Fantastic Friday: Davis Squared

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. With Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return mercifully over, it’s time for a fresh new start. In vol. 3 issue #1, legendary artist Alan Davis and writer Scott Lobdell do a smashing job of bringing the FF into the modern age without undoing what was done before.

Gimmie a gimmick: This was a wraparound cover with the FF on the front and the villains on the back. Also there was a separately-sold alternate cover, featuring the FF standing behind a glowing gold “4” logo.

We begin in the Mole Man’s underground kingdom, where he has amassed an army of Moloids and monsters, announcing that the time has come for all-out war against the surface world. He then receives a message tha the Fantastic Four are still alive, and not dead as previously reported. He calls off the attack. Then, alone, he raises a toast to the FF, in front of a Mount Rushmore-style monument had built of them.

Cut to Antarctica, where it’s back to business for our heroes. Ben out on the ice, about to test one of Reed’s new inventions, an “electromagnetic meson velocirator.” Johnny interrupts for some horseplay, melting the ice under Ben and kicking off some classic playful brawling between them, with Reed and Sue breaking them up. It’s the old-fashioned excuse-for-the-characters-to-use-their-powers-for-a-few-pages thing.

Then we cut to Paris, France, where the locals are protesting the presence of an American company, DRC (short for Deterrence Research Corporation). DRC head Aaron Starr meets with protestor Yvette Diamonde to give her a tour of the company’s archeological dig, where they’ve uncovered a sculpture thousands of years old. Diamonde seems okay with this at first, until the DRC goons use a laser gun-like device to “breach” the sculpture. Diamonde tries to stop them and accidentally kicks the laser gun. As she and the other protestors keeping fighting to preserve the sanctity of the site, the sculpture cracks and starts to break apart.

Back to the FF, we learn that this arctic base is the team’s new headquarters, thanks to the fact that the Thunderbolts have taken over the old Four Freedoms Plaza. Nearby, Johnny and Reed construct a new Fantasticar in the style of the original. Johnny wants to jazz up the design, but Reed says, “Image isn’t everything, Johnny,” and “Sometimes there’s no improving on the original concept.” (Oohh, shots fired at Jim Lee and the Wildstorm guys!) Reed gets an alarm warning him of a “transpatial anomaly” and says it’s time for the team to regroup.

Back in France, Diamonde ducks for cover as strange lights burst from the sculpture. Everyone else in the area is transmutated into ancient aliens called the Ruined, led by B’arr, Exalt, and Stem. The Ruined say that what humans call “progress” is just one step closer to destruction. To preserve the past, the Ruined give Dimaonde a mystic sword and ask her to be their new leader. She raised the sword He-Man style, and transmutates into a barbarian swordswoman.

 

Reed and Sue show up, using their powers to sneak onto the DRC site. Reed says the general public is not yet aware the FF are still alive, and he wants to keep operating in secret for the time being. Ben and Johnny are a few blocks away, where they’ve been instructed to keep a low profile. Johnny flirts with a model named Arlise, when Ben goes for a walk and is pestered by France’s version of the Yancy Street Gang, here called Rue de Yancy.

When alien tentacles break through the ground to the surface, Reed signals the others for some action. The Ruined arrive and everybody fights. Daimonde shows up, now calling herself Martyr. With a single punch, she sends Ben flying across the city and into the bell tower at Notre Dame. Reed deduces that the Ruined are using the sculpture’s strange energies to transform all modern-day architecture back into structures ancient times. What’s more, the energy is following Martyr wherever she goes. Reed tries to use science to stop the energy, but the Ruined claim they are beyond science.

Johnny tries to destroy the source of the energy, only for it to absorb his flame. He starts to get drawn into the energy, but Martyr rescues him. She joins the fight against the Ruined, after they knock out Reed, Sue and Johnny. Martyr says the Ruined are doing more damage than DRC was going to do. Exalt tells her there’s nothing she can do now that the Fantastic Four are defeated. Ben returns, telling him he needs to learn to count. Reed comes to just long enough to tell Ben that “triangular harmonics” are needed to stop the energy. Ben lifts up that big pyramid thing at the Lourve and throws into the energy, which shorts it out and returns everything back to normal.

Not everything, though. Dimaonde is still transmutated into the superhuman Martyr. Starr, now human again, insists that Martyr’s armor and sword are now DRC property. Another fight is about to break out, but Martyr says she’s willing to work alongside DRC as its new spokes-superhero. She says she will fight to make sure that technology will not tamper with the natural order. Reed lets them go, saying “Science without morals is a disaster waiting to happen.” As the Fantasticar flies over Paris, the city’s population comes out to cheer them on, revealing to the world that the Fantastic Four are back.

Unstable molecule: Reed says he’s had this arctic base all along, but absent-mindedly never mentioned it to Ben and Johnny. Was this his and Sue’s secret private getaway?

Fade out: In the introductory text page states that Sue’s responsibilities include the non-profit/charitable arm of Fantastic Four Inc., something I don’t recall coming up before.

Clobberin’ time: Unlike the others, Ben is still struggling with the events of Heroes Reborn. He’s bothered by the fact that he got to live his whole life all over again, and still made most of the same mistakes.

Flame on: The Marvel Wiki insists that Arlise, the model who flirts with Johnny, turned into the one of the Ruined, named Katar. We’ll have to see if she shows up again when the Ruined return in a few issues from now.

Four and a half: After a year of Franklin crying about the death of his parents in Generation X and Daydreamers, Franklin is back to being a happy-go-lucky fun-loving kid in this issue. The state of his reality bending mutant powers remains unmentioned.

Sue-per spy: While this blog was on a break last year, Marvel went and published an Invisible Woman miniseries that revealed Sue has had a double life as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all this time! Moving forward, you can bet I’ll be looking for anything that might suggest Sue’s spycraft.

Commercial break: Police state.

Trivia time: Again according to the Marvel Wiki, the other members of the Ruined not named in this issue are C’hin, Casque, Feuille, Griffe, S’pyke, Touffe, and M’stapha.

Fantastic or Frightful? The reason I started this blog way back when was to put into words why I was disappointed in the Tim Story Fantastic Four movies, and what elements from the comics could make for a good movie. This issue fulfils the unfulfilled promise of Heroes Reborn by being a fresh new start for first-time readers while also being big and cinematic. It’s a blockbuster action movie in a single read. Too bad we’re only getting Lobdell and Davis for three issues, but the good news that this issue #1 is an all-timer.

Next: Half of one.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – The Invisible Agent 1942

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. The series crosses over with WWII propaganda in 1942’s The Invisible Agent. Buy war bonds, etc.

Here’s what happens: Frank Griffin, grandson of the original Invisible Man, still protects the invisibility formula. When he’s discovered, he’s recruited to help the war effort. He skydives into Germany where he outwits Nazis, finds romance, and saves the day.

Monster!: Allegedly, the studio mandate during the war years was depict the Nazis as stupid and incompetent, so there’s a lot of the “bumbling villain” trope throughout the movie, leaning way more into comedy than action or horror.

Also a monster!: Although most of the villains are slapstick clowns, the great Peter Lorre is on hand to supply some real menace. His character is supposed be Asian (what the heck, old-timey Hollywood?!?) but Lorre downplays that instead sticks to his “creepy Peter Lorre” act, for which we should all be grateful.

