a bunch of the Image creators, who first rose to fame at Marvel, to breathe new life into long-running properties. Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Studios rebooted Fantastic Four and Iron Man, and the notorious Rob Liefeld and his Extreme Studios rebooted Captain America and The Avengers.

While this appears to be a hard reboot, we are technically still in Marvel continuity. When the FF and the Avengers appeared to die stopping the evil Onslaught, they were really sent to a pocket universe, starting their lives anew with no memory of what came before. More to the point, while their story starts over in Fantastic Four, it also continues in the regular Marvel Universe. The fight over the now-abandoned Four Freedoms Plaza continued in a lot of comics, most prominently Thunderbolts, and the still-alive Franklin Richards took on a supporting role in Cable, in an attempt to make him more of an X-Men character rather than an FF one. Despite Jim Lee’s involvement, these pocket universe issues are often dismissed as inconsequential, but I say let’s dig into them and see what we can see.

Gimmie a gimmick: This issue had a variant cover. The regular cover showed our heroes charging into action, while the variant showed them facing off against the Mole Man. (Whoa, spoiler!)

The issue begins with a familiar retelling of the FF’s origin, specifically the original four flying their spaceship through the cosmic ray belt. But there’s a twist — this is a dream that astronaut Ben Grimm is having while inside a space simulator. The simulation is overseen by scientist Reed Richards and his assistant, Isaac. Reed explains that Ben should be piloting a real spacecraft, if not for an injury he received fighting in the Gulf War. Reed and Isaac are busy preparing their new experimental aircraft, the Excelsior (get it?) capable of traveling outside Earth’s solar system. Ben gets a call from Sue Storm, who is asking for Reed. Sue is head of the Storm Foundation, who is funding the launch. She mentions her brother Johnny, head of Storm Casinos in Vegas. She adds that the Excelsior is being built in secret, and everyone has high hopes for when it goes public.

Sue is interrupted by Uncle Matthew, who shows up with US Secret Agent Wyatt Wingfoot. Matthew says Sue is off the project, and Wyatt is now in charge of the Excelsior, by orders of the president. A strange energy fluctuation has been discovered in nearby space, and the Excelsior is being commandeered by the government to investigate.

Cut to a TV reporter to “American Tabloid” doing a news report of possible alien sightings out in the desert. Reed and Isaac watch the report, dismissing it as hogwash. Reed, however, is study the same space anomaly as Wyatt. Reed suspects it’s fallout from a wormhole to another universe, and that this could result in mankind’s first contact with aliens.

Out in the desert, Ben is on a ride in his jeep, where he nearly crashes into a speeding sports car. The cool car is driven by Johnny, with his girlfriend Tiffany beside him. Johnny and Ben play chicken with their cars, driving right at each other while Tiffany panics. Tiffany goads Johnny into turning the wheel at the last second, losing the game. Ben drives off laughing, while Tiffany says she’s walking back to town.

Sue arrives, and is greeted by the airport by Ben. They joke around a bit before Ben notices Wyatt and a bunch of other secret agents with him. At the base, Reed is furious that government is taking over the launch. Wyatt introduces himself as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is defined as a “deep cover black ops agency.” When Ben threatens to start a fight, Wyatt has both he and Reed locked up. He asks Sue and Johnny for the launch codes (it’s not made clear why casino-owning Johnny has launch codes). Johnny says he’ll sue Wyatt, so Wyatt punches him out. Then Wyatt uses a small electric weapon to murder Isaac (!). Wyatt says the energy in space is a “harbinger” which must be destroyed at any cost. They haul Sue away and Wyatt contacts his boss, a mysterious masked man named Victor Von Doom. Doom asks for a report, while letting the reader know that Wyatt’s S.H.I.E.L.D. credentials were faked. Wyatt says the Excelsior is being loaded with missiles and that “phase one” is complete.

