Universal Monsters rewatch – The Mummy 1932

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. It’s just one classic after another, this time 1932’s The Mummy. Embalm her? I hardly know her!

Here’s what happens: A mummy appears to come to life and walk off an archeological dig in Egypt. A few years later, some London archeologists encounter mystery man Ardeth Bay, who has sinister plans for socialite Helen Grovener.

Monster!: Ardeth Bey, who is the Mummy come back to life (OMG spoiler!), is a master manipulator, tricking everyone into following his master plan when they don’t know it. He’s also tied into the supernatural, casting spells, and even using a D&D-style scrying pool.

Also a monster!: Ardeth Bey’s henchman is huge hulking guy uncomfortably named The Nubian. There’s no info on what this character’s backstory is, except for one line about his “ancient blood,” but we do see him being mind-controlled by Bey to do Bey’s evil bidding.

Our hero: With a whole group of “good guys” standing up to the Mummy, who is the protagonist? I’m going say it’s Helen, who is the center of everyone’s attention. Actress Zita Johann is asked to play multiple roles in the film, and Helen is the one who eventually outwits the Mummy in the finale. Then there’s the ending. Instead of a big kiss or embrace, we close on Helen reacting to love interest Frank with confusion and possibly fear. Helen’s fate remains unknown.

Hapless humans: Dashing, handsome Frank might be set up to be the romantic lead, but his speech about romanticizing (sexualizing?) long-dead mummified corpses kinda/sorta makes him no better than the Mummy. Edward Van Sloan, who played Van Helsing in Dracula, is back as a similar “occult expert” character. There’s also Dr. Whemple, Frank’s father and Helen’s doctor, who is on hand throughout to help investigate the mysterious goings-on.

Frights: While the shambling-mummy-covered-with-tattered-wrappings trope is only the opening scene, the real frights are in Ardeth Bey’s master manipulation of all the other characters, and his seemingly unstoppable obsession with Helen. Also worth noting is the extended flashback to ancient Egypt, and the tale of how Bey, then known as Imhotep, was buried alive. This is when the movie stops being talky and becomes big and cinematic.

Laughs: There’s not a lot of comic relief in this one, although the Norton’s big freakout upon seeing the Mummy (“He went for a little walk!”) is Universal Monster macabre at its best.

Thoughts upon this viewing: When watching The Mummy this closely, little flaws begin to appear. Like, why couldn’t Muller and Whemple have been combined into one character? What, exactly, becomes of Helen at the end of the film? I suppose none of that matters, though, when we have the one-two punch of Karloff and Zita Johann absolutely killing it. Yes, it’s a mostly dialogue-heavy movie, lacking the big atmosphere of Frankenstein, but it can’t be beat as an actor showcase.

Next: I can see right through you.


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Fantastic Friday: Like a rolling Skrull

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. This is vol. 2 issue 6, continuing Heroes Reborn, in which superstar artist Jim Lee attempted modernize the FF for all the cool ‘90s kids.

We begin in NYC, where Alicia is concerned about Ben when he doesn’t show up for their date. She wonders if he’s in danger, and/or if he’s out saving the world. Then we get back to the main plot inside Castle Doom in Latveria. S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Wyatt Wingfoot, who’s been secretly conspiring with Dr. Doom, is revealed to be a Super-Skrull, here to steal the Silver Surfer’s power cosmic. The FF, the real Wyatt, and their new pal Black Panther compare notes, saying that Silver Surfer came from the same mysterious space anomaly that gave the FF their powers. Doom and Super-Skrull fight, and Black Panther says the heroes must choose between the lesser of two evils.

Wyatt says the key to stopping the Super-Skrull is to transfer the power cosmic from him back into the Silver Surfer. The Skrull short-circuits Doom’s armor and says his goal is revenge against the Surfer, who he describes as the enemy of all Skrulls. He further explains that Silver Surfer is the herald of Galactus, giving us the first look at Galactus in Heroes Reborn, along with a one-page description of who Galactus is, and that using the Surfer’s power against Galactus is the Skrulls’ “final reckoning.”

The two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who arrived with fake Wyatt are revealed to also be Skrulls, and they announce that an extraction team is flying toward Castle Doom. The Super-Skrull easily destroys the ships. Ben and Johnny attack the Super-Skrull, who reveals he can mimic the FF’s powers, and he takes them both out. Black Panther continues to work on rejuvenating the Silver Surfer. Doom comes to and says only he has the reversion code to do so, and that makes him in charge.

Black Panther fights the Super-Skrull next, but this is a diversion. When the Super-Skrull attacks, Sue uses a force field to direct his energy blast away from Black Panther and back into Silver Surfer, just in time to Doom and Reed to do science and complete the process. The Silver Surfer is revived, and now he fights the Super-Skrull, who still has some Power Cosmic left in him. The Skrull says he knows the Surfer is really Norrin Radd, but the Surfer says Norrin Radd no longer exists.

The battle gets so out of control that it threatens to breach the fusion core underneath Castle Doom. Doom stays behind to repair the core while the FF, Black Panther and Wyatt make a run for it. The castle is saved, even though there wasn’t time for Doom to save the reactor. Reed suspects that are other forces at work. Back aboard the FF’s ship, Ben says the Latverian Air Force is on its way, so the heroes take off. As they do, the Silver Surfer watches them from a distance. The caption states that he’s the one who sealed the fusion core, because the humans are the first creatures throughout the galaxy who have ever shown him… compassion.

