Fantastic Friday: Jim be gone

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

To be continued!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: Heraldic.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – Dracula’s Daughter 1936

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the new Blu-ray box, at least. This time Dracula gets the sequel treatment, but Bela Lugosi is a no-show. Stories vary as to why Lugosi is out, but the good news is that we get Dracula’s Daughter in his place.

Here’s what happened: Immediately following the events of Dracula, Van Helsing has trouble explaining to police what happened down in Drac’s lair, so he calls on a former student, psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth, to help him. Then the mysterious Countess Zaleska shows up in London with a plot of her own.

Monster! Yes, Zaleska is Dracula’s daughter, though the movie skips over details like who mom was or what Zaleksa was doing during the first movie. Her deal is that she’s seeking a cure for her vampirism, but just can’t resist the thirst for blood.

Also a monster! Zaleska’s manservant is an otherworldly brute named Sandor. Unlike Zaleska, he’s perfectly fine with the vampire life, and seems to enjoy brooding and dwelling in darkness. When he feels rejected by Zaleska, he betrays her, which kicks off the movie’s climax.

Our hero: Having Jeffrey be a psychiatrist reestablishes the science vs. superstition themes of the first Dracula. In the end, he nearly gives in the superstition side, by volunteering to be turned into a vampire to save his love, Janet.

Hapless humans: While it’s of course great to have actor Edward Van Sloane back as Van Helsing, he doesn’t have as much to do, and the movie forgets about him for long stretches. A whole bunch of Scotland Yard cops fill out the supporting cast.

Thrills: The movie’s most talked-about scene occurs when Zaleska entraps (seduces?) and kills a young woman, in the guise of a painter wanting to paint the woman’s portrait. Volumes have been written by people much smarter than me about what this scene represents, etc., but let’s not overlook the basics of just how well-written and acted the scene is.

Laughs: Jeffrey and Janet do a lot of romantic comedy antics, with a running joke about her prank calling him with a bunch of funny voices.

Thoughts upon this viewing: This is a less flashy, more talky monster flick, but there’s still a lot to like about it. I wonder what might have been if the filmmakers had gone bigger, or if Lugosi had been involved, but this is pretty great for what it is.

Next: Walk this way.

****

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Fantastic Friday: The Inhuman condition

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s Volume 2, issue #9, as superstar artist Jim Lee is nearing the end of his time with the series, and there’s only a few issues left of Heroes Reborn.

We begin with Firelord flying through space, with captions explaining that he is the herald of Galactus, currently on another task. He’s searching for planets with “catalyst pods,” devices Galactus left on lifeless planets to alert Galactus should the planets ever become life-sustaining – so Galactus can then devour them. Galactus contacts Firelord and says the Silver Surfer, one of Firelord’s “fellow heralds” has found a suitable world for harvest. The planet is Earth, and the Surfer and another Herald, Terrax, are on their way to Earth. Firelord flies off to join them.

On Earth, Reed, Sue, and Ben have been taken prisoner by the Inhumans. Our heroes traveled to the Inuhmans’ secret home in the Himalayas in search of Johnny, who disappeared along with the Inhuman royal family last issue, as well as a possible clue to the mysterious space anomaly that gave the FF their powers. Reed tells Sue and Johnny to let the Inhumans take them prisoner for now, in hopes of a peaceful solution.

The FF are led into the Inhuman throne room. They meet up with the royal family and a whole bunch of other Inhumans. Also, the throne room contains giant sculptures of Galactus and his heralds, with Reed theorizing that the sculptures represent the Inhuman gods. Medusa speaks on behalf of Black Bolt, saying that Johnny is safe with the Inhumans’ healer, and that he and the FF have jeopardized the secrecy and sanctity of the Inhumans’ home, which has been safely hidden for two thousand years. Sue promises that the Inhumans’ secret will be safe with the FF. Medusa isn’t buying it, and says the FF must never leave the city.

Ben wants to start a fight, but is throttled by Gordon (who, let’s not forget once singlehandedly defeated the entire Fantastic Four). Ben breaks free and the battle begins. Ben goes after Black Bolt, who throws Ben around with awesome super-strength. Reed and Medusa are evenly matched with the stretching/hair powers. Karnak can’t break through Sue’s force fields, and then Gorgon goes after Ben again. Reed and Ben do the old slingshot routine to drive back the Inhumans, and then Sue turns all three of them invisible for a quick escape.

