Fantastic Friday: Yancy boys

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #361 promises new characters, important social issues, and holiday magic. Does it deliver?

It’s Christmas Eve, and Reed is putting a high-tech cast on Ben’s arm, after it was injured during the fight with the Dreadface symbiote last issue. After some signing-the-cast humor, Ben gets a message from Roberta the robot secretary in the Four Freedoms Plaza lobby. Ben has a visitor — Slugger Sokolowski, a childhood friend of Ben’s from his old neighborhood.

Ben and slugger visit a bar on Yancy Street where they reminisce about old times. Slugger then says he has a teenage son, Jimmy, who might be on drugs. Additionally, other kids around the neighborhood have been disappearing, and Slugger fears Jimmy will be next. Ben says he’ll look into it. Out in the streets, we meet Jimmy has he pursued by two mysterious figures in trenchcoats.

Back at HQ, there’s a lot of soap opera drama. Johnny finds a Christmas gift he had bought for Alicia, before his “Alicia” was revealed to be Lyja the Skrull in disguise. The real Alicia is not happy about having her identity stolen, and wants all of her clothes and furniture destroyed. Johnny runs into Franklin, who wants to decorate the building for the holidays, in the hopes that everyone will stop being so miserable.

Ben patrols Yancy Street, where he’s hit in the face with a snowball. He chases the culprit, rounds a corner, and comes across some kids who are the new Yancy Street Gang.

Roll call:

  • Two-fisted Tommie Boyd, the leader
  • Dictionary Dawson, the brains
  • Little Larry Lee, the muscle
  • Smooth Manny Marengues, the lockpick
  • Lugwrench Lubowski, the mechanic/car thief
  • Rhythm Ruiz, the drummer, who signals danger to the others via some kind of Morse code with his drumsticks. (I don’t quite get how this works.)

Ben asks about Jimmy, and the kids say they saw him being abducted. Ben and the kids follow Jimmy’s trail to an abandoned warehouse. (There’s always an abandoned warehouse in the Marvel Universe.) Once inside, however, they find it full of high-tech science equipment. They’re attacked by the men in trenchcoats, who are revealed to be robots. Ben and the kids (mostly Ben) defeat the ‘bots.

Ben is then hit from an energy bolt. He turns and finds Dr. Doom. This is Doom’s secret lab, but Doom insists it’s not a drug lab. On the contrary. Doom says that he’s not going to rule the world if the world has a drug problem, so he started this lab to eradicate the city’s drugs.

Doom and Ben fight, with Doom slowing down Ben by unleashing the full power of his glove blasters. Doom sees that Ben’s arm is injured and decides not to finish Ben off, because that would be a hollow victory. Doom says he’ll only kill Ben if Ben is at full strength.

After Doom walks off, the Yancy kids show up with Jimmy, whom Doom was experimenting on, apparently to find a cure for drug addiction. Doom sets off some explosives in the lab as a failsafe, but Ben and the kids escape just in time. Jimmy is reunited with his dad, and the Yancy kids make nice with Ben while also sticking a “kick me” sign on his back.

At headquarters, Johnny gives Alicia the gift from earlier, saying she can use it to start her new life. Then there’s a whole page of sitcom shtick where Ben is all grumpy until the others cheer him up and get him to say “Merry Christmas.”

Unstable molecule: Reed says Ben’s cast is made a new concrete foam that Reed just invented.

Fade out: Sue offers to buy Alicia a whole new wardrobe. No word on whether Alicia took the deal.

Clobberin’ time: Because Ben’s arm is injured, it’s suggested that he’s not fighting at full strength, which is why Doom’s glove blasters can take Ben out.

Flame on: Johnny’s gift for his wife was a new pant-suit. Make of that what you will.

Four and a half: Franklin has a new all-red “4 1/2” sweatshirt. Also, this month Marvel published the Power Pack Holiday Special, which wrapped up the unresolved the plotlines for Power Pack, but Franklin didn’t appear.

Commercial break: The world of Earth’s dark future:

Trivia time: This version of the Yancy Street Gang only appeared twice after this. The first was in the Justice: Four All miniseries, where they were falsely accused of murder. The second was in Thunderstrike, where they fought a malfunctioning Doombot.

Fantastic or Frightful? I really like the new Yancy Street kids, and it’s too bad they didn’t get any more adventures. They’d be a fun bunch for the Runaways to team up with. On the other hand, Dr. Doom is written very poorly and inconsistently. All the Christmas stuff and the tacked-on anti-drug message mean that the bad outweighs the good this time.

Next: Going wild.


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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 6

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freaking Willow! Today we’re going to a party and to one of the movie’s definitive scenes — the disappearing pig trick! It’s 9:49-11:55 on the Blu-ray.


We begin with an exterior shot of Willow’s farm, with him saying goodbye to Kaia and taking the two kids with him while she stays behind with the baby. Based on the previous scene, we can assume this is the next day, a.k.a. the “big day” Willow has been looking forward to.

Peppy music starts playing, and we’re at a Nelwyn festival.  Specifically, this is the Planting Festival of 1342, according to the tie-in books. It might seem backwards to hold a festival celebrating planting instead of harvest, like most farming communities do, but it is consistent in that we just saw Willow plowing his field, and Burglekutt’s talk about seeds. The year 1342 is relevant only to the Nelwyn, as this festival celebrates the time that the Nelwyn first arrived and settled in this land, 1,342 years earlier.

This opening shot of the festival is impressive, with tons of extras and quite a few animals all about, with a lot of bustling activity. Willow can be seen on the right of the screen, on a small stage with a crowd gathering around him. Other than some small huts, there are no buildings of any kind in the background, suggesting that this is not the village center, but instead the Nelwyn have set up this festival out in the woods somewhere. The tie-in books say one part of this festival involves a wicker man, representing peace and generosity. There’s a structure in the center of the fair in the movie that might be this wicker man. It’s just sort of human shaped, so I can’t be sure.

