Fantastic Friday: Manifesto destiny

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. First there was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Then there was John Byrne. And now we’re at the third great era (era) of Fantastic Four with Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. Before we get into the actual comics, this week’s post takes a look at just what these two brought to the table.  

Waid gained notice for his work on the fanzine Amazing Heroes, which led to an editorial job at DC Comics, but he left editorial after a short while to write full-time. His work on The Flash earned him huge acclaim during the early ‘90s comics boom, then he went to Marvel for an also acclaimed run on Captain America, and then he and Alex Ross collaborated on the blockbuster miniseries Kingdom Come for DC. This is only skimming the surface, as Waid’s work also included Legion of Superheroes, JLA, Superman: Birthright, Brave and the Bold, Amazing Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Indestructible Hulk, and indie comics like Irredeemable, Empire, and Ruse. Seriously, his Wikipedia bibliography is a mile long. Basically, if you’ve ever read superhero comics, you’ve likely read Mark Waid. In interviews, Waid has said he likes working on legacy series because all the world-building has been done, so he can come in and focus more on the characters.

Mark Waid

Running parallel to Waid’s story, we have artist Mike Wieringo. After studying fashion design in college, Wieringo got his first job at DC Comics, where he first crossed paths with Waid on The Flash. Together, they co-created fan-favorite character Impulse. He didn’t become a big name in comics, though, until Tellos an epic fantasy series of his own creation, published through Image. It was in Tellos that Wieringo established his signature style, so fans could instantly spot Wieringo art whenever they saw it. In interviews, Wieringo stated that he preferred bright and colorful comics to the dark n’ gritty ones, and that he preferred to “keep things fun.” In 2007, Wieringo tragically died of an aortic dissection. He was 44.

Mike Wieringo self-portrait

When Waid was in talks with Marvel about taking over Fantastic Four, he wrote a document he called his “Fantastic Four manifesto,” about how to approach the FF. This was published in the hardcover reprint of vol. 1 of Waid and Wieringo’s Fantastic Four. Waid’s thoughts on the characters deserve a close look.

Waid begins by talking about the FF’s huge popularity during the 1960s, attributing it to how the series promised readers something new and exciting every month. In the years that followed, Waid argues that writers have been to beholden to honoring (and repeating) those 60s comics, and that such reverence has made the characters stale and predictable. He then argues that the reason the characters have endured over the decades is that they have integrity. He states several times in the manifesto that there is nothing wrong with these characters, and that the series merely needs to reestablish that integrity, rather than go through the motions with referencing the 60s originals.

Waid begins with Sue when he breaks down each character. He says that Sue has a tough, edgy side to her personality, but that part of her was often pushed to the side, because she more or less had to raise her little brother. He says her love of Reed is partly because he’s the swashbuckling scientist-adventurer she always wanted to be. He describes Sue as a “hot soccer mom” and that some part of her should always be unknowable.

As for Reed, Waid emphases making him cool again, and not just the brain who explains science stuff to other Marvel heroes. He says to stop thinking of Reed as the Professor from Gilligan’s Island, but instead think of him as pulp hero Doc Savage. He also throws in a reference to Buckaroo Banzai for all the REAL nerds among us. Emphasizing Reed as an adventurer, Waid says Reed’s inventions are not to fill a need, but are mere byproducts of his adventuring.

But, Waid also states in the manifesto that things like the FF’s costumes, skyscraper home, and their celebrity fame all come from Reed overcompensating. He’s the one who’s done all this for his team because he knows the accident that gave their powers was his fault.

Waid then addresses Johnny, describing his impulsive nature, but also his smarts. Johnny can work on cars and figure out engines, and Waid says he “understands systems.” Waid says the way to get character development from Johnny is to give him some responsibilities, something he’ll do pretty quick in the comic. Waid then only writes one paragraph about Ben, saying Ben doesn’t need a lot of work, except maybe to make him a little less predictable. For Franklin, Waid only writes “Next!”  

Then there’s a long section about Dr. Doom. He calls Doom the most insecure man in the Marvel Universe, and that all of Doom’s pompous regal nature only comes from him believing that’s how the regal are supposed to act. Waid writes, “Despite his rep, Doom doesn’t really, genuinely, at heart believe he is the rightful ruler of humanity; it’s the opposite. He believes that by becoming ruler, he will be instantly validated, that it will prove he is the best and smartest man alive, and all his doubts and insecurities will vanish.”

Finally, Waid writes about restructuring comics in the style of prestige television, citing The West Wing in particular. He says that individual episodes might have a beginning, middle, and end, but the subplots continue from episode to episode. This, Waid argues, gives the series a sense of forward momentum, something he says can and should be applied to Fantastic Four.

I’m skipping a lot during this summary, as it’s packed with interesting thoughts and comments about Fantastic Four. I don’t know if it’s ever been reprinted outside of the hardcovers, but hopefully Marvel will dig it up sometime and put it online, because I think it’s essential reading for FF fans, not to mention any filmmakers who might be developing a FF movie. (Cough! COUGH!) And it’s something I plan to refer back to in future blog posts. So come back next week and let’s get our Waid and Wieringo freak on.

Next: A week in the life.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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DuckTales rewatch – Duck to the Future

Rewatching DuckTales! We’re time-traveling again in episode 52, “Duck to the Future.”

Here’s what happens: Scrooge gives his nephews business advice on running their lemonade stand, he ponders what will become of his business empire if they inherit it. Magica DeSpell is in town, and she poses as a fortune teller as a plot to send him into the distant future. With him gone, Magica hopes to steal Scrooge’s lucky dime.