Our hero: Frank Griffith starts the movie as a nondescript shopkeeper, but once he’s the Invisible Man, he becomes the “charming rogue” stereotype, having fun with his invisibility and goofing around before learning to take the mission seriously.

Hapless humans: Ilona Massey plays the feisty love interest for the Invisible Man, and they do the romantic comedy banter thing nicely. Their Moonlighting-style back-and-forth wordplay is the highlight of the movie.

Thrills: The filmmakers continue to up their game in the invisibility special effects department. Instead of the bandaged-up look, this Invisible Man covers his face with white cream, with some nifty face-floating-in-air effects. Later, the Invisible Man grabs an envelope, carries it through a window, down a ladder and onto the street. It’s a huge set piece where we follow his actions by following the letter.

Laughs: As noted above, there’s a lot of slapstick whenever the villains are on screen. Heiser, the main villain, has a running gag about food spilled on his uniform, and everyone humiliating him about it.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The Nazi talk and the old-fashioned racism make this an unpleasant watch, so that I just can’t recommend it. It’s too bad, because the movie could have been a lot more fun otherwise.

Next: Tomb raider.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Heroes Return and Return Again

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. When the Heroes Reborn reboot fell below expectations, Marvel was quick to re-reboot it. Time for the FF, the Avengers, and more to reenter regular Marvel continuity, and it was decided that the FF’s own Franklin Richards as the reason for it all, hence the notorious Heroes Reborn: The Return.

By now, everyone knows the story – everything that happened in the Heroes Reborn Universe (hereafter called “HRU”) took place in a pocket universe created by Franklin Richards’ reality-bending powers. When a bunch of superheroes sacrificed their lives to defeat supervillain Onslaught, Franklin subconsciously created another universe for them to live, where their lives began anew with no memory of their previous lives in the Marvel Universe (hereafter “MU”). We the fans already know this, but how did this play out in the actual comics, exactly?

After Onslaught, Franklin spent a short amount of time as a supporting character in Cable, where it looked like Cable might become his new father figure. Franklin next showed up, however, in Generation X, finding a new home at the Xavier School. When the school was attacked, he and a bunch of others fled to the nexus of all realities, home of Man-Thing. There, they formed their own super-team, the Daydreamers. That’s all well and good, except that through this all, Franklin can be seen carrying around a blue sphere, which he’s had since the last issue of the Onslaught event. This sphere contains the HRU, but for the life of me I can’t figure out when this was officially revealed. After a while, it’s as if readers are just meant to pick up on it. If anything, it looks to me like the fact that Franklin created the HRU wasn’t revealed in a story, but in all the ads for this event. Whatever. Let’s just get on with the story.

 

Every issue of Heroes Reborn: The Return begins with the same four-page text piece catching new readers up to speed. This is a little awkward for the first issue in that it summarizes what we’re about to read, but whatever. The issue begins with Franklin Richards alongside a mysterious woman as a storm hits NYC. The woman tells Franklin his parents are still alive, “elsewhere and elsewhen.” Franklin is teleported away from her to the Florida swamp, home of his new Daydreamers teammate Man-Thing. Back in New York, Peter Parker and Aunt May watch a news report recapping Onslaught and the first appearance of the Thunderbolts. Then we see the Hulk is also in New York, wandering the back streets in his anger. Remember that Onslaught separated Bruce Banner and the Hulk into two individuals. The Hulk stayed in the MU, while Banner was in the HRU where he of course transformed into a second Hulk. (You getting all this?)

Back in the swamp, Man-Thing fights an alligator (he always fights alligators), while Franklin looks into his sphere and sees a vision of Bruce Banner and not one but two Hulks. He then sees images of the HRU where Ben and Thor are fighting the Hulk. The mystery woman reappears and fights Man-Thing, burning him with his own fear (dang). She tells Franklin her name is Ashema and that they have to talk. She tells Franklin that when his father was done with an experiment, he cleaned up afterward. Now, she says, Franklin has created an experiment that he has to clean up. Ashema teleports Franklin to the HRU, explaining that this is a universe he created. She says Franklin has a choice. Only one of the two universes can survive – either one that’s his home or one where his parents live but don’t know him – and he has to choose.

Issue #2 begins with Franklin astral-projecting to his parents’ room (hey, the comic remembers his “Tattletale” powers from Power Pack). He warns them the “Cestials” are coming before he vanishes. Sue says she feels like she knows him somewhere, and the FF agree to find him and help him. In the MU, Dr. Strange is contacted by Loki, who warns him about another world where powerful beings are trapped, and that Strange must find a “nexus point” to deal with the upcoming crisis. Ashema appears and takes Loki from the scene, saying he is not to interfere with the Celestials’ business. In the MU, Spider-Man learns about the Hulk wandering the streets during the storm, so he swings off to investigate. Outside of a Broadway theater (!) the Hulk fights Doc Sampson, the Thunderbolts, and Thor, all of whom are trying to get him to calm down. The street is torn open in an earthquake, allowing the Hulk to escape while Thor rescues some civilians. Dr. Strange travels to Man-Thing’s swamp and finds Franklin’s sphere. He too sees an image of the Hulk in it, and considers showing it to the Hulk.

In another wilderness, Franklin and Ashema talk some more. He doesn’t want to destroy an entire universe full of people’s lives. They find a wounded bear cub, and Franklin insists Ashema use her powers to heal it. She does, but then turns around and kills it right in front of him. Angered, Franklin lashes out at her with his own power. She says that Franklin can’t make his choice, the Celestials will make it for him.

Back in New York, the Hulk is now fighting Spider-Man, Hercules and the Thunderbolts in Central Park, when Dr. Strange appears. Spidey and the Hulk are both drawn into the sphere, teleporting themselves to the HRU, where the Hulk is confronted by… another Hulk!

Onto issue #3. In the HRU, Reed and Iron Man work in the lab, discovering two giant fireballs headed toward the Earth. Sue interrupts to say she can somehow sense Franklin is in danger. Then there’s additional science talk as Iron Man has been getting strange readings from rocks at the Earth’s core (how’d he get those?) and he flies into the Negative Zone to test them. Reed, meanwhile, considers asking Dr. Doom for help, since Doom recently helped them fight Galactus.

The MU Hulk thinks the HRU Hulk is Bruce Banner and attacks, with Spider-Man caught in the middle. The Hulks fight their onto the Brooklyn Bridge and then down into the water. Spider-Man follows them there, wondering what to do, when the Avengers show up, along with Ben and Johnny. Spidey is relieved to see they’re all alive, but they have no idea who he is.

In the MU, Franklin runs off and accidentally falls off 100-foot cliff (!). Ashema is willing to leave him for dead, but then she receives a telepathic message from the rest of the Celestials, telling her to bring Franklin back to life. She does, and in doing so she experiences what it means to be human, through his experiences and through the experiences of all humanity who are connected through Franklin’s reality-bending powers. Now emotionally transformed, Ashema agrees to help Franklin.

