Fantastic Friday: Abrax-R-Us

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In vol. 3 #46, we’re continuing with yet another mind-blowing cosmic epic. It’s mind-blowing cosmic epics all the way down.

New math: It’s around this time that marvel starts dual-numbering issues, so this is both vol. 3 #46, and legacy #475. This means the anniversary 450th issue was vol. 3 #21, the one where the FF went into the underworld and fought Hades and Hippolyta.

Previously, in the 2001 annual, various alternate timelines were converging onto the Marvel Universe proper. The cause of the disturbances is a godlike being named Abraxas (no, not the one from the Jesse Ventura movie), who stole the Watcher’s medallion, leaving the Watcher with no memories. This issue begins with the Reed and Sue consulting with Code Blue, the NYPD’s superhuman crimes division. They’re reunited with Franklin and time-displaced teenage Valeria.

Back at the new Baxter Building, Johnny is bemoaning that he’s trapped inside a suit of armor to keep his powers from going haywire, saying this is the end of his acting career. His girlfriend Namorita tries to console him. Nova, an alternate dimension version of Johnny’s ex-girlfriend, watches from a distance. The entire FF family is reunited, to learn that a meteor shower is headed for Earth. Ben shows Franklin that he can transform into a human now, and Johnny is jealous, feeling his armor makes him the monster now. Nova tells Reed that the meteor shower is coming from Abraxas, and Franklin says he’s seen Abraxas in his dream.

The FF travel to the Watcher’s home on the moon, where the Watcher is comatose. They’re joined by the Silver Surfer Captain Marvel, Quasar, and Moondragon. (Note that this is the Rick Jones/Genis-Vell version of Captain Marvel from the fan-favorite Peter David series.) We learn a little more about Abraxas, how he is traveling from universe to universe, leaving death and destruction behind in each one. The meteors come crashing down, only they’re not meteors but armor-clad aliens. These are Abraxas’ troops. The heroes fight them off for a few pages. The aliens are after the Watcher’s body. The Silver Surfer flies in and teleports the Watcher away, but a great cost. The Surfer is consumed by the aliens’ flame weapons, and… he dies!

The battle ends when an image of Abraxas appears in the sky overhead. Moondragon telepathically scans Johnny, and determines that Johnny was also Abraxas’ target. Back during the original Galactus storyline, the Watcher selected Johnny to fly through space to obtain the Ultimate Nullifier, which could defeat Galactus. Abraxas wants the power of the Nullifier for himself, and Johnny must make that same journey again. But there’s another complication. Captain Marvel uses his “cosmic awareness” to determine that the Nullifier hidden in one of three places throughout the multiverse.

Preparing for the journey, Reed says Johnny’s special armor won’t survive in space, so Johnny leaves it behind. (All that drama about the armor for nothing?) He and Nova take off for space, while Reed, Sue, and Ben prepare the teleporter to search in a second location. Namorita stays behind to protect Franklin and Valeria, only for the red alert alarm to go off inside the Baxter Building. Cut to the moon, where Abraxas arrives in person.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed dons a new version of his thought projector (from back in the Lee/Kirby days as well The Fantastic Four Roast) to help deliver exposition.

Fade out: Sue is depicted wearing earrings with little number 4s on them. That’s adorable.

Clobberin’ time: Ben says to Franklin that they can now play football and “wrassle” as they couldn’t before, for fear of him accidentally hurting Franklin.

Flame on: After all the drama of having Johnny trapped inside this suit of armor, it’s jarring to see him standing around without it at the end of the issue. I’m hoping this will be addressed in upcoming issues.

Four and a half: Another reference is made to Franklin being several inches taller now, as the characters attempt to age him up a little more during this time.

Our gal Val: Valeria explains that she and Franklin traveled from Haven to Earth, and then went searching for the FF at the site of the crisis from last issue. That’s where they were picked by Code Blue at the start of this one.

Commercial break: I’ve seen it, and it does not rock.

Trivia time: This issue’s letters page has a message stating that yes, the Silver Surfer is really dead, and he’ll never, ever, ever come back. I suspect shenanigans.

There’s a mention of the Avengers dealing with the destruction of the United Nations building. This happened during their battle with Kang in Avengers #21, seemingly unrelated to this Abraxas stuff.

You’ll notice Quasar has a bunch of little green blobs stuck to him. This is a side-effect of him having absorbed Ego the Living Planet during the Maximum Security miniseries.

Fantastic or frightful? Basically an issue full of set-up, promising big things in issues to come. Abraxas remains an unimpressive villain compared to other Marvel cosmic entities. The best stuff is the Johnny/Namorita/Nova love triangle, but not much space is devoted to it.

Next: Challenge of the super friends.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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DuckTales rewatch – Scrooge’s Pet

Rewatching DuckTales! What happens when a cute animal cartoon goes a level deeper and does a cute animal episode? You get episode 35, “Scrooge’s Pet.”

Here’s what happens: While fishing at the city docks, Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby ponder buying a pet for Scrooge, so Scrooge won’t be so stressed out over his money all the time. A passing sailor sells them an adorable little lemming named Lucky. Scrooge, meanwhile, has just installed a brand-new high-tech combination lock on the door to his money bin. Comedic mishaps occur, and Lucky ends up with a locket containing the only copy of the combination. Lucky escapes the mansion and runs out into Duckburg, and our heroes pursue.

Lucky ends up on a ship headed toward the Scandinavian country of Noway. Scrooge and the nephews follow with Launchpad’s help, and the chase resumes in a Noway seaside town. The locals, meanwhile, are rapidly fleeing town, crying in unison, “The lemmings are coming! The lemmings are coming!” Scrooge and company are then left alone in the town as it is overrun with thousands (millions?) of hungry lemmings.

