Universal Monsters rewatch – The Wolf Man 1941

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. After a few fun fun-but-lesser sequels, it’s time for another bona fide classic with The Wolf Man.

Here’s what happens: Larry Talbot returns to hometown after the death of his brother, where he reconnects with his father, old friends, and a new love. Then he gets attacked by a wolf, setting up a monstrous transformation.

Monster! Of course we have another iconic makeup creation from the legendary makeup guy Jack Pierce, but Lon Cheney Jr.’s physicality really sells the monster. As Talbot, Cheney has an easygoing, guy-next-door charm, but once he’s the Wolf Man, he moves so quickly and manic, you’d think it was two different actors.

Also a monster! Bela Lugosi is back, this time playing a fortune teller who is the OG wolf man that bites Talbot. It’s another great Bela performance, a completely different character from either Dracula or Ygor. We only get quick glimpses of him in wolf form, probably because the production’s wolf puppet wouldn’t have been very impressive in close-up.

Our hero: Poor Larry Talbot is both the hero and the monster. His early scenes, in which he’s the romantic lead, where he has a an almost childlike charm to his actions. Then, once he realizes what he’s become, he keeps wanting to run away from everyone, only for circumstances to keep him around.

Hapless humans: There’s quite a huge cast of supporting characters in this one – perhaps too many. Talbot’s love interest Gwen romances him somewhat hesitantly, even dating another guy at one point. Talbot’s father is played by former Invisible Man Claude Rains, who offers a sympathetic ear to Talbot’s struggles. Maria Ouspenskaya steals every scene she’s in as another creepy fortune teller. And I really liked Ralph Bellamy as Paul, the local detective who stands in for the audience as he tries to figure out what’s been going on.

Thrills: The actual Wolf Man doesn’t get a lot of screen time, and any wolf vs. human action is fleeting. The transformations are what we’re really here for. We see his feet (ew) transform twice, and then the big face transformation in two parts at the end. Groundbreaking for its time, but I suspect the better transformation scenes might be in the sequels.

Laughs: The only humor is romantic comedy stuff, with Talbot’s flirtations with Gwen. He doesn’t take no for an answer, which is supposed to be whimsical, but off as pretty cringe-y.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The Wolf Man is often studied as a the-monster-within story, but it also works as a don’t-go-in-the-woods story. Whenever the characters leave the comfort of their town to venture in the foggy woods (a.k.a. the unknown) that’s when bad things happen. Note how many times the character in shots with tree limbs between them and the camera, making it feel like they are separated from the viewer and truly on their own. Really cool movie.

Next: Ghost with the most.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Covert Action Team

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The Heroes Reborn event refuses to die, because vol. 2 issue #13 kicks off a whole new crossover, World War III, complete with a whole bunch of characters from another company.

The previous issue ended with the Earth being devoured by Galactus. After that, in the tie-in issues, Dr. Doom time-traveled to the past where the Marvel heroes eventually saved the Earth. Then we circle back to issue #13, which ignores the time travel stuff and takes us back to the timeline with the destroyed Earth. In this continuity, the destruction of the Earth causes all of time and space to rewrite itself into yet ANOTHER new timeline. By my count, then, the Heroes Reborn universe concludes by being split into five alternate timelines.

Remember how Amalgam Comics mixed and matched the Marvel and DC universes in all sorts of kooky ways? This World War III crossover does the same thing, but with Marvel and Jim Lee’s Wildstorm characters. Wildstorm, formerly of Image Comics, is of course the imprint that gave us WildC.A.T.S., Gen13, and a bunch of others. The issue begins with a short recap of the Marvel heroes fighting Galactus, along with the Wildstorm heroes fighting a villain named Damocles in their universe. From these two events came this new timeline, where New York is under attack by an alien force. Fortunately, the WildC.A.T.S. jump to help. This WildC.A.T.S. team contains Grifter, Zealot, Void, Warblade, and Emp – and also Giant-Man and Gorgon from the Marvel Universe are also C.A.T.S. now. Their enemies are a combination of Skrulls and the C.A.T.S.’ old enemies the Daemonites. The fighting goes on for several pages with narration telling us that the Defenders and D.V.8 have already fallen to the aliens. Then the S.H.I.E.L.D. Black Knights, including the Inhumans’ Karnak, join the battle.

Cut to two teens, who are watching the battle as it appears on a TV military enlistment commercial, and they consider signing up, saying NYC isn’t what it used to be. We go from there to the Baxter Building, which has been abandoned for months. Four individuals come through a portal – it’s a new version of the Fantastic Four, featuring Reed, Sue, Maul from the WildC.A.T.S. and Burnout from Gen13. They’re returning from the Negative Zone where they’ve been searching for their lost friend Ben. Villains Annihilus and Defile follow them through the Negative Zone portal, though, ready for a fight. Then there’s a few more pages of fighting as this new FF toss the baddies back through the portal and close it.

The FF then get a message from S.H.I.E.L.D., which is now run by Lynch, originally from Gen13. Lynch says that Nick Fury and Ursa Major recently died in a battle against Dr. Doom, so Lynch is taking over for Fury. Reed tells Lynch “I found a way to beat them! I found a way to win!” He tells Lynch to assemble a team, made up of “everyone.” Lynch summons the Avengers, led by Spartan, who in this reality is the new Captain America, along with Thor, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman Freefall, Hellstrike and Brass. The second group is Stormwatch, made up of Vision, Triton, Fairchild, Battalion, Fuji, Hellstrike, Winter, Jenny Sparks, and Jack Hawksmoor. Third is Wetworks, made up of the Wetworks regulars Dane, Claymore, Jester, Mother-One, and Pilgrim, along with Hawkeye. Fourth is the WildC.A.T.S. team with Gorgon from the start of the issue.