In the HRU, Iron Man returns from his test, which determined that the Earth’s core is only one year old. He and Reed are baffled by this, while Sue insists that Franklin and the Celestials hold the answer. Franklin then appears in the room, and runs into Sue’s arms. Elsewhere in New York, a giant ship flies out of the water near the Brooklyn Bridge, having captured both Hulks. Spider-Man, and the HRU heroes jump into action, learning that Dr. Doom is piloting the ship. Doom flies the ship to FF headquarters, saying he’s discovered transdimensional energy leaking from another world into theirs. The heroes and Doom all regroup, and Reed says Franklin, Spider-Man, and the Hulk all reveal the existence of another world, and that they should take Doom’s ship there.

Ashema is also there, and she says Franklin has made his choice. Franklin admits he has, and that he couldn’t allow everyone in the Marvel Universe to die. At that moment, the group alerted to activity from outside. They look to see a Celestial appearing in space, looming over the Earth.

Issue #4 begins with the rest of the HR heroes also on the scene, including Iron Man’s Hulkbusters team, and Rikki Barnes, a.k.a. the new Bucky. Also, everyone has now been clued into the fact that the HR universe is only a manifestation of a young boy’s imagination. Rikki is not happy about having to stay behind. Then things get complicated when Ashema says the heroes will return to the Marvel Universe, but not with Franklin. Franklin is coming to space with her to fulfill his destiny. The heroes aren’t having this, saying that whether they remember him or not, Franklin should stay with his parents. Ashema is about to start to fight, but Franklin talks her out of it. She demonstrates her power, though, by temporarily transforming Thor into… Thorg! This is, of course, the frog Thor from back in the Walt Simonson days.

Dr. Strange takes Franklin’s sphere to outer space, where he speaks with an unknown power. He says this unknown being has always refused to help in the past, but Strange urges them to help just this once. Strange hands the sphere over to the mystery figure. In the HRU, Iron Man takes some time to say goodbye to Pepper Potts, knowing what’s going to happen. Everyone then boards Dr. Doom’s ship, where Reed explains that they must first take the ship into the Negative Zone, and from there to edge of this reality – in this case, the edge of Franklin’s imagination. The ship takes off, with Ashema flying outside, alongside it. She transforms into some sort of energy being and says it’s time for the heroes to “see the light.”

The ship enters the Negative Zone, and that’s when Doom makes his move. He abducts Franklin and flees the ship, with the intent of stealing Franklin’s powers for his own. Doom plans to rule over both universes as a god, believing not even the Celestials can stop him. They’re in the distortion area of the Negative Zone, where air breathers can fly around in space with no problems. Reed and Thor pursue Doom and Franklin. Reed rescues his son while Thor beats up on Doom. Thor says his hammer has the power to tap into dimensional energies to create a rift between universes (could Thor always do this?). Iron Man takes the controls of Doom’s ship, to ensure that everyone enters the rift at the same time, as per Ashema’s instructions.

Then it happens. All the Heroes Reborn characters get their Marvel Universe memories back. Sue remembers her family. Bruce Banner remembers his traumatic childhood. Iron Man remembers his addictions and his anger. Captain America remembers a lifetime of battles. Then there’s a whole two pages dealing with Bruce Banner and Hulk reintegrating, becoming one person again. The caption reads, “To put it simply, the heroes return.”

Somewhere on Earth, the Fantastic Four regroup in a forest. Ashema appears before Sue, and Sue is done putting up with Ashema. Sue asks, “Who are you to decide that Franklin has been ruined by us?” Ashema responds, “Someone who has also been ruined by you.” Ashema disappears, telling Sue to take care of her “precious cargo.” There’s a quick glimpse of the Heroes Reborn universe, still existing, with Rikki watching over it. Then we see Ashema having returned to her Celestial form on the Celestials home planet. She is asleep, surrounded by the other Celestials. The captions say that granting Franklin the power to create this other universe was an experiment on the Celestials’ behalf, and that is how they learn and grow. When Ashema experienced the human condition, she too was transformed. As she sleeps, she dreams.

On the last page, we see the stranger Dr. Strange spoke to earlier. It’s Eternity, the living embodiment of reality itself. Eternity is now the keep of Franklin’s sphere. Eternity muses whether the dreams of a Celestial could be figment of someone else’s imagination. Perhaps we all are.

Unstable molecule: Reed rescues Franklin by stretching from Doom’s ship and out into space to grab hold of his son. His teammates then reel him back into the ship as if he’s one big fishing line.

Fade out: Sue’s certainty that she has a long-lost son she doesn’t remember is more or less the inciting incident that kicks off the whole adventure.

Clobberin’ time: We don’t see how Ben’s fight with the Hulk ended, except we’re told that the Hulk merely ran off. Later, the comic remembers that Ben is a pilot when Ben grouses that he should be flying Doom’s ship instead of Iron Man.

Flame on: Johnny barely appears in these comics, his only function is to look cool when standing next to his teammates.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Where is Crystal?!? Previous issues made the point that Crystal in Heroes Reborn was the same on from the Marvel Universe, but she doesn’t appear in this miniseries. The Marvel wiki insists that her and the Inhuman Royal Family were aboard Doom’s ship, but just in the lower decks where we couldn’t see them. The HRU versions of the rest of the Inhumans were merged into their MU selves, the wiki says.

She-Hulk and Spider-Man act all flirtatious with each other, with Spidey making the most of how this version of She-Hulk has no idea who she is. Since when was there romantic inklings between these two? Also, the Marvel wiki says the HRU She-Hulk also merged with her MU self.

Four and a half: Using Franklin’s powers to fix comic continuity might be convenient, but it’s also consistent, as there’s been a fear from the beginning that his powers represent a potential threat to reality itself. Throughout his appearances in Cable, X-Man, Generation X, and Daydreamers were all about Franklin coming to terns with his parents’ deaths, only for him to turn a corner in Heroes Return, where he succeeds in bringing them back.

Commercial break: Each of these four issues concludes with a tiring eight pages of ads for the upcoming Fantastic Four, Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America reboots.

Trivia time: This is not the final word on the HRU. Rikki Barnes, the new Bucky, later crossed over into the MU where she fought crime as Nomad for a while. Then the HRU got one last chance as superstardom with the miniseries Onslaught Reborn where Heroes Reborn did its own take on the Onslaught event that created it, courtesy of controversial artist Rob Liefeld.

Why is a Thor a frog? It’s a reference to a famous Walt Simonson Thor comic in which Loki transformed Thor into a frog, only for Thor to fight back after transforming again into a half-Thor, half-frog form. Since then, Marvel keeps coming up with ways to bring back “Throg” as his own character.

Fantastic or frightful? This whole thing is a mountain of Marvel continuity, with sole purpose of streamlining said continuity. Yet, somehow, writer Peter David finds a way to break through the editorial mandates and find the human story beneath. The debates between the all-powerful Celestial and the kid who just misses his parents are great moments, enough to make this worth reading.

As for the entire 16-month Heroes Reborn experiment, it was a disappointment overall. At its best, Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four was familiar stories retold with some nice Jim Lee art. At its worst it was overly confusing writing with plots that never needed to be so confusing. I wanted to deep dive into Heroes Reborn hoping to make some great discovery, but there’s just nothing there. It was swept under the rug for a reason.

