Fantastic Friday: Onslaught or not

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. With much hype, the Onslaught crossover took over a bunch of Marvel comics in 1997, and it was used to conclude the original run of Fantastic Four, starting with issue #415.

I’m going to try to keep this short. Over in X-Men comics, Professor X decided he’d had enough of Magneto, and tried psychically removing all the evil from Magneto’s mind. This had unfortunate consequences, as the evil parts of both Magneto’s and Xavier’s minds combined and took on a life of their own, a being called Onslaught. That brings us to Fantastic Four #415, which is still in “phase one” of the Onslaught crossover, where the villain is still running around in secret before putting his plan into motion.

We begin with Franklin — now a child again, having returned from being lost in time — and his new friend Charles at an old-timey circus. Charles says Franklin generated the circus with his mind. A woman named Magda (who is from Magneto’s past) warns Charles to stay away from Franklin. Charles and Franklin return to Four Freedoms Plaza just in time for the FF to arrive in space from the previous issue. Charles asks Franklin to keep him a secret, and then Charles mysteriously vanishes.

It’s a mostly happy reunion as the FF return home, except that Johnny and Lyja agree they have to talk. Ben is still angry at Nathaniel Richards for waiting so long to inform the team about Onslaught. Then the team gets a priority call from the Avengers and an in-person visit from Professor X. Ant-Man takes the call from the Avengers, only for Onslaught to appear and knock him unconscious.

The rest of the FF don their brand-new uniforms to meet with Professor X. He says he wants legal custody of Franklin (!) and for Franklin to live at the X-Men’s school. Sue and Reed won’t budge on this, saying their headquarters has security second to none (this will come into play later during the crossover). Johnny, meanwhile, tells Lyja he wants to talk to her about his new girlfriend Laura Green. He almost reveals that he knows Lyja and Laura are the same person, when the Inhumans’ teleporting dog Lockjaw appears with two X-Men, Iceman and Bishop, and two Avengers, Hawkeye and Crystal. They have a dire warning for the FF.

Xavier then cuts the meeting short, by revealing he’s really Onslaught in disguise, and that he’s taking Franklin no matter what. He disappears, and the FF, X-Men, and Avengers split into teams to search the building. Johnny and Crystal (together again!) find Onslaught first and attack him. Onslaught defeats Johnny with brute force, and then knocks out Crystal with telepathy. Nathaniel Richards fights Onslaught next, only for Onslaught to telekinetically destroy Nathaniel’s armor.

Onslaught finds Franklin in his room, except that “Franklin” is Lyja in disguise. She, Ben and Hawkeye attack. Onslaught mentally tricks Ben into punching the wall instead of him, and he makes Hawkeye’s arrows fly back at Hawkeye. Sue and Bishop are the next to fight Onslaught. Bishop has Sue strike him with her most powerful force fields, in the hopes that he will absorb their energy and use them to strike Onslaught. It appears to work at first, as Onslaught transforms back into Professor X. But it’s a trick, and Sue and Bishop are knocked back with a wave of powerful energy.

Elsewhere in New York, we find the Watcher and X-Men villain apocalypse watching this from a distance. They do this throughout the entire crossover, acting as a Greek chorus of sorts. Apocalypse says Franklin’s reality-bending powers could eventually make him one of the most powerful mutants, and he accuses the Watcher of being impartial. Apocalypse believes the Watcher genuinely cares about the Fantastic Four.

Onslaught finally finds Franklin who is sitting on a ledge on the outside of the building (!) only for Reed and Iceman to attack. Reed stretches himself into Hulk-like musculature (!!) to land a few blows on Onslaught. Reed swears he will find a way to stop Onslaught. In another part of the building, Johnny catches up with Lyja again, saying that he’s figured out she’s Laura Green. Instead of being mad at her for tricking him, he’s into it this time. He kisses her back, saying they will figure things out later.

All the heroes regroup as Onslaught goads Franklin into joining him. There’s a huge explosion inside the building, knocking the heroes out. Onslaught takes Franklin into his arms, saying, “You will give me a gift. A gift beyond reckoning!”

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: If Reed can stretch his muscles to give him Hulk-like strength, why has he never done this before? Maybe this is another new skill he developed when he was lost in time after being abducted by Hyperstorm.

Fade out: Sue also demonstrates a new use of her power, by gently filling up a room with a thin lightweight force field to show that no one invisible is hiding inside.

Clobberin’ time: I have no idea what’s happening on this cover. It’s Ben’s hand holding a broken Wonder Man action figure (Wonder Man does not appear in the actual comic) while an image of Onslaught with Franklin appears reflected on glass in the background. I just don’t get it.

Flame on: Starting with this issue, Johnny’s speech bubbles when flamed on are colored in a yellow-orange with little fire effects around them. This will be his speech’s look for the next couple of years.

Fantastic fourth wheel: Before being the first to be knocked out, Ant-Man and Ben pal around, revealing they have a favorite type of pizza — extra pepperoni and extra sausage.

Would you believe that Crystal is still an Avenger after more than 100 issues? She really found her niche. As to why Onslaught chooses a nonviolent and humane way to take her out of the fight, it’s because Onslaught is half Magneto, and Crystal is married to Magneto’s son. Crystal is Onslaught’s daughter-in-law!

Four and a half: Young Franklin seems unfazed by all the reality-bending happening around him, due to Onslaught’s psychic influence. In Franklin’s rooms, we can see a Power Rangers video, Calvin and Hobbes stuffed dolls (bootleg, I’m assuming), and (gasp!) a Batman: The Animated Series poster.

The Alicia problem: A lot of the Johnny/Lyja drama goes back to him rejecting her, hurt that she spent all that time impersonating Alicia. It feels really out of character for him to come back around to having romantic feelings for her again, especially after she’s revealed tricking him a second time.

Commercial break: I actually feel bad for this dog:

Trivia time: Who is Magda? She was Magneto’s first love, who might be one of the most tragic characters in Marvel history. She and young Magneto fled from the Nazis and lived in hiding for a while, only for her to reject him when his mutant powers first manifested. She later died on Mount Wundagore after giving birth to mutant twins. Except it was much, much later revealed Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are not really Magneto’s kids. So we don’t know what really happened on Mount Wundagore.

The other two Avengers seen in the background in one panel are Giant-Man and the Wasp. You can be forgiven for not recognizing them in their edgy ‘90s outfits.

Fantastic or frightful? This issue actually does a good job of bringing an X-Men story into FF, by keeping the focus on Franklin the whole time. Onslaught wants the kid and everyone else is protecting him. This gives the issue focus, despite a ton of characters in it. Chris Pacheo’s artwork is also great, bringing some of that ‘90s extremism, but in a good way this time.