Lynch meets with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Kitaen (who was Voodoo in the original WildC.A.T.S.), who tells him that three lone guns, Iron Man, Majestic, and Steve Rogers – the original Captain America before Spartan – are still out there somewhere. Lynch fills in the reader about this whole alternate history, where the Daemonite invasion became known to the public and their teaming up with the Skrulls, and Dr. Doom taking advantage of the alien invasion to make a move and conquer all of Europe. We also learn Reed has developed new cell phone-like devices that help ordinary folks tell whether someone is a Skrull in disguise. This becomes another recruitment ad, after which we meet up with those two teens from earlier. They’re Rick Jones and Grunge, sign up to join the “United Forces.” Then there’s an epilogue in the Negative Zone in which a silhouetted character who appears to be Ben befriends a mysterious stranger, and they start looking for a way out.

The next chapter is in Avengers #13, where Iron Man comes out of hiding to help Wetworks and Hawkeye to destroy a Skrull bioweapons facility in Italy. All the heroes gather aboard the Stormwatch satellite, where Iron Man explains that he’s been in hiding since the alien invasion, developing new tech to fight them. Reed then explains that the FF went into the Negative Zone to find a new energy source to fight the aliens. Johnny died, and Ben was lost. Reed says he glimpsed numerous alternate realities while in the Zone. Reed says their current reality was formed from two realities when both experienced a simultaneous cataclysm, and the only way to stop the alien invasion is separate this universe back into two universes. Further, somehow Dr. Doom is the one who has a “lock” on the universe, keeping it from splitting back into two. What the heroes don’t know is that Doom, the Daemonite leader Helspont, and the Skrull High-Emissary are spying on the heroes’ every move. The “lock” exists half on Earth and half in the Negative Zone, so the heroes plan to split into two groups for two assaults. Before they can, though, the Skrulls attack the Stormwatch satellite, destroying it.

 

In Iron Man #13, the team attacking Negative Zone catch a glimpse of other realities, and then fight Annihilus and Defile again. The heroes win the fight, with some of them dying the process. Dr. Doom announces that he’s taking an army into the Negative Zone. We finally meet Steve Rogers, the former Captain America who is now fighting crime as Nomad. Agent Kitaen finds him and gives him back his shield, hoping he will join the fight. Among the survivors of the Satellite, Iron Man reveals that he was the one who lowered the satellite’s defenses, allowing the Skrulls to destroy it. Iron Man fights the Stormwatch team. At that moment, the Thing escapes from the Negative Zone and fights Iron Man. The Thing’s new friend is Deathblow, who also fights Iron Man. The two of them defeat Iron Man, who turns out to be a Skrull in disguise. The heroes on Earth fear they can’t attack Latveria until the battle in the Negative Zone is won, and there’s talk among them of whether the situation is hopeless, only for Captain America to join them all and announce, “It’s time to take back the world!”

Then we go to Captain America #13, we see that Rick Jones and Grunge are joining the attack on Latveria, and the new combat tech has given them the equivalent of ten years’ combat training in a single day. Majestic – Lynch’s third “lone gun” is also here, having been horribly scarred from fighting the aliens. The battles in the Negative Zone and Latveria occur simultaneously, with a lot fighting and superheroes dying. To fight the Latverian attackers, Helspont releases the Elementrons – four heroes possessed by Daemonites. These are the Human Torch, the Hulk, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and former Gen13 member Rainmaker. There’s even more fighting with more characters dying. Spartan sacrifices his life to destroy the Negative Zone’s half of the lock. In Latveria, Captain America and Deathblow die while getting to the lock, but not before Cap hands a grenade to Rick Jones so that Jones can destroy the lock in Latveria.

With both halves of the lock destroyed, reality falls apart to re-form into two universes. Reed and Dr. Doom have the last words as everything fades away around them. Doom tells Reed that he, Doom, won in this universe, and he says they will both remember this, on some subconscious level, in whatever universe they find themselves in next. Then everything fades to white.

And we’re still not done with Heroes Reborn. One more week… one more week…

Unstable molecule: During the battle, Reed stretches out his leg to super-kick a Skrull in the face. Awesome.

Fade out: When the Elementrons attack, Sue is so desperate to win this fight that she actually stabs Johnny in the chest with a force field, killing him. Hardcore.

Clobberin’ time: Ben and Deathblow become immediate friends, finding commonality in how they are both soldiers. In one of the few character moments in this event, Ben also befriends Maul. Ben says Maul did a great job filling in for him while he was gone.

Flame on: We’re not given the specifics of how Johnny died and/or was possessed by Daemonite. In his absence, we’re told Burnout became a valued member of the team, helping them fight the Mole Man and the Mad Thinker.

Fantastic fifth wheel: I suppose now we’ve got to add Maul and Burnout to the list of alternate FF team members. Burnout will return in the Fantastic Four/Gen13 special in a few years.

Commercial break: Did anyone actually get these glasses and watch Nickelodeon’s 3-D broadcast? Did it actually work?

Trivia time: These comics hit shelves mere months before Jim Lee sold off all the Wildstorm characters to DC Comics. As such, they’ve never been reprinted. Those original issues could be big money if a WildC.A.T.S. movie ever gets made.

Speaking of crossovers, Reed’s two-page vision of other universes is a real headache of copyright issues, with appearances not just from Spider-Man, Ghost Rider and the X-Men, but also Batman, Charlie Brown, Mickey Mouse, Chance from Leave it to Chance, Quantum and Woody, and a blonde girl whom I think is supposed to be Gully from Battle Chasers, but it’s hard to tell.

Fantastic or frightful? I’m at a loss as to how and why this storyline came about. Maybe the Wildstorm guys thought this was their last shot to have their characters crossover with the Marvel Universe. Either way, this story is so rushed and plot-heavy that there’s little time to have any fun with Wildstorm and Marvel characters interacting. It’s like reading chapter 12 of a 12-part story. Outside of the novelty of seeing tons of superheroes in each panel, there’s not much else to say about these.

Next: Afterbirth.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – The Invisible Woman 1940

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. The Invisible Woman, released the same year as The Invisible Man Returns, leaves the horror genre behind and goes full-on slapstick comedy.

