Fantastic Four: Knighthood

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Time for a different and more grown-up version of our heroes (or is it?) in Marvel Knights: 4.

What’s all this, then? Marvel never quite figured out how to compete with DC’s edgy Vertigo imprint. There was Marvel Max, featuring adults-only stories starring characters such as the Punisher, Nick Fury, and even Howard the Duck. Max also gave us Alias, with the debut of Jessica Jones. Similarly, the Marvel Knights line gave select characters a “hard PG-13” treatment, beginning with Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada’s Daredevil. Other titles included Black Panther, Inhumans, Wolverine, more Punisher, and a team book simply called Marvel Knights. And then the FF had a turn with 30 issues of Marvel Knights: 4. This was a (somewhat) more grounded and serious take on the characters, running concurrently with the far-out and fantastical stuff Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo were doing on the main series.  

After their controversial takeover of Latveria, the Fantastic Four’s PR hit rock bottom and they lost their fortune. They are so broke, in fact, that they are evicted from the new Baxter Building, and they all need regular jobs. Ben works construction, Johnny tries to get his acting career restarted, and Sue becomes a substitute teacher. Reed withdraws into himself, obsessed with finding a way to turn things back around. He eventually agrees to take a job at a law firm, as their office’s computer tech guy.

Reed is then contacted by mobster Hammerhead, who says the FF were scammed out of their fortune by Terry Giocometti, who recently stole his fortune as well. Johnny, with no acting gigs to be found, once again begins training as a NYC firefighter. Then there’s several issues of the family going on a camping trip, where the encounter an alien who is the true source of the Jersey Devil urban legend. They defeat the alien, and this is a romantic/bonding moment for Reed and Sue.  

The second story arc begins with Johnny struggling to fit in as a firefighter. Then Namor the Submariner shows up unannounced in Sue’s classroom. It’s the same old story. Namor wants to Sue to leave Reed and come live with him in Atlantis. Reed hears about this, and he and Namor fight. Johnny breaks up the fight and enlists the two of them to help the NYFD search for a missing child who fell through a frozen lake. They’re too late to save the child, but they do manage to set aside their differences.

Things get spooky in the next storyline, when all the characters have the same nightmares. Psycho-Man has returned to New York, and he is looking for way to return to his home universe of Sub-Atomica. Then reality itself starts to unravel around the city as Psycho-Man taps into people’s emotions and then makes their emotional states warp their surroundings (or something). The crisis gets so extreme that even the sun is blotted out.

Reed deduces that Psycho-Man is causing all this chaos from inside the Baxter Building. The FF storms their former home to fight back, with Psycho-Man attacking them with more nightmare imagery. Sue confronts Psycho-Man, only it isn’t Sue but Alicia disguised as Sue. This allowed Sue to foil Psycho-Man’s plans while invisible. On the roof of the Baxter Building, Reed and Sue have heart-to-heart chat, where Reed says that although this time in their life has been challenging, their family has “blossomed.” Sue agrees, saying that their family doesn’t really want to be normal anyway.

The next issue begins with FF back in the Baxter Building, as their finances are now again on the upswing. The Puppet Master, meanwhile, has abducted Alicia and coerced a doctor into performing experimental eye transplants to cure Alicia’s blindness. In their wake, Daredevil finds corpses of eyeless bodies around New York. While the rest of the FF are off in space, Puppet Master mind-controls Sue with one of his puppets. He plans on replacing Alicia’s eyes with Sue’s. Alicia manages an escape by using Puppet Master’s mind-controlling clay against him. The FF and Daredevil show up to free the doctor. Reed offers to try to replicate the eye replacement surgery, but Alicia’s answer is simply, “I don’t think so.”

And that’s the issues 1-14 of Marvel Knights: 4. I’ll attempt to cover 15-30 next week. We’ll see.

Unstable molecule: Reed’s talk of hacking the stock market never comes of anything. Seems out of character for him. His rarely seen teaching and lecturing gigs never come up in the job search, so I guess we can chalk that up to the FF’s poor PR during this time.

Fade out: What’s the deal with Alicia impersonating Sue? Remember that when Alicia was first introduced, a big deal was made about her and Sue looking so alike they could be twins. Most Marvelites forgot this detail over the years, but the creators of Marvel Knights: 4 didn’t.

Clobberin’ time: Ben’s subplot as a construction worker is that he’s doing such a good job he’s making his coworkers look bad. It’s at the construction site where he’s the first one to find the sinkholes and tentacle monsters created by Psycho-Man.

Flame on: I’m unclear as to how or when Johnny becoming a firefighter in this series lines up with his firefighter training in the recent Human Torch miniseries. In the mini, though, he trained alongside the firefighters, but never actually got a job with them.

Four and a half: The series begins with Franklin’s birthday party (his age isn’t given), where Reed gives him an old-timey kid’s wagon that was his when he was a kid. Franklin doesn’t like the wagon at first, but later he takes it to school to show off the other kids, revealing he’s proud of his dad.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal is mentioned babysitting the kids on the moon, while the FF still have access to their teleporter in the last few days before being evicted.

Speaking of being evicted, H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot is among the junk seen being carried out by movers. Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.

Trivia time: Who is this guy Terry Giocometti, who is allegedly behind the FF being evicted and who has wronged Hammerhead? I have no clue. The Marvel Wiki states that this series is the only time he’s mentioned, and that he never actually appears in any comic. (Maybe Hammerhead gave him the old cement shoes treatment.)

While some Marvel Knights and Marvel Max series were designated alternate realities, Marvel Knights: 4 is in regular continuity. The Marvel Wiki states that this entire series occurs between issues 516 and 517 of Fantastic Four.