Next: It all ends, except it doesn’t.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Gone Frankie gone

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #414 is more or less the end of Tom DeFalco’s run on the series, with the remaining issues before the reboot, so we’re pressing reset buttons all over the place.

Recap: At the end of the previous issue, godlike villain Hyperstorm meddled with the timestream again, taking teenage Franklin away in a time platform and replacing him with young Franklin, at the state he was in when first abducted in time. This issue begins with a narration caption boldly proclaiming, “Young Franklin is back!” Sue is happy to see the kid again, who says he remembers a man in armor taking him away, and nothing else prior to this moment.

Ben is ready for a fight, demanding answers from Nathaniel Richards. Nathaniel says that Hyperstorm has changed history, so that Nathaniel raising Franklin in an alternate timeline never happened, therefore teenage Franklin, a.k.a. Psi-Lord of Fantastic Force, never existed. Nathaniel decides it’s finally time to spill the beans. He tells the FF about the Days of Future Past alternate future, in which teen Franklin had a romance with the X-Men’s Rachel Summers. Then, in an alternate-alternate version of that timeline, Franklin and Rachel had a child, a mutant with the power over hyperspace itself — Hyperstorm!

Nathaniel further explains that all his time-traveling machinations, including his abducting and raising alt-timeline Franklin, was because in every timeline, Hyperstorm destroys the FF. Nathaniel was only trying to prevent this. Reed says he’s one step ahead of Nathaniel, and he’s already working on a plan to defeat Hyperstorm by employing the power of Galactus. Galactus was recently destroyed by his new herald, Morg. Now Galactus’ power cosmic is floating out in space, just waiting for Reed to use. Reed says he has to go on this mission alone, to keep Hyperstorm from knowing what he’s up to. The rest of the team doesn’t like this, while we see that Hyperstorm watches in secret.

Then it’s time for more soap opera stuff as Ben walks in on Lyja, who is on the phone pretending to be Johnny’s new girlfriend Laura Green. Lyja admits to Ben that yes, she is Laura. She explains the Laura persona was originally just to keep an eye on Johnny, and that things got out of hand. Later Johnny is on a walk in Central Park with “Laura.” He gives her a goodbye kiss before leaving for the Galactus mission. He reacts to the kiss with shock, saying “You!” and then he flies off.

Back at HQ, the team prepares for the mission to space. Reed leaves Franklin in the care of Ant-Man and Kristoff, adding that in case the FF don’t return, Franklin is to be enrolled in Professor Xavier’s school. Reed, Sue, Ben, Johnny, and Nathaniel board the FF’s wormhole shuttle and travel into the Negative Zone, which takes them to subspace, and from there directly to Galactus’ last known location. Johnny takes a moment to fret to Ben about his love life, while Reed locates an exhaust trail that can take him to the remains of Galactus’ worldship. Reed then deduces that Galactus is alive, having fled into a parallel dimension at the last minute.

With Reed’s plan revealed, Hyperstorm appears, revealing that he is indeed Reed’s future grandson. He says that after seeing his mutant parents and their friends hunted and killed, he had devoted his life to bringing peace to all realities. Further, he believes true peace can only be achieved by removing personal freedoms from all intelligent life. A fight breaks out, with the heroes unmatched by Hyperstorm’s raw power. During the slugfest, Hyperstorm announces his real name is Jonathan R. Richards.

Back at HQ, Franklin is upset at his family leaving him alone to go on a dangerous mission so soon after being reunited with him. A portal opens up, and out steps another little kid named Charlie. Charlie says he’s here to help Franklin, and the two are about to become best friends. I’ll spoil it: This is not Charles Xavier of the X-Men, which is what many thought at the time, but it is in fact X-Men megavillain Onslaught, putting together his master plan. We’ll get into Onslaught next week. Oh boy, will we.

Back at the battle, Reed activates the device he was using to search for Galactus, saying everything is proceeding as planned. He opens a portal to the dimension where Galactus escaped to. Somehow the FF can all tell that Galactus hasn’t fed in some time, and might consume them all right on the spot. Reed tells Galactus that Hyperstorm contains enough energy to end his hunger once and for all. Galactus attacks, drawing raw energy from Hyperstorm.

The FF flee back to the ship while Reed explains the hyperstorm draws his power from hyperspace, a limitless source energy. Galactus, meanwhile has a hunger that can never truly be satisfied. This locks the two of them in Galactus’ dimension in this state for all eternity.

On the flight home, Nathaniel apologies for how much of a jerk he’s been, saying he was wrong to mistrust the FF. Reed thanks his teammates for their help, saying he couldn’t have done it without them. It’s the big happy ending as Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny share smiles as the original super-team, the Fantastic Four.

Unstable molecule: Reed’s whole arc in this issue is initially pushing his family away, only to realize how much he needs them. This shows DeFalco, despite the clunkiness of his writing during this time, does understand these characters.

Fade out: Sue insists she’s strong enough to be included on the mission, but she doesn’t do anything except stand in the background the Hyperstorm fight. Maybe she’s using her force fields and we can’t see them.

Clobberin’ time: Ben chooses to keep Lyja’s secret, and offer her some understanding. Is this because he has a still-developing crush on Lyja, or is he wise enough to let and Johnny work things out for themselves.

Flame on: Johnny figuring out Lyja’s secret is telegraphed pretty far in advance, leaving him not sure what to do about his love life. It’s a bit much for him to think that Laura Green might be “the one” when they’ve never kissed before now, but that’s comics for you.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man’s job is once again to monitor things at home while his teammates are away. He debuts a cool new red jacket with an “A” on the shoulder.

Reed gives Kristoff the brush-off by saying Kristoff is “not needed” on the mission, with no further explanation. I guess he’s as sick of Kristoff as ‘90s readers were.

Four and a half: Not only will teenage Franklin never appear again, according to official Marvel continuity, he never existed. Let’s talk about this. After being raised in an alt-timeline hellscape, teen Franklin was finally reunited with his family, only for them to reject him. He got a found family of his own in Fantastic Force, only for that team for fall apart. Then he was finally welcomed back by his family, only to wiped out of time by the original Franklin. If any Marvel character needs to be brought back from obscurity, it’s this Psi-Lord Franklin, who got a raw deal in life, and who never truly found his place in life.

The Alicia problem: When Alicia is impersonating Laura Green on the phone, she’s drawn with having a glowing red effect around her. Is this just to show that she’s shape-changing, or is this something that happens to some Skrulls when they impersonate voices only?

Commercial break: “It makes Spider-sense!”

Trivia time: This is also a wrap on Hyperstorm, who was never seen again. Galactus returns in Silver Surfer #144, with no mention of what became of Hyperstorm. After tracking down that issue, I was surprised to learn the FF’s own Alicia Masters was a Silver Surfer supporting character at this time, where she got a special spacesuit that let her fly around the cosmos with the Surfer.