Scrooge ends up in a Jetsons-style high tech shiny future, where everything is run by Magica-McDuck Enterprises. He sneaks into the business office to find that Huey, Dewey and Louie have become 80s-era jerk executives. They reveal that Scrooge disappeared in the past the same day Magica stole the lucky dime and somehow Scrooge’s fortune with it. Scrooge goes to an elderly Gyro Gearloose in hopes of using Gyro’s time tub to get back home. After a chase through the city, the robot police arrest Scrooge.

In jail, Scrooge is visited by adult Webby and Doofus, who are married (!). They bail him out of jail and then it’s off to Magica’s castle, where Magica reveals she’s been waiting for Scrooge to reemerge in her present. She locks up Scrooge, Webby, and Doofus in her dungeon. Doogus sends a message to old man Launchpad for a rescue. Then it’s a lot running around and chases in and around the castle in an attempt to steal Magica’s time-traveling hourglass and get back to the past. Magica reveals to the nephews that she’s why Scrooge disappeared so long ago, and they turn on her, helping Scrooge. Then there’s another chase through various timelines, as Scrooge and Magica travel to Ancient Rome, medieval times, and the Old West. To keep them from being lost in time, Magica agrees to hand over the time so Scrooge can get them both home.

Humbug: Is Scrooge a rich jerk? He begins this episode by encouraging the nephews to use smarter business practices, and ends it with him telling them not to cheat and overcharge their customers. The moral is… unclear.

Junior Woodchucks: This is the first we’ve heard of Scrooge planning to leave his fortune to the three nephews once he dies. Are we to assume this is a recent development, based on the adventures they’ve shared since they came to live with him?

Fasten your seatbelts: Launchpad is a befuddled teacher in the future, and a chance to be a hero again gets him out of his doldrums.

Maid and maiden: Scrooge compares grown-up Webby to Cinderella, a possible throwback to previous episode “Scroogerello” when they bonded over Cinderella’s story.

Great gadgeteer: Continuity! Gyro’s time tub from “Sir Gyro De Gearloose” makes a return, and this time it can fly around as well as travel through time.

Do the doo: At the kids’ lemonade stand, Doofus makes the lemonade by crushing lemons in a big tub, as if crushing grapes for wine. Disgusting.

Foul fowls: We’ll just have to suspend our disbelief that Scrooge is so easily fooled by Magica’s fortune teller disguise, or the fact that Scrooge would go to a fortune teller at all.

Down in Duckburg: The opening shot of the episode shows Scrooge’s mansion and the money bin being on opposite sides of town, and not next to each other as seen in previous episodes. Maybe it’s just the angle of the shot.

Reference row: The title and the time travel theme would seem to evoke Back to the Future, but this episode is really a stealth remake of The Wizard of Oz, with several shots and character designs taken straight from the classic film.

Thoughts upon this viewing: Not much of a story to this one, just an excuse for a lot of running around and Wizard of Oz jokes. I’m left with the thought that so much more could have been done with this idea.

Next: The original Jungle Cruise.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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Fantastic Friday: Grant application

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In the miniseries Fantastic Four 1234, Marvel gave writer Grant Morrison and artist Jae Lee a blank slate to do whatever they wanted with the FF, and it shows. This was part of the Marvel Knights imprint, one of several attempts by Marvel to compete with DC’s Vertigo line of weird, dark, and edgy comics.

The first issue begins as NYC is facing an unusually humid heat wave, believed to be caused by Atlantis. Ben is on the outs with police after causing property damage while stopping some crooks, and Reed has locked himself in his lab with a special project and a do-not-disturb order. Ben is in self-pitying mode. He wants someone or something to fight, but no one’s out there.

Oddly, there is a damaged and partially-reconstructed Doombot outside Reed’s lab. When Ben tries and fails to get Reed to open the lab door, Dr. Doom speaks through the Doombot to Ben, saying he still has backdoor access to the bot. Doom activates the bot’s gauntlets, which teleport Ben to Latveria. Confronting Ben in person, Doom says he’s tired of playing the villain in his Reed’s ongoing conflict. Doom promises to turn Ben human again by sending him through a glowing doorway. It works, and Ben returns to the streets of New York as a human. He rushed to the Baxter Building to tell Reed what happened, only to be hit by an oncoming car.

It’s now pouring down rain in New York, with rumors of Atlantis rallying troops outside the city. Sue is having lunch with Alicia. After some chitchat, Alicia gets Sue to admit that Sue is thinking of Namor. Sue says the fantasy of being with Namor is romantic, but she married Reed. She just wishes Reed had more time for her. Alicia suggests that everything Reed does is for her. Then Namor appears on Alicia’s balcony, and Sue says to him, “I’m married.”

Ben, meanwhile, wakes up in a hospital missing an arm (!). He only has his memory up to just before the FF’s famous spaceflight. Johnny mopes around the streets of New York, just as a giant monster bursts forth from underground.

Johnny flies to Sue and Namor for help, but Namor uses his “bio-electric aura” to render Sue and Johnny both powerless. Namor wants Sue to run away with him, but she remains concerned about her family. Everyone reconvenes deep underground, where the Mole Man has abducted Johnny and Alicia. He plans to make the handsome Johnny his slave and he will marry Alicia and make her his queen. Namor and Sue show up, and the truth comes out. Namor and the Mole Man both made a deal with Doom. If they agreed to help Doom split up the FF, then Doom would give them Sue, Johnny and Alicia. Namor is outraged that Doom considered him an equal to the Mole Man, so Namor smashes open a cave wall and floods the underground cavern. Before he can do that, though, the Atlantis troops unleash a giant Doombot on New York. Doom then contacts Reed to gloat, asking what Reed has been doing inside his lab all this time. Reed answers, “I’ve been thinking.”