Fantastic or frightful? Although slower-paced than most superhero comics – dialogue scenes to go on for multiple pages – Marvel Knights: 4 is a great read. The first part is best, as our heroes must deal with “normal life” stuff. The return to the Baxter Building and their wealth is abrupt, feeling like an editorial mandate. The later issues lean toward the horror genre, with the Puppet Master story being especially dark and violent. These feel a little rushed and out-of-place for Fantastic Four. Another mixed bag.

Next: Time keeps on slippin’.

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DuckTales rewatch – The Masked Mallard

Rewatching DuckTales! The show goes full Tim Burton with a visual style not seen anywhere else in the series in episode 93, “The Masked Mallard.”

Here’s what happens: At a public event, Scrooge is confronted by Lawrence Loudmouth, a controversial TV host. He argues that Scrooge’s new job creation plan is a scam to line Scrooge’s own pockets. Privately, Loudmouth admits to Scrooge that his attacks on Scrooge are all about rating, truthful or not. It gets worse back home, when Gizmoduck’s young fans believe Loudmouth’s claims that Scrooge is a greedy, rich jerk. Huey, Dewey, and Louie come home with black eyes after the other kids picked on them because of Loudmouth’s show. Scrooge sees a movie about a masked pirate saving people, and he gets an idea.

Later, the Beagle Boys are about to steal a diamond from a museum, and they’re stopped by cape-and-cowled crimefighter the Masked Mallard. At Gyro’s place, we learn the Masked Mallard is really Scrooge, and Gyro built all his crimefighting gear. In a montage, the Masked Mallard stops crime all over the city. The people love him, but Lawrence Loudmouth keeps ranting about him. When villains hold City Hall hostage (!), the Masked Mallard saves the day, except this time Scrooge’s nephews learn his secret identity. He says he plans to reveal the truth to Duckburg to prove that he’s a good person. The press conference is interrupted by Loudmouth, though, with evidence that the Masked Mallard robbed a bank.

At an art museum gala, the fake Masked Mallard steals a golden popcorn bowl (!), and he’s chased by Gizmoduck. The imposter takes him out with a rocket. Scrooge decides he must become the Masked Mallard again to find and defeat the imposter. Instead, he’s confronted again by Gizmoduck, who still think he’s the thief. Gizmoduck catches the Masked Mallard and reveals to the city that it’s really Scrooge. Scrooge escapes and becomes a fugitive.

Scrooge deduces that only Loudmouth has footage of the imposter. He investigates Loudmouth’s mansion and finds the imposter Mallard costume. Loudmouth knocks out Scrooge and ties him up atop a building. He plans to continue framing Scrooge and profiting from it. Loudmouth, dressed as the Mallard, steals some gold and then fights Gizmoduck. Gizmoduck thinks Loudmouth is Scrooge, though, so he pulls his punches. Scrooge escapes, and he joins the fight in a nearby junkyard. Loudmouth traps Gizmoduck with an electromagnet. Scrooge shows up in his Mallard costume, and the two Mallards fight. Scrooge wins, and exposes Loudmouth in front of the cops and TV reporters. Scrooge destroys the Masked Mallard costume, saying he no longer needs a mask to do good deeds.

Humbug: Is Scrooge a rich jerk or isn’t he? The inciting incident of this episode is him wanting to do good deeds, but he feels he can’t because he’s in the public eye. I don’t know what to make of it, either. Let’s call this one a mixed message.

Junior Woodchucks: The end-of-episode gag is Huey, Dewey, and Louie in their own Masked Mallard outfits, calling themselves the “Titanic Trio.”

Great gadgeteer: One of the gadgets Gyro makes for the Masked Mallard is a whistle-activated laser, which the Mallard uses to escape from being tied up at the end of the episode.

Pro rata: Fenton is at the museum gala because he loves the free food. Don’t you need an invitation to get into fancy galas?

Your move, creep: While Gizmoduck has been pretty much unstoppable in the past, in this episode a missile and then a magnet defeat him. I guess this has to happen so the Masked Mallard can swoop in and be the hero.

Foul fowls: Nobody on the internet can agree which real-life person Lawrence Loudmouth may or may not be based on. In one scene, he broadcasts while standing in front of a huge image of his own face, in a parody of Citizen Kane.

Reference row: We’ve all seen 1989’s Batman, right?

Let’s get dangerous: Several episodes of DuckTales are singled out for being concept for a potential spinoff series, usually starring Launchpad. This one, more than any other, is a proof of concept for what would soon become Darkwing Duck.

Thoughts on this viewing: Later episodes of DuckTales are often considered weaker ones, but somebody came to this one with something to prove. The animators are working overtime to capture that sense of Burton/Batman atmosphere. We saw a little bit of this in the dream sequence from “The Unbreakable Bin,” but this time it’s the entire episode. The fights and action are also impressive, with a lot of fluid movement and awesome cape-flowing-in-the-wind money shots. One of the best episodes of late-era DuckTales – if not the best.

Next: V-Day.

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Fantastic Friday: The Superman of Marvel?

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Occasionally, somebody at Marvel remembers the popularity of the 1930s Human Torch, which rivaled Superman at the time. This leads to attempts to turn Johnny into a bigger deal. That’s the idea behind the Human Torch 12-issue miniseries written by Karl Kesel, and art by Skottie Young, Joseph Dodd, Howard Porter, and Paco Medina.

The first story arc flashes back to Johnny’s high school days in the small town of Glenville. Yes, this is a throwback to the barely-in-continuity Strange Tales solo stories, in which Johnny had small-town superhero adventures, complete with a secret identity. In this retelling, Johnny is the school troublemaker, running afoul of star athlete Mike Snow. Johnny reveals he is the famous Human Torch of the Fantastic Four in front of the whole school, only intensifying his rivalry with Snow. Snow confronts Johnny during a snowstorm, somewhat appropriately. They fight, only for Johnny to lose control of his powers and seriously burn Snow.

