Universal Monsters rewatch – The Creature Walks Among Us 1956

Rewatching the Universal Monsters. The ones on the Blu-ray box set, at least. We’ve come to the end, as Universal’s so-called “monster office” was on its last legs by the 50s, but the good news we get The Creature Walks Among Us.

Here’s what happens: The heroic Dr. Morgan and the unhinged Dr. Barton capture the Creature in the Florida everglades. Barton experiments on the Creature, turning it partially human. Overprotective of his wife, Barton goes into a murderous rage, with the Creature caught in the middle.

Monster! The big deal here is that the Creature mutates into a half-human Creature. Frankenstein is clearly an influence, as the monster spends a good chunk of the movie bandaged up in the lab. Then they put him in a broad shouldered coat, making him look even more like Frankenstein’s monster.

Also a monster! Described as “deeply disturbed,” Barton rubs everyone the wrong way. He tries framing a murder on the Creature, which is what sets of the movie’s finale.

Our hero: Morgan is the classic 1950s manly man of manliness, so much so that I almost wonder if this is an intentional parody of ‘50s movie science-heroes.

Hapless humans: Marcia is Barton’s fun-loving wife, who seems a little too unaware of how rotten Barton is. Jed is the poor sap who romantically pursues her. Another scientist, Dr. Borg, provides some nice everyman charm to his scenes.

 

Thrills: The first half of the movie is a rough remake of the first one, with everyone on a boat hunting the monster through the swamp. They’ve clearly made an effort to improve the underwater photography, which looks great. There’s a great fight where the Creature gets shot up with harpoons and then catches fire. His final rampage is also a good one, with him showing off a lot Hulk-like strength.

Laughs: This is a sad, somber movie, so no room for comic relief.

Thoughts on this viewing: While there’s a lot of monster action and human drama, the signature visual of the movie is the Creature staring longingly at the ocean, wishing he could return to the water. Kind of a fitting final sendoff for the Universal Monsters, looking back at another time…

 

That’s a wrap on this series. What should I watch next for this blog?

****

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Fantastic Friday: Stark raving

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Iron Man guest stars in vol. 3 issue #15, as does another character who will eventually become a big part of FF lore.

Recap: Ronan the Accuser returned to Earth and picked a fight with the FF, ending with him using an alien called a “mannequin” to mind-control Sue. He and the FF teleported to the Blue Area of the Moon, where Ronan plots to break into the Watcher’s home and steal the advanced alien tech inside. Reed, Ben, and Johnny defeated three Kree criminals Ronan sent after them and now they’ve regrouped. As this issue begins, Ronan explains that the Kree have recently been conquered by the Shi’ar, so he needs the Watcher’s tech to properly mount an resistance.

Nearby, the moon-located S.H.I.E.L.D. Starbase has taken note of the situation, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents call for help. From there, we go to a mansion on an island at the center of Lake Washington, current home of Tony Stark. Tony isn’t doing well lately, as his Iron Man armor has been generating an energy field that’s made him fatally ill. For this occasion, however, he dons a special never-before-seen prototype armor to save the day.

Cut to the moon, where Reed, Ben, Johnny, and NYPD officer (and friend of the X-Men) Charlotte Jones make their way through underground tunnels toward the Watcher’s home. Reed’s uniform is equipped with sensors that keep him informed about what Ronan’s up to. Jonny wants to fly off and fight right there, but Reed stops and him and tells Johnny to keep his anger in check. Meanwhile, Ronan continues blasting the outside of the Watcher’s house, while the mannequin starts transforming Sue into an alien creature. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents attack, but Sue and Ronan drive them back. Sue’s eyes tear up, showing that some part of her knows what she’s doing.

What happens next is a little confusing. Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Charlotte pass through some strange energy pulses, and then enter a room to find Alicia there, working on a large sculpture of the FF. Caledonia is there, wearing an FF uniform, and she’s joined by Sue, who is introduced as “Baroness Von Doom.” The explanation is rushed through pretty quick, and it’s that this tunnel they’re in contains “pockets of warped time,” which apparently include alternate timelines. Alt-Sue enters wearing Dr. Doom-like armor, joined by a grownup Franklin, and a daughter… Valeria!

Franklin spots Reed, and they exchange some strange dialogue before Iron Man shows up (his prototype armor has a teleporter) and disrupts the connection between the two timelines. Or something. Ronan and Sue, meanwhile, manage to punch a hole in the Watcher’s house, and they finally make it inside. Then it’s back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, where they report a worldwide electromagnetic pulse on Earth, which for some reason has activated and armed every nuclear bomb on the planet.

The rest of the issue is a fight, as Iron Man’s new armor goes haywire, attacking the FF by itself, with the FF fighting back. There’s a lot of technobabble about the teleport and the electromagnetic pulse, but the gist of is that Iron Man can stop the nukes by rebooting his armor, but he can’t do it while the armor is under attack. Ben manages to hold Iron Man down as Reed activates the reboot. There’s enough residual charge in the armor to transport them all inside the Watcher’s home. With all systems back online, Reed catches Iron Man back up to speed, and they rush off to stop Ronan.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed says his uniform is his “wearable computer” complete with Star Trek-like sensors. Let’s see how often this comes up in the future. Also, why don’t his teammates have this built-in computer?

Fade out: Sue’s force fields are crucial in penetrating the exterior dome of the Watcher’s house, showing that Ronan’s attack on the FF was about more than just revenge.

Clobberin’ time: Ben wraps his arms around Iron Man instead of punching him, claiming that this is his “ju-jitsu” [sic] skills. I’m going to assume that Ben is joking, as he’s never been shown to be any sort of martial arts master before this.