Fantastic or frightful? This is a real checking-stuff-off-the-list issue. Marvel editorial clearly gave the creators a mandate, with plans for rebooting the series on the horizon. It’s nice, though, to get a happy ending for our heroes before everything goes to Hell, which it is about to.

Next: Bring on the slaught.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Party like it’s 2099

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re only a few issues away from the big reboot, but that won’t stop a crossover from happening, so in issue #413, the FF are running head-first into the Marvel 2099 timeline.

In true Marvel fashion, this issue begins unexpectedly in middle of a crossover, starting where Doom 2099 #42 ended. So, let’s talk about Marvel’s 2099 comics. This series of comics explored the future of the Marvel Universe. Spider-Man 2099, Punisher 2099, and Stan Lee-created newcomer Ravage 2099 all squared off against the powerful Alchemax Corporation, while X-Men 2099 explored an all-mutant city out in a Mad Max-style desert wasteland. Doom 2099 had Dr. Doom time-traveling from the present to the year 2099, where he and a ragtag group fought to retake the Latverian throne. After a lot of mystery over whether this is the real Dr. Doom, Doom 2099 succeeded in conquering Latveria (which is when this issue takes place) and he later conquered all of North America by the time the series was done.

In Doom 2099 #42, future Latveria has been attacked by a deadly neurotoxin, turning Latverians into zombie-like shamblers. Doom 2099 traveled to the present for a cure, found in a rare breed of sea crab. Present-day Dr. Doom teamed up with Namor (who didn’t wait long before diving into the I’m-a-villain-again thing) to stop Doom 2099 from getting the crabs. Along the way, he also fought Daredevil and the FF’s own Thing. Having lost the fight, Doom 2099 got away and at the start of this issue, he’s lurking in the tunnels beneath Four Freedoms Plaza.

In Reed’s lab, he’s inventing a dimensionally-transcendental probe. He’s going to send it into subspace in the hopes of contacting either the Silver Surfer or Galactus, and then enlist their aid on getting Hyperstorm off their backs. (Remember that the FF are only currently alive because the godlike Hyperstorm is allowing them to be alive.) Instead of just launching the probe into space, he’s sending it into the Negative Zone, and from there to the Crossroads of Infinity, where its message can cross all realities. Nathaniel Richards is still hanging around. He says Hyperstorm can’t be defeated, and Reed and Sue shut him up by again pointing out he knows more than he’s letting on.

There’s a short comedy scene of Ben picking up cars and carrying them around to through NYC traffic. Then present-day Dr. Doom and Namor arrive in New York. Back at Four Freedoms Plaza, Reed and teenage Franklin are operating on Black Bolt, in the hopes of repairing his damaged antenna. Later, Reed reports to the Inhuman Royal Family that the operation was successful and Black Bolt will make a full recovery.

While Doom 2099 sneaks into the building, Reed gets a signal that the probe has made contact. Reed dons a cool astronaut suit and prepares for a journey to the Crossroads. He goes by himself, saying he’ll safely skip past the dangers of the Negative Zone. It works, and Reed enters the Crossroads, where he finds the Silver Surfer has responded to his signal.

Ben arrives at HQ, and calls for Johnny’s help. He says the two of them have to start looking for Doom 2099, only for them to spot him on one of the building’s security cameras. Doom 2099 is synthesizing the crab venom in a lab (a different one from the Negative Zone portal) and Ben and Johnny attack. Doom 2099 holds his own against them thanks to his futuristic armor.

At the Crossroads, the Silver Surfer tells Reed that Galactus is dead, having been killed by his new herald, Morg. (This happened in Silver Surfer #109.) Reed says he needs to know where this happened, and the Surfer gives him the coordinates before flying off. Reed signals Franklin to bring him back to HQ, but the fight against Doom 2099 breaks into the Negative Zone room, interrupting Franklin’s retrieval efforts.

The Inhumans join the fight against Doom 2099, who holds his own against all the heroes. Franklin, meanwhile, struggles to maintain his connection with Reed before Reed is forever lost among the Crossroads. Doom 2099 eventually gives in and makes a retreat. He flies out of the building, only to be attacked by present-day Doom and Namor. They knock Doom 2099 unconscious and take him back to Latveria. Neither the FF nor the Inhumans recognize present-day Doom’s aircraft, so they have no idea who abducted Doom 2099.

That mystery is put on hold when Franklin successfully brings Reed back from the Crossroads. Reed says the Silver Surfer’s information has finally given the FF a way to defeat Hyperstorm. As he says this, we see that Hyperstorm is secretly watching them. Then a time platform (like from Dr. Doom’s old time machine) appears above teenage Franklin. Too fast for anyone to react, it takes Franklin away in time. Seconds later, Franklin reemerges from the time portal, only this time he’s back to being a little kid again, just like before the whole “teenage Franklin” thing was introduced.

To be continued! (Sort of.)

Unstable molecule: To deal with the PTSD of being trapped in time for so long, Reed has been in therapy with Doc Sampson, the gamma-irradiated scientist who is a rival for the Hulk. Sampson instructed Reed to shave his beard.

Fade out: Doom 2099’s attack on the building includes knocking out the power. Sue’s role during the fight to re-route emergency power back to the building’s main systems.

Clobberin’ time: During the fight, Karnak kicks Doom 2099 in such a way that Doom 2099 falls face-first into the path of Ben’s oncoming fist. Sweet.

Flame on: It’s not said why Ben recruits only Johnny and not the whole team to search for Doom 2099. Johnny suggests using the “citywide monitoring system” to look for Doom 2099.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Medusa gives Reed a big hug at one point, a nice reminder of all the years she spent as a loyal member of the FF. She later wraps up Doom 2099 in her super-hair, and we never see how he escapes from her. He goes straight from that to flying out of the building. (Maybe Medusa chucked him out the window.)

Ant-Man and Kristoff don’t appear, but they’re still considered members of the team from now until issue #416.

Four and a half: Teenage Franklin struggles heroically to bring Reed home from the Crossroads, realizing he’s never felt closer to his father than at that moment. Little did anyone know it at the time, but this was the last hurrah for teen Franklin. More to the point, it’s his last appearance, as next issue reestablishes kid Franklin as the one and only.

Commercial break: In addition to Silver Surfer guest-starring in this issue, this month’s Bullpen Bulletins page is all about promoting his solo book, notably Silver Surfer #117, which introduced the Legion of Substitute Surfers.