Reed and Ben are locked up in a cell, which conveniently overlooks the launch site. Ben spots Wyatt’s men loading a nuke onto the ship. Reed fears they are helpless to stop Wyatt, but Ben says he has an idea. Nearby, Sue and Johnny are being taken away by Wyatt’s men, only to fight back with some sweet martial arts skills. They fight their way to Reed and Ben’s cell, freeing them. Reed and Sue share a kiss, revealing they’ve been in a relationship this whole time.

The Excelsior launches, so the four heroes make a plan to pursue it in the prototype, which is what Ben was using to run his simulation at the beginning. The prototype launches and pursues the Excelsior into space, with both ships reaching the space anomaly, depicted a green nebula-looking thing. Reed and Ben pickup an increase in subspace from the anomaly. Reed recognizes it as a pattern, confirming an intelligence coming from within the wormhole. They see what appears to be a humanoid shape come from inside the anomaly, and Reed mentions tachyon emissions directed at two specific points on Earth.

The Excelsior then fires the nuke. The anomaly explodes, and the prototype is bombarded with radiation. Reed, Sue, and Johnny hurry to the escape pods as the prototype falls apart around them. Ben stays behind in the cockpit in a last-ditch attempt to steer the ship back to Earth.

The prototype crashes on an island in the Bermuda Triangle. Johnny is the first to emerge from the wreckage, covered in flame. Despite being on fire, he manages to say, “I’m lit up like some kind of human torch!” The fire makes him lighter than air, so he’s able to fly to the nearest body of water. He then finds what looks like some sort of snake at first, only to discover it’s a human arm. It belongs to Reed, who can stretch his body to incredible lengths. Reed deduces that the radiation has mutated their bodies an given them fantastic powers.

Ben is next, also having survived, only for one hand to be mutated into a rocklike form. Then we catch up with Sue, who survived the crash alongside the prototype’s reactor core. Except the core is damaged and is threatening to explode, taking the entire island with it. Sue runs into Ben, now fully transformed into a huge rock monster. He says it best, “I’ve turned into a monster! Some kind of thing!”

Reed and Johnny hear a mysterious roaring sound, and they investigate. The ground falls out from under them, stranding them in an underground cavern surrounded by strange subterranean creatures. They surrender, not knowing the creatures intentions. Reed also spots cave marking similar to the signals he received from the anomaly, making this one of the two Earth locations mentioned in the alien signal. The subterraneans take them to where Sue and Ben have been chained to a stone pillar, about to be… Fed? Sacrificed? … to a giant monster. Sue turns invisible, distracting the monster long enough for Ben to get free and punch out the monster. Reed and Johnny join the fight, temporarily driving back the subterraneans.

The four heroes compare notes, and Sue insists they get back to the reactor core before it blows. Then they are approached by the leader of this underground world. It’s the Mole Man. He says he has recently acquired the power to bring mankind to its knees.

Unstable molecule: Reed wears glasses at the start of this issue, something I don’t recall him doing before. The glasses vanish mid-scene on page 4 and never return, though.

Fade out: One big change in this version is making Sue a high-up corporate type, except there’s very little information about what the Storm Foundation is, or its role in funding the space launch.

Clobberin’ time: Ben being a Gulf War vet instead of a World War II vet is one of the examples everyone always cites of how Heroes Reborn was an attempt to “modernize” the classic heroes.

Flame on: The other big change is making Johnny a casino owner, who’s shtick throughout this issue is making things marketable and making a quick buck whenever he can. Let’s keep an eye on how (or if) his character evolves during Heroes Reborn.

Commercial break: Beware the Kromaggs!

Trivia time: According to the Marvel Wiki, this is the only appearance of Reed’s friend Isaac. We hardly knew him. Johnny’s girlfriend Tiffany gets no entry in the Wiki, so let’s assume this is also her only appearance.

The Dr. Doom/Wyatt plotline will get an explanation in issue #5.

