Fantastic Friday: Thing ring do your thing

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #403, we’re getting back to basics with some old-fashioned jungle adventure.

We begin in the lab inside Four Freedoms Plaza, where Kristoff has designed a new Ant-Man suit for Scott Lang, one that will enhance his “physical abilities.” Scott is grateful, but Kristoff remains a jerk, even though they are teammates now. Kristoff boasts that his intellect is superior to Scott’s. Scott reminds Kristoff that he’s a 12-year-old who “models himself” after Dr. Doom.

Scott is then called to the lobby, where he receives a surprise visitor — his daughter Cassie. There’s a lot of fun shtick as he gives her a tour of FF headquarters, and Kristoff even shows up not wearing the Dr. Doom armor to flirt with the pre-teen Cassie. Kristoff’s aide Boris is also still hanging around, still harboring a dark secret unknown to our heroes. This is followed by two pages of follow-up to the Atlantis Rising crossover, establishing that the Inhumans now rule Atlantis, protected from the outside world by a Negative Zone barrier. Namor the Sub-Mariner, all alone at the bottom of the ocean, swears revenge.

Cut to Brazil, where we are reunited with Professor Kenneth Robeson, the archeologist we met briefly in issue #389. He’s investigating the ruins of an ancient civilization that left behind sculptures with an eerie resemblance to the Thing. He chides his jungle guide Mico for illegally shooting animals for sport, and then Nico leads him and his team to more ruins, the Temple of the Ancient Sun Demons. These sculptures also resemble the Thing. Robeson and team find alien-looking machinery inside the temple. When one goon messes with the machine, it zaps him with a blast of energy.

Then there’s some business with Johnny, officially announcing he’s leaving to the team for work the Fantastic Force spinoff team, who could use his help with all the drama going on in that comic. He then goes on a date with love interest du jour Laura Green, still not knowing that Laura Green is Lyja the Skrull in disguise. After Johnny takes off, Lyja goes to HQ, where Sue has invited her for a meeting. Sue says that with Johnny leaving and Kristoff still not entirely trustworthy, the FF could use a hand. Lyja says she’s happy to help.

The FF then receive a distress call from Robeson, who tells them Mico’s “things” are attacking the archeological site. Although the FF don’t know what this means, but they are ready to help. Kristoff uses his genius to track Robeson’s signal. Ant-Man stays behind to be with Cassie, so Lyja volunteers to take his place.

The FF arrive in the jungles of Brazil, and must march through the brush to reach Robeson’s camp. Ben scouts ahead, where he is attacked by a bunch of other Things. They introduce themselves as the “Dark-Spawn of Mico” and they fight Ben calling him a “has-been.” The rest of the team, meanwhile, make it to Robeson’s camp and find it deserted. Sue and Lyja are knocked out with poison darts from an unseen attacker. The same attacker takes out Kristoff’s Doom armor with a futuristic adhesive liquid.

Been defeats all the other Things, and then makes his way to the ancient temple, where Mico is waiting for him. Ben demands an explanation, but Mico says he has other ideas. Ben turns around to find that Sue, Lyja, and Kristoff have been transformed into… Things!

To be continued!

Fade out: Sue speaks on behalf of the FF when communicating with NATO on the Inhumans/Atlantis situation. The NATO officials promise to keep Sue informed of future developments.

Clobberin’ time: Referring the enemies as “Spawn” feels like a cheap shot fired at Image comics, with a lot of talk during the fight about other Things are nothing but cheap imitations of the original. During the fight, Ben even says, “Image ain’t everything!”

Flame on: The last time we saw Johnny in this comic, he was being mind-controlled by Maximus the Mad. What this issue doesn’t tell you is that Franklin freed Johnny from Maximus’ thrall in Fantastic Force #9, which was part 9 of Atlantis Rising.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Kristoff continues the unlikable thing by always telling his new teammates they have inferior intellects. His flirtation with Cassie, though, gives him a little more personality than just kid-who-thinks-he’s-Dr.-Doom.

After referencing Ant-Man’s daughter Cassie several times, she finally shows up in Fantastic Four. She’s also been aged-up from kid to pre-teen so she can get flirty with Kristoff. Cassie being a superhero fan has been well-established in her many Iron Man and Marvel Presents cameos, even wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt in her first appearance.

The Alicia problem: Ben is the only one who has a problem with Sue asking Lyja to join the expedition, remembering that Johnny still feels betrayed by everything that went down between them. Lyja tells herself that her Laura Green persona was only meant to keep an eye on Johnny, and that she never intended to attract Johnny.

Commercial break: It’s the Citizen Kane of parachuting elephant movies:

Trivia time: The country of Brazil hasn’t been visited too many times in Marvel history. There was some World War II action with Captain America and Bucky. Other than that, it’s mostly been Avengers visiting there for various world-saving missions, as well as an amusing story about Jarvis the butler teleporting to Brazil to gather gourmet coffee beans. Brazil got the most play in New Mutants, thanks to the mutant hero Sunspot being Brazillian. Most interestingly, though, is that Brazil is the home of Nova Roma, the secret society where people live as if it is still ancient Rome. Magma from New Mutants was originally from Nova Roma.

Fantastic or frightful? After all those long-winded and baffling subplots, not to mention a bunch of crossovers, it’s refreshing to have an issue that’s back to the Fantastic Four going on a Fantastic Four adventure. It’s a simplistic issue, but there’s plenty of fun to be had.

Next: Rumble in the jungle.

 

****

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Fantastic Friday: Still more Atlantis

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #402 is part ten of the eleven-part Atlantis Rising crossover. I don’t know about you but I’m getting Atlantis’d out.