Next: Davis squared.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – Ghost of Frankenstein 1942

Rewatching the Universal Monsters. The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Familiar faces, and unfamiliar brains, are here in Ghost of Frankenstein.

Here’s what happens: Ygor and Frankenstein’s monster, having survived the events of Son of Frankenstein, eventually run into Dr. Frankenstein’s other son, Ludwig. A plot is concocted to “fix” the monster by giving him a new brain. But whose brain?!?

Monster! The big selling point here is that the monster ends up with… Ygor’s brain! Fresh off The Wolf Man, Lon Cheney Jr. plays the monster almost expressionless during the first half of the movie, and then going big and crazy after he becomes Franken-Ygor. Before that happens, Bela Lugosi is back as Ygor. He’s still the master manipulator, but a little less creepy and outsider-ish than he was in Son.

Also a monster! The titular ghost is that of the original Dr. Frankenstein (although now played by Lionel Atwill instead of Colin Clive). The ghost appears only once in the movie, urging Ludwig to put things right by giving the monster a good brain. Is there really a ghost, or has Ludwig inherited his father’s madness? We may never know.

Our hero: Ludwig (also Lionel Atwill) says he’s spent his whole life in this village, suggesting he never knew his father or brother. While he doesn’t have the god complex of his father, he nonetheless is the one who comes up with brain transplants, which is some mad science right there.

Hapless humans: Now that we’ve introduced the idea of brain transplants, this becomes the driving force of Frankenstein movies going forward. Ludwig wants to put the brain of his friend Dr. Kettering in the monster, Ygor plots with rival scientist Dr. Bohmer to put Ygor’s brain in the monster, and the monster himself wants to put a little girl’s brain in place of his own. The girl, a local villager, isn’t cool with the idea.

Thrills: The movie opens with a big set piece of villagers destroying Frankenstein castle. The monster kills a few dudes here and there, leading up the big finale where Frank/Ygor trashes Ludwig’s lab, eventually burning the place down.

Laughs: This is a fast-paced monster/surgery flick, with no room for any comic relief.

Thoughts upon this viewing: If we’re to view the Universal Monsters as one big saga, then this movie is a major turning point. Frankenstein’s monster essentially dies and is Ygor’s-brain-in-the-monster’s-body from this point forward. As a stand-alone film, it’s just plain crazy, all about monsters, brain transplants, and panicked villagers.

Next: Really, REALLY secret agent.

****

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

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Universal Monsters rewatch – The Wolf Man 1941

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. After a few fun fun-but-lesser sequels, it’s time for another bona fide classic with The Wolf Man.

Here’s what happens: Larry Talbot returns to hometown after the death of his brother, where he reconnects with his father, old friends, and a new love. Then he gets attacked by a wolf, setting up a monstrous transformation.

Monster! Of course we have another iconic makeup creation from the legendary makeup guy Jack Pierce, but Lon Cheney Jr.’s physicality really sells the monster. As Talbot, Cheney has an easygoing, guy-next-door charm, but once he’s the Wolf Man, he moves so quickly and manic, you’d think it was two different actors.

Also a monster! Bela Lugosi is back, this time playing a fortune teller who is the OG wolf man that bites Talbot. It’s another great Bela performance, a completely different character from either Dracula or Ygor. We only get quick glimpses of him in wolf form, probably because the production’s wolf puppet wouldn’t have been very impressive in close-up.

Our hero: Poor Larry Talbot is both the hero and the monster. His early scenes, in which he’s the romantic lead, where he has a an almost childlike charm to his actions. Then, once he realizes what he’s become, he keeps wanting to run away from everyone, only for circumstances to keep him around.

Hapless humans: There’s quite a huge cast of supporting characters in this one – perhaps too many. Talbot’s love interest Gwen romances him somewhat hesitantly, even dating another guy at one point. Talbot’s father is played by former Invisible Man Claude Rains, who offers a sympathetic ear to Talbot’s struggles. Maria Ouspenskaya steals every scene she’s in as another creepy fortune teller. And I really liked Ralph Bellamy as Paul, the local detective who stands in for the audience as he tries to figure out what’s been going on.

Thrills: The actual Wolf Man doesn’t get a lot of screen time, and any wolf vs. human action is fleeting. The transformations are what we’re really here for. We see his feet (ew) transform twice, and then the big face transformation in two parts at the end. Groundbreaking for its time, but I suspect the better transformation scenes might be in the sequels.

Laughs: The only humor is romantic comedy stuff, with Talbot’s flirtations with Gwen. He doesn’t take no for an answer, which is supposed to be whimsical, but off as pretty cringe-y.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The Wolf Man is often studied as a the-monster-within story, but it also works as a don’t-go-in-the-woods story. Whenever the characters leave the comfort of their town to venture in the foggy woods (a.k.a. the unknown) that’s when bad things happen. Note how many times the character in shots with tree limbs between them and the camera, making it feel like they are separated from the viewer and truly on their own. Really cool movie.

Next: Ghost with the most.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Covert Action Team

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The Heroes Reborn event refuses to die, because vol. 2 issue #13 kicks off a whole new crossover, World War III, complete with a whole bunch of characters from another company.

The previous issue ended with the Earth being devoured by Galactus. After that, in the tie-in issues, Dr. Doom time-traveled to the past where the Marvel heroes eventually saved the Earth. Then we circle back to issue #13, which ignores the time travel stuff and takes us back to the timeline with the destroyed Earth. In this continuity, the destruction of the Earth causes all of time and space to rewrite itself into yet ANOTHER new timeline. By my count, then, the Heroes Reborn universe concludes by being split into five alternate timelines.

Remember how Amalgam Comics mixed and matched the Marvel and DC universes in all sorts of kooky ways? This World War III crossover does the same thing, but with Marvel and Jim Lee’s Wildstorm characters. Wildstorm, formerly of Image Comics, is of course the imprint that gave us WildC.A.T.S., Gen13, and a bunch of others. The issue begins with a short recap of the Marvel heroes fighting Galactus, along with the Wildstorm heroes fighting a villain named Damocles in their universe. From these two events came this new timeline, where New York is under attack by an alien force. Fortunately, the WildC.A.T.S. jump to help. This WildC.A.T.S. team contains Grifter, Zealot, Void, Warblade, and Emp – and also Giant-Man and Gorgon from the Marvel Universe are also C.A.T.S. now. Their enemies are a combination of Skrulls and the C.A.T.S.’ old enemies the Daemonites. The fighting goes on for several pages with narration telling us that the Defenders and D.V.8 have already fallen to the aliens. Then the S.H.I.E.L.D. Black Knights, including the Inhumans’ Karnak, join the battle.

Cut to two teens, who are watching the battle as it appears on a TV military enlistment commercial, and they consider signing up, saying NYC isn’t what it used to be. We go from there to the Baxter Building, which has been abandoned for months. Four individuals come through a portal – it’s a new version of the Fantastic Four, featuring Reed, Sue, Maul from the WildC.A.T.S. and Burnout from Gen13. They’re returning from the Negative Zone where they’ve been searching for their lost friend Ben. Villains Annihilus and Defile follow them through the Negative Zone portal, though, ready for a fight. Then there’s a few more pages of fighting as this new FF toss the baddies back through the portal and close it.

