Fantastic Friday: Big in Japan

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan was a four-issue miniseries attempting to bring some classic kaiju action to the Marvel Universe. Zeb Wells is writing, but clearly artist Seth Fisher is the one behind the steering wheel, because this artwork is something.

The FF visit Tokyo, enjoying their celebrity status at the ribbon cutting for the Tokyo Giant Monster Museum and Expo Center. Also present is Otetsukun, a skyscraper-sized robot that has protected Japan from giant monster attacks for decades. But there haven’t been any monster attacks in a generation, so Otetsukun serves as a sort of monument these days. The FF tour the museum, where curator Dr. Yamane tells them about scientific advances Japan has made thanks to studying the remains of the giant monsters. Just as Reed questions the ethics of this, billionaire Tony Stark arrives, hoping for an economic partnership with the museum.

Then some cow-like monsters escape their pens (I guess this museum is also a zoo for monsters) and more monsters escape and run loose. The FF fight the monsters, while Tony runs off to find his “bodyguard.” Monsters of all shapes and sizes run through the city. Iron Man flies in to help the FF fight them. Johnny says he can sense a mysterious hum, and then more kaiju rise from the ocean to attack the city. (This is when the comic uses the word “kaiju” for the first time.)

Issue #2 specifies that four of the monsters from ocean, Eerok, Giganto, Droom, and Grogg, are throwbacks from classic 1950s Marvel Comics. Sue fights Eerok, a Kong-like gorilla, while Iron Man battles Droom, a big dinosaur. Droom has a vision of Iron Man turning into an Ultraman or Jet Jaguar type of giant robot, and he befriends Iron Man.

Reed and Yamane return to the museum, where Yamane describes monoliths discovered under the polar ice caps which suggest there may be an intelligence behind the kaiju’s actions. Out in the city, Sue continues to fight Eerok while telling the locals to evacuate. Ben shows up with Otetsukun, controlling the robot by yanking wires inside its chest. Eerok and Giganto manage to overpower Otetsukun. Then Johnny reveals he is hiding inside Otetsukun’s mouth, making it look like the robot is breathing fire.

After removing a trachea from one of the monster museum exhibits, Reed uses it as a horn. This somehow allows him to communicate with Grogg, the dragon. Grogg says the kaiju once ruled the world, but they were driven underground first by the atom bomb, and then by the rise of superheroes. He refers to the heroes as “vanquishers.” Grogg says the kaiju have returned not to attack, but because they are fleeing something else. Reed convinces Grogg to turn away. Grogg agrees, saying that humankind will now face a “walking apocalypse” in the kaiju’s place.

In issue #3, The FF, Iron Man, and Yamane travel to the North Pole, searching for this threat the kaiju warned them about. They discover the remains of a paleontological expedition that vanished forty years earlier. They find what appears to be a giant structure under the ice. They enter it, and here’s where the artwork gets so wild and off-the-wall that I’m not sure what’s happening exactly.

The heroes explore rooms made of massive eyes, fingers, and teeth. They are confronted by “living shadows” called Kaa, who say they are waiting for a key. Reed says reality is warping, while the Kaa break the fourth wall and talk about turning pages. The Kaa are preparing something called “the tearing.” Dr. Yamane disrobes, revealing his body covered with eyeball tattoos (or maybe they are eyeballs). He says the paleontologists were secretly a cult who worshipped kaiju as gods. He is the son of one of them, and he’s here to complete the ritual. He does some weird dance, and time and space tear apart. This is depicted by having one of the shadows appear to tear through the comic page itself. The caption tells us this is a “5-D Mega-Gourb!” Sure, why not?

Then there’s several pages of what I can only describe as random craziness:

The heroes escape the tear, back out onto the North Pole. They’re pursued by a yellow-skinned cosmic being. The Marvel Wiki identifies this creature as the Apocalypse Beast. The creature crushes Yamane under its foot, with him celebrating that he’s fulfilled his purpose. The heroes fly onto the Beast’s toe and examine its pores (that’s how big it is), and Reed deduces that it has sealed its skin because it comes from a different atmosphere from Earth’s. (Never mind that it has two faces with open mouths.) The inside of the Beast’s body is toxic, so Sue uses her force fields to create an armored suit of compressed air around herself (!), and she and Iron Man enter the creature’s pore in hopes of stopping it from the inside. Then the Mole Man shows up, announcing that the creature is on its way to Monster Island.