In the present, Johnny test-drives a new rocket car while being pestered by sleazy tabloid reporter Sheila Donner. A grown-up Mike Snow shows up at the Baxter Building, still scarred from that fight. He’s now an NYC firefighter, and he asks for Johnny’s help investigating a firefighter who spontaneously burned alive. Johnny and Snow do the detective thing, while Johnny helps the fire department. During a fire, the flames act on their own, targeting a specific firefighter. Johnny concludes that some unseen intelligence is controlling the flame, and that he’s never seen anything like this before.  

While on a training exercise, Johnny and the others are attacked, with the villain making herself known. It’s a woman dressed head to toe in black, calling herself Firefox. She says she wants revenge on the NYFD for not acknowledging her genius fire-controlling tech. Johnny captures her, but she threatens to sue if he unmasks her, violating privacy laws. Johnny flies off with Firefox, where we learn she’s really Sheila Donner. Moreover, the Firefox thing is a ruse to find the real killer, with Johnny faking all of Firefox’s fire effects.

Johnny and Snow fight another fire, while Sheila investigates Snow’s girlfriend Rose, who was spotted at the scene of the murder after denying she’d been there. Snow follows the clues to a warehouse to learn that Rose is the real killer. She was born with fire powers, not knowing if they’re magic or if she’s a mutant. She says she did it all out of her love for Snow. After a fight, Snow is still in love with Rose and he sides with her. They try to make a run for it, with Johnny in pursuit. Rose realizes she can’t ruin Snow’s life, so Rose blows herself up (!) so Snow can have his life back. Later, Snow reveals that that he was burned ended up being a good thing because it put him on the path to being a firefighter. He relocates to Portland, a.k.a. the city of roses.

In the second story arc, Johnny and Jian, his business partner in Fantastic Four Inc., journey to a small town in the Balkans. A science organization called the Locust Project set up shop in a nearby castle with plans to end world hunger, only for everyone to disappear. Johnny and Jian investigate, attacked by automatons and giant spiders. He’s knocked out and awakened in an underground city. He meets the Locust King, named Ambrose, and his daughter Shyla. Johnny is quick to learn that he and the whole underground city have been shrunk down to Ant-Man size, and that’s Ambrose’s plan for ending world hunger.

When Johnny tries to escape, he, Jian, and Ambrose are taken captive by the automatons, under Shyla’s control. Shyla plans to take over Project Locust herself. Johnny leads something of a rebellion of all the people that Shyla has enslaved (!). Hugo, a villager they met at the start of the story, drops a rock on Project Locust an destroys it. The enlarging machine, located outside the city, returns everyone to normal, and back to the Balkan village. There’s a joke about how Jian thinks Johnny is a little bit taller.

The third story arc of the series begins with Johnny responding to an emergency call on one of those big ocean drilling platforms. Scientists there were experimenting with teleportation when the whole thing exploded. Johnny puts out the fire with his powers. He investigates and finds Atlanteans unconscious all around the scene, including… Namorita! This is interesting because Namorita (cousin to the Submariner and member of the New Warriors) is Johnny’s ex-girlfriend. Their romance lasted for years in real-world time, except that their relationship occurred almost entirely off-panel, in both Fantastic Four and New Warriors. These issues of Human Torch are their most significant interaction with one another.

When Namorita comes to, she explains that Atlantis worked alongside the human scientists to show that Atlantis is just as advanced and important as the likes of Wakanda. Turns out this experiment was to open a portal to the Negative Zone. Johnny says this is too dangerous, that merging Earth with the anti-matter of the Negative Zone could destroy everything. Then the portal opens again, powered by someone on the other side.

A female form appears in the portal, and one scientist says that it’s an anti-matter echo of Namorita. There’s a lot of action as the heroes and the scientists try to prevent the anti-matter from clashing with Earth’s matter. Namorita feels drawn to the echo until Johnny drops her into the water. This brings her back to her senses. She fights her ill-defined attraction to the echo while Johnny and the scientists destroy the portal. In th wreckage, the scientists find Johnny and Namorita kissing (wa-HEY!).

Johnny and Namorita have a heart-to-heart talk. He wants them to get back together, and he invites her to move in with him. She insists that she’s her own woman and not merely the Fantastic Four’s sidekick. He says the two of them are like matter and anti-matter, opposites who can’t be together but who are nonetheless drawn to each other.

In the final issue, Ben and Johnny attend a football game at State University, when they’re attacked by Dragon Man. Professor Gilbert, Dragon Man’s creator, thought Dragon Man could be controlled, but now he wants it killed. Johnny and Ben say they won’t kill – not even a giant android dragon. While waiting in Gilbert’s lab, Ben and Johnny discuss how Johnny never finished college even though his grades were excellent. Then Dragon Man attacks again, along with Gilbert’s newest android creation, a beast named Zzord. Dragon Man fights Zzord while Gilbert is revealed to be a Skrull in disguise. Johnny defeats the Skrull while Dragon Man destroys Zzord and rescues the real Gilbert. The dean offers Johnny an honorary degree, but Johnny refuses it, wanting to earn one the real way.

Unstable molecule/Fade out: Reed and Sue only appear in a dream Johnny has when unconscious. At the drilling platform, Reed is unavailable because he’s lecturing in Brussels, and Sue can’t make it because she’s helping refugees in Rwanda.

Clobberin’ time: Ben gets tossed out of the lab during the Dragon Man and Zzord fight, disappearing for the rest of the battle. He says he never would have graduated college without Reed’s help, and the degree meant that he was more than a dumb jock from Yancy Street. The reason why he’s not on the drilling platform is because he was bowling in Brooklyn.

Flame on: Is Johnny Marvel’s equivalent of Superman or not? I’m going to say not. A running thread throughout this series is him wondering if just him on his own is enough to save the day. He really struggles with this in the Project Locust story. One of the reasons why the Marvel Universe is so great is that no one hero is top dog the way Superman is over at DC.

