Friday the 13th: The Series rewatch – The Great Montarro

It’s the Halloween season, so let’s watch season one of Friday the 13th: The Series.

“Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now, they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.”

Episode six takes us deep into the world stage magic, with some actual demonic magic thrown in, for “The Great Montarro.”

Peek.

A magician, Fahteem, steps into a coffin, which is impaled with swords, only for him to walk out unscathed. What the audience doesn’t know is that there is an identical coffin backstage where a victim receives the injuries in Fahteem’s place. After the show, an unseen person murders Fahteem and takes both coffins. Micki, Ryan and Jack learn of the death, and read about the coffins in the store’s manifest.

Not quite Vegas.

Jack brings back his old magic act, the Great Mad Marshak, to enter a magicians’ competition in the city, where the coffins have been spotted. From there, the episode is a whodunit, with a cast of kooky magician characters among the suspects. After a few more grisly murders, the killer is revealed to be one magician’s daughter, also his assistant. She locks Micki in one coffin while the magician does his act. Jack and Ryan rescue Micki, the magician dies, and the assistant (presumably) is off to jail for killing him and the others.

Trapped.

When the show is smart: The stage magician theme means we can have murders committed by elaborate death traps, which means the show’s creators get to be more creative than just a killer with a machete.

When the show is cheesy: Being a whodunit, there are some subplots and red herrings that don’t quite make sense. Two of the deaths are only barely related to main story, and I wonder if they only happened because this is a horror show and they’ve got to keep the killings going so people don’t change the channel.

Suspicious.

Devilish dialogue: Micki: “How long did you say it takes for that rope to burn through?” Jack: “Oh, lots of time. Almost a minute.” Micki: “It took you 85 seconds.” Jack: “Well, it’s faster upside down.”

Trivia tidbits:

– The story takes place in and around the Magic Temple, obviously based on LA’s famous Magic Castle. The episode, though, like every episode, was filmed in Vancouver.

– This is one of several episodes featuring unusually large antiques, raising a question as to how they fit inside the vault beneath the antique store. This won’t be dealt with until season three.

The family that escapes straightjackets together, stays together.

Back in the vault: A stand-alone episode that almost all plot and little character. It’s entertaining enough for what it is, but it’s not the show at its best.

Next: Dear Boss…

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Installin’ Stalin

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The gun-toting alternate timeline action keeps on keepin’ on in issue #344.

After a time travel adventure, our heroes have landed in an alternate timeline, where World War III has just broken out. U.S. President Dan Quayle and Soviet leader Josef Stalin have launched nukes, so the FF have armed themselves with ridiculously oversized cool guns to put an end to the conflict. The first couple of pages are the heroes using their cool guns to shoot down the nuclear missiles. The guns are equipped with EMP blasts, which disarm the nukes, letting them fall to the ground with exploding.

Reed contacts the White House and asks that the FF be given six to solve the crisis themselves. The Russians fire their nukes again, this time aiming for the FF’s plane. Sue turns the entire plane invisible and Ben flies it into Soviet space. The team sneak into Moscow inside a stereotypically Russian potato truck. They break into Soviet headquarters, fight some guards, and make their way into a huge science lab. There, they find Stalin wearing a King Kong-size exoskeleton. He is… the Supreme Soviet!

Stalin has prepared for a fight against the FF, and has weapons to counterattack their powers. Then, Ben reaches into his knapsack and pulls out his Thing-shaped exoskeleton. (We’re told he used Tony Stark’s shrinking tech to bring it along. Does that mean in this timeline Tony is Ant-Man instead of Iron Man?) Now with two Things on the team, our heroes knock Stalin off balance, and Reeds shoots him with an EMP from one of the cool guns. Reed then reveals that it’s not just an exoskeleton, but Stalin himself is a robot!

Reed then pulls a fast one on the Russians, reprogramming the Stalin robot to be a good guy. “Stalin” reorganizes the government so that he and his inner circle are no longer in charge, turning Russian rule over to Gorbachev, who just happens to be there.