Fantastic or frightful? I’m fine with Jim Lee’s art. I’m fine with all the early Image guys, if we’re being totally honest. You can see in this issue the start of what would become the “widescreen comics” trend of the late ‘90s/early 2000s comics with an attempt to make comics more like blockbuster films. That’s the attitude here, as Lee and co-writer Brandon Choi make their own Star Trek movie for most of the issue. Lee’s depiction of Ben is especially eye-popping. So, it’s all good, and it makes me excited to read the next 12 issues.

Next: Titanic.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Challengers of the Fantastic

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Before we get to the big Heroes Reborn reboot, first we’ve got to talk about Challengers of the Fantastic #1!

Onslaught and Heroes Reborn weren’t the only big events of 1996/1997, because we also had the inter-company action of DC vs. Marvel (or Marvel vs. DC, as it was known for two issues). The plot concerned two cosmic brothers, one representing the Marvel Universe and one representing the DC Universe, learn of each other’s existence and decide that only one should survive. They force the heroes to fight each other in one-on-one slugfests. The universes were briefly combined into one, called the Amalgam Universe. But then everyone going back to their own universes thanks to Captain America and Batman teaming up to save the day.

The Amalgam Universe only existed for a few pages in DC vs. Marvel before being undone, but we can thank a new character named Access — co-owned by both companies — who used his new reality-bending powers to keep Amalgam going. As such Marvel and DC co-published a whole bunch of Amalgam one-shots, with Challengers of the Fantastic being part of the second wave of Amalgams.

In Challengers of the Fantastic, the FF get combined with DC’s Challengers of the Unknown, four adventurers who survived a near-death experience and decide to help others while they are “on borrowed time.” (If you ever read Challengers of the Unknown, you’ll read the words “on borrowed time” a LOT.) The first page gives us the lowdown on our new heroes:

  • Sue “Ace” Storm, secret agent — an amalgam of Sue and jet pilot Ace Morgan.
  • Reed “Prof” Richards, science genius — an amalgam of Reed and deep sea diver Prof Haley.
  • Johnny “Red” Storm, a thrill-seeking teen — an amalgam of Johnny and circus daredevil Red Ryan.
  • Ben “Rocky” Grimm, a brawling US senator (?!?) — an amalgam of Ben and Olympic wrestler Rocky Davis.

 

There’s a short version of the group’s origin. They take off on a dangerous space mission, only for it to be sabotaged by their former friend Victor Von Doom. The four survive, and decide to use their second chance on life to better mankind. They are (say it with me) on borrowed time.

In Washington DC, Rocky is negotiating a conflict between Wakanda and Gorilla City when he gets a message from the team. He travels to a mountain north of New York which is the Challengers’ headquarters, and also the HQ of scientist group Cadmus. There, Prof is investigating the existence of Universe-Two, and Red is pining away for his missing girlfriend, Dream Crystal. Note that Red has a miniature clone of himself for some reason, which will come into play later. (The Wiki says the clone’s name is “Johnny Stormtrooper.”) Ace summons them all to the briefing room, where they are met by Uatu the Guardian, a cosmic being who warns them, “Galatiac is coming!”

Uatu says Galactiac is the ultimate combination of mind and machine, draining the lifeblood of planets to recharge his energy cells. Because robots are involved, Rocky suggests calling the Challengers’ resident robotics expert, June Masters. June, who is blind, performs a calculation to determine that Galactiac will be defeated only if a Challenger dies.

The Challengers take their flying car, the FantastiWagon, to the Baxter Building, headquarters of Spider-Boy, only to find the place trashed. The attack was done by an Asgodian alien, the Silver Racer, in self-defense. The Racer tells them he has come with a dire warning. Galactiac has arrived, and is constructing his planet-eating machine on the roof of the building.

