Fantastic Friday: Gold fingered

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Time for more alchemy, dream-sharing weirdness, and possible Northern Exposure references in issue #526.

Recap: After an adventure in the Microverse, the Fantastic Four had an encounter with Diablo, the master alchemist. Diablo has recovered the legendary Philosopher’s Stone, and he says he will turn all the lead in New York into gold unless the FF allow him use of their time machine so he can go back and stop the Spanish Inquisition. Diablo gave the FF a few days to think about his demands, during which the heroes started having each other’s dreams, making them irritable and uneasy.

We begin with a flashback to the Inquisition, where Diablo (who is immortal, remember) being captured for blasphemy and buried alive as punishment. We then see that this is Alicia, having one of Diablo’s dreams. She was sleeping in a machine in Reed’s lab, helping him determine that this “dream fever” is spreading and infect the entire Earth in a matter of days (!). Ben and Johnny argue, while Sue says that Diablo’s deadline is in the morning. If he succeeds, it’ll cause a frenzy in NYC.

In Diablo’s apartment (hotel room?) he wakes from a dream about Reed and Sue’s children. He sheds his skin like a snake (!), which he calls his . He monologues to himself about the Philosopher’s Stone, which he says can do much more than turn lead into gold.

At the new Baxter Building, Ben suspects General Quark, the unseen enemy they fought in the Microverse, is the cause of the dream fever. Reed says there’s no way Quark will talk to them. Sue interrupts and asks Reed to turn on the external cameras. This reveals that the entire exterior of the building is now gold. While the FF are worried about looters coming after the building, Diablo shows up on a flying carpet. He tells them accept that he’s already won their conflict.

A short fight breaks out, with Diablo turning his flying saucer into fiery snakes. Reed breaks up the fight, deducing that Diablo has the dream fever as well. Diablo uses the Philosopher’s Stone, which reveals the infection. Dibalo then uses the stone to cure himself, but he won’t use it to cure everyone else unless Reed lets him use the time machine. They fight some more, with Johnny and Reed getting the Philosopher’s Stone out of Diablo’s hands and into theirs. Sue surrounds their HQ with a force field. Stuck outside, Diablo warns, “You forget you’re dealing with Diablo! You’re dealing with the devil.”

Reed attaches the Philosopher’s Stone to a device and activates it, turning the Baxter Building back to normal. The FF are thrown back by energy as it does this, and then Diablo appears in Reed’s lab, saying “It worked perfectly.” Reed deduces that once the stone was activated, it acted like a doorway, allowing Diablo to bypass all the building’s defenses. There’s another fight, with Diablo using smoke to confuse the heroes. Ben, still acting erratic thanks to the dream fever, inadvertently leads Diablo to the time machine. With the stone in hand, Diablo enters the time machine, ready to change history so he becomes ruler of the Earth.

It looks like the Fantastic Four have lost, but Reed then explains that this is not the time machine, but the interdimensional portal. Diablo has ended up not in the Microverse, but in an unknown dimension that has survivable living conditions, but it is completely uninhabited. Sue remarks that Diablo finally got to rule a world, one with himself as the only subject.

Later, Sue and Johnny have a heart-to-heart chat. She reveals that she was seeing his dreams. In his dream, Johnny is surrounded by several of his ex-girlfriends. He loses control of his powers and burns them all, crying, “You don’t understand what I can do to you!” Sue says this is a part of Johnny that he never shares with anyone, that he never had a girlfriend for long for fears that he might harm someone he cares about. Johnny says his power is like a gun, in that no matter how careful he is, there’s always a danger. He tells Sue she’s lucky to have someone like Reed in her life, and that he loves her more than Johnny will ever be able to love anyone.

Reed and Sue then have a heart-to-heart, establishing that Reed managed to cure the dream fever with the stone before Diablo disappeared with it. Reed says he doesn’t know who had his dreams. Sue wonders if this means someone out in New York dreamed of blackboards with endless equations. Reed says dreams aren’t just stress and worry, but also wants and desires. Sue asks Reed what he wants, and he tells her, “Only you!”

Unstable molecule: How strong is Reed? He stretches his arms around a lamppost, pulls it out of the street, and uses it as a huge club against Diablo.

Fade out: Sue is getting stronger. During the John Byrne years, she struggled in surrounding just the top of the Baxter Building with a force field. In this issue, she surrounds the entire building with one without breaking a sweat.

Clobberin’ time: Diablo uses his alchemy to trap Ben in the floor of Reed’s lab, leading to jokes about how he’s now shorter, or like a piece of the furniture. Johnny then frees him.

Flame on: What to make of Johnny’s feat of burning a loved one paralleling the temporary nature of his relationships? I’m not sure. I’d argue that’s an aspect of Johnny’s character, but not one that explains everything.

Our gal Val: Baby Valeria shows up in a few panels. She looks like she’s back to normal and has overcome having Ben’s nightmares.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal appears in Johnny’s dream, asking if he ever truly loved her. He says he loved her more than she’ll ever know. Frankie Raye is also in the dream for one panel.

The Alicia problem: Lyja shows up in Johnny’s dream as well. She reminds him that they were once married, and she asks him if that meant anything to him. His only response is, “You don’t understand.”