The FF return to headquarters, where we’re told that this timeline’s FF is still on their time travel adventure from the previous few issues. We’re also told that Reed made adjustments to the time sled that brought them there, so getting home won’t be a problem this time. This timeline’s Alicia gives Ben a kiss goodbye, to say thanks for saving the world. Sharon doesn’t like seeing this, and is overcome with jealousy. The FF leave just in time for the alt-timeline FF to get home. There, they find that Ben has left behind a file he stole from the Soviets, revealing that President Dan Quayle is also a robot! Surprise twist!

Unstable molecule: Reed is also a hacker in addition to scientist and engineer, because he’s abel to override the White House’s security system and place a phone call directly to the Oval Office.

Fade out: Sue mentions several times that her powers aren’t at their strongest because she’s exhausted. I guess this is to explain why she doesn’t destroy the Supreme Soviet with force fields the second she sees him, but it still feels out of character.

Clobberin’ time: Ben gets to show off his piloting skills, as we’re told he flew all the Moscow 20 feet off the ground to avoid radar. (Is that even possible?)

Flame on: Johnny makes a wisecrack about the New Warriors, whose series had just debuted. The New Warriors had already participated in the Acts of Vengeance crossover, and in their first issue they fought a villain on live TV, so it makes sense that Johnny knows who they are.

Fantastic fifth wheel: While Sharon has been a trusted member of the team for almost 40 issues now, her bout of jealousy in this issue is setting up her upcoming exit from the series.

The Alicia problem: Again, there’s no of knowing whether the alternate timeline Alicia is Lyja the Skrull in disguise. She has a line where she says it’s as if she’s know our timeline’s Ben all her life. Perhaps this is a reference to how Lyja studied the FF thoroughly before infiltrating them.

Commercial break: I love how “Drug Lord” is a proper noun:

Trivia time: So in the alternate timeline, the leaders of both Russia and America are robots in disguise. Who built these robots? And for what purpose? We’ll never know, because, according to the Marvel Wiki, we never return to this timeline.

Fantastic or frightful? So the “Fantastic Four use guns now” controversy ends as soon as it began, as the guns are non-lethal and not used that much. What’s left is a fun, action-packed issue that’s surprisingly apolitical given the subject matter. The message is merely “don’t drop bombs on people.”

Next week: We’re still not done time traveling!

****

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

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Friday the 13th: The Series rewatch – Hellowe’en

It’s the Halloween season, so let’s watch season one of Friday the 13th: The Series.

“Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now, they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.”

Episode five is the big Halloween episode, which is of course titled “Hellowe’en.”

Life of the party.

It’s Halloween night, and Micki and Ryan are throwing a party in the antiques store to show the neighbors that it’s under new management. While everyone is having a good time, two party dudes sneak into the basement and mess with a glowing crystal ball in the vault. The power goes out and the whole building starts to shake. The party guests flee, leaving Micki and Ryan alone to confronted by the ghost of their Uncle Lewis.

Lewis gives them a sob story about how he’s suffering in hell. He reveals a hidden room in the store, which was his wife’s bedroom. There, they find the preserved body of Lewis’ dead wife Grace. Lewis says he needs an antique from the vault, the Amulet of Zohar, to be reunited with his wife. Micki and Ryan actually believe him and give him the amulet. This gives him physical form and superhuman strength, allowing him to throw Ryan across the room. Lewis flees the store.

Uncle Lewis don’t need no hockey mask.

Outside the store, Jack encounters a bizarre trick-or-treater, who transforms from a child to a little person, and who uses magic to trap Jack behind some iron bars. Jack uses reverse psychology on some street thug passersby to free him.

The face of evil.

Micki and Ryan pursue Lewis to the nearest morgue. Despite having physical form, Lewis isn’t truly alive, and needs a new body to possess, to truly live again. The trick-or-treater is revealed to be a demon (!) named Greta. With the combined powers of telekinesis and mind control, Greta traps the cousins in coffins and puts them on a conveyor belt headed for the cremator. Jack rescues them just in time. Jack confronts Lewis, attempting a counter-spell to prevent Lewis from completing his possession before dawn (when Halloween ends, apparently). Micki and Ryan distract Greta, who knocks out the electricity before tripping and impaling herself on a scalpel (!). Lewis doesn’t know the clock has stopped, fails to complete his spell before sunrise, and vanishes.

And to think 1980s parents’ groups had problems with this stuff.