There are even more comedic mishaps as our heroes try to find Lucky while preventing the lemmings from mindlessly running into the sea. They fail, and it seems that lucky and the combination is lost. But then, the nephews find Lucky stayed behind to eat a wheel of cheese. Scrooge gets his combination back. Later, the kids surprise Scrooge with another pet, one that is more his style – a goldfish.

Humbug: My thesis is that the series-long arc of DuckTales is about Scrooge learning that his newfound family is more important than his money. This episode would seem to disagree with this. Scrooge bickers with Launchpad throughout the episode, and when he’s faced with the possibility of losing his fortune he gets even more mean-spirited toward Launchpad.

Junior Woodchucks: The opening scene attempts to give some individual personalities to the nephews. Huey is the leader, and the serious one, while Louie is more of a goofy prankster.

Fasten your seatbelts: Launchpad takes everyone across the ocean in helicopter and not the jet, even though they’re supposed to be in a hurry. Maybe it’s one of those super-fast rocket-propelled helicopters you see in comic books sometimes.

Maid and maiden: Webby wears a yellow hat throughout this one. Is this merely her fishing gear, or could this have been the animators using an alternate character design for one episode?

Down in Duckburg: The kids prepare for their fishing trip at the mansion, and then they walk through town to Scrooge’s office in the money bin. This would have us believe the money bin is located across town from the mansion, and not next door to it. BUT, the opening shot of the episode is the mansion and money bin right next to each other. We may never know these buildings’ locations.

All that glitters: Scrooge hides the precious combination with a small sculpture of Glittering Goldie, suggesting that he still carries a torch for her.

Reference row: One of the sailors is named Barnacle Biff, a reference to the more well-known Barnacle Bill. Who was Barnacle Bill? That’s a character from a 1927 song, allegedly based on a 19th century sailor and gold miner named William Bernard. The song was later popularized after being used in a Popeye cartoon, and then in a 1957 movie starring Alec Guiness.

Thoughts on this viewing: This is a comedy-heavy one, all nonstop jokes and slapstick throughout. It gets to be a bit much by the end. The animators do some neat-looking tricks to make it look the village is being overrun by countless lemmings, but that’s about it.

Next: Tipping the scales.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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Fantastic Friday: Bring me the head of Galactus

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. How long has it been since there’s been a universe-spanning cosmic epic? Not long, you say? Well, here’s another one in FF Annual 2001.

The annual begins with a bang, as the severed, skullified head of Galactus comes falling out of space into the center of Manhattan. The Fantastic Four and Namorita (who’s currently dating Johnny) are quick to arrive on the scene. Reed is even quicker to deduce that this is a Galactus from an alternate universe, not the Galactus everyone knows. Further, this Galactus has been… murdered!

Galactus’ helmet opens up, and inside is his herald Nova. Remember that Nova is Johnny’s former girlfriend Frankie Raye. Namorita can tell this, just by Johnny’s reaction. Fortunately for Johnny (or not?) Nova is in a dormant state, like a coma. Just as he suggests taking her to the Baxter Building, the Hulk shows up and starts a fight with the FF. After several pages of fighting, Hulk says the FF are not his enemies the U-Foes, and he jumps off saying this deserves more study.

At the Baxter Building, Nova becomes lucid for a moment, and is shocked to Johnny, saying she believes he died. She tells him she never stopped loving him. This upsets Namorita, but she’s nonetheless stuck with staying behind to watch Nova while the FF take off. They’re headed to the moon, to ask the Watcher if he knows what’s going on. They arrive in the Watcher’s home, only to discover that the Watcher has lost his memory. He asks, “Do you know who I am? I don’t know who I am!” Ben notices that the Watcher only has half the gold necklace is always wears, and whoever has the other half might be behind what’s going on.

There’s a brief interlude of Franklin and time-displaced teenage Valeria in an otherworldly landscape being chased by a shadowy figure. Back at the Baxter Building, Reed gets a call from the U.S. President, asking for an update. Except that the president is Hillary Clinton. (Recall this was summer 2001.) Based on this, Reed next deduces that the FF’s Earth is merging with alternate realities. Namorita chooses then to tell the FF that Nova escaped and flew off.

While the FF pursue Nova over the skies of New York, they’re attacked by the Hulk and his team, the Law Enforcement Squad. In keeping with the “merging alternate realities” thing, Hulk’s team is made up of an odd assortment of Marvel characters – Bucky Barnes, Dr. Druid, Captain Universe, the Shroud, the Rose, the Whizzer (heh), the Living Lightning, Red Raven, and Battling Jack Murdock. This team puts up a good fight against FF, Nova, and Nova. Then we meet the final member of Hulk’s team, Namora, an alternate version of Namorita’s mother. There’s much drama as the two of them fight.

Dr. Druid breaks up the fight, telling the Hulk that the FF are not the cause of this conflict. Johnny pleads with Nova, saying that if Galactus is dead, then she and Johnny now have a second chance. Dr. Druid and Captain Universe take Reed into space, where they confront Eternity, the living embodiment of all things. Captain Universe says that within Eternity exists a place of chaos and order, a balance which has become upset. They travel farther into Eternity to confront the one behind all this confusion, a cosmic being named… Abraxas!

Sadly, this is not the character from the Jesse Ventura movie. Instead, he’s a big green-skinned guy surrounded by Galactus corpses from other universes. Also, he has the other half of the Watcher’s necklace. Abraxas teleports Reed and the others back to New York, where the words “I am coming.” Appear in flaming letters over the sky. Meanwhile, in Haven, which is yet another alternate dimension where Franklin and Valeria are attending school, Franklin wakes from a nightmare in a terrified state, proclaiming “He’s coming!”

To be continued!