As Reed, Sue, and Ben sneak out of the city, they’re found by Johnny and Crystal. Johnny is dressed in weird Inhuman robes that match Crystal’s outfit. At first, the others believe Johnny has betrayed them and sided with the Inhumans. Johnny cautions his teammates not to jump to conclusions, and that the Inhumans don’t want to imprison the FF. Instead the Inhumans want the FF’s help.

Cut to later, where the FF and the Inhuman royal family are gathered around a conference table. Medusa again speaks for Black Bolt, saying the Inhumans gain their powers from Terrigen mists, safely concealed in caves deep beneath the Earth. Black Bolt’s brother Maximus recently ventured into underground caves in search of the mists, a violation of Inhuman law. Maximus disappeared, and deadly mutatants (not mutants) have been attacking the city ever since. Medusa says they believe this is an omen of “the great devourer.” Black Bolt wants to lead an expedition into the caves, but do that the Inhumans need the Makula tablet. You’ll remember this was the tablet prominently featured in the previous issue, containing the symbols that correspond Reed’s space anomaly.

Reed checks out the tablet, and deduces how to translate into a map of the caves. Crystal is impressed, but the rest of the Inhumans remain skeptical. As the two groups venture into the caves, though, Ben and Gorgon become pals. Venturing further into the caves, the heroes pass by some dinosaurs who are not attacking but running from something even bigger. The heroes are then captured under what looks like an ordinary net. Maximus emerges from the shadows, saying he’s not there to find the Terrigen mists, but to control them. He proclaims that he is the “great devourer” of the Inhumans’ myths come to life.

To be continued!

Wait, there’s more: This issue contains a four-page preview of 1998’s Alpha Flight #1, a flashback scene of AF’s leader Guardian training Wovlerine, back when Wolvie was in Alpha Flight as “Weapon X” before becoming a fugitive and finally ending up with the X-Men. Guardian thinks he has the upper hand on Wolverine, only for Wolverine to surprise him and almost lose control and kill him. If this is a flashback, why is Guardian called Guardian and not his original codename, Vindicator? Because the final panel reveals this is a dream Guardian is having. He fears that although he is alive again and Alpha Flight is back, there might be bad times coming. (And, in case anyone’s wondering, this series took place in the regular Marvel Universe and not the Heroes Reborn universe.)

Unstable molecule: Reed earns the Inhumans’ trust not just by translating the map off the tablet, but by doing so in mere seconds.

Fade out: Karnak, who can find the weakness in any object, can’t find one in Sue’s force fields, which is a big win for Sue.

Clobberin’ time: Reed tells Ben to execute plan “Romeo-Charlie-Able,” which a caption tells us is “retreat and counter-attack.” Ben has no idea what this is, though, revealing he hasn’t been paying attention in the FF’s training sessions.

Flame on: Johnny is able to spot his teammates while they’re invisible because he can recognize their heat signatures. That’s like a Daredevil power.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal is the first Inhuman to come to the FF’s defense, hinting that she and Johnny have gotten to know each other, but that isn’t really seen on screen.

This issue suggests that in the Heroes Reborn universe, Medusa’s hair is not just alive, but can stretch with equal power as Reed’s, so that she can keep up with him in a fight.

Commercial break: The Badger is back!

Trivia time: What’s going on with Alpha Flight? The preview advertised volume 2 of their series, in which the Alphas discovered an evil conspiracy operating within Department H, the organization that oversees (oversaw?) the Alpha Flight teams. Alpha Flight vol. 2 sold poorly and ended with issue #20, with some of the subplots remaining unresolved to this day.

This issue’s Bullpen Bulletins page announces the production of a brand-new Blade movie to be released in 1998! The article says the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and even Venom will also eventually get movies. Not wrong!

Fantastic or frightful? This issue is pretty much all plot and exposition. The more interesting bits are the FF/Inhumans fight and the Star Trek-ish opening with Firelord, but, again, the Heroes Reborn thing is mostly repeating what others have done and not much else.

Next: Jim be gone.