Back at the store, Jack says that Grace’s body isn’t really in the hidden room, and that it was all a trick by Lewis. He then reveals that he loved Grace as well, but couldn’t be with her because she married Lewis. Jack finally states that Halloween may be over, but in two weeks it’ll be… Friday the 13th.

When the show is smart: When we last saw Uncle Lewis, he’d had a change of heart and wanted to be good again, only to be sucked into Hell. In this episode he’s pure evil. I suppose we could argue that his experience in Hell has left him with a “whatever it takes” motivation to become human again, even if he does seem to enjoy his own villainy. On the other hand, the inconsistencies don’t matter, because Lewis is an effective baddie because he’s so mysterious.

When the show is cheesy: I’m not clear on how the two party dudes find their way into the vault, which has been shown to be opened by a hidden brick on the wall. Also, there’s no explanation of the weird crystal ball that sets all this in motion, other than some mumbo jumbo about how spirits roam more freely on Halloween night.

Devilish dialogue: Jack insults the street thugs: “I’ve seen your type before. You’re peasants, aren’t you? All mouth and no action, because you’re too small where it counts.”

That hair, though.

Trivia tidbits:

– For costumes, Jack is Merlin and Ryan is a Robin Hood type. Micki is either a witch or a rock star. Or maybe a G.L.O.W. wrestler.

– The hidden bedroom on the store’s first floor is never seen or referenced again. Perhaps the entire room was part of Lewis’ illusion?

– This is the only time in the show’s history that the date “Friday the 13th” is spoken out loud, or even referenced for that matter.

Back in the vault: This episode packs a lot into its hour runtime, with a lot of over-the-top B-horror/monster movie action. Also, the series didn’t do “mythology” episodes often, normally content to stick to killer-of-the-week shows. Establishing Lewis as F13’s baddest bad guy and filling in gaps in our character’s histories just adds to the fun.

Next: Not quite The Prestige.

****

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

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Friday the 13th: The Series rewatch – Cup of Time

It’s the Halloween season, so let’s watch season one of Friday the 13th: The Series.

“Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now, they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.”

In episode four, “Cup of Time,” our heroes are in pursuit of an antique China cup that grants its wearer eternal youth. The cup’s owner gets someone to drink from it. The victim dies and the owner stays young. The owner in this case is up-and-coming rock singer with the unfortunate name of Lady Die, keeping her youthful good looks to keep her hits on the charts. Ryan goes undercover as an entertainment journalist (with his own limo, no less) to get the cup back.

The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

What follows is a lot of running around a city park, conveniently located within walking distance from Lady Die’s big music venue, where Lady Die preys on innocent homeless folks. Along the way, a kindly social worker with a crush on Jack gets a hold of the cup, but chickens out before actually killing someone. A rapidly-aging Lady Die gets the cup back, only for Jack to steal it away from her again. Lady Die becomes a creepy old lady before getting the crumbling-to-dust treatment.

She chose… poorly.

When the show is smart: It would have been easy (and inexpensive) for the creators to have the cup kill people by poisoning. The F13 writers, however, take a more creative approach. The cup has an ivy pattern on it, and it kills by bringing the ivy to life and strangling people with it in a stop-motion effects sequence.

Ivy league.

When the show is cheesy: Fans have debated over the years where this filmed-in-Vancouver show is supposed to take place. Some think it’s upstate New York, where the characters can go from the city to the suburbs to farm land with relative ease any week. Others believe the takes place on the outskirts of Chicago, because of various Chicago-related T-shirts Ryan sometimes wears. “Cup of Time,” with its concert venue next to a woodland park, doesn’t help the confused geography.

Flirting.

Devilish dialogue: Ryan: “You have a problem with Lady Die?” Micki: “I have no problem with her. It’s deafness I’m concerned with.”

Trivia tidbits:

– Add forgery to Jack’s list of skills, as he’s the one whips up Ryan’s phony press credentials.

– Hilary Shephard, who plays Lady Die, was the singer of the short-lived ‘80s band The American Girls. She allegedly beat out Moon Zappa to get this part. (!)

The face of ROCK.

Back in the vault: A fun episode, but not really the show at its best. It promises cool MTV rock star stuff, but then everyone spends all their time wandering around a park. We’ll get to the good stuff soon, I promise.

Next week: The good stuff.

****

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

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Friday the 13th: The Series rewatch – Cupid’s Quiver

It’s the Halloween season, so let’s watch season one of Friday the 13th: The Series.

“Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now, they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.”

The face of love.

Episode three, “Cupid’s Quiver,” finds Micki, Ryan, and their friend Jack running around a college campus where love — via problematic mind control — is in the air.

Unwanted advances.

The evil antique of the week (heh) is a small statue of cupid, which can make anyone fall in love with its owner. Because nothing on this show is that simple, death and murder keep happening in the statue’s wake. The statue is owned by a shy, awkward college student, who is using it to land hot babes. After a few failed attempts to get the statue back, Jack plays bartender at a frat party spiking the punch with truth serum (!) to help find it.

An occultist and two antique store owners walk into a bar…

During the final confrontation, the killer uses the statue to mind-control Micki, putting her between him and Ryan. He is his own undoing, though, dying after he hits his head. This breaks the spell on Micki, and our heroes get the statue back.

When the show is smart: This episode has a subplot of Micki and Ryan running afoul of a cop who is investigating the murders. This (perhaps unintentionally) addresses why Micki and Ryan don’t just go to the cops for help with their cursed antiques.

When the show is cheesy: One big set piece in this episode has the villain killing someone by trapping her in a car filled with bees. You’d think this would be an overly convoluted way to kill someone, but this series does the murder-by-bees thing more than once.

Ready, shoot, aim.

Devilish dialogue: Micki: “I can’t believe anybody lives like this.” Ryan: “Dracula lives like this.” Micki: “I meant someone real.” Ryan: “Are you suggesting Dracula isn’t real?”

Trivia tidbits:

– This episode is the first to show that Micki and Ryan are actually living at the antique store, where the upper floor has bedrooms and at least one bathroom.

– Add bartending and truth serum concocting to Jack’s list of skills.

– Although the third one aired, this was the first episode to be filmed. Alyse Wax’s excellent Curious Goods book reveals that the actors started filming before signing their contracts, and were almost fired for this. Fortunately, they signed during their lunch break and all was well.

– This episode was directed by Atom Egoyan, just before he became an indie film darling with features like The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica.

Jack’s cool research desk is in the middle of the store, where people are presumably shopping. Who designed this place?

Back in the vault: Most episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series are morality plays, and this is the first of those. The villain kills someone, and gets his wish granted. But, in order to keep his wish going, he has to keep killing. Later episodes will showcase some more sympathetic villains, but this one does a good job of setting the tone for things to come.

Next: Tea, earl grey, hot.

 

****

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

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Friday the 13th: The Series rewatch – The Poison Pen

It’s the Halloween season, so let’s watch season one of Friday the 13th: The Series.

“Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now, they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.”

I saw The Omen too.

In the second episode, “The Poison Pen,” we’re diving deep into “religious horror” territory, I guess to further give this series its own identity outside of its slasher movie namesake. At an all-male religious sect (the script never uses the words “monastery” or “monks”) a man is using a cursed antique pen to predict/cause deaths in the future. To get the pen back, Ryan and Micki go undercover, with Micki unconvincingly disguised as a man.

Believable disguises, like Clark Kent’s glasses.

After a lot of sneaking around at night and a few more murders, it’s revealed that two of the not-monks are secretly escaped convicts, using the pen to kill off the sect’s leaders so they can sell their land to a greedy developer. Micki and Ryan get the pen back after the convicts are taken out by a guillotine (!), which the pen of course predicted.

Conspirator.

When the show is smart: We can laugh all we want about how Ryan and especially Micki fail to pass themselves off as members of the sect, but the show cops to this, with the villains not believing them from the start, suspecting them to be cops or investigative journalists.

When the show is cheesy: Did they explain why this religious sect owns a guillotine and I missed it? Also, a guillotine by itself just isn’t spooky enough, so the blade has to come to life and fly around the room during the finale.

This flying guillotine needs no master.

Devilish dialogue: Jack: “I thought you were meditating.” Villain: “I was pre-meditating.”

Trivia tidbits:

– Micki is played by Louise Robey, credited as just “Robey” in an attempt to create a new Madonna/Cher type. These days she just goes ahead and uses her full name.

– The villain is played by actor Colin Fox, who would later appear in two more episodes, each time as a different villain.

The cursed pen also gives its owner calligraphy powers.

