Fantastic Friday: Warwolves? There wolves

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Writer Chris Claremont continues to bring his characters from Excalibur into the FF with vol. 3 issue #7.

Last issue, Reed was acting uncharacteristic and took Sue out for date night. At Pier Four, Ben and genius Alyssa Moy were attacked by interdimensional bounty hunter Gatecrasher and her oddball crew the Technet. They abducted Ben, but Alyssa escaped with Franklin. This issue begins with Alyssa pulling over a passing police car. She explains to the cops that Pier Four has been attacked, and the attackers are after Franklin. Alyssa then points out that the cops have English accents and are driving a London police car. The cops are revealed to be the Warwolves, hiding out in New York.

Okay, what are these things? The Warwolves were genetically engineered by weirdo alien Mojo to be his henchmen. After several fights with Excalibur, the Warwolves ended up as permanent residents of the London Zoo. They are able to kill humans and then wear their victims’ skin (!) making themselves look just like their victims. They’re also skilled trackers, which explains how they’ve found their way to Alyssa and Franklin.

The Warwolves attack some real cops while Alyssa tries to protect Franklin. She tries to escape in the police car, only for the Warwolves to swipe the keys. Then Alyssa produces an invention of hers, a universal key. She starts the car and she and Franklin take off. Just when it looks like they’ve escaped, they’re attacked by Ferro-2, the swordfighting werewolf from Technet, who jumps down from above and slices up the engine.

At the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center, Reed and Sue continue their romantic evening on the town, with no idea that all this is happening. Cut to Ben, who has been shrunken down to tiny size and swallowed by Bodybag, another Technet creature. The Technet has gathered in a wooded area (Central Park, I’m guessing) where Gatecrasher says she wants Franklin found, with a lot of technobabble about how communications and transportation are being monitored in their search.

Out in the city, Franklin cries out for his mom, and certain Marvel heroes can psychically “hear” him – Spider-Man (thanks to his spider-sense), Jean Grey, Dr. Strange, the Watcher, Roma the Omniversal Guardian, and Kitty Pryde, who is not psychic but is still good friends with Franklin. Alyssa tries to calm Franklin down, promising to protect him.

In an alley, Alyssa is using some more of her genius tech to New York’s fiber optic data-net. Franklin acts as lookout, and cries, “the monsters are coming!” The run for it, just barely staying ahead of the Technet. They run through a busy nightclub hoping to lose the aliens in the crowd, not realizing they’re running past Johnny in one panel. Leaving the nightclub, Alyssa and Franklin next run into… the Bacchae. Who is this? Turns out this is the Bacchae’s first appearance. They’re a group of female cyborg assassins. They’re fighting a guy named Lao Wei Chung, Master of the Golden Sword, unrelated to all this Technet stuff. Chung escapes from Bacchae thanks to Alyssa’s interruption, and he gives Alyssa a kiss before running off.

At the Rainbow Room, Sue looks out a balcony and sees the “4” symbol lit up on skyscrapers all over NYC. Reed tries to contact Pier Four, only to find it offline. Sue, in her sexy evening dress, takes off over the skies of the city riding one of her force fields. Sue catches up to Alyssa and Franklin, just in time for Gatecrasher to show up. Gatecrasher says she has a legal warrant for Franklin, but Sue says that, as Franklin’s mother, she is the ultimate authority. Using the fight moves she learned from Iron Fist in combination with her force fields, Sue beats the crap out of Gatecrasher.

Reed and Johnny arrived as the rest of the Technet join the fight. Reed frees Ben from Bodybag. The Technet might have the FF outnumbered, but the FF have them outpowered. Ben knocks out Thug, Johnny stops China Doll with a wall of flame, and Scatterbrain’s illusions are no match for Reed’s intellect. The only advantage the Technet gets is when Joyboy looks into Sue’s subconscious desires and transforms her into the Queen of Atlantis and consort of Namor (!). The transformation wears off, though, putting the FF back into the fight.

Gatecrasher calls for the FF to surrender or face the consequences, and Ben answers “You and what army?” Gatecrasher responds, “This army!” The FF turn around and find themselves face-to-face with… the Captain Britain Corps, a whole bunch of Captain Britains of all shapes and sizes.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed’s strange behavior isn’t addressed in this issue. He has a wristwatch computer tied into Pier Four, which alerts him to when the systems go down.

Fade out: Sue surrounds herself with a force field as if it’s armor, so she can properly beat up Gatecrasher.

Clobberin’ time: Reed frees Ben from Bodybag by reaching into Bodybag’s mouth and pulling Ben out. There’s no explanation of how Ben became un-shrunk, so I guess it just wore off.

Flame on: Look closely, and you see Johnny is in the nightclub that Alyssa and Franklin run though earlier in the issue. He’s too busy flirting with some girl to notice them.

Four and a half: Why Franklin’s psychic cry reached these specific characters is a mystery. Spidey, Jean Grey, and Dr. Strange make sense as all having some form of psychic power. Kitty because she and Franklin are friends. But why Roma? As the daughter of Merlin, she too was in Captain Britain and Excalibur and has a history with the Warwolves. That could explain why she got the call.

Commercial break: “Sure. We saved the world. I say we party. I mean, I got all pretty.”