Here’s what happens: In need of a new get-rich-quick scheme, wealthy playboy Dick Russell wants to use an invisibility machine created by his friend Professor Gibbs. They recruit department store model Kitty to be their test subject, only for Kitty to use her newfound invisibility to seek revenge on her jerk boss. Meanwhile, a gangster has learned of the device, and plots to steal it.

Monster! There’s a real smash-the-patriarchy vibe to a lot of the humor, which was nice. The Invisible Woman uses her invisibility to get back at the men who wronged her and then make her life her own.

Also a monster! The villain is Blackie, a Mexican criminal who wants to use the invisibility power to sneak his way back to Mexico. He and his henchmen are bumbling villains, though, complete with future stooge Shemp Howard among them.

Our hero: Also contemporary, the laid-back wisecracking millionaire hero will certainly remind today’s viewers of Tony Stark, facial hair and all. Some of his best scenes are him trying to flirt with the Invisible Woman not knowing what she looks like, which puts him out of his comfort zone.

Hapless humans: Professor Gibbs acts as sidekick throughout the movie, doing the “befuddled inventor” trope. And yes, that is Margaret Hamilton, a.k.a. the Witch from The Wizard of Oz, as the snarky housekeeper.

Thrills: The only time the movie comes close to its horror roots is when the Invisible Woman confronts her boss, Mr. Growley. She sneaks up on him all ghostlike, chanting “Growley, Growley, Growley” for an eerie effect.

Laughs: This is big, broad comedy, with wisecracks, pratfalls, and general overall clownishness. The movie also has a lot of cheeky fun with the fact that the Invisible Woman must remove her clothes to be truly unseen. All the men are nervous and befuddled by this, the Invisible Woman doesn’t care and goes ahead and runs around in the buff all she wants.

What’s all this, then? While The Invisible Woman is official Universal Monsters canon, this one has no mention of Griffith’s formula from the first movie, which gets a shout-out in the other sequels. I suppose we can assume that the formula is in use as part of Gibbs’ machine, but that’s not in the text.

Thoughts upon this viewing: We’re a long, long way from James Whale here, but this movie has its charms nonetheless. The comedy is goofy and the effects are a step down in quality, but the movie is so quaint I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

Next: Bark at the moon.

****

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 your kids Marty

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The Heroes Reborn event ends (except it doesn’t) with the Heroes Reunited crossover in the volume 2 #12 issues of Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America.

After last week’s blog about vol. 2 issue #12, the first part of the Heroes Reunited crossover, I planned on writing just one paragraph summarizing the remaining three parts, but upon rereading them, they’re so crazy and there’s so much going on, that they deserve their own post this week. In the first part, Galactus and his heralds arrived on Earth. The four heralds – Silver Surfer, Terrax, Plasma, and Air-Walker – set up four capacitor devices on four locations around the globe. The FF, the Avengers, and the Inhumans worked together to stop the capacitors, while Dr. Doom snuck around with a plot to steal Galactus’ power cosmic for himself. Despite all the fighting and action, the heroes were too late, and the Earth was devoured.

Here’s the thing, though. Avengers #12 was published after Fantastic Four #12, but takes place before Fantastic Four #12. This means Dr. Doom can time travel from FF #12 backwards into Avengers #12. This is the type of crazy storytelling structure you can only get from comics. The issue begins with a wrap-up of the “two Thors” storyline in which the original Thor performs an explosive Viking funeral for the now-dead second Thor. Then, aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier, the Avengers and Nick Fury get word of Galactus’ approach. Then Dr. Doom time-travels into the room, saying he’s already seen the Earth destroyed in a previous timeline, and only he survived. He warns everyone to stop the heralds before they set up the capacitors. Once he’s alone, Doom insists that heroes have to defeat the heralds, and only then can he steal Galactus’ power.

It’s time for another globe-hopping superhero battle. The FF in Moscow, the Hulk at the South Pole, the Avengers in LA and Hong Kong. The FF fight the Silver Surfer, with the Surfer again tempted to betray Galactus but still not quite doing so. Reed uses his nullifier tech to boost his teammates’ powers, and they almost stop the Surfer, but it’s too late. S.H.I.E.L.D. bombs all of Moscow (!) to destroy the capacitor, killing the FF along with it (!!). The Heli-carrier then kamikazes onto the second capacitor to stop it, and the Hulk and Vision stop Firelord at the third capacitor, with the Hulk severely injured in the process. Thor, Captain America and Hawkeye team up to fight Terrax. They destroy the fourth capacitor, only for Hawkeye to be killed by Terrax. Galactus arrives in New York, deciding he didn’t even need those capacitors and he uses an “elemental converter” to start devouring the Earth. The Silver Surfer finally chooses to join the heroes, and the remaining Avengers attack the converter. Dr. Doom activates his time machine and disappears again. What happens next is confusing the whole universe getting all weird, but basically both the Earth and the sun are devoured, leaving behind only Thor’s hammer, all alone in space – another Viking funeral.

That’s twice in two issues that the Earth is destroyed, so let’s go for a third in Iron Man #12. This issue takes us back in time again, to just before Galactus’ arrival on Earth, but clearly we’re in a different timeline, because we start with the FF hanging out with Tony Stark and the gang, with the “gang” being a group of heroes who’ve been hit with gamma rays – the Hulk, Doc Sampson, and our very own She-Hulk. After some business of the heroes getting to know each other, the heralds arrive on Earth. The FF fly off to meet the heralds, while Tony is confronted by Dr. Doom, just having time-traveled here from Earth’s destruction in Avengers #12. Tony doesn’t trust Doom, but then Doom drops quite the bombshell. Dr. Doom remembers Onslaught, and he knows he came from the original Marvel Universe. Doom blames Tony for taking him into the portal at the end of the Onslaught crossover, and says Tony owes him for this.