Trivia time: In addition to Crystal, Lyja, and Frankie, the other ex-girlfriends in Johnny’s dream are Dorrie Evans, Cole from the new Frightful Four, and the Valeria of the fifth dimension (unrelated to Valeria Richards, or Dr. Doom’s lost love Valeria). Johnny romanced this Valeria back in the Strange Tales days.

Diablo’s timeline is a little off compared to the timeline I set for myself on this blog, but that’s okay. After this, he appeared in the Marvel Knights 4 spinoff, in that unfinished story involving Nicholas Scratch. Then he was one of several cameos in that supervillain gathering in Fantastic Four: Foes. He’ll be back in issue #551.

The Microverse villain Captain Quark is only mentioned and never seen, and the story of his conflict with the FF has never been told. That’s expected, but the real question is what became of Quark? In this issue, he and his soldiers are being held prisoner in the new Baxter Building, and that’s the last we hear. Have they been there all this time? (No word on whether this is related to the Ratchet and Clank character of the same name.)

None of the comic fan sites I frequent have mentioned this, but I feel it’s worth noting that this story arc bears similarity to the 1994 Northern Exposure episode “Mr. Sandman.” That one featured the townsfolk of Cicely, Alaska experiencing everyone else’s dreams, and wrangling with knowing each other’s private thoughts.

Fantastic or frightful? Kind of a simple story, and I’m not sure the dream stuff gels with the Diablo plot. But there’s a lot of fast-paced action and nice character moments, in the classic Marvel style.

Next: Our last, best hope…

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Gamera rewatch – Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)

Rewatching the Gamera movies! Gamera vs. Guiron (1969) offers more outer space action, and one of the big turtle’s weirdest-looking enemies.

Here’s what happens: Some kids investigate a crashed flying saucer. It takes off with them on board, landing on an alien planet called Terra. The planet is almost uninhabited, where two alien women command the giant beast Guiron in battle against the evil Space Gyaos. Gamera arrives on Terra to rescue the kids, while the kids sort out what the alien women are secretly up to.

Nice gams: Gamera isn’t seen or even mentioned until after the kids take off to space. Has he left Earth, or did he follow the kids from Earth to space. In addition to sensing when the kids are in danger, he also shows some intelligence. He uses his fiery breath to repair the spaceship so the kids can get back home.

Turtle power: Gamera is not able to fly as fast as the spaceship, and it takes him much longer to reach the alien planet. During the big fight at the end, Gamera does a huge leap to body-slam Guiron. And yes, this is the movie with the often-meme’d Gamera swing, where he goes around and around on a pole. This shot goes on for SO LONG.

Big baddie: Guiron has a unique look, with his head being a giant knife. And it’s not for show. He uses it to deflect lasers, and he chops up a Gyaos is one grody scene. His body also somehow produces throwing stars, because why not?

Where does Space Gyaos come from? The original Gaos, who we met in Gamera vs. Gaos, was hibernating beneath the Earth since ancient times. The website Gojipedia speculates that all Gaos/Gyaos are aliens, and the original Gaos was an alien who traveled to Earth during the days of old Atlantis.

Kid stuff: The two boys, Akio and Tom, don’t do much. They spend most of the movie in one room as the alien women’s guests/captives. Little sister Tomoko gets a melodramatic scene where she tells the grownups what happened to them.

Hapless humans: The space women, Barbella and Florbella, seem kind at first but then they are revealed to be duplicitous. The kids’ parents and some scientists round out the cast.

Thoughts on this viewing: We’re back in space again, but this one lacks the gee-whiz fun of Gamera vs. Viras. That film was hit, so this one’s mentality seems to be just, “Let’s do that again.”  

Next: Global Gamera warming.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Fantastic Friday: Back on Main

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. After spending the last few months looking some of the many FF-related spinoffs that Marvel produced in abundance from 2002 to 2005, we’re back to the main series and the return of a classic villain in issue #525.

What’s all this, then? Mark Waid and Mike Weiringo have ended their famous run on the series, but Waid’s co-writer Karl Kesel is sticking around, maintaining a similar tone. There’s a real sense of “Let’s keep the party going” in this issue’s tone. Tom Grummett is the new penciler, with Larry Stucker on inks, Paul Mounts on colors, and Randy Gentile on letters. Comics guru Tom Brevoort is still on as editor.

Alicia is babysitting little Franklin and Valeria when the FF return from an unseen adventure in the Microverse. Alicia tells everyone that NYC’s Chesler Hotel is being torn down, not by the city, but by the building’s residents. They’ve apparently gone insane and are holding hostages inside. Johnny flies to the building, where he finds all the residents are destroying the building from the inside because they’re searching for treasure hidden in the walls or under the floors.

A short fight breaks out between the residents and Johnny and Ben, before Reed breaks it up. The residents use the water pipes to attack Johnny, and Ben suspects something is up with the water. Reed has Sue turn the entire building invisible except for the plumbing. She reveals all the pipes are not ceramic or metal, but gold. Reed says the pipes were originally lead, which means someone turned the lead to gold. Sue exclaims, “Alchemy!” and on cue, the evil alchemist Diablo appears. They fight, until Diablo says he’s there to return the gold back to lead. He’s acquired the famous Philosopher’s Stone, and makes the pipes lead again.