Trivia time: There’s a running joke about how tall Johnny is, whether he’s 5’9, 5’10, or 5’11. Our old friend The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition settles the debate by stating he’s 5’10.

Namorita has blue skin in this, when she’s normally portrayed as more human-looking. Johnny asks her about this, and she says, “It’ll wear off.” The Handbook states that most Atlanteans have blue complexions, but there are a lot of exceptions, including human-looking ones, and green-skinned ones.

Fantastic or frightful? Although only the first arc is a mystery, Karl Kesel writes the whole thing like they’re mysteries, with a lot of red herrings and surprise twists. This makes the comic a little hard to follow at times. Skottie Young’s art is cartoonish, but not as much as more popular stuff. Old-school fans will like the Strange Tales throwback, but I think the most interesting part is the Johnny/Namorita stuff, finally seeing what was only suggested for so long. So, it’s not perfect, but it’s an entertaining read nonetheless.

Next: Fantastically broke.

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

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DuckTales rewatch – Attack of the 50 Foot Webby

Rewatching DuckTales! Most long-running cartoons eventually do a “Attack of the 50 Foot [female character]” episode, and episode 92 is the DuckTales one, with Webby in the spotlight.

Here’s what happens: Little Webby wants to play with the boys, but she fears they never even notice her. Scrooge, meanwhile, learns of a rare ape on the verge of extinction. He wants to save the animal and display it in his new safari theme park. To catch the ape, he hopes to use Bubba’s bloodhouse-like tracking skills. Webby wants to come on expedition, too, but Scrooge it’d be too dangerous for someone as little as her. Meanwhile, Happy Jack, owner of a rival circus, also plots to capture the ape. He allies with the Beagle Boys, promising them a way to get a Scrooge.

Upon landing in the jungle, Webby reveals she’s stowed away on Scrooge’s flight. Jack and the Beagle Boys are also there, spying on Scrooge. The Beagles disguise themselves as apes for an attack, and everyone gets separated. Alone in the jungle, Webby finds and befriends the giant ape. She notices it acts more like a small monkey than a giant beast. Deeper in the brush, everything is huge, including the plants and insects. Webby deduces that a pond of sparkling water made the monkey gigantic. When the Beagle Boys attack again, Webby is knocked into the water and becomes a giant.

Webby gets lost and eventually reunites with Scrooge and the others. They attach giant balloons to her to fly her back to Duckburg, where a doctor starts working on a cure. From there, it’s a series of gags about Webby living life as a giant around the mansion. Webby then learns that the Beagle Boys and Happy Jack succeeded in capturing the giant monkey, and Webby sets off to rescue it.

Webby tries to rescue the monkey, drawing the attention of Happy Jack, who now wants to capture her for his circus. Webby and the monkey then scale a skyscraper, with her in the King Kong role and the monkey in the Fay Wray role. To complete the image, Jack and the Beagle Boys circle them in bi-planes. The doctor reveals that missing ingredient for Webby’s cure are three hairs from the monkey, so he and Scrooge sweep in on Scrooge’s helicopter to pluck out the hairs. Webby gets a genuine badass moment when she punches the villains’ planes out of the sky.  The cure works, shrinking both Webby and the monkey back to normal size. Scrooge returns the monkey to the jungle.

Humbug: We never learn what becomes of Scrooge’s safari theme park, but he doesn’t keep the animal in captivity at the end, so that’s something.

Junior Woodchucks: Huey, Dewey, and Louie learn their lesson at the end, inviting Webby to play with them.

Maid and maiden: Once again, Webby’s ability to make connections with animals is her superpower, saving the day in the end. She doesn’t do all that much as a giant, eating a ton of food and nearly wrecking the mansion when tries to jump rope.

Everybody walk the dinosaur: Bubba’s tracking skills are so sharp that he beats the other kids at hide and seek every time.

Foul fowls: Happy Jack has the same motivation as Scrooge, to capture the rare animal and put it on display. Except that he’s broke while Scrooge is rich. The Beagle Boys this time are the go-to combo of Big Time, Burger, Baggy, and Bouncer.

Down in Duckburg: Scrooge’s doctor is Dr. Von Swine, who appears at first to be a quack (heh) but he comes through in the end for Webby’s cure.

Reference row: The 1958 film Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is more famous for its sensationalist title and poster rather than the movie itself. I’ve seen it, and you’re not missing much. The seemingly forgotten 1993 comedy remake starring Daryl Hannah is far more interesting.

Thoughts on this viewing: There’s a lot of plot to set up Webby as a giant, and then there’s a lot of plot to get her back to normal. This means we don’t spend much time with everyone dealing with her predicament. Mrs. Beakeley doesn’t even appear, strangely. The King Kong ending is a lot of fun, but overall this one’s a bit of a missed opportunity.

Next: Have you ever danced with a duck in the pale moonlight?

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

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Fantastic Friday: When the night falls

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s our third and final go-around with Marvel’s “Startling Stories” line, and the second one featuring good old Ben Grimm. The Thing: Night Falls on Yancy Street puts our favorite rock monster through the ringer.

What’s all this, then? Startling Stories were comics for non-Marvel creators to tell Marvel stories in their own styles. This one is written by indie comics sensation Evan Dorkin, creator of Milk and Cheese, The Eltingville Cub, and his packed-with-gags joke strip simply called Dork. Artist Dean Haspiel has had a wild career, dabbling in all sorts of things. He collaborated with Harvey Pekar on American Splendor, and his own works include the long-running Billy Dogma series, The Alcoholic for Vertigo, and webcomic The Red Hook. On TV, he won an Emmy award for his work on HBO’s Bored to Death.