Tony and Dr. Doom board the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier, where they meet up with Nick Fury and the Avengers. Fury reports that heralds have killed the Fantastic Four, complete with a depiction of the heralds standing over the dead FF. From there, the remaining heroes once again split up into four teams to fight the four heralds and destroy the four capacitors. They seem to be winning, while Doom, Tony, Bruce Banner and Ant-Man work together rebuilding Reed’s nullifier to stop Galactus. The big G arrives in New York, proclaiming, “I hunger!” Iron Man and the Hulk fire the nullifier at Galactus, but it fails. As the Earth is devoured again, Doom quickly downloads a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. documents from the Heli-carrier and time-travels out of there.

Now we go Captain America #12, set 24 hours earlier, and the score is three points for Galactus and none for Earth. This one begins with Rikki Barnes, a.k.a. the new Bucky, confronting Dr. Doom as he time-travels right in front of her. He says that according the S.H.I.E.L.D. files, Rikki is a “chronal anomaly.” Captain America steps in to save Rikki, and Doom explains that the Earth is in danger and they must act now. In this version of events, the FF are in New York, fighting all four of the heralds at once. The FF are about to die, but Doom and the Avengers jump in to save them. Cap takes the leadership role, keeping Doom and Reed from fighting.

Aboard the Heli-carrier again, Doom tells the other heroes everything, and that his time machine is damaged, so this is Earth’s last chance. Bruce Banner comes up with a plan, to defeat Galactus by giving him exactly what he wants. As the Avengers and the FF mingle, Rikki wanders off by herself, wondering if being a “chronal anomaly” means she was never meant to exist. The Silver Surfer flies down from space and says Galactus cannot be stopped, and he wants Rikki to warn the others. The Surfer flies off with Rikki hanging off of his board, and Cap pursues on his cool flying motorcycle. They fly to Galactus, who blasts Rikki off the surfboard. Cap takes the severely-wounded Rikki back to the other heroes, pleading for them to help her.

The heroes have a vote on whether to use Reed’s nullifier with Bruce’s plan, and the Silver Surfer shows up again, saying he now stands with humanity against Galactus. The plan is to combine all the heroes’ powers through the nullifier, now wielded by the Surfer to overload Galactus’ energy converter. The Silver Surfer attacks Galactus, and Galactus, and the plan works. Galactus absorbs too much power cosmic, and both he and the Silver Surfer disappear from existence.

With the battle won and the Earth saved, Reed offers his hand in friendship to Doom, but Doom wanders off, saying wherever he goes, he goes alone. Captain America and Nick Fury have a heart-to-heart, about how S.H.I.E.L.D. told Cap what he needed to hear so that he’d pick up his shield again. He adds that Rikki is going to be just fine. Turn the page, and there’s the Watcher speaking directly to the reader, saying these heroes do not know that this threat was one they’ve faced before and will again. He concludes by saying, this has been only one of the many tales of the Heroes Reborn.

You’d think that would be the end, but Heroes Reborn has one more crossover in it before it ends, and if you think these issues were crazy, it’s going to get even crazier… next week.

Unstable molecule: There’s a lot of talk about how Reed, Doom, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Hank Pym knew each other in college, calling themselves the “Knights of the Atomic Roundtable.” I wonder if somebody at Marvel was trying to pitch that as the title of a series.

Fade out: In Moscow, Sue tries to protect her teammates from the S.H.I.E.L.D. missiles, but the missiles succeed in blowing them all the kingdom come. What did S.H.I.E.L.D. put in those things?

Clobberin’ time: Ben says, “Eat my shorts!” at one point, revealing that The Simpsons exists in the Heroes Reborn universe.

Flame on: Johnny doesn’t fare well in these issues, getting defeated in battle by each of the heralds in each timeline.

Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk debuted in Heroes Reborn: Iron Man alongside Hulk and Doc Sampson as the somewhat incongruously-named Hulkbusters. She-Hulk and Ben get all flirtatious with each other, when previously they’d only been friends.

Commercial break: Can we not?

Trivia time: What’s the deal with Rikki Barnes? In Heroes Reborn, she’s the granddaughter of the original WWII Bucky and Agent Peggy Carter. After all the superheroes return to the Marvel Universe in Heroes Return, Rikki stays behind in the Heroes Reborn Universe. She forms the Young Allies to help keep the HR universe from falling into total chaos. After Onslaught Reborn, Rikki finally joined the Marvel Universe proper, calling herself Nomad, and adventuring alongside the Exiles and Arana the Spider. Her surviving outside of the Heroes Reborn Universe is what makes her a chronal anomaly.

Fantastic or frightful? It’s a lot having the reader follow Dr. Doom as he travels back in time each issue, and the premise gives the writers and artist leeway to kill of major characters and blow up cities all they want. But it’s all still too much plot in too few pages, and you just feel exhausted by the time it’s over.

Next: Heroes not zeroes.

****

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

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Universal Monsters rewatch – The Mummy’s Hand 1940

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box set, at least. Now it’s 1940’s The Mummy’s Hand. Boris Karloff’s Imhotep is out, but the good news is that fan-favorite mummy Kharis is here, to take us through the rest of the series.

Here’s what happens: In ancient Egypt, Kharis was buried alive after stealing magical Tana leaves in hopes of reviving his dead love Nananka. Centuries later, an archeologist and his team find their way to Kharis’ tomb, only for him to rise and keep after those darned Tana leaves.

Monster! Most first-time viewers of the Karloff Mummy are surprised to see him in the bandaged look in only one scene. Kharis, on the other hand, is a full-on tattered-bandages mummy in all his shambling glory.

Also a monster! Most of the tension in the film comes from Professor Andoheb, who conspires to keep the adventurers away from the tomb. Actor George Zucco has something of a notorious history in Hollywood, but in this movie he’s a great menacing figure.

Our hero: Archeologist Steve Banning is a classic pulp hero, square-jawed and broad-shouldered, and as tough as he is smart. I actually liked him as a proto-Indiana Jones, and wouldn’t have minded seeing his further adventures.