Flame on: Johnny takes Sue’s abduction deeply personal, giving a big speech about how his and Sue’s parents are both dead, and how she’s his only family. (I thought the FF was your family, dude.)

Four and a half: OK, what is going on in this alternate timeline? It’s partially foreshadowing upcoming storylines, as if to say that this is what will happen if upcoming events don’t turn out the way they will eventually turn out. Anyway, Franklin’s warning for Reed is “You have to let Galactus go!”

Our gal Val: Welcome to the series, Valeria! Can we or can’t we count this as her first appearance? No one can seem to agree. The Marvel wiki has all the other alt-timeline characters labeled as such, except for Val. Either way, this lets readers know there’s a Fantastic Four daughter on the way, and she’ll be here sooner rather than later.

Commercial break: This ad stretches across the tops of two pages, forcing this month’s Bullpen Bulletins to be only a half-page. I hope Marvel got paid a lot for this one.

Trivia time: The Shi’ar overthrew the Kree empire during the Operation: Galactic Storm crossover. They would continue to fight each other since then, with the Kree eventually rising up and succeeding in defeating the Shi’ar during the War of Kings crossover.

For those of you making lists of all the Iron Man armors, the one in this issue is the “Experimental Safe Armor.”

The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in this issue are Callie Yeager, Gene, Jake, and Lucian. The Marvel Wiki says this story arc are their only appearances, but Iron Man and Callie have some sort of history, as he trusts Callie wouldn’t call him unless it was really important. (I have no idea why these four are wearing their civilian clothes – on the moon! – instead of their S.H.I.E.L.D. uniforms.)

Fantastic or frightful? I don’t know. It feels like the alternate timeline thing and the EMP/nukes thing are just filler. They’re roadblocks keeping us from getting to the Ronan story, which is what we’re here for. I want to give writer Chris Claremont the benefit of the doubt that he’s going somewhere with all this, but it nonetheless feels like another case of comics’ meandering plot syndrome.

Next: Avengement.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – Abbott and Costello meet the Mummy 1955

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Abbott and Costello meet the Mummy was the duo’s last movie with Universal, and their second-to-last movie overall.

Here’s what happens: Archeologists dig up the mummy Klaris (not Kharis), who has a medallion leading to a buried treasure. Abbott and Costello play two tourists looking for work, only to get involved as the followers of Klaris will do anything to get the medallion. And let’s not forget Klaris himself, who gets up and shambling in no time.

Monster! Once Klaris rises from the tomb, he doesn’t act all that menacing. He seems more curious than anything. But this does lead to a memorable finale in which both Bug and one of the villains dress up in mummy wrappings, resulting in three mummies bumbling about. Klaris’ final rampage scene is short, but memorable.

Also a monster! The Klaris cultists have a whole crew of sinister no-gooders out to get our heroes, including weirdo leader Semu and femme fatale Madame Rontru.

Also a monster! Along the way, Lou is also menaced by a couple of snakes, a bat, a skeleton (!) and a totally random giant iguana.

Bud and Lou: Although the credits list them as “Pete” and “Freddie,” Abbott and Costello use their real names throughout the movie. Their characters have no backstory, so it’s full-on meta with them playing themselves.

Hapless humans: The supporting characters are almost entirely the villains or rival agents, leaving only the occasional doctor, waiter, or local kid to fill out the cast.

Thrills: There are a few scrapes and near misses before we get to the end, for some proper mummy carnage.

Laughs: The movie is structured so that every couple of minutes, the plot stops to Abbott and Costello can do a bit, and then we’re off again. A lot of bits are winners, though, and they’re short so they never overstay they’re welcome. Of particular interest is the “Slipping the Mickey” and “Take your pick” routines, which allegedly originated in A&C’s standup acts.

What’s all this, then? By my count, there are at least four other Abbott and Costello movies produced by Universal that could have made it onto the Blu-ray box, Hold That Ghost, Abbott and Costello meet the Killer Boris Karloff, Abbott and Costello meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the monster-adjacent Abbott and Costello go to Mars.

Thoughts upon this viewing: I really liked this one! It’s a real pulp comedy-adventure caper. A lot of the jokes land, and everything zips along at a quick pace. Just a good time at the movies.

Next: No day at the beach.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Moon pie

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. You want mayhem on the moon? Vol. 3 issue #14 has mayhem on the moon.

Recap: Ronan the Accuser returned to Earth, attacking the Fantastic Four on the eve of S.H.I.E.L.D. transporting three Kree criminals off Earth. Ronan forced Reed and Ben into surrendering by taking Sue and Johnny hostage. He then transported the team’s former headquarters of Four Freedoms Plaza onto the surface of the moon. Specifically, they’re in the Blue Area of the moon, where there is breathable air. The Blue Area also is home to an abandoned alien city, where FFP now stands.

This issue begins with Ronan bragging about how superior the Kree are to everyone else. We see Sue is only pretending to be unconscious, and attacks Ronan. Ronan doesn’t lose his grip on Johnny however, so Sue can’t attack him with full strength. This is an opening for Ben and Reed to join the fight. Ronan throws Johnny into space, so Reed has to stop and save him. Ronan is able to re-form his all-powerful hammer that was destroyed last issue, and he smashes Ben through the floor. Ronan then procures a tiny alien he calls a “mannequin” that attaches itself to Sue, which puts her under Ronan’s mind-control.

Then there’s an interlude, at a dive bar full of kooky creatures on an alien planet. A shadowy figure named Bounty walks through the door. There’s a huge gunfight in which Bounty kills everybody. A woman approaches Bounty with a job, to capture Alysande Stuart, a.k.a. Caledonia (the interdimensional swordswoman currently living with the FF).