Then there’s a backup story, “Industrial Revolution Prologue,” in which we see Doom has survived. He’s monitoring the events of Heroes Reborn: Avengers #4 and 5, which introduced the Hulk. He’s then shocked to learn that the Hulk is none other than one of his old college buddies, Bruce Banner. He says he will monitor the situation, so that no matter who wins the upcoming conflict, he was stand tall among the wreckage.

Unstable molecule: Some great Reed Richards technobabble this time, when he says, “Now we have to hope that the flux inhibitor was able to stabilize the distillation process within acceptable energy levels!”

Fade out: Sue also gets in on the science-speak at the start of the issue, describing Doom’s plan to steal the power cosmic. This reminds readers that in this timeline, she’s also a big brain alongside Reed.

Clobberin’ time: Ben has something of a code of honor, in which he chides the Super-Skrull for taking out the extraction ships from a distance. Ben says it’s more honorable to fight up close, where you see your opponent eye-to-eye.

Flame on: The Super-Skrull calls Johnny “pup” multiple times throughout this issue, reinforcing that Johnny is the young, upstart member of the team.

Commercial break: Massive. Chiseled. RIPPED.

Trivia time: Alicia speaks on the phone to a friend named Cass. No idea who this character might be, as the Marvel Wiki lists a whole bunch of Cassandras running around. One Cassandra, interestingly, was the wife of Nathaniel Richards, who became the villainous Warlord of Other Earth from back in issue #272. Since Heroes Reborn is an alternate timeline tied into Franklin Richards, wouldn’t that be interesting to have Warlord Cassandra lurking in the background?

Fantastic or frightful? It’s an all-they-do-is-fight issue, but I’d say it works, because the Super-Skrull so outpowers our heroes, that nothing they throw at him works. It keeps you guessing throughout the fight. Jim Lee’s art continues to impress, in that old school ‘90s Image Comics way.

Next: Canon fodder.


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Fantastic Friday: The Fantastic Four Roast

Hey, this blog is back! We had some technical difficulties for a while there, which have hopefully been worked out by now. To celebrate the return of Fantastic Friday, we’re going back to 1982 for Fred Hembeck and The Fantastic Four Roast!

The Fantastic Four Roast is the brainchild of Marvel’s then-EIC Jim Shooter and fan cartoonist Fred Hembeck. Fred Hembeck rose to fame by self-publishing his own superhero parody comics, which became so popular Marvel went ahead and hired him to draw his parodies for them. Hembeck remains beloved to comic fans to this day, evidenced by a recently-published Fred Hembeck Omnibus hardcover. So when he shows up as “host” of the roast, ‘80s readers knew what they were in for.

On the comic’s inside front cover, Hembeck introduces readers to the concept of a roast, a half-party, half-standup comedy show, where a celebrity guest of honor receives playful jibes from his fellow celebrity friends. Yes, Hembeck references the classic-and-possibly-dated Dean Martin roasts that were this comic’s inspiration.

The story begins, and rather than full-on parody from the start, we’re squarely in the Marvel Universe continuity of 1982, with FF in the Baxter Building and in their uniforms/hairstyles at that time. Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny are getting ready for a party, which they believe will be a “Fantastic Four Toast.” Ben and Johnny start bickering, leading to a classic excuse-for-the-characters-to-use-their-powers-for-a-few-pages intro. As this happens, a mysterious figure watches our heroes from the shadows, plotting their doom.

Cut to the Plaza Hotel, where J. Jonah Jameson is now a TV newsman, introducing the night’s festivities, where the Avengers, the Defenders, the X-Men, the Inhumans, and even the Legion of Monsters show up to pay tribute to the Fantastic Four. The FF enter the hotel to learn that this is a roast, not a toast. All the Marvel heroes are sitting around dinner tables inside. Fred Hembeck himself plays MC, and the FF take the seats of honor.

We get the first round of superheroes doing standup, which is what this comic is known for. First up is Spider-Man, who drops down from the and ceiling exchanges banter with Johnny. He’s replaced by Sandman, who introduces the fact that all the villains are present as well as the heroes. Sandman jokes about his time with the Frightful Four, pointing out that Medusa left their team, only for Medusa to drag him off the stage with her super-hair.

Then we get back to the plot. As everyone is served the first of their four-course meal, the mystery villain places an object in a bowl of soup. Johnny gets the bowl and finds a tiny bomb in it. With Reed’s suggestion, Johnny flames on and harmlessly burns up the bomb inside his mouth.

Then more standup as Captain America and Reed remind everyone that they’re both World War II vets, despite not having aged all that much. Next is Iron Man, who flirts with Sue, and then Namor the Sub-Mariner, who REALLY flirts with Sue. Then what might be the best bit in the comic, the Hulk takes the stage and tells some pathetic “puny human” jokes, threatening to smash everyone if they don’t laugh.

The salad course is served, so it’s time to catch up with the plot. The mystery villain has placed a “hypno-disc” inside Sue’s salad, and uses it to mesmerize her. She renders the disc harmless by turning it invisible. Then Ben snatches her salad from her and eats it, disc and all.