Diablo retells part of his origin story. Back in 9th century Spain, he mastered the potions that gave him eternal youth, and he survived torture and captivity during the Spanish Inquisition. He swore revenge, and he says today is the day. He wants to use the FF’s time machine inside the new Baxter Building to go back and stop the Inquisition from happening. Reed refuses, fearing that Diablo really wants to go back in time to conquer the world. Diablo says he will transform parts of New York into gold each day until Reed relents. He gives them two days to think it over, and then he disappears.

Cut to the next morning, when everyone is concerned about what Diablo will do. At the breakfast table, Franklin describes a dream he had, where he was confronted by Doctor Doom. Ben describes a similar dream, like something out of an old monster movie, where he’s chased by torch-wielding villagers. Johnny interrupts breakfast, irritable and short-tempered. Sue urges him not to lose control and she tells him to take the day off, Diablo or no Diablo.

Reed has been up all night, running tests on a pipe from the building. He hopes to track transmutational residue from it back to Diablo’s location. Elsewhere, Sue is in the business office for Fantastic Four Inc., talking to chief financial officer Jian about Johnny’s ongoing work of co-running the company. Jian says Johnny is doing well, and customers like him and are attracted to him. “Like moths to a flame,” Sue adds.

The next night, Reed reveals to Franklin that he too had a strange dream. He saw himself carrying a huge sack of mail through the city during a blizzard, only to attacked by a bunch of the FF’s villains. Franklin then reveals that mailman Willie Lumpkin told him he had the exact same dream. Reed wakes everyone else up and asks about their dreams. Ben had a dream of losing control of the Fantasticar and falling, and Reed says that’s a common type of dream for a child.

Reed fears that the FF are all having each other’s dreams. Further, without their own dreams, they won’t be able to sleep properly, which will make then more and more irritable and unable to think clearly. Sue says they’ve got to go after Diablo, but Reed says, “I don’t believe Diablo had anything to do with this.”

Unstable molecule: Franklin’s dream of Dr. Doom included the sensation of not being afraid of Doom. This suggests that he was having Reed’s dream.

Fade out: In the office, Sue asks Jian about an invoice for Vibranium. Although Black Panther is a long-standing ally to the FF, I find it unlikely that Wakanda is selling its most important resource to anyone. The Marvel Wiki states there’s also an Antarctic Vibranium, which was involved in a She-Hulk story, so perhaps this is the Vibranium the FF are buying.

Clobberin’ time: Ben swallows a huge stack of pancakes during breakfast, a shoutout to him doing the same back in the Jack Kirby days.  

Flame on: The hotel residents manage to put out Johnny’s flame by dousing him with water, even though it’s been a long, long time since he overcame that weakness. My guess is that Johnny’s off his game due to the dream stuff.  

Four and a half: With all this talk of dreams, there’s no mention of Franklin’s former dream-based powers he had in his Power Pack days. Franklin is still powerless during this time, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Our gal Val: There are a few references to baby Valeria crying all night. Ben suspects that poor Val has been having his nightly nightmares.

Trivia time: What’s Diablo been up to? Remember that the last time we saw him in Fantastic Four, the elemental creatures he summoned drew him into an unnamed abyss. In a follow-up Avengers storyline, he sent a simulacrum of himself to Earth in search of artifact that could free him. Diablo got caught up in the Avengers’ battle against an army of Hulks (!) in which the duplicate was destroyed, and he remained in the abyss. That leads into this issue, with no explanation of how he escaped and made it back to Earth. The theory is that the Philosopher’s Stone was instrumental in his escape.

And what about that Philosopher’s Stone? Despite being a popular myth for hundreds of years before a certain boy wizard made it a household name, this storyline is the only time the Marvel version of it appears. The stone gets a mention in a 2020 Black Cat comic, however, so it might return someday.

Fantastic or frightful? Rather than a soft reboot with a flashy new #1 issue, the new creative team picks up where the previous left off, maintaining subplots and a similar tone. This is something comics don’t do anymore. But Kesel, Grummet, and company come out swinging with a fun issue full of action and mystery. Good stuff.

Next: More dream stuff.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Gamera rewatch – Gamera vs. Viras (1968)

Rewatching the Gamera movies! Gamera vs. Viras (1968) takes our favorite giant turtle into outer space.

Here’s what happens: In space, Gamera battles an alien spacecraft that’s come to steal all of Earth’s nitrogen. Gamera later befriends two Boy Scouts, only for the kids to be abducted when the aliens return. The aliens put a mind-control device on Gamera, making him attack Earth for them. Aboard the alien ship, the kids bumble their way into freeing Gamera. He then battles the aliens’ leader, Viras, with the fate of Earth in the balance.

Nice gams: As this movie begins, humans no longer fear Gamera, as it’s become common knowledge that he’s the hero. This is the one that gives us the famous line, “Gamera is a friend to all children.”

Turtle power: Gamera uses his head as a battering ram when fighting the alien ship, which is pretty cool. We see he can swim at amazing speed without having to use his jets. Other than that, it’s his same power set as before, fire breath, flight, biting, and raw strength.

Big baddie: Every monster in this series before now has had the same origin, as prehistoric beasts hibernating for centuries deep underground. This time, they come from space. The first “monster” is the aliens’ ship, five connected spheres that spin around. It has some cool moves and puts up a good fight against Gamera.