There is a shot of a bunch of Nelwyn men and women dancing, where they dance together at first, only for the women to sit in a small clump of chairs where the men dance in circles around them. We get a shot of the Nelwyn band playing, with two notable (heh) cameos. The first is Kenny Baker of Star Wars fame, and the second is Baker’s longtime friend and performing partner Jack Purvis, who also acted in Star Wars and was prominently featured in Time Bandits.

Still more festival stuff. There is a fire eater, followed by some sort of game where some Nelwyns have bags over their heads and others don’t while they all dance around some poles. I have no idea what that’s about. There is a shot of a woman holding a baby, with the camera slowly pushing in on them (a little foreshadowing there, perhaps). Then there’s a tug of war, with the losing team falling in the mud and a bunch of men laughing as they watch. Throughout this whole scene, several Nelwyn women can be seen wearing light blue dresses with large blue-white headdresses. Is this merely fashion, or do these outfits have some significance?

We then catch up with Willow, doing stage magic. His son Ranon is his magicians’ assistant, adorably. Willow covers his arm with a hollow sleeve, and then makes a small torch pass right through the arm. (No CGI here, actor Warwick Davis learned to perform his illusion and did it in front of the camera.) Burglekutt can be seen in the crowd, nodding in approval (mock approval?) at Willow’s act. We also see Willow’s friend Meegosh for the first time, though first-time viewers won’t know he’s a significant character yet.

We get more festival business, with a spear-carrying guard helping himself to fruit from a fruit cart, establishing that there is a security force present. Then there’s what appears to be a wedding, with a man and woman kissing as everyone around them throws confetti. There’s a shift in the upbeat music, represented by a close up of hands strumming furiously on a guitar-like instrument.

Back to Willow, he has a small pig in hands. Willow is all showmanship, promising the audience an amazing feat, saying the entire pig will disappear. Willow covers the pig in a blanket (heh) and lifts it up, chanting magic words. These magic words sound a lot like ones he will say when doing real magic later in the movie, for what that’s worth. He pulls the blanket away, to show the pig has indeed vanished. The crowd applauds, only for the pig to run out from under the table in front of Willow, breaking the illusion. The crowd, especially the kids, have a good laugh. Burglekutt says “I’ve seen enough.” He starts to leave, and everyone leaves with him.

The word “magic” has been thrown around a lot in this movie, with little definition of how magic works in this world. Here we see stage magic, with no hint of the supernatural. According to the tie-in books, the High Aldwin could see that young Willow had potential for great magic power, but Willow’s father insisted he be a farmer. Sometime later, the Nelwyn were visited by a traveling entertainer, Pesto the Magnificent. Pesto stirred Willow’s interest in magic, albeit of the slight-of-hand variety.

Even though his audience clearly had a good time, Willow sits on his stage looking defeated.

Next: Giving the finger.


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Fantastic Friday: All symbiotes all the time

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. If we’re talking about Marvel in the ‘90s, then we’re talking about symbiotes. They’re everywhere, and they’re in issue #360.

 Recap: After rescuing Alicia from Skrulls and being stranded in space, the FF battled an alien named Devos, and took over his ship, allowing them to plot a course back home. Unbeknownst to them, a mysterious lifeform in the shape a small black cube is also on board. The issue begins as the ship has already crashed on a deserted South Seas island. The others give Ben, their pilot, some grief for crashing the ship, but he says the ship wasn’t designed for planetary landings, and he chose the island to prevent casualties and property damage.

 Johnny flies ahead to scout out the island. He finds a circus airplane (!) that has also crashed. The pilot is dead, and the cargo of exotic animals has escaped and run loose on the island. This is reinforced when the FF encounters a cheetah, but one that hisses like a snake instead of growling or roaring like big cats are supposed to.

 Reed finds a shuttlecraft aboard Devos’ ship that can take them back to New York, but it has a weight limit, which means Ben has to stay behind, and the others will come back for him. Alicia wants to stay with Ben, but the rest of the team vetoes that idea, with everyone still uncomfortable about how the last few years, when Lyja the Skrull was impersonating her. Johnny agrees to stay behind on the island with Ben.

 Out in the jungle, we see that black cube has expanded into an ink-like or oil slick-like lifeform, where it sneaks up on a gorilla. Spider-Man fans will immediately recognize the alien as a symbiote, even though it isn’t identified as such in this issue. The symbiote aliens are the black goopy stuff that gave us popular villains such as Venom and Carnage. Also, the cover calls this symbiote Dreadface, but it’s never called that in the actual comic. Anyway, Dreadface does the Venom thing with the gorilla, turning it into a symbiote gorilla.

 Back in New York, Alicia learns she no longer has an apartment to go home to, since Lyja and Johnny lived at FF headquarters. On the island, Ben and Johnny have a heart-to-heart talk about Alicia, and their confusion over what’s happened. Dreadface attacks, with strength nearly as equal as Ben’s. When Ben punches the gorilla, the symbiote transfers from the gorilla onto Ben, starting to take over his mind.

 Johnny and Ben/Dreadface fight for a while. Johnny uses a concentrated burst of his super-hot nova flame to separate the symbiote from Ben. As seen in Spider-Man comics, symbiotes do not like fire. When Johnny flames off, however, Dreadface makes its move and possesses Johnny, now controlling the fire instead of running from it.

 Dreadface speaks, saying that his mission is to possess the greatest warriors on each planet, forcing them to fight and destroy one another. (This also nicely explains why Dreadface was on Devos’ ship, since Devos had a similar motivation.) Ben can’t punch Dreadface with injuring Johnny, so Ben is on the run as Dreadface chases him. (Ben has no qualms about punching the gorilla, though.)

 Dreadface chases Ben back to Devos’ crashed ship. Ben punches a hole in the ship, exposing the fuel. When Dreadface attacks with Johnny’s fire power, the whole island goes up in a huge explosion. Johnny emerges from the fire, back to normal. He says the alien was incinerated in the blast. Reed arrives in the FF’s pogo plane to pick to the two and sees the island in flames (are all the circus animals also dead?) and asks what happened. Ben and Johnny joke that it was “just a little male bonding.”