More standup acts. Power Man and Iron Fist argue with each other rather than crack wise. Sixteen Avengers take the stage for a humorous retelling of the FF’s origins. Thor is next, making Ben the butt of a bunch of bald jokes. After that is the Watcher and the Silver Surfer, who riff about alternate reality versions of the FF, only for the Watcher to nauseous after the Surfer flies circles around him. Daredevil shows up, complete with shadowy Frank Miller-like art, to talk about how much insurance companies hate the FF. The X-Men flat-out attack the FF, only to claim they’re being mind-controlled by Magneto (who doesn’t have mind control powers). Dr. Strange is next, and his speech is so boring and long-winded that Eternity itself shows up to drag him off the stage.

Time for the main course, Cornish game hens. Except the mystery villain has snuck a tiny machine gun into Reed’s hen. His elasticity absorbs the tiny bullets, and he spits them out like watermelon seeds. Ghost Rider enters, using his hellfire to roast not the FF, but their dinners. Black Bolt, with Medusa’s help, says he can sense someone is trying to destroy the FF. Several of the heroes pledge to help if needed.

Dessert is served, and Ben’s ice cream grows into a giant ice cream monster. His punches pass right through the monster, so Reed hands Ben a spoon. With an “It’s slobberin’ time!” Ben eats the entire monster. He then deduces that only Dr. Doom could be behind the attacks. Doom shows up in person, exclaiming “Wrong, camel breath!” Doom explains that he might have been a fun guy if he’d never meet Reed Richards.

Reed then sees a mysterious figure throw a switch backstage, and there’s a two-page spread of all the heroes leaping into action. (This is actually a collage of promotional images of the Marvel characters, but whatever.) The mystery villain is… Willie Lumpkin, the FF’s mailman. He explains that he found an undelivered package with the FF’s address in the post office basement. He tripped and accidentally opened it, revealing a device called the Brain-Skull. It turned Willie into a genius, but also evil. Reed says this was a backup invention of his to fall back on in case the FF’s origin spaceflight didn’t pan out. Reed safely dismantles the Brain-Skull and says the real enemy here is the U.S. Postal Service.

We follow this up with quick one-panel-each rapid fire jokes from Wyatt Wingfoot, Agatha Harkness, Crystal, Quicksilver, Moon Knight, She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, Ant-Man, Howard the Duck, Man-Thing, Thundra, Tigra, Dazzler, Brother Voodoo, Impossible Man, the original Guardians of the Galaxy, and, strangest of all, Spider-Man’s Aunt May with the cosmic power of Captain Universe.

Then comes the time in the evening where the guest of honor gets to turn the tables and roast the roasters. Johnny threatens to give everyone a hotfoot and Reed says he doesn’t mind the jokes because he’s… willing to be flexible. Sue announces that after this night, she should have her own battle cry like “Flame on” or “It’s clobberin’ time,” so she turns invisible with a cry of “Fade out!” Ben gets the final word with a bunch of puns ending with “Things for the memories.”

Out in the audience, Black Bolt loses it and laughs out loud upon hearing “Things for the memories.” His earth-shattering voice destroys the entire room. Amid the rubble, the heroes all leave while Hembeck keeps making jokes. Ben gets the final word again, saying “At least the food was good.”

The inside back cover features Hembeck sharing some of his favorite funny FF moments, and dedicating the issue to FF creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Unstable molecule: Reed says his rubbery powers are what keeps him young-looking, despite he and Captain America being two of the oldest superheroes.

Fade out: Yes, this is where I get the “Fade out” quote from Sue for this blog. It never took off as a catch phrase for her, though. Maybe someday.

Clobberin’ time: Upon arriving at the Plaza Hotel, Ben gives a lousy tip to a taxi driver, which was a running gag in the FF’s regular comic, again making this parody feel like we’re still in the Marvel Universe.

Flame on: This is the only time I know of that Johnny burns something inside his mouth. The great fan question of whether he breathe fire like a dragon continues to go unanswered.

Fantastic fifth wheel: The comic is quick to point out that Crystal, Medusa, Power Man, and even Tigra and Impossible Man were all former members of the FF. Frankie Raye is also mentioned at one point, and she appears on the cover.

Four and a half: Franklin doesn’t attend the roast because he’s at home with a cold, where Alicia is babysitting. He says he’d rather watch the Three Stooges than his parents on TV.

Commercial break: This wacky parody comic got the deluxe treatment — 30 pages with no ads!

Trivia time: Is this canon or isn’t it? The Marvel Wiki states that Fantastic Four Roast takes place in an alternate universe dubbed the “Hembeck-verse,” where all Marvel characters are aware they are comic book characters and can break the fourth wall. The wiki states that The Fantastic Four Roast is the only appearance of the Hembeck-verse. But then you click on the entries for Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe and Fred Hembeck Sells the Marvel Universe, and those also list the Hembeck-verse as a location. The wiki editors need to sort out this complex Hembeck continuity, it seems.

Trivia time: The Fantastic Four Roast is a must-read for FF fans. The actual jokes might be embarrassingly bad, but what makes it work is how everyone is written in character. The creators sat down and worked out how each Marvel hero would actually do standup comedy. Also, there’s an actual plot with actual life-or-death stakes, something often skipped in superhero parodies. It’s silly and stupid, but also an important piece of Marvel history if there ever was one.

Next: Galactic town.


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Universal Monsters rewatch – Frankenstein 1931

Rewatching the Universal monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Dracula might get top billing, but for Universal Studios, Frankenstein was the definitive monster, and studio’s biggest cash cow.

Here’s what happens: Dr. Frankenstein has a theory, using electricity to bring life back from the dead. How could that possibly backfire on him?