Then there’s a backup story, where Ben is out in the woods fighting Dragon Man. Instead of fighting, though, Ben sees that Dragon Man is an innocent animal. He lets Dragon Man go free, saying “Us monsters gotta stick together.”

Unstable molecule: When investigating Galactus’ head, Reed outfits the FF with matching goggles. No explanation of what these goggles are, or why they’re needed.

Fade out: Sue manages to stop the Hulk by surrounding his head with a force field, threatening to cut off his oxygen. We never get to see whether this would work, because he agrees to the FF’s terms before things go any farther.

Clobberin’ time: The comic remembers that Ben can now turn human and back at will, as he starts the fight with Dragon Man while in his human form.

Flame on: Mention isn’t made of it, but Johnny is still wearing his bulky armor that’s preventing his powers from going haywire.

Fantastic fourth wheel: Johnny acts as though this Frankie is the one he knew, even after it’s established she’s from another universe. What Johnny apparently doesn’t know is that the Marvel Universe’s Frankie Raye died in Silver Surfer vol. 3 #50. She’ll later come back from the dead in the Heralds miniseries.

Four and a half: Franklin having prophetic dreams recalls his dream-based powers from his days in Power Pack.

Our gal Val: Valeria shares a bedroom with Franklin, which is probably awkward. For what it’s worth, the caption introduces her as “Valeria Richards” and not “Valeria Von Doom.”

Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue has had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all along. The backup story suggests that Sue sent Ben to capture Dragon Man so Dragon Man can entertain at Franklin’s birthday party. This doesn’t make much sense, so perhaps we can assume subduing Dragon Man was secretly one of Sue’s spy missions?

Commercial break: The annual has three of these minimalist Cartoon Network ads.

Trivia time: The Hulk’s Law Enforcement Squad never appears again, so we’ll never know what their story was, or how this odd assortment of characters got together.

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition states that Namorita can lift or press 10 tons, small change compared to the Hulk’s 100-plus ton strength. Yet in this issue, Namorita can take on the Hulk in hand-to-hand combat. I guess the whole merging alternate realities thing will have to explain this as well.

Dragon Man will later develop intelligence and become an official member of the FF, after the team expands to create the Future Foundation. I wonder if this backup story is the beginning of his transformation.

Fantastic or frightful? Have I reached Fantastic Four fatigue? During the Chris Claremont run, we went through several alternate timelines, not to mention all that time spent in the Heroes Reborn universe before it. And before that, we had godlike cosmic villains Hyperstorm and Onslaught. Now here’s yet another story with alternate timelines and a new godlike cosmic villain. All I can do is hope the creative team has some surprise in store.

Next: Abrax-R-Us.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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DuckTales rewatch – Horse Scents

Rewatching DuckTales! We’re running for the roses in episode 34, “Horse Scents.”

It’s the Kentucky Derby, and Scrooge enters his racehorse Cash Register against rival Glomgold’s horse Make-a-Buck. Nearby, Webby befriends failed racehorse, the awkward and klutzy Milady. Milady’s owner is in debt to a local crook, Bull Weevil, so Webby and Huey, Dewey, and Louie concoct a plan to enter Milady in the Derby.

That night, Glimgold’s henchmen try and fail to kidnap (horsenap?) Scrooge’s horse. Webby attempts to train Milady for the race, while hiding her from Bull Weevil. Although clumsy, Milady demonstrates superhuman (superhorse?) speed when Mrs. Beakeley plays a variation of the Kentucky Derby fanfare on her bugle.  

On the day of the race, Milady and Webby take their place at the starting line next to Cash Register and Make-a-Buck. Although Milady starts far behind, she takes off like a rocket whenever she hears the bugle. A man in the stands takes away the bugle, but then the three nephews trick Bull Weevil into yelling into a microphone, spurring Milady into greater speed. Milady stops to pose for a photo just before crossing the finish line, so Scrooge and Glomgold’s horses tie the race (!). Scrooge arranges for Milady and her owner to start their own business, where tourists can have their pictures taken with her.

Humbug: As soon as Scrooge discovers that Webby is a jockey in the race, Scrooge stops caring about winning and he’s all about getting her to safety. This leans into my thesis that DuckTales is about Scrooge learning his family is more important than his wealth.

Junior Woodchucks: The nephews deploy a Junior Woodchucks special disguise plan, which is just to put on Groucho Marx glasses. I guess they can’t all be winners.

Maid and maiden: Webby’s main skill continues to be befriending various creatures, although Milady seemed plenty friendly to begin with. We can add bugling to Mrs. Beakeley’s list of skills.

Foul fowls: Bull Weevil isn’t much of a villain, just a loudmouthed bully. More interesting are Glomgold’s weasel henchmen, who are almost the same design as the weasels from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Glomgold’s weasels are named Shifty and Shifty’s Pal (?) while the weasels from Roger Rabbit are named Greasy, Smarty, Wheezy, Psycho, and Stupid.

Reference row: Founded in 1875, the Kentucky Derby is held each year in May at the famous Churchill Downs racetrack. The Derby’s famous bugle fanfare is known as, simply, “First Call” or “Call to the Post.” It’s an old Navy tune, with different meanings depending on what time of day it is played. In racing, it’s a signal for all horses to proceed to the starting line, and that no more bets can be placed.


Thoughts on this viewing: The Disney wiki devotes only two sentences to this episode, rather than the usual trivia-a-thon, which is telling. It’s amusing enough, but I’m left with a real nothing-happened-here feeling.

Next: What a bunch of lemmings.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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DuckTales rewatch – Back to the Klondike

Rewatching DuckTales! The series finally gets some lore going in episode 23, “Back to the Klondike.” What would YOU do for a Klondike bar?