Sexy sorceress Morgan Le Fay has taken over Atlantis and raised it to the surface. The Inhumans, under the leadership of the Inhuman Genetic Council, believe that Atlantis belongs to the Inhumans, and everyone’s getting caught up in the conflict. While flying Atlantis aboard their Stealth Hawk spaceship, the FF are attacked by Thor, who is under Morgan’s thrall. We begin with a pretty cool Top Gun-style aerial battle between Thor and ship, with them outmaneuvering and battling each other. Kristoff fires a “graviton torpedo” at Thor, knocking him unconscious. The FF flies off, not to Atlantis but to Heathrow Airport where NATO is holding an emergency session to discuss the Atlantis situation. (How do our heroes know this?)

In Atlantis, it’s revealed that the battle severed Morgan’s psychic link with Thor. She still has her energy field intact around Atlantis, though, and she reveals she has aquatic Ihuman Triton trapped in a “geneti-globe” and she hopes to use him as her pawn. She also has the Inhuman city of Attilan, shrunk down to tiny size and trapped in a bottle. Nathaniel Richards is also there, having been taken prisoner by Atlanteans. He tells Morgan that he has the means to restore Attilan to its proper size.

We then catch up with the Inhuman Royal Family, still living in exile in a New Jersey circus. They are contacted by their enemy Arcadius, head of the Genetic Council. They agree to set aside their differences, only for Arcadius to saw that if the Inhumans are to survive this conflict, they must destroy Namor the Sub-Mariner. We then appropriately cut to Namor, who has been rescued after a defeat earlier in the crossover. He’s been nursed to health in an undersea cave by Atlantean sorcerer Vashti. Namor says he wants vengeance against those who displaced Atlantis, but Vashti argues that Namor’s people need a leader and a healer instead.

The FF arrive in London, and the Inhuman Royal Family see a news report about them. The FF meet with NATO officials in a conference room inside an unidentified mansion (could this be Downing Street?!?) where they debate about what to do about Atlantis. The Royal Family teleports right onto the conference table. The NATO guys think this is an attack, but Sue vouches for the Inhumans. Then there really is an attack, when Namor bursts through a window, hoping to get his revenge, rather than the “leader and healer” stuff. Vashti apparently never filled him in about the whole Royal-Family-living-in-exile-at-the-circus thing.

Black Bolt fights Namor, and the two are pretty evenly matched. The exchange blows, and Black Bolt actually uses his energy antenna as a proper weapon, something we don’t see him to that often. Meanwhile, Ant-Man fights Lockjaw, Karnak fights Ben, and Gorgon (who, let’s not forget, once single-handedly defeated the FF) fights the NATO security guards. Sue breaks up the fight by putting a force field between Black Bolt and Namor.

In Atlantis, Morgan reveals to Arcadius that she has procured the city in the bottle and the means to restore it. Arcadius then contacts the Royal Family and says they must teleport to Atlantis at once. They do, leaving the FF behind in England. Sue says they must pursue, except that they have no way of breaking through the energy barrier around Atlantis. Then Thor shows up again, saying that he’s free of Morgan’s spell. He says he can get them to Atlantis, where he will have his revenge.

Fade out: Sue spends the whole issue trying to act as negotiator, hoping to stop the fighting and get everyone to listen to reason.

Clobberin’ time: This issue’s letters page announces a new Thing solo series coming later that year. It never happened, though. Ben wouldn’t get another solo series until Thing: Freakshow, seven years later.

Flame on: Starting this month, Johnny took over as the new leader of the spinoff team Fantastic Force, which is why he won’t appear in this or the next few issues.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Lockjaw defeats Ant-Man by pinning him to a wall, so that Ant-Man can’t get to his shrinking gas.

Kristoff continues to question the FF’s no-killing rule, suggesting that they might have to kill Thor, even if he ultimately chooses against it. Later, none of the officials in London question why someone who looks and acts just like Dr. Doom is with the FF. Maybe Sue phoned ahead and informed them that Kristoff is on the team now.

Medusa’s only role in this issue is to act an interpreter for Black Bolt. Her and Black Bolt’s son Ahura appears in one panel while at the circus, in case anyone’s wondering whatever happened to that character.

Commercial break: Whatever happened to Combo Man?

Trivia time: How did Atlantis Rising end? Morgan Le Fay was defeated, and Attilan was restored to its original size, trashing Atlantis in the process. The Atlantean people were displaced and the Inhumans took over ownership of the now-combined Attilan/Atlantis.

One of the guards in London asks, “Where is Captain Britain when we need him?” The answer is that month in Excalibur #87, where Captain Britain and the Excalibur team were in Genosha, searching for the mythical “mutant-killing bullet.”

Fantastic or frightful? There’s a lot of fun action in this one, with the spaceship vs. Thor fight and the Black Bolt vs. Namor fight. Unfortunately, I have a hard time caring about all this Atlantis vs. Inhumans conflict as it gets more and more dense. Yet another mixed bag.

Next: Thing ring, do your thing.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 41

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! It’s morphin’ time! Alpha, bring my Zune.

We begin with Bavmorda and her wide men setting up for the ritual, so I guess now is as good a time as any to get into what this ritual is, exactly. This is the Ritual of Oblivion, also known as the Rite of Oblivion. It takes twelve hours to prepare (this is important for later) a purified copper altar (the “purified” part will also be important later, a thunderstorm, several rare ingredients, and a “large quantity” of human blood. (!) The idea is that over this twelve hours, vast magical entities are built up, enough to not just kill a living being, but kill that living being by banishing his or her soul to the netherworld. Just killing Elora Danan wouldn’t have been enough, Bavmorda needs this ritual to destroy both the baby’s body and soul. Also, the caster, Bavmorda, cannot leave the ritual chamber once the ritual begins, or else the magic fails.