Cut to the moon, where Ronan meets up with the three Kree prisoners and he names them his deputies. Nearby, Reed hides out with unconscious Johnny and unconscious NYPD officer Charlotte Jones, her did not die last issue. She mentions she’s worked with the X-Men in the past, and Reed looks for any tech he might have left behind in Four Freedoms Plaza, but the building has been cleared out.

 

In yet another part of the building, the three prisoners find Ben, and another fight breaks out. Ben beats them by brining the roof down on them. Reed and Charlotte, meanwhile, seek medical help for Johnny. Reed spots a recently-constructed facility at the edge of the Blue Area. The three of them head there. Except they don’t, because next is a bit where Reed, Ben, and Charlotte use the FF’s old robot receptionist Roberta in the Four Freedoms Plaza lobby to distract the criminals. (If all the building’s tech was cleared out, how is Roberta still there?) Johnny then wakes up and joins the fight. One of the criminals flies off with Johnny, so Reed and Ben do the old slingshot gag to send Ben flying into the sky to save Johnny.

With the prisoners defeated, Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Charlotte regroup. Reed says he’s managed to triangulate Ronan’s location (when did he do that?) and says Ronan is headed for the Watcher’s home, which is filled with alien so advanced it drives visitors to madness. We then catch up to Ronan and Sue outside the Watcher’s home, where Ronan makes a big speech about raiding the building and using the alien tech for the benefit of the Kree. Sue, still being mind-controlled, says, “Your will be done.”

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: When Reed discovers Charlotte’s X-Men uniform, he’s surprised to see it has restorative properties. But wait, Marvel continuity states that Reed provides the X-Men with unstable molecules for their uniforms. That must have been undone at some point in an X-Men comic, because Charlotte says her outfit is of alien origin.

Fade out: The mannequin alien is able to eat its way through Sue’s force fields. We’ve seen the Hulk shatter a force field, but this is the first time one is eaten.

Clobberin’ time: Ben uses his brain, not his fists, to defeat the Kree. He knows exactly where the room’s weakness is, so he can bring the ceiling down on them.

Flame on: The issue says Johnny is seriously injured, but he’s fine once he wakes up. He is able to subdue a Kree by keeping a consistent flame burning on the exterior of the Kree’s body armor.

Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent the whole time. This issue states that Reed has had her sitting going through hours of training and research into how to defeat a Kree. Could that also have been part of her spy training?

Commercial break: It’s the Joe Kubert Cartooning School! This was the ‘90s comic book equivalent of all those YouTube Master Class ads.

Trivia time: We’ll learn next issue that the recently-build structure on the moon is the S.H.I.E.L.D. Starcore LunarBase. The Marvel Wiki says next issue is the LunarBase’s first appearance, but we see it in one panel in this issue.

The three Kree prisoners are named Cha-Mont, Clar-Roc, and Dor-Art (a combination of names of writer Chris Claremont, artist Salvador Larocca, inker Art Thibert, and editor Bobbie Chase). They’re members of the Lunatic Legion, leftover characters from a recent alien invasion story in Avengers.

The abandoned city in the Blue Area of the moon is simply named Blue City. It has a confusing history. The Blue Area was constructed by the Skrulls to experiment on the Kree. The Kree then built the Blue City. Later, the Skrulls returned all the Kree to their homeworld after a conflict with another Kree-born alien race called the Cotati, leaving Blue City abandoned ever since. (LAST-MINUTE EDIT: Writer Al Ewing obviously read the same Wiki page I did, because the recently-published Empyre: Avengers #0, Ewing retells this Kree/Skrull/Cotati/Blue Area story.)

Fantastic or frightful? It’s a classic all-they-do-is-fight issue, just barely moving the overall story along. The three prisoners aren’t much a threat, and don’t have personality, though. It’s always great to see the heroes thinking their way through a fight rather than just brawling, but that’s about it.

Next: Stark raving.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – Revenge of the Creature 1955

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. After the first one was a big hit, a sequel got rushed into theaters. It’s Revenge of the Creature.

Here’s what happens: A second expedition to the Amazon succeeds in capturing the Creature. He’s then taken to a Sea World-like aquarium/theme park to be studied and put on display. We all know it’s only a matter of time before he gets loose.

Monster! The Creature is called the “Gill-man” in this movie, which he’s often known by. I think “Creature” sounds cooler.

Also a monster! The filmmakers show an interest in real wildlife, with shots of crocodiles in the Amazon, and real sharks and barracudas swimming alongside the Creature inside the aquarium.

Our hero: A scientist named Clete (Clete?!?) wants to study the Creature, but the Creature falls for his fiancé, complicating matters. When the Creature goes on the run in the third act, Clete becomes Tommy Lee Jones type hunting the Creature as a fugitive.

Hapless humans: Helen is the girl in question, but she’s a scientist herself and takes part in experimenting on the Creature. There’s also a rival scientist, Joe, who also has eyes for Helen and complicates matters. Lucas, the crusty ship captain from the first movie, is back again for more easygoing charm. And yes, that is young Clint Eastwood in his first movie role as a lab tech.

Thrills: The first part of the movie is a short remake of the first, as scientists face off with the Creature in the Amazon, complete with underwater fighting. When he first wakes up at the aquarium, there’s a fun scene where he rampages and almost escapes right away. This is followed by another, bigger rampage when he escapes for real, and later trashes a seafood restaurant.

Laughs: Lots of comedic shenanigans going on the science lab, including a playful monkey.

Thoughts upon this viewing: Honestly? I get The Shape of Water a lot better now. There are so many scenes of the Creature locked up in the tank being sad while the humans get to about their lives. Instead of terrifying, you really feel for the poor guy.

Next: Mums on the run.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Ronan on the roam

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Vol 3 issue #13 brings back Ronan the Accuser. But, sadly, it doesn’t end in a dance-off.