Prof tries and fails to reason with Galactiac, and Galactiac prevents Ace from calling in a S.H.I.E.L.D. airstrike. Uatu reappears and sends Red on a mission. Inside the building, June talks to the Silver Racer, asking for his help and reminding him of his long-repressed humanity. When Rocky tries destroying part of Galactiac’s machine, Galactiac responds by transforming him into a four-armed orange rock monster… a Thing!

Red travels through space on Uatu’s mission, to destroy a piece of space machinery. Back on Earth, Ace and fight the now-monstrous Rocky. Ace uses a force field belt, and Prof helps himself to some Dr. Octopus arms from inside the Baxter Building. The damage from the fight draws the attention of Galactiac, just in time for Red to return from space, and for the Silver Racer to join the fight.

There’s an explosion, following which Rocky is turned back into a human and Galactiac flies off into space, swearing to return someday. Red is found still alive. It appears that June’s calculation was incorrect, but Red reveals that it was his tiny clone who died. That when Red was in space, it was really the clone shrunk down to microscopic space, and the alien device was part of Galactiac’s brain.

Elsewhere, the Silver Surfer is attacked and left for dead. The culprit is the Challengers’ old friend Victor Von Doom, now transformed into the monster known as Dr. Doomsday.

Yeah, this story is nonsense. The comic only exists to show off and/or reference as many Amalgam characters and concepts as possible:

  • June Masters is an amalgam of Marvel’s Alicia Masters and DC’s June Robbins (from Challengers of the Unknown).
  • Galactiac is an amalgam of Marvel’s Galactus and DC’s Brainiac.
  • Uatu the Guardian is an amalgam of Marvel’s Watcher and DC’s Ganthet (from Green Lantern).
  • The Silver Racer is an amalgam of Marvel’s Silver Surfer and DC’s Black Racer.
  • Dr. Doomsday is an amalgam of Marvel’s Dr. Doom and DC’s Doomsday.
  • Dream Crystal is an amalgam of Marvel’s Crystal and DC’s Beautiful Dreamer.
  • The Bronze Panther is an amalgam of Marvel’s Black Panther and DC’s Bronze Tiger.
  • Congo Red is an amalgam of Marvel’s Red Ghost and DC’s Congorilla.
  • Spider-Boy is an amalgam of Marvel’s Spider-Man and DC’s Superboy.
  • The Un-People are an amalgam of Marvel’s Inhumans and DC’s Forever People. Their members are:
  • Vykin the Black Bolt, an amalgam of Marvel’s Black Bolt and DC’s Vikyn the Black
  • Triserinak, an amalgam of both Marvel’s Karnak and Triton with DC’s Serifan.
  • Medusa Moonrider, an amalgam of Marvel’s Medusa and DC’s Mark Moonrider.
  • Big Gorgon, an amalgam of Marvel’s Gorgon and DC’s Big Bear.

Wait, there’s more! In addition to characters appearing, there are also references to others:

  • Universe-Two is an amalgam of Marvel’s New Universe and DC’s Earth Two.
  • Spitfire and the Blackhawks is an amalgam of Marvel’s Spitfire and the Troubleshooters and the Blackhawks.
  • Infinite Kickers Inc. is an amalgam of Marvel’s Kickers Inc. and DC’s Infinity Inc.
  • The Mother Cube is an amalgam of Marvel’s Cosmic Cube and DC’s Mother Box.
  • Diablo the Volcano Man is an amalgam of Marvel’s Diablo and DC’s Volcano Man.
  • The Multi-Master is an amalgam of Marvel’s Puppet Master and DC’s Multi-Man.
  • Ultivac the Multi-Robot is an amalgam of Marvel’s Destroyer and DC’s Ultivac.
  • Cosbie is an amalgam of Marvel’s H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot with DC’s Cosmo. (Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.)

It’s not made clear which DC character has been amalgamated with Dr. Octopus. All we get is that his arms are called “anima-tentacles.” Additionally, Moon Boy from Marvel’s Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur can be seen in the Washington DC scenes, except he hasn’t been amalgamated with anyone. Why’s he the one who gets a pass?