Issue #4 mostly takes place inside Reed’s thoughts, making it hard to summarize. He starts with false memories of him in college where he’s the one who turns into Dr. Doom instead of his friend Victor. Reed then says Doom has built a “game board as big as real life” allowing him to move human beings around time and space as if they’re game pieces. Doom says he found the machine from “a spaceship,” and Reed says that rather than play Doom’s game, Reed went ahead and built a game board of his own. Back out in the city, Ben catches up to Sue, Johnny, and Namor, who come to realize that Doom has been messing with them, Johnny gets his powers back and manages to destroy the giant Doombot.

Sue finds the Doombot gauntlet from issue #1, which teleports her and Ben back to Latveria. Ben reenters the glowing door, which transforms him back into the Thing and gives him his memory and arm back. And it teleports him back to NYC. Sue confronts Dr. Doom, separating him from his machine. She calls him a “stupid, lonely, ignorant man” and threatens to kill him (!) if he ever tries a plot like this again. The FF regroup, and Sue and Reed embrace. Doom reawakens, defeated, in Latveria, saying “no” over and over.

Unstable molecule: This issue suggests that Reed’s genius is connected to his stretching powers, with references to his brain being “malleable.” But then this goes even further in another panel, when he says he grew a “whole new brain” for himself to outthink doom. The ending scene then really spills forth the gobbledygook with Reed talking about the team traveling to a “quintasphere” to explore a new reality made entirely of “superconducting living material.”

Fade out: A few readers over the years have been upset over a line of dialogue where Sue compares Namor to Johnny. I believe she’s comparing their impulsiveness, and not something unseemly, but you never know.

Clobberin’ time: The glowing doorway in Latveria is apparently a time machine, but instead of Ben traveling through time, it transforms into who was at an earlier time? I don’t quite get it.

Flame on: Johnny is on a date with an unnamed blonde woman in this series, who runs off after he gets too hotheaded. Maybe this is Namorita, but I find it hard to believe that Atlantis would be on the verge of attacking New York and she wouldn’t care.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Namor fights alongside the FF in this, and he’s the one to defeat the Mole Man, so let’s count this as him acting as an alternate fifth member of the team.

Commercial break: Funny how this one hasn’t been mentioned as much in all the “Brendan Fraser is great” memes that have been going around lately.

See the source image

Trivia time: The big, BIG question is where and when does this take place in continuity? It’s almost a soft reboot of Fantastic Four. There’s no Franklin or Valeria, and the Reed/Sue/Namor triangle has been reset after it was officially resolved during Onslaught. And there are so many unanswered questions. Where did Reed get this Doombot, and why is just sitting there on the floor outside Reed’s lab? What is this alien machine Doom just happened to find? Did Doom really construct a kaiju-sized Doombot just to gift it to Atlantis? If this series was ever mentioned again, the Marvel Wiki doesn’t say (the Wiki barely mentions it at all, somewhat suspiciously). Because so much of the story is in Reed’s head space, and because it deals with messing with the characters’ subconsciousness, I fear we’re in “it was all a dream” territory.

Fantastic or frightful? This is a tough one. The characters don’t speak to each other in dialogue, but rather make big grand statements and/or speeches. Jae Lee’s art is more about making each panel dynamic and interesting, but not so much about action moving from panel to panel. And yet, it is enjoyable. It’s a big operatic story combined with Vertigo comics edgy weirdness. The scene where Sue tells off Dr. Doom is an all-timer.

Next: Manifest destiny.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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Fantastic Friday: Totally iconic

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The Thing: Freakshow was a four-issue miniseries, part of a Marvel Icons imprint of sorts that gave solo adventures to various characters. This takes place when Ben had the ability to turn human and back, making it (initially) of interest.

Issue #1 begins with a flashback to Ben’s childhood, when he and a buddy sneak into a travelling carnival. They are grossed out by the freakshow and bully a monstrous-looking child. An old fortune teller woman casts a curse on Ben, saying “Cruel child. You will know tears one day.” In the present, the FF are in a parade in NYC, where the crowd still reacts to Ben as if he’s a monster. Nearby, the Wrecking Crew attacks a construction site. The FF save the day, but only Reed, Sue and Johnny are celebrated by the crowd. Ben was hurt by the Wrecker in the attack, so he can’t turn human again until the wound heals. He storms off angrily.

Then there’s some comedy where Ben boards a train for Myrtle Beach, only to get on the wrong train and end up in the countryside, in a small town in Michigan. There, he discovers the same travelling carnival he saw as a kid. That’s when he sees the monster kid from before, who is now grown into Thing-size of his own.

Ben initially wants to leave the carnival, but the monster breaks free of his chains and attacks. (This issue gives him the hugely unfortunate name of “the Accursed Albino,” but his name will later revealed to Istvan, so I’ll call him that.) The fight ends when Ben saves everyone from a crashing Ferris wheel. The carnival-goers celebrate Ben as a hero instead of fearing him, and he becomes a local celebrity in town.