First a quick look at Fantastic Four annual 1998. Ben travels into an alternate universe, with the gimmick being what if the characters had aged in real time since 1961? Reed and Sue are retired, Johnny and Crystal are married with a son named Cosmic Ray and a daughter named Spike. Also, an adult Franklin is married to a Wakandan princess named Zawadi. This new team fights the Wizard, and then Reed helps Ben get back to his own universe. Funny how this and Fantastic Five came out at the same time, with both of them having a similar premise. Also this same month was the first issue of DC’s Superman/Batman: Generations, which also did the real-time-aging stunt, courtesy of former FF artist John Byrne.

Onto issue #13, we’re back in continuity with the good ol’ Marvel Universe. We begin with the FF sitting around the breakfast table chatting, only to be interrupted by Ronan the Accuser, who comes crashing down through the ceiling. A convenient opening text page explains Ronan, saying the Kree Empire has given him authority to enforce the empire’s will anywhere he goes – including Earth. They fight for several pages with Ronan’s hammer, called “the Universal Weapon” has a superpower to counteract each of the FF’s powers.

Just as Ronan proclaims victory, we turn the page to see the caption “End training simulation.” Ronan muses that the first time he fought the Fantastic Four, it was the first time he’d ever been defeated in battle. Then he says the Kree never accept defeat.

Back in NYC, the FF’s sexy new mail carrier Whilhemina “Billie” Lumpkin arrives with mail. She sees a strange woman on the roof of Pier 4, but that’s just interdimensional swordswoman Caledonia (a.k.a. Alysande Stuart) who’s currently staying at the pier. She and Johnny share a coffee, and she says she had a troubling dream the night before. Over breakfast, Franklin also had a bad dream, and it turns out everyone had a dream about Ronan attacking the FF. Johnny tells Caledonia that Ronan originally came to Earth to punish the FF for destroying a Kree sentry, and the FF sent him packing.

Later, Johnny and Caledonia have a practice sparring session in front of some students from NYC’s Stuyvesant High School, which is next door to Pier 4. The school’s vice principal later calls Reed to complain about the two of them making a disturbance. Sue, meanwhile, has been investigating the mysterious dreams. She tries accessing the Avengers archives, but she lost her login status after the FF were believed dead during Heroes Reborn. Ben takes over, contacting Firestar at Avengers HQ. Firestar says she wants to give them info on Ronan, but there’s a security block on the FF’s files. Then the Vision joins the call, saying that both the US government and the United Nations have forbidden the FF from accessing Avengers data. Vision then terminates the call.

That’s when Johnny chimes in, saying he’s done some investigating of his own. He says there’s been strange activity around Cape Canaveral, and that a moon base is being constructed near the Blue Area of the moon, which contains breathable air, and is the home of the Watcher. And of course Reed has been investigating too, saying that he’s detected a Kree energy signature coming from the FF”s former headquarters at Four Freedoms Plaza.

Cut to the Plaza, still abandoned from when the Thunderbolts left it, where S.H.I.E.L.D. agents have secretly constructed a teleportation platform, to send three Kree prisoners back to their homeworld. (This is a follow-up to the recent Live Kree or Die crossover, in which the Avengers stopped a full-blown Kree invasion.) The teleportation device activates and Ronan steps out. He says he’s here to pass judgment.

The FF are quick to arrive on the scene, and everybody fights for real this time. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in mech suits join the fight, except they attack the FF instead of Ronan, saying the FF are interfering with federal officers. Ronan takes out the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, and then knocks out Sue and Johnny. He threatens to kill them, so Reed and Ben surrender. Ronan then teleports Four Freedoms Plaza to the blue area of the moon, saying this is where Kree Empire will fulfil its destiny.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed tells the team to attack Ronan, “just as we practiced.” We never see this practice, but it’s clear that they’re taking on Ronan with a plan in mind.

Fade out: Yes, Sue is an Avenger. She and Reed officially joined that team back in Avengers #200, only to leave the team three issues later due to a change in editorial.

Clobberin’ time: Firestar says Ben is one of her childhood heroes, but she still can’t help him. Ben considers contacting Carol Danvers for help as well, only to learn she recently left the Avengers (in Avengers vol. 3 issue #5) and left for parts unknown.

Flame on: Caledonia says she’s sticking around because she owes a debt to Johnny, which Johnny says sounds a little too much like a commitment. When Ben jokingly calls Caledonia Johnny’s girlfriend, Johnny says they’re just friends.

Four and a half: With everyone having disturbing dreams, Franklin reminds everyone that he used to have dream-based powers, including prophetic dreams. This is of course a reference to his time spent as a member of Power Pack.

Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent the whole time. We can only speculate whether she lost (and later regained) her secret agent status along with her Avengers status.

Commercial break: Disney’s marketing department kinda phoned this one in, didn’t they?

Trivia time: Instead of telling readers when the FF first met Ronan, a caption invites readers to write in if they know the answer. I know – it was Fantastic Four #64-65. Now everybody send a postcard to Marvel and tell them.

This is the first time Firestar meets the FF. A mutant, Firestar was originally caught up in conflict between the X-Men and the Hellions. She then joined the New Warriors, for which she is probably most well-known. Then came her time with the Avengers. During Marvel’s Civil War event, she gave up super-heroing. She came out of retirement to be a mentor for the Young Allies, and she taught at the Jean Grey School. In current continuity, she’s been a player in House of X/Powers of X crossover and the Absolute Carnage crossover.

Also present in this issue is police sergeant Charlotte Jones, a supporting character from X-Factor. It looks like Ronan kills her, but we’ll see her still kicking in upcoming issues.

The three Kree prisoners are members of the “Lunatic Legion,” a group of Kree who often showed up as villains in Avengers and Iron Man during the 90s.