After a short retelling of the FF’s origin from Ben’s perspective, we start with Ben as he stands among the flaming wreckage of what used to be Yancy Street. Then we flash back to the FF fighting Red Ghost and the Super-Apes aboard a satellite. After saving the day, Ben muses about how the routine never ends, and how he’s tired of being the one who always takes a beating for the team. Back home, Ben muses about how he’ll never have a normal life. He visits Alicia, who has a seeing eye dog named Silver. Alicia tries to calm him down, but he’s too angry. He then goes back to the old neighborhood on Yancy Street, where pranksters throw eggs and rotten vegetables at him.

When threatening to beat up the Yancy Street Gang, Ben meets a woman in a dumpster (!) who can look inside the cracks in his rocky skin. Inside, she sees a desert with pyramids, and her and Ben meeting in front of them. Back in the present, the woman, named Hazel, says she’s scavenging dumpsters for items to use in her landscape design business. She found an intriguing stone head. She patches up Ben’s torn coat, in exchange for him giving her a tour of Yancy Street. They go for lunch, and she says he’s a lot nicer than the tabloids. She tells him about losing her parents at a young age, and her life as an artsy type. That night, they go to Coney Island, and Hazel tells Ben she finds him incredibly attractive. Then a mysterious wind kicks up and she insists on going home, all while a shadowy figure watches them.

Issue #2 begins with Ben working up the courage to call Hazel. They agree to meet for an afternoon in Central Park. He ends up running late when the old “flying bathtub” Fantasticar break down on the way. They meet the volunteer group Hazel does landscaping for, and they spend the afternoon working with them. He takes her a flight in the Fantasticar, and he commiserates about being a monster. She tells him, “You’re plenty human.” She wants to kiss him, but they’re interrupted by the “4” symbol in the sky. He drops her off and joins his teammates as they fight Dragon Man.

Later, back at HQ, Ben is relatively chill, feeling happier than he has in a long time. He then gets a phone call from Alicia. He doesn’t want to talk to her. He snaps at Reed, saying doesn’t want to help him, only to use him in Reed’s adventures. He threatens to leave the team. He meets with Hazel back in the part, and she asks him to always stay near her. Then the Sandman attacks, revealing that he’s Hazel’s ex-boyfriend. He and Ben fight for a pages before Ben uses a water tower to turn Sandman into mud. Hazel is heartbroken after having her secret revealed. She asks Ben, “Do you still want to know me?” Before he can answer, he’s attacked by the Wizard, the Absorbing Man, and Paste-Pot Pete, um I mean the Trapster – a new Frightful Four!

Issue #3 starts with the Trapster incapacitating Ben with his super-glue while the others talk about “the Baxter job.” A small army of cops show up, and the Frightful Four fight them. Ben recovers and joins the fight. The Wizard hits Ben with sleeping gas, just as Absorbing Man moves in Hazel. He has a dream of Hazel turning him human again, only for them to get buried in sand. Ben wakes inside an abandoned Yancy Street bowling alley, which is the Frightful Four’s secret hideout. Hazel is there, and she apologizes to Ben for not telling him everything. She feared that if he knew about her and Sandman, he wouldn’t have liked her. Sandman recovers, and the Frightful Four fight for a bit. Wizard breaks it up, saying he has taken “precautions” against disloyalty.

Ben and Sandman argue about Hazel, while the Wizard reveals his plan is to break into the Baxter Building and steal the Ultimate Nullifier, which Reed once used to scare off Galactus. Ben says Reed doesn’t have the Nullifier, but the Wizard doesn’t believe him. The Wizard then offers Ben to turn Ben human again if Ben helps the Frightful Four. Ben refuses and the villains torture him (!). The Wizard then threatens to harm Hazel if Ben doesn’t cooperate. Ben reluctantly agrees. The Frightful Four head into the city, with Absorbing Man staying behind to watch Hazel. Ben’s mission is simply to get inside the Baxter Building, steal stuff, and walk out with it. Inside, he gets a message from Alicia. She wants to know what’s happening between them. In the FF’s trophy room, he finds the Nullifier and walks out with it. He’s then confronted by the Yancy Street Gang, their faces hidden in shadow. They say they want to talk about Hazel.

At the start of issue #4, the Yancy Streeters say Hazel herself is original Yancy Street. Ben chases them off, not wanting them to get involved. He meets us with Trapster, who finds an FF signal flare in Ben’s coat. It’s a distraction, allowing Ben to destroy Trapster’s glue gun. Trapster gives up Hazel’s location. Ben finds the Frightful Four there, and he hands over the Nullifier. The villains fight with each other over who gets to use it, only to Hazel to grab it.

Then we learn that Hazel and Absorbing Man had a deal, she agrees to stick with him to save Ben and Sandman. Absorbing Man then reveals that Hazel has a fascination with heroes and villains with rocky-hard skin. Hazel presses the button the Nullifier, and… nothing happens. Ben says this is a decoy Nullifier, made to bluff Galactus.

Ben and the rest of the Frightful Four team up to fight Absorbing Man, who absorbed Hazel’s diamond earring, making him strong as a diamond. He fights off the other villains, and then he and Ben go at it for several pages, trashing buildings up and down Yancy Street as they fight. Hazel returns, saying that Ben betrayed her feelings, and that she’s siding with Absorbing Man. But it’s a trick – she switched her diamond earring with a glass one, turning Absorbing Man to glass when he touched it. Ben punches out Absorbing Man, but Hazel is injured in the blow. She says, “I never meant to hurt anyone… I just wanted to be happy.” Then, tragically, she dies in Ben’s arms.

Ben wanders the streets alone, ending up back at Coney Island, and wishing all the stars in the night sky would go out, until there is “nothing left at all.” And on that dour note, the comic ends.

Trivia time: It’s impossible to sort out when and where this miniseries takes place, as Dorkin and Haspiel mix and match elements from various eras of FF history into this, to play around with as they please. The Marvel Wiki doesn’t even try, listing this entire story as an alternate universe.