At a diner, they fill up Ben with free food while the carnival ringleader, Paul Balk, chides Ben for not being a real freak because he was not born a monster. Then things get all Twilight Zone-y when the locals don’t know what a phone is or what cows are. Ben wanders off and finds a barn where he discovers the townspeople are Kree aliens in disguise, who have poisoned him. Ben flees back to carnival. Paul Balk reveals he is really Paibok the Power-Skrull in disguise, and that all the cows in town are fellow Skrulls.

Issue three starts with Ben fighting both the Skrulls and the carnival freaks, as Paibok says he now has mind-control powers which he has used to take over the carnival. Because he’s been poisoned, Ben isn’t able to fight at full strength. Then it gets really weird as Ben pukes up a small blue egg, which grows into an alien. Paibok says this is an Evolver, a deadly Kree assassin. The Evolver immediately grows into an adult female warrior Kree named Staak. The rest of the Kree in town drop their disguises and join the fight. Ben wanders off as the Kree and the Skrulls fight it out, hoping to find a way to contact Reed. Ben goes back to town, which is now deserted, and Istvan follows him.

Istvan can speak, and says he remembers Ben as the boy who was mean to him years ago. Ben apologizes, and he and Istvan share some apples for lunch. Ben decides to go back to the Kree barn to investigate what they’re up to. Inside, they learn the Kree are hiding a giant infant Watcher. The Kree have tied the Watcher’s see-everything powers into their computers, giving them a huge tactical advantage. Both the Kree and the Skrulls show up at the barn to fight over the Watcher, and Ben of course declares, “It’s clobberin’ time!”

Issue 4 kicks off with the big fight, where Paibok mind-controls Istvan into attacking Ben. After even more fighting, Istvan comes to his senses. He and the other carnival freaks, also free of Paibok’s mind control, help Ben get the Watcher baby to safety. The Kree and Skrulls attack again and Ben defeats Staak, turning her back into an egg (!). The Kree defeat the Skrulls, sealing Paibok inside a jar. Ben lies and tells the Kree that the Fantastic Four and the Avengers know that they are up to. The Kree believe him and depart. Other Watchers show up to collect the baby, and Ben is furious with them for not getting involved. The Watchers tell Ben they didn’t need to interfere because “the universe can count on beings like you.”

The baby, whose name is Talmadge, further explains that after he was abducted and taken to Earth, he saw Ben and Istvan in Ben’s memories and manipulated events so Ben would come to his rescue. The Watchers leave, and Istvan and the rest of the freaks, now free of their captors, hop a train. Ben feels like this is a victory. But then it rains on him as he makes the long walk back to New York, and he considers, “Things never change.”

Unstable molecule: Reed says he’s never seen the condensed flesh/muscle that’s directly under Ben’s rocky exterior, but we the readers have seen it a bunch of times. Maybe Reed means he hasn’t seen it since Ben got his ability to turn human again.

Fade out: Sue insists the FF participate in the parade, because it is not only good for NYC’s morale, but the morale of the FF as well. It has the opposite effect on Ben, however, making this a rare instance of Sue being completely wrong about something.

Clobberin’ time: Not only does this not explore Ben’s ability to turn human, that power is written out of the story right at the start. Still, these issues gets to the heart of who he is, in how he might look like a monster but he’s a good person at the end of the day.

Flame on: Johnny is running late for the FF’s parade because he’s watching a “swimsuit special” on TV.

Trivia time: This miniseries is the only appearance of Istvan and Talmage. Staak the Evolver will later show up in a group gathering of FF villains in the Fantastic Four: Foes miniseries.

When we last saw Paibok the Power Skrull, he and his buddy Devos the Devastator were believed dead after their spaceship was sucked into subspace. He says alien Centarians gave him his mind-control power, so maybe they’re the ones who saved him? While Paibok was originally described as having the powers of all the X-Men, this miniseries and the Marvel wiki agree that he only has Colossus’ strength, Storm’s lighting, and Iceman’s ice powers. No adamantium for Paibok. He will later return in the Annhilation crossover.

When does this miniseries take place? We’re told the parade is to thank the FF for saving the world after a recent cosmic event. It can’t be the Abraxas storyline, because Sue would have been pregnant with Valeria at the time. Instead, I believe this occurs right after the Inhumans/Hidden Ones story, which had NYC all riled up and could be considered “cosmic” in that the Inhumans left for the moon at the end.

The other characters who got Marvel Icons miniseries were Vision, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Iceman, Tigra, and Chamber. (I question whether Chamber is an “icon.”)

Fantastic or frightful? I like the carnival setting and Ben’s apology and subsequent friendship with Istvan. The story loses something when it becomes Kree/Skrull/Watcher weirdness, because it takes the focus from Ben. Bringing back Paibok of all characters seems especially random. Call this one a mixed bag, I guess.  

Next: Grant application.

* * * *

Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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DuckTales rewatch – Magica’s Magic Mirror and Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Rewatching DuckTales! Two stories in one episode? What is this madness?!? Episode 51 is both “Magica’s Magic Mirror” and “Take Me Out of the Ballgame.”

Here’s what happens: In “Magica’s Magic Mirror,” Scrooge and the boys are at the ballgame when a mysterious woman leaves a magic mirror in Scrooge’s hands for safekeeping, saying she’s in danger and pursued by a mystery man. This is all a trick by Magica Dispell, however, in her latest plot to steal Scrooge’s lucky dime. She has an identical mirror, through which she can trick Scrooge and the boys into thinking the mirror can see the future. Through convoluted circumstances, she convinces Scrooge that the only way to save his diamond mines to give his lucky dime to the mystery woman (a.k.a. Magica) from earlier. The nephews figure out what she’s up to by peering into the mirror just a little too long. They then use the mirror to show Scrooge the truth. In an attempt to zap Scrooge, she accidentally zaps herself and teleports herself far away.