Trivia time: These Bacchae characters showing up out of nowhere foreshadows them playing a bigger role in future issues. The Bacchae’s leader, not named in this issue, is Bloody Mary.

This appears to be the only appearance of Lao Wei Hung, Master of the Golden Sword. There was a martial artist named Chung who was henchman for crimelord Vachon in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, and another Chung who was a security guard who helped fight the Hellfire Club in one issue of X-Men, but I doubt these are all the same guy.

Fantastic or frightful? It’s obvious by this point that Chris Claremont is using Fantastic Four as his excuse to write more Excalibur. I’m all for bringing something new to the series, but Heaven help any readers who hadn’t followed Excalibur or its predecessor Captain Britain and doesn’t know all these references.

Next: The rings of Saturn (-yne)

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – House of Frankenstein 1944

Watching the Universal monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. The series goes all Avengers with a bunch of monsters in one movie in House of Frankenstein.

Here’s what happens: Mad scientist and Frankenstein fanboy Dr. Neimann escapes from the asylum with his hunchbacked henchman Daniel. Neimann seeks revenge on those who wronged him, with Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s monster all being tools for said revenge.

Monster!: Boris Karloff plays Dr. Niemann, and he gives 100 percent, delivering every line with devilish intent. In addition to revenge, Niemann’s whole deal is putting one person’s brain in another’s body, and the brain-switching plot gets more and more complicated as the movie goes on.

Also a monster!: Dracula, now played by John Carradine, appears only in the first 30 minutes of the movie. He has his own side-story where Neimann sends the vampire after one of his targets. It’s interesting to have a little movie-within-the-movie, but it’s too bad Drac never shares the screen with the Wolf Man or Frankenstein’s monster.

Also a monster!: The hunchback Daniel is what most people think of when they imagine Dr. Frankenstein’s helper Igor. He spends most of the movie lovesick for gypsy dancing girl Ilonka (hunchbacks and gypsy dancing girls, am I right?) before unleashing his rage upon being rejected by her.

Also a monster!: Lon Cheney Jr. is back to being emotionally tortured by his werewolfism, and Cheney again is at his best doing the sad-sack guy-next-door act. After he transforms, he gets a run through the foggy woods, and his final scene is a good one.

Also a monster!: Knowing that Frankenstein’s monster is the big name, the movie makes the audience wait until the end before the monster wakes. I like Glenn Strange as the monster, but, sadly, he hardly does anything before the movie abruptly ends.

Our hero: The Dracula storyline is led by Carl, who rescues his wife Rita from being mesmerized by Dracula. Once that’s done with, it’s tough to sort just who the protagonist is with so many characters and subplots. The emotional core of the movie is the love triangle among Daniel, Ilonka, and the Wolf Man.

Hapless humans: Ilonka gets to show some feistiness as romantic lead for two monsters. Niemann’s victims don’t get to do much except act pompous before Niemann comes after them.

Thrills: Although the movie zips along at a quick pace, there isn’t that much monster action. Each monster gets his own scenes, rarely interacting with the others. The monsters strangle their occasional victims and Dracula gets a vampire bat bite in. The biggest thrill is an Indiana Jones-style horse carriage chase in which Niemann and Daniel get the better of Dracula.

Laughs: No comic relief in this one, although Ilonka gets a musical number where she shows off her dance moves.

Thoughts upon this viewing: House of Frankenstein is all over the place, story-wise, but it nonetheless is great entertainment. I think this is because of the actors all making the most of what they’re given. A fun ride from beginning to end.

Next: Curses, foiled again!

****

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Fantastic Friday: Tech upgrade

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Writer Chris Claremont used his time on Fantastic Four to revisit a lot of characters he’d previously written in the X-books, and that’s true of the oddities who show up in Vol. 3, issue #6.

The issue begins with Sue… in battle! She’s at the Oracle Inc. skyscraper, current headquarters for Heroes for Hire, and she’s getting a martial arts lesson from the immortal Iron Fist. Also present are two former FF-ers Power Man and She-Hulk, as well Misty Knight and Colleen Wing of Heroes for Hire. Sue, somewhat improbably, gets the upper hand on Iron Fist, creating a fighting staff out of an invisible force field. Iron Fist strikes back by unleashing the full force of his titular power. Sue isn’t hurt, though, and instead says getting blasted by Iron Fist is the “best ride I’ve had in ages.”

Sue goes for a swim in the Oracle Inc. pool, where she is greeted rather erotically by Namor the Submariner. Namor says he feels haunted by living another life during Heroes Reborn, and he wonders what might have been. He wants her to come away with him and become the new queen of Atlantis. Sue insists that she will not betray Reed’s love, and a woman who committed such a betrayal would not be worthy of Atlantis.

Sue returns to Pier Four, noting that an unmarked police car had been following her the whole time. Inside, Reed surprises Sue with a room full of roses, and he says to take her dancing. Sue is also introduced to Reed’s ex, Alyssa Moy, a fellow genius we met last issue. Alyssa and Ben have an aside, where she worries that Reed might be acting strangely, but Ben doesn’t worry about it. We follow Ben and Franklin as they attend a Yankees game, and Sue, She-Hulk and the Wasp go shopping for fancy dresses for Sue and Reed’s date night. Dressed in their finest, Reed and Sue head out for a night of dancing and Rockefeller Center, while a mysterious stranger keeps an eye on Pier Four.