 Unstable molecule: Reed’s science genius also extends to exotic wildlife, as he’s able to determine on site that the cheetah is a rare breed.

 Fade out: Sue mentions wanting to take a bubble bath as soon as she gets home. (She doesn’t do much in this issue.)

 Clobberin’ time: This issue not only remembers that Ben is a skilled pilot, but it also references his experience as a wrestler — both before he became the Thing, and also his time spent with the goofy Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation.

 Flame on: Johnny’s heart-to-heart with Ben isn’t anything that hasn’t already been said. Neither of them can look at Alicia without thinking of her as Johnny’s dead wife.

 Four and a half: There’s another line of dialogue about Franklin saying at Avengers Mansion while the team is away from home.

 Commercial break: Bartmania!

 Trivia time: While this issue does not call Dreadface a symbiote, the Marvel Wiki identifies it as one. Marvel went symbiote-happy for a while there, constantly introducing new ones. In addition to Venom and Carnage, other symbiotes include Toxin, Hybrid, Scorn, Malus, Mania, Scream, Lasher, Phage, Agony, Riot, Payback, Scorn, Marcus, Zzzxx (not to be confused with the energy being Zzzax), and Anti-Venom. The symbiotes originated from the planet Klyntar, where they were originally created for altruistic purposes, in the hopes they could cure any illness.

 Fantastic or frightful? The Ben vs. Johnny fight a lot of fun, with Ben having to think his way out of it instead of using his strength. Other than that, though, very little of consequence happens.

 Next: Yancy boys.


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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 5

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! The movie becomes a wacky family sitcom for a few minutes, 8:11-9:48 on the Blu-ray.

We start with Kaiya and the kids at the riverside, all smiling at the baby. Willow storms up and declares that no one in the family is to fall in love with the baby, but his words go unheeded. It’s dad humor! He protests “I will not be ignored!” as his family ignores him, walking off with the baby.

The next shot is Willow outside his farm, two slightly igloo-shaped stone houses and what looks like the stables under a thatched roof. Willow kicks the ground with frustration, showing his frustration is likely more to do with the threat of losing his farm rather than anything having to do with the baby.

Inside, Kaiya and Mims give the baby a bath, where Kaiya (and the audience) sees the mark on the baby, the one referenced in the movie’s opening scene. The symbol is a Y shape, with a third diagonal line and a dot in the center. I’m afraid I’m not knowledgeable enough about symbology to know whether this is a reference to something specific. The best I could come up with is the logo for the Louie Vuitton clothing company:

In the next shot, the camera pulls back to reveal the inside of the house is much larger than the outside. The doors and furniture have been sized for the actors’ heights, but the high roof makes this room twice as big as the igloo-like building seen outdoors. (I know, I know, the sets have to be large to accommodate cameras, lighting, etc.) Kaiya asks if they should take the baby to the village council. Willow says no, arguing that the village council will think the baby is a bad omen, and that he’ll get blamed the next time there’s a flood or a drought. He then launches into another sitcom dad routine, mimicking the panicked villagers saying, “Let’s get him!”

Kaiya tells Willow to calm down, and Willow says he can’t, adding “Tomorrow’s my big day.” Kaiya knows what he’s thinking and adds, “The High Aldwin hasn’t picked a new apprentice in years.” Willow says he believes that tomorrow will be different and the High Aldwin is going to pick him. Even though the audience doesn’t know who or what the High Aldwin is at this point, this dialogue exchange further emphasizes why Willow is stressed, and helping us understand his reluctance to take care of the baby — it’s not that he doesn’t care about the baby, he’s just got his and his family’s future to think of.

While this dialogue has been going on, young Ranon has a bit of business to the left of the screen, where he climbs up onto the kitchen table and starts pulling stuff out of a small black bag. First he pulls out a necklace, and then some feathers. I have no idea what this is about. Is Willow doing magic without realizing it, making stuff appear in the bag, and no one but Ranon notices it? Or is Ranon just being a mischievous kid? They give him a close-up where he has a real devious look on his face.

To put a button on the “it’s okay, Willow’s not a jerk” thing, the baby starts crying, so Kaiya hands her to Willow. Willow doesn’t want to hold the baby at first, but gives in. The baby stops crying immediately, and Willow can’t help but smile. The two kids laugh, with Ranon adding, “She likes you, Daddy,” while Mims laughs.

Next: County fair.



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Fantastic Friday: Devastation

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #359 offers some far-out sci-fi action, and I continue to turn around on Tom DeFalco’s writing.

To recap: The FF rescued Alicia from the Skrulls, with her having no memory of everything that happened for the last hundred issues. Thanks to sabotage from the Mad Thinker, the FF’s ship ended up stranded in space, countless light years away from Earth. Reed begins work at creating a new hyper-drive and new shield from other parts of the ship, but says this might take him years. Alicia demands answers from Ben as to what’s happened during her absence, especially how Johnny married a Skrull that had impersonated her. There’s no time for answers, though, because an unidentified ship approaches them.

On board the other ship, we meet the armor-clad Devos the Devastator as he fights a bunch of alien birds. He kills them all, saying that he is a man of peace, who has made it his mission to destroy any species he deems to be violent and warlike. He has a small black cube sealed inside an egg-shaped device, saying that is the only enemy he could never defeat. He then spots the FF’s ship and snags them in a tractor beam.

The FF and Alicia enter Devos’ ship, where they fight their way through a bunch of his deathtraps, including a big robot and a bunch of alien monsters that Devos keeps in some sort of personal zoo. Most of this issue is the FF fighting the monsters while Devos watches, determining the FF to be biggest threat he’s ever encountered. During the fight, Alicia keeps following Ben for safety, while Johnny is heartbroken that Lyja the Skrull, the woman he married, is dead.

Devos joins the fight in person, proving able to take on four FFers in a fight. Devos uses a power grid to make himself stronger, but when Reed and Ben knock him back into it a second time, his armor overloads with power and is damaged.

Devos releases all the animals in his zoo to cover his escape in a shuttle. As if that’s not enough, he cause deadly acid to be released in his ship’s air, which melts all the animals. (Harsh!) Sue protects everyone with a force field while Reed restores the oxygen.