Hapless humans: This was the year of Casablanca, and there’s a little bit of Casablanca in The Mummy’s Hand. Egypt is portrayed as an international crossroads, equal parts intrigue and romance. This allows the filmmakers to round out the cast with all sorts of kooky characters. The expedition is funded by a stage magician (!), whose gun-toting daughter becomes Bannon’s love interest. Two other favorites are the creepy beggar who becomes a conspirator, and the incongruous Cockney bartender.

Thrills: Kharis might be a mindless brute, but he strangles his way through his enemies pretty good. He even does the “sympathetic monster” thing during the final confrontation, when he’s undone by his desire for those darned Tana leaves.

Laughs: Comic relief – and lots of it – is supplied by Banning’s sidekick, Babe Jensen, who spends the movie cracking wise and pining over his girlfriend back home, named “Poopsie.” Get used to hearing the word “Poopsie” a lot in this bloodcurdling horror film. To be fair, though, Babe is the one who ends up saving the day at the end.

Thoughts upon this viewing: This is a silly movie, but I’m okay with its silliness. I just like that it’s a monster movie where the human characters are just as interesting and fun – if not more so – than the monster.

Next: Fade out!

****

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Fantastic Friday: Plot reborn

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’ve all heard about Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return, but it turns out there’s a middle part of the trilogy, Heroes Reunited. That’s the crossover that puts a merciful end to Heroes Reborn, starting with this, volume 2 issue #12.

We begin in the Lateverian Embassy, where Dr. Doom arrives. His security robots welcome him and report on the FF’s fight against Terrax. Another robot tells Doom his “siphon suit” is ready. An aide reports to Doom that his chronal displacement device, which he got from a future version of himself a few issues back, has arrived and is being assembled.

Cut to Central Park, where the FF are facing off against three of Galactus’ heralds. There’s Terrax, now recovered from his fight against them last issue. He’s flanked by Firelord and new character Plasma. Ben wants to clobber, but Reed stops him and tries to negotiate. He urges the heralds not to let Galactus devour the Earth. Terrax refuses, and he attacks. The heralds put up a good fight, with Terrax shattering Sue’s force fields with his axe and Plasma extinguishing Johnny’s flame with her… cosmic water?!?

Sue then puts herself between Terrax and some civilians, risking her life for them. Terrax is about to slice n’ dice her with his axe, when the Silver Surfer flies in and saves her. Although he too is a herald, the Surfer has switched sides and says he won’t let the others harm his new friends. The Surfer says the FF showed kindness to him, and he survived the fight in Dr. Doom’s castle thanks to them. Before the conflict can continue, the heralds receive a summons from Galactus, and all four of them fly off.

Before the FF can catch their breaths, they’re next approached by two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Dum Dum Dugan and The Countess. They demand the FF come with them right away. They’re then taken on board the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier, where they’re met by Iron Man, Captain America and Nick Fury. Fury says a massive energy signature is headed for Earth and the four heralds are currently flying out to meet it. S.H.I.E.L.D. sends some probes toward the energy, only for them to be destroyed. Then Galactus’ ship appears, and the heroes wonder if it represents a friend or foe.

Aboard the ship, Galactus says it’s time for him devour the Earth, which he calls “Terra Prime.” The Silver Surfer hesitantly suggests that Earth be spared, but Galactus insists that his hunger be sated. In the Heli-carrier, Black Panther and Thor join the party, as Reed explains that everything the FF has encountered, such as the Mole Man’s caves, the Silver Surfer in Latveria, the Skrull who infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Inhumans coming out of hiding, are all tied into Galactus’ oncoming arrival. Galactus’ ship opens up to reveal an alien device that splits up into multiple components, with multiple trajectories on Earth. Reed deduces that the devices are heading toward Attilan, Monster Island, and New York.

The heroes decide to split up, with Captain America and Iron Man leading the Avengers on Monster Island, while Thor and Black Panther will join the FF in NYC. (Attilan goes unmentioned during this part. Are we to assume that the heroes are trusting the Inhumans to handle it?) Reed complicates things further when he says he must stay behind on the Heli-carrier to monitor both teams. Before Sue leaves for New York, Reed asks her to marry him… and she says yes!

Then the story cuts to Attilan, a cut that’s so abrupt I thought maybe my comic was missing a few pages. Firelord is there attacking the Inhumans, and Johnny flies down from the sky to rescue Crystal. I turn the page and OOPS! The pages are out of order! Now Firelord arrives in Attilan with one of the three alien devices. The Inhumans believe Firelord is one of their ancient gods, but Johnny shows up to insist that he’s bad news. The device starts trashing the mountain, and the Inhumans fight Firelord. Black Bolt destroys the device with his powerful voice, while Johnny tells Crystal he’ll stay with her until the end, no matter what happens.

Then we go to Monster Island where the Avengers confront Plasma, only for the Mole Man to show up and declare them all as trespassers on his island. Also, look in the background and you can see Namor is here as well. Everybody fights, with Hawkeye defeating the Mole Man and Thor (wasn’t he part of the New York group?) zapping Plasma with lightning. The alien device is damaged and is about to implode. Namor carries the device down into the depths of the ocean so that the others are not harmed in the implosion.

Thor uses his hammer to teleport the Avengers to New York (he can do that?) where Galactus has arrived in person. The S.H.I.E.L.D. weapons can’t penetrate a force field around Galactus, and Terrax is going nuts fighting the FF. The Heli-carrier fires its plasma cannons at Galactus, only for Galactus to blow a hole in the Heli-carrier. Nick Fury orders everyone to evacuate the Heli-carrier before Reed can get a chance to fully test a “nullifer” he is hastily constructing. Fury forces Reed into an escape pod and sends him flying. Before the Heli-carrier goes down, Fury gets a message that another bogie is headed to Earth from space.

The Heli-carrier crashes into Galactus’ ship, destroying them both – and apparently killing both Nick Fury and the Countess. Galactus isn’t fazed, and instead telekinetically dismantles a bunch of New York skyscrapers and rearranges them into a new ship, and a new world-destroying capacitor. Reed reunites with the other heroes and catches them up to speed on how and why Galactus devours entire planets. Ben is ready for action, wanting to use Reed’s nullifier. The conference is cut short when Terrax attacks again, and he and Ben fight. Black Panther spots the Silver Surfer setting up the capacitor.