Monster!: How do you act when you have no dialogue and you’re under tons of makeup? If you’re Boris Karloff, you make it work. He takes a childlike approach his portrayal as the monster. Along with his sad eyes, he makes the monster sympathetic. When it comes to being monstrous, though, he goes from childlike to animalistic, throwing people around the room, all fury and raw strength.

Also a monster!: Dwight Frye is back as the hunchback lab assistant Fritz. (Not Igor. We’ll get to Igor.) We’re never told why Fritz torments the monster like he does. Is this building off of Fritz’s superstitious nature, as seen in the start of the film, or does Fritz feel the monster is replacing him in Dr. Frankenstein’s eyes? It’s up to the viewer to decide.

Our hero: Dr. Frankenstein has often been analyzed for his God complex, but it’s his fiancé Elizabeth who is able to bring him out of his madness, and she’s the driving force for him to confront his creation at the end.

Hapless humans: There are a bunch of supporting characters, including Dr. Frankenstein’s friend Victor, his mentor Dr. Waldman, and the village Burgomaster. None of them can compete with Maria, the little girl the monster confronts by a lake in the film’s most controversial scene. Watching the movie today, I tensed up as soon as that scene started, knowing that little girl is about to GET IT.

Frights: Pretty much anytime the monster is on screen, it’s a set piece. The monster attacks with pure brute force, and is an unpredictable element throughout.

Laughs: Director James Whale snuck in a lot of humor into his horror films. I especially like Dr. Frankenstein’s bumbling father showing up at the castle with no idea what he’s in for. The elder Frankenstein later yuks it up some more in preparation for Henry and Elizabeth’s wedding.

Thoughts upon this viewing: Less than a year after Dracula, and you can see how the art and/or tech of filmmaking has taken a big step forward. Frankenstein really moves, with a lot of big blockbuster energy, and a truly epic climax. What else can I say? It’s freakin’ Frankenstein!

Next: Embalmer? I hardly know her!


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Fantastic Friday: Re-Doom

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. This is issue #5 of Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four (a.k.a. volume 2, issue 5), courtesy of superstar artist Jim Lee. We can’t reboot the Fantastic Four without also rebooting Dr. Doom, right?

Recap: Reed and Sue traveled to Wakanda to investigate the space anomaly that gave the FF their powers, only to be abducted by Dr. Doom. We begin with the previous issue’s other cliffhanger, where a mysterious man snuck into the Baxter Building. Ben and Johnny confront him, only to reveal that it’s… Wyatt Wingfoot! Ben and Johnny are ready for a fight, but Wyatt insists that the “Wyatt Wingfoot” who sabotaged the FF back in issue #1 was an imposter.

Wyatt explains that he was on assignment for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Eastern Europe investigation some hacking into the FF’s original spaceflight. He was betrayed by his own people and locked up, only to escape and make it to New York as a fugitive, seeking Reed’s help. Ben tries to contact Wakanda only to get a message that Reed and Sue are unavailable. Wyatt assumes the worst and says it’s up to the three of them to save Reed and Sue.

Cut to Latveria, where Dr. Doom introduces himself to captives, Reed, Sue, and Black Panther. “After all these years, we finally meet,” Doom says. Reed says he knows who Doom used to be, back when he was grad school student Victor Von Doom. In grad school, Reed and Doom ran in the same circle of genius friends, which also included Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Henry Pym. In grad school, Doom tested his design for a new mech suit in hopes of conquering Latveria. The suit blew up in his face, horribly scarring him. After leaving school and hiding out in Tibet to heal, Doom eventually take over Latveria, ruling it as a feared dictator.

Doom says both he and the FF are seeking the same mysterious object that emerged from the space anomaly in issue #1. He reveals that he has it — and it’s the Silver Surfer. Well, he’s not called that yet in this continuity. In this introduction scene, he’s just “humanoid.” Doom is attempting to syphon cosmic energy from the Surfer. When a scientist says they’ve hit a delay in the process, Doom kills the man right then and there. Doom then says that Reed will analyze the Surfer’s the powers. If Reed won’t comply, Doom will kill Sue.

Sue won’t have this, using her force fields to fight back. She, Reed, and Black Panther fight Doom’s robot guards, but they’re no match for Doom, who knocks Reed and Sue unconscious with energy blasts. Black Panther, however, escapes into Castle Doom’s ventilation system. Doom orders Wyatt Wingfoot to search for him. One of Wyatt’s cronies refers to him as “Kl’rt,” suggesting that this is the imposter. Later, Reed awakens to find Doom has rigged a still-unconscious Sue to a deathtrap-like device. Defeated, Reed says he’ll help Doom.

Johnny, Ben and the real Wyatt enter Latverian airspace flying an ECM (short for “electronic counter measure,” which I’m not sure is a type of aircraft), following Reed and Sue’s trail. They encounter a hologram of Dr. Doom, telling them “resistance is futile,” and then more robots attack. Wyatt says these are Doom’s “war-bots” and they are programmed with advanced combat skills. They’re no match for Ben and Johnny’s powers. Wyatt leads the two heroes into a nearby sewer drain.

More war-bots attack, and the heroes this time are rescued at the last minute by Black Panther. Once they escape, the imposter Kl’rt shows up and destroys the war-bots, saying the Fantastic Four’s survival is essential to his plan. He says he’s also planning on deactivating all of Dr. Doom’s defenses, leaving him vulnerable to attack.