****

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Universal Monsters rewatch – Werewolf of London 1935

Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Six years before The Wolf Man, the series first wolfed out with the lesser-known Werewolf of London. Something something pina colada at Trader Vic’s something.

Here’s what happens: Botanists in Tibet discover a rare “wolf flower,” and bring it home to London. One scientist, the put-upon Wilfred Glendon, is exposed to the flower and becomes… a werewolf! In London!

Monster!: Allegedly, censors had a big problem with this movie, insisting that the werewolf not look too wolf-y. Therefore, this comes across more as a Jekyll/Hyde movie than a werewolf one. The good news is that actor Henry Hull makes the minimalist makeup work thanks to his great intense stares.

Also a monster!: One of the movie’s most eye-popping sequences is the appearance of a gigantic carnivorous plant on display for the public. It’s a terrific piece of puppetry, and it eats frogs!

Our hero: Not only is Glendon a werewolf, but the plot is further complicated by his wife’s flirtations with her childhood crush Paul, now a rival scientist. Then more complications, as we meet Paul’s uncle, a hardass Scotland Yard cop.

Hapless humans: Another botanist Dr. Yogami, appears at first like he might be the villain, but then reverts to the character who gives dire warnings about playing God with science, and ultimately regrets his actions.

Frights: Again, because of censorship concerns, the filmmakers can’t really go for it when it comes to werewolf attacks, so instead the emphasis is mostly on Glendon’s efforts to avoid transforming, with the claws n’ fangs action being fleeting.

Laughs: There’s a group of high society who serve as comic relief. They act like a Greek chorus, commenting on the proceedings throughout. And they wear the biggest hats anyone’s ever seen.

Thoughts upon this viewing: This movie is a lot of fun! It lacks the atmosphere and production value of the Whale/Browning classics, but it’s still a lot of fun. It’s like something Roger Corman might have directed, and I mean that as a compliment.

Next: Congratulations, it’s a girl!

****

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Fantastic Friday: Let’s everybody get Inhuman

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. This is vol. 2 #1, finding us still in the middle of Heroes Reborn, in which superstar artist Jim Lee continues retelling the FF’s early days in his own blockbuster visual style. We’ve had Dr. Doom, Black Panther, Sub-Mariner, and the Mole Man, so next on Jim Lee’s greatest hits list is the Inhumans.

The issue begins with Sue having a vision of a little boy, who we the readers know is Franklin. Sue is frightened of her increasing awareness of having lived another life in another timeline. Cut to later, where Sue, Ben, and Johnny are in Reed’s lab, doing the Danger Room thing as a classic excuse-for-the-characters-to-use-their-powers-for-a-few-issues thing. It also serves to teach Johnny and Ben about teamwork, as they can only outsmart their tests by working together. Ben and Johnny joke about Sue treating them like kids, and they call her a “mother hen.” This further upsets her.

Cut to the New York Museum of Natural History, where Reed and Tony Stark attending a gala to celebrate a new archeology exhibit featuring historic relics recently discovered in Tibet. The rest of the FF arrive, just in time for a presentation of an ancient tablet that appears to be evidence of a lost civilization predating humans. The tablet has strange writing on it, which Reed recognizes as the same strange writing he saw in the Mole Man’s caverns from Vol. 2 #2. Reed deduces that the tablet is somehow linked to the mysterious stellar anomaly that gave the FF their powers.

Johnny flirts with a sexy redhead named Frankie, only to learn that she’s Tony Stark’s date. Feeling rejected, Johnny leaves the gala alone. Then a woman in green body armor attacks the museum, zapping Ben with a psionic blast and stealing the tablet. On a nearby rooftop, the woman sends a message to others, saying the secret of the Great Refuge is safe. She spoke to soon, though, as she is attacked and subdued by Johnny. She reveals her name is Crystal, just another of her kind, Gorgon, attacks.

Gorgon (who, let’s not forget, once defeated the Fantastic Four singlehandedly) and Karnak are here, but they’ve been redesigned considerably, wearing edgy ‘90s “street clothes.” Gorgon and Crystal argue about Crystal’s actions, allowing time for the rest of the FF to arrive. Karnak summons giant teleporting dog Lockjaw for a quick escape. Lockjaw not only teleports Crystal, Gorgon, and Karnak away, but they take Johnny with them.