Now in charge of Devos’ ship, the FF plot a course back to Earth. We then see that the egg-shaped device from earlier has cracked, and that cube-shaped thing (whatever it is) is about to escape.

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Devos appears specifically designed to counter each member of the FF. His armor can electrify Reed when Reed tries to stretch around him…

Fade out: …his scanners can spot Sue when she’s invisible…

Clobberin’ time: …he has strength to equal Ben’s…

Flame on: …and he has a frost ray to cut out Johnny’s fire power.

Commercial break: The ads for Hook were trying to recreate the 1989 Batman ads, with just an image in place of the title. Did that work? I’m thinking that didn’t quite work.

Trivia time: Like Lyja and Paibok, Devos will be back just a few issues from now. Writer Tom DeFalco appears to be introducing these new characters just so they form a new team in the near future. Much later, Devos returned to take part in the Annihilation and Realm of Kings crossovers.

Fantastic or frightful? Basically one big fight scene with a layer of Star Trek technobabble on top. Not much happens, but it’s a nice throwback to the thought of the FF being explorers and old-timey pulp adventurers.

Next: Symbiosis.


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Willow (1988) rewatch — Part 4

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! This week, we meet the man, the myth, the legend — Burglekutt! It’s 7:15-8:10 on the Blu-ray.


This scene begins with the introduction of two new characters. The first is Willow’s wife Kaiya, and the second is the star of this scene (and, some might argue, the whole movie), Burglekutt. Kaiya delivers a lot of exposition in one sentence, saying, “Mr. Burglekutt, my husband hasn’t stolen anything.” This establishes her relationship with Willow and the kids, how Burglekutt is a person of importance, and why he’s here. Hoping to keep the Daikini baby a secret, there’s an amusing bit of business where Willow tries to nonchalantly resume plowing the field. Burglekutt demands, “You owe me,” and “Where did you get these seeds?”

 Described as a prefect, the tie-in books state that Burglekutt is a member of the village council, although he’s the one clearly running the place. The deal is that he’s the only person able to provide the seeds that the rest of this farming community relies on, making him the wealthiest and most politically important guy in town. (The tie-in fiction also informs us Burglekutt’s wife’s name is Klondetta, in case you were wondering.) 

 Willow isn’t putting up with Burglekutt, though, joking (or not?) that he used magic to conjure his own seeds. Burglekutt shoots back with “You’re no sorcerer. You’re a clown.” He emphasizes that he’s the only one with seeds in town. Willow then says he and his family gathered their own seeds in the forest since last fall. I’m not sure where “the forest” is in relation to Willow’s farm or the village. Somehow I’ve always assumed that Willow’s seeds were gathered on his own land, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Willow further argues that there’s no law against what they’ve done.

 This scene is the first mention of Willow possibly doing magic. Later scenes and the tie-in books both come down on him not yet knowing magic. Given the ambiguous nature of magic in this fantasy universe, however, could Willow have actually conjured the seeds with magic? The tie-in books state that the High Aldwin, the Nelwyns’ sorcerer, saw Willow had aptitude for magic at a young age, but Willow’s father insisted that he be a farmer. Could this business about finding seeds in the forest actually be his magic, even if he doesn’t know it? 

 Kaiya hears the children laughing and scolds Willow for leaving them by the river. She runs off. Burglekutt keeps the insult match going, saying Willow’s going to need magic to get his planting done before the rains start. Okay, so Willow and his family gathered (conjured?) the seeds the previous autumn, and they’re plowing the field, which follows seeding, in preparation for rains, which would suggest springtime. So, is this late winter/early spring?

 The sitcom-ish insults stop as Burglekutt grabs Willow threateningly and lets us in on his real motive. “I’m going to have this land, Ufgood, and you’re going to end up working in the mines.” If Burglekutt is already the richest guy in the village, why does he want Willow’s land? That’s just villainy, I guess. The bigger question is, just what the heck are these mines? How is this agricultural community somehow also a mining community? Perhaps “working in the mines” is merely the Nelwyns’ version of jail.

 Willow has a nice action hero moment where he pushes Burglekutt off of him. Burglekutt walks off angrily. Willow’s pig gets in the last word, oinking at Burglekutt.

Next: Full Nelwyn House.


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Fantastic Friday: The Lyja problem

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It feels like everything’s been building to issue #358. This was a triple-sized (!) issue intended to celebrate the FF’s 30th anniversary. But… this is also the story that presses the reset button, sweeping the last hundred or so issues of continuity off the table.

Gimmie a gimmick: Before we get to the comic itself, we must first note that this is our first gimmick cover! The front and back are two layers of hardstock paper. The front cover has a circular cutout with a number four on it. Open the cover, and the inside covers depict the FF and other Marvel heroes in battle with a bunch of FF villains. Happily, the same drawing is repeated on the back covers, so that you can enjoy the art without the cutout.

Now the actual comic. In the previous issue, the Puppet Master and the Thing attacked FF headquarters, all to reveal that Alicia is really… a Skrull! This issue begins with Johnny furious with anger, demanding to know what happened to Alicia. He’s so enraged that Sue has to trap him inside a force field and cut off his oxygen to settle him down. Reed demands answers, and the Skrull reveals that her real name is Lyja.

Lyja spills her backstory. Years earlier, the Skrull High Command decided to infiltrate the Fantastic Four, because they can’t properly invade the Earth until the FF are taken out first. Because the FF have devised ways to detect Skrulls, the High Command decided that a single Skrull must be bionically engineered for a special purpose, which is how they made the original Super-Skrull. After gathering the Skrull empire’s finest warriors, Lyja was chosen for the mission. She was to come to Earth and take Alicia’s place.

Lyja studied every aspect of Alicia’s life, notably her romance with Ben, which was meant to be Lyja’s “in” to the FF. She was also surgically fitted with contact lenses rendering her blind when in a human state, to better pull off the ruse. When most of the big-name heroes mysteriously disappeared from Earth during the first Secret War, the Skrulls saw this as their opportunity. They abducted Alicia (from her home, I’m assuming) with the line “Take her to Paibok.” Distracted by the Secret War crisis, Sue and Franklin never noticed the switch.