The actual aliens appear human at first, but then reveal themselves to be creepy automatons of some kind. Viras is the aliens’ leader, a big tentacled guy. He nearly does Gamera in by impaling him, only for Gamera to get the better of him. While impaled, Gamera flies both him and Viras into space, where Viras freezes.

Kid stuff: Rather than supporting characters, the kids are now the protagonists. Jim and Masao are two mischievous Boy Scouts who sneak into an oceanographic research station to take a mini submarine for a joyride, where they befriend Gamera in the ocean. Their antics aboard the alien ship is some of the best stuff in the movie, where they keep coming up with ways to mess with their captors.

Hapless humans: There aren’t many other characters. The boys’ scoutmaster, an oceanographer, and some military guys don’t do much. Also, there’s a trio of older Girl Scouts who are friends with the boys. These three are fun characters, and it’s too bad they couldn’t have joined the boys on the adventure.  

Clip show: Fifteen minutes (!) of footage from Gamera vs. Barugon and Gamera vs. Gaos get spliced into this movie, allegedly to reduce production costs. It comes out of nowhere. The Gamera fan sites call this sequence the “flashback scene” so I guess we’re meant to be seeing Gamera’s memories?

Thoughts on this viewing: This is a cool slice of ‘60s sci-fi. For all this talk about the movie being low budget, it looks pretty good. The miniatures are much improved from the previous films, and the sets have that great retro-future look. If you want campy monster action, consider this a recommend.

Next: Outer space, again!

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Fantastic Friday: Mutant mania

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s more manga-inspired action with 2004’s X4: X-Men/Fantastic Four. I was going to skip this series due to unavailability, but I found a copy at the last minute, so let’s get our mutant freak on.

What’s all this, then? The first issue cover credits Pat Lee and Dreamwave Studios, with the interior credits show writer Akira Yoshida, Lee on pencils, and variety of others on layout, backgrounds, and inks. Founded by Pat Lee, Dreamwave burst on the scene with super-cool comics such as Dark Minds and Warlands. They later got the license to the Transformers, and they were more or less the caretakers of the Transformers universe for a while. Dreamwave shut down in 2005, and there are a lot of differing and unfortunate opinions online as to why, with a lot of ugliness and people saying mean things to each other. It appears this miniseries came right at the end of Dreamwave, because starting with issue #3, the credits read “Dream Engine Studios” instead.

X4 begins in Earth’s orbit, where NASA space station Simulacra is welcoming home a Mars lander. Something goes wrong and, there’s an explosion. Cut the Xavier Institute in Westchester, New York. Wolverine is woken up due to the X-Mansion’s doorbell. With no one else around, he answers it and finds the Fantastic Four at the X-Men’s front door. Ben says, “Our big brain just wants to talk to your big brain.” Wolverine loses his cool, and he and Ben fight for several pages. Storm flies down from the sky, and then a fight breaks out between her and Johnny. These fights go on for a few more pages, in a classic excuse-for-the-characters-to-show-off-their-powers. Emma Frost then arrives and uses telepathy to break up the fight.  

The FF and the X-Men gather inside the mansion, with Reed explaining that he just had to make a request in person, rather than calling or emailing. Reed wants to speak to Professor Xavier, but Wolverine says the prof has taken off. Reed shows them footage of the Simulacra, saying that the station had an eighteen-member crew, and its unknown whether any survived the explosion. The Beast suspects that something was hidden on the Mars lander. Reed says he’s come to the X-Men for use of Cerebra, their advanced mutant-hunting computer.

Emma Frost says neither Cerebra nor any mutant telepath can reach space, and Cyclops suggests a team flying to space to get a telepath close to the Simulacra. The X-Men show off their new X-Jet, which combines human and alien tech, and capable of long-distance spaceflight. The FF are impressed, but there are only six seats inside. It’s decided that the team will be Emma for her telepathy, Ben and Wolverine for the muscle, and Sue, Nightcrawler, and Gambit for their “resources.”  They fly to the Simulacra, where Emma senses frightened survivors inside. The heroes enter the station to find a tentacled monster waiting for them.

Issue #2 begins with Reed and Beast comparing notes, with Reed saying he’s been tracking a cosmic irregularity that may be related to the incident in the Simulacra, and it’s similar to the cosmic rays that gave the FF their powers. Reed says he’s concerned about what cosmic rays might do to mutants’ X-factor that given them their powers. On board the Simulacra, the monsters are revealed to be the Brood, alien parasites whom the X-Men have often battled. The heroes fight off the Brood, and Emma coordinates everyone to split up, with one half of their group searching for survivors and one half further fighting the Brood.

Sue, Emma, and Gambit find the survivors, who have been implanted with Brood eggs. Sue wants to save them while Emma argues that the survivors are already dead. Sue undoes a Brood jamming device and contacts Reed, who tells them must evacuate because the cosmic storm is approaching. Sue agrees to leave, hoping to return and save the survivors once the storm passes. The X-Jet gets hit by the cosmic storm as the heroes depart. It is damaged, and comes crashing down to Earth, in the middle of a forest. The X-Men emerge from it, transformed into monster-like creatures.