Fantastic or Frightful? Who would’ve thought the creator of the famously mean-spirited Eltingville Club could conjure up such a heartfelt romance as seen in this series? Evan Dorkin writes with his heart on his sleeve this time. Then there’s the action. I breezed through a lot of it in my summary, but the slugfests are great. Cleanly drawn and choreographed, and with the characters using their powers in a lot of neat ways. I wonder if the ending sets up a part two that never happened, but either way this is a terrific read.

Next: Fire and water.

  • * * * *

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

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Fantastic Friday: Grunt work

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s another visit to Marvel’s “Startling Stories” line, which non-Marvel creators told Marvel stories in their own styles. Thing: Last Line of Defense gets to the heart of our favorite rock monster.

What’s all this, then? This one-shot is from writer Ron Zimmerman, who sadly recently died. He has a huge list of television writing and producing credits in multiple genres from the 80s through the 2000s. He went on to write Spider-Man, Punisher, and Captain comics for Marvel. And yes, he was once in a very public relationship with celebrity superstar Cher. Artist Don Kramer mostly worked for DC, drawing JSA, Wonder Woman, Dr. Fate, Nightwing, and more.

The comic begins in New York, in Stan’s Bar (Get it?) where Ben is hanging out with Nick Fury. Fury is asking for Ben’s help, but Ben tells him to call someone else, as he has upcoming vacation plans. Fury says this gig is in Ben’s wheelhouse, and that Ben doesn’t have a choice. He’s to report to Fort Duke army base immediately.

Ben shows up at the base and meets Corporal Charlie Proctor, his driver. They banter while on a long drive through the desert. Charlie asks if being a superhero is fun, and Ben says it often falls on him to do grunt work. There are exceptions, though, and he tells Charlie about one night when the police called him to help fight the Wrecker in Times Square. Ben clobbers the Wrecker and is celebrated as a hero.

Charlie says he’s an army brat, coming from a family of army brats. He envies Ben, saying superheroes don’t have to take orders from anyone. Ben disagrees, telling a story of how the US President once ordered the FF to handle a crisis in Attilan, the Inhumans’ secret city. Reed outfitted Ben with flying rocket shoes for this mission, which malfunction and make Ben look foolish. He meets with Gorgon – who, let’s not forget, once singlehandedly defeated the entire FF. Gorgon says the US Army is threatening the Inhumans. Gorgon is outraged, and he and Ben fight. Karnak and Triton show up, saying that they are preparing for battle against the US soldiers. Ben and Gorgon fight for a bit more before Medusa arrives and breaks them up.

Ben talks with Medusa, asking her to let him talk to the President and to General Thunderbolt Ross to ease the tension. Ben and Medusa are quite flirtatious, saying if they were not already in relationships, they might have something together. They hug and instead agree to remain just friends. Black Bolt then arrives, and thinks the hug is something more. He attacks Ben. They fight, with the other Inhumans cracking jokes from the sidelines. Medusa insists they break up the brawl.

Back in the present, Charlie keeps asking whether Ben and Medusa actually hooked up, and Ben insists they never did. Charlie continues to be jealous of Ben, saying Ben can anywhere he wants and do anything he wants. Ben says it’s not the powers that matter, but what’s in your heart. Then it’s another flashback, to when Sue was pregnant with Franklin. (The Inhumans vs. army plot goes unresolved.) Sue grouses about Reed going on adventures while she stays home, and Ben reminds her how much Reed loves her. Then Blastaar the Living Bomb-burst comes through the Negative Zone portal on a mission to kill both Sue and the baby. Ben fights the villains while Sue contacts Avengers mansion. Blastaar confronts Sue, but Ben protects her, saying that the FF is first and foremost a family.

Back in the present, Ben and Charlie sense an Earthquake, and they see a strange object in the sky. Ben tells Charlie to retreat, adding “That’s an order!”  With him out of the way, Ben prepares for a fight. The object in the sky is the Hulk, on a rampage and coming down from one of his giant leaps. Ben wraps things up by saying, “Time to go to work.”

Clobberin’ time: Sorting out when and where these flashbacks take place is a continuity headache, especially the Inhumans one. Remember that these are stories Ben is telling Charlie, so I’m willing to concede that Ben is exaggerating and/or misremembering.

Fade out: During Sue’s first pregnancy, she spent a lot of time away from the main cast, often not appearing for multiple issues. It’s nice to see that she wasn’t totally sidelined during that time and still got a little superhero-ing in.  

Flame on: Johnny shows up for one scene at the beginning, to say he’s not joining Ben on Fury’s mission. This illustrates how often it falls to Ben to the grunt work.

Fantastic fifth wheel: I don’t recall any sexual tension between Ben and Medusa in the past, but this comic makes a good case for it. Medusa says she feels a kinship with Ben because ordinary humans think he is a monster, and they treat her and the Inhumans the same way. Humorously, Ben compares Medusa to Wonder Woman, explaining to her that’s a character from “the funny books.”

Trivia time: This is the only appearance of Corporal Charlie Proctor, even though the Marvel Wiki gives him his own entry. That’s too bad, as he’s a fun sidekick for Ben.

Gorgon wears just a loin cloth (!), revealing what fans suspected all along, that he doesn’t have human legs, but full-on super-strong horse hooves for legs.

Triton mentions romancing an Atlantean woman named Flama. She has no Wiki entry, so it’s a safe bet she’s never seen or mentioned again.

Fantastic or frightful? The comic starts with emphasis on Ben being the one who always does “grunt work,” but then he makes the point to Charlie that even a basic grunt simply following orders can still be a hero. It’s a quick, lighthearted read, with some truly gorgeous art.

Next: Still more startling.

  • * * * *

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

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DuckTales rewatch – The Unbreakable Bin

Rewatching DuckTales! Episode 91, “The Unbreakable Bin,” is all about unbreakable glass. Yet despite those two words, it predates the movie Unbreakable by several years. So I’m not allowed to make any Shyamalan references.