Lyja further explains that when Ben stayed behind on Battleworld after the Secret War, she had to change her tactics, pursuing Johnny instead of Ben. Then the unthinkable happened. Lyja truly fell in love with him. She decided to reject her Skrull mission and live full-time as Alicia so she could be with Johnny. From that point, FF history plays out like we already know, with Ben coming back from Battleworld, to the Johnny/Alicia wedding, to the present. Then Lyja drops one final shocker — she’s pregnant with Johnny’s baby!!!

Reed prepared the team’s rocket for a spaceflight, to rescue Alicia from the Skrulls. Because this is an anniversary issue, we’re treated to a two-page retelling of the team’s origin. Johnny has a heart-to-heart with Ben. He says all he can think about were all the good, happy times he spent with Alicia, now knowing it was Lyja all along. Ben then meets with Puppet Master, who apparently ran off after the fight last issue. Ben tells Puppet Master everything, and they appear to part on good terms. Back home, though, Puppet Master blames the FF for Alicia’s abduction. Remembering that revealing the truth about Alicia was part of a plan by the Mad Thinker, the Puppet Master makes a puppet of the Cobra, who is locked up in the Vault super-prison alongside the Mad Thinker. It doesn’t work, as the Mas Thinker isn’t fooled by the Cobra. The Mad Thinker reveals to us, the readers, though, that sending the FF to space was his plan, and that he’s been secretly tweaking the radiation shielding on the FF’s spaceship.

Back at HQ, the FF are preparing to leave, when Lyja joins them, wearing an FF uniform. Johnny freaks out again, but Reed says they need her to take them to Alicia, and the uniform will help distinguish her from other Skrulls. Lyja offers to help the team in exchange for her freedom. Johnny responds with “I don’t know you… I never did!”

The team flies straight to the Andromeda Galaxy, to what appears to be a lifeless asteroid but is secretly a covert Skrull space station. The FF try sneaking onto the base, but they’re quickly spotted, leading to several pages of fighting Skrulls. Lyja picks up a laser gun and helps the FF in the fight. Johnny sees this, but still frets about not being able to trust her.

The Skrulls retreat to make way for their leader Paibok the Power-Skrull. Paibok explains that he’s gone through a similar bionic process as the Super-Skrull. Just like the Super-Skrull has the combined FF’s powers, Paibok has the combined powers of some of (or all?) of the X-Men. They fight for a while, with Paibok using Iceman’s ice powers, the metal strength of Colossus, and Storm’s lightning bolts.

Lyja reveals that Paibok was once her commanding officer, but the Fantastic Four have become her family. She thinks, “I am a Skrull in body… and human in soul!” Paibok injures Johnny and is about to fire a lethal lightning bolt. Lyja jumps between them, taking the blast and sacrificing herself to save Johnny. Ben brings an entire wall down onto Paibok, defeating him.

Johnny recovers, and cradles Lyja in his arms. She says she’s not really pregnant, and just said that in the hopes he would stay with her. She asks for his forgiveness for all the deception. She says, “I only wanted you to love me,” and then she dies in his arms. Johnny says he always loved her, and he always will.

All the Skrulls start freaking out because the fight damaged the station’s nuclear core, and the place is about to explode. Reed finds Alicia (the real Alicia) who has been in suspended animation since her abduction. He frees her from the Skrulls’ cryogenics machine. While she is still unconscious, he and the FF race back to their ship. They escape the station, just as it explodes Death Star-style.

Aboard the FF’s ship, Alicia awakens, and immediately embraces Ben, saying “Everything will work out… as long as the two of are together!” Before anyone can deal with that drama, the ship shields fail, caused by the Mad Thinker’s sabotage. This damages the ship’s hyper drive. Without it, it will take a millennia for the FF to reach home. They are (get ready for it) lost in space. To be continued.

And there we have it. In one issue, the characters’ histories are completely rewritten. On the other hand, if Lyja must die, she is given a noble, heroic death. Not to mention a big space battle and a fun villain in Paibok. So this issue is not the disaster everyone says it is, despite everything it represents.

I’ve spent all week researching writer-editor Tom DeFalco, in an attempt to better understand where he was coming from. DeFalco’s fingerprints are all over some of the biggest shakeups in Marvel history. He co-wrote Amazing Spider-Man #252, the first appearance of Spidey’s black costume. He later was credited with coming up the concept of the Clone Saga, which revealed that Spider-Man was a clone of the real Spidey, after the two had switched places decades earlier. Lest you think DeFalco is merely some agent of chaos, he also created and wrote Spider-Girl, which still maintains a passionate cult following.

In interviews, DeFalco often speaks of wanting to throw curveballs at the readers, always surprising them and catching them on edge. Therefore, you could argue that his goal was not to take the comic back to the ‘60s, but merely to establish a clean slate for new stories. It’s true that he disliked the Johnny/Alicia marriage, but there’s some question as to exactly whose idea it was for the whole Skrull thing — DeFalco or Marvel editors Mark Gruenwald or Ralph Macchio (not the Karate Kid, a different guy). As we’ll move forward, we’ll look for more of DeFalco’s attempts to shake things up. It’s also worth noting that there was a method to his madness. While sales on Fantastic Four dropped during Steve Englehart’s run, they slowly but steadily climbed after DeFalco took over.

Back to issue #358, then. This being an anniversary issue, it also has a bunch of pin-ups by various artists, two articles looking back at FF history, and a weird backup story where a character called “the Editor” erases part of Dr. Doom’s history. (Going meta, are we?)

Unstable molecule: Reed says he’s made sure to put extra radiation shielding on the FF’s ship, to protect the team from the cosmic rays that initially gave them their powers. These are the same shields the Mad Thinker sabotages.

Fade out: Paibok is able to fire his lightning right through Sue’s force field, as if  it isn’t even there. Sue’s force fields have protected her from lightning/electricity in the past, so I don’t know what’s so special about Paibok’s lightning.