Issue #3 begins with Reed, Johnny, Cyclops, Storm, and Beast searching the crash site in a Fantasticar. They’re attacked, only to discover their attackers are the four X-Men from the mission, now in their monstrous forms. More fighting breaks out, with Cyclops and Storm not wanting to harm their teammates. We see that Nightcrawler has gained Sue’s powers, and Gambit now has Johnny’s powers. Emma doesn’t speak, but lashes out at Cyclops her new diamond form – her secondary mutation – and mention is made that she’s like the Thing now. Wolverine’s arms are unnaturally long, meaning he has Reed’s powers.

There’s a lot more fighting, with Sue and Ben eventually revealing they are okay. With their help, the heroes subdue the four transformed X-Men. Beast and Reed start to talk about a cure when Wolverine comes to and flees into the woods. While the others stay behind to search for him, Reed and Beast return to the Baxter Building. Because Wolverine, Gambit, and Nightcrawler haven’t yet had a secondary mutation, Reed believes Emma’s secondary mutation could be the cure. Then Sue calls Reed with a more pressing matter. The space shuttle Titan is returning to Earth from its space mission, except it’s filled with Brood.

Issue #4 shows that the shuttle is headed straight for New York. Sue blames herself, as the Brood on the shuttle are what became of the survivors she left behind. Storm tells Sue not to blame herself and focus on saving New York. There are several pages of Sue, Storm, and Johnny working together to bring the shuttle down for a safe landing.

Beast worries that a larger team of superheroes will be needed to contain the Brood inside the shuttle, so he and Reed get to work curing the transformed X-Men. There’s another fight on the woods when Ben and Cyclops manage to subdue Wolverine. The take Wolverine to Reed’s lab for further work on the cure, when giant whale-like aliens appear in the sky over NYC, and the shuttle opens to let out the Brood.

The big battle kicks off in issue #5, with several pages of the X-Men and the FF fighting back a full-scale alien invasion. In Reed’s lab, Reed wonders if he can cure the X-Men when he’s never been able to cure Ben. Beast gives him a pep talk, saying the always-changing nature of mutation gives Reed the edge this time. The cure works, and Wolverine, Gambit, and Nightcrawler join the fight in the streets of NYC. With their help, the heroes fight back the Brood.

As for Emma Frost, she too is healed, and she and Reed return to the X-Mansion to use Cerebra. Reed uses his genius to amplify Cerebra’s power, and Emma says she will send the Brood on “a ‘trip’ they won’t soon forget.” Combining her telepathy with the new Cerebra, she makes the Brood think that both Galactus and Phoenix have arrived in New York as well. The Brood then retreat, fleeing in terror. The two teams compare notes, with Reed saying neither of them could have driven back the Brood on their own. Later, the FF join the X-Men at the Xavier Institute for one of the X-Men’s regular softball games. Sue and Emma have a heart-to-heart talk, in which Emma says it is good to have someone else looking out for her teammates, and Sue says, “That’s what being a family is all about.”

Unstable molecule: Reed says he’s unaware the X-Men are experiencing secondary mutations. But he’s saying that to Beast’s cat-like form, which is Beast’s secondary mutation! Maybe Reed was just being polite.

Fade out: Like many comic readers, Sue is perplexed by the relationship between Emma Frost and Cyclops. Emma tells her that the X-Men think of her and Cyclops the same way the FF think of Sue and Namor.

Clobberin’ time: I’d thought that the Reed-trying-and-failing-to-cure-Ben plot was resolved by this point (Reed can’t cure Ben because of Ben’s own mental blocks), but it’s referenced several times in this. In the end, Ben says he has faith Reed will find an answer someday.

Flame on: When Gambit has Johnny’s exact same powers, Johnny manages to defeat him not with fire, but by punching him right in the face.

SUE-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all along. When fighting the Brood in this story, she creates an invisible sword out of a force field. When did she have this kind of control? Could it be her spy training at work?

Trivia time: Where are the X-Men at in continuity at this point? Astonishing X-Men kicked off its “Danger” storyline, which the Danger Room went haywire, evolving into a new character named Danger. New X-Men was in the middle of its “Haunted” story arc, portraying the X-Mansion as a haunted house. (This was unrelated to the Danger Room stuff, it seems.) Uncanny X-Men had the mutants taking on the Hellfire Club in a confusing tale also featuring nanites. And in the adjectiveless X-Men, it was the Christmas issue (!) in which Wolverine’s clone X-23 became an official X-Man.

Why isn’t Professor X there? Never minding that he has a long history of taking off and leaving the X-Men on their own, in this case he’d left for Genosha in hopes of rebuilding it from a wasteland back into a working nation.

When the FF and the X-Men meet in the mansion, we see three Xavier School students eavesdropping. The Marvel Wiki reveals these are Elixir, Wallflower, and Wind Dancer, three recent additions to the school.

Why is the X-Men’s mutant-seeking computer Cerebra and not Cerebro? Cerebra is the newer, better version, developed by Professor X and Beast. In addition to mutants, Cerebra can also direct Atlanteans and vampires.

There are several refences to the Avengers not being around. This is more fallout from the Avengers: Disassembled event, where the Avengers disbanded for a time. But wait, New Avengers, which co-starred Wolverine, debuted at the same time as this miniseries. I guess we’ll have to conclude this miniseries precedes New Avengers.