Here’s what happens: After having a nightmare about losing his fortune to the Beagle Boys, Scrooge is paranoid about theft. He and Gizmoduck meet with Gyro, who is inventing new unbreakable glass for eyeglasses. Scrooge decides to cover the entire money bin in the glass. Scrooge even invites the Beagle Boys over and lets them attempt to break in, just to prove the glass is unbreakable. There’s a lot of slapstick as they fail to do so.

Believing his money is finally safe from harm, Scrooge uncharacteristically plans a vacation. He also fires Gizmoduck via telegram (!) but keeps Fenton on as his accountant. Fenton considers finding other work with the Gizmoduck armor. He applies for a security job, only to learn security guards all over town are out of work, being replaced the unbreakable glass.

Scrooge and boys go on their vacation. Instead of his usual tightwad self, he’s actually spending money and enjoying himself. He boasts that only magic can break into his vault now. Cut to Magica Dispell, watching this on her crystal ball. While on safari to view exotic animals, Scrooge is fascinated with a rare bird with pink feathers. He thinks the feathers are something he can market and sell. Gizmoduck is stuck directing traffic just as Magica shows up in Duckburg. She too can’t get past the glass. On safari, Scrooge and the boys find the rare bird, only to discover its horrible singing hits a pitch able to destroy his glasses. Magica sees this on her crystal ball as well. She travels to the jungle as Scrooge sets about capturing all the birds. Magica attacks their village, knocks out Scrooge, and casts a spell to make the birds do her evil bidding.

Gizmoduck is now serving food at a construction site when Scrooge returns to Duckburg. Scrooge reluctantly rehires him. Magica is about to use the birds to break into the bin when Gizmoduck stops her. Scrooge and Gyro round up all the birds, except for one just hatched from an egg. With its first cry, it breaks all the unbreakable glass in the bin and around Duckburg.

Humbug: Scrooge going on vacation and splurging is a new side of him, something he feels he can only do when his fortune is safe and secure. Could Scrooge’s famous greed be born from feelings of paranoia?

Junior woodchucks: Huey, Dewey and Louie are shown waxing a huge surfboard while on vacation, so add that to their interests. At the end of the episode, it’s suggested that they kept the baby bird as a pet, but that’s not 100 percent clear.

Great gadgeteer: Gyro’s workshop is now in the basement of the money bin (!) and not in his usual shack-like building. He and Scrooge later fly around Duckburg in a cool hovercar that I assume he built.

Pro-rata: Fenton earns two paychecks from Scrooge, one as himself as accountant and one as Gizmoduck for security/superheroing. He says he can’t go back to just one paycheck, because he and his mother have become accustomed to a “certain lifestyle.”

Your move, creep: Gizmoduck’s gear in this one includes a drill and a magnifying glass. He has flags pop out of his helmet to assist with directing traffic. And he’s a one-man food truck with a full grill on his chest and a coffee maker on his back. He mentions super-strength and super-hearing as well.

Foul fowls: Magica is after Scrooge’s entire fortune this time, rather than just Scrooge’s lucky dime, which is her usual motivation. The Beagle Boys this time are Big Time, Baggy, and Burger.

Roman Emperor Tiberius — the M. Night Shyamalan of the year 14 AD.

Reference row: Googling “unbreakable glass” brings up all kinds of stuff, both real and fictional. Roman Emperor Tiberius allegedly once claimed to know the secret of unbreakable glass, after boasting that he’d killed the glass’ inventor.

Thoughts upon this viewing: This is more like it. A fun combination of high adventure with goofy cartoon logic. Special mention must be made of the opening dream sequence, which is fantastic. These later episodes had noticeably lower-quality animation, but you could tell the animators were really pushing themselves to make that dream sequence something spectacular, and they pulled it off. We’ll see more of this stylization in another upcoming episode.

Next: Walking tall.

  • * * * *

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

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Fantastic Friday: Welcome to the real world

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. What if the Fantastic Four were real people, without all the superpowers and whatnot? That’s the scenario in the four-part Unstable Molecules miniseries.

What’s all this, then? Unstable Molecules was part of Marvel’s “Startling Stories” line, where creators not normally associated with Marvel were invited to tell Marvel stories in their own style. This included Richard Corben’s Banner, a horror comic with the Hulk as the monster, and Peter Bagge’s The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man, using the Spidey characters to parody the writings of Ayn Rand. Unstable Molecules comes to us from writer James Sturm, co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, and artist Guy Davis, best known for Vertigo’s Sandman Mystery Theater.

It’s Columbia University, 1958. Reed Richards is a scientist studying subatomic particles. Susan Storm and her brother Johnny live in a house in the suburbs. Ben Grimm lives in an apartment in the city with his new girlfriend Myrna. Reed gives a presentation about new particles he has discovered, which could be used to make a futuristic new textile. We also learn about Reed’s former colleague, Dr. Victor Dunne, who claimed to be co-creator of Reed’s new microscope. Reed shoots down other questions, insisting this is not science fiction.

Reed and Sue have been dating, and Reed invites her to a faculty cocktail party. She agrees to go, even though it conflicts with her women’s club meeting that night. She’s also having a tough time raising Johnny on her own, as he’s rebellious and doesn’t want to go to school. He has a crush on neighbor girl Dorrie Evans, shows an interest in cars, and is bullied by some local goons. Ben, meanwhile, works at a gym, training boxers and arranging boxes matches. One match conflicts with his date night with Myrna.  

A government stooge invites Reed to the Pentagon (!) where he meets with General Twining. The general wants Reed to relocate to Huntsville, Alabama, to put his research to use in fighting the Cold War. Johnny learns that a hot rodder named Joey King is back in town, and this spells trouble for everyone.