Trivia time: Doom 2099 eventually returned to the year 2099, after successfully escaping his present-day counterpart. He used the rare crab venom to save the Latverian people of 2099, with the side effect being some Latverians transformed into half-human half-crab monsters. The 2099 comics were weird.

In addition to all the 2099 stuff, this issue also takes us to the Crossroads of Infinity, made famous in one of the all-time great Hulk story arcs, from Incredible Hulk #300 to #313.

This issue’s letters page has a note telling readers to be on the lookout for a new villain who is bringing an ONSLAUGHT (in all caps) with him. It has begun.

Fantastic or frightful? Really, this issue and the next are all about clearing the slate and wrapping everything up before the series ends, with a focus on setting things back in place to as like classic Fantastic Four as much as possible. Bringing in Doom 2099 and the Crossroads of Infinity seem like an afterthought.

Next: Gone Frankie Gone.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 49

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! It’s the big happy ending, 1:56:20 to the end of the credits.

We cut from the previous scene’s “Well done!” to the exterior of a castle. There’s some debate here and there among fans as to which castle this is, but a quick comparison to earlier in the movie easily reveals that this is Tir Asleen. The unanswered question is just how much time has passed? It’s assumed that all these people are the ones frozen around Tir Asleen, who have now been unfrozen, and that they’ve cleaned the place up. A whole bunch of folks have gathered around for some sort of ceremony, with Willow and Fin Raziel in the center.

Raziel says, Willow Ufgood, receive this book of magic. You are on your way to becoming a great sorcerer.” There’s a shot of Madmartigan and Sorsha, with Sorsha holding baby Elora Danan. It appears as though the two of them have more or less adopted the baby. A man with a long white beard stands alongside them. I believe this is Sorsha’s father, and that they are now reunited, concluding this deeply-buried subplot. Willow looks through the book of magic, which looks like it’s about to fall apart. The Brownies are here, with Rool saying, “Willow the sorcerer” and Franjean adding, “You make us proud!” Willow gives them a smile and a nod.

Sorsha steps down and holds the baby up to Willow. He says, “Goodbye, Elora Danan.” Madmartigan sneaks up behind Willow, lifts him up, and places him on a size-appropriate Shetland pony, secured just for him. Madmartigan, wearing some sweet Ren-faire brown leathers, shakes Willow’s hands. They don’t say anything, just a knowing nod between them. Franjean is heard saying, “Goodbye, Willow!” Madmartigan gives the horse a gentle whack, and it trots forward. It cuts back to the Brownies, as Rool says “Farewell!” He takes off his mouse-head helmet to reveal he is bald underneath, and Franjean reacts with surprise, as if he didn’t know this. Then there’s a big exterior shot of the whole crowd in front of the castle, now with bright red banners hanging from the castle walls.

Fade to the Nelwyn village, and the recognizable area where the fair was held earlier. In the next shot, Willow reappears on his pony. A Nelwyn farmer spots him and cheers, “Willow! Willow!” Willow responds, “Hello, Regan,” so I guess they’re friends. Regan calls out to the rest of the Nelwyn, “Willow’s back!” In the next shot, Willow is surrounded by Nelwyn, happily cheering his name. Meegosh shows up and waves to Willow, and Willow says, “Hey, Meegosh,” reminding us of him from earlier in the movie. Burglekutt is there, pointedly not smiling and celebrating. The Grand High Aldwin quickly makes it the front of the crowd, putting his hand on Willow’s with a fatherly smile.

Willow takes a green apple out of a pouch and tosses it into the air. Calling back from earlier, the apple transforms into a bird. A little girl’s voice is heard saying, “A bird, he turned it into a bird,” in case we don’t get it, I guess. In yet another callback from earlier, the bird poops on Burglekutt’s face, like the baby barfed on him. The Aldwin gives Willow another knowing look.

Willow then looks out over the crowd. Kiaya and the two kids approach, apparently not noticing the crowd but going about some ordinary business. Willow calls out her name, gets off the pony, and runs over to her. There’s quite a bit of drama as the two of them run at each other, calling their names, before finally embracing and kissing. The kids are next, running over saying “Dada!” and “I missed you!”

Then the camera puls back, taking in the whole crowd surrounding Willow and his family. It pulls back even farther then, taking in this part of the Nelwyn village, and the Nelwyn valley beyond. Then it’s time for the end credits, which play over the image of the valley for a while, until the background goes black. Interesting end credits trivia: Famed comic book artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud is credited as a concept artist. The two on-set nurses both have the first name Nicky. The soundtrack was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, home (sort of) of Beatles!

And then this happened:

In first few pages of Shadow War, the world of Willow as we know it is destroyed by a worldwide cataclysm, killing most of the main characters and leveling most locations from the movie. Willow survives and renames himself “Thorn Drumheller,” transforming into a musclebound Viking type. Teenage Elora Danan eventually fulfills her destiny by leading the war against her true arch-nemesis, the Deceiver. Opinions vary about these books. I’ve read all three, and personally, I felt they were too dreary and downbeat, and not in the fun and adventurous tone of the movie. If the Willow sequel revival ever happens, these three books will likely be erased from continuity.

And that’s it for the Willow rewatch. What should I do with this blog next? Taking suggestions!

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: It’s about freaking time

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #412, Reed decides he’s finally had enough of Namor the Sub-Mariner. I’ve never been a Namor fan, so it’s pretty easy for me side with Reed on this one.

Picking up from the last issue, Sue has been knocked unconscious after the fight with the delusional Black Bolt. Reed and the rest of the FF rush her to the lab at Four Freedoms Plaza. Reed calls a Dr. Clooney to join them. Reed blames Sue’s condition on Nathaniel Richards, saying that Nathaniel pushed Sue too hard when she led the team in Reed’s absence. Clooney orders them to stop fighting, saying Sue needs her rest.

In another part of the lab, Black Bolt is in stasis, until his antenna weapon can be repaired. Reed checks in on Black Bolt, only to be interrupted by Namor, who demands an update about Sue. Reed tells him to stay away from Sue, but Namor won’t listen. In another part of the building, Ben is still struggling with his newfound romantic feelings for Lyja. Lyja, however, still has feelings for Johnny. Johnny flies off to attend a car rally, leaving Lyja and Ben to commiserate about the whole unrequited love thing.

Sue wakes, only to find Namor at her bedside. He tells her he loves her, and he tries to convince her to leave Reed and run away with him. Reed walks in on them and decides he’s had enough. He punches Namor out through the window. Sue tells Reed to take it easy, and that Namor’s just reacting to having recently lost his kingdom. Reed says Namor has crossed a line, and now he’s going to pay. Reed jumps out the window to pursue Namor. Sue tries to stop him with a force field, but she’s still too weak from the Black Bolt fight. All alone, she says, “Oh, Reed… it’s you I love! Only you!”