Then, in “Take Me Out of the Ballgame,” Huey, Dewey, Louie, Webby, and Doofus are playing in a Junior Woodchucks baseball game. Scrooge is going out of town, so he leaves his butler Duckworth in charge of coaching the kids’ team. Their opponents are the Beagle Brats, with Ma Beagle as their coach. Duckworth’s old-fashioned style of coaching doesn’t mesh well the rough n’ tumble kids way of playing, and the Woodchucks lose their lead. Then the Beagles start cheating, making matters worse. When Doofus breaks his glasses, he manages a home run thanks to Duckworth’s newfound understanding of having the game be fun, rather than prim and proper. The boys win the game, and the home run ball flies so far out of the ballpark that it hits Launchpad in the head as he and Scrooge fly back to town. 

Humbug: It might seem odd that Scrooge would bring his valuable lucky dime to a ballgame, but remember that he almost always keeps it on him, while the dime on display in the mansion is a fake (sometimes).

Junior Woodchucks: In addition to being a Boy Scouts-type organization, the Junior Woodchucks double as the local Little League. That’s quite a racket they’ve got going.

Fasten your seatbelts: One Magica’s predictions is that Launchpad will crash his incoming plane. But isn’t the joke that Launchpad always crashes? (Magica’s plan makes no sense.)

Maid and maiden: Webby is on the boys’ baseball team, using her doll as a catcher’s mitt.

Do the doo: Doofus is able to hit the home run by imagining the ball as a delicious dessert. Sigh…

Fowl fouls: It appears that the Beagle Brats’ names have never been revealed. The Disney wiki states that are “relatives” of the Beagle Boys, suggesting that Ma Beagle is not their actual mom.  

Down in Duckburg: Baseball must be hugely popular in Duckburg, as we see a huge stadium for the pro team, and a smaller ballpark for the kids.

Reference row: The song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer debuted way back in 1908, and has since become one of the most well-known works of music in history. The part we all know is the chorus. The additional verses tell the story of a baseball fan named Katie Casey, who wants nothing more than to go to the ball game and cheer for the boys on the team.

Thoughts on this viewing: An inconsequential slapstick episode, feeling more like two comedy skits rather than either being an engaging story. Amusing, but not essential DuckTales viewing.

Next: Future events such as these will affect you in the future.

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DuckTales rewatch – Duckworth’s Revolt

Rewatching DuckTales! Duckworth goes to space and gets an adventure of his own in episode #50, “Duckworth’s Revolt.”

Here’s what happens: In space, vegetable-based aliens are abducting creatures from all over the galaxy and they set their sights on Earth. On Earth, Scrooge and his butler Duckworth get into a spat after Duckworth says a job well done is more important than money. Scrooge fires him on the spot. As Duckworth prepares to leave, he and Scrooge’s nephews are abducted by the aliens.

The aliens have put their captives to work against their will in a giant garden on board their ship. Duckworth wants to lead his fellow captives in a revolt, and they laugh at him due to his status as a servant. Duckworth continues to plot, however, eventually winning the captives to his side. The aliens take Duckworth aside and tell him that the work in the garden is needed because their homeworld has fallen into an ice age. Duckworth argues that the captives shouldn’t be forced to work against their will.

Duckworth and the boys lead the aliens on a chase through the ship. When it looks like they’re cornered, Duckworth sends a message for the captives to revolt. This time they come around and all fight back. The ship flies out of control during the battle, crashing on a “gourdy green planet.” This world, rich with plantlife, is a new home for the aliens, and everyone learns to get along. Duckworth and the boys return to Earth, where Scrooge apologizes and rehires Duckworth.  

You rang? I haven’t written about Duckworth on this blog, but he has been part of the show since the start, never affecting the plot but always on hand for a droll wisecrack. If the Disney wiki is to be believed, Duckworth has no origin or backstory, all we really know about him is that he’s Scrooge’s lifelong butler, chauffer, and jack-of-all-trades.

Humbug: My thesis is that series-long arc of DuckTales is Scrooge learning his family is more important than his money. In this episode, he fires Duckworth due to his love of money, but he doesn’t quite dial back on that.

Junior Woodchucks: While Duckworth tries to reason with his alien captors, Huey, Dewey and Louie are more about action. They press buttons randomly to cause chaos (something they say they learned from Launchpad) and the lead the aliens on a chase in these cool space-cars.

Down in Duckburg: When Duckworth returns to Earth, he appears at a bus stop next to perpetual tourist Vacation Van Honk, who by this point was clearly a beloved background extra for the animators.

Reference row: Look closely and you can see one alien is totally E.T. from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Thoughts upon this viewing: I guess the characters are so used to meeting aliens by this point that they take this space adventure in stride. It’s a really simplistic plot with equally simplistic themes, but it’s always fun when the show expands its ensemble like this.

Next: Two-for-one.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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Fantastic Friday: Thick skinned

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The manga-themed stylings of Adam Warren and Keron Grant comes to and end in vol. 3 #59 legacy 488. And it’s not the only aspect of the series coming to an end.

Recap: A bunch of other Things have started growing out of Ben, at such a fast rate they will overcome the Earth if not stopped. Reed sent Ben and the other Things off to a temporary pocket universe that will only last eight hours. While Reed and the other FF work to find a cure, Ben fights his so-called “skin-spawn” which are animalistic versions of himself. He was then rescued at the last minute by even more Thing clones who are intelligent and on his side.