 We see the wise men preparing the baby in a red blanket with what appear to be black straps around her (to keep her from crawling away?), while one of the wise men strikes a gong that has an almost-but-not-quite ying/yang symbol on it.

 Back outside, Willow steps outside his tent to see what the audience already knows, that the whole Galladoorn army has been turned into pigs. This is demonstrated by a wide shot of the whole area covered with actual pigs (no CGI here). A couple of horses run by in the background, no doubt wanting to get out of there. Willow sees two piglets underfoot, meant to represent the two Brownies. Many viewers over the years have pointed out that the two piglets are actually much larger than the Brownies, but it’s still a good gag. 

 Willow runs back into the tent, throws himself onto all fours, and punches the ground in frustration. We’ve seen him angry and frustrated at other times during the movie, but never pushed to the edge like this. He says, “We’ve come all this way and Elora Danan is going to die.” I’m not sure this exposition is needed this late in the film, but it’s not so bad. Fin Raziel, still in her goat form, says there is still a way to defeat Bavmorda. Willow says Bavmorda is too powerful. Then there the camera does the heroic push-in on the goat as she says “Transform me, and I will destroy her.”

 Willow immediately snaps out of his funk, and he gives a Raziel a serious nod. Instead of the usual magic words he’s been saying throughout the movie, this time he chants in English. “Elements of eternity, above and below, balance of essence, fire begets snow.” Then he begins with the fantasy magic words. The tie-in material has less to say about this spell than it does the Ritual of Oblivion. This is simply called a transformation spell, and it’s defined as using magic to transform one thing into another thing. Yeah, thanks for that. The tie-in fiction says most magic-users in this world consider transformation unethical, but we’ve seen it a lot in the movie. In addition to Fin Raziel and all those pigs, this is the same spell that turned the troll into the Eborsisk, and it’s even how the High Aldwin turned a rock into a bird.

 Now the camera pushed in on Willow as he chants, and we hear Raziel say, “Willow, believe in the words. Concentrate.” Then we get crazy special effects as the goat transforms, its neck stretching upward in a grotesque way, until Raziel turns into an ostrich. She says, “Oh, no,” and Willow opens his eyes for a second, sees this, and then goes back to chanting. Note that this time it actually is CGI, one of the first and biggest uses of “morphing” in a movie. This scene’s transformation effects were a huge leap forward in VFX tech.  

 Then the ostrich feathers are drawn into Raziel’s body, and she shrinks down to small size, becoming a turtle. She says, “Stop, Willow,” but he keeps going. The turtle’s front legs grow into big fuzzy paws, and Raziel quickly transforms into a tiger. You’d think this would come in handy during the upcoming battle, but the tie-in books state that Raziel can’t perform magic unless human, and her magic is what’s needed now.

 The tiger form doesn’t last long, turning into a naked lady. (Wa-hey!) Notice that she keeps some tiger stripes on her legs. Let’s assume they’re permanent. Exhausted, Willow collapses from exhaustion. Raziel sits up, and we see she is back to human form. The score gets all heavenly-sounding as Willow sees Raziel. She looks at her hands and smiles. He covers her with a convenient blanket and hands the wand to her. She looks down at herself again and says, “Has it been so long?” Raziel then takes the wand, stands, and gets all determined. She says, “We have work to do. Give me the wand.” He hands her the wand and says, “We must undo Bavmorda’s sorcery.” He too stands and nods. (Lots of nodding in this scene.) She points to the side and says, “Let them in, now.”

 This next shot is hilarious. Willow opens the tent door, and a single pig walks in and stands in place. Does this mean all the pigs have retained their human intelligence? Further, if this pig knows what’s going on, were all the pigs just outside the tent eavesdropping. Anyway, Raziel starts to chant and the wand glows blue. This is all visual cue we need to know that she’s going to turn them all back to human.

 Next: Agriculture, or not?

****

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Fantastic Friday: Honey I shrunk the Inhumans

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Now that all the excitement of issue #400 is over, we’re at issue #401, smack-dab in the middle of yet another convoluted ‘90s Marvel crossover.

This is part eight of the eleven-part Atlantis Rising crossover, in which Atlantis rises to the surface thanks to Morgan Le Fay’s magic. Meanwhile, the Inhuman’s moon-based city of Attilan is rocked with earthquakes, so the Inhuman genetic council decides to invade Atlantis, claiming it for their own. Various Marvel superheroes get caught up in the conflict. The FF used Ant-Man’s shrinking tech to shrink all of Attilan to save the city. Then, Maximus the Mad swept in and shrunk the FF, trapping them in the tiny city.

This issue begins with four of the currently five FF — Sue, Ben, Ant-Man and Kristoff — fighting Inhumans in Attlilan, while Maximus has Johnny trapped in a “brain transcendentalizer,” reprogramming Johnny’s brain to make him loyal to Maximus. Then there’s several pages of Atlantis Rising tie-in plot, where Morgan Le Fay and the Inhuman Genetic Council work out an uneasy alliance. Thor, who is under Morgan’s thrall, wants to fight, but she calms him down, saying she will work with the Inhumans but won’t surrender Atlantis.

Aboard the FF’s spaceship the Stealth Hawk, Maximus outlines his plan, saying he’s going to sneak the shrunken Attilan into Atlantis, and then restore all the Inhumans to regular size and have them attack, so he can be the one to rule Atlantis. Kristoff’s servant Boris is also there, with more hints that he is keeping a secret from everyone. The FF, meanwhile, reach the top of the dome containing Attilan and break free. But they are all still Ant-Man sized, and are spotted by one of Maximus’ goons. Then more tie-in plot, where some Atlantean soldiers find Namor the Sub-Mariner still alive after his fight with Prince Llyron in an earlier Atlantis Rising tie-in.