In Castle Doom, Reed has invented a “flux inhibitor” that Doom can use to absorb the Surfer’s cosmic power. Before he and Doom can properly test the device, Reed, Johnny and Black Panther smash into the room. Everyone fights, while Reed frees Sue from the deathtrap. Then the imposter Kl’rt grabs hold of the flux inhibitor, absorbing the powers in place of Doom. Then he reveals to everyone that he’s not Wyatt Wingfoot, but Kl,rt, warrior of the Galactic Skrull Empire. Doom is ready for a fight, but Kl,rt says he’s already evolved from a Skrull into a Super-Skrull.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Dr. Doom initially offers Reed the first chance to absorb the Silver Surfer’s power. When Reed accepts, Doom stops him, saying this was only a test of Reed’s faith. What is this scene even about?

Fade out: Sue wears a white lab coat throughout the issue, perhaps to emphasize her a science-adventure and not just a damsel in distress (which she pretty much is in this one).

Clobberin’ time: I know it’s a cliché to point out stuff like this, but what are those tiny pouches on Ben’s belt? How can he even open them with his giant rock-monster hands?

Flame on: Johnny using his flame to burn off Wyatt’s homeless man beard is an intentional shout-out to the original Fantastic Four #4, when Johnny did that when he met Namor the Sub-Mariner. Also, Wyatt naps on the flight to Latveria, a shout-out to Wyatt napping in the Fantasticar in issue #52.

Commercial break: I love that the release date is “ahead.”

Trivia time: The other guy in the flashback alongside Reed, Doom, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Hank Pym is Rebel O’Reilly. Rebel is a new character created for Heroes Reborn: Iron Man who became a villain. He wore the Promethean armor, but was never called “The Promethean” as his villain name. When Tony Stark returns to the regular Marvel Universe, Rebel became a good guy and took over as Iron Man in the Heroes Reborn universe.

Fantastic or frightful? Once again, this is almost too much plot for one comic book. We’re retelling Dr. Doom’s origin, we’re paying off plotlines set up in the first issue, it’s a Black Panther team-up, and we’re introducing yet another new villain. None of these important events are given any breathing room, and it all still feels like a straightforward remake rather than any sort of creative reimagining.

Next: Galactic town.


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Univeral Monsters rewatch – Spanish Dracula 1931

Rewatching the Universal monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. In 1931, there wasn’t just one Dracula movie, there were two. Here’s the Spanish language version, known among fans as “Spanish Dracula.”

Here’s what happens: You’ve all heard the story by now. The Spanish language version of Dracula was made by casting Spanish-speaking actors who filmed their scenes at night on the sets of Dracula, using the same script. The two versions of the movie are mostly the same, but all the little differences are fascinating.

Monster!: Carlos Villarias plays Dracula as bug-eyed and grinning throughout. It gives the impression that this is all a game for him, and Drac is merely toying with his future victims

Also a monster!: As Renfield, actor Pablo Alvarez Rubio takes a go-big-or-go-home approach as the character, screaming and shrieking his way through every scene. The guy exhausted me. Dracula’s three brides are considerably different in this version, more animalistic than ghostly.

Our hero: Eduardo Arozamena plays a younger and more rugged version of Van Helsing, but without Edward Van Sloan’s gravitas. He has one great scene, though, when he tricks Dracula with a cross.

Hapless humans: The movie’s best performance is definitely Lupita Tovar as Eva (formerly Mina). She brings the “feisty Latina” thing to the role, outshining all her costars. Eva’s friend Lucia (formerly Lucy) expresses some romantic desire for Dracula. Could this be the beginning of the evolution of Dracula as a romantic figure rather than a horrifying monster?

Frights: One of the reasons this version is beloved is how it ups the ante with sex n’ violence, including some actual teeth-on-neck action. Pretty tame when compared to, say, Dead Alive, but it must have really been something in 1931.

Laughs: Manuel Arbo doesn’t make much of an impression as Martin, the blue collar voice of reason. He laughs at his own joke at one point, which is kind of annoying.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The camera work is a lot flashier and the movie spells out things left vague in the original. But, what we gain in clarity we lose in Tod Browning’s shadowy gothic atmosphere. Everything is brightly lit, and the fog and shadows are sorely missed. Even though I had a lot of fun watching it, it’s a mixed bag.

Next: Let’s all get promethean.


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Fantastic Friday: The Wakanda walk

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four #4 (a.k.a. vol. 2 #4), in which superstar artist Jim Lee continues to recreate the Marvel Universe by making it just like the regular Marvel Universe.

Gimmie a gimmick: This issue had a variant Christmas-themed cover, drawn by Whilce Portacio.

We begin in the African nation of Wakanda where a Wakandan soldier is killed after investigating a strange object that fell from the sky. Then we cut to the “concrete jungle” of New York, where Johnny is being chased Beatles-style by all his female fans. He sees the FF’s signal flare in the sky, and he flies off. Ben is also out in the city. He sees a woman he thinks is Alicia, but is mistaken. He too sees the signal flare.

Johnny arrives at the Baxter Building, where Sue announces that she was just testing the signal flare. Inside the building, Reed continues to investigate the mysterious space anomaly from vol. 2 issue #1. He says an object from the anomaly has crash-landed within Wakanda. Reed and Sue fly the team’s brand-new Fantasticar to Wakanda. They’re met by two Wakandan stealth ships. The pilots escort them to the city, where they are to have audience with the king. Back in New York, Ben says Alicia called, and then he and Johnny discover a homeless man has snuck inside the building. The man pulls out a gun and shoots at them, but then says he needs Reed’s help.