Later, Reed, Sue, and Johnny are in the FF’s jet. Reed has formed a plan, hoping to find Johnny by returning to the spot in Tibet where the tablet was found. Upon approaching the Himalayas, the jet enters a dampening field, shutting down all its systems. Ben manages to bring the crashing ship down for a landing in the snow. A group of shadowy figures watches the FF from a distance. One of them is revealed to be Black Bolt, and the others ask what should be done with the three strangers. Reed, Sue, and even Ben collapse in the snow, and we finally get the reveal of the Inhumans – Black Bolt, Medusa, Gordon, Karnak, and Triton. Medusa says Black Bolt will spare their lives… for now.

Unstable molecule: This issue reminds us that Reed and Tony Stark are former college buddies in the Heroes Reborn universe, with them cracking jokes about the good old days.

Fade out: Sue is one running the Danger Room program instead of Reed, and she dons a weird-looking VR helmet to do it. This might seem like an unnecessary detail, but it shows her taking an active role in the team’s leadership.

Clobberin’ time: Ben debuts a somewhat ridiculous new belt in this issue, one with number 4s going around his waist. Then, in the Himalayas, Ben has a good ol’ Image Comics-style belt that’s lined with a bunch of tiny pouches. It’s just not a ‘90s superhero comic without lots of tiny pouches!

Flame on: After all that talk about teamwork, there’s one panel where Johnny uses his powers to light Ben’s cigar for him, which was a nice touch.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal is back, and note that this is the Crystal of the Marvel Universe, and not a construct of the Heroes Reborn universe. Her memories have been rewired, just like the FF and the Avengers. The rest of the Inhuman Royal family, though, are Heroes Reborn constructs.

Although it was never made officials, the woman Frankie is generally agreed to be the Heroes Reborn version of Frankie Raye, Johnny’s ex-girlfriend and former FF alternate team member.

Four and a half: Franklin’s cameo in this issue again sets up the sooner-rather-than-later ending of Heroes Reborn, in which all this will be revealed to be a world of Franklin’s own making.

Commercial break: “How can we market this comic to new readers?” “Why not a little girl and a bird?”

Trivia time: The American Museum of Natural History, located in the real world at 79th Street and Central Park West, is a favorite battling grounds for a lot of Marvel heroes and villains. Spider-Man’s enemy Stegron has a particular interest in the museum, enacting multiple plots there. Spidey also fought Kraven and Calypso in the museum. At another time, Hawkeye, Mockingbird brought Old West character the Phantom Rider back to the present there. And when Marvel had the Godzilla license, our own Fantastic Four duked out with the big G on the museum grounds.

Fantastic or frightful? Heroes Reborn continues to be more remake rather than reboot, with much of this feeling familiar to what came before, and not a lot new to say.

Next: “There they are, Albert. Faces of stone.”

****

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Universal monsters rewatch – Bride of Frankenstein 1935

Rewatching the Universal monster movies. The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. The first sequel of the bunch, Bride of Frankenstein, is also one of the biggest and baddest of monster history and movie history.

Here’s what happens: Beginning the same night the first movie ended, Frankenstein’s monster ravages the countryside, while Dr. Frankenstein is lured back into the lab by a fellow mad scientist. Their stories converge as the Bride is created.

 Monster!: The monster kills and maims his way throughout the movie, with some pretty brutal violence, only to learn speech and take some agency for his actions in the movie’s second half. Having the monster talk remains a controversial choice to this day. Some believe that it makes him less scary and more childlike, while others believe that it’s necessary character development. I say that neither side is right nor wrong.

 

Then there’s the bride. It’s true that she doesn’t do much, but the huge buildup to her debut, her striking image, and just her mere presence make her a worthy inclusion in scary movie history.

Also a monster!: The monster and the bride are the marquee stars, but it’s Dr. Pretorius who fills the antagonist role. Actor Ernest Thesiger gives 100 percent, making the most of the script’s macabre humor, but never losing his character’s sense of menace.

Our hero: Dr. Frankenstein is less mad this time, and cast instead as the hero, after his wife has an odd apocalyptic vision. He gets back into monster-making reluctantly, only so he can rescue his wife from Dr. Pretorius.