Out in the streets of New York, Reed and Namor fight. The slugfest includes a lot of classic Mr. Fantastic moves, such as Reed stretching his arms into glider wings, turning himself into a spring, turning himself into a catapult, and wrapping himself around Namor like a big snake.

Back in HQ, Black Bolt becomes destabilized and needs Reed’s genius to help. Ben uses the alien machine he got in issue #405 to temporarily turn himself human again. He says he’ll go look for Reed, but is wracked with terrible pain. In the city, Reed leads Namor to a construction site, where there is less chance of their brawl harming civilians. This includes more classic moves from Reed, such as turning himself into a bouncing ball, and then a big balloon.

Lyja transports Sue to the construction site, in the hopes of stopping the fight. It doesn’t work, as the two guys continue their fight. Reed gives a big speech about his own self-pity, and how he unintentionally kept Sue from reaching her true potential. Reed then does the classic makes-his-fists-gigantic move and beats the crap out of Namor.

Namor is knocked unconscious, and Sue and Reed reconcile. They head back to headquarters to deal with Black Bolt. Lyja stays behind to take are of Namor. Namor awakes, and Lyja tells him she could tell he was faking it, and that he let Reed win the fight. Namor admits to doing so. So it seems like Namor did the right thing, until the last few panels, in which he says this is all part of his plan to eventually win Sue back. He flies off, suggesting that he and the FF are enemies again.

Unstable molecule: In addition to revisiting all his classic fight moves, Reed also does a bit where he turns one of his arms into a fan and blows a “maelstrom” of debris at Namor. Let’s assume he taught himself to do this while living in that cave in Hyperstorm’s timeline.

Fade out: We’re told that Sue’s powers are on the fritz not just because of exertion, but because she’s been tapping into hyperspace to generate her force fields.

Clobberin’ time: This issue makes it clear that Ben is suffering ill effects from his alien machine. Just how far those effects go remain to be seen.

Flame on: What is Johnny doing flying off to a car rally while Sue is gravely injured? Maybe this is just his way of dealing with the stress of it all.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man is put in charge of Black Bolt’s medical stasis device, and is on the verge of panic when Reed’s not there to help. Remember he’s with the FF as an electronics expert, so medical science is outside Ant-Man’s expertise.

Kristoff sits this issue out, unless that’s him and not Ahura standing beside the Inhumans (they’re both little brown-haired kids).

Medusa is here with the rest of the Inhumans. She says she has faith that Reed will save Black Bolt. Reed returns the favor, saying the Inhumans have always been there for the FF. (Have they, though?)

Four and a half: Teenage Franklin is only in a few background panels in this issue. A note in the letters page states that any readers who had a monthly subscription to the cancelled Fantastic Force spinoff will now get a Fantastic Four subscription in its place.

The Alicia problem: During the fight, Lyja shape-shifts into a Barsoomian snow ape to slow down Namor. “Barsoomian” just means “Martian,” right?

Commercial break: Viewer beware, you’re in for a scare.

Trivia time: This Dr. Clooney character has no entry in the Marvel Wiki, so I’m guessing he’s not going to be a major character. The question is, will he ever appear again after this story arc?

Fantastic or frightful? I believe the creators were hoping to pay off the Reed vs. Namor tension created by Reed coming back from the dead, but knowing that that we’re only a few issues away from the big reboot, it feels like this is the payoff to Reed vs. Namor tension that’s been brewing for more than 400 issues. If this one ended with Namor taking a dive for Reed and Sue’s stakes, it would have been great. Those last few panels, though, undoes that. This “nothing has really changed” ending makes this a missed opportunity.

Next: What year is this?

****

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Fantastic Friday: Seeing green

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re on issue #411 and now that Reed is back from the dead, he’s learning that being alive again is harder than he thought.

We begin with what appears to be young Black Bolt, in either a flashback or a dream, being pursued through a forest by green-skinned monsters. He fights them off his forehead-antenna. We turn the page to discover this is modern-day Black Bolt. He is delusional, and has been fighting Medusa, Karnak, and Ahura.

The newly-reunited Fantastic Four arrive in Colorado aboard their Stealth Hawk ship, and we’re reminded that Gorgon of the Inhumans (who once single-handedly defeated the FF in battle, let’s never forget) explains why he collapsed on the FF’s doorstep last issue. Black Bolt’s antenna was severely damaged during the Atlantis Rising event, and now he’s losing control. Reed says the antenna harnesses free-floating electrons, which he uses for powerful blasts, but also collects energy for Black Bolt’s super-destructive speech.

The FF land in the woods and follow Black Bolt’s trail to a nearby cave. The FF — along with teenage Franklin and Namor, who’s still hanging around — decide to split up. Johnny flies overhead and finds Medusa, Karnak, and Ahura unconscious. Reed encounters Black Bolt in the woods, but Black Bolt is still delusional, believing himself to be a kid, and believing Reed to be another monster. Reed and Gorgon fight Black Bolt, while trying to reason with him.

Back at Four Freedoms Plaza, Nathaniel Richards is planting “transmat receptors” all over the building. He says now that Dr. Doom has retaken control of Latveria, nothing is stopping him from teleporting into the FF’s HQ whenever he wants. Lyja is after answers, asking why Nathaniel once suggested that Kristoff might be his long-lost son, and what secrets Nathaniel knows but won’t reveal about godlike supervillain Hyperstorm. He of course won’t answer, and then ponders another secret, that he secretly has a container of the Inhumans’ terrigen mist. Kristoff and Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie discuss their classmate Donald, who was found covered with bruises. Kristoff wants to force answers out of Donald’s parents, but Cassie says no to threats, saying that Kirstoff might be a genius, but he doesn’t know about his fellow kids.

Back in the fight, Black Bolt holds his own against the FF, as well as his fellow Inhumans. When Namor attacks, Black Bolt punches him through the Hoover Dam (!). It then comes down to Ben versus Black Bolt, with Ben finally managing to knock Black Bolt out. But it’s still not over, as Black Bolt cuts loose with his voice, throwing everyone back.

Sue manages to stop Black Bolt’s voice by cutting off his oxygen with a force field, knocking him out for real this time. The dam, however, is even more damages, already causing flooding. Everyone retreats while Sue stays behind to hold the dam together with her force fields. Once the heroes make it back to the ship, and it’s decided that Namor should go back for Sue, despite Reed’s misgivings.

Namor arrives to rescue Sue just as she passes out from the strain of holding the dam together. The dam collapses, flooding the whole area. At first it looks like they didn’t make it, but Namor and Sue emerge from the water. (Who’d have thought the undersea guy could handle water?) Back aboard the ship, both Black Bolt and Sue are put in stable condition, and Reed is not cool with Namor’s now-obvious obsession with Sue.