Fantastic or frightful? After the plot-heavy Genosha story, it’s nice to have an issue with more character stuff. I liked all four members of the team investigating the mystery each in their own way. Ronan continues to be a one-note baddie, but this helps the issue feel like classic Fantastic Four.

Next: Moon madness.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – Creature from the Black Lagoon 1954

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Universal’s so-called “monster office” was in diminishing returns during the 1950s, but there was more bona fide classic to come, Creature from the Black Lagoon. Here’s what happens: After discovering a mysterious fossil, a group of scientists travel deep into the Amazon for more. They encounter the amphibious Creature, who foils their efforts to leave, and takes an interest in Kay, the expedition’s only female member. Monster! The look of the Creature, designed by artist Millicent Patrick, is terrific. Out of the water, he’s all wet and glisten-y, and his neck bulges as he breaths, suggesting gills. In the water, we actually see him swim around, making us believe that he really does live in this hidden lagoon. Our hero: The protagonist is David, a heroic man of science, although he’s one of several heroic men of science on the expedition. David is very much a 1950s science-hero. He always has the answer and always knows just what to do. Hapless humans: Kay, played by the great Julie Adams, is super-likable, enjoying the sense of adventure that is the expedition. She’s stuck in the “damsel in distress” role, but she also smashes a fiery lantern over the Creature’s head at one point. The other scientists are Mark, Carl, and Edwin, who are kind of interchangeable. Thrills: It’s a lot of fun to see the Creature rampage through the scientists’ ship, trashing everything in his path. But he’s also a stealthy monster, often sneaking up on his prey. He also gets a fun underwater fight involving a spear gun. Perhaps his best moment is the so-called “water ballet” where he swims alongside Kay as she doesn’t know he’s there. The scene is both beautiful and spooky. Laughs: Our comic relief is Lucas, who captains the ship chartered by the expedition. Instead of being a bumbler, Lucas is super self-confident, believing himself to be the story’s hero. I especially like when he proclaims, “I, Lucas, can do it!” What’s all this, then? The movie opens with a prologue… in outer space? Where we see the big bang? OK, if you say so. Thoughts upon this viewing: Pretty much everything you could want from a monster movie. The monster is threatening but also somewhat sympathetic. The human characters are likable, and the visuals are gorgeous. Maybe the score is a bit obnoxious, but other than that this is a great time at the movies. Next: Fin-al vengeance.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Fantastic Five-day

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Today we’re diving into Marvel’s MC2 line, featuring Fantastic Five, which will seem really familiar if you read FF in the ‘90s.

Fantastic Five takes place in the MC2 continuity, which takes place approximately 15 years in the future. The Marvel heroes are now a little older and wiser, and there’s a new class of young up-and-coming heroes. The main series of MC2 was the cult favorite Spider-Girl, which was saved from cancellation (for a while) by a fan letter-writing campaign. The MC2 line also gave us A-Next, Wild Thing, and American Dream.

Who are the Fantastic Five?

  • Johnny is now the team leader.
  • Lyja is his wife, Ms. Fantastic, and she and Johnny have a young son.
  • Ben is now a cyborg, and is divorced.
  • Teenage Franklin is telekinetic, and again going by the name “Psi-Lord.”
  • Big Brain is a robot with Reed’s brain inside it, but not is all as it appears.

In issue #1, we get to know this new timeline as our heroes fight the evil Dr. Kangshaw (no relation to Kang), who has created this weird mind-controlling cloud monster. Big Brain sacrifices himself to save the day, and we learn that Reed is actually remote-piloting Big Brain from some unknown location.

Right from the first page, it hits you that we are back in Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan’s version of FF, before they got booted so Jim Lee could take over the book. This whole MC2 thing is just an excuse for DeFalco and Ryan to keep doing what they were doing before, no matter how unpopular Lyja and teen Franklin (and more!) might have been.

Issue #2 introduces the S.H.I.E.L.D. Superoid, based on the Mad Thinker’s Android, which can replicate our heroes powers. The ‘droid is stolen by a new version of the Frightful Four, called the Wizard’s Warriors. They’re Dominator, Impact, Bullet, Freefall, and Binder. The F5 save the day, but not until the Wizard deduces that Reed is not Big Brain, and he starts tracking down Reed’s location.

Big Brain gets a new body this issue, and we get to know Johnny and Lyja’s son, Torus Storm, who has his parents’ combined powers.

In issue #3 Franklin and Spider-Girl team up to investigate and then fight the Wizard’s Warriors. It’s all a trick, as the Wizard learns that Reed is still alive and hiding in the Negative Zone. Meanwhile, we learn Ben is the father of twins, and his ex-wife is not Alicia, but Sharon Ventura (WHAT???).

Issue #4 is a flashback to what Reed’s deal is. At some point, Hyperstorm returned. (Yes, DeFalco is using this series to bring back Hyperstorm as well.) We learn Reed is hiding out in his “Fantasti-station” in the Negative Zone. Sue is in suspended animation, forever perpetually fighting the hole in hyperspace, with Reed watching vigilant over her. Oh, and the F5 defeat the Wizard and his Warriors pretty easily.

In issue #5, the team receives a message from Dr. Doom, only to learn immediately that this is not Dr. Doom, but Kristoff (See? DeFalco is bringing back everybody!). Cassie Lang, daughter of Ant-Man, is now an Avenger named Stinger, and she tags along. Kristoff is being held captive by Diablo, who sends a bunch of elemental monsters to attack the F5. Kristoff escapes and defeats Diablo. Kristoff then announces he’s joining the F5. Then Torus says he’s joining the F5. Then Ben’s twins Jake and Alyce reveal they have powers, and they also want to join the F5!