Hapless humans: Supporting cast includes Dr. Frankenstein’s wife, a bunch of kooky graverobbers (allegedly called “ghouls” in the script). Of special note is the blind hermit who befriends the monster.

 Frights: As noted above, Frankenstein’s monster kills a lot of folks, usually just by smacking them around. Then the monster and Dr. Pretorius team up to blackmail Dr. Frankenstein in the second half of the movie, giving the plot a lot of urgency.

Laughs: Una O’Connor is back, this time playing a villager later revealed to be the Frankenstein’s housekeeper. She repeats her comedic screaming from The Invisible Man. Also worth noting is Pretorius’ experiments, tiny people in jars who speak in cartoon squeaks, and include a buffoonish glutton king horny for his queen.

Thoughts upon this viewing: They say no movie is perfect, but Bride of Frankenstein is as close to perfect as it gets. 

****

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Universal monsters rewatch – The Invisible Man 1933

Rewatching the Universal monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. Director James Whale is back, bringing his signature combination of creepiness and comedy to 1933’s The Invisible Man.

Here’s what happens: A mysterious bandaged man rents a room above an especially quirky inn. It’s eventually revealed that this is fugitive scientist Jack Griffith, whose experiments have turned him… invisible!

Monster!: Claude Raines plays the Invisible Man with equal parts menace and macabre humor, often with just his voice in some scenes. I was reminded a little bit of Freddy Kruger, a jokey monster who will totally kill you while cracking wise. Of course, we mustn’t forget all the effects that brought the Invisible Man to life. The filmmakers really went the extra mile to add a lot of little details to convince audiences there’s an invisible man in the room.

Also a monster!: Fellow scientist Kemp appears at first to be the romantic lead, but he’s quickly recruited to be the Invisible Man’s reluctant accomplice. It’s great fun to see Kemp get more and more frightened and panicky as the movie goes on.

Our hero: If Kemp isn’t the hero, who is? That would be the character known only “Chief Detective.” The mind games he plays with Invisible Man in the second half of the movie are thrilling, as the two are evenly matched in their attempts to outwit each other.

Hapless humans: Flora (Gloria Stuart from Titanic!) is the Invisible Man’s former love who humanizes our villain somewhat. Her father and fellow scientist Dr. Cranley (Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life!) to provide some exposition.

Frights: Invisibility also turns a person murderously insane in this movie, so the Invisible Man doesn’t care who he kills, and goes a spree where he strangles folks and derails a train. Universal liked the train crash footage so much, the studio reused it later in other films.

Laughs: The inn is filled with all sorts of kooky characters, but none kookier than Una O’Connor, whose shrieking hysterics are delightful to some and annoying to others, but nonetheless something the movie is famous for.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The Invisible Man is just a delight from beginning to end. Smartly written, lovingly crafted, and acted with a sense of fun and playfulness. An absolute must-see.

Next: Nice day for a white wedding. Nice day to… START AGAIN!!!

****

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Fantastic Friday: Emergency Wolverine cameo

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re officially halfway through Heroes Reborn with issue #7 (a.k.a. Vol. 2 Issue 7). I suspect the writing was on the wall by now that Heroes Reborn wasn’t working out, hence the sales-friendly Wolverine cover.

The issue begins with Ben in the hospital, following his guest spot in Heroes Reborn: Iron Man #6, in which he destroyed a gamma core to save New York, severely burning his hands in the process. Johnny jokes with Ben, pretending to give him a “Game Master” handheld videogame as a gift, which Ben can’t use because his hands are bandaged. But then Johnny does something genuinely nice, giving Ben the real gift of an authentic Cuban cigar. Then Alicia shows up, forgiving Ben for missing their date, what with all that Dr. Doom stuff happening. Ben says he’s glad they finally have some time to spend together.

On the way back to HQ, Reed receives an alert, saying his latest experiment is nearing on completion. Reed says he’s investigating a possible link between the recent appearance of the Silver Surfer and the mysterious space anomaly that gave the FF their powers. (Keep in mind that Heroes Reborn is an alternate reality, so this is re-imagined version of our heroes’ origins). Theorizing that the FF’s powers originate in “another plane of existence,” or a “parallel world,” he had built a portal to another dimension he names the Negative Zone.