Back in the vault: An odd choice for the second episode. Someone who hadn’t seen the premiere would probably have no idea what this new show is about. There are a few spooky scenes, such as Micki attacked by a huge spider, but that’s about it.

Next: Not-so-okay Cupid.

****

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

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Friday the 13th: The Series rewatch – The Inheritance.

It’s the Halloween season, so let’s watch season one of Friday the 13th: The Series.

You might recall that the show had nothing to do with Jason Voorhees and everything to do with an evil antique store. The series ran from 1987 to 1990 in syndication, and is perhaps most famous for being at the forefront of the big “too much violence on television” controversy of the late ‘80s. Most important, I love the show dearly, so let’s watch it.

Before going further, I have to give a shout-out to the book Curious Goods: Behind the Scenes of Friday the 13th: The Series by Alyse Wax, which is easily the definitive resource for fans of the show, overflowing with interviews and behind-the-scenes history. If only every making-of book was this exhaustive.

Although the first epiosde, “The Inheritance,” doesn’t include the show’s opening narration, it’s worth repeating as we go into this rewatch: “Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil, to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul.” The first scene in the first episode is our introduction to Uncle Lewis, the number one villain of the series. A family enters the antique store and wants to buy a doll for their young daughter. Lewis has had enough, and ushers them out of the store, saying the doll isn’t for sale. Lewis is then chased through the store by explosions of fire and ghostly spirits, eventually falling down an elevator pit (This two-story building somehow has a freight elevator) and into a pit leading to (I’m assuming) Hell.

Move over, Jason. Here’s Uncle Lewis.

This is a major point in the show’s mythology, and it happens so fast. Who is Lewis? Why was this incident his breaking point? We don’t know. Perhaps leaving the store to Micki and Ryan was also him leaning toward the good. When Lewis later returns, he’ll be pure evil (or will he?) so this short glimpse of such a major character leaves us with a lot of questions.

Boogens.

We finally meet cousins Micki (Robey, a.k.a. Louise Robey) and Ryan (John D. LeMay)  as they meet at the antique store. They’ve never met (Ryan thought his long-lost cousin was a guy named Michael). After discovering more antiques in an underground vault, the cousins temporarily reopen the store to sell the last of the antiques. The family from the opening scene comes back, and buys the creepy doll for the little girl.

The antiques business is hard work.

That night, Jack Marshak shows up, saying he supplies Lewis with some of the rarer antiques an that Lewis often forgets to pay him. Upon learning Lewis is dead and Micki and Ryan are his family, Jack offers more backstory, saying he and Lewis were childhood friends, and Jack was the one who first taught Lewis the ways of magic and the dark arts. When Lewis started getting deeper into stuff like devil worship, their friendship became strained. The cousins find Lewis’ manifest — a huge book containing records of everything he sold — and Jack deduces that Lewis sold his soul to the devil, receiving wealth and immortality in exchange for selling the antiques, which are infused the devil’s evil doings.

Meeting of the minds.

Feeling remorse over having sold off the evil doll, Micki and Ryan go looking for it. The doll has been busy, being a loyal (and talking!) plaything for the little girl, and using telekinesis powers to kill anyone who tries to separate them, including the girl’s nanny and stepmother. Micki and Ryan show up, and there’s a spooky battle in a backyard playground, with the doll darkening the sun and summoning a storm to fight back. Micki wrests the doll away from the girl, and it’s over.

No one ever suspects the doll.

Back at the store, Jack explains that the cursed antiques cannot be destroyed, but they can be kept safe by locking them in the hidden vault under the store. Micki calls her fiancé to tell him the wedding is postponed until she gets things sorted out at the store. We get the show’s mission statement when it’s said that the three of them must get back all the antiques. Running the store and selling regular, non-evil antiques will be their cover. (I guess calling the cops is not an option?) It’s also during this scene that Jack gives the store its new name: Curious Goods.

Peek.

When the show is smart: A line of dialogue states that the little girl has “lost two moms now” revealing that this domineering woman the “evil stepmother” trope. This means the spooky doll isn’t just a spooky doll, but representative of the girl’s biological mother. Best of all, the writers let this psychological stuff simmer in the background rather than hit us over the head with it.