To be continued… when the series gets a short-lived revival in 2007.

Unstable molecule: Reed is shown losing control of his powers after the fight with Hyperstorm, so he wears an exoskeleton to keep himself from turning into a formless blob.

Fade out: Trapping Sue inside a machine for the entire series is unfortunate, but she gets some great scenes in the fight with Hyperstorm, pushing her powers to the limit.

Clobberin’ time: The series doesn’t reveal how Ben became a cyborg, he even has his cyborg parts before the Hyperstorm fight, even though that’s depicted as the moment everything changed.

Flame on: Johnny has grown as both team leader, and as father figure. He keeps insisting that his son not become a superhero, but we’re not necessarily shown why. Johnny also has his red-and-yellow uniform back.

Fantastic fifth wheel: In this timeline, Kristoff has accepted who he is, yet goes by the name “Doom” (that’s without the doctor part). Basically, he’s Dr. Doom, except as a good guy. Then, when he and Cassie are reunited, they kiss on the lips! Had DeFalco seriously planned this all along?

It’s not made clear whether Big Brain is being remote-controlled by Reed the whole time, or the robot is autonomous and merely programmed to act like Reed. In addition to being a genius, Big Brain can zap enemies with electrical blasts.

The comic doesn’t bother explaining how Sharon Ventura became human again, or the circumstances of her Ben’s reunion, marriage, and divorce – or anything else about where her story might have gone.

In the revival, Ben’s two kids do indeed go on to become members of the team. Alyce goes by the codename Rad, and Jake’s codename is Grim.

Cassie Lang says her dad Scott (a.k.a. Ant-Man) is “grumpy as ever.” When was he ever grumpy?

Four and a half: Franklin is back to being Psi-Lord, but without the cool jacket and the edgy attitude from the Fantastic Force spinoff. The Spider-Girl team-up suggests that he and Spider-Girl might be more than friends.

The Alicia problem: How ballsy is it of them to bring back Lyja as Johnny’s wife, after so many readers disliked the character? Lyja doesn’t do much in these issues, though. She’s basically just the loyal wife and superhero teammate.

Commercial break: But does his computer wear tennis shoes?

Trivia time: The purpose of MC2 was to draw in first-time readers, and the many new characters were designed to appeal to young readers who’d never picked up a comic before. Allegedly, a deal to sell the comics at K-Mart and Target fell through, so MC2 never really took off. MC2 officially ended with two miniseries, Last Hero Standing and Last Planet Standing, although Spider-Girl and American Dream appeared sporadically after that. There’s much debate among fans as to whether the Spider-Girl who appeared in the 2014 Spider-Verse crossover was the MC2 one, or one from yet another alternate timeline.

Fantastic or frightful? I was going to skip this series on the blog, but then I couldn’t believe how DeFalco and Ryan are so brazenly just picking up where they left off before Jim Lee took over the series. Nobody misses Ljya, Kristoff, and Hyperstorm, and yet here they are! DeFalco and Ryan’s Fantastic Four was overstuffed with too many characters and too much plot, so it’s no surprise that their Fantastic Five is overstuffed with too many characters and too much plot.

Next: Dance-off, bro.

****

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Fantastic Friday: It’s Superman

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s 1999 now, and Marvel and DC got a little crossover-happy during this time. The two biggies met in a biggie comic, Superman/Fantastic Four.

Gimmie a gimmick: This was a so-called “treasury format” comic, published at an unusually large size. The coffee table book size is supposed to be so the reader can take in all the detail in the art. It’s also a wraparound cover, with our heroes on the front and Galactus and an exploding Krypton on the back.

The issue begins with Galactus seeing baby Kal-El’s ship escaping Krypton, and considering that someday the child might be of use to him. Cut to the present, in Metropolis, where a mysterious alien device has appeared on a city street. The one and only Superman flies down from the sky. He informs the local cops that his x-ray vision has detected a digital timer inside, and the device is a nuke about to explode.

Superman’s heat vision conveniently stops the timer and then he flies off in search of a radio signal that is the bomb’s backup. He finds a Kryptonian crystal containing a message from his father Jor-El. Joe-El tells Superman that he thought Krypton’s destruction was due to natural disaster, but in the final days of Krypton, Joe-El said the real reason is because of the imminent approach of Galactus. Galactus’ cosmic power has accelerated Krypton’s demise. Superman says he learned about Galactus from “the heroes of the other universe.” He says he will visit this other universe, adding that he has “access.”

Cut to the Marvel Universe, at Pier Four, where Franklin Richards is watching a Superman cartoon on TV. He remarks that Superman might be a fiction character in his universe, but his parents told him about another Universe where Superman is real. He checks in with the FF, who are conducting various experiments in Reed’s lab, just in time for Superman to show up. Before they can barely say hello, the Kryptonian crystal goes haywire. Activating the pier’s automatic defenses. Then it’s a few pages of action as Superman and the FF work together to shut the machines down.

A strange spacecraft flies down, and out steps the Cyborg Superman, a.k.a. Hank Henshaw. He too has heard rumors of Galactus and has come looking for him. Johnny and Henshaw fight for a bit, and then a golden light strikes Superman. Superman is transformed into a golden form, and says Galactus’ will is his own. Reed deduces that Galactus has chosen Superman as his new herald. Superman then flies into space, taking Reed with him.

Sue traps Henshaw in a force field, and she demands information from him, believing Henshaw can follow Superman’s trail. Aboard Galactus’ ship, way out in space, Galactus makes a big speech about how Superman will be his greatest herald, while Reed pleads for Superman to fight back. At the pier, Henshaw helps Ben soup up the team’s rocket ship, so it can make the journey to locate Galactus.