Fantastic or frightful? The story here is very basic, and the idea of giving the FF’s powers to four X-Men isn’t explored as much as I’d like. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of good stuff here. The shuttle crash scene is very well done and cinematic, as the comic walks us through how the heroes use their powers to stop the crashing shuttle.  The sky whales recall the 2012 Avengers movie, to where I wonder if the movie was directly inspired by this.

Next: Back on main.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Gamera rewatch – Gamera vs. Gaos (1967)

Rewatching the Gamera movies! Gamera vs. Gaos (1967) introduces Gamera’s most famous rival, and it features several classic Gamera-isms.

Here’s what happens: A group of farmers are unwilling to relocate to make way for a new freeway. This is complicated when Japan is wracked with mysterious volcanic eruptions, unleashing giant monster Gaos into the world. After Gaos and Gamera battle a few times, scientists determine that sunlight is harmful to Gaos, so a plan is hatched to keep Gaos distracted long enough to keep in the sun. When that fails, it’s all up to Gamera.

Nice gams: As the movie begins, it’s been two years since anyone has seen Gamera, and there’s a lot of speculation as to where he went and whether he will return. Gamera’s return is ambiguous. Was he hibernating at Mount Fuji alongside Gaos? Had he traveled there from parts unknown, drawn to the volcanic energy? The movie doesn’t say.

Turtle power: Gamera draws his limbs into his shell, and then rolls down a mountainside like a huge bowling ball to crash into Gaos. When injured, Gamera goes to the bottom of the ocean to heal.

Big baddie: The story goes that producers originally wanted to make a Dracula movie, therefore Gaos drinks blood (!) and he’s vulnerable to sunlight. Gamera and Gaos are evenly matched. They can both fly, and Gamera’s fire breath is as powerful as Gaos’ laser breath. Gaos’ best move, however, is the power to generate city-destroying gusts of wind with his wings.

Hapless humans: Our hero is intrepid reporter Okabe. He sneaks onto restricted land to investigate the volcanic eruptions, discovering Gamera’s underground hiding place. He pretty much disappears after the first act.

Kid stuff: Eichi is a kid who follows Okabe onto the volcano site, and Gamera rescues him during the first battle with Gaos. Eichi and Gamera seem to develop a psychic bond after that, with Eichi speaking on Gamera’s behalf in front of the adult soldiers and scientists.

Thoughts on this viewing: I liked this one! It finds a pretty good balance between the action movie stuff with monsters and fighting and humans trying to science their way out of it, and the kid-friendly stuff with a child bonding with the giant turtle. It’s got some surprisingly blood scenes, but also some goofy slapstick humor.

Next: When aliens attack.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Fantastic Friday: Fantastics-giving

It’s a holiday weekend, so here’s some Thanksgiving/holiday stuff:

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Gamera rewatch – Gamera vs. Barugon (1966)

Rewatching the Gamera movies! Gamera vs. Barugon (1966) has its high points, but the franchise hasn’t found its voice yet.

Here’s what happens: At the end of the last movie, humans defeated Gamera by putting him on a rocket and firing him away from Earth. That doesn’t last long, as the rocket hits a meteor, and Gamera comes flying back home. Meanwhile, three treasure hunters find an ancient opal that’s actually an ancient egg. It hatches and grows into giant monster Barugon. Gamera is drawn to Barugon’s energy, and they fight it out.

Nice gams: Gamera’s motivation is the same as the first movie. He feeds off energy, and he’s hungry. The movie’s opening set piece is him destroying a dam for sustenance, and the only reason he goes after Barugon is after sensing Barugon’s power. After defeating Barugon at the end, Gamera merely flies off into the sky, like a cowboy riding into the sunset.

Turtle power: Gamera doesn’t get a lot of screen time, as the filmmakers clearly hope Barugon will be the new marquee star. After a lot of failed attempts to defeat Barugon, the humans deduce that he’s a saltwater monster, and freshwater will kill him. In the final battle, Gamera drowns Barugon in a freshwater lake. Can we assume that Gamera has some sort of connection to humanity similar to Godzilla?

Big baddie: Barugon has ice breath, which conveniently counters Gamera’s fire breath. He also has his inexplicable rainbow attack, shooting pretty lights out of his back to attack threats behind him. The rainbow looks silly, but it causes massive destruction. We’re not really told where Barugon comes from or what he wants, though the island natives where he comes from suggest Barugon is magical/supernatural in nature.

Hapless humans: The four treasure hunters are Keisuke, Onodera, Kawajiri, and Ichiro. They’re WWII vets returning to an island they once visited during the war, chasing rumors of a lost treasure. This is way more Treasure of the Sierra Madre than it is Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s all about greed and suspicion among the four men, leading to violence and then murder among them. After a lot of back and forth, Keisuke emerges as the hero, helping the army think of ways to fight Barugon. An island native whom the English dub names “Karen” is also along for the ride, providing exposition about Barugon and a little romance with Keisuke.

Kid stuff: The Gamera movies are famous for being whimsical and kid-friendly, but this one attempts a serious drama with all the paranoia and backstabbing.

Thoughts on this viewing: While the “evil that men do” plot is interesting, it means the monster action is fleeting. And the monster action is what we’re here for. This movie was allegedly a box office bomb, causing the series to pivot in a new direction after this.