In issue #4, we see that the Apocalypse Beast is indeed going to Monster Island, with Reed reminding everyone that the Mole Man has a history with that island and all the giant creatures who dwell there. A Moloid meets them there, with Mole Man describing them as nameless and mindless, but then we discover that they’ve formed a doomsday cult underground. Sue and Iron Man fight their way through the Beast’s body, Fantastic Voyage-style, depicted in more trippy weirdness. Sue has a vision of the Beast in space, and she concludes that something was removed from it, and the creature wants it back. Reed and the Mole Man find ancient machinery deep under the island that has been dormant until recently, when the Moloids activated it again.

Reed then deduces that Monster Island is not merely a giant machine in disguise, but a giant syringe (!). Johnny ignites the dormant volcano under the machine, Reed mans the machine’s controls, and Ben protects them from an attack by some other random monster down there. The volcano/syringe pokes the Apocalypse Beast in the eye, and all the Moloids fly upward into it. The creature turns inside out (!) and flies back into space. The Mole Man breaks down crying, remembering that at least one Moloid had a name… Noah.

Reed concludes that the Moloids were a virus all along, bio-engineered for the purpose of driving off the Apocalypse Beast. Reed and Sue are reunited, as she and Iron Man made it out okay. Cut to the year 12,425 A.D., where two Moloids discuss how their once-great civilization is doomed, and their world’s resources are all but spent. They place their infant child into a pod and launch the baby into space, in hopes that it will find a new home on a new world. No, the baby isn’t named Kal or Clark. His name is Noah.

Unstable molecule: Upon learning that all the Moloids were really a virus all along, Reed says, “It’s just as I thought,” to which Ben replies, “You’re telling me you expected that?”

Fade out: We’ve seen Sue surround herself with a force field armor before, but this time it’s different. It looks like an Iron Man suit, and the “condensed air” part of it gives the armor a blue glow, rather than have it be purely invisible.

Clobberin’ time: When Ben is able to control the giant robot Otetsukun, that could be a reference to his great piloting skills, or just letting the reader know he’s gained some engineering skills after working with Reed in the lab for so many years.

Flame on: Johnny is incredibly powerful in this one, using his flame to ignite a long-dormant volcano. It recalls the “Messiah” storyline from the John Byrne years, when a villain trapped Johnny deep underground to use his powers in a similar way.

Trivia time: Is this story canon, or isn’t it? The origin of the Moloids in this contradicts the one in the Marvel Wiki, where the Moloids were genetically engineered by the Deviants back in ancient times. But then, the Wiki adds an “Oh, by the way” and states the Deviants added the power to drive off this story’s creature as a bonus. But then, the Wiki further says maybe it was the Deviants or maybe it some other, unknown intelligence.

Who are these other monsters with ties to Marvel’s past? Grogg first appeared in Strange Tales #83, where he woke from an ancient slumber beneath a mountain in Russia, following Russian atomic bomb tests. Droom first appeared in Tales to Astonish #9, where he was an ordinary lizard accidentally given an experimental growth serum. Fantastic Four fans recognize Giganto as Sub-Mariner’s monster of choice way back in issue #4. He’s since gone on to be one Marvel’s go-to sea beasts. Finally, there’s Eerok the giant ape. This miniseries is his first and only appearance.

It’s also the first and only appearance for antiquated giant robot Otetsukun. That’s too bad, because it’s a fun design and interesting backstory.

Fantastic or frightful? If you’re going to read this one, it’s for the over-the-top psychedelic yet cartoony artwork. It’s like nothing else we’ve seen from Marvel. The art is so outrageous, though, it makes following the story a challenge. Every other page, you have to stop and ask “Wait, now what’s happening?”

Next: Back on main.

* * * *

Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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