Unstable molecule: This issue is all about Reed playing catch-up on everything he missed while he was “dead.” He’s fascinated by all the FF’s new tech, and he’s struggling to get used to Sue leading the team in his place.

Fade out: We see that Sue can use her force fields to block Black Bolt’s destructive voice, but at great strain to herself. This is why she struggles to hold the dam together right afterward.

Clobberin’ time: Ben says Black Bolt was always his favorite sparring partner, suggesting more of a friendship between them than we’ve seen.

Flame on: There’s a page devoted to Johnny pondering his romantic future, with flashbacks of his past girlfriends.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man doesn’t appear, but we learn he’s the one who invented the FF’s new communication headsets.

The scene with Kristoff doesn’t seem like much, but it shows the progression of his character, as he’s trying be both another Dr. Doom and an ordinary pre-teen.

Medusa is back, but doesn’t do much this time except to worry about her husband.

Crystal shows up in Johnny’s parade-of-ex-girlfriends flashback.

Four and a half: Teenage Franklin is barely in this issue, shown running alongside the FF here and there, and is shown using his telepathy to help those who get knocked out during the fight.

The Alicia problem: Lyja acts as Nathaniel’s assistant as a pretense to get info from him, calling back to her Skrull spy training.

Commercial break: The Spider-Man cereal! They tried convincing kids that the rice chex were “webs.”

Trivia time: Colorado has appeared more often than you’d think in the Marvel Universe. Famously, a suburb of Denver was transported to space during the first Secret War, and from that we got Titania, Volcana, and the second Spider-Woman. Molecule Man and Volcana later lived in Colorado for a while. Colorado has also been home to supervillain prison the Vault, Thunderbolts Mountain and War Machine headquarters. It’s the home state of the New Mutants’ Danielle Moonstar.

Fantastic or frightful? In the pre-Wikipedia days, I don’t know how many readers at the time were really invested in the Inhumans’ ongoing story, as it was told not in a comic series of their own, but as they guest-starred in various other characters’ comics. It’s not a bad issue, though, and I’m starting to think writer Tom DeFalco is better at these smaller, more character-based stories than he is at the big sweeping epic stuff.

Next: Super smash dads.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 48

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! Here it is. We’ve reached the final battle. Or, should that be the… swine-al battle? 1:52:35 to 1:56:19 on the Blu-ray.

We’re back inside the ritual chamber, where Bavmorda and Raziel are both still gripping the wand, each trying to pull it away from the other. There’s some terrific old lady fighting here, as Raziel punches Bavmorda three times right in the face, and then the both tumble over a piece of debris. Willow finally reaches the baby, who stops crying when she sees him.

Back to the fight, Bavmorda is now on top of Raziel, strangling her. Raziel collapses, and first-time viewers will wonder whether she’s dead or merely unconscious. Bavmorda turns to the altar to find it empty. Angered, she looks around the room. She sees Willow with the baby making a run for it. She uses magic to slam the door shut in front of Willow. Willow reacts with surprise, suggesting he hasn’t come up with his big plan yet.

Bavmorda says, “Bring back the child, peck.” (We’re still using the p-word this late in the movie?) Willow turns to face her, and she says, “Who are you?” He answers “I’m Willow Ufgood.” He stars down at the pouch at his belt, which we know contain the magic acorns. He then goes into action hero mode and says, “I’m a great sorcerer.” Bavmorda laughs, but Willow doesn’t back down, saying, “Greater than Raziel.” He reaches for an acorn. “Greater than you, even.” She continues laughing. He says, “I’m the greatest sorcerer!”

He throws an acorn at her, and she easily catches it. It almost looks like if she hadn’t caught it, it would have flown right over her right shoulder, missing her. There’s a nifty special effect as Bavmorda’s hand turns to stone. She grasps her wrist and concentrates, and it looks for a second like this causes her some trouble. Willow watches incredulously, thinking it’s working. Then Bavmorda’s hand returns to normal. The acorns have been a ticking clock throughout the movie, with the audience wondering when Willow will use them, and this is the big payoff. That’s why I wish we hadn’t seen the working before. If we hadn’t there still would have been a lingering question as to whether they would work at all, making this moment even more effective.

Bavmorda shakes some dust off her hand (remains of the acorn, I’m assuming) and goes back into taunting mode, saying “Is that the extent of your powers, little one?” Willow ducks down behind one of the broken stone columns that surround the room. Bavmorda gets serious again, saying “Now you will watch me draw upon the power of the universe to send that child into the netherworld. Now place it on the altar.” The word “universe” is of note, as it doesn’t appear that this society has advanced telescopes. It’s possible that in her studies of dark magic, Bavmorda gained an understanding of stars, planets, galaxies, et cetera. Similarly, let’s not forget that someone once upon a time added a bunch of Willow stuff to Wookieepedia, the Star Wars wiki, making an argument that all this is happening in planet located in the Star Wars canon, meaning Bavmorda’s “power of the universe,” might just be the Dark Side of the Force or, worse, midichlorians.

 

Bavmorda’s behavior throughout this goes back and forth from her taunting Willow to her being deadly serious. But then, this has been her personality for the whole movie. When things aren’t going her way she gets enraged and merciless, but laughs and plays around with her enemies when she’s winning.

Willow steps out from behind the stone, in a nice shot that shows a lot of the background in this room, with creepy looking stuff all over the walls. He takes a few steps forward as the lightning flashes overhead, and says “No.” Raziel pauses for a second and repeats, “No?” He says, “You stupid hag!” Nice country bumpkin insult there. “With my magic, I’ll send her into a… into the…” She bursts out laughing before he can finish. “You’re no sorcerer!” she says. He finishes his thought, saying, “Into a realm where evil cannot touch her!”

 

“Impossible!” Bavmorda says, “There’s no such place!” Note that she doesn’t identify herself as evil. No doubt some part of her truly believes she’s doing right thing for her kingdom. Willow starts chanting magic words, and if you listen carefully, these magic words are just slightly different from the ones he’s been using when he does magic throughout the rest of the movie. “Bavmorda says, “You fool. I will destroy you and the child with you.” Willow keeps reciting the words, holding out the baby in front of him. He pauses just long enough to say, “Goodbye Elora.”

 

Bavmorda does a little magic to make Cherlindrea’s wand fly into her hand. (You’d think she would have done this sooner, given how she fought for it.) Willow stops chanting and pulls away the baby’s blanket, to reveal the baby is no longer there, as if vanished into thin air. Bavmorda gasps with shock. Willow grabs his wrist and falls down in pain. Is Bavmorda doing this to him, or is this part of his plan?