At the Baxter Building, Reed has built a device based on help he got from all the Reeds from other universes. He explains that the device will create “virtual time” that can create an “altered emulation of time’s passage.” With this, he says he will be able to see what Ben’s rocky skin will evolve into in thousands of years. In the pocket universe, Ben and one of the good Things fight a bunch of monstrous Things. To keep more “skin-spawn” from coming off of him, Ben transforms back into a human (remember he can do that during this time). The good Thing says he and the others don’t like seeing him like that.

The other good Things are doing the trick of compacting metal into highly-compact swords, able to defeat (kill?) the monstrous things. Reed’s future-predicting television, which followed Ben into the pocket universe, is now reporting on Ben’s upcoming death. A horde of monstrous Things march toward them. Their leader is lucid enough to explain that they all hate Ben for his newfound ability to turn human. A big fight breaks out, with the monstrous Things also learning how to use the super-condensed metal.

Reed’s device reveals a hyper-intelligent evolution of Ben’s skin from thousands of years in the future. He hopes to communicate with it. In the pocket universe, Ben leads the other good Things in battle with a combined cheer of “It’s clobberin’ time!” The battle goes well at first, but then the monster Things kill all the good ones, until Ben is the only one left standing. As he fights the other Things, Ben argues that he is not a Hulk-like monster destroying everything in sight. Instead, that’s what his enemies do. The monster Things’ leader says that every time Ben transforms into a human, he and the others cease to exist, which is a nightmare to them.

On Earth, Reed activates his device, and Ben and the other Things are teleported to the Baxter Building. Reed, Sue and Johnny join the fight, until the hyper-intelligent Thing skin from the future destroys the other Things. Reed explains that it can control its own molecular form, which includes its ancestral forms as well. The future-Thing-skin disappears, and Reed explains that every time Ben turned human, his rocky shell reverted a virtual state, which acted as a catalyst for his skin’s replicative and mutative processes. The only way to stop this from happening was to remove Ben’s ability to turn human. Upon hearing this, Ben simply says “What?” and the issue ends.

Unstable molecule: Reed has sent the others in the Congress of Reeds on their way, and he’s back on his own in this issue.

Fade out: Sue is back to doting over the baby and just asking the occasional question of Reed, while Reed is the only one who gets to communicate with the strange being from the distant future. Are we just forgetting that Sue communed with a Celestial back in vol. 1 #400?

Clobberin’ time: Can we figure out how this happened? Ben gained the power to transform into a human after a fight with the Grey Gargoyle, because people turned to stone by G.G. eventually turn human again. But Grey Gargoyle got his powers from a chemistry accident, so where’d all this temporal “skin-spawn” stuff come from. I think the answer comes from a few panels where the future-Thing-skin-thing blasts the monster Things with what looks like the cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers back in issue #1. I think we can assume the skin-spawn originated more from the cosmic rays rather than from the Grey Gargoyle.

Flame on: At the start of the fight, Johnny cried out, “Flame extra on!” My guess he’s trying to sound cool, and this doesn’t relate to how his powers actually work.

Our gal Val: Sue keeps hold of baby Valeria during the fight, telling the baby, “It’s only a game.”

Commercial break: I love that they included the Spider-Buggy as a game piece.

Trivia time: Years later, in Johnathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four, Hickman made some waves among FF fans by establishing that Ben is immortal, and he will never age so long as he is in his rocky body. This issue, however, beats Hickman to the punch by depicting a version of Ben still alive thousands of years in the future.

Someone in this issue’s letter column asks whatever happened to Bounty, the interdimensional bounty hunter and potential love interest for Ben. Assistant Editor Mark Sumerak responds, saying Bounty returned to space in search of (what else?) new bounties.

Fantastic or frightful? This three-issue arc was done just to remove Ben’s ability to turn human, a bit of clearing off the table so the new creative team can start fresh. I suppose it’s good that they devoted an entire story to it rather than just tossing it in at the end of whatever big crossover event was happening this month (that would be Weapon X: The Draft). But Ben’s human side was never explored at this time like it could have been. We had one moment several issues back where Ben was the normal one and Johnny’s out-of-control powers made him the monster of the team. This was just a panels’ worth of character-building, and that was it.

Next: Carnivale.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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DuckTales rewatch – Luck O’ The Ducks

Rewatching DuckTales! Let’s go back to Ireland and get totally sloshed on Guinness while we watch episode 49, “Luck O’ The Ducks.”

Here’s what happens: Scrooge receives a shipment of linen from Ireland, which he plans to sell at high prices. Inside the box is… a leprechaun. The little guy takes a liking to all the gold in Scrooge’s vault, leading through a wild chase first through the money bin then around town. After saving the leprechaun from danger at a construction site, the leprechaun introduces himself as Fadoragh. Scrooge doesn’t like the thieving little guy, but Webby takes a liking to him. Fadoragh wants to return to Ireland, and he lets slip that whoever rescues him gets one wish granted. Scrooge and company travel to Ireland, where Scrooge hopes to get his wish.

Fadoragh takes everyone to meet King Brian, described as richest monarch in the world. Scrooge isn’t convinced this is true, but is impressed with Brian’s riches. Brian is revealed to be a fellow leprechaun, and he and the rest of the leprechauns abduct our heroes on charges of thievery and threaten to feed them to snakes. Brian changes his mind at the last minute, and invites Scrooge and family to a banquet.