Reed, Sue, and Johnny don somewhat ridiculous-looking spacesuits for the journey into the Negative Zone. The board their ship, which I believe is merely this series’ version of the Fantasticar, and take off through the portal. After flying through the trippy-looking distortion area, they come across Blastaar the Living Bomb-burst, who’s just hanging out on a nearby asteroid, apparently. Blastaar easily destroys the Fantasticar. Just before he and the FF can fight, the Watcher appears, saying Blastaar’s senseless attack has made it necessary for him to intervene.

Then things get really weird. Reed finds himself transported elsewhere, only see Wolverine attacking an alternate universe version of Reed. Except that there’s no X-Men or mutants in Heroes Reborn, so Reed has no idea who Wolvie is. He then sees alternate versions of Ben and Johnny, as well as who we readers recognize as She-Hulk, Storm, and Rogue. Reed checks his “chronolog,” and deduces that he’s watching images from the past. Reed ponders how he has existed in two realities at once.

Then it’s Johnny’s turn, who has a vision of himself marrying Alicia instead of Ben. Sue’s vision is next, and is the most disturbing. She sees Franklin and his nanny Agatha Harkness. Sue instinctively suspects that Franklin is her long-lost son. Franklin runs past Sue and into his real mom, the Sue of another dimension. Then the Watcher reappears, introducing himself to the FF.

The Watcher says, “I have merely revealed to you a world that all of you already knows exists.” He says it’s up to the FF to restore this other world, and that the consequences could have a profound impact through the entire universe. The Watcher then teleports the heroes back to the Baxter Building, as if everything they just experienced never happened at all. Sue, however, is heartbroken after seeing a son she never knew.

Cut to outer space, where the Silver Surfer reunites with Galactus. The Surfer says that Earth is different from all other planets Galactus has harvested. He asks for further investigation. Galactus refuses, however, saying his hunger is too great. A disappointed Surfer can only say, “Very well, master.” On the last page, the Watcher speaks directly to the reader, saying he always watched and never interfered… until now.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed’s vision is a scene from the Fantastic Four vs. X-Men miniseries. Wolverine refers to Kitty Pryde, whom Reed was trying to help at that time. It’s not clear why this moment was chosen for Reed to relive out of all his memories, except that Wolverine sells comics.

Fade out: The Marvel Wiki approximates Sue’s vision taking place sometime after Fantastic Four annual #18. The FF spend that whole annual in space without Franklin, so I’m not clear why that comic in particular is singled out, but anything goes when you’re having an interdimensional time vision.

Clobberin’ time: Ben’s cigar is a relic of the past. Marvel’s ban on smoking started in 1990 when the company banned images of smoking in trading cards, and then in 2001 the company announced that characters would no longer smoke in the comics, with Wolverine, the Thing, Nick Fury, and Gambit being singled out by name. Later, in 2015, Disney executive Bob Iger announced that smoking would no longer appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Flame on: Johnny’s vision is of course from the wedding issue back in issue #300. That means the Alicia of the vision is really Lyja the Skrull in disguise, but this issue doesn’t seem interested in referencing that.

Fantastic fifth wheel: There’s no She-Hulk in Heroes Reborn, and yet Reed has no reaction to seeing her in her FF uniform. That Wolverine guy really does hog all the attention.

Four and a half: It’s possible that Franklin seen in Sue’s vision might be Franklin of the regular Marvel Universe, who created the Heroes Reborn universe with his reality bending powers. He runs right towards one Sue before going to the other, though, so you never know.

Commercial break: “She pressing charges? I get that a lot.”

Trivia time: Also in Heroes Reborn: Iron Man #6, an image of Onslaught appeared just as the heroes save the day, further confirming that Marvel was ready to wrap up Heroes Reborn a mere six months after it began.

Fantastic or frightful? The issue starts out promisingly, with a lot of great character work in the hospital scenes, and then a jaunt into the Negative Zone. But then it dawns on the reader that it’s all just an excuse for artist Jim Lee to draw Wolverine for a few pages in the hopes of upping sales. The two pages of Galactus and the Silver Surfer are the only real plot in the issue.

Next: Let’s everybody get Inhuman.

****

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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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