In another corner of the room, Raziel comes to and sits up. Bavmorda has an epic villain freakout, screaming “Impossible!” She stumbles forward in confusion, spilling two bowls of red liquid (blood?) off of the altar. The liquid splashes at her feet. The wand in her hand glows blue, and she rears back, no doubt about to attack Willow. Then lightning comes down from the opening in the ceiling.

The lightning doesn’t strike Bavmorda directly, but instead strikes the wand in her hand. As it does, red mist from around her feet swirls up around her. We hear her screaming in pain, but it looks as if she’s frozen in place as both the blue lighting and the red mist surround her. There are even quick flashes of Bavmorda’s skeleton in the lightning, reminiscent of the finale of Return of the Jedi.

Willow watches, and there’s a quick shot of Sorsha waking up from unconsciousness just in time to see this. In the next shot, Bavmorda has all but vanished, leaving only the lightning, the red mist, and her screams in her place. In a very cool animated effect the mist slowly moves up to the opening in the ceiling, and then picks up speed as it leaves into the sky, almost snake-like. This is the Ritual of Oblivion reaching its climax, whereupon the object of the ritual has their very essence destroyed, which banishes them into the netherworld. The tie-in fiction states that the magic turned against Bavmorda because she “corrupted” the altar by the spilling the fluid. (If Gandalf were here, he’d say it was probably meant to be from the beginning.)

Raziel and Willow sit there for a moment, taking in what they’ve seen. Then the doors fly open and Madmartigan rushes in with some Galladoorn soldiers behind him. He helps Sorsha to her feet and they kiss. Raziel asks, “Willow, where’s the baby, and we see how badly her face is scarred from the fight. Madmartigan and Sorsha look around in fear.

Then Willow steps out from behind the stone column from earlier, holding the baby. He says one of the movie’s signature lines, “It was just my old disappearing pig trick.” Madmartigan and Sorsha smile, Willow holds up the baby so we see her face, confirming it’s really her. Raziel laughs and says, “Well done.”

Next: Nowhere to go but home.

****

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Fantastic Friday: H.E.R.B.I.E. day

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Except I have the flu this week, so here’s H.E.R.B.I.E. the Robot instead.

Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the Robot.

 

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 46

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! This whimsical family film gets real bloody all of a sudden, 1:49:58 to 1:52:34 on the Blu-ray.

We jump from the previous scene to back outside, where the NockMaar and Galladoorn armies fight in the rain. General Kael and Airk are in mid-fight, with Kael lifting up Airk and shoving him against a wall. This seems to knock the wind out of both of them. Kael recovers first, and punches Airk, knocking him to the ground. Airk reaches for a knife in his boot, but Kael’s hand clamps down on Airk’s hand before Airk can use it. Airk then reacts with a howl of pain, a look of realization, and then he angrily spits in Kael’s face. Kael drives the knife in further. Airk screams and Kael kicks him down. Airk rolls down a small hill, as Madmartigan runs up and sees this.

Madmartigan calls “Airk!” Kael sees Madmartigan, raises his sword, and lets out a battle cry. Instead of running at Madmartigan, Kael turns and just walks off. Madmartigan hurries over to Airk. In close-up, we see Airk’s forehead and lip are all bloody. “Win this war for me,” Airk says. He then tilts his head back and dies in quite an impressive death rattle. This of course a callback to Madmartigan’s line from the Daikini crossroads scene. What’s more, the Willow graphic novel has an alternate version of this dialogue. Airk says, “If you ever stand on my grave, Madmartigan, I’ll kill you.” Madmartigan answers, “Give me your sword, old friend, and I’ll win this war for you.” I like the movie’s version better.

There’s a very quick shot of Kael pulling his sword out of some guy. Unlike the other Galladoorn, this guy doesn’t have the bright gold helmet, but there is some gold trim on his belt. Madmartigan stands, and looks at Kael. He holds up his sword and seems to fidgets with it. Kael throws another guy to the ground and stabs him. Madmartigan chooses then to act, and he runs up to Kael. Two NockMaar run at him. He slashes one with his sword, but the second one he only elbows in the back. Kael takes notice of Madmartigan. A third NockMaar attacks, and Madmartigan knocks him back by sword-striking the guy’s shield.

Kael and Madmartigan meet in battle. Their swords clash once, and then it seems all over as Madmartigan’s sword gets caught in a piece of wood in the structure behind them. We see the sword get broken with two, followed by Madmartigan falling back, one side of his face covered with blood. Kael rushes at him, crying “Die!” Madmartigan dodges his attack, jumps through a small window inside an overhanging arch (what is this architecture?!?) and gets a new sword sticking out of a conveniently-placed corpse nearby. Note that he doesn’t drop the broken sword, but instead fights with the broken sword in one hand and the second sword in the other.

Kael looks very Darth Vader-ish as he approaches, holding his sword two-handed like Vader’s lightsaber (and like a Kurosawa Samurai before him). Madmartigan runs up with a battle cry. Their swords clash once, only for Madmartigan to jump and swing around in midair, slashing Kael in the face. Part of Kael’s mask breaks away. Kael stumbles back against a wall, and we see blood on his face.

Madmartigan hears a scream and looks up. We see the castle from his point of view, looking as tall as a skyscraper. Madmartigan runs up the nearest stairs, but the camera stays with Kael as his eyes open and he watches Madmartigan go. Madmartigan quickly fights another NockMaar on the steps, with a really cool shot of the guy falling over the stairs’ side as Madmartigan kills him. There’s not much suspense in wondering when Kael will come back, because he jumps up the steps at Madmartigan. Madmartigan stumbles, but rolls out of the way, avoiding Kael’s swor. Madmartigan climbs up higher on these stairs, reaching a ledge (still no railing).

We then briefly revisit Bavmorda’s ritual chamber, where Willow faces off with enchanted metal-container-filled-with-bones (I still don’t know what this thing is). Willow is holding a metal rod, and he’s taken to fighting the thing rather than let it chase him around. In the background, Bavmorda and Raziel continue to fight over the wand, and we can surmise that scream came from one of them as the wand’s magic cuts loose. Willow more or less sweeps the leg, knocking the thing onto its back. With a battle cry of his own, Willow stabs at the thing, pushing along the floor and out the window.

Then we’re back on the ledge. Kael has grabbed hold of the back of Madmartigan’s head and smacks him face-first into the wall. He throws Madmartigan onto a wood platform, which we’ll seen see is a bridge connecting two parts of the building. Kael laughs a villain laugh as Madmartigan gets back to his feet, looking really angry. He swings his sword at Kael, only for Kael to block it with his hand (!). Then Madmartigan spins and stabs Kael with a second sword.