Scrooge reveals his wish: He wants King Brian’s fortune. Brian and Fadoragh conspire to get Scrooge to change his mind. Webby keeps insisting that Fadoragh is her friend, but Scrooge insists the leprechaun is a liar and thief. Later that night, everyone is visited by ghosts warning them to leave Ireland. The next morning, Scrooge is insistent on being taken to the king’s golden cavern. Fadoragh and the other leprechauns plot to trap Scrooge inside the cavern. Fadoragh tricks Webby into disguising the entrance to the cavern for her, and then he blocks the entrance to the cavern with a boulder. If Webby hadn’t disguised it, Scrooge would have been crushed by the boulder. Scrooge decides to grant Webby a wish, and she says she wans Fadoragh to stay with them all summer.

Humbug: The episode’s conclusion wants us to think Scrooge has learned some lesson, but his wish is never undone. I don’t see what’s stopping him from going back later with a construction crew (the one from the start of the episode, maybe?), moving that boulder and taking the king’s treasure.

Junior Woodchucks: In an earlier episode, Huey, Dewey and Louie were unable to swim through money like Scrooge does. In this one, however, they swim through the cash just as skillfully as he does. I guess this is character development.

Fasten your seatbelts: Launchpad gets into the Irish vibe in a big way, first by flying a green-painted airplane, and then by wearing full-on leprechaun clothes throughout the episode.

Maid and maiden: Webby’s sole reason for trusting the obviously duplicitous is because he’s little, just like her. Webby doesn’t appear to learn any lesson from this.

Foul fowls: King Brin would seem to be the villain, what with the whole snake-pit thing, but really Fadoragh is the antagonist, constantly screwing with the other characters for his own gain. The two ghosts are really cool.

Down in Duckburg: All we see of downtown Duckburg is one construction site. Scrooge and his family walk right into the place with no one stopping him, suggesting that this is one of his properties.

Reference row: I didn’t get anywhere searching for the origins of the leprechaun myth. Seems like they’ve just always been around. This episode, however, specifically calls back to the wish-granting leprechauns of Disney’s own Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) based on the novel by Herminie Templeton Kavanaugh.

Thoughts upon this viewing: A mixed bag. There’s some amusing slapstick, and we get little Indiana Jones-style action with the ghosts and underground caverns. But the plot is all over the place, and the attempts at a moral are wholly unearned. Fadoragh the leprechaun is supposed to be lovable, but he remains a selfish creep from beginning to end. Is this what I’ll be saying about Scrooge once the series ends?

Next: You rang?

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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Fantastic Friday: Is that a universe in your pocket?

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Hope you like rock monsters fighting each other, because that’s what you’ve got in vol. 3 #58 legacy 487.

Recap: Ben has spontaneously started producing “skin-spawn,” a bunch of monstrous, volatile clones of himself, that are multiplying by the hundreds. Reed shuffled Ben and his clones off into a pocket universe that will only last eight hours. Reed hopes to find a cure for Ben during that time. If he can’t, the skin-spawn will return and overwhelm the Earth.

We begin in NYC, where Sue and Johnny are on the phone, trying and failing to contact the Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Dr. Strange, and the Inhumans for help. In the other universe, the skin-spawn (I really dislike the phrase “skin-spawn”) take a moment from raging to adorn themselves with war paint, then they pursue Ben through the abandoned Skrull city that happens to be there. Ben comes up with the idea of crunching up a car into a tiny ball, with the idea being that all six tons are compressed to such a weight that it will penetrate the clones’ skin. Also, Ben has Reed’s future-predicting television with him (the TV can fly around, apparently) and it warns him that the weapon will not work. This does, however, set up a pun for Ben to say, “It’s compactin’ time!”

At the Baxter Building, Sue and Johnny check in with Reed, only for his to only partially remember them. He then lets them in on what’s up to. He’s contacted a bunch of other Reeds from other universes, with them all brainstorming possible solutions. Sue names this a “congress of Reeds,” but Johnny has his own name for it, a “boatload of Reeds.”

In the pocket universe, the clones attack Ben, and he fights them off with the condensed metal balls. It seems to work at first, until a Rhino-like Thing knocks down the building they’re all in. Then Ben is surrounded, and all the clones beat the crap out of him.

One of the clones gets ahold of the compacted balls and is about to kill Ben with it, when someone else throws a ball from the side, beheading the clone (!) and saving Ben. Turns out not all the clones are monstrous, and that some of them are intelligent and on Ben’s side. There’s also a baby one, who keeps repeating “idol o’ millions… idol o’ millions…” The good Thing clone says there are only a handful of good things against a boatload of evil ones, and he suggests everyone group up for a climactic showdown.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: You might have heard Fantastic Four fans over the years refer to the “Council of Reeds” storyline. That’s NOT this issue. We won’t meet the Council of Reeds until later. This issue’s group of alt-timeline Reeds is not the Council, but the Congress of Reeds.

Fade out: Sue tends to the baby while also working the phone trying to contact her fellow superheroes. She has a wireless phone with a headset, while Johnny has yet to cut the cord on his landline.

Clobberin’ time: On this issue’s letters page, there’s an illustration of differently-colored Things in place of the letters. Why?

Flame on: Reed says Johnny is male in most other universes, although a red-headed girl on one of Reed’s screens says “Me as a guy? Oh, yuck!” upon seeing Johnny.

Our gal Val: Baby Valeria is wearing a blue-and-white FF uniform of her own, complete with little white gloves and boots.