Ben prepares dinner for Franklin and Alyssa, with Alyssa still insisting that Reed is acting out of character ever since his telepathic fight with Crucible last issue. Strangely, part of Ben’s dinner turns into a cartoon bird like Tweety, but with a bomb in its head. Ben saves everyone from the explosion, only for Alyssa and Franklin to attacked by… Gatecrasher and the Technet.

Okay, who are these characters? The big blue-skinned lady is Gatecrasher. She is an interdimensional bounty hunter, who tracks down threats to the multiverse. She’s not a good guy, however, as she’s often in the employ of Opal Luna Saturnyne, an evil queen from another dimension. The Technet is Gatecrasher’s band of super-powered enforcers. They first appeared in Captain Britain and later became major players in Excalibur. Here’s the list:

  • Numbers is a little lizard guy who sits on Gatecrasher’s shoulder and gives her important info.
  • Yap is the other little lizard on Gatecrasher’s other shoulder. He’s a teleporter, who transports the team from dimension to dimension.
  • Joyboy is the weird alien baby in the floating chair. He has the power to make anyone’s dreams come true, but with disastrous results. Kind of like that movie Wishmaster.
  • Ringtoss is the guy in the gold armor. He can project energy rings that wrap around his enemies.
  • Bodybag is the big dinosaur-like guy. He incapacitates his enemies by swallowing them whole and storing them in a liquid sac within his body. (Gross.)
  • China Doll is the blue-skinned Medusa-like alien. She has the power to shrink her enemies down to teeny size.
  • Thug is the little frog-like one. He has super strength – your basic brawler.
  • Scatterbrain is the beautiful woman with the green hair. She creates trippy illusions that throw enemies for a loop.
  • Ferro-2 is the werewolf with the fencing swords in each hand. That’s right — Swordfighting werewolf!

Gatecrasher says she has a warrant to extradite Franklin back to “the prime continuum.” Alyssa flees with Franklin while Ben fights the Technet. Joyboy turns him human for a second, but Ben sees through the trick and punches out Joyboy. Then Scatterbrain and China Doll team up to mesmerize Ben and shrink him. He’s then fed to Bodybag, with Gatecrasher saying Ben will be kept in stasis. Alyssa and Franklin get out of the building and make it to a pay phone, only for Ferro-2 to stop them and take them hostage. While all this has been going on, we occasionally check in with Reed and Sue and their romantic date, with Reed calling this, “the most memorable night of my life.”

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed’s odd behavior (or is it?) won’t be addressed in full until around issue #10.

Fade out: The Sue/Namor conversation is interesting. Sue rebukes Namor in favor of Reed, but she does so in a way that Namor can understand. She finds a way to speak to him on his level.

Clobberin’ time: Not sure what the plan was for Alyssa at this point, but Ben has his arm around her in a lot of panels. He also shows off the FF’s new pogo plane, which is equipped with a whole bunch of missiles.

Flame on: There’s a joke about Johnny having set off the fire sprinklers at Pier Four, so Sue is making him clean the entire building.

Fantastic fifth wheel: With former FF members Luke Cage and She-Hulk now with Heroes for Hire, it makes sense that H4H be FF adjacent. The H4H are operating out of Oracle Inc., which is the mega-corporation owned by Namor when he is in his weird “billionaire CEO” mode. This also conveniently explains why Namor just shows up in the Oracle Inc. pool.

Four and a half: The comic spends two whole pages devoted to Reed and Franklin having fun at the Yankees game. Franklin catches a foul ball, and he does it without the use of his or his dad’s super-powers.

Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all along. Could her sparring session with Iron Fist be part of her spy training?

Commercial break: Nightmare fuel!

Trivia time: What’s the deal with the exploding cartoon chicken? He’s also a member of Technet, named Hard-Boiled Henwy. He first appeared in Excalibur #31, and never appeared again after this issue.

There is one other member of Technet not appearing in this issue – an octopus-like alien named Waxworks, who can loosen his opponent’s molecular structure, making them all gooey like Jello.

The fashion designer who meets with Sue, She-Hulk and Wasp is named Kay Cera. More than just a pun name, Kay is a member of the super-family Clan Destine. She’s an 800-year-old being who occasionally fights evil under the name Cuckoo. She has great psychic powers, but like most members of Clan Destine, she is reluctant to use them.

Fantastic or frightful? Mostly a “hangout” issue, that sets the stage for upcoming events. It has a lot of fun character moments, and has the added bonus of the Technet being nice and weird. Some might argue that nothing happens in this issue, but I suspect that’s the point.

Next: Warwolves? There, wolves!

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – The Invisible Man’s Revenge 1944

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box set, at least. After wandering through the comedy and action genres, the Invisible Man series goes back to horror/thriller with The Invisible Man’s Revenge.

Here’s what happens: Homicidal maniac Robert Griffin escapes from asylum and seeks revenge against the rich jerks who he believes left him for dead while on safari years earlier. After some Knives Out-style backstabbing, Griffin meets local scientist Dr. Drury. Drury gives Griffin an invisibility formula, and we’re off.

Monster!: The effects folks continue to up their game with the invisibility effects, as this Invisible Man puts water or flour on his face to get a little more acting screentime in. John Hall plays Griffin with a cool menace, with a deep yet whispery voice that’s really creepy.