The nullifier works on Terrax, rendering him powerless and therefore vulnerable to Ben’s fists. When Ben tries the same trick on Galactus, though, Galactus is too strong, and the feedback throws the heroes for a loop. The nullifier nullifies the cosmic rays inside Ben, turning back into a human. Terrax comes to and wants to kill Ben, but Reed, Black Panther, and Thor step in to help him. Terrax then reveals that a fifth herald, Air-Walker, has secretly set up a fourth capacitor on Earth’s south pole.

Silver Surfer decides he’s had enough, and he attacks Terrax again, this time fully siding with the heroes. Before we readers can even process this, Dr. Doom shows up in his new armor to siphon the Power Cosmic from the Surfer. It works, and the now-cosmically powered Doom turns his attention to Galactus. It doesn’t last, as Galactus swats Doom aside like a bug. Reed, however, says Doom’s new armor could nonetheless be the key to defeating Galactus. Reed talks to immobilized Dr. Doom, saying they must combine the nullifier and the siphon suit. Dr. Doom refuses, saying he’ll never share glory with Reed.

They’re too late, however. Galactus and Air-Walker activate the two capacitors. Reed sees Sue vaporize right before his eyes, and then Reed vanishes in front of Doom. Doom says the world is truly coming to an end, so he activates his chrono-displacement device. Then the last panel of the comic goes the distance and shows the Earth being completely destroyed.

To be continued?

Unstable molecule: Reed’s final words, declaring to Dr. Doom “May God have mercy on your eternal soul,” doesn’t seem very Reed-like, as he’s never been shown to be particularly religious. Much later, though, we will get a Heaven/Hell/afterlife story featuring Reed and Doom.

Fade out: Sue’s pregnancy is not mentioned in this issue, but it coming up last issue and Reed’s proposal in this issue are clearly tied together. Remember that Heroes Reborn is all taking place in a world created by Franklin’s reality-bending powers, could this be Franklin taking steps toward merging the Heroes Reborn universe with the Marvel Universe?

Clobberin’ time: In the original Galactus storyline, it was Johnny who went to space to recover the Ultimate Nullifier. In this version, Reed builds the nullifier as a backpack for Ben to wear with devices attached to his fists. Ben can nullify via punching!

Flame on: Johnny’s fight against Firelord only lasts three panels, and Firelord defeats Johnny easily. Maybe Johnny should have just beaten Firelord senseless like Spider-Man did in that one infamous Spidey story.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal and Johnny are reunited, and Crystal is able to embrace Johnny while he’s flamed on. I guess that’s her elemental abilities at work.

Medusa gets defeated by Firelord pretty quickly, and not by his fire powers but by the blinding light he outputs.

Commercial break: Is this Screech’s comic book debut? And why is he dressed like Triplicate Girl from Legion of Super Heroes?

Trivia time: Who is this Countess character? That would be Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. In the regular Marvel Universe, she’s been a regular supporting character in numerous Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.-related comics. Recently, she was revealed to be working deep, deep undercover as a villain this whole time, and she became the new Madame Hydra. We’ll never know if she was also undercover in the Heroes Reborn universe, as the Marvel Wiki states that she died aboard the Heli-carrier in this issue.

Fantastic or frightful? An exhausting issue with tons of characters, action, and plot. It’s perhaps a little too overstuffed, though, making it hard to keep track of which characters are where and what is happening. On the other hand, the creators know Heroes Reborn is ending, so that gives them freedom to go big and do thing, like, you know, destroy the Earth.

Next: They’re heroes, not zeroes.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – The Invisible Man Returns 1940

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box set, at least. Vincent Price is in the house when The Invisible Man Returns.

Here’s what happens: Framed for a murder he didn’t commit, Sir Geoffrey Radcliff escapes from the cops via the first movie’s invisibility formula. At first, Radcliffe uses his invisibility to hunt down those who framed him for murder, only to get more and more unhinged as the movie goes on.

Monster! As before, the filmmakers go the extra mile to ensure we never forget there’s an invisible man in the room, with a variety of special effects techniques. The scene where Radcliffe, goes on a wild rant while sitting at a dinner table with friends is scarier than any of the effects.

Also a monster! Radcliffe’s accomplice is Dr. Frank Griffin, brother of Jack Griffin, the original Invisible Man. This begins the curious continuity of these movies, in which we don’t follow characters from sequel to sequel, but instead follow Griffin’s formula as passes from one hand to the next.

Our hero: Detective Sampson is a cigar-chompin’ Scotland Yard detective hot on Radcliffe’s heels. He deduces the invisibility things right at the start, and keeps his cool when surrounded by bumbling cops.

Hapless humans: Radcliffe reunites with his trying-to-be-understanding fiancé Helen, and then threatens and murders his way through his family’s mining business in search of who framed him for murder.

Thrills: There’s a lengthy scene of Radcliffe chasing a man around the woods. Later, the cops fill a house full of smoke in an attempt to catch Radcliffe, resulting a neat silhouette effect followed by Radcliffe outsmarting them all.

Laughs: There are a few goofs with a caretaker named Ben, who can’t figure out what his dogs are barking at.

What’s all this then? The Blu-ray box set omits 1936’s The Invisible Ray, co-starring legends Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. It’s not part of the Invisible Man series, though, and doesn’t even feature invisibility. Karloff plays a scientist exposed to radiation from a meteorite, giving him the power to kill with a touch. It’s a crazy movie.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The Invisible Man Returns suffers from sequel-itis, content to repeat a lot of what the first movie did. There’s still some fun to be had, though, with a great Vincent Price performance and a great action finale.