The FF then get a message from S.H.I.E.L.D., which is now run by Lynch, originally from Gen13. Lynch says that Nick Fury and Ursa Major recently died in a battle against Dr. Doom, so Lynch is taking over for Fury. Reed tells Lynch “I found a way to beat them! I found a way to win!” He tells Lynch to assemble a team, made up of “everyone.” Lynch summons the Avengers, led by Spartan, who in this reality is the new Captain America, along with Thor, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman Freefall, Hellstrike and Brass. The second group is Stormwatch, made up of Vision, Triton, Fairchild, Battalion, Fuji, Hellstrike, Winter, Jenny Sparks, and Jack Hawksmoor. Third is Wetworks, made up of the Wetworks regulars Dane, Claymore, Jester, Mother-One, and Pilgrim, along with Hawkeye. Fourth is the WildC.A.T.S. team with Gorgon from the start of the issue.

Lynch meets with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Kitaen (who was Voodoo in the original WildC.A.T.S.), who tells him that three lone guns, Iron Man, Majestic, and Steve Rogers – the original Captain America before Spartan – are still out there somewhere. Lynch fills in the reader about this whole alternate history, where the Daemonite invasion became known to the public and their teaming up with the Skrulls, and Dr. Doom taking advantage of the alien invasion to make a move and conquer all of Europe. We also learn Reed has developed new cell phone-like devices that help ordinary folks tell whether someone is a Skrull in disguise. This becomes another recruitment ad, after which we meet up with those two teens from earlier. They’re Rick Jones and Grunge, sign up to join the “United Forces.” Then there’s an epilogue in the Negative Zone in which a silhouetted character who appears to be Ben befriends a mysterious stranger, and they start looking for a way out.

The next chapter is in Avengers #13, where Iron Man comes out of hiding to help Wetworks and Hawkeye to destroy a Skrull bioweapons facility in Italy. All the heroes gather aboard the Stormwatch satellite, where Iron Man explains that he’s been in hiding since the alien invasion, developing new tech to fight them. Reed then explains that the FF went into the Negative Zone to find a new energy source to fight the aliens. Johnny died, and Ben was lost. Reed says he glimpsed numerous alternate realities while in the Zone. Reed says their current reality was formed from two realities when both experienced a simultaneous cataclysm, and the only way to stop the alien invasion is separate this universe back into two universes. Further, somehow Dr. Doom is the one who has a “lock” on the universe, keeping it from splitting back into two. What the heroes don’t know is that Doom, the Daemonite leader Helspont, and the Skrull High-Emissary are spying on the heroes’ every move. The “lock” exists half on Earth and half in the Negative Zone, so the heroes plan to split into two groups for two assaults. Before they can, though, the Skrulls attack the Stormwatch satellite, destroying it.

 

In Iron Man #13, the team attacking Negative Zone catch a glimpse of other realities, and then fight Annihilus and Defile again. The heroes win the fight, with some of them dying the process. Dr. Doom announces that he’s taking an army into the Negative Zone. We finally meet Steve Rogers, the former Captain America who is now fighting crime as Nomad. Agent Kitaen finds him and gives him back his shield, hoping he will join the fight. Among the survivors of the Satellite, Iron Man reveals that he was the one who lowered the satellite’s defenses, allowing the Skrulls to destroy it. Iron Man fights the Stormwatch team. At that moment, the Thing escapes from the Negative Zone and fights Iron Man. The Thing’s new friend is Deathblow, who also fights Iron Man. The two of them defeat Iron Man, who turns out to be a Skrull in disguise. The heroes on Earth fear they can’t attack Latveria until the battle in the Negative Zone is won, and there’s talk among them of whether the situation is hopeless, only for Captain America to join them all and announce, “It’s time to take back the world!”

Then we go to Captain America #13, we see that Rick Jones and Grunge are joining the attack on Latveria, and the new combat tech has given them the equivalent of ten years’ combat training in a single day. Majestic – Lynch’s third “lone gun” is also here, having been horribly scarred from fighting the aliens. The battles in the Negative Zone and Latveria occur simultaneously, with a lot fighting and superheroes dying. To fight the Latverian attackers, Helspont releases the Elementrons – four heroes possessed by Daemonites. These are the Human Torch, the Hulk, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and former Gen13 member Rainmaker. There’s even more fighting with more characters dying. Spartan sacrifices his life to destroy the Negative Zone’s half of the lock. In Latveria, Captain America and Deathblow die while getting to the lock, but not before Cap hands a grenade to Rick Jones so that Jones can destroy the lock in Latveria.

With both halves of the lock destroyed, reality falls apart to re-form into two universes. Reed and Dr. Doom have the last words as everything fades away around them. Doom tells Reed that he, Doom, won in this universe, and he says they will both remember this, on some subconscious level, in whatever universe they find themselves in next. Then everything fades to white.

And we’re still not done with Heroes Reborn. One more week… one more week…

Unstable molecule: During the battle, Reed stretches out his leg to super-kick a Skrull in the face. Awesome.

Fade out: When the Elementrons attack, Sue is so desperate to win this fight that she actually stabs Johnny in the chest with a force field, killing him. Hardcore.

Clobberin’ time: Ben and Deathblow become immediate friends, finding commonality in how they are both soldiers. In one of the few character moments in this event, Ben also befriends Maul. Ben says Maul did a great job filling in for him while he was gone.

Flame on: We’re not given the specifics of how Johnny died and/or was possessed by Daemonite. In his absence, we’re told Burnout became a valued member of the team, helping them fight the Mole Man and the Mad Thinker.

Fantastic fifth wheel: I suppose now we’ve got to add Maul and Burnout to the list of alternate FF team members. Burnout will return in the Fantastic Four/Gen13 special in a few years.

Commercial break: Did anyone actually get these glasses and watch Nickelodeon’s 3-D broadcast? Did it actually work?

Trivia time: These comics hit shelves mere months before Jim Lee sold off all the Wildstorm characters to DC Comics. As such, they’ve never been reprinted. Those original issues could be big money if a WildC.A.T.S. movie ever gets made.

Speaking of crossovers, Reed’s two-page vision of other universes is a real headache of copyright issues, with appearances not just from Spider-Man, Ghost Rider and the X-Men, but also Batman, Charlie Brown, Mickey Mouse, Chance from Leave it to Chance, Quantum and Woody, and a blonde girl whom I think is supposed to be Gully from Battle Chasers, but it’s hard to tell.

Fantastic or frightful? I’m at a loss as to how and why this storyline came about. Maybe the Wildstorm guys thought this was their last shot to have their characters crossover with the Marvel Universe. Either way, this story is so rushed and plot-heavy that there’s little time to have any fun with Wildstorm and Marvel characters interacting. It’s like reading chapter 12 of a 12-part story. Outside of the novelty of seeing tons of superheroes in each panel, there’s not much else to say about these.

Next: Afterbirth.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – The Invisible Woman 1940

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. The Invisible Woman, released the same year as The Invisible Man Returns, leaves the horror genre behind and goes full-on slapstick comedy.