Reed and Sue meet with King T’Challa of Wakanda, who says he too is investigating the anomaly. He dons the garb of the Black Panther, saying he is not just king but “warrior avatar” of the Wakandans. The heroes investigate the jungle along with a bunch of Wakandan warriors. They are attacked by a mysterious lizard creature, who leaves behind an explosive device. Sue protects her and Reed with a force field.

Reed, Sue, and Black Panther continue to investigate, discovering a strange aircraft landing in the jungle, piloted by Wyatt Wingfoot, who in the Heroes Reborn continuity is a corrupt S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who betrayed the FF in the first issue. The three heroes sneak aboard the aircraft, only to be knocked out by a neural disrupter. Taking them prisoner, Wyatt flies off.

Reed, Sue, and Black Panther wake up in a strange place. Black Panther says he heightened senses tell him they are no longer in Wakanda, or in Africa. They turn to face Dr. Doom, who welcomes them to Latveria. It’s revealed that Reed and Doom know each other. Doom says he will prove himself to be Reed’s intellectual superior, and that none of them will leave Latveria alive.

Unstable molecule: Reed and Sue already know the Black Panther, having met at a “pan-African economic summit” one year earlier.

Fade out: This is the first time Sue uses her force field powers in Heroes Reborn continuity. A caption tells us she’s been working on developing this power between last issue and this one.

Clobberin’ time: Ben has a friend named Richie, whom he’s hired to drive him around New York. Ben destroys Richie’s car by jumping out of it when he thinks he sees Alicia, and then tells Richie he’ll invest in a convertible. The Marvel Wiki has no entry for Richie, while the Marvel Appendix fan site has an entry on a Ritchie character who appeared in Thor #332, who kinda/sorta looks like this character. (My theory: Could Richie be Franklin Richards, subconsciously checking in on this pocket universe he’s created?)

Flame on: Johnny dons a red FF uniform in this issue, similar to the one he wore for a while in the ‘70s. He says this is to help sell Fantastic Four toys, so he’s back to being a money/marketing guy in this continuity.

Commercial break: Bone claws!

Trivia time: Johnny says Toy Biz is making the FF toys. Toy Biz was a real company who produced Marvel action figures in the ‘90s. Marvel eventually bought Toy Biz, renaming it Marvel Toys, only for it to then go out of business when Marvel hit some financial woes.

Fantastic or frightful? After three issues with too much plot, here’s one with very little plot. Jim Lee’s versions of Black Panther and Dr. Doom look pretty cool.

Next: Latveria is lovely in the springtime.


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Universal monsters rewatch – Dracula 1931

Rewatching the Universal monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. This means we begin with one of the biggest and best, Dracula. Bela forever!

Here’s what happens: Count Dracula purchases a piece of property in London. Turns out he’s really a vampire, and he’s left the old world to come to London in search of new blood.

Monster!: What can I possibly say about Bela Lugosi as Dracula that hasn’t already said? It’s a rare thing for a single performance to define a character for all of history.

Also a monster!: As the demented Renfield Dwight Frye threatens to steal the movie from Lugosi. You could argue that the characters bring him in to be interviewed not once or twice but three times is too repetitive, but that third interview gives us Renfield’s “Rats!” speech, which is all good.

Dracula’s three brides don’t do much except add to Dracula’s dark mysteriousness, and they do that well.

Our hero: After Lugosi and Frye, the movie’s other powerhouse performance is Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing. Although he’s a far cry from the action hero Helsing of recent adaptations, the scene where he stands up to Dracula personifies the movie’s “logic defeats superstition” theme.

Hapless humans: Helen Chandler as Lucy has a great scene near the end of the film where she is partially mesmerized by Dracula. Beyond that, characters from the original novel, Jonathan Harker, Dr. Seward, and Lucy Westerna don’t make as much of an impact, and their scenes are the ones some people use to criticize the movie as too talky or old fashioned.

Frights: It’s true there’s not a lot of action in Dracula. The scary scenes are all atmosphere, with violence happening offscreen. This is partially because of censorship of the time, and partially because director Tod Browning loved classic gothic literature and wanted to capture that feel. The real fear of Dracula is not necessarily biting and blood, but that feeling that someone might be sneaking into your bedroom at night while you’re sleeping with you unaware.

Laughs: For comic relief, Charles K. Gerrard plays sanitarium worker Martin. Although he’s represents the lower class, and yet he too represents logic defeating superstition. His funniest lines come from how he has zero patience for any of this supernatural craziness.

Thoughts on this viewing: Is Dracula truly a masterpiece, or is it a movie with some great scenes and some boring scenes? I’ve gone back and forth over the years, coming down on the “masterpiece” side. The too-talky scenes demand your attention, containing important character and story beats that can help you appreciate the spooky atmospheric scenes. And Lugosi is terrific, of course.

Next: Up all night.


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Fantastic Friday: Crossovers reborn

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re on the third issue of Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four (a.k.a. volume 2 issue 3) and it’s already a crossover. Marvel’s just gotta Marvel.