Next: Shamble like an Egyptian.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Picnic blanket bingo

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Here’s vol. 2 #11, and how much was Marvel done with the Heroes Reborn event by this point? Skip to the end of the issue where there are three pages of ads promoting the upcoming Heroes Return retcon, going so far as to spoil the twist about Franklin in the ads. Before that, though, our heroes fight Terrax.

We begin with the Silver Surfer in orbit around Earth. He knows he must summon his master Galactus, but he also remembers a few issues ago, where he met some kindred spirits on the planet’s surface. Against his better judgment, the Surfer decides to contact his new friends. Flying down to New York, he senses the presence of the Power Cosmic, and hopes he is not too late.

Cut to Central Park, where Alicia is crafting a sculpture based on Ben as part of public event for charity. Reed and Sue are picnicking nearby, as Reed ponders how most of their previous adventures have all had something to do with the mysterious space anomaly that gave the FF their powers. Sue changes the subject in a big way by announcing that she’s pregnant. They were previously told Sue couldn’t get pregnant, making this something of a miracle baby.

Sue gives Johnny a quick call, revealing that Johnny has been spending all his time in the FF’s danger room, working out his frustration over being separated from Crystal. He pushes himself harder and harder, ultimately using his super-powerful nova flame to wreck the room. He admits to himself that he’s in love with Crystal and there’s no getting around it.

 

The fun at Central Park is interrupted by Terrax the Tamer, another herald of Galactus. Terrax says the FF possess a threat to the Galactus’ Power Cosmic, so he’s sought them out personally. Terrax attacks Ben, using his axe open Ben’s rocky hide. Ben admits that Terrax actually hurt him. Reed and Sue join the fight, and are easily subdued by Terrax’s earth-bending powers. Sue tries to contact Johnny, but he left his communicator in the Danger Room, and is in another room still pining for Crystal.

 

In space, we see Galactus wake from slumber on board his ship. Checking the info received from his heralds, Galactus decides that Earth is ripe for harvesting, and that if he must live, Earth must die. Back on Earth, Johnny sees the Central Park fight on the news, and flies to the scene just in time to save Sue from Terrax. With Johnny’s help, Ben is able to recover and punch Terrax away from the scene.

Sue was injured in the fight, and Reed carries her off to help her, with Ben learning that Sue is now pregnant. Before Ben can react, two more of Galactus’ heralds show up, Firelord and Plasma. Johnny asks for a moment to catch their breath before the next fight, but Ben says he doesn’t think it would make much difference.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Terrax refers to Reed as “Elastic Man.” Poking fun at DC characters again, are we?

Fade out: Sue’s pregnancy raises a lot of questions when we remember that Heroes Reborn takes place in an alternate universe created by Franklin. Maybe the creators knew this, because the pregnancy will be more or less written out after this issue.

Clobberin’ time: This issue confirms Ben’s powers work similarly in the Heroes Reborn Universe as they do in the Marvel Universe, in that his rocky exterior surrounds a vulnerable interior. (Also a metaphor.)

Flame on: Johnny’s nova flame power appears to be less powerful in Heroes Reborn than it does in the regular Marvel Universe, since it only destroys the FF’s Danger Room. In the past, we’ve seen it level entire buildings.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Johnny has a photo of Crystal that he says he took while they were together in the Himalayas. I’ll buy that, but why is it a photo of her with that weird helmet on?

Commercial break: Do the Time Warp again.

Trivia time: The reporter who captures the FF/Terrax fight on live TV is Jack Johnson of Channel 9. This guy has no entry in the Marvel Wiki, so I’m going to assume he doesn’t go on to become a regular supporting character.

Fantastic or frightful? After ten issues of building up to Galactus, we get a wheel-spinning fight against Terrax taking up most of this issue. Terrax overpowers the FF abruptly, and then is defeated just as abruptly. This lacks the cinematic quality of the multi-issue Terrax fight from the John Byrne days.

Next: A touch of silver.

****

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

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Universal Monsters rewatch – Son of Frankenstein 1939

Rewatching the Universal monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Here’s Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff on screen at the same time in Son of Frankenstein.

Here’s what happens: The long-lost son of Dr. Frankenstein rides into town to inherit his father’s property. Once there, he meets the misshapen Ygor, and the two hatch a plot to once again bring life back from the dead.

 Monster! Despite the “F” name in the title, discussion of this movie begins and ends with Ygor, in a landmark performance by Bela Lugosi. Ygor is not a hunchback but a brute with a permanently broken neck. Despite being a creepy outside, Ygor is a master manipulator, able to talk the young baron as well as the townsfolk to go along with his schemes.

Also a monster! Karloff returns for his third and final turn as Frankenstein’s monster. The monster is once again unable to speak, giving the performance a real going-back-to-the-beginning feel. One highlight is the monster’s reaction to seeing himself in a mirror, which is several minutes of Karloff acting only with his expressions and body language.

Our hero: The titular son is Wolf von Frankenstein (his name’s Wolf!!!) played with maximum Englishman-ness by Basil Rathbone. Wolf initially sees inheriting the castle as a grand adventure, only to get more and more interested in recreating daddy’s experiments.

Hapless humans: Lots of great supporting characters in this one. The wooden-armed Inspector Krogh is a favorite, with his personal vendetta against the monster. Wolf’s wife and son are along for the ride, to be menaced by Ygor and the monster. I especially liked the superstitious housemaid Amelia, who is just delightfully quirky.

 Thrills: Once the monster is up and about, we get some of his lurking about the countryside, including a somewhat slapstick murder of Wolf’s assistant. Later, we get the really good stuff as he goes full Hulk to rampage in and around the old lab and the Frankenstein estate. The finale, as Wolf confronts the monster at the edge of a deadly sulfur pit, is a real blockbuster moment.

Laughs: Not a lot of comic relief in this one. I do like how all the villages come out to “welcome” Wolf Frankenstein to town, only for them to all turn around and shun him as he steps off the train.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The movie is a little more sci-fi and less gothic horror than the previous Frankensteins, but that helps give this one its own identity. That, plus Lugosi killing it as Ygor makes Son an easy recommend.