Also a monster!: John and Irene Herrick are the rich snobs who originally wronged Girffin. We learn they are corrupt to the core. They did indeed leave Griffin for dead and swindled him. When Griffin arrives back at their house years later, they try to poison him. They’re so rotten that they make Griffin more of an antihero than a villain.

Our hero: A journalist named Mark Foster is engaged to the Herricks’ daughter Julie, and he investigates the Invisible Man’s doings. He’s a stalwart hero, and he wears huge hats.

Hapless humans: Evelyn Ankers plays the Herricks’ daughter Julie, making her something of a series VIP, having appeared in a bunch of these Universal Monster movies, as a different character each time. Dr. Drury seems sinister at first, but he doesn’t want to use invisibility for evil, just for the love of science. The supporting cast is made up of a stuffy butler, disbelieving cops, and a bunch of quirky pub-goers.

Thrills: Griffin is more interested in ruining the Herricks’ lives before outright killing them, though he’s not above waving a knife in front of people’s faces. Later, there’s a creepy scene in which Griffin discovers he can turn visible again, but only by killing someone. This leads to a lot of murder and craziness in the final act.

Laughs: Griffin’s sidekick and/or accomplice is a local Cockney named Herbert, who speaks entirely in folksy wisdom. He and the Invisible Man work together to cheat at darts, foreshadowing the antics Abbot and Costello will later get into with their invisible man.

Thoughts upon this viewing: This movie is great. It has a twisty-turny plot and a lot of great acting. All the Universal Monster sequels are diminishing returns, but this one is a real hidden gem.

Next: Our house… in the middle of our street…

****

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Fantastic Friday: The crux of the matter

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In Vol. 3 issue #5, we get a new villain, a new supporting character, and (Price is Right voice) A NEW CAR!!!

Over the last few issues, we’ve followed a subplot about two reporters pursuing a story all the way to Tibet, where they awoke a mysterious figure named Crucible. Crucible took them hostage and put them on a plane. This issue begins on another plane, however, as the Reed and Ben are flying to Stockholm so Reed can speak at a conference, but because of circumstances, they’re forced to fly coach. It’s wacky! The plane gets hijacked by terrorists (remember this was 1998) from the mutant nation of Genosha, so Reed and Ben save the day.

In Stockholm, we see Crucible is there. He’s a striking figure, with gold metallic skin, blue armor, and a red cape. He has trapped the two journalists inside the bodies of stone gargoyles (!). Crucible says he has the power to transform life itself, and he’s come to Stockholm for “an alchemy of the soul,” and he wants to remind all flesh that it is “bound to the world.”

Meanwhile, Reed and ben arrive at the airport, where they are greeted by a blue-haired chauffer named Alyssa Foy and her vintage Rolls Royce speedster. Turns out Alyssa is a super-genius, and she and Reed have a history from his younger days. The two of them once shared a ten-week road trip in the Rolls from London to Capetown.

 

Later, everyone dresses in their finest for the conference, and Reed reveals the conference is about scientists all over the world finding “disturbing trends” in the space-time continuum, but all the results are contradictory. Crucible attacks the conference, saying he’s there to claim his birthright. He knocks everyone but Reed and unconscious, and he and Reed fight. Reed summons Ben, and both Ben and Alyssa join the fight. Ben throws one of Crucible’s devices out a window thinking it’s a bomb, and Reed tells Ben to go after it so Reed can study it.

Ben and Alyssa hop into the Rolls Royce, with Alyssa revealing it’s a high-tech flying car. Back at the fight, Crucible attacks Reed telepathically. Crucible says he is aware of Dr. Doom and Reed’s rivalry, and says that he is all Dr. Doom’s wasted potential come to fulfilment. Reed collapses, and Crucible thinks he’s won. Except Reed was just playing dead and attacks Crucible from behind. Although it looks like a win, Reed ponders how his body has become weak and he can barely keep it together. Reed and Alyssa find the missing device, and Alyssa deduces that it’s a scanner of some kind.

Turn the page, and Reed is fighting back, doing that thing from the Onslaught crossover where he stretches his muscles to Hulk size. He beats up Crucible, with Crucible saying the whole time that Reed has already lost. Alyssa and Ben return, as Alyssa explains that Crucible is a technological telepath, in that he doesn’t read minds, but instead reads talents. He attacked the conference to steal the genius of all the scientists. Ben and Alyssa find Reed nearly unconscious from having punched out Crucible. In a haze, Reed says, “I beat him real good, I beat him real good.”

Unstable molecule: This is the first appearance of Alyssa Moy, but this issue insists that she and Reed have maintained their friendship over the years, when them competing in chess matches via correspondence.

Fade out: Sue only appears in one page, staying at home in Pier Four, where we see she is busy paying all the bills.

Clobberin’ time: There’s a joke about Reed and Ben arriving in Stockholm with no luggage, only for Ben to reveal that their luggage was miniaturized, Ant-Man style.

Flame on: Johnny does even less than Sue in this issue, bragging that he could’ve driven the Rolls Royce better than Alyssa.

Four and a half: Franklin is the background during Sue’s one scene, and he’s wearing his own modified FF uniform, complete with the classic Power Pack moon boots. Gotta love a classic!

Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all this time. Could she be running around doing spy stuff while Ben and Reed are out of town?

Commercial break: Two thumbs up? Really?

Trivia time: Get used to Alyssa, as she’s going to be a regular supporting character from here on. We won’t get the full flashback as to her and Reed’s youthful fling until much later, though.

Crucible will be back in a few issues, when we’ll get his backstory. Would you believe that not only is this not his first appearance, but he’s been around since the ‘60s?

The references to the space-time continuum being messed up is a shout-out to Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse mega-event, where some time-travel craziness spun off all the X-Men characters into a post-apocalyptic (so to speak) timeline. If you ever find the time to sit down and read the entire thing, you’ll find it’s one of the better Marvel crossovers.

One panel references the Warwolves, villains from Excalibur. This is also a hint as to events in upcoming issues.

Fantastic or frightful? This issue must have felt weirdly incomplete when reading it back in the day. These days, though, we know that the purpose is to set up future plotlines. It’s entertaining enough, but just not a stand-alone story.

Next: The new tech.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – The Mummy’s Ghost 1944

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Time to check back in with Kharis in The Mummy’s Ghost.

Here’s what happens: The mysterious cult of Arkam recruits the creepy Yousef Bey to travel to the US on a mission to find the mummy Kharis and the body of Egyptian priestess Andoheb back to Egypt. Problem is that Andoheb has been reincarnated as college student Amira, who the shambling mummy has become fascinated with.

Monster!: Kharis first appears wandering along a country road, with no explanation of how he’s back or what he’s been doing since the last movie. Kharis is in daylight and brightly-lit for most of the movie, which robs him of some of his menace. Nonetheless, Lon Cheney Jr. shows some great physicality in those scenes where Kharis freaks out and gets all violent.

Also a monster!: John Carradine is Bey, and he’ll be reappearing as different characters in this series. He’s certainly an intriguing screen presence, tall and thin but with a deep, booming voice.

Our hero: It seems that movie sets up Amira as the protagonist, but she spends the latter half unconscious after falling under Bey’s/Kharis’ spell. This leaves Amira’s bland boyfriend Tom to fill the hero role. Although Tom’s dog is the one who finds Kharis in the end, so maybe the dog is the real hero.

Hapless humans: Ramsay Ames is great as Amira, finding the right balance between exotic beauty and girl next door. Tom and Amira’s teacher Dr. Norman is a mummy expert and seems to be set up as the movie’s Van Helsing, except that he gets killed by Kharis early on.

Thrills: Kharis has some intense kills early on, followed by a great scene where he trashes an Egyptian museum exhibit in his rage. During the finale, he leads a mob of pursuers into the swamp, for a fitting end (for now).

Laughs: There’s a theme through the movie of the local townsfolk having accept the fact that a mummy lives in town, and mummy-related killings are just a part of life now. The cops are even at the ready with a Scooby-Doo style mummy trap, but we never see if Kharis falls for it.

What’s all this, then? The movie is only 60 minutes long. This has me wondering if it’s a genuine B-movie, meant to fill the second half of a double feature.

Thoughts on this viewing: Other than Ramsay Ames’ performance, there’s not a lot to say about The Mummy’s Ghost. It’s has it’s good points but is way too similar to the previous Kharis movie to have any real identity of its own.

Next: A dish best served transparent.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Mt. Clare

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Famed writer Chris Claremont takes over the series with vol. 3 issue #4, along with artist Salvador Larocca. It’s a reunion between supporting characters, and villains both famous and obscure.

Claremont spent almost two decades writing Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, New Mutants, and Excalibur – among others – only to have other writers pick up his unfinished plotlines in sometimes baffling ways. (How many lost Summers brothers were there, again?) There’s much speculation as to how and why Claremont left the X-Men titles in the mid-90s, when the mutants were at the height of their popularity. The year 1998 sees Claremont back at Marvel as the new Fantastic Four writer. Claremont is beloved for helping define the Marvel Universe as we know it, but he is also controversial for working his many, shall we say, personal eccentricities into his writing.

Chris Claremont.

The issue begins with Ben on a balcony at Pier Four (the team’s current headquarters) which overlooks the Statue of Liberty. He thinks of his father, and growing up in poverty, wondering what his dad would think of him now. He gets beaned in the dead by a brick wrapped up in a newspaper – another prank from the Yancy Street Gang. He also meets up with sexy mailwoman Billie. Billie mentions her uncle, but before we get any more information, a “cosmic flare” goes off from former HQ Four Freedoms Plaza, which can also be seen in the distance.

Ben takes off in his FF skycycle, calling his teammates for backup. He also self-narrates about how the Thunderbolts have left Four Freedoms Plaza trashed after hero Citizen V was revealed to be former villain Baron Zemo. At the building, Ben comes across the Silver Surfer and Alicia. They quickly catch up – she thought he was dead during the whole Heroes Reborn thing, and he wonders why she took off into space with the Surfer. The Surfer is in a weakened state, and Ben promises to help, despite the tension between him and Alicia. As the rest of the FF approach in the Fantasticar, the car’s engine goes haywire with the team hurrying to avoid collateral damage as it crashes atop the building.