Next: Going volcanic.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Fantastic Friday: Big in Japan

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan was a four-issue miniseries attempting to bring some classic kaiju action to the Marvel Universe. Zeb Wells is writing, but clearly artist Seth Fisher is the one behind the steering wheel, because this artwork is something.

The FF visit Tokyo, enjoying their celebrity status at the ribbon cutting for the Tokyo Giant Monster Museum and Expo Center. Also present is Otetsukun, a skyscraper-sized robot that has protected Japan from giant monster attacks for decades. But there haven’t been any monster attacks in a generation, so Otetsukun serves as a sort of monument these days. The FF tour the museum, where curator Dr. Yamane tells them about scientific advances Japan has made thanks to studying the remains of the giant monsters. Just as Reed questions the ethics of this, billionaire Tony Stark arrives, hoping for an economic partnership with the museum.

Then some cow-like monsters escape their pens (I guess this museum is also a zoo for monsters) and more monsters escape and run loose. The FF fight the monsters, while Tony runs off to find his “bodyguard.” Monsters of all shapes and sizes run through the city. Iron Man flies in to help the FF fight them. Johnny says he can sense a mysterious hum, and then more kaiju rise from the ocean to attack the city. (This is when the comic uses the word “kaiju” for the first time.)

Issue #2 specifies that four of the monsters from ocean, Eerok, Giganto, Droom, and Grogg, are throwbacks from classic 1950s Marvel Comics. Sue fights Eerok, a Kong-like gorilla, while Iron Man battles Droom, a big dinosaur. Droom has a vision of Iron Man turning into an Ultraman or Jet Jaguar type of giant robot, and he befriends Iron Man.

Reed and Yamane return to the museum, where Yamane describes monoliths discovered under the polar ice caps which suggest there may be an intelligence behind the kaiju’s actions. Out in the city, Sue continues to fight Eerok while telling the locals to evacuate. Ben shows up with Otetsukun, controlling the robot by yanking wires inside its chest. Eerok and Giganto manage to overpower Otetsukun. Then Johnny reveals he is hiding inside Otetsukun’s mouth, making it look like the robot is breathing fire.

After removing a trachea from one of the monster museum exhibits, Reed uses it as a horn. This somehow allows him to communicate with Grogg, the dragon. Grogg says the kaiju once ruled the world, but they were driven underground first by the atom bomb, and then by the rise of superheroes. He refers to the heroes as “vanquishers.” Grogg says the kaiju have returned not to attack, but because they are fleeing something else. Reed convinces Grogg to turn away. Grogg agrees, saying that humankind will now face a “walking apocalypse” in the kaiju’s place.

In issue #3, The FF, Iron Man, and Yamane travel to the North Pole, searching for this threat the kaiju warned them about. They discover the remains of a paleontological expedition that vanished forty years earlier. They find what appears to be a giant structure under the ice. They enter it, and here’s where the artwork gets so wild and off-the-wall that I’m not sure what’s happening exactly.

The heroes explore rooms made of massive eyes, fingers, and teeth. They are confronted by “living shadows” called Kaa, who say they are waiting for a key. Reed says reality is warping, while the Kaa break the fourth wall and talk about turning pages. The Kaa are preparing something called “the tearing.” Dr. Yamane disrobes, revealing his body covered with eyeball tattoos (or maybe they are eyeballs). He says the paleontologists were secretly a cult who worshipped kaiju as gods. He is the son of one of them, and he’s here to complete the ritual. He does some weird dance, and time and space tear apart. This is depicted by having one of the shadows appear to tear through the comic page itself. The caption tells us this is a “5-D Mega-Gourb!” Sure, why not?

Then there’s several pages of what I can only describe as random craziness:

The heroes escape the tear, back out onto the North Pole. They’re pursued by a yellow-skinned cosmic being. The Marvel Wiki identifies this creature as the Apocalypse Beast. The creature crushes Yamane under its foot, with him celebrating that he’s fulfilled his purpose. The heroes fly onto the Beast’s toe and examine its pores (that’s how big it is), and Reed deduces that it has sealed its skin because it comes from a different atmosphere from Earth’s. (Never mind that it has two faces with open mouths.) The inside of the Beast’s body is toxic, so Sue uses her force fields to create an armored suit of compressed air around herself (!), and she and Iron Man enter the creature’s pore in hopes of stopping it from the inside. Then the Mole Man shows up, announcing that the creature is on its way to Monster Island.

In issue #4, we see that the Apocalypse Beast is indeed going to Monster Island, with Reed reminding everyone that the Mole Man has a history with that island and all the giant creatures who dwell there. A Moloid meets them there, with Mole Man describing them as nameless and mindless, but then we discover that they’ve formed a doomsday cult underground. Sue and Iron Man fight their way through the Beast’s body, Fantastic Voyage-style, depicted in more trippy weirdness. Sue has a vision of the Beast in space, and she concludes that something was removed from it, and the creature wants it back. Reed and the Mole Man find ancient machinery deep under the island that has been dormant until recently, when the Moloids activated it again.