In Latveria, Nathaniel Richards  still has the world convinced the world that he’s Doctor Doom. After monitoring the Atlantis situation, he dons a “vibro vest” which lets him turn invisible, and then he teleports on board the Stealth Hawk. There’s several pages of action as the Inhumans chase the teeny-tiny FF around the ship. Maximus turns the tide unleashing Johnny, now loyal to Maximus, to destroy the FF.

In Atlantis, Morgan and the Genetic Council get word of the Stealth Hawk coming for them. Arcadius, leader of the Council, reveals to the other Inhumans that he has a plan, and that there are still more Inhumans who can join the fight. He then does the unthinkable and contacts the Inhuman Royal Family, who are still hiding out in the circus. (This is a big deal because the Genetic Council are the ones who exiled the Royal Family to Earth a while back.)

Aboard the Stealth Hawk, the FF put up a good fight against Johnny and Maximus’ henchmen, despite their size. Nathaniel tries to steal Attilan, only for Johnny to catch him in the act. Nathaniel teleports away, accidentally taking Johnny with him. Ant-Man manages to reach his enlarging gas, which restores the FF to regular size. Just as they are about to clobber Maximus, the whole ship is rocked. Cut to outside, where Morgan Le Fay sent Thor into space to destroy the ship.

To be continued!

Fade out: Sue lifts the team to the highest point of Attilan on a force field, which wears her out to the point of exhaustion, even though we’ve seen her a lot more elaborate stunts with her force fields before. I guess they were fighting Inhumans for a long time before this issue started.

Clobberin’ time: Ben uses his smarts while shrunken, to use wires to electrocute an enemy, rather than just punch him.

Flame on: Johnny is able to reveal Nathaniel’s invisibility by blanketing the room with heat rays. It’s suggested that he knows this will work on Sue’s powers, though I don’t recall him doing that in the past.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man is wearing special “boot springs” that allow him to jump to great heights. I guess the compressed-mass-makes-him-strong-when-small thing means he can only super-jump so high without help.

Here’s where I can see why so many fans think Kristoff is annoying. He has all of Dr. Doom’s arrogance-speak, but without any of Doom’s menace. He also wants to flat-out murder all the Inhumans they’re fighting, only for the others to remind him more than once that FF don’t kill. If Kristoff has all of Dr. Doom’s memories and genius, shouldn’t he know that about them already?

Medusa is back for one panel, doting over Black Bolt as he is ill. Why is he ill? Because of heartbreak over the Inhumans losing their culture and way of life.

Commercial break: I wish they still made this.

Trivia time: There’s a lot of talk in this issue about Attilan being a city beneath a dome (the Marvel Wiki alleges this is a “parody” of DC Comics’ bottled city of Kandor), hinting that it was always under a dome. It looks to me like the dome was part of the shrinking process, because Attilan was originally relocated to the Blue Area of the moon, because the Blue Area has its own breathable atmosphere.

More Inhuman names. Along with Arcadius, the Inhuman Genetic Council includes Cynas, Porcal, Furgar, Targon, Kitang, and Sapphiras. Maximus’ henchmenm meanwhile, are Nebulo, Leonis, Stallior, and Timberius.

Fantastic or frightful? With Ant-Man on the team, it’s about time they did a story where the whole team gets Ant-Man’d. Unfortunately, the fun of this is overshadowed by the overall Atlantis vs. Inhumans plot. So, a mixed bag.

Next: Still more Atlantis.

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 40

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! It’s nightmare fuel time with the infamous pig scene,  1:36:33 to 1:39:21 on the Blu-ray.

It’s nighttime now, with an exterior shot of NockMaar castle, lined with torches. The Galladoorn troops march in the foreground, also with torches. Bavmorda and one of her wise men step atop one of the walls overlooking the troops. Note the guy to the far left wearing the really cool skull mask.

The reverse shot shows the Galladoorn have made camp. Apparently time has passed, because everyone looks settled in and they are just casually strolling about. Bavmorda starts to laugh. Her voice takes on an echo-y quality, and Airk and the other Galladoorn take notice. Either this is her using magic, or the castle has great acoustics from this spot. There are also reaction shots from Willow and Brownies as she continues to laugh.

“This is not an army,” Bavmorda says. Fin Raziel, in goat form, weaves through the crowd saying “Willow.” She can guess where this is going. She comes up to him and says, “Hide.” They both duck into a tent. There’s a quick shot of Madmartigan and Sorsha, then back to Raziel inside the tent, who says, “Use the septor chant. Protect yourself.” He asks, “Why?” and she says, “Just do it.” He pulls out the wand and sits down.

We then cut back to Madmartigan and Sorsha, walking to the front of the Galladoorn troops. “We’ve come for Alora Danan,” Madmartigan says. From her perch on the castle, Bavmorda says, “You dare to challenge me? You’re not warriors.” She takes a minute to grin, as if the thought of what to do next just occurs to her, and she says, “You’re pigs.”

Madmartigan immediately flinches in pain. He falls forward, and we hear Bavmorda chanting magic words in the background. In the next closeup, Madmartigan has developed underbite fangs. Then there’s a shot of his hand turning into a hoof, and there can be no doubt in the audience’s mind at this point as to what’s happening. Airk and Sorsha look on in horror. Bavmorda smiles and says, “You’re all pigs!” She waves her arms in a crazy manner, apparently doing magic. Airk then falls forward in pain, as do some of the background extras. Bavmorda repeats “Pigs!” and the Brownies fall over, from their spot next to a campfire. Bavmorda waves her hands through the air again, making comical pig-oink noises.