Next: …now you don’t.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Jim be gone

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In less than a year’s time, Heroes Reborn crashed and burned. Here’s vol. 2 issue #10, and the writing is on the wall. Superstar artist Jim Lee came back to Marvel to reboot Fantastic Four, but as of this issue he only gets a co-plotter credit, leaving the scripting to Brandon Choi and art to Ron Lim.

In this alternate universe take on our heroes, the FF have traveled to the Himalayas, where they’ve become reluctant allies with the Inhumans. Maximus the Mad has traveled into caves beneath the Inhumans’ hidden city of Attilan to take control of the Terrigen mists that give the Inhumans their powers. Before catching up with that plot, though, we spend a few pages with Galactus as he devours a small planetoid. He tells his herald Plasma that it isn’t enough, and he still hungers. He sets course for Earth – or as he calls it, “Earth Prime!”

In the Himalayas, Maximus does the villain monologue thing, saying the “great devourer” is coming to Earth, and only the strongest will survive. He’s gathered his own army, made up of Terrigen-powered Alpha-primitives and some of the Mole Man’s Moloids. Medusa tries to negotiate with him, saying this conflict could destroy Attilan. Maximus insists that only he can rule the Inhumans, so everybody fights. Medusa keeps trying to reason with Maximus, even as he surrounds himself with his monsters, so the FF and Inhumans can’t fight their way to him. Reed deduces that Maximus is controlling the monsters telepathically and they must break the mind-link.

By working together, Ben, Karnak and Gorgon (who, let’s not forget, once singlehandedly defeated the entire FF) clear a path to Maximus. Crystal is the first to reach him, only for him to knock her out with a mind-blast. Maximus takes Crystal deeper into the caves, saying he’ll make her his bride (dude, she’s your sister-in-law). Johnny attacks with rage, and Maximus nearly drops a tunnel on him. Johnny says Crystal risked her life to save him when they first met, and he’d do the same for her.

 

Black Bolt uses his super-destructive voice to open the collapsed tunnel. He does so with “the merest whisper,” although we’re not privy to what he might have said. Maximus takes Crystal to his lab, which is somehow also in this forbidden tunnels. He attaches Crystal to his “creation device,” which he says will advance her “evolutionary power.” The FF and the Inhumans smash through the nearest wall, but everyone hangs back for a Johnny vs. Maximus showdown. Johnny dodges Maximus’ psychic blasts (?) and punches out Maximus.

Crystal is removed the device and is rushed back to Attilan for medical attention. The FF and Black Bolt stay behind as Black Bolt ponders what to do with the creation device. Reed narrates, saying if Black Bolt destroys the machine, he’s putting the survival of the Inhumans at risk, but if he allows it stay, the whole world might be in jeopardy.

Cut to later, when the FF are honored guests at an Inhuman celebration, complete with scantily-clad dancing girls. Medusa says the FF have their freedom, as they’ve proven themselves to be friends of the Inhumans. Johnny and Crystal have a romantic kiss goodbye with Ben, Karnak and Gorgon spy on them. Then we see Maximus in a straightjacket in what appears to some sort of Inhuman hospital. He’s ranting about how it’s too late, and the great devourer is coming.

Then there’s an epilogue in Latveria, where Dr. Doom is nearly recovered from injuries following his fight with the FF and the Silver Surfer a few issues back. A second Dr. Doom, with more technologically advanced armor, teleports into the room, gives Doom a keycard and then vanishes. Doom realizes that this is an improved version of a keycard for his newest project, a “chrono-displacement mechanism. “Most intriguing,” he says.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: While it’s normally Medusa who speaks on behalf of what Black Bolt is thinking, Reed does it in this issue. I guess we can chalk that up to his genius deductive reasoning.

Fade out: Sue is the one calling out orders during the battle, saying she’ll cover her teammates flank.

Clobberin’ time: Ben’s plan for breaking through Maximus’ defenses is to throw a monster at Karnak and Gorgon, so that the two Inhumans can then punch it towards Maximus. It’s a new variation of the X-Men’s classic “fastball special.”

Flame on: A new artist usually means tweaks to the characters’ looks. In this one, Johnny is back to his blue FF uniform instead of the orange-and-yellow one, but he keeps his bright red headband for some reason. Were headbands “extreme ‘90s”? I don’t think they were.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Johnny and Crystal’s instant romance might seem out of nowhere, but remember that’s how it was when they originally met back in the Lee/Kirby days, in which they had a deep, intense love after barely meeting.

Four and a half: This is the first appearance of Galactus’ herald Plasma. Further, Plasma only appears in the Heroes Reborn universe, and nowhere else in continuity. Because Heroes Reborn was created by Franklin’s reality-bending powers, this makes Plasma entirely a figment of Franklin’s imagination.

Commercial break: The cover advertises “Featuring your new guide to the Marvel Universe.” I guess this refers to a three-page preview of Marvel’s short-lived Quicksilver solo comic, a text-with-illustrations rundown of Quicksilver’s history. The Quicksilver series lasted 13 issues before it was cancelled.

Trivia time: What are Maximus’ powers, again? For this, we turn once again to our old friend The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition. The handbook tells us Maximus can “override the thought processes of other brains around him.” This isn’t exactly mind control, but the power to numb minds and sometimes influence behavior. This is why he’s often surrounded by the Alpha-primitives. Because they are so animalistic, he can mentally command them much easier. As far as this issue goes, I think we can assume he went through his own machine to amplify his powers so he can throw around psychic blasts. Of course, Maximus also has a genius-level intellect. Maximus’ portrait in the Handbook was drawn by Tom Palmer.

Fantastic or frightful? I like Ron Lim’s artwork, but the switch from Jim Lee to him is jarring. The Image crowd who bought this issue for Jim Lee were no doubt disappointed. The big fight had some fun bits, but Maximus wasn’t much of a threat this time around. Only one more story arc to go before we’re back in the good ol’ Marvel Universe.

Next: Heraldic.

****

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