Trivia time: The main DC vs. Marvel miniseries has a few additional mashups for Fantastic Four characters. Ben fought the Martian Manhunter, and Johnny fought Firestorm. The outcomes of these fights remains unknown. She-Hulk is matched up against Supergirl, but they don’t fight each other. Instead, they immediately team up to stop some criminals.

The Marvel Wiki alleges that Dr. Doomsday’s storyline was resolved in Secret Crisis of the Infinity Hour, but I suspect this is an inside joke and not an actual published comic.

The Marvel Wiki further alleges that the entire DC vs. Marvel event place in an alternate timeline, entirely outside of continuity. This includes that Access guy and all the Amalgam characters.

Fantastic or frightful? Challengers of the Fantastic is kind of a disappointment, as the story and characters are secondary to the huge list of references. As an event overall, DC vs. Marvel isn’t without its charms, but this type of thing would be done much more successful a few years later in the awesome JLA/Avengers.

Next: Getting the reboot.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Off and Onslaught

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #416 is the final issue of the original series (or Volume 1, if you prefer) of Fantastic Four. It’s also smack in the middle of the epic Onslaught crossover, so this is a lot to cover.

Gimmie a Gimmick: This final issue has a wraparound cover, with the FF on the front, and a bunch of their classic villains on the back, with Onslaught peeking through some streaks in the foreground.

A lot of story has happened between the last issue and this one. After kidnapping both Franklin and Professor X, Onslaught made his move. He took over the mutant-killing Sentinel robots and turned them into his personal army. After setting off an EMP, Onslaught used the Sentinels to attack Manhattan, while constructing his personal citadel in Central Park. The combined forces of the X-Men, Avengers, and Fantastic Four use the FF’s Four Freedoms Plaza as a makeshift headquarters.

The issue begins with Dr. Doom watching Onslaught’s NYC invasion. After learning that Onslaught kidnapped Franklin, Doom says this crisis might need his “personal attention.” At HQ, Sue tends to the wounded superheroes. At first glance it appears as if Goku from DragonBall Z is also there, but it’s just one of Franklin’s toys. Ant-Man is already out of the fight, after Onslaught’s EMP knocked out his cybernetic Ant-Man helmet. Sue and X-Men’s Beast tell him to get some rest, adding that Kristoff is acting as bodyguard for Ant-Man’s daughter during the crisis. Reed is all business, saying he’s working on a device to counterattack Onslaught’s powerful telepathy, but Nathaniel Richards says he’s seen the future, and knows that Onslaught kills a lot of the superheroes during this time. Bishop, who is also from the future, de-confuses continuity by saying that there are multiple future timelines.

We catch up with Franklin trapped in some sort of shadow world inside Onslaught’s armor (weird). He recently was able to communicate telepathically with Nate Grey, a.k.a. the X-Man, and now he’s trying it again to contact his parents. Onslaught is aware of Franklin’s plan and is letting him do it. Reed and Sue have a heart-to-heart, worrying about whether they’ve been good parents for all the times Franklin’s life has been endangered. Reed says that once Onslaught is defeated, they will make time for them to be just a family.

Elsewhere in headquarters, Ben spies Reed and Lyja down one end of a hallway, remarking that the two of them are a couple again. Then Alicia shows up with her father the Puppet Master. Puppet Master offers a helping hand, even though he and the FF have been enemies in the past. He and Sue leave Ben and Alicia alone so they can talk. (Alicia’s recent space adventures in Silver Surfer go unmentioned.) But then we cut to Kristoff and Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie. She offers an update on their classmate Donald, saying Donald’s abusive father was reported and is now in counseling. That ends that subplot, just in time for time-travelling villain Kang to appear in the room. Kang says he’s there to kill Dr. Doom’s heir. Kristoff doesn’t buy it, and reveals Kang to be nothing but an illusion.