Henshaw says he and the FF have similar origins, as he got his machine-controlling powers after a spaceship crash, just like the FF. Franklin gives his mom a Superman action figure for good luck, and the FF and Henshaw take off for space, with Ben and Henshaw fighting over who’s in the pilot’s seat.

In space, Superman is selecting planets for Galactus to consume, ones without intelligent life. They’re interrupted by the arrival of the FF and Henshaw. Then, fighting! Johnny attempts to take down Superman but ends up just running from him. Ben and Sue attempt to fight Galactus himself, while Henshaw hangs back plotting on how to steal Galactus’ power for himself. We also see that Reed has been sealed up in a prison cell made of “transparent alloy.” After getting defeated, the FF and Henshaw retreat, with Sue saying the lost the battle, but not the war.

Galactus devours the planet, and Superman feels some small amount of regret, but continues to act as herald. They then travel to another planet, this one fully inhabited with life. Superman tries to argue for saving them, telling Galactus, “Even one such as you must have a soul!”

The FF return, and this time Ben fights Superman. Superman punches out Ben, but then attacks Galactus, turning over to the heroes’ side. Galactus blasts Superman, incapacitating him. Ben smashes open Reed’s cell, freeing him. Except that’s when Henshaw makes his move, electrocuting Reed. Ben then punches out Henshaw.

Nearby, a weakened Superman spots Franklin’s toy from earlier (I guess it fell from the FF’s ship when the arrived?) and he begins to remember who he really is. Superman transforms from a herald back into classic Superman, and he and Reed work together to reverse Galactus’ world-devouring machine. It now draws cosmic energy out of Galactus and into the planet. Superman then faces off against Galactus, making him swear to only devour deserted planets from now on, or else he loses all his cosmic energy. Not even Galactus can say no to Superman. He agrees, and gives his word.

Superman then asks about Krypton, and Galactus says he had nothing to do with Krypton’s demise, and that it was long gone before he ever arrived. Then Ben is the one who deduces that the Kyrptonian crystal that started all this was fake made by Henshaw, all in the hopes of getting at Galactus. Henshaw then asks Galactus to give him the power cosmic. “Give me perfection!” he says. Galactus does so, transforming Henshaw into a tiny red brick. Reed says Henshaw’s body is now a flawless alloy without thought or comprehension – Galactus’ idea of simple perfection.

The heroes return to Pier Four. Superman tells Franklin that if it weren’t for his action figure, “I might not have made it back.” To show his gratitude, Superman removes his cape (!) and gives it to Franklin as a gift. The last page is Superman flying off with the FF and Franklin – with the cape – watching him go.

Continuity Café: And with that, we have to stop and try to figure out when and where this story takes place.

  • Is this in current continuity? Pier Four is seen, and Caledonia a.k.a. Alysande is mentioned as being Franklin’s babysitter. This, plus the publication date, means this story most likely takes place between issues 12 and 13 of vol. 3 of Fantastic Four. Superman’s continuity is a little harder to track. As for Superman, this month was the final chapter of Superman: The Doomsday Wars event, and the historic Action Comics #750 with the first appearance of supervillain Crazytop. I think we can surmise that this comic takes place between those two issues.
  • BUT, how do Superman and the FF already know each other? This story takes place after Marvel vs. DC, but that story ended with the heroes only remembering one another on a subconscious level. And yet, when Superman says he has “access” to the Marvel Universe, that’s clearly a reference to the character Access, who made Marvel vs. DC possible. Marvel vs. DC ended with Access stepping through a magic doorway to parts unknown, so who knows what’s up with him.
  • Could this be the continuity of the Superman vs. Spider-Man comic from 1978? No, because that story was a world in which Supes and Spidey lived in in the same universe the whole time.
  • Superman and the FF also previously met (sort of) when a bunch of Marvel and DC heroes were shown trapped in Hell in Spawn #10, but I think that was a dream Spawn was having and doesn’t count as official continuity. And I doubt the heroes would have swapped notes about Galactus while burning in hellfire.
  • Later in 2003-2004, in JLA/Avengers, the heroes from both universes will meet for the first time again, with Reed and Sue having cameos.
  • Therefore, I think have no choice but to conclude that Superman/Fantastic Four takes place in an alternate universe all of its own.

Unstable molecule: Superman shows great admiration for Reed’s genius throughout, especially Reed’s ability to figure out how Galactus’ machinery works.

Fade out: Sue is depicted as incredibly powerful in this, keeping Cyborg Superman trapped in a force field, and even using force fields to keep Galactus from using his machinery.

Clobberin’ time: Ben flying the spaceship is another shout-out to his great piloting skills.

Flame on: Every once in a while, somebody at Marvel tries to promote the Human Torch as Marvel’s equivalent to Superman, so it’s a no-brainer that he and Supes would go one-on-one. Unfortunately, Johnny can only slow him down for a few seconds.

Four and a half: Franklin and Superman becoming friends is really the only character moments in this plot-heavy comic. Franklin also has a Batman figure along with his Superman one.

Trivia time: If Galactus didn’t destroy Krypton, how did Krypton explode, exactly? The specifics vary depending on what comic you read, but most writers explain it as a buildup of radiation inside the planet’s core.

Fantastic or frightful? I can see the novelty of turning Superman in Galactus’ herald, but unfortunately, this means that Superman and the Fantastic Four barely interact with each other in this Superman/Fantastic Four crossover. Replace Superman with Silver Surfer or even Air-Walker and it’s the exact same story. I like how the FF have zero patience for any of Henshaw’s villainy, but mostly this is a missed opportunity.

Next: The second MC.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Is this a piece of your brain?

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Writer Chris Claremont wraps up his first big story arc (sort of) in the double-sized vol. 3 issue #12.