There’s a short scene with the two archeologists from last issue, now captured by the mysterious man named Crucible. He has them abducted and on board an airplane somewhere over Asia. Then it’s back to the FF, where the Surfer is feeling better and leading the Fantasti-jet in flight from New York into Canada. Sue and Reed have a heart-to-heart chat about dividing their time between parenting and superheroing. Ben and Alicia have a similar heart-to-heart where he asks her if her relationship with the Silver Surfer is serious, and she doesn’t really answer. Then it’s a third heart-t0-heart between Johnny and the Surfer, where the Surfer says he’s come to care about Alicia and doesn’t like the thought of leaving her behind on Earth.

The heroes arrive in the small town of Yorkton, Canada, where the Surfer, once again in a weakened state, follows his instincts as why he’s been driven there. The heroes can find no anomalies of any kind in the seemingly normal town. It’s only then that the Mole Man steps out of a nearby building. He makes a big speech about the superiority of the underground kingdom, but Ben talks him out of a fight.

The Mole Man leads the FF inside, promising them answers. Inside the building, we see the subterranean Moloids, who have become sick after fleeing the underground kingdom to the surface world. Sue asks who could be responsible, and she gets her answer from Terminus, who smashes open the roof of the building. There’s some quick exposition about how Terminus is a would-be world-devourer who keeps getting driven deep into the Earth by the FF, the Avengers and X-Men. A closer look at Terminus’ hands reveals he has a new body, composed of hundreds of Moloids all stuck together.

Ben wants to fight, but Reed says the Moloids have been transformed due to a virus, and they need a cure, not a battle. The Mole Man, meanwhile, is overcome with grief that such a horror has happened to his subjects. The Surfer then discusses how Terminus is different from Galactus. Galactus has the Power Cosmic, which is sensitive to life, while Terminus twists and corrupts life for his own end. Terminus starts stomping around the town of Yorkton, and NOW everyone fights. Johnny gets smashed downward into an underground river, where he’s saved by a mysterious stranger. Reed says the heroes must destabilize Terminus’ new form. Reed attacks Terminus, while the Surfer can sense that the individual Moloids still have some free will, and are mentally fighting Terminus’ control.

The Moloids start to break away from Terminus’ body, but are still under his thrall, and now threat to spread the virus wherever they go. Terminus makes a big speech about using the Moloids to purge poison from the Earth. That’s when Alicia approaches the battle, saying the Silver Surfer needs her help to find a pattern he needs to undo what Terminus has done. While the FF fear for Alicia’s safety, she manages to guide the Silver Surfer in using the power cosmic to stop Terminus and restore order to all the Moloids.

Ben is wracked with sadness, thinking that Alicia and the Silver Surfer look like they were meant to be together. But he then puts on a brave face and says no matter what happens, he’ll always be Alicia’s friend, and will always be there for her if she needs him. He then adds a warning for the Surfer, “Treat her wrong… you’ll answer to me.”

Unstable molecule: Reed says the new Terminus is reminiscent of the Clive Barker short story, In the Hills, the Cities. Here we have Chris Claremont not hiding his influences, but the real question is since when is the typically buttoned-up Reed Richards a Clive Barker fan?

Fade out: During the final battle, Sue manages to save the town by putting a “full spectrum” force field around Terminus so the power cosmic doesn’t escape. We’re told this means the force field blocks not just physical force, but light, heat, and radiation – a power I don’t believe Sue has demonstrated before.

Clobberin’ time: The comic remembers that Ben and the Mole Man were friends once, when Ben temporarily lived in the underground kingdom. Ben tries to reason with Mole Man at first, before Terminus shows up.

Flame on: Johnny saves everyone from the crashing Fantasticar by creating a cushion of hot air under it. Later, he tries the same trick against Terminus, only to get knocked into an underground river. Nonetheless, Reed praises Johnny, saying there’s no one else on Earth who understands fire better.

Four and a half: Franklin appears in one panel, playing a video game. We don’t get to see what game, sadly.

Commercial break: Ahh, the majesty and wonder of Greek mythology brought to life on the big screen.

Trivia time: Turns out when the Avengers fought Terminus, it wasn’t really Terminus. An issue of Quasar later revealed that it was a creature named Jorro who was impersonating Terminus. Similarly, the X-Men’s encounter with Terminus wasn’t really a Terminus story, but a faceoff with the High Evolutionary in response to Terminus’ (really Jorro’s) actions. The X-Men would finally meet the real Terminus years later, in a 2012 storyline, in which Terminus was one of several aliens invading the Earth at once.

Because we’re in Canada, one character suggests calling Alpha Flight for help. This month’s issue of Alpha Flight had the team fighting (of course) Wolverine, who had (of course) reverted back to an animalistic state.

Fantastic or frightful? Giving Terminus a new body composed of thousands of diseased Moloids is an odd concept, even for Marvel. The good news is Claremont writes the FF characters nicely. I also like Salvador Larocca’s early artwork, which was really cartoony and almost Disney-like. I’d say the good outweighs the bad.

Next: The crux of the matter.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – Son of Dracula 1943

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Lon Cheney Jr. establishes himself as the official “face” of the Universal monsters with the title role in 1943’s Son of Dracula.

Here’s what happens: New Orleans heiress Katherine returns from Romania with a new fiancé, Count Alucard. (Get it?) Katherine’s father then mysteriously dies, leaving his fortune to her and her sister. Katherine’s now ex-boyfriend investigates, only to see Katherine die and then later be back from the dead. Things just get more complicated from there.