Reed then deduces that Monster Island is not merely a giant machine in disguise, but a giant syringe (!). Johnny ignites the dormant volcano under the machine, Reed mans the machine’s controls, and Ben protects them from an attack by some other random monster down there. The volcano/syringe pokes the Apocalypse Beast in the eye, and all the Moloids fly upward into it. The creature turns inside out (!) and flies back into space. The Mole Man breaks down crying, remembering that at least one Moloid had a name… Noah.

Reed concludes that the Moloids were a virus all along, bio-engineered for the purpose of driving off the Apocalypse Beast. Reed and Sue are reunited, as she and Iron Man made it out okay. Cut to the year 12,425 A.D., where two Moloids discuss how their once-great civilization is doomed, and their world’s resources are all but spent. They place their infant child into a pod and launch the baby into space, in hopes that it will find a new home on a new world. No, the baby isn’t named Kal or Clark. His name is Noah.

Unstable molecule: Upon learning that all the Moloids were really a virus all along, Reed says, “It’s just as I thought,” to which Ben replies, “You’re telling me you expected that?”

Fade out: We’ve seen Sue surround herself with a force field armor before, but this time it’s different. It looks like an Iron Man suit, and the “condensed air” part of it gives the armor a blue glow, rather than have it be purely invisible.

Clobberin’ time: When Ben is able to control the giant robot Otetsukun, that could be a reference to his great piloting skills, or just letting the reader know he’s gained some engineering skills after working with Reed in the lab for so many years.

Flame on: Johnny is incredibly powerful in this one, using his flame to ignite a long-dormant volcano. It recalls the “Messiah” storyline from the John Byrne years, when a villain trapped Johnny deep underground to use his powers in a similar way.

Trivia time: Is this story canon, or isn’t it? The origin of the Moloids in this contradicts the one in the Marvel Wiki, where the Moloids were genetically engineered by the Deviants back in ancient times. But then, the Wiki adds an “Oh, by the way” and states the Deviants added the power to drive off this story’s creature as a bonus. But then, the Wiki further says maybe it was the Deviants or maybe it some other, unknown intelligence.

Who are these other monsters with ties to Marvel’s past? Grogg first appeared in Strange Tales #83, where he woke from an ancient slumber beneath a mountain in Russia, following Russian atomic bomb tests. Droom first appeared in Tales to Astonish #9, where he was an ordinary lizard accidentally given an experimental growth serum. Fantastic Four fans recognize Giganto as Sub-Mariner’s monster of choice way back in issue #4. He’s since gone on to be one Marvel’s go-to sea beasts. Finally, there’s Eerok the giant ape. This miniseries is his first and only appearance.

It’s also the first and only appearance for antiquated giant robot Otetsukun. That’s too bad, because it’s a fun design and interesting backstory.

Fantastic or frightful? If you’re going to read this one, it’s for the over-the-top psychedelic yet cartoony artwork. It’s like nothing else we’ve seen from Marvel. The art is so outrageous, though, it makes following the story a challenge. Every other page, you have to stop and ask “Wait, now what’s happening?”

Next: Back on main.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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Gamera rewatch – Gamera the Giant Monster (1965)

Rewatching the Gamera movies! Gamera the Giant Monster (1965) has a classic “creature feature” feel, only hinting at the kid-friendly action movie silliness the series would become.

Here’s what happens: An airplane carrying a nuke is shot down in the arctic, awakening an ancient prehistoric turtle, Gamera. The monster eventually goes to Japan, hungry for energy. Although he just wants to eat, he clashes with the local military. Despite a lot of talk about an ice bomb that can freeze Gamera, the humans trick him into entering a giant rocket. They save the Earth from Gamera by launching him to Mars!

What’s all this, then? Tracking the history of this movie is infuriating, in that there have been so many versions of it over the years, with multiple edits, dubs, even a bunch of different titles. I’ve given up trying to figure out which version is the definitive one, concluding that the 1965 Gamera is a living document, evolving into something new for each generation.

Nice gams: In addition to being a gigantic prehistoric turtle, an ancient tablet (!) and the writings of Plato (!!!) tell us that Gamera and other turtles like him once roamed Atlantis, and they were feared like devils. Where’s that movie?

Turtle power: We’re introduced to Gamera’s classic moves. He can breathe fire and smash things real good. Later, he draws his limbs into his shell, replacing them with rockets, that allow him to spin and fly around like a flying saucer. This is preposterous, but it’s also what sets him apart from other kaiju.

Hapless humans: Our hero is Dr. Hidaka, a scientist who was present when Gamera woke up in the arctic. He then takes a leadership role and puts himself in the center of the crisis. He’s the stock “man of science” hero seen in so many old B-movies. His sidekicks are his loyal assistant Kyoko, and thrill-seeking photographer Aoyagi.

Kid stuff: Toshio is a child whose parents force him to let his beloved turtle loose in the ocean. He believes Gamera is his pet all grown up. Later he bonds with Gamera and speaks on Gamera’s behalf. Despite all the death and mass destruction, this establishes from the start that these movies are going for a kid-friendly tone.

Thoughts on this viewing: The movie’s not even hiding the fact that it’s cashing in on the success of 1954’s Gojira (a.k.a. Godzilla), but there’s just enough here to give this series its own personality, setting up all the outrageous places it’s going to go.

Next: Treasure of the Gamera Madre.

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Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a city full of far-out technology and hidden dark magic. The first three chapters are FREE, so give it a shot! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

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