Gimmie a gimmick: This issue has a wraparound cover. On the backside, there’s an image of Ben and Johnny fighting a bunch of demon monsters that don’t appear in this issue.

Recap: After Reed was captured by Genoshans, the rest of the FF flew to the island nation of Genosha to rescue him. There, they confronted supervillain Crucible, who brain-switched Sue, Ben, and Johnny, with three non-powered ordinary humans. This issue begins with the Genosha capital city Hammer Bay under attack by high-tech aircraft. The FF make their way through the rubble. Ben is in the body of a tall bald guy, Sue is now an 18-year-old girl, and Johnny is an old man. Johnny’s doppleganger used his all-powerful nova flame to destroy a building last issue, and Johnny blames himself.

While more fighting occurs around the city, a portal opens and a bunch of military types join the conflict. Sue, Ben, and Johnny rescue some people from a car crash nearby, including a local magistrate. Ben, who has combat experience, stays behind to fight, while Sue and Johnny take off with the magistrate to a safe haven. The magistrate double-crosses them, though, and places all three under arrest.

The three heroes are taken to Genoshan state security, where they are reunited with Reed, who is apparently working alongside the magistrate. Sue makes a passionate speech, convincing Reed that she’s his wife.

As more fighting occurs around the city, Reed explains to his teammates that his abduction was really the Genoshans asking for help to stop Crucible. Reed finally admits that after his last encounter with Crucible (in issue #5) that he’s been losing his genius while also being more joyous in spending time with his family. The others make a case for finding a way to fight back. They convince Reed, just in time for the FF’s three dopplegangers to attack.

When Sue’s doppleganger turns invisible, Sue uses her other senses to find her, and then her newfound martial arts skills to take her down. Ben uses some of the Trapster’s tech (leftover from the Trapster’s appearance two issues ago, apparently) to slow down his opposite. Johnny confronts his double while wearing a fireproof suit. The doppleganger burns up all the oxygen in the room, therefore snuffing out his own fire. Using devices too-conveniently hidden in their FF uniforms, the heroes brain-switch themselves back into their own bodies.

Reed and the Magistrate travel through one of those portals, and find themselves in the headquarters of the Enclave. Remember them? They are three mad scientists who have been causing trouble around the Marvel Universe since back in the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby days. The attacking military goons are the Enclave’s troops. Reed says that the Enclave originally wanted to create a new lifeform from scratch, but now they’re experimenting on humans. Then Crucible appears, unmasked. He’s really Morlak, one of the Enclave! He and Reed fight for a bit, until Morlak is shot by Shinski, a second Enclave, who then dons the Crucible armor and proclaims that he’s the real Crucible.

Elsewhere, fellow villain Ayesha confronts the Magistrate. Now that we know Crucible is the Enclave, we know that Ayesha is “Her,” a female counterpart to Adam Warlock, who was originally created by the Enclave as “Him.” The rest of the FF arrive, and they help Reed rescue the human experimentees from Crucible’s lab. As they make their escape, the Magistrate throws a black hole grenade (which is a thing, apparently). Crucible/Shinski and Ayesha escape into the black hole’s event horizon. As they do, Crucible cries out, “It can’t end like this! It can’t!”

Later, back at Pier Four, the FF again meet with Val Cooper, the White House assistant for mutant and metahuman affairs. She says the government officially does not sanction the team’s rescue mission, but unofficially they have the White House’s gratitude. She adds that no one seems interested in helping Genosha, and Genosha will be left to its own fate. Once she takes off, Ben assumes Reed his heading for the lab, but instead, even though he has his genius back now, he’s still going to spend the day with Sue and Franklin at a Yankees game.

Unstable molecule: The idea here is that Reed is not losing his intelligence, but his inventiveness. He remembers all his old science and inventions, but can’t create new ones. This appears to be undone in one line where Sjhinki says the Enclave merely assumed Reed would eventually find a way to reverse the process.

Also, the FF’s uniforms in this issue are lined with tiny cyber-devices that do all kinds of things, like hacking and reverse brain-switching. We might assume that Reed came up with these while in Genosha, but this is all about him losing his inventiveness.

Fade out: Sue convinces Reed that it’s really her in another body simply by saying that she can’t convince him, only that she loves him. It’s enough, as it works.

Clobberin’ time: When the others are in human bodies with no powers, it’s Ben who becomes team leader. This is because he has combat experience, but it’s also because he has experience with turning into a human after being a monster for a long time.

Flame on: Johnny being trapped in the body of an old man complicates things, but he saves the day simply by knowing how his powers work better than his double does.

Four and a half: Franklin appears at the end of the issue, where we see Alysande Stuart (a.k.a. Caledonia) is still babysitting him.

Sue-per spy: Remember that the 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed Sue has had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent this whole time. She cites being trained by “the best” as helping her know how to fight. This is meant to be a reference to her hanging out with Iron Fist a few issues back, but it could also mean all her spy training.

Commercial break: The adventure begins… on video!

 

Trivia time: This Magistrate character is Chief Tam Anderson, who was a recurring character during the X-Tinction Agenda crossover. The Marvel Wiki says she died in the black hole at the end of this issue, and as of this writing she has never returned.

As the issue suggests, Shinski and Ayesha both eventually survived the black hole. The Enclave returned in 2004’s Warlock #1, once again acting as the Enclave and not as Crucible. Ayesha was one of more than a hundred characters who had cameos in Jim Starlin’s 2003 mega-epic Marvel: The End.

Fantastic or frightful? I’ll always be thankful for Chris Claremont and everything he gave in X-Men, but wow this comic is a mess. You have read each page several times in order follow what’s happening, and even then important plot points are only half-explained. Frustrating.

Next: Look, up in the sky.

****

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

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