Inside the tent, Willow holds out the wand and chants magic words, as the wand glows with blue light. Then there’s an absolutely terrifying shot of Madmartigan in half-human half-pig form, complete with pig snout. Squealing sounds are added to the soundtrack, just to make it more nightmarish. Bavmorda laughs some more, and there are shots of other half-pig soldiers. Sorsha shouts, “Mother, no!” Bavmorda considers her daughter for a moment — her facial expression here is hard to read — but then says another magic word with a flourish and Sorsha doubles over in pain.

There’s even more body horror stuff as all the soldiers are half-pigs, now with some 100 percent pigs walking around in the background. There’s also a man who is human from the waist up and pig from the waist down. Then it’s back to Willow in the tent, who’s now struggling to keep it together as he casts the protection spell.

Inside the castle, it’s our first look at the room where Bavmorda’s big ritual will take place. I’ll have more to say about this ritual in future entries. She walks in and says, “Begin the ritual.” A wise man lights a candle as she adds, “This baby will not destroy me.” Another wide man helps Bavmorda out of her robe and into a new one, revealing the mummy-like body suit she wears underneath.

 

She hears a storm brewing outside, and she walks to the altar at the center of the room and says, “Come, thunder!” We see an opening in the ceiling, protected with metal bars and spikes, with lighting and thunder outside. Then there’s a wide shot of the whole room, showing all the candles the altar, and the huge opening in the ceiling. Bavmorda says, “Touch this altar with your powers!” Classic 1980s fantasy blue lightning shoots down and strikes the altar. Then a wide man approaches, carrying a crying Alora Danan.

Let’s make the cliffhanger for next time.

Next: Ritual behavior.

****

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Fantastic Friday: FOUR hundred

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s issue number FOUR hundred!

Gimmie a gimmick: This the third of three covers using an iris-in effect, with a rainbow foil surface framed around the characters, getting larger with each issue. In this one, it covers almost the entire space. There was also a separately-sold regular cover.

We begin with a one-page text into from Stan Lee, saying pretty much the same things he’s said in every interview about the Fantastic Four, that he and Jack Kirby wanted them to be feel like real people living in the real world, while also having crazy superhero adventures, and how the FF kicked off the entire Marvel Universe.

In the comic itself, a whole lot of plot has happened between the last issue and this one, in which the FF and Kristoff confronted Aron the rogue Watcher on the moon, and Sue ended up teleported to the Negative Zone, where she was stranded. It’s at this point where the series crossed over with the spinoff Fantastic Force #7. The Fantastic Force team rescued Sue, courtesy of Huntara’s teleporting weapons. Both teams, with Kristoff, Lyja, and Nathaniel Richards in tow, traveled to the Watcher homeworld to get to the bottom of what’s going on. We open on the heroes standing on the chest of a giant Watcher with even more giant Celestials hovering over them. (Keep in mind that these are the giant armored Celestials who remain motionless in a distant planet, and the group made up characters like the Collector, the Grandmaster, etc. Although sometimes called “celestials,” that group is the Elders of the Universe.)

Franklin becomes overwhelmed with psychic energy, saying “he” is near, and Huntara opens a portal. Sue then spots Uatu, Earth’s Watcher, who explains The big Watcher is “the One,” the living repository of all observations of all Watchers. The Celestials decided that the One was declared to be a threat to the “cosmic balance of power.” Further, the Celestials have decided that all the Watchers must die. The FF ask Uatu how to defeat Aron. Uatu doesn’t answer, but gives them a strange device.

Ant-Man deduces that the device combines with the others the Watchers left behind in previous issues to create a weapon. Franklin tries to read Uatu’s mind, and he can see Aron’s plan. Aron is building a secret base in the asteroid field between Jupiter and Mars, where he plans to trap Earth’s solar system in his own pocket universe.

The heroes decide to split into two teams. Ben’s team will take on Aron, and Sue’s team will help save Uatu and the other Watchers. Ben, Franklin, Ant-Man, Huntara, Nathaniel, and Vibraxis travel to Aron’s asteroid, where Aron summons classic FF villains from other timelines to fight them. This includes Blastaar, Dragon Man, and the original Frightful Four. As the issue goes on, it keeps cutting back to this fight, as Aron introduces more classic villains in their classic forms, including Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, and finally the Mole Man and all the giant monsters from way back in the first issue. Even more past villains join in as the fight continues.

While that’s going on, things get cosmic back on the Watchers’ planet with Sue, Johnny, Lyja, Nathaniel, and Devlor. Lyja shares some Skrull knowledge about the Celestials, saying they actually exist in hyperspace, and the giant suits of armor conduits for them to interact with this plane of reality. So the plan is to get inside the armor somehow. Nathaniel conveniently explains that Sue draws the energy from invisible force fields from another dimension, and this somehow allows her to break through armor with a force field, after much concentration.

Inside the Celestial’s body, the heroes fight their way through alien antibodies, the team comes to a strange door. After busting through it, everyone is attacked by more antibodies, and only Sue gets away. Alone, she finds the Celestial’s brain and touches it. Her mind is filled with memories of the fateful spaceship crash that gave the FF their powers. She is then confronted by a perfect replica of herself, who explains a bunch of sci-fi gobbledygook about a big bang and the creation of the multiverse and about how the One is somehow slowing the expansion of the multiverse, so the Celestials are stepping in to prevent this. Or something It’s very confusing.