Here’s what happens: It’s Valentine’s Day, and Scrooge isn’t having it. But then the kids find Scrooge with an old Valentine hidden away in a closet. He tells them the story of how he got it, from his younger years as a prospector in the “days of the great gold rush.” While in this (basically) Old West town, he met singing saloon girl Glittering Goldie.

In a game of cards, Goldie swindles Scrooge out of a precious gold nugget. The two of them then cooperate to dig for gold on Scrooge’s land. This goes on throughout winter to spring, and they fall for each other. When the gold disappears and Goldie vanishes, Scrooge believes she’s ripped him off. Scrooge went on to gain his fortune… alone.

The story inspires Scrooge to go back his claim, which he still owns, to see if it still has gold (and Goldie?). Scrooge fights a claim jumper on his land, only to discover that it’s Goldie, still living there. She believes Scrooge abandoned her as he believes she abandoned him. It was all a plot by Dangerous Dan, the local saloon owner. Dan attempts an old-timey train robbery to steal Scrooge’s gold, and he’s defeated by Scrooge and Goldie.

Scrooge invites Goldie to come back to Duckburg with him, but she says the Klondike is her home. As a Valentine’s gift, Scrooge gives her the deed to his claim.

Humbug: If Scrooge was a young man during the Gold Rush, and assuming DuckTales is set in then-contemporary 1980s, then does that mean he’s around 120 years old?

Junior woodchucks: When everyone is menaced by a bear out in the woods, the nephews know to avoid danger by climbing the nearest tree.

Maid and maiden: Mrs. Beakeley and Webby are all about celebrating Valentine’s Day. Mrs. Beakeley bursts out in song, reminding us of her opera talent.

All that glitters: Although she will appear only a few times in DuckTales, Glittering Goldie was a mainstay of the original Uncle Scrooge comics by Carl Barks and others. She’s famous for loving gold as much as Scrooge, wildly shooting guns at inappropriate times, and how she rides a bear instead of a horse.

Foul fowls: It should be obvious to anyone that Dangerous Dan is the villain, but I wonder what his plan is. He wants all the gold, but has no aspirations outside his crappy little mountain town.

Down in Duckburg: A hallway leading to a closet full of Scrooge’s hidden old knickknacks is an area of the mansion we haven’t seen before.

“Klondike Kate” Rockwell

Reference row: Carl Barks based Glittering Goldie on singer and actress Katherine “Klondike Kate” Rockwell, who was a vaudeville star during the actual Gold Rush.

Thoughts on this viewing: Again, I’m impressed at how much story they can pack into a single episode. Goldie is a fun character, and a good match for Scrooge. Best of all, this is a rare world-building episode, giving a look into Scrooge’s backstory.  

Next: Horse feathers.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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Fantastic Friday: Fantastic Fourth Voyage of Sinbad

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Back in issue vol. 3 #24, Sue sent Franklin away in a rocket, baby Superman style, to keep him protected from a crisis. Where, exactly, that rocket went has been an unanswered question for almost two years in real time. Now, Chris Claremont returns to Fantastic Four to answer that question in the 50-page one-shot Fantastic Fourth Voyage of Sinbad. But, in classic Marvel fashion, the answer isn’t much of an answer.

This issue begins with an old-timey sailing ship showing up in the harbor in NYC. Then we’re at FF headquarters, when Franklin appears through a portal, along with our other new supporting characters introduced by Claremont — time-displaced teenage Valeria, interdimensional swordswoman Caledonia, and alien teleporting dog Puppy.  Franklin was in Otherworld, the realm of Roma, whom the FF befriended at the start of vol. 3. But wait – we’re at Pier 4, not the new Baxter Building, which means this story takes place several real-world months earlier. The caption tells us that Franklin and Valeria are attending a school for superhuman children called Haven, located in Otherworld.  So I guess he, Valeria, Caledonia, and Puppy have all been living in Haven and regularly teleporting back and forth to visit the FF all this time. (I guess?)

Later that night, ghostly creatures from the old sailing ship sneak into Pier 4, and a fight breaks out.  The creatures have powers and strength to match the FF’s. They defeat the ghosts by doing the classic switch opponents move, only to discover a seven-headed hydra (!) going after Franklin, Valeria, and Caledonia. As they fight it, a wizard-like guy appears and introduces himself as Jihad. He commands the FF to bow down before him. The FF aren’t having it, and there’s more fighting.

Everyone passes out, and then they wake up on board the old ship. They’ve been apprehended and someone has given the ship to sail in unknown waters. Reed recognizes the ship as a Dromond, a vessel of classic Arabian origin. They’re the only ones on board. Valeria finds a map and deduces that this is the ship that once belonged to the mythical Sinbad the Sailor. The map states that the FF must find four mystic objects – the Eye to behold all, the Hand to grasp all, the Crystal Casque to contain all, and the Mallet of Destiny for your heart’s desire. Despite being abducted, the team embraces the spirit of adventure, and they embark on the quest.

The Dromond arrives at a flying island made of crystal, home of the Casque. Deadly lasers shoot down anyone who approaches, but Sue is able to get inside invisibly to steal the Casque. Cut to another island, where Reed is playing a game of chess in front of a crowd in an amphitheater with his teammates has the chess pieces. Reed wins the game and gains the Hand. Then it’s off to another island, where an enemy named Iblis transforms the FF into demonic monsters. Ben, who is already a monster, defeats Iblis and gets the Mallet.

Next, the Dromond is attacked by a giant bird called a Rukh, who captures Johnny. The FF chases the Rukh to the same island where the Eye is located. The find the Eye attached to a statue larger than any NYC skyscraper. The Rukh’s nest is also there, where a bunch of also-gigantic baby birds are about to eat an alien man. Johnny returns to burn up the nest. The birds fly off and the man is saved, but disappears. The FF get the Eye and return to the ship, only to discover Jihad has returned, and turned Franklin, Valeria, Caledonia, and Puppy into statues.