Here’s what happens: In need of a new get-rich-quick scheme, wealthy playboy Dick Russell wants to use an invisibility machine created by his friend Professor Gibbs. They recruit department store model Kitty to be their test subject, only for Kitty to use her newfound invisibility to seek revenge on her jerk boss. Meanwhile, a gangster has learned of the device, and plots to steal it.

Monster! There’s a real smash-the-patriarchy vibe to a lot of the humor, which was nice. The Invisible Woman uses her invisibility to get back at the men who wronged her and then make her life her own.

Also a monster! The villain is Blackie, a Mexican criminal who wants to use the invisibility power to sneak his way back to Mexico. He and his henchmen are bumbling villains, though, complete with future stooge Shemp Howard among them.

Our hero: Also contemporary, the laid-back wisecracking millionaire hero will certainly remind today’s viewers of Tony Stark, facial hair and all. Some of his best scenes are him trying to flirt with the Invisible Woman not knowing what she looks like, which puts him out of his comfort zone.

Hapless humans: Professor Gibbs acts as sidekick throughout the movie, doing the “befuddled inventor” trope. And yes, that is Margaret Hamilton, a.k.a. the Witch from The Wizard of Oz, as the snarky housekeeper.

Thrills: The only time the movie comes close to its horror roots is when the Invisible Woman confronts her boss, Mr. Growley. She sneaks up on him all ghostlike, chanting “Growley, Growley, Growley” for an eerie effect.

Laughs: This is big, broad comedy, with wisecracks, pratfalls, and general overall clownishness. The movie also has a lot of cheeky fun with the fact that the Invisible Woman must remove her clothes to be truly unseen. All the men are nervous and befuddled by this, the Invisible Woman doesn’t care and goes ahead and runs around in the buff all she wants.

What’s all this, then? While The Invisible Woman is official Universal Monsters canon, this one has no mention of Griffith’s formula from the first movie, which gets a shout-out in the other sequels. I suppose we can assume that the formula is in use as part of Gibbs’ machine, but that’s not in the text.

Thoughts upon this viewing: We’re a long, long way from James Whale here, but this movie has its charms nonetheless. The comedy is goofy and the effects are a step down in quality, but the movie is so quaint I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

Next: Bark at the moon.

****

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Fantastic Friday: It’s your kids Marty

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The Heroes Reborn event ends (except it doesn’t) with the Heroes Reunited crossover in the volume 2 #12 issues of Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America.

After last week’s blog about vol. 2 issue #12, the first part of the Heroes Reunited crossover, I planned on writing just one paragraph summarizing the remaining three parts, but upon rereading them, they’re so crazy and there’s so much going on, that they deserve their own post this week. In the first part, Galactus and his heralds arrived on Earth. The four heralds – Silver Surfer, Terrax, Plasma, and Air-Walker – set up four capacitor devices on four locations around the globe. The FF, the Avengers, and the Inhumans worked together to stop the capacitors, while Dr. Doom snuck around with a plot to steal Galactus’ power cosmic for himself. Despite all the fighting and action, the heroes were too late, and the Earth was devoured.

Here’s the thing, though. Avengers #12 was published after Fantastic Four #12, but takes place before Fantastic Four #12. This means Dr. Doom can time travel from FF #12 backwards into Avengers #12. This is the type of crazy storytelling structure you can only get from comics. The issue begins with a wrap-up of the “two Thors” storyline in which the original Thor performs an explosive Viking funeral for the now-dead second Thor. Then, aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier, the Avengers and Nick Fury get word of Galactus’ approach. Then Dr. Doom time-travels into the room, saying he’s already seen the Earth destroyed in a previous timeline, and only he survived. He warns everyone to stop the heralds before they set up the capacitors. Once he’s alone, Doom insists that heroes have to defeat the heralds, and only then can he steal Galactus’ power.

It’s time for another globe-hopping superhero battle. The FF in Moscow, the Hulk at the South Pole, the Avengers in LA and Hong Kong. The FF fight the Silver Surfer, with the Surfer again tempted to betray Galactus but still not quite doing so. Reed uses his nullifier tech to boost his teammates’ powers, and they almost stop the Surfer, but it’s too late. S.H.I.E.L.D. bombs all of Moscow (!) to destroy the capacitor, killing the FF along with it (!!). The Heli-carrier then kamikazes onto the second capacitor to stop it, and the Hulk and Vision stop Firelord at the third capacitor, with the Hulk severely injured in the process. Thor, Captain America and Hawkeye team up to fight Terrax. They destroy the fourth capacitor, only for Hawkeye to be killed by Terrax. Galactus arrives in New York, deciding he didn’t even need those capacitors and he uses an “elemental converter” to start devouring the Earth. The Silver Surfer finally chooses to join the heroes, and the remaining Avengers attack the converter. Dr. Doom activates his time machine and disappears again. What happens next is confusing the whole universe getting all weird, but basically both the Earth and the sun are devoured, leaving behind only Thor’s hammer, all alone in space – another Viking funeral.

That’s twice in two issues that the Earth is destroyed, so let’s go for a third in Iron Man #12. This issue takes us back in time again, to just before Galactus’ arrival on Earth, but clearly we’re in a different timeline, because we start with the FF hanging out with Tony Stark and the gang, with the “gang” being a group of heroes who’ve been hit with gamma rays – the Hulk, Doc Sampson, and our very own She-Hulk. After some business of the heroes getting to know each other, the heralds arrive on Earth. The FF fly off to meet the heralds, while Tony is confronted by Dr. Doom, just having time-traveled here from Earth’s destruction in Avengers #12. Tony doesn’t trust Doom, but then Doom drops quite the bombshell. Dr. Doom remembers Onslaught, and he knows he came from the original Marvel Universe. Doom blames Tony for taking him into the portal at the end of the Onslaught crossover, and says Tony owes him for this.

Tony and Dr. Doom board the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier, where they meet up with Nick Fury and the Avengers. Fury reports that heralds have killed the Fantastic Four, complete with a depiction of the heralds standing over the dead FF. From there, the remaining heroes once again split up into four teams to fight the four heralds and destroy the four capacitors. They seem to be winning, while Doom, Tony, Bruce Banner and Ant-Man work together rebuilding Reed’s nullifier to stop Galactus. The big G arrives in New York, proclaiming, “I hunger!” Iron Man and the Hulk fire the nullifier at Galactus, but it fails. As the Earth is devoured again, Doom quickly downloads a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. documents from the Heli-carrier and time-travels out of there.

Now we go Captain America #12, set 24 hours earlier, and the score is three points for Galactus and none for Earth. This one begins with Rikki Barnes, a.k.a. the new Bucky, confronting Dr. Doom as he time-travels right in front of her. He says that according the S.H.I.E.L.D. files, Rikki is a “chronal anomaly.” Captain America steps in to save Rikki, and Doom explains that the Earth is in danger and they must act now. In this version of events, the FF are in New York, fighting all four of the heralds at once. The FF are about to die, but Doom and the Avengers jump in to save them. Cap takes the leadership role, keeping Doom and Reed from fighting.