Clobberin’ time: Ben makes a lot of hokey jokes in this issue, but he gets serious in his talk with Johnny, promising that whatever Johnny’s going through, he doesn’t have to face it alone.

Flame on: During the battle, Johnny conjures a flame whip, which he uses to whip-crack the Skrulls. Physics aside, I don’t recall seeing him use this ability before.

Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk appears on the cover as one of the Marvel heroes fighting alongside the FF.

Four and a half: Sue says Franklin is staying at Avengers Mansion while the FF are in space. I guess the Power family no longer have babysitting duties now that their series is cancelled.

The Alicia problem: And so Lyja is dead. Except that this is a comic book, so of course she’s not really dead. What’s surprising is how soon she’ll be back — just a few issues from now.

Commercial break: The idea behind this ad is give trading cards to trick-or-treaters instead of candy on Halloween. Might as well put a sign on your yard that says “Egg this house.”

Trivia time: One of the backup articles looks at Stan Lee’s original pitch for Fantastic Four. It’s mostly the same as what we got in issue #1. It really plays up a love triangle between Reed, Sue and Ben that we never quite got. It also says Johnny could originally only use his fire powers for five minutes before they burned out, a detail they wisely did away with.

Fantastic or frightful? This issue has a reputation as the worst thing imaginable, but upon re-reading it, it really isn’t so bad. What’s more, after going through a bunch of Tom DeFalco articles and interviews this week, I’m don’t believe he’s the bad guy here, and I’m actually excited to see where he’s going to take the series.

Next: Devastation.


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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 3

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow!  It’s time to meet the title character and get the plot rolling, 5:46-7:14 on the Blu-ray.

Before going any farther, here’s what comprises the entirety of the Willow canon:

– The movie (duh.)

– The novelization by Wayland Drew, which contains scenes not filmed and backstories about characters and their world.

– The Marvel Comics Willow adaptation by Jo Duffy, Bob Hall, and Romeo Tanghal. The comic also has scenes not filmed, and alternate dialogue.

The Willow Sourcebook by Allen Varney. This massive role-playing game manual goes into ridiculous detail about the creatures, magic spells, and locations from Willow. The maps of the various locations are quite interesting.

Chronicles of the Shadow War three-novel trilogy, allegedly co-written by George Lucas and Chris Claremont. Opinions are mixed on these, with many suspecting they were either ghost-written, or originally written as standalone non-Willow fantasy books. They’re much more grim and serious than the swashbuckling fun of Willow, and not many characters from the books appear. They are nonetheless considered part of the lore, so we can’t ignore them.

– The Willow Ufgood Wikia, found at, is a fan-made site, but it’s still a quick n’ easy way to dive deep into Willow lore.

Back to the movie. The baby, in her makeshift carriage, has washed up onto a riverbank. The baby looks around, spots a yellow bird, and then the camera pans down to two smiling children. I suppose the idea is that the camera is mimicking the natural movements of the baby’s eyes.


The kids, as we’re about to learn, are Ranon and Mims. Ranon runs off, crying “Dada! Dada!” Mims just stands there quietly. She’s holding a doll, and she makes the hands click together as if it’s applauding. We cut to our hero, Willow Ufgood, working a field at his farm. There is a pig pulling the equipment, in place of horses or oxen. The comic adaptation has several references to him seeding the field, but in this scene he’s quite obviously plowing it. In the background we can see some more animals and a penned off area, and what looks like a small windmill, for some of that clever pre-industrial tech. Ranon says they’ve found something in the river (he doesn’t say what) and Willow insists that he’s working and can’t play right now. Ranon insists. While smiles, and gives in. This shows right away that he’s a good-natured family-man type.

Willow and Ranon catch up with Mims, who is still staring at the baby. There’s a jokey line where Willow says of the baby, “Don’t go near it. You don’t know where it’s been.” The joke doesn’t quite land, but, after the dark opening scene, it’s the audience’s first indication that this will be a humorous fantasy adventure.

Mims remarks that it’s just a baby, but Willow offers that it’s a Daikini baby, explaining that Daikini are “giants who live far away.” Okay, so in this movie all the little people are called Nelwyns and everyone five to seven feet tall are called Daikini. Does this mean that, because this is a fantasy world, the Nelwyn and Daikini are two different species, or is “Daikini” merely the Nelwyns’ word for taller folk? While the wikia site has separate entries for Daikini and Nelwyn under “species.” The Willow Sourcebook, however, states that “Daikini” is merely a Nelwyn word for tall.

The kids are enamored by the baby with a typical “Can we keep it?” but Willow somehow knows this is trouble. He suggests pushing the baby farther downstream and forgetting they ever saw it, which seems awfully harsh for the guy we just saw being a playful dad. A voice in the background shouts “Ufgood! Willow Ufgood!” This is a nice detail letting us know our hero’s name. (I hate fantasy/sci-fi movies that never say the main characters’ names.) Willow says “It’s the prefect,” and we get that this means trouble. He tells the kids to keep the baby quiet and not to touch it. (Not sure how they can do that.) He hurries back to the field, while the kids turn their attention back to the baby.

Next: Burglin’ with Burglekutt.


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Fantastic Friday: I married a what now?

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Writer-editor Tom DeFalco came to the series with a mission of undoing all the changes of the ‘70s and ‘80s, resetting the series back to how it was during the Lee/Kirby years. That means finding a way to undo not just Johnny and Alicia’s marriage, but their entire relationship. That brings us to the big reveal in issue #357.  

 The issue begins with Reed in his lab, just having invented a “brain-patternizer.” He says this device will protect the FF from mind-controlling villains such as the Puppet Master. Our heroes testing out this device makes for a pretty weak excuse-for-the-characters-to-show-off-their-powers-for-a-few-pages thing. Alicia (who, as we’re about to learn, is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) walks into the lab, and she refuses to be hooked up to the machine.