Commercial break: These “Mini-Marvels” comic strips were all over Marvel during this time, written and drawn by Chris Giarrusso. This one seems to be a cross-promotion between Marvel and startup site Perpetual Comics. Perpetual Comics doesn’t appear to exist anymore, but Giarrusso is still in comics, currently publishing his creator-owned series G-Man.  

Trivia time: What were the other heroes up to this month that they couldn’t come to the FF’s rescue?

– The Avengers were under investigation by the Maria Stark Foundation after the damage caused during their recent fight with supervillains the Elements of Doom.

– Dr. Strange was in space for the Infinity Abyss crossover, where he and a bunch of other Marvel heroes confronted clones of Thanos, called the Thanosi.

– Thor was right there in New York, searching for evil Viking warrior Thialfi and preventing a nuclear missile from destroying the U.N. Building.

– Iron Man was abducted by a villain named Ty Stone, who hooked up Iron Man to something called the “Dreamvision System.” Tony spent most of the issue confronting his personal demons in a hallucinatory landscape. (Looks like writer Mark Grell was trying to turn Iron Man into Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.)

– The Inhumans didn’t appear at all this month, so we have no idea why they didn’t answer Sue and Johnny’s calls.

Fantastic or frightful? This is mostly a big fight between Ben and all the other Things. This business about the compacted metal balls gives the fight some interesting dimension, so it’s more than just punching. I wonder if the Congress of Reeds is a first draft for the upcoming Council story, but we’ll see. I think Adam Warren’s three issues are likely best read in one sitting, because that’s where it’ll feel like one complete story.

Next: Back to rocky basics.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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DuckTales rewatch – Double-O-Duck

Rewatching DuckTales! Launchpad is both shaken and stirred in episode 48, “Double-O-Duck.”

Here’s what happens: We meet Bruno Von Beak, an international spy, as he dodges a bunch of goons at the airport. In Duckburg, Launchpad is abducted by rival spies working for J. Gander Hoover of the D.I.A. (Duckburg Intelligence Agency). Bruno has been arrested and revealed as a double agent. Launchpad bears a striking resemblance to Bruno, so he’s recruited to impersonate Bruno to infiltrate F.O.W.L. (the Foreign Organization for World Larceny) to root out its leader, Dr. Nogood. All this plot happens during the episode’s first two minutes.

From there, it’s a Bond movie. Gyro is here, working in the “Q” role under the codename “G.” His gadgets include a wig gun, a comb phone, elevator shoes, a bowtie camera, and of course a high-tech car. Launchpad travels the globe, bumbling his way through various spy encounters. He eventually meets Feathers Galore, a lounge singer and spy informant. Feathers and Bruno were once an item, but Launchpad has trouble romancing her.

Then Feathers is revealed to also be a double agent, secretly working for Dr. Nogood. She aims to murder Launchpad, who eventually escapes after a lengthy chase. He later catches up with Feathers and follows her to F.O.W.L.’s secret hideout, hidden inside a deli. Dr. Nogood’s plan is to use “money ink vanisher” to wreak havoc on the world’s money supply. Launchpad is caught and revealed to be not the real Bruno. Nogood traps Lauchpad in a lion pen (!) alongside Feathers, who is being punished for letting Launchpad escape.

Launchpad uses the elevator shoes to free himself and Feathers. Nogood’s henchman, Oddduck, pursues them. Feathers is now on Launchpad’s side, and she helps him contact the D.I.A. Troops are sent in to stop Dr. Nogood’s plan. Nogood tries to escape, only to run into Launchpad and Feathers. They chase him into the lab with the vanishing ink. Launchpad uses the flash on his camera to distract Nogood, and Feathers karate-kicks him into the ink. (And this… kills him?) Later, Hoover offers Launchpad a full-time job with the D.I.A., but Launchpad says the spy game is not for him. Feathers wants to stay with Launchpad, but it’s the Casablanca ending where he says her heart belongs not to him but to the real Bruno.

Humbug: Scrooge is Launchpad’s one phone call after Launchpad is arrested. For as much as Scrooge claims not to like Launchpad, he shows up in person to help Launchpad out with the D.I.A.

Fasten your seatbelts: According to unsubstantiated internet rumors, this episode is a stealth pilot for a Launchpad spin-off series, which would have been less of an Indiana Jones pastiche, and more of a secret agent and/or superhero-themed series. Many years later, this concept became Darkwing Duck, where concepts like F.O.W.L. and the D.I.A. reappeared but were heavily re-written.

Great gadgeteer: Gyro says he works for the D.I.A. because working solely for Scrooge doesn’t pay all his bills. Pay your people a fair wage, Scrooge!

Fowl fouls: Dr. Nogood is named after Dr. No, he’s patterned after Blofeld (complete with cat) and his plot is straight from Goldfinger. It’s Bond villain stew.

Down in Duckburg: The existence of a Duckburg Intelligence Agency suggests that Duckburg is not a city but… its own nation? Maybe each local Intelligence Agency branch adopts the name of its hometown.

On a map, we can see Duckburg is located in the southeast, somewhere around West Virginia. According to the Disney Wiki, though, Duckburg is canonically located in the state of “Calisota.”

Reference row: This one runs down the tropes of the James Bond series, most prominently 1964’s Goldfinger. Real-life lawman J. Edgar Hoover and the movie Casablanca are also referenced.

Thoughts upon this viewing: If you’ve seen a Bond parody, then you’ve pretty much seen this, but there are a few gags. I know this is a show for kids, but it’s odd how Launchpad is not a romantic lead but remains flustered and intimidated by the love interest throughout. So, this is a basic episode, but with some good bits.

Next: Guiness, anyone?

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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