This kicks off the FF-villains-on-parade part of the issue. Psycho-Man arrives to menace Ben and Alicia, while the Super-Skrull and Paibok the Power-Skrull both show up to attack Johnny and Lyja. The latter fight is joined by the Inhumans, Black Bolt, Karnak and Gorgon (who, let’s not forget, once single-handedly defeated the FF). Next in the villain parade is Blastaar, who dukes it out with Medusa.

The issue just goes on like this. Reed fights the Wizard, and Sue fights the Mad Thinker and his latest Awesome Android. Reed is quick to deduce that Onslaught is using Franklin’s powers to manifest fears from Franklin’s mind, taking the form of the FF’s foes. Devos the Devastator is next to appear, only to be punched by Namor, in a surprise return to HQ. Namor says that even though he and the FF recently parted on bad terms, Onslaught is a threat to them both. He and Reed agree to an alliance.

Then even more cameos as the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes appear, menacing Nathaniel Richards. Nathaniel is rescued by Black Panther, and to everyone’ s surprise, three of the original Fantastic Force — Devlor, Vibraxus, and barbarian swordswoman Huntara. As more of the villains are revealed to be mere illusions, Nathaniel also deduces that Franklin is the cause.

Reed makes it to the lab to work on his device, a “neuromantic disruptor.” Ben fights Tyros (formerly Terrax) and gets some last-minute from She-Hulk, who donned a classic FF blue-and-white uniform for the occasion. While Ben and She-Hulk high-five, Reed says the device is complete, but needs an energy source to protect it from another of Onslaught’s EMPs. Ben sacrifices the alien device that can turn him human, saying he will gladly give it up to save his godchild Franklin.

Outside the building, Johnny fights Dragon Man and Annihilus, only to be rescued by Dr. Doom. Doom insists he is no mere illusion, and he demands an audience with Reed. Sue, meanwhile, is attacked by Malice, who at this point in continuity was her own psychic being. Sue is rescued by supernatural nanny Agatha Harkness, conveniently teleporting into the room.

 

Reed throws the switch on the disrupter. It works, causing all the illusory villains to disappear, including a bunch more cameos at the end — Miracle Man, Mole Man, Diablo, Molecule Man, Impossible Man, Hate-Monger, and Invincible Man. (I have no idea who’s wearing the Invincible Man costume this time, but I’m guessing it’s the Dark Raider.)

Reed says this is a minor victory, because Onslaught is still out there, but Sue counters by saying this proves Franklin is still alive, which means they still have a chance. Then Johnny shows up with Dr. Doom, who offers his aid in defeating Onslaught. Sue says Doom can help, but they’re making a deal with him. “He does things our way!” she says. She adds that the upcoming fight with Onslaught may very well be their final battle. The original four join hands one last time. Then it’s Reed and not Ben who ends the original series of Fantastic Four by saying “It’s clobberin’ time!” But then Ben has to get the last word with a classic Marvel “‘Nuff said.’”

The end.

Except it isn’t the end, because we still have the Onslaught crossover to deal with. Onslaught revealed his plan to create a second sun, which would destroy the heroes (and, I’m assuming, all life on Earth). In the final battle, the unlikely duo of Jean Grey and the Hulk shattered Onslaught’s armor, leaving behind a being of pure psychic energy. Into to fully destroy the energy being and restore Franklin and Professor X, the heroes had to fly straight into the energy, which would kill them. One catch: Only non-mutants could enter the energy, which meant that the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the Hulk, and even Dr. Doom were the ones to give up their lives. Onslaught was defeated, but some of Marvel’s greatest heroes were dead, and the world mourned.

The end, for real this time. (Except it isn’t.)