 We then visit the Vault, a special prison in Colorado built for superhuman criminals — basically Marvel’s equivalent of Arkham Asylum. There, the Mad Thinker is locked up. Except not really, because he mentally projects his consciousness into an artificial body of his, located in his secret Manhattan lab. There, he can conduct crimes with a perfect alibi. He meets with the Puppet Master, who says he desperate for help. Puppet Master says his daughter Alicia has undergone a “transformation” since marrying Johnny. Mad Thinker says the solution is to destroy the FF, but then his computers announce that the FF are already as good as dead.

 At an art gallery, Alicia/Lyja learns her newer, abstract sculptures aren’t selling as well as her earlier lifelike work. Outside, Johnny flirts with some pretty girls before having to admit to them that he’s married. He later has a heart-to-heart with Sue, saying he never realized how much work went into marriage. Sue wants to talk to Reed about this, but he’s concerned about one of the brain readings he took earlier.

 There’s a short scene with the Puppet Master reviewing the Mad Thinker’s findings, saying, “They can’t be true! And yet… they explain everything!” Back at FF HQ, Ben is making a late-night sandwich when he hears noise coming from Reed’s lab. He finds a stranger in there, whom we only see in silhouette. The stranger is able to shape-shift into a bird-like form and then a snake-like form before escaping from Ben. The rest of the FF can’t find any sign of an intruder, with Johnny and Franklin joking that Ben might have dreamed the whole thing. Reed, however, believes the answer lies in his brain-patternizer device.

 Ben goes for a light-night walk out in the city, where Puppet Master finds him. Puppet Master says they share common ground in their love of Alicia. At HQ, Alicia/Lyja tells Johnny that she suspects Puppet Master is the one who infiltrated the building. She then says she has something important to say to Johnny. They’re interrupted by Ben and Puppet Master, who come crashing through the wall. Ben says he’s going to kill Alicia.

 Ben and Johnny fight while Alicia/Lyja flees. Sue wants to stop Ben, thinking he’s being mind-controlled by Puppet Master, but Reed stops her, saying the brain-patternizer has found something startling. Alicia/Lyja makes it the FF’s hanger bay, with Ben and Johnny fighting all around her. Ben finally confronts Alicia/Lyja, punching the wall around her, demoing, “This is your last chance! Show yourself!”

 Reed and Sue arrive, just as Alicia starts to transform, right in front of everyone. Then, on the last page, we see the true face of Lyja the Skrull. Longtime fans know how much a continuity headache this represents, but first-time readers don’t know who Lyja is yet. All they know at this point is that this is…

 To be continued!

 Unstable molecule: Reed makes a joke about how he invented an anti-gravity device when he was in high school. (Or, perhaps he’s not joking.)

 Fade out: Sue says she is “deeply offended” by Alicia/Lyja doesn’t want Reed to mess with her brain.

 Clobberin’ time: Ben’s wacky sandwich recipe includes hot peppers, sardines, peanut butter, and pickled beets. He then says he’s going to enjoy the sandwich while watching The Rocketeer on VHS.

 Flame on: Ben is able to defeat Johnny in their fight by using all of the fireproof devices in the building, including ripping up the fireproof carpeting and wrapping Johnny in it.

 Four and a half: Has Franklin been de-aged? When we last saw him in Power Pack, he started attending school (first grade, I think, but can’t find a real confirmation) alongside Katie Power. Here, however, he seems written and drawn more preschool-y.

 The Alicia problem: The foreshadowing of the Alicia/Lyja reveal is laid on really thick, with a sense that the noose is tightening around Lyja, so she knows she’s on the verge of being caught.

 Commercial break: It’s somewhat telling that the free poster is the smallest image in the ad:

 Trivia time: The Iron Man-like guard the Vault isn’t identified. He’s the Guardsman, using technology adapted from Iron Man’s armor. The most well-known prisoner of the vault was Venom, who escaped on multiple occasions. The Avengers were also locked up there when they were falsely accused of treason. The Vault was later replaced by the oceanic prison The Raft, a microscopic prison created by Hank Pym, and the Negative Zone prison from Civil War.

 Fantastic or frightful? If it weren’t for all the problems that go with the reset, this issue wouldn’t be so bad. The characters are written old-fashioned, but consistently so, and the always dependable Paul Ryan does a great job drawing the fight scene. But, man, the reset…

 Next: It’s a nice day for green wedding.


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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 2

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! Today we’re looking at a whole bunch of credits and one monster attack, 2:35-5:45 on the Blu-ray.

The music continues to get more hopeful and inspirational-sounding as Ethna sits with the baby by a frozen lake, snow-capped mountains in the background. (Could these be the snowy areas we visit later in the movie?) The title then comes up on screen in a fancy font. All the credits are navy blue, which doesn’t quite match the nature-y setting. I guess the navy blue helps the credits stand out no matter what is behind them.

Ethna walks through more snowscapes during the credits. Let’s do this:

Val Kilmer (as Madmartigan). Kilmer’s surfer-boy good looks combined with his many eccentricities made him a familiar yet unconventional movie star, known for roles in Top Secret, Top Gun, Tombstone, Batman Forever, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and many more.

Joanne Whalley (as Sorsha). Originally an English new wave singer for Cindy and the Saffrons, Whalley broke into acting on English TV before being cast in Willow, and had a variety of movie and TV roles since. She and Kilmer married after meeting during the making of Willow. They divorced in 1996.

Warwick Davis (as Willow). Davis was barely a teenager when cast as Wicket the Ewok in Return of the Jedi, kicking off an acting career and friendship with George Lucas, who created the role of Willow with him in mind. Davis also appeared the Harry Potter films, and both starred in and co-produced the Leprechaun franchise. He’s also the co-founder of Willow Management, talent agency for actors under five feet tall and over seven feet tall.

Ethna crosses from the snow to tree-lined pastoral setting for the next bunch of credits.

Patricia Hayes (as Fin Raziel). An English actress who has worked in film and TV since the 1940s. She won a BAFTA award in 1971 for the TV movie Edna the Inebriate Woman.

Gavan O’Herlihy (as Airk). A familiar face for sci-fi/action/B-movie fans, O’Herlihy had memorable supporting roles in Never Say Never Again, Death Wish 3, Lonesome Dove, and Superman 3. He played the oft-forgotten other Cunningham brother, Chuck, from the first season of Happy Days.