In this new continuity, the FF have just barely gotten their powers, only for them to team up with S.H.I.E.L.D. as Atlantis is (of course) attacking the surface world. This issue begins not with the FF, but with the Avengers, who also got the Heroes Reborn reboot. For this week’s blog, I tracked down and read Rob Liefeld’s Heroes Reborn: Avengers. I know I’ve defended Liefeld in the past, but not this time. His Avengers is completely unreadable, making Youngblood look like freakin’ Watchmen.

Anyway, Captain America and Thor fly in with a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents along for the ride. The fight the giant whale monster Giganto, who can now shoot energy beams out of his mouth. Nearby, in the center of the conflict, Sue uses her invisibility to get to Namor, arguing for a peaceful solution. Namor actually starts to listen, only for Red and Johnny to attack him. Ben is there as well, but he’s distracted by New Yorkers who think he’s one of the monsters. Namor awesome strength makes short work of Reed, Johnny, and Ben.

Just when it looks like Namor has won, he gets struck from by Thor’s hammer. Both being immortal (or at least long-lived), the two of them have some familiarity with each other. Captain America joins them, pulling off his mask. Namor is shocked, as the two of them knew each back in World War II.

From there, we cut to “Elsewhen,” which is not Huntara’s home dimension but a flashback to Sue asking Ben to pilot the FF’s initial space mission. Sue reminds Ben (and the reader) that there is a mysterious anomaly out in space, and she adds that someone in Eastern Europe has attempted to hack the spaceship’s data files. Ben says he’s done with fighting and action, and wants a quiet life, but Sue disagrees, saying Ben has always wanted to be an astronaut. This is all a dream, though, as we cut back to Ben waking up in the present, having crashed into the home of a woman named Alicia. She is a blind sculptress, who has been working with the city to temporarily convert her art gallery into a makeshift hospital during the attack. Ben says he admires her guts.


Reed, Sue, and Johnny catch up with Namor and the two Avengers. Namor collapses, overcome by surface world pollution. Atlantean warrior Krang, protected from the pollution thanks to his armor, sees this as his opportunity to seize power. The FFers and the Avengers fight him. Lady Dorma is also there, and she asks for Reed’s help to save Namor.

Elsewhere in NYC, Nick Fury flies down in a S.H.I.E.L.D. quinjet to pick up Ben. Only Ben throws Fury out, essentially hijacking the quinjet. He flies to battle Giganto, to fight the big monster. To add insult to injury, Ben even lights up one of Fury’s cigars along the way. (Remember, though, that this is not the real Nick Fury, but a life-model decoy secretly working undercover for the Sons of the Serpent, which will later be revealed in Heroes Reborn: Captain America.)

Reed deduces that Namor has not collapsed because of pollution, but that he’s been poisoned by a rare “sea wasp.” Dorma says Krang has deceived Namor, and Namor regains consciousness to swear revenge. Nearby, Ben sets the quinjet to self-destruct and flies it right into Giganto’s mouth. Giganto dies in a fiery explosion. It looks like a kamikaze flight, until Johnny swoops down from the sky and saves Ben from the blast.

Namor has recovered thanks to Reed’s help, and he orders the Atlantean army to stand down, telling his troops that Krang has deceived them all. Namor and Captain America share a salute, with Namor saying Atlantis will fight pollution through “more appropriate channels.” Then a paparazzi snaps a photo of the FF, with Johnny proudly telling reporters their name is the Fantastic Four.

Cut to one week later, where the FF have moved into their new headquarters in the Baxter Building, courtesy of wealthy philanthropist Saul Baxter. Nick Fury tells the team that the White House has given the FF special license to be “officially sanctioned troubleshooters.” Sue says that she and Johnny have severed their ties with the family business, making the FF its own organization. Then Fury ends the issue on an ominous note, saying that S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Wyatt Wingfoot, who tried to sabotage the FF’s original spaceflight, is still missing.

Unstable molecule: In addition to being an astrophysicist, Reed is also a medical doctor. It’s the classic comic book trope of “genius” being an expert in multiple sciences.

Fade out: Namor is once again attracted to Sue, but not just for her beauty but also her intelligence and willingness to fight to do the right thing.

Clobberin’ time: Ben’s whole story arc in this issue is regaining his confidence by reclaiming his fighter pilot skills. His meeting Alicia, who is not horrified by his appearance, no doubt helps as well.

Flame on: We don’t know strong or weak the characters’ powers are in this continuity, but I find it unlikely that Johnny can carry Ben while flying. Let’s just assume Johnny created a cushion of hot air under Ben to carry them both.

Four and a half: Remembering that Heroes Reborn is taking place inside a pocket universe created by Franklin Richard’s reality-bending powers, this Thor is not the same Thor who disappeared at the end of Onslaught, but a Thor construct of Franklin’s creation. The “real” Thor shows up near the end of Heroes Reborn: Avengers to set the stage for Heroes Return.

Commercial break: I don’t know that I’d want to play a game called Three Dirty Dwarves.

Trivia time: Heroes Reborn: Avengers was a pretty crowded comic, with a membership of Captain America, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Tigra, Hawkeye, and Swordsman, with Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, who became Ant-Man and Wasp, and a comic relief robot who would eventually become Ultron. Also among the supporting cast was the FF’s own Agatha Harkness, serving as Scarlet Witch’s mentor.