The FF hand the mystical objects over to Jihad to rescue the kids, but Ben leaps into action, swiping the Dromond’s figurehead, carved into the shape of an Arabian warrior. When the figurehead hits the water, we learn that it was the one and only Sinbad the Sailor himself! There’s some confusing business, where Sinbad said he convinced Jihad to transform him and abduct the FF, because it was Sinbad’s plan all along to team up with the FF to rescue his daughter Dione from Jihad. (I think. Fifty pages is a lot for one comic, and yet this is still a ton of plot for fifty pages.)

The FF have no ship, but the Rukh returns and the FF ride on its back into action. In Jihad’s home city, he announces his plan to open portals to other worlds to reign over them all. The FF and Sinbad fly into action. The battle goes on for several pages, but Ben and Reed do that move where Reed stretches into a big slingshot to sling Ben at Jihad. That takes out the bad guy, and everyone recovers the mystical objects. Sinbad says they can use the objects to undo Jihad’s magic, but only if they work together. Jihad returns at the last minute, only for Ben to use the Mallet to punch him out again. The kids are transformed back into human, Sinbad rescues Dione, and everyone celebrates.

Sinbad magically sails the Dromond back to NYC. Sinbad leaves Ben with a gold talisman as a keepsake of their adventure, and he and his daughter sail off into the unknown.

Unstable molecule: Reed is pumped to be on a high seas adventure at first, enjoying all the action and scrapes. By the end, however, he admits to Sinbad that as a scientist, he is not equipped to deal with all the magical aspects of their journey.

Fade out: While invisible on the crystal island, Sue has to wear special polarized sunglasses, so she’s not disoriented by the dazzling lasers coming from the crystals. Is now the time to revisit the “how does she see when invisible?” debate?

Clobberin’ time: We learn that when Ben was a child, he loved tales of Sinbad, which inspired him to become a pilot and adventurer. When Sinbad appears, he and Ben bond to the point where Sinbad ends by considering Ben to be like a brother to him.

Flame on: Johnny is real flirtatious with Caledonia. She doesn’t give him any response either way. There’s no real way to know where his relationship with Namorita is at by this point, so maybe Johnny can get away with this?

Four and a half: There are a few references to Franklin being “bigger” now, so perhaps the intent was to age him up a little more moving forward. Also, Franklin says Reed has been teaching him to pay chess, to the point where Franklin can now complete entire games of chess in his head, without needing a board (!).

Our gal Val: We learn Valeria is fluent in Arabic, which comes in handy. Remember that in the alternate timeline she came from, her father is Dr. Doom (or is he?) who no doubt saw to it she had a world-class education.

Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue has had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all along. In this issue, she takes the wheel of the sailing ship, and later pulls off a heist on her own. Could this be her spy experience at work?

Commercial break: Fifty pages equal no ads!

Trivia time: This is Sinbad the Sailor’s fourth and (to date) final appearance in Marvel Comics. He was in two issues of a 1974 anthology series called Worlds Unknown, in an attempt to cash in on the success of Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian comics. Then he was one in issue of 1975’s Marvel Spotlight, in a story that’s “freely adapted from” the screenplay of the 1958 film The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Whether these stories are canonical to the Marvel Universe is up for debate.

This is the only appearance of Jihad (which is for the best, because yikes to his problematic name) as well as Dione and Iblis. The Hydra, however, is something of a mainstay in the Marvel Universe, as a regular adversary for Hercules in Herc’s various solo stories. In Weapon X vol. 3 #16, however, the one and only Wolverine permanently killed the Hydra by cutting into so many tiny pieces it couldn’t regrow any of its heads.

Fantastic or frightful? Chris Claremont’s writing on Fantastic Four was marked by having tons of plot packed into each page, and that’s the case here as well. Still, it’s enjoyable to see the FF actually having fun while on an adventure, rather than the usual increasing dramatic stakes typical of big event comics.

Next: Bring me the head of Galactus.

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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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DuckTales rewatch – Micro-ducks from Outer Space

Rewatching DuckTales! Let’s everybody get teeny-tiny in episode 22, “Micro-ducks from Outer Space.”

Here’s what happens: Gyro Gearloose is experimenting with a new satellite dish, which appears to grant first contact with aliens. Scrooge’s farm, meanwhile, has a surplus of wheat he’s having trouble selling. Gyro then contacts Scrooge about the aliens, saying their planet has a food shortage and they want to buy all the wheat. What no one is expecting, though, is for the aliens to be tiny, the size of ants.

The aliens have a matter manipulator, which can grow jewels for payment, and shrink the wheat for transport back to their planet. They depart, accidentally leaving the matter machine behind. Scrooge tinkers with it, shrinking him, the nephews, and Webby to teeny size. From there, it’s the usual shrunken adventure that you usually see. The heroes get swallowed up by a vacuum cleaner, befriend an ant, travel down a sidewalk drain like it’s a river, all to get to Gyro’s house.

After reaching Gyro, the heroes return to Scrooge’s mansion, unaware that the aliens have returned and taken back the manipulator. Fortunately, the aliens’ ship gets caught in some glue Launchpad was using earlier in the episode. They return everyone back to their original size.

Humbug: My thesis is that the series-long arc of DuckTales is Scrooge learning that his friends and family are more important than his wealth. This episode would have us believe Scrooge has learned his lesson when he chooses not to squish a bug at the end. But… has he learned a lesson? All this life-threatening peril happens because of his greediness.

Junior woodchucks: The subplot in this one has to do with the nephews’ ant farm, and the ants getting loose around Scrooge’s office. Of course this comes into play after everyone gets miniaturized.

Fasten your seatbelts: Why is Launchpad covered with glue? His shtick in this episode is to glue a big “X” onto the roof of Scrooge’s mansion so the aliens will know where to land.