The Celestial succeeds in killing the One, but then Sue uses a force field to destroy the Celestial’s nerve center, declaring “the cosmic balance of power is restored!” Back on the planet’s surface, the Watcher says the One and the Celestial will regenerate in a thousand years, and start this conflict all over again. By that time, the Watcher says he hopes humankind will have evolved to the point where they can step in and save the day themselves. Sue chews the Watcher out for all the times he broke his oath to only watch and instead help out, and she asks him to do it again.

On the asteroid, the super-weapon is destroyed, and Ant-Man proves he doesn’t need it by growing to Giant-Man size and destroying Aron’s mechanism that way. Sue’s team arrives with the Watcher, who attacks Aron. The Watcher says that humans must be allowed to evolve on their own, rather than be trapped in the past. The Watcher transforms Aron into pure energy to be used in the One’s eventual regeneration.

It’s still not over. Another Watcher, known only as He-Who-Summons, shows up and says the Watcher has violated his oath too many times, and is condemned, and banished from the Watcher race. He still has cosmic powers, though, and teleports everyone back to their ship. Then there’s a weird bit of business about finding a fourth member of the Fantastic Four. They offer it to Franklin, who doesn’t really answer. Ant-Man says he doesn’t belong. Kristoff volunteers, but is rejected. The reason why none of this makes sense is that in issue #401, we’re going to have a Fantastic Five situation, with both Ant-Man and Kristoff on the team. It ends with Sue ruminating on the Watcher, saying that even though he’s been cut off from his people, he’ll continue trying to make the universe a better place.

Then there’s a three-page text piece, where writer Michael Marts argues that Fantastic Four earns the title “world’s greatest comic magazine.” Then there’s a backup story, “In Memoriam” where the FF holds a funeral for Reed, and Sue finally gives in and acknowledges that Reed is dead. A bunch of Marvel heroes show up for the funeral, where there’s another flashback retelling the FF’s origin story.

Fade out: This is a big issue for Sue, witnessing the creation of the multiverse, and then changing the course of her own universe. Her accepting Reed’s death is another big character moment.

Clobberin’ time: Ben makes a joke about the OJ Simpson trial, in case you were wondering what year this issue came out.

Flame on: There’s still more drama between Johnny and Lyja. Johnny can tell that Lyja still has feelings for him, and he tries to resist the thought that maybe they could get back together.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Welcome to the team, Kristoff! This issue firmly establishes that Kristoff has come to terms with him not being Dr. Doom, but Doom’s adopted son with all of Doom’s knowledge. And some fans think this character is ridiculous.

Ant-Man worries that he’s the weakest member of the FF, only to surprisingly save the day again, except that last-minute saves has pretty much been his shtick since he joined the team.

Among the Marvel heroes attending Reed’s funeral, we have former alternate team members Crystal and She-Hulk, as well as future alternate members Spider-Man and Black Panther.

Medusa appears in the asteroid fight alongside the original Frightful Four. The Marvel wiki says this version of her was taken from somewhere between Fantastic Four #36 and #38.

Four and a half: Franklin gets a lot of praise for his leadership of the Fantastic Force team, but if you’ve been following that series, you know the team is kind of a mess.

The Alicia problem: Lyja says the Celestials created the Skrulls. This is later confirmed during some Skrull/Celestial action in Silver Surfer #5 and Blackwulf #9.

Commercial break: I have no idea what this ad is selling.

Trivia time: The Watcher being cut off from his people is never really resolved. His next appearance after this is will be in Uncanny X-Men #355 where he acts like everything’s normal. Later, in She-Hulk #18, we see him working alongside other Watchers as if nothing happened.

While the Celestials are normally a bunch of unmoving giants on a distant planet, this issue is one of the rare times that they actually get and do stuff, even acting as individuals. The Celestial in Red is Arishem the Judge, who judges the One, and the blue and yellow one that Sue defeats is Exitar the Exterminator. The other Celestials appearing in this issue are Tefral the Survivor, Nezarr the Calculator, and Ziran the Tester.

You might be wondering how Tony Stark and Iron Man could attend the funeral at the same time. At the time, Tony was big into controlling his suits remotely (like in the movie Iron Man 3) so an unmanned Iron Man armor is there, acting as Tony’s “bodyguard.”

Fantastic or frightful? I daresay I really enjoyed this one, and I think it’s one of the best of writer Tom DeFalco’s oft-derided time on series. Putting Sue at the center of cosmic Marvel in place of Reed was a great choice, and it shows a lot of growth for her character. All the villain cameos made for some fun nostalgia along the way.

Next: …and keep her by the sea.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Mister Negative

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #399 finds us in the final act of Tom DeFalco’s long and controversial run as writer.

Gimmie a gimmick: This is the second of three covers to feature a “rainbow foil” cover, in a frame around the characters for an “iris in” effect. The frame gets larger and larger over these issues, as if the pressure is closing in on our heroes. There was also a  separately-sold regular cover.

The FF and Kristoff have traveled to the moon seeking answers from the Watcher about his manipulation of them over the last 20-some issues, only to learn that this is not Uatu, Earth’s watcher, but Aron the rogue Watcher. Aron says something about the Watchers fighting a battle for the fate of the universe, but our heroes aren’t interested in talking. They attack, with several pages of fighting. Kristoff manages to injure Aron with one of Dr. Doom’s weapons, and then Aron teleports Sue away from there.

Outside, on the surface of the moon, Ben is attacked by the a group of Inhumans known as the Crimson Cadre — Ator, Margoyle, Eelak, Glaboo, Pulssus, and Rootar. Inside the FF’s spaceship, which is parked nearby, Kristoff’s servant Boris watches the fight, insisting that Ben must not die.