Unstable molecule: If all this wasn’t enough comic book for you, issue #416 also has a backup story, a flashback to Reed, Ben, and Doom first meeting at college. Reed and Ben clash instantly, while Ben suggests all three of them share a dorm room. The Watcher, who is narrating tells the reader that if one of the three of them had said something in the crucial seconds that followed, then history would have been different. But, alas, all three went their separate ways.

Fade out: It would appear that Sue is still team leader by this point, as she orders all the other heroes around while Reed works in the lab. She has also apparently forgiven Agatha Harkness for letting Franklin get time-traveled. The last time we saw Agatha was Sue kicking her out of the place.

Clobberin’ time: The machine that can turn Ben into a human is an abruptly dropped plotline. The original idea was that it was going to make him angrier and angrier every time he used it. But, editorial demands for the reboot means we never got to have that story.

Flame on: During the fight, the Super-Skrull gives Johnny grief for his romance with Lyja, calling it unnatural. If these are psychic projections, could this be Johnny’s own subconscious saying this?

Fantastic Fifth Wheel: This is a wrap for Ant-Man. Scott Lang goes back to being an Iron Man guest star after this, just in time for the Armor Wars event. He will eventually return to Fantastic Four once the whole Future Foundation thing gets going.

She-Hulk had been all over the Marvel Universe since the cancellation of her solo series. She was a regular in Thunderstrike and Doc Sampson before temporarily joining the Fantastic Force team, leading to her appearance in this issue. Following Onslaught, she becomes a regular in Heroes for Hire, with guest appearances in Avengers, BlackWulf, and more.

Medusa again speaks highly of her time with the team, saying it is with great pride that she fights alongside them, and that she considers them family. All this while fighting Blastaar!

Crystal is one panel, still recovering from Onslaught’s attack. Impossible Man, who was a member of the FF during the “Fantastic Seven” storyline in the ‘70s, also appears in one panel.

When Kristoff confronts Kang and Kang calls him Doom’s heir, there’s a closeup of Kristoff’s eyes and it looks like he’s all teary-eyed. Does part of him still long to stand by Doom’s side?

Dr. Doom working alongside the FF means we can count this as another instance of him acting as an alternate FF team member.

A lot of fan sites list Namor as being an official member of the team during this time in the ‘90s, but I always felt he was more of a guest star. In this issue, though, Reed clearly welcomes him to the team, so I guess from here forward we must consider him an alternate team member.

Four and a half: Franklin’s scene has one panel of him astral projecting, remembering that was his power during his “Tattletale” years as a member of Power Pack.

The Alicia problem: This is a wrap for poor Lyja. After all this drama, she is out of the series, and pretty much written out of continuity. Once we get into Heroes Return and beyond, she won’t get so much as a mention until returning much, much later for Secret Invasion.

Commercial break: Matilda was the original Thanos:

Trivia time: This is also more or less a wrap for Nathaniel Richards. He’ll occasionally show up after this for some time travel fun in X-Force and S.H.I.E.L.D. He won’t make a return to Fantastic Four until after the Future Foundation gets started.

I’m at a loss as to how the Fantastic Force team can be here, when it seemed they all went their separate ways at the end of their series. This is especially true of Huntara, who left Earth to explore “Elsewhen.” Seems to me that if Huntara appears in Fantastic Four, the story should be about her and Reed dealing with how they are long-lost step-siblings, but no luck.

Fantastic or frightful? I read the entire Onslaught crossover in preparation for this blog (you’re freakin’ welcome) and it’s not as bad as people say. The Onslaught character is given a proper introduction and feeling of true menace, unlike other villains of this type (cough*Hyperstorm*cough). There’s a lot of character work throughout, including more X-Men drama, a Peter Parker/Ben Reilly team-up, and even the Phil Urich Green Goblin getting in on the action. As for issue #416, all of the cameos are kind of cheesy, but keeping things in the family means we get end the series on an FF-centric high note, rather than be overwhelmed by crossover-mania. The good news is, there’s a lot more Fantastic Four to come.

Next: Rise to the challenge.

****

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