Phil Fondacaro (as Vohnkar). Another former Ewok performer, Fondacaro worked consistently since Willow, appearing in various TV roles and a lot of horror movies. He played the “elf” who fought Will Ferrell in Elf.

Pat Roach (as General Kael). The six-foot-five Roach got his start in pro wrestling before breaking into acting when we was cast in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. He appeared in the first three Indiana Jones movies, as three different characters, and also appeared in Conan the Destroyer, Clash of the Titans, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. As of January 2018, Roach’s IMDB photo is him as General Kael.

Rick Overton (as Franjean). Mostly known as a standup comedian, Overton has a list of comedy bit parts he’s done in movies and TV. He also plays blues harmonica with various blues groups. He can currently be seen on the Showtime series I’m Dying Up Here.

Kevin Pollak (as Rool). Pollak went on to have an enormously successful career in both comedic and dramatic roles, such as The Usual Suspects and A Few Good Men. He’s currently the Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and he hosts his own internet talk show, Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show.

Special Appearance by Billy Barty. A TV star during the 1950s heyday of live television, Barty gruff voice and expressive face landed him a ton of roles from the ’60s through the ‘80s as wisecracking, sarcastic characters. The internet is trying to convince me that when Barty was a baby he appeared in Bride of Frankenstein. Can anyone confirm or deny?

Jean Marsh as Queen Bavmorda. Mostly a television actress, March is perhaps best known for both starring in and co-creating the landmark English series Upstairs Downstairs, for which she won an Emmy. She was also in Cleopatra, The Changeling, and Hitchcock’s Frenzy. Guest spots on The Twilight Zone and classic Doctor Who no doubt helped prepare her for Willow.

The credits then take a break so the movie’s story can continue. We can tell that some time has passed (Weeks? Months? A year? Hard to tell) because the baby now has a big puff of orange-red hair atop her head. Ethna reacts to howling in the background, and we the audience know it’s those dogs from the castle. Then we see dogs with big bear-like heads running through the trees. These are the Death Dogs. The official canon has a lot to say about these dogs, but we’ll wait for a future scene to get through all these credits.

Ethna runs from the dogs during the next batch of credits:

Production Designer Allan Cameron. A graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, Cameron did art design for a variety of well-known movies, such as Highlander, Starship Troopers, The Mummy (1999), The Da Vinci Code, and (wa-hey!) Showgirls.

Visual Effects, Industrial Light and Magic, Dennis Muren, Michael McAlister, and Phil Tippett. Hardcore Star Wars fans know these names as the brains who gave the original trilogy its eye-popping effects. ILM and this trio share credits on the Indiana Jones films, the first three Robocop films, Jurassic Park, and many more.

Special Effects Supervisor John Richardson. Not sure what Richardson did that ILM didn’t do, except that he is clearly more England-based, and not a regular part of the Lucas/Spielberg camp. He worked on effects for several James Bond films, Aliens, and all eight Harry Potter films.

Costume Designer Barbara Lane. I couldn’t find much information about Lane online. She provided costumes for a number of TV movies and miniseries from the ’70s through the ‘90s, mostly period films.

Then more story. Ethna reaches a river, and runs right into the water, to where it’s almost up to her knees. She finds a piece of driftwood that is pretty much perfectly shaped to be the size of a baby basket. Later in the movie, we’ll meet Cherlindrea and the Brownies. Could Cherlindrea have commanded the Brownies to construct this basket, knowing what will happen? Given how little we know about Cherlindrea, this will have to remain mere speculation.

Ethna checks to see whether the basket will float, and then places the baby in it. With a gentle push, the baby goes full-on Moses and floats down the river. The dogs run across the water, which is not as deep for them as it was for her. Just as the first dog reaches Ethna and jumps at her, we cut away to a shot of the baby floating away, sparing the audience any bloody violence. (Gotta save the blood for the final act.)

Back to the names:

Director of Photography Adrian Biddle B.S.C. Cinematographer for several of Ridley Scott’s films, as well as Aliens. He was nominated for a Best Cinematography Oscar for Thelma and Louise. “B.S.C.” stands for British Society of Cinematographers.

Film Editors Daniel Hanley and Michael Hill. These two are Ron Howard’s regulars, editing most of Howard’s films. Hanley got his start working on Laverne and Shirley, and Hill first worked with Howard on the comedy Night Shift.

Associate Producer Joe Johnston. After working on visual effects and production design on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, Johnston has since become a successful director, helming The Rocketeer, October Sky, Jurassic Park III, and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Executive Producer George Lucas/Story by George Lucas. Beloved by fans for creating Star Wars, and despised by those same fans for creating the Star Wars prequels. See also THX-1138, American Graffiti, Howard the Duck, Radioland Murders, Strange Magic.

Music Composed by James Horner. With both a master’s degree and Ph.D. in music from UCLA, Horner went on to score more than 150 films. He was nominated for ten Oscars, winning two — both for Titanic.

Screenplay by Bob Dolman. A comedy writer best known for SCTV, Dolman later re-teamed with Ron Howard to write and co-produce Far and Away. He produced, wrote, and directed the 2006 comedy How to Eat Fried Worms.

Producer Nigel Wooll. An England-based assistant director and producer, there’s not a lot of info about him available. The list of movies he’s worked on is a huge variety, everything from G.I. Jane to Year of the Comet to Die Die My Darling to Ishtar.

Directed By Ron Howard. A former child star, Howard became a mega-celebrity thanks his starring role on Happy Days. He went to become one of Hollywood’s most successful directors, with films including Cocoon, Parenthood, Far and Away, and Apollo 13. He won a Best Director Oscar for A Beautiful Mind.

Finally, after traveling some distance and even going over some small rapids (!), the baby’s makeshift basket comes to a stop at one of bank of the river, now a light stream at this point. We get a shot of the baby looking around nervously as birds can be heard chirping. We’ll see who finds the baby… next time.

Next: My father the hero.


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