When the show is cheesy: This first batch of episodes had a running gag with Ryan saying flirtatious pickup lines towards Micki. I’d like to give the show the benefit of the doubt and say Ryan is just joking, but it’s still weird. There remains, however, a lot of Ryan/Micki “shippers” among the show’s fandom. The person who edited the show’s Wikipedia entry appears to be one, insisting multiple times that the two are “cousins through marriage.”

Devilish dialogue: Micki: “What’s going to happen to Mary?” Ryan: “Oh, a good shrink ought to be able to fix her up in about 20 years.”

Trivia tidbits:

– The little girl is played by Sarah Polley, who went on to have a successful Hollywood career.

– Although written to be the first episode, this was filmed after several others, to give the cast and crew time to gel.

– This episode received the first of the show’s two Emmy nominations, for Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Title Sequence. It lost to the PBS series Mystery.

– Why’s it called Friday the 13th? Paramount had a hit going with Star Trek: The Next Generation, which succeeded with the Star Trek name, but all-new characters in place of Shatner and co. So Paramount gave producer Frank Mancuso Jr. freedom to do whatever he wanted, as long as it was called Friday the 13. The antique store setup was an attempt to give the show a Twilight Zone anthology feel.

Back in the vault: The episode packs a ton of information in its one hour, both introducing us to all the characters and the haunted store, while also doing a full-on killer doll movie alongside it. I enjoy the episode, but there’s so much cheesiness in it that I don’t know if this one alone can justify my love of the show. Things will get more interesting — and a lot crazier — as the show progresses. (I promise the rest of these blog entries won’t be as long as this first one.)

Next: This is the worst crazy sect I’ve ever been in.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Welcome to the gun show

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. This week it’s issue #342, which is forgettable, and #343, which has a notorious reputation.

After a one-page intro, issue #342 is a flashback story, taking place a short while ago, when the team was Ben, Johnny, Sharon, and Crystal. Johnny befriends Rusty Collins of X-Factor, who has similar fire powers. They reach out to a group of troubled teens and some guys in high-tech battle armor. Spider-Man has a funny cameo where, between paychecks, he shows up raid the fridge at FF headquarters, promising to pay them back later. I guess it’s not a bad comic, but it’s obviously a deadline-mandated fill-in issue, and nothing more.

Then we get to issue #343, and take a look at this cover:

It’s the Fantastic Four with guns! Huge, gigantic guns! These were the days of Jim Lee on X-Men, Todd McFarlane on Spider-Man, and internet punching bag Rob Liefeld on X-Factor, and so on. Comics had this reputation of being super-EXTREME, and many have accused this and subsequent issues of Fantastic Four as being an attempt to similarly be super-EXTREME. But is that what’s really going on in these issues? Let’s find out.

At the end of the previous story arc, the FF returned home from time traveling thinking all was well, not knowing they are in an alternate timeline where U.S. President Dan Quayle and Soviet Premiere Josef Stalin are on the brink of nuclear war. This issue begins with them still not knowing, making jokes about doing the laundry after a trip away, while Reed puts Johnny through some tests to make sure he’s okay after having his mind taken over by Nebula. Sharon is the only one who suspects something is up, thinking that her memory is playing tricks on her.

Sue calls the Power family (of Power Pack fame), who were babysitting Franklin, only to learn the Powers do not live or work in New York. Ben picks up a newspaper to check the sports scores only to learn about Quayle and Stalin. Our heroes compare notes and finally realize they’re in an alternate timeline. To further illustrate that point, Alicia shows up, revealing that she and Ben are married in this timeline. Alicia freaks out upon learning that this isn’t her FF, and she wonders where hers are.

While all this has been going on, we’re following Moscow and the White House at odds, each one gathering troops and wondering which will (or should) strike first. Air raid sirens go off in New York, announcing that a nuclear strike is inevitable. Alicia says her timeline’s Reed was at work on a plan to stop the war, so “our” Reed gets to work on the same plan. The team then boards the FF’s pogo plane and flies off toward the German border, where the Russian troops have gathered.

The next four pages of the comic become a mini Tom Clancy novel, with the U.S. Armed Forces doing cool U.S. Armed Forces stuff as they prepare for battle. Still in the plane, the FF pulls out those huge guns from the cover, as Reed says they’ll stop World War III… or die trying.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: The alt-timeline’s pogo plan has stealth capability and more powerful rockets, which Reed says he’d like to add to his own plane once the team gets back home.