Kael rears back, and we think the fight is over. But he’s not done. Instead, he swings and punches Madmartigan in the face. This gives Madmartigan a bloody nose, for even more gore. Madmartigan stabs Kael in the gut with his second sword. Kael punches Madmartigan so hard he withdraws the sword out of Kael and drops it, so that it goes flying behind him. Kael wraps both hands around Madmartigan’s neck, choking him. Madmartigan drives the first sword in deeper, which causes Kael to loosen his grip and fall back.

Next, Madmartigan steps on another sword’s hilt so that the blade sticks up at an angle. But wait, this sword has fancy rounded hilt, like a Princess Bride sword, but Madmartigan’s second sword has a basic T-shaped hilt, like a Lord of the Rings sword. Compare with earlier shots, and it’s easily confirmed that this is Kael’s sword, which he dropped when Madmartigan stabbed him the first time.

Madmartigan falls back, with Kael falling with him. This move impales Kael (heh) on Kael’s own sword. Both men stand, and we see Kael now has two swords sticking out of him. Madmartigan throws Kael over the bridge. Kael falls with a scream while lightning flashes in the background. In the reverse shot, we see his body, lying there in the mud. A bunch of Galladoorn soldiers run past Kael’s body as if it isn’t there. The important detail to remember during this Madmartigan/Kael fight is that, according to the tie-in fiction, Kael believes himself to be an unkillable god when wearing his mask, and a vulnerable human without the mask. Therefore, smashing the mask is what weakened Kael enough to be defeated — in Kael’s mind, at least.

Madmartigan looks down at Kael with disdain and throws something at him. I can’t tell what, though. Another broken sword-piece, perhaps?

Next: The swine-al battle.

****

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Fantastic Friday: The soapiest of operas

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s issue #410, and we’re pretty much at the end now, with a complete reboot on the horizon. This issue starts wrapping up some odds and ends… or does it?

We begin with Reed back in his lab, concerned that mega-villain Hyperstorm is still out there, and could strike at any time. But we’re also picking up where the final issue of Fantastic Force left off, where teenage Franklin has just learned his dad is still alive. There’s some old-school bickering among Ben, Johnny, and Franklin, as they want to celebrate while Reed urges seriousness.

Elsewhere in the same lab, Ant-Man, Kristoff, and Nathaniel Richards are trying to get the FF’s time machine/teleporter working, only to discover that Hyperstorm has barred the team from time travel. Reed starts a fight with Nathaniel, demanding more information about Hyperstorm, only for Franklin to break them up. In yet another corner of the lab, Ben uses the alien device from a few issues back, that allows him to turn back human for a short time.

Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie shows up, announcing that a boy from school is coming over a visit. Kristoff is upset about this, as he had started developing a crush on Cassie. Alone in his private corners, Kristoff admits to the absurdity of his walking around in adult-sized Dr. Doom armor, and he angers at how he is merely one of Doom’s failed experiments.

Human Ben, meanwhile, flirts with Lyja, only to be overcome by a pounding headache. Cassie meets with her school friend, Donald, who reveals he’s there to ask the FF’s help. Kristoff steps out without his armor and offers to help. We then cut to the FF’s version of the X-Men’s Danger Room, where Namor is back to putting the moves on Sue, arguing that Reed is a different man than he once was. Reed watches them in secret, wondering if Namor is right.

 

Out in New York City, Lyja has left Ben to shape-change into her human-appearing Laura Green persona. She’s there for a date with Johnny, still in hopes of convincing him that “Laura” and Lyja are two different people. At HQ, Kristoff gives Cassie and Donald a tour of the lab, pointed out a mysterious door. Kristoff says he doesn’t know what’s inside the door, and that the other FF team members have kept that secret from him possibly because of his association with Dr. Doom. Donald runs off, saying he doesn’t want to break any rules.

There’s a short scene of a mysterious man wandering through New York, and then we rejoin Kristoff, Cassie and Donald playing soccer at a nearby park. Kristoff reflects on his origin, with the added detail that his father was an unknown wanderer whose identity he never learned. Donald trips and falls, only for Cassie to see that Donald’s back is covered with scars and bruises. Donald runs off again.

At HQ again, Reed and Sue begin to reconcile, with her saying she doesn’t want to lose him again. Then that mysterious man shows up in the building. It’s Gorgon of the Inhumans (who, let’s never forget, once single-handedly defeated the Fantastic Four in battle). Gordon says Black Bolt has gone mad and threatens to destroy them all.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed uses an “encephalo-helmet” to determine that Hyperstorm isn’t secretly manipulating him telepathically. This helmet appears to be a combination of a couple of old-school FF inventions, including the thought projector helmet from issue #27, the encephalo-gun from annual #2, and the encephalo-feedback scrambler from Strange Tales #126.

Fade out: Even though Namor causes a rift between Sue and Reed this issue, it’s worth noting that she flat-out refuses Namor’s advances by throwing him across the room with a force field.

Clobberin’ time: This issue has the first hints that Ben’s alien device has some serious side effects, which is going to a short-lived subplot over the next few issues.

Flame on: Ben attempts to use a high-tech chemical foam to douse Johnny’s flame, but Reed stops him, so we’ll never know if it would have worked.

Fantastic fifth wheel: This issue wants to establish a mystery about who Kristoff’s father is, even though Nathaniel claimed he was the father back in issue #395. The Marvel Wiki doesn’t provide an answer, instead stating “These claims have not been substantiated.”

Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie is revealed to be 11 years old, even though she’s drawn and written younger. Also, she’s apparently living with the FF now, instead of just visiting, because she’s in school in NYC instead of the west coast.

Marvel ran a Fantastic Four house ad this month, which includes She-Hulk and future team member Black Panther.

Four and a half: Teenage Franklin is now back with the FF, with zero mention of what became of his Fantastic Force teammates now that that series has ended. He uses his telepathy to help scan Reed’s brain.

The Alicia problem: The date between Johnny and “Laura” is detailed in yet another spin0ff title, Fantastic Four Unplugged. The date was interrupted by an attack the Mole Man, leaving Lyja to further fret over whether to tell Johnny the truth.

Commercial break: Bone crunching action!

Trivia time: Once again, it’s established that Four Freedoms Plaza has a maze-like interior. The lab is a series of interconnected rooms including mysterious doors that can’t be opened. The “danger room” also has a strange platform where Reed can watch Sue and Namor without them realizing it. We also get a good look at the building’s lobby with a cameo from robot receptionist Roberta.

Fantastic or frightful? After so many issues of cosmic weirdness and ever-increasing stakes, it’s a breath of fresh air to get spend some time on all the interpersonal conflicts that been building. The bad news is that this issue is all about setting up future plotlines, not knowing that we’re only six issues away from the big reboot.

Next: Little green men.

****

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