In Heroes Reborn: Avengers #1, it’s said that the Fantastic Four cannot help the Avengers fight Kang because they’re in the midst of some other conflict. But in this issue, they meet the FF for the first time. And this can’t take place before Liefeld’s Avengers #1 because that’s when Thor joined the team. The Marvel Wiki just throws up its hands and says, “This is a chronological error.”

And never forget that Liefeld’s work on Heroes Reborn gave the world this image:

Fantastic or frightful? Jim Lee and company are packing a lot of plot into one comic, almost to its detriment. There is so much ground to cover that we never really get the sense of New York being invaded by Atlantis. And, again, what is supposed to be an updated, modern take on the characters feels more like the same old Marvel we’ve always known.

Next: Wakandarama.


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Fantastic Friday: All this and Namor too

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re continuing the Heroes Reborn event with celebrity artist Jim Lee. In Vol. 2 Issue #2, we’re not just establishing a brand-new Fantastic Four, but the entire Marvel Universe apparently.

In this newly-rebooted timeline, the FF made their fateful spaceflight to stop S.H.I.E.L.D. from destroying a space anomaly that might contain alien intelligence. Our four heroes were irradiated in the fight and gained their powers, only to crash land on a mysterious island and be taken prisoner underground by the Mole Man. As this issue begins, we see the Mole Man has the ship’s damaged quantum drive, and is threatening to use it to destroy the surface world’s greatest cities as a sacrifice to the “great one.” Reed and Ben agree that the damaged drive could explode, vaporizing the entire island.

Johnny attacks, but is no match for the Mole Man’s energy staff, which he uses to control not just the animals on the island, but the plants and the ground as well. He buries Johnny in mud and sends some of his strange monsters after the other three. Ben and Reed work together to stop the monsters, only for the Mole Man to say they can’t defeat all his minions. Sue and Ben then quickly work out a plan to shine light off a giant diamond (this cave is filled with diamonds) right into the Mole Man’s sensitive eyes.

The FF recover the quantum drive and escape to the surface of the island. A bright light shines in their faces, telling them their problems are solved. We then abruptly cut to the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. Lady Dorma meets with Lord Krang. Krang wants to meet with the prince to discuss revealing themselves to the surface world and conquering the Earth, but Dorma says the prince is still in mourning. Then another Atlantean swims up, saying his sister is near death, having been infected with “dark waters.” Krang has heard enough, and breaks in to meet the prince, Namor.

Namor gets a splash page (heh) introduction, explaining his half-human heritage and his recent ascension as the new ruler of Atlantis. The caption states, “He is perhaps the most powerful man on the planet.” Namor is moved by Krang’s description of the “black poison” from the surface world, and he says the time has come for humans to feel the wrath of Atlantis.

Elsewhere, the FF wake up, having been knocked out by a “synaptic scrambler.” They’re trapped in a plain white room, now wearing matching white suits. They figure out how to escape by using their powers in tandem. They’re attacked by gun-wielding guards, so Ben punches a hole to the outside, only to discover they are on board a giant floating platform. (You and I know this is a S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier, but the comic frustratingly never tells us that this is S.H.I.E.L.D. So much for attracting new readers.) The FF are captured again and taken before Director Nick Fury.

Fury believes that Reed went to space to destroy the anomaly, and Reed says he thought S.H.I.E.L.D. was going to destroy it. Before they can further compare notes, there’s an alert that Namor and the Atlantis army has attacked New York, converging on the UN Building. Reed says the FF’s new powers can be used to help. Fury agrees, adding that he had nothing to do with Wyatt Wingfoot betraying the team last issue. The heroes prepare for battle in some modified S.H.I.E.L.D. suits. (And here’s where the issue finally uses the name “S.H.I.E.L.D.”) Sue borrows some tape from a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (convenient!) and tapes a “4” logo onto the team’s suits, so show they are not S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, but a team of their own.

In NYC, Namor is out just randomly trashing cars when Ben and Johnny drop down from above. Namor easily punches out Ben, but decides his army isn’t enough. He uses his trumpet horn (which he just had on him, I guess) and he summons the giant monster Giganto, saying his vengeance will not be denied.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: By stretching part of his arm over the wall of their cell, Reed can tell what the wall is made of and how breakable and/or flammable it is.

Fade out: Sue turns part of the Mole Man’s cave wall invisible, just enough for light from outside to steam in. This again begs the question of how do her powers work around light again?

Clobberin’ time: Ben says he knows Nick Fury, that Fury saved his life once during the Gulf War. But then Fury suggests he’s a lot older, saying he hasn’t seen Namor since “the big one.”

Flame on: We’re continuing the running gag of Johnny being a money/merchandizing guy when he says the Fantastic Four name could be a great marketing gimmick.

Commercial break: Marvel spent five pages of house ads in this issue promoting Deadpool #1, in case you’re wondering how Deadpool ever got popular:

Trivia time: Surprise! This isn’t really Nick Fury in these issues. Captain America Vol. 2 #11 will reveal that all of Fury’s appearances in Heroes Reborn are really a Fury life model decoy working deep undercover to secretly sabotage S.H.I.E.L.D.

Fantastic or frightful? Instead of a hard reboot, this feels more like the same old Marvel Universe we all know. It’s also a case of too much content, as the Mole Man and his ARMY OF MONSTERS is completely forgotten about after a few pages just so this can be a Namor/S.H.I.E.L.D. issue. Jim Lee continues to bring the ‘90s “Image house style” to this, and unfortunately that’s the best thing about the issue.

Next: The outfit’s a bit much.


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