Aboard the Heli-carrier again, Doom tells the other heroes everything, and that his time machine is damaged, so this is Earth’s last chance. Bruce Banner comes up with a plan, to defeat Galactus by giving him exactly what he wants. As the Avengers and the FF mingle, Rikki wanders off by herself, wondering if being a “chronal anomaly” means she was never meant to exist. The Silver Surfer flies down from space and says Galactus cannot be stopped, and he wants Rikki to warn the others. The Surfer flies off with Rikki hanging off of his board, and Cap pursues on his cool flying motorcycle. They fly to Galactus, who blasts Rikki off the surfboard. Cap takes the severely-wounded Rikki back to the other heroes, pleading for them to help her.

The heroes have a vote on whether to use Reed’s nullifier with Bruce’s plan, and the Silver Surfer shows up again, saying he now stands with humanity against Galactus. The plan is to combine all the heroes’ powers through the nullifier, now wielded by the Surfer to overload Galactus’ energy converter. The Silver Surfer attacks Galactus, and Galactus, and the plan works. Galactus absorbs too much power cosmic, and both he and the Silver Surfer disappear from existence.

With the battle won and the Earth saved, Reed offers his hand in friendship to Doom, but Doom wanders off, saying wherever he goes, he goes alone. Captain America and Nick Fury have a heart-to-heart, about how S.H.I.E.L.D. told Cap what he needed to hear so that he’d pick up his shield again. He adds that Rikki is going to be just fine. Turn the page, and there’s the Watcher speaking directly to the reader, saying these heroes do not know that this threat was one they’ve faced before and will again. He concludes by saying, this has been only one of the many tales of the Heroes Reborn.

You’d think that would be the end, but Heroes Reborn has one more crossover in it before it ends, and if you think these issues were crazy, it’s going to get even crazier… next week.

Unstable molecule: There’s a lot of talk about how Reed, Doom, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Hank Pym knew each other in college, calling themselves the “Knights of the Atomic Roundtable.” I wonder if somebody at Marvel was trying to pitch that as the title of a series.

Fade out: In Moscow, Sue tries to protect her teammates from the S.H.I.E.L.D. missiles, but the missiles succeed in blowing them all the kingdom come. What did S.H.I.E.L.D. put in those things?

Clobberin’ time: Ben says, “Eat my shorts!” at one point, revealing that The Simpsons exists in the Heroes Reborn universe.

Flame on: Johnny doesn’t fare well in these issues, getting defeated in battle by each of the heralds in each timeline.

Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk debuted in Heroes Reborn: Iron Man alongside Hulk and Doc Sampson as the somewhat incongruously-named Hulkbusters. She-Hulk and Ben get all flirtatious with each other, when previously they’d only been friends.

Commercial break: Can we not?

Trivia time: What’s the deal with Rikki Barnes? In Heroes Reborn, she’s the granddaughter of the original WWII Bucky and Agent Peggy Carter. After all the superheroes return to the Marvel Universe in Heroes Return, Rikki stays behind in the Heroes Reborn Universe. She forms the Young Allies to help keep the HR universe from falling into total chaos. After Onslaught Reborn, Rikki finally joined the Marvel Universe proper, calling herself Nomad, and adventuring alongside the Exiles and Arana the Spider. Her surviving outside of the Heroes Reborn Universe is what makes her a chronal anomaly.

Fantastic or frightful? It’s a lot having the reader follow Dr. Doom as he travels back in time each issue, and the premise gives the writers and artist leeway to kill of major characters and blow up cities all they want. But it’s all still too much plot in too few pages, and you just feel exhausted by the time it’s over.

Next: Heroes not zeroes.

****

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

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Universal Monsters rewatch – The Mummy’s Hand 1940

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box set, at least. Now it’s 1940’s The Mummy’s Hand. Boris Karloff’s Imhotep is out, but the good news is that fan-favorite mummy Kharis is here, to take us through the rest of the series.

Here’s what happens: In ancient Egypt, Kharis was buried alive after stealing magical Tana leaves in hopes of reviving his dead love Nananka. Centuries later, an archeologist and his team find their way to Kharis’ tomb, only for him to rise and keep after those darned Tana leaves.

Monster! Most first-time viewers of the Karloff Mummy are surprised to see him in the bandaged look in only one scene. Kharis, on the other hand, is a full-on tattered-bandages mummy in all his shambling glory.

Also a monster! Most of the tension in the film comes from Professor Andoheb, who conspires to keep the adventurers away from the tomb. Actor George Zucco has something of a notorious history in Hollywood, but in this movie he’s a great menacing figure.

Our hero: Archeologist Steve Banning is a classic pulp hero, square-jawed and broad-shouldered, and as tough as he is smart. I actually liked him as a proto-Indiana Jones, and wouldn’t have minded seeing his further adventures.

Hapless humans: This was the year of Casablanca, and there’s a little bit of Casablanca in The Mummy’s Hand. Egypt is portrayed as an international crossroads, equal parts intrigue and romance. This allows the filmmakers to round out the cast with all sorts of kooky characters. The expedition is funded by a stage magician (!), whose gun-toting daughter becomes Bannon’s love interest. Two other favorites are the creepy beggar who becomes a conspirator, and the incongruous Cockney bartender.

Thrills: Kharis might be a mindless brute, but he strangles his way through his enemies pretty good. He even does the “sympathetic monster” thing during the final confrontation, when he’s undone by his desire for those darned Tana leaves.

Laughs: Comic relief – and lots of it – is supplied by Banning’s sidekick, Babe Jensen, who spends the movie cracking wise and pining over his girlfriend back home, named “Poopsie.” Get used to hearing the word “Poopsie” a lot in this bloodcurdling horror film. To be fair, though, Babe is the one who ends up saving the day at the end.

Thoughts upon this viewing: This is a silly movie, but I’m okay with its silliness. I just like that it’s a monster movie where the human characters are just as interesting and fun – if not more so – than the monster.

Next: Fade out!

****

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Fantastic Friday: Plot reborn

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’ve all heard about Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return, but it turns out there’s a middle part of the trilogy, Heroes Reunited. That’s the crossover that puts a merciful end to Heroes Reborn, starting with this, volume 2 issue #12.

We begin in the Lateverian Embassy, where Dr. Doom arrives. His security robots welcome him and report on the FF’s fight against Terrax. Another robot tells Doom his “siphon suit” is ready. An aide reports to Doom that his chronal displacement device, which he got from a future version of himself a few issues back, has arrived and is being assembled.

Cut to Central Park, where the FF are facing off against three of Galactus’ heralds. There’s Terrax, now recovered from his fight against them last issue. He’s flanked by Firelord and new character Plasma. Ben wants to clobber, but Reed stops him and tries to negotiate. He urges the heralds not to let Galactus devour the Earth. Terrax refuses, and he attacks. The heralds put up a good fight, with Terrax shattering Sue’s force fields with his axe and Plasma extinguishing Johnny’s flame with her… cosmic water?!?

Sue then puts herself between Terrax and some civilians, risking her life for them. Terrax is about to slice n’ dice her with his axe, when the Silver Surfer flies in and saves her. Although he too is a herald, the Surfer has switched sides and says he won’t let the others harm his new friends. The Surfer says the FF showed kindness to him, and he survived the fight in Dr. Doom’s castle thanks to them. Before the conflict can continue, the heralds receive a summons from Galactus, and all four of them fly off.