Inside the Watcher’s house, Aron wanders off looking for a power source, and Johnny follows. Ant-Man wants to help, but Kristoff dismisses him, thinking Ant-Man’s shrinking powers are useless. We then catch up with Sue, who has been teleported to the Negative Zone, standing upon an asteroid floating over a planet made of anti-matter. (I think. This part’s confusing.) She finds Reed there, who is happy to see her, but she quickly deduces that this really isn’t Reed.

Cut to the moon, where Aron finds the cosmic power that Dr. Doom stole from him in issue #373. He fights Johnny some more while Kristoff suspiciously fiddles with the power source. Ant-Man stalls Aron by temporarily shrinking him, and then Kristoff reveals he rigged the power source to steal more power from Aron, rather than restore it.

On the surface, Ben continues to fight the Inhumans, until Boris commandeers the ship’s weapons, convincing the Inhumans to stand down. Inside, Aron refuses to accept defeat, saying that humanity is certain to perish in the “coming cataclysm.” He then teleports away.

In the Negative Zone, Sue reveals that this version of Reed is really the Dark Raider, an evil Reed from another timeline the team met recently. He’s been working with Aron, and he says he and Sue can restart the human race as a new Adam and Eve there in the Negative Zone. She won’t have it, and they fight. He eventually falls into the anti-matter, with Sue too exhausted from the fight to save him. The issue ends with the FF and Kristoff on the moon, finding Sue on a viewscreen but unable to reach her, as she remains trapped in the Negative Zone.

To be continued!

Fade out: Sue not only overpowers the Dark Raider, she is also smart enough to know to destroy his flying harness so he can’t escape her.

Clobberin’ time: Ben brags to the Crimson Cadre about how he knows the Inhumans’ royal family, saying he and Gorgon once shared some tequila while Karnak “danced the lambada.” For continuity’s sake, I will assume he’s exaggerating.

Flame on: When fighting Aron, Johnny tries that move where he makes a bunch of flame-based duplicates of himself. Aron sees right through it, appropriately.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man’s plan includes shrinking not just Aron, but Kristoff as well. He doesn’t say why he also shrinks Kristoff, except to escape.

Commercial break: What, no Richard Dean Anderson?

Trivia time: Although not said in this issue, the Marvel Wiki insists that the Dark Raider is still possessed by the psychic entity Malice. Further, the wiki states that neither Malice nor the Dark Raider appeared again after this issue.

Similarly, the Crimson Cadre would appear briefly in the Atlantis Rising crossover shortly after this, and then they too never appeared again.

Fantastic or frightful? It’s another all-they-do-is-fight issue, basically a placeholder before the big #400. The stuff between Sue and the Dark Raider is quite interesting, but still comes off as filler.

Next: FOUR-hundred.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Toy time

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Except I’m still recovering from the holidays, so here’s some random pics of Fantastic Four toys:

****

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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 39

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! Just as one battle has ended, we start preparing for the next battle. It’s a metaphor for life, 1:35:15 to 1:36:33 on the Blu-ray.

General Kael rides through a brownish-grey rocky terrain at full gallop, carrying the baby. In the next shot, we can see he’s riding toward Castle NockMaar, a really cool view of the castle at sunset. He rides across a small drawbridge shouting “I have the child!” and the drawbridge starts to close after him. We’re then in the interior castle courtyard, looking not too dissimilar from Tir Asleen, but with more people about. A handler rushes out to take the reins of Kael’s horse. Kael’s horse appears to have two horns on its head, but this looks to me like part of its battle armor, and not that it’s an otherworldly fantasy magic horse.  

Cut again to outside, for another impressive shot of the castle exterior, as two more horses with riders approach. It’s Madmartigan, Willow, and Sorsha. Madmartigan shouts an angry “Ha!” at the castle. Are we meant to think that they’ve been in hot pursuit at full gallop, chasing Kael all the way there from Tir Asleen? Then there’s a great Kurosawa-ish shot of all the Galladoorn troops riding up behind them. Airk, wearing a cool gold helmet, orders, “We need towers and a battering ram! Break out the tents! Make camp!”

 

We see the Galladoorn troops get to work unpacking supplies from under a tarp on a cart. There’s a goat walking around in this shot, whom I think is meant to be Fin Raziel, though she doesn’t say anything. There are two close-ups of Sorsha during all this, first with her looking angrily at the castle, and then with looking around the troops with a slight smile, as if looking forward to the battle to come. There’s comedy shtick with the Brownies, still in that one horse saddle pouch. Rool raises a fish in triumph, only to clonk Franjean in the head. Airk says to Madmartigan, “We’ll assault at first light.” Willow looks up at the castle, followed by a pan up the structure, which I believe is meant to be his point of view.

 Cut to baby Elora Danan, looking concerned, followed by a closeup of Queen Bavmorda smiling at the baby all motherly-like. This is the first time we’ve seen her be anything other than enraged. She looks up and says, “Where’s Sorsha?” General Kael is there, without his helmet. He answers, “She has turned against us, your highness. There’s a quick reaction shot of Bavmorda, and then reaction shots of two of Bavmorda’s wise men, also in the room. Bavmorda goes right back into angry mode, saying, “Turned against me?” She walks off, revealing for the first time that this takes place in the throne room from earlier. She shouts, “Prepare for the ritual!” Where is she going, though? The tie-in books state the door to the side of the room leads to her private chambers, but in this scene she’s heading outside, back to the main part of the castle. This makes sense, though, based on where we see her in the next scene.

Next week: Swine flu.