Fade out: Is it sexist to have Sue complaining about doing the team’s laundry? Yeah, it is. We all enjoy when our heroes do “ordinary family” stuff to balance the “cosmic adventure” stuff, but this is a bit much.

Clobberin’ time: Ben is on a first-name basis with a news vendor named Pops. The Marvel Wiki has multiple entries for guys named Pops. This one is most likely Pops Jenkins, the former reporter who was friends with Patsy Walker from her romance comic days in Patsy and Hedy #96. Alternatively, maybe he’s Pops Arkham, Karen Page’s childhood friend from Daredevil #56. (Both look just the same.)

Flame on: Johnny wants Reed to hurry up with the tests, so he can watch Twin Peaks. I wonder if 2017 Johnny is pro-Dougie or anti-Dougie.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Alt-timeline Alicia initially mistakes Sharon for Ben, which is either a wacky joke or some impressive forward-thinking gender fluidity.

The Alicia problem: Is Alicia secretly Lyja the Srkull in this timeline? There’s no way to know, but she’s certainly quick to assume that the FF are imposters when she discovers Ben is human.

Commercial break: This issue features a two-page comic-within-the-comic to promote the Turbo GrafX video game Bonk’s Adventure, a wacky cartoon with no actual images from the game itself:

Trivia time: The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe designates this alternate timeline as Earth-9061, for those who care about such things.

Fantastic or frightful? So far, this story is your basic alternate universe sci-fi action, and not really the ‘90s Image Comics-style extremism as is its reputation. It’s mostly set-up for things to come, though, so we’ll see.

Next week: Super-Stalin!

****

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

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Random Warner Bros.: Full Metal Jacket

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator takes us back to the weird wild word of Stanley Kubrick in Full Metal Jacket.

Here’s what happens: During the Vietnam War, we follow a U.S. Marine, nicknamed “Joker” through two stories. First, during basic training, a troubled young cadet clashes with a demanding drill sergeant. Second, once in the ‘Nam, Joker and his fellow Marines are caught under fire from a deadly sniper.

Why it’s famous: Mostly for R. Lee Ermey’s role as the drill sergeant, which has become the definitive drill sergeant performance that all other actors look to. Turns out Ermey was a real drill sergeant before becoming an actor.

Get your film degree: As with every Kubrick movie, everyone on the internet is falling over themselves to ask “But what does it MEAN?” Most folks seem to come to a conclusion about the movie being about the dehumanizing effect of war. The final shot is Joker and the others marching over rubble, mindlessly singing the Mickey Mouse theme song after all the carnage and horror they’ve seen. So, yeah, I can see the “dehumanizing” thing.

Movie geekishness: Everybody says the first half of the movie is the good stuff, and it runs out of steam in the second. I disagree, because upon this rewatch I really got caught up in the fight against the sniper. I especially liked how the characters are filmed to look small and helpless, surrounded by monstrous-looking crumbling, burning buildings.

 

Thoughts upon this viewing: This movie really plays. If you don’t care about metaphor and just want to see an intense war movie, this is the one.

Next week: Julius Caesar slept here.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Dick Tracy destroys the universe

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #341 continues and almost concludes the FF’s latest journey through time and space with the fate of all existence on the line.

The FF, Thor, and Iron Man have traveled into the distant future, where Galactus is using an astronomically huge device to devour not just planets but the entire universe. Also, Reed believes Sue and Johnny are dead, when Johnny has secretly become possessed by mysterious blue-skinned woman and has abducted Sue. As this issue starts, Reed says the heroes must find the Ultimate Nullifier, the weapon that stopped Galactus way back in issues #49-51. Then Reed gets a message from Sue, still alive, pleading for him to return to Earth. Thor uses his newfound teleportation ability to go back to Earth, where Sue has fought Johnny, knocked him out, and has him trapped in a force field.

The heroes secure Johnny to the time sled, and head back into space. Thor teleports everyone to Galactus’ ship. (This is a new ship because one, his original ship was destroyed in the first Secret War and two, we’re still in the distant future, remember.) Inside, the heroes fight their way through what appears to be security weapons, but is actually just the ship’s housecleaning machines.