Maid and maiden: When the shrunken heroes encounter the ants, they’re monstrous at first. But then Webby is able to tame them by being kind to them. Once again, we see befriending monsters is her super power.

Best brain: Gyro’s shtick this time is to deliver a pompous welcome speech for the aliens. He’s acting as if this is Earths’ first contact with aliens, even though the characters have met aliens before. Also, Gyro gets around town on some sort of flying saucer/hovercraft thing.

Down in Duckburg: Scrooge’s mansion is depicted as being a hilltop overlooking the city, when it hasn’t in previous episodes. Maybe he’s so rich that he owns two mansions.

Reference row: Stories about people being miniaturized have been around all long as they’re been stories, it seems. The two most definitive works on the subject are 1927’s A Man Among the Microbes by Maurice Renard and 1956’s The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson. Matheson later adapted his book into the film The Incredible Shrinking Man, which is likely the main inspiration for this episode.

Thoughts on this viewing: Most TV cartoons do an “everybody gets shrunk” episode, which gives the animators a lot to play with in terms of design and scale. There’s no real story in this episode, but it’s nicely animated throughout.

Next: What would you do for a Klondike bar?

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Fantastic Friday – Country living

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s time for relationship woes and more small-town weirdness in vol. 3 #45.

Where were we? After a fight with the Grey Gargoyle, Ben has developed the ability to turn human and back whenever he wants. Also, ever since the FF returned from the Heroes Reborn universe, Ben has been receiving letters from Alicia, which he keeps refusing to open. This issue begins with human Ben driving to the town of Sunshine City, Florida, saying he must get up the nerve to do what needs to get done.

We then flash back to days earlier, with the FF dealing with the fallout of their recent adventure in the Negative Zone. Johnny absorbed too much heat, and now he can’t flame off. Reed, Sue, and Johnny’s girlfriend Namorita are in Reed’s lab working on a cure. Johnny is inside a giant fishbowl looking thing, and it appears to work at first, but then the glass shatters as Johnny can’t control the flame. Johnny insists Reed cure him, but Ben tells him, “Listen Junior, stuff happens.”

In Sunshine City, Ben transforms back into his Rocky form and knocks on a door. Alicia answers, and they give each other a hug. Then there’s a short scene in Kansas, where Sue meets with Noah Baxter’s wife, to console her after Noah disappeared after the Negative Zone story. Noah’s wife, Abigail, says she doesn’t believe he’s dead. Sue returns to the Baxter Building, where Reed has constructed a suit of armor for Johnny to help control his flame. Sue receives a package from Ben, saying Ben has quit the team. Johnny doesn’t buy it, but Reed says Ben has the freedom to go off on his own if he wants. But, Reed adds, he wants to look Ben in the eye when Ben calls it quits.

Reed and Johnny arrive in Sunshine City, with Johnny’s new armor hidden under a big trenchcoat. They find Ben driving a tractor (!). A fight breaks out, with Ben saying he wants them to leave him alone. Ben throws Johnny around, ties Reed in a knot, and deduces Sue is alongside them invisibly. Alicia tries to break up the fight, but Ben won’t have it, punching away at Sue’s force fields. Sue tells him to change back to human, to prove that he’s there of his own free will. He does, and then is disoriented, not knowing what’s going on.

Reed suspects Alicia’s stepfather the Puppet-Master has a hand in what’s going on. Just then, the townsfolk gather around, chanting “You won’t take us from here.” The FF travel across town to find the Puppet-master, who says “I’m protected.” Then two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents show up, saying that this whole town is a variation of the witness protection program, in which supervillains can volunteer to opt out of life prison terms and instead be reprogrammed for a normal life. Letting Ben and Alicia be a part of Puppet-Man’s artificial town is a concession, the agent says. “Clearly a bad one,” he adds.

Cut to later, as Ben and Alicia have a heart-to-heart on a nearby hilltop. Turns out all those unopened letters weren’t from Alicia, but from the Puppet-Master, hoping that Ben and Alicia would become a couple again. Alicia argues that Puppet-Master is not a bad man, and his town full of puppets is a place where he’s loved. Then Ben tells Alicia that he’s changed, and that he doesn’t love her anymore. She admits the same about him. But they agree to be friends, and give each other a hug. All while Johnny watches from a distance.

Unstable molecule: When Johnny makes a Leave it to Beaver reference, Reed admits he’s never heard of it. You know, because a scientist of his stature has no time to watch TV.

Fade out: Once again, we see that Sue’s teammates know her so well that they can tell when she’s invisible near them. Ben is quick to figure out just where she is.

Clobberin’ time: While this would appear to the end of Ben and Alicia, we all know it isn’t. The two will later become a couple again following the events of the 2015 Secret Wars.

Flame on: This subplot about Johnny’s powers going haywire will last for at least another 10 issues. And, again, Johnny and Namorita’s romance is occurring almost entirely off-panel.

Fantastic fifth wheel: When discussing Ben leaving the team, Johnny suggests replacing him with Namorita. Reed tells Johnny to stop joking… but is he?

Sue-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue has had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all this time. In this issue, she threatens the two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents by going over their heads when they tell her their mission is classified. After hearing this, the agents fess up.

Commercial break: Gross.

Trivia time: Tracking the history of the Puppet-Master throughout this time should not be this difficult of a task. Before this issue, while Alicia was a regular in Silver Surfer, Puppet-Master (who the Marvel wiki insists on calling “Phillip”) got hold of some clay infused with the Power Cosmic. He later created a puppet with godlike powers called the Cosmic Messiah. That somehow led to this issue. Then, after this, he’s back to being a criminal in Spider-Man: Tangled Web, when he tried robbing Macy’s Department Store in NYC at Christmastime.