****

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Fantastic Friday: I am not Groot

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #398 starts tying together plot threads from previous issues so things start making more sense now… or do they?

Gimmie a gimmick: This is the first of three covers to feature a “rainbow foil” cover, in a frame around the characters for an “iris in” effect. The frame will larger and larger over the next two issues, so it feels like the pressure is closing in on our heroes. There was a separately-sold regular cover for those who didn’t want to spend extra money on shiny foil.

The FF, Kristoff, and Nathaniel Richards are aboard the FF’s ship, the Stealth Hawk, flying to the moon to confront the Watcher. We begin with Kristoff, Nathaniel and Sue examining the alien device that the Watcher left behind for them to find in the previous issue. Using intellect equivalent to Dr. Doom’s Kristoff believes the device is one component of a larger weapon, which would possibly destroy an entire solar system. Sue is wary of Kristoff and warier (is that a word?) of Nathaniel, warning Nathaniel to keep his mitts off of the device.

In the pilot’s seat, Ben announces trouble. On the moon, in the Inhuman’s domed city of Attilan, General Ator is currently in charge after the Royal Family split for Earth he believes that the FF are his enemies, and he orders his troops to open fire. The Stealh Hawk lives up to its name and goes into stealth mode, sneaking past the Inhumans and landing outside the Watcher’s home.

Everybody goes out to investigate, leaving Kristoff’s servant Boris behind with the ship, hinting that something suspicious is up with Boris. They enter the Watcher’s home, take a moment to stare in awe of how weird it is in there, and then they confront an image of the Watcher, who tells them they will not find what they seek. Sue demands answers, saying the alternate timeline of the “Nobody Gets Out Alive” story doesn’t add up, and Ben adds that they don’t know if this is Uatu, Earth’s Watcher, or the other one who attacked the FF in the previous issue.

In Attlian, Ator locates the Stealth Hawk and sends his Inhuman Assault Team after the FF. The Assault Team’s members are:

  • Margoyle, a female gargoyle.
  • Rootar the Irresistible, an alien tree man who is not Groot.
  • Eelak the Agile, a slippery jumping lizard man.
  • Pulssus, a glowing electrical guy.
  • Glaboo, a big slime/mud monster.

Inside the Watcher’s home, Nathaniel sneaks off by himself to check out the Watcher’s otherworldly wonders, in pursuit of his “true mission.” In the main room, a hole opens in the fabric of reality, and out walks another Watcher, named He-Who-Summons. This guy says Earth is no longer of consequence, and only “the one” matters now. Both Watchers disappear, but not before leaving behind another alien device, which Sue calls a trail of breadcrumbs. The spacetime rift that the Watcher left through is still open, and Sue wants to follow, but Nathaniel returns and says they mustn’t. Then the mysterious apparition of Sue from another timeline appears, saying they must trust Nathaniel. Kristoff doesn’t buy it, saying the apparition could have come from anywhere — or anyone.

Then the Watcher reappears, saying the universe has reached a pivotal point. Ben somehow deduces that this is not Uatu, but the Watcher imposter that attacked the FF last issue. Then it’s time for the big reveal, this is not Uatu but… Aron the rouge Watcher, who has been menacing the FF off and on for the last hundred issues or so. Ben attacks, and Aron blasts him out of the building. Aron announces that all of reality is about to end, and it’s too bad that the FF won’t be alive to see it.

Outside, on the moon’s surface, but still within the Blue Area with its breathable air, Ben finds himself surrounded by the Inhuman Attack Squad, ready for a fight. Nathaniel Richards, meanwhile, conveniently teleports back to Earth, to the lab in Castle Doom. There, it is revealed that the apparition of Sue is a fake, and that Nathaniel is the one who’s been making it appear before our heroes, telling them to trust him. He shuts off the apparition, saying that he’s going to need someone “courageous, powerful, and naïve” to defeat a rogue Watcher, and he says he knows just the person.

To be continued!

Fade out: Sue frets about teaming up with Kristoff saying the FF knows almost nothing about him (not quite true) and she wonders if the kid could be a true ally.

Clobberin’ time: Ben is once again an expert pilot, outmaneuvering the Inhumans’ missile attacks, saying he’s having fun doing so.

Flame on: Johnny doesn’t speak during the flight to the moon, his mind elsewhere. The other suspect that he’s dwelling on Lyja, but we never learn what’s really on his mind.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man is in awe of being on the moon, but he’s been to space a couple of times now, in Contest of Champions, Death of Captain Marvel, and maybe others. (I still haven’t read most of his many Iron Man appearances.)

Commercial break: Was Reboot really as great as its fans say it was, or was it merely an OK show with occasionally great moments?

Trivia time: OK, let’s attempt to sort out continuity. The Watcher who’s been showing up since “No One Gets Out Alive” (NOGOA) has been Aron the whole time. This tracks, as Aron’s whole deal has always been to trap the FF in a world of his own creating, usually based on the 1960s version of the characters, hence the 60s-style timeline of NOGOA. The apparition of Sue seen in NOGOA was indeed from the alternate timeline, but the apparition seen in issues #387 to the present was created by Nathaniel to mess with our heroes. There, everything makes sense now.

The Inhuman Royal Family were exiled to Earth in Fantastic Four Unlimited #2 by the Inhuman Genetic Council, who are currently running Attlian. Ator makes reference to this in this issue when he attacks the FF.

Fantastic or frightful? Aside from the big reveal about Aron and the first appearance of some fun new Inhumans, there’s not much that happens here. It feels like the creators are just checking off boxes to set things up for issue #400 and the big finale in #416. So, another shrug.

Next: Mister negative.

****

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