Monster!: I like Lon Cheney Jr. as much as the next person, but I don’t know that he was the best choice to play Dracula. His guy-next-door charm that made him so likable in The Wolf Man doesn’t translate to Dracula’s high-falootin’ dialogue about moonlight and immortality.

Also a monster!: The movie’s plot is driven by Katherine’s transformation into a vampire, so much that I wonder if Bride of Dracula might have been a working title. Except that vamp Katherine isn’t so much evil, wanting to reunite with her beau Frank is the third act.

Our hero: Frank is a real man of action, carrying a pistol and unloading bullets into Dracula. He gets more and more unhinged in the second act when he thinks Katherine is dead. Then it’s a tragic ending when he says goodbye to Katherine rather than saving her.

Hapless humans: Two stately elders, Dr. Brewster and Dr. Lazlo, team up for the Van Helsing role to investigate Dracula. One of the movie’s smartest decisions is having Brewster figure out the “Alucard is Dracula backward” bit in the first scene, so the audience doesn’t think he’s an idiot. Katherine’s sister Claire is also along for the ride, more or less acting as the two doctors’ sidekick.

Frights: Lots of bat action in this one. It’s the first time we see Dracula actually transform into a bat in that sweet old-timey animation effect, and a great bit where someone gets attacked by Drac in bat form. Dracula also transforms from a mist into human form and then floats over the swamp, in one of the movie’s best scenes. The final confrontation is also memorable, with a great death scene for the Count.

Laughs: Not a lot of comic relief this time, except for one scene where a goofy guy at the police station overhears Frank and Katherine talking, and just assumes Frank is talking to himself.

What’s all this, then?: The movie is called Son of Dracula, but the dialogue would have us believe that this is the one and only Drac, with characters merely assuming he’s the son due to his agelessness. The movie ends with no definitive answer one way or the other.

Thoughts upon this viewing: I was a little bored with this one at first, but it won me over as it went along. Even though Cheney’s performance didn’t work for me, but I really dug the doomed romance stuff between Katherine and Frank.

Next: A dish best served transparent.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Which ape is which?

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Vol. 3 issue #3 is the third and final issue with legendary artist Alan Davis, who co-wrote this one with writer Scott Lobdell. Davis originally intended to stay on Fantastic Four longer, but left when he got the chance to do his passion project The Nail at DC. For part three of the Davis trilogy, we’ve got apes.

It’s New Years Eve in NYC, and the Sue, Ben, and Johnny are in formal wear ready to go to a benefit gala. Reed is still in his lab working. The others break into the lab to find Reed performing an autopsy on last issue’s villain, the Iconoclast. The FF are horrified, but Reed explains that it’s not really the Iconoclast, but a holographic recreation of him. Reed says the Iconoclast is a human-sized single-cell organism, which somehow explains why he could not be detected. Sue, Ben and Johnny take off to the benefit, and Reed promises to catch up.

Cut to outer space, where readers are reunited with Alicia Masters. Readers who haven’t been following Silver Surfer during this time might not know that Alicia has been a supporting character in that comic for a time, and some might really be surprised to learn that Alicia and the Surfer have become a romantic couple by this point. The Surfer tells Alicia that his thoughts dwell on Earth after learning that the heroes who died/disappeared during Onslaught and Heroes Reborn have returned. Alicia says that although Ben has made no effort to contact her, she wonders if it’s time for her to get in touch with him. Then the Silver gets another premonition of Earth, saying that something is growing deep within the Earth, which may pose a threat to the planet.

Back in NYC, we’re at Empire State University, where we meet security guard Devin Chapman, who thinks of himself as a crimefighter called “Campus Defender,” and grad student Cathy Polombo, who is studying biopsy results on a test monkey. She discovers synthetic fibers in the monkey’s muscles and strange readings in its blood. She calls her student advisor, a “consulting professor,” and leaves a message. A voice tells her to hang up the phone. Cathy turns to face the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes. Note that the Super-Apes are now intelligent and can speak, while the Red Ghost only grunts and acts ape-like. The apes introduce themselves as Mikhlo, Peator (the gorilla), and Igor.

At Pier Four, Reed is still tinkering with the hologram when H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot alerts him to a phone call. Reed assumes it’s Sue, but it’s Cathy, revealing that Reed is her consulting professor. He flies to the scene in the Fantasticar and while calling the rest of the FF. At ESU, the apes trashing the lab. Devin Chapman the Campus Defender tries to intervene, giving the apes to show off their powers. The apes now have multiple superpowers, including shape-changing and telekinesis. The Super-Apes reveal that Igor has been posing as a lab monkey to secretly build a toxic nerve gas device in the lab when alone each night. They plan to release the gas in Times Square.

Reed busts into the lab and fights the apes, with Paetor the gorilla providing the only real challenge. Reed observes that the apes share each others’ powers, and the Red Ghost’s intellect is now distributed among the apes. Reed knocks out Paetor just as his teammates burst through the door. With the Red Ghost too innocent and childlike to fight back, Ben declares the crisis over. Reed, however, recalls that Red Ghost and the apes got their powers from the same cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers. Reed wonders if the FF will face the same fate.