Fantastic or frightful? I don’t know. I’m not sure why they felt the need to have a definitive ending to Ben and Alicia’s relationship, when they haven’t really been a couple since the early days of the Thing solo series. The Puppet-Master/creepy town stuff has the makings of a cool Twilight Zone type of story, but it’s not given much exploration. This is supposed to be a big emotional payoff story, but instead feels inconsequential.

Next: Was that Shazam or Kazam?

* * * *

Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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Fantastic Friday: The Sentry

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Sentry/Fantastic Four introduces to the strange story of the Sentry, and the even more strange story of how he was created.

This comic immediately follows the six-issue The Sentry miniseries. If you’re going to read this comic without knowing who the Sentry is, you’ll be lost. So let’s get into the backstory first. Bob Reynolds was given a version of Captain America’s super-soldier serum, called the golden soldier serum. This transformed him into the Sentry, one of the most powerful beings on Earth. He was also one of Marvel’s first superheroes, pre-dating the Fantastic Four. He was a friend and colleague to Reed Richards and Professor Xavier, a mentor to Spider-Man, and one of the few puny humans to earn the Hulk’s respect.

If the Sentry is so integral to the Marvel Universe, then why haven’t you heard of him? That’s because of his enemy, the Void. A cosmic being that feeds on people’s fears, the Void was revealed to be the Sentry’s own repressed dark side come to life. To stop the Void, the Sentry, Reed, and Dr. Strange came up with a way to have the Earth’s entire population forget the Sentry’s existence. It worked, except years later the Sentry’s memory returned, forcing a rematch with the Void.

If the above were the whole story, that’d be fine, except writer Paul Jenkins took things to a whole other meta level with the Sentry. First, to promote The Sentry miniseries, Jenkins, Stan Lee, and Wizard magazine staged a hoax stating that the Sentry was an unused Stan Lee creation from the early ‘60s. Later, Jenkins himself became a character in the Sentry’s, where he was the one who received the Sentry’s memories and had to write a comic to reveal them to the world.

Sentry/Fantastic Four begins at the finale of the Sentry miniseries, where the FF and various other Marvel heroes have gathered at the Statue of Liberty to see off the Sentry as he flies into battle against the Void for the second time. Reed contemplates how being a superhero used to be a fun adventure, but has since become dark and sour.

Reed then flashes back to the good old days, when the FF and Sentry teamed up to battle the Android Pirates of Dimension Nine. We’re right in the middle of action where our heroes are fighting their way through the androids’ spaceship, and a lot of sci-fi talk about shutting down tractor beams and a self-destruct countdown. The Sentry fights back the androids and survives the blast, just so the FF can escape back to their own ship.

The next flashback has the Sentry and Reed inside the Sentry’s science lab. The Sentry is holding an all-powerful Cosmic Cube as Reed tries to study it. The Sentry’s computer, named CLOC, is reprogrammed by the cube and attacks the heroes. There are several pages of everyone fighting past CLOC’s defenses, until the Sentry suggests using the E-Nullifier on the cube to get under control. Reed says that would be suicide, but the sentry says he’ll do whatever it takes. It works, and CLOC is restored to normal.

The flashback ends with the FF out of uniform, having a backyard barbecue with Bob Reynolds and his wife, joking about the adventure they just had. Cut back to the Statue of Liberty, where Reed ponders how those early days. Reed says that when he helped the world lose their memories of the Sentry, he “betrayed the age of innocence.” And with that line, the comic just ends. I guess it’s making a big statement about how comics used to be fun and colorful but they’re all dark and violent. (Kids these days, etc.)

Unstable molecule: Because the Sentry is a science genius as well as a Superman-powered hero, he and Reed get to do super-science together. Both this comic and the Sentry miniseries go out of their way to establish Reed and the Sentry as best pals. But then, this makes Reed feel even more guilty about the whole “erasing the world’s memories” thing.

Fade out: Sue and Sentry’s wife Linda are also good friends. Jokes about them reading fashion magazines and fussing over their hairstyles would seem to be attempts at recreating the tone of ‘60s Marvel comics.

Clobberin’ time: While most of the Marvel heroes seem enamored of the Sentry, Ben is not one of them. When the Sentry flies off in the middle of the fight, Ben says, “I always told you there was something wrong with that guy.”

Flame on: Johnny, meanwhile, is really, REALLY enamored of the Sentry, saying “I told you was the best!”

Commercial break: Here is the Wizard magazine promo that convinced everyone the Sentry had been around since the 60s:

Trivia time: The Sentry did manage to stick around after his big debut, pretty much as an ongoing member of the Avengers. He tends to get brought out during the finales of the big crossover events when the heroes need some big firepower. He has a habit of leaving Earth and flying alone in space for long stretches of time, and once even lived in a pocket dimension dubbed the “Sentry World.” Only a few weeks before the blog post, the Sentry returned to Earth only be killed off by Knull in King in Black #1. The Marvel wiki has the Sentry listed as officially, canonically dead – but you never know about these things.

Fantastic or frightful? With The Sentry, Paul Jenkins wanted to have a lasting impact on Marvel history, while also making a big statement about heroism and the superhero genre. I applaud his ambition, but the gloomy, morose tone of these Sentry comics just doesn’t work for me.

Next: Was that Kazam or Shazam?

* * * *

Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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Fantastic Friday – Before the Fantastic Four

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s time for the three Before the Fantastic Four prequel miniseries, showing what our heroes were up to before FF #1. And no, Reed and Ben are no longer World War 2 vets.