Before the FF can catch their breaths, they’re next approached by two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Dum Dum Dugan and The Countess. They demand the FF come with them right away. They’re then taken on board the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier, where they’re met by Iron Man, Captain America and Nick Fury. Fury says a massive energy signature is headed for Earth and the four heralds are currently flying out to meet it. S.H.I.E.L.D. sends some probes toward the energy, only for them to be destroyed. Then Galactus’ ship appears, and the heroes wonder if it represents a friend or foe.

Aboard the ship, Galactus says it’s time for him devour the Earth, which he calls “Terra Prime.” The Silver Surfer hesitantly suggests that Earth be spared, but Galactus insists that his hunger be sated. In the Heli-carrier, Black Panther and Thor join the party, as Reed explains that everything the FF has encountered, such as the Mole Man’s caves, the Silver Surfer in Latveria, the Skrull who infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Inhumans coming out of hiding, are all tied into Galactus’ oncoming arrival. Galactus’ ship opens up to reveal an alien device that splits up into multiple components, with multiple trajectories on Earth. Reed deduces that the devices are heading toward Attilan, Monster Island, and New York.

The heroes decide to split up, with Captain America and Iron Man leading the Avengers on Monster Island, while Thor and Black Panther will join the FF in NYC. (Attilan goes unmentioned during this part. Are we to assume that the heroes are trusting the Inhumans to handle it?) Reed complicates things further when he says he must stay behind on the Heli-carrier to monitor both teams. Before Sue leaves for New York, Reed asks her to marry him… and she says yes!

Then the story cuts to Attilan, a cut that’s so abrupt I thought maybe my comic was missing a few pages. Firelord is there attacking the Inhumans, and Johnny flies down from the sky to rescue Crystal. I turn the page and OOPS! The pages are out of order! Now Firelord arrives in Attilan with one of the three alien devices. The Inhumans believe Firelord is one of their ancient gods, but Johnny shows up to insist that he’s bad news. The device starts trashing the mountain, and the Inhumans fight Firelord. Black Bolt destroys the device with his powerful voice, while Johnny tells Crystal he’ll stay with her until the end, no matter what happens.

Then we go to Monster Island where the Avengers confront Plasma, only for the Mole Man to show up and declare them all as trespassers on his island. Also, look in the background and you can see Namor is here as well. Everybody fights, with Hawkeye defeating the Mole Man and Thor (wasn’t he part of the New York group?) zapping Plasma with lightning. The alien device is damaged and is about to implode. Namor carries the device down into the depths of the ocean so that the others are not harmed in the implosion.

Thor uses his hammer to teleport the Avengers to New York (he can do that?) where Galactus has arrived in person. The S.H.I.E.L.D. weapons can’t penetrate a force field around Galactus, and Terrax is going nuts fighting the FF. The Heli-carrier fires its plasma cannons at Galactus, only for Galactus to blow a hole in the Heli-carrier. Nick Fury orders everyone to evacuate the Heli-carrier before Reed can get a chance to fully test a “nullifer” he is hastily constructing. Fury forces Reed into an escape pod and sends him flying. Before the Heli-carrier goes down, Fury gets a message that another bogie is headed to Earth from space.

The Heli-carrier crashes into Galactus’ ship, destroying them both – and apparently killing both Nick Fury and the Countess. Galactus isn’t fazed, and instead telekinetically dismantles a bunch of New York skyscrapers and rearranges them into a new ship, and a new world-destroying capacitor. Reed reunites with the other heroes and catches them up to speed on how and why Galactus devours entire planets. Ben is ready for action, wanting to use Reed’s nullifier. The conference is cut short when Terrax attacks again, and he and Ben fight. Black Panther spots the Silver Surfer setting up the capacitor.

The nullifier works on Terrax, rendering him powerless and therefore vulnerable to Ben’s fists. When Ben tries the same trick on Galactus, though, Galactus is too strong, and the feedback throws the heroes for a loop. The nullifier nullifies the cosmic rays inside Ben, turning back into a human. Terrax comes to and wants to kill Ben, but Reed, Black Panther, and Thor step in to help him. Terrax then reveals that a fifth herald, Air-Walker, has secretly set up a fourth capacitor on Earth’s south pole.

Silver Surfer decides he’s had enough, and he attacks Terrax again, this time fully siding with the heroes. Before we readers can even process this, Dr. Doom shows up in his new armor to siphon the Power Cosmic from the Surfer. It works, and the now-cosmically powered Doom turns his attention to Galactus. It doesn’t last, as Galactus swats Doom aside like a bug. Reed, however, says Doom’s new armor could nonetheless be the key to defeating Galactus. Reed talks to immobilized Dr. Doom, saying they must combine the nullifier and the siphon suit. Dr. Doom refuses, saying he’ll never share glory with Reed.

They’re too late, however. Galactus and Air-Walker activate the two capacitors. Reed sees Sue vaporize right before his eyes, and then Reed vanishes in front of Doom. Doom says the world is truly coming to an end, so he activates his chrono-displacement device. Then the last panel of the comic goes the distance and shows the Earth being completely destroyed.

To be continued?

Unstable molecule: Reed’s final words, declaring to Dr. Doom “May God have mercy on your eternal soul,” doesn’t seem very Reed-like, as he’s never been shown to be particularly religious. Much later, though, we will get a Heaven/Hell/afterlife story featuring Reed and Doom.

Fade out: Sue’s pregnancy is not mentioned in this issue, but it coming up last issue and Reed’s proposal in this issue are clearly tied together. Remember that Heroes Reborn is all taking place in a world created by Franklin’s reality-bending powers, could this be Franklin taking steps toward merging the Heroes Reborn universe with the Marvel Universe?

Clobberin’ time: In the original Galactus storyline, it was Johnny who went to space to recover the Ultimate Nullifier. In this version, Reed builds the nullifier as a backpack for Ben to wear with devices attached to his fists. Ben can nullify via punching!

Flame on: Johnny’s fight against Firelord only lasts three panels, and Firelord defeats Johnny easily. Maybe Johnny should have just beaten Firelord senseless like Spider-Man did in that one infamous Spidey story.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal and Johnny are reunited, and Crystal is able to embrace Johnny while he’s flamed on. I guess that’s her elemental abilities at work.

Medusa gets defeated by Firelord pretty quickly, and not by his fire powers but by the blinding light he outputs.

Commercial break: Is this Screech’s comic book debut? And why is he dressed like Triplicate Girl from Legion of Super Heroes?

Trivia time: Who is this Countess character? That would be Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. In the regular Marvel Universe, she’s been a regular supporting character in numerous Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.-related comics. Recently, she was revealed to be working deep, deep undercover as a villain this whole time, and she became the new Madame Hydra. We’ll never know if she was also undercover in the Heroes Reborn universe, as the Marvel Wiki states that she died aboard the Heli-carrier in this issue.

Fantastic or frightful? An exhausting issue with tons of characters, action, and plot. It’s perhaps a little too overstuffed, though, making it hard to keep track of which characters are where and what is happening. On the other hand, the creators know Heroes Reborn is ending, so that gives them freedom to go big and do thing, like, you know, destroy the Earth.

Next: They’re heroes, not zeroes.

****

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