The heroes find Galactus’ weapons vault, another mind-bogglingly huge space containing weapons from all over the universe. (Why does the godlike Galactus even need a weapons vault? We’ve never seen him take trophies from planets he’s destroyed.) Ben tries a light switch, only to find it broken. From this, Reed deduces that the Ultimate Nullifier would be hidden in plain sight, and it is behind the broken light switch. (Why is there a human-sized light switch in an alien space fortress? Why does a room bigger than a planet operate its lighting on a single switch? I’m really over-thinking all this, aren’t I?)

Sue snatches the Nullifier out of Reed’s hands, revealing that she is now the one possessed by the blue-skinned woman, having switched places with Johnny. Finally we get the reveal that this is space criminal Nebula, who, along with fellow villain Dr. Druid, concocted this plan to follow the FF into the future and secure the power of the Ultimate Nullifier for themselves. Nebula tries to nullify the heroes. Reed, however, saw this coming, and he and Iron Man rigged the Nullifier to backfire. Backfire it does, separating the disembodied Nebula from Sue.

The team travels back to Galactus, where they get his attention by attacking his mouth (!) with the combined power of Thor’s hammer, Johnny’s nova flame, and Iron Man’s repulsors set to max. Galactus reaches to grab the heroes, only for Reed to throw the Nullifier into Galactus’ hand. Then the Nullifier does what it was designed to do, and nullifies Galactus. This is depicted by a plain white space representing pure nothingness, spreading outward from Galactus. Just as it, too, threatens to devour the universe, Reed says that if the heroes exit the time bubble at the exact point where they entered it, the bubble will seal behind them, isolating the nullification from the rest of the time stream.

The FF barely escape the nullification, depicted as a blank white space growing around them, culminating in an all-white page of the comic. When this comic was originally published, however, there was an ad for the 1990 Dick Tracy movie on the opposite page. The ink bled through, showing the ad on the all-white page. In his Modern Masters vol. 8 interview, artist Walt Simonson describes this as, “Hi, we’re racing away from a giant picture of Dick Tracy.”

The heroes exit the time bubble and reenter the time stream. They reencounter Nebula, who is floating around in the time stream, and try to save her. They’re too late, and she vanishes. The FF successfully arrive back in the present, in Four Freedoms Plaza. Thor and Iron Man don’t make it back, but Reed says because it’s time travel, they can go back for them later. (!) All seems well, but in the other room, a TV news report states that U.S. President Dan Quayle and Soviet Premiere Josef Stalin are at odds, and the world is on the verge of nuclear war.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Is it too much of a stretch for Reed to figure out as much as he does? Probably it feels this way because he reveals how much he knows only after the fact.

Fade out: Nebula said it gave her “inexpressible pleasure” to kiss Reed while she possessed Sue. Is that creepy? I’m thinking that’s creepy.

Clobberin’ time: When Reed and Sue are reunited, Ben makes some sarcastic quips, but Sharon is there to point out that he’s just as glad Sue is still alive as anyone.

Flame on: Johnny spends most of the comic unconscious, but manages to summon his all-powerful nova flame to attach Galactus.

Fantastic fifth wheel: On Galactus’ ship, Sharon stays behind to watch Johnny, saying she can defeat Johnny in a fight if she really has to. (We don’t get to see if she can back up that statement.)

Commercial break: Do you have the stomach for this ad?

Trivia time: It’ll later be revealed that Nebula in this story is not Nebula, but Ravonna, the love interest of Dr. Druid, merely disguised as Nebula. (I’m not entirely clear on why she does this. When this is revealed in Avengers Spotlight, Ravonna merely says that “Nebula” is but one of many names she goes by.)

Thor at one point exclaims, “By the Gjallerhorn!” In Norse mythology this was a powerful horn blown by the god Heimdall. You can be sure Marvel’s Heimdall also his own version. These days, however, most folks know the name Gjallerhorn as one of the weapons in the Destiny games.

Fantastic or frightful? Some have criticized this story for being all plot and no character, but I say it once again has the human Reed standing tall in the face of cosmic space gods and coming off as their equal. That’s serious character strength right there. The kind missing from the Fantastic Four movies, I might add. Walt Simonson’s sci-fi artwork continues to impress as well.

Next week: Welcome to the gun show

****

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

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