Before the Fantastic Four: Reed Richards finds young Reed jet-setting around the globe, freeing a deposed prince from a usurping general in the Himalayas and then studying both fine art and subspace tech in Paris. When he learns his mentor, Dr. Van Nuys, is ill with a mysterious ailment, Reed investigates. He’s pursued by sinister henchmen, and comes across an artifact with strange hieroglyphics. With the help of archeologist Frankie Fisher, Reed finds himself on the path of an ancient relic known as the Hand of Bast, which Frankie says, “makes the Holy Grail look like a Dixie cup.”

After a few more escapes from these henchmen, Alyssa joins Reed and Frankie in New York, and then to Bucharest. There’s another confrontation with the henchmen, and Frankie is abducted by… young Dr. Doom! Doom wears a cloth mask in this instead of his usual metal one, and we see him studying sorcery from a man named Radu. Alyssa wants to leave Frankie behind, but Frankie has the scroll leading to the location of the Claw of Basat. Doom is recreating the experiment that originally destroyed his face, only this time with Alyssa and Frankie as the test subjects. Reed makes it look like the experiment explodes, and he escapes with the two ladies. Then it’s off to Egypt, where the Claw of Bast is located inside the Sphinx (convenient). Doom follows them, and claims the Claw for itself, only for its magic to bring the Sphinx to life. There’s a big fight, ending when Reed gets hold of the Claw and transfers its magic back to the Sphinx, saving his mentor’s life in the process.

During Chris Claremont’s run at the start of volume 3 of Fantastic Four, he introduced Alyssa Foy, who was super-rich, a super-genius, and who had some sort of undefined past with Reed. We were promised that Reed and Alyssa’s story would be told in Before the Fantastic Four: Reed Richards, but that’s not quite the case. Alyssa joins Reed for part of the adventure, but there’s no revelation about what their relationship may or may not have been. Frankie is the much more fun character, and she’s the one I’d rather see come back for more. Note that this one has a frame sequence with Reed telling the story to Franklin, with Franklin making some meta comments about the more preposterous aspects of the plot.

Before the Fantastic Four: Ben Grimm and Logan is the one I’m guessing most Marvel fans are interested, because who doesn’t love Wolverine? Taking place “not so long ago,” the story begins in the Nevada desert, where test pilot Ben Grimm flies too close to Logan’s car as he drives out in the middle of nowhere. Logan is so ticked off that he breaks into the Air Force base and picks a fight with Ben. As punishment (I guess?) Ben and Logan are assigned a top secret mission by Col. Nick Fury himself. They’re to pilot an experimental aircraft built by Tony Stark into Russia to steal a piece of machinery known only as “Red Storm” from a Russian base. Ben’s co-pilot is young Carol Danvers.

Upon flying to Russia, Ben, Logan, and Carol are confronted by the future Black Widow, Natasha Shostakova (her married name at the time) and the evil Col. Malenky. After a lot of fights and escapes, Ben, Logan and Carol manage to swipe the Red Storm (we don’t know what it is because it’s sealed in a briefcase). There’s a big airfight between Carol in one airplane and Natasha leading a crew of Russian pilots in her own plane, with Ben and Logan impossibly jumping and falling from plane to plane. Natasha lets the heroes go, suggesting that maybe she’s not so evil after all, and Malenky takes the fall for it. This one ends setting up a sequel, by not revealing what the Red Storm is, and by Logan saying this was only phase one of their mission, but no sequel was ever made.

There is no mention of Logan’s powers in this, neither his Adamantium skeleton nor his healing factor. The Marvel Wiki states that he does have his Adamantium and his claws during this time, so I wonder why we don’t see them. The fact that Black Widow, Tony Stark, Nick Fury, and Carol Danvers are in this means this could also double as Before the Avengers. And while I’m nitpicking, there’s no way Ben or even Logan can just cling to airplane wings and hop from plane to plane during a high-speed dogfight.

The real oddity among these miniseries is Before the Fantastic Four: The Storms. What kind of adventure could young Sue and young Johnny possibly have gotten into? Oh, I don’t know, how about battling freakin’ vampires? After meeting young Sue and young Johnny, we meet Sue’s friend Cammie Brandies. Cammie’s father, Professor Brandies, recently died under mysterious circumstances. Johnny swipes a strange amulet from the scene, and later, he, Sue, Cammie, and Cammie’s uncle Max are attacked by strange beings. They escape, but are pursued by a man named Comte St. Germain. The young heroes make their way to Empire State University, where they learn the amulet is the ancient “Amulet of Z.” What’s more, Germain is after the Amulet so he can deliver it to his master… the one and only Dracula!

Germain uses Absorbing Man-like powers to pursue the young heroes. Then it’s dropped that the “Z” in Amulet of Z stands for Zarathos, the demon half of Ghost Rider. Zarathos wants to bond with Johnny to make Johnny the new Ghost Rider, but Max instead grabs the amulet and he becomes Ghost Rider instead. Ghost Rider defeats Germain, which inflicts pain on Dracula, who is trapped in coffin on the other side of the world. Sue manages to separate Max from Zarathos by appealing to Max’s humanity. The amulet is lost in a junkyard where it will eventually be found by Danny Ketch. Sue later announces she’s leaving for California for college, and we the reader know this is where her romance with Reed begins.

Skipping over there’s nothing in FF lore to suggest that Sue and Johnny were once teenage vampire slayers, this is a decent supernatural adventure tale, with the Ghost Rider/Zarathos appearance being a neat twist. The Max character is here to show that Sue sees in him what she will next find attractive in Reed. So it’s all good, I guess.

Fantastic or frightful? The big issue with these three miniseries is how they play so fast and loose with Marvel continuity, to the point where it’s like reading an out-of-canon What If comic rather than a proper prequel. But then, that’s also what works about these, in that they all have a feel of old-fashioned pulp adventure, more interested in sensationalistic thrills rather than world building. I had fun with these, but they’re not required reading.

Next: Country living.


Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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