Then, somewhere in the mountains of Tibet, two explorers come across an ancient monastery. They find a bunch of dead bodies inside and then they’re confronted by a man in the shadows who calls himself Crucible. Cut from there to Subterranea, where the Mole Man is getting out of a bath (!) to discover all his minions have disappeared. He senses a monster crawling up from the depths of the planet, and he says that although he doesn’t care about the surface world, he will fight with his dying breath to save his people.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: To spy on the Super-Apes, Reed stretches one eyeball through a grate (gross). Also for anyone who says Reed is boring, he is a man of action in this issue, taking out three super-powered enemies without breaking a sweat.

Fade out: Sue shows off her science-brain by pointing out that a single-celled organism is an amoeba.

Clobberin’ time: Ben says he’s uncomfortable in his New Year’s tuxedo, and sure enough he ditches it to jump into action.

Flame on: Johnny gives Reed a hard time for Reed being on a first-name basis with the three Super-Apes, but then Johnny remembers that the Red Ghost’s first name is Ivan two panels later.

Fantastic fifth wheel: H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot has been demoted to the team’s answering machine. Sue has programmed him not to respond to Reed’s “not now” when he calls, but Reed counters that with a code that automatically deactivates H.E.R.B.I.E. (Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.)

Medusa shows up in this one-page pinup by Alan Davis and inker Mark Farmer.

Commercial break: Cyberswine!

Trivia time: Which ape is which? This issue says that Paetor is the gorilla, but the Marvel Wiki claims Miklho is the gorilla, with Paetor being the orangutan and Igor being the baboon. Maybe their names/identities/consciousnesses got switched around along with their powers. (Alternatively, the Wiki also lists the Super-Apes appearance in a Hostess Fruit Pie ad as canon, so maybe the Wiki isn’t the definitive source we think it is.)

The story of how Red Ghost and his Super-Apes were transformed has never been revealed. They next appeared in Wolverine #164, where they were in jail and back to their usual selves.

Sharp-eyed readers will recognize the monastery as the same one from Dr. Doom’s origin story, where Doom crafted his armor. The Crucible storyline won’t be picked up again until vol. 3 issue #5.

This is the only appearance of security guard Devin Chapman, which is too bad. I wouldn’t have minded the further adventures of the Campus Defender.

Fantastic or frightful? How sad that this is all we get from Alan Davis and Scott Lobdell. This has a ton of great character moments and cinematic action. It’s a reminder of how comics can be pure fun.

Next: Mt. Clare.

****

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Universal monsters rewatch – Phantom of the Opera 1943

Rewatching the Universal monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. This 1943 version of Phantom of the Opera is the oddity in the box set, as it’s in color, and more of a romance/musical than it is horror. Is it a worthy inclusion?

Here’s what happens: Violinist and would-be composer Claudin believes the managers of the Paris Opera House stole his concerto. A fight breaks out, Claudin’s face is scarred with conveniently-placed acid, and he flees into the city sewers. He later reemerges as the Phantom, with a plot for revenge, and an obsession with up-and-coming singer Christine.

Monster! It’s not until 53 minutes into this 90-minute movie that we see the Phantom in all his masked glory. Claude Rains definitely gives it his all, though, starting as a sad sack, then becoming menacing, and ending in sadness again.

Also a monster! A woman named Claudette is the one who throws the acid in Claudin’s face, more or less turning him into the Phantom. While Claudin dishes out revenge throughout the movie, I find it odd he never goes back for Claudette.

Our hero: Christine DuBois (not Daae) spends most of the movie either frightened or mesmerized by the many men in her life. Her hero moment is of course when she unmasks the Phantom. But her real hero moment is the ending, where she chooses romance with none of the men, wanting to focus on her career instead.

Hapless humans: Christine has two would-be suitors — Raoul, a cop, and Anatole, a fellow singer. Add to this the usual collection of opera singers and managers, who, when not singing, are befuddled by the Phantom’s menace.

Thrills: When Claudin is finally revealed as the Phantom, there’s a big chase through the theater backstage. Later, the movie does the famous “bring down the chandelier” scene, as a big set piece. The final unmasking and confrontation has some cool makeup effects, but ends abruptly.

Laughs: Raoul and Anatole do a lot of bumbling romantic comedy hijinks as they try to woo Christine. It’s also at this point that it must be pointed out that the plot often stops for opera scenes. Lots and lots and LOTS of opera in this movie.

What’s all this then? Okay, so why is this version of Phantom of the Opera on the Blu-ray box, and not the 1925 Lon Cheney Sr. version, which is more well-known (and, I daresay, a lot better)? Further, the 1925 version was made by Universal and famed monster-movie producer Carl Laemmle. Even more further, Universal in the 1930s re-released that film with a new audio track with voice to sell it to fans of Dracula and Frankenstein. I suspect that because the 1925 film pre-dates the formation of Universal’s so-called “monster office” it doesn’t make the Blu-ray box. Everybody should definitely buy the Kino Lorber Blu of the 1925 film, a must-own for movie lovers.

Thoughts upon this viewing: I get it, it’s the 1940s and technicolor musicals are huge. But, man, there is so much opera singing in this movie, and so little of it has to do with the plot. I guess for a lot of 1943 audience members, this would be their only change to see an opera. But it’s a lot less a monster movie and more a lavish musical.

Next: “Gomez, get those out of his mouth.”

****

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