Issue #2 begins with Sue conflicted over having to sacrifice so much of her time for Reed and Johnny. She bickers with a disapproving old lady who lives next door, and says she feels like a stranger in her own home. This is intercut with panels from Vapor Girl, a superhero comic book Johnny enjoys. Then we meet Sue’s women’s group, who also bicker with each other, with the older women disapproving of the younger ones. One of the women breaks down in tears, hiding some shameful secret.

Sue then learns Johnny and his friend Richard has been arrested after reckless driving around town. Sue tries to contact Reed, only to learn he unexpectedly left town. She then meets with Ben, who is a friend and a surrogate big brother to Johnny. We learn Reed and Ben are former college roommates. Ben was also invited to college cocktail party thanks to his former glory as a college athlete. Sue meets Myrna, who seems jealous of Sue, but Sue invites them both to the party. Johnny is not going to party, as Sue grounds him. He responds, “I hate you.” At the store, Sue runs into the oft-mentioned Joey King, and we learn that once had a fling. There are several pages devoted to Sue drowning in sadness as she prepares for the party, which is apparently at her house.

In issue #3, the narration is from Richard as an adult, reflecting on 1960s Fantastic Four comics and their similarities with Sue and Johnny. Richard has a bit of a crush on Sue. Richard dislikes his low-income single mother, and he dwells on comic book villains always swearing revenge on the heroes. Although Johnny is grounded, he and Richard go for a walk around town, running into the bullies again. They lead the bullies on a chase, eventually stealing the bullies’ car and driving off with it.

Johnny and Richard ditch the car and head to a beach party, where Johnny disappears. He finds Johnny with Joey King, talking about leaving town, and Joey fascination with Sue. Joey is apparently also a Jack Kerouac and/or beat poet type, ranting about love and fire, and Johnny is transfixed by his words. Johnny wants to leave town with Joey, and Richard fantasizes himself as a comic book villain, murdering all the beat poets. The bullies find Johnny and Richard and beat them up.

Issue #4 begins with Myrna breaking up with Ben, kicking over a table and smashing his dishes while she’s at it. Ben hits the bar with his friend Lester, commiserating over how none of his relationships last long. Lester asks about Sue, and Ben says she’s off limits because “She’s my buddy’s lady.” Ben flirts with the waitress at the bar, and he loses his temper when she rejects him.

Then it’s time for the big cocktail party. All the Columbia scientists – except for Reed – mill about in Sue’s house, and she’s even flirty with one of them. Kay, the crying one from the women’s group, is also there. Kay reveals that her husband is the one who draws the Vapor Girl comics, so Sue invites him and his work buddies to join the party. One of Reed’s coworkers tries to grope Sue, but Ben shows up and chases him off.

The comic book artists join the party, including “Stan, Jack, Art and Harvey.” Ben pitches Stan on a monster comic starring himself. Kay’s husband, Roy, jokes around with Sue’s disapproving neighbor lady, who comes over to complain about a car blocking her driveway. Sue goes upstairs to fetch Johnny, only to discover Johnny has run off.

Reed is in a taxi, back in town and heading to the party. He’s planning on proposing to Sue. Sue breaks down in front of Ben, saying she feels Johnny hates him and that Reed treats her like she is invisible. Ben comforts her, and they kiss. At that moment, Reed shows up at the party and goes looking for Sue.

Reed finds Ben and Sue in a partially undressed make-out session (wha-HEY!). He’s furious, calling Sue a “harlot” and Ben a “trainwreck of a man.” Sue throws him out of the house, but Ben is apologetic. At that moment, a black-and-blue Johnny shows up with Joey King, who takes over the party with his wild ways. Johnny tells Sue he’s leaving town with Joey. A fight breaks out, and Ben his knocked out a beer bottle hits him in the back of his head.

Reed takes over the narration, considering unstable molecules, and how everyone at the party is similarly unstable. He leaves with Joey and Johnny, hitching a ride with back to the city. Back in his lab, Reed remarks that systems built on unstable building blocks will inevitably collapse. Upon seeing his own reflection, Reed realizes he was not an observer in events, but a participant. He goes back to studying the unstable molecules, this time, measuring the molecules in their relationships to one another and not as isolated units. He says, “In these relationships, however tenuous and mercurial they may be, that bind our world together.” But his heartbreak shows through his academic exterior as he also mutters, “I trusted you…”

That’s where the comic ends, but there’s a whole other story going on in this miniseries, in which writer James Sturm alleges that these are the real-life characters who inspired the creation of Marvel’s Fantastic Four comics. He begins by saying that Sue and Johnny Sturm (no relation, he says) were important figures in the cold war, with several books written about them. By the time we get to issue #4, though, the text is about how Stan lee, Jack Kirby and others once attended a party in the suburbs that got out of hand, and that this is the event that eventually inspired the creation of Fantastic Four comics. Make what you will of this, I suppose.

Unstable molecule: Reed is unknowable throughout this series, with him and his government work taking place off-panel. Could this series have been part one of a much bigger story?

Fade out: Marvel writers are often criticized for their treatment of Sue, saying this woman should not have to put up with as much as she does. Sue’s depression in this series leans into these critics’ concerns.

Clobberin’ time: Ben credits Reed with pulling strings during WWII to get him out of foxholes and into pilot training. This explains Ben’s loyalty to Reed throughout.

Flame on: Johnny’s fate also remains unknown at the end of the series, leaving town with Joey.

Trivia time: Needless to say, this series is not considered canon, with the Marvel Wiki designating it “Earth-33.”

Vapor Girl never appeared again, although someone at the Marvel Wiki gave enough thought to the character to give her comic-within-a-comic its designation as well, naming it “Earth 33213.”

Fantastic or frightful? A melancholy slice-of-life story that leaves a lot of character arcs feeling unfinished. I’m not sure what to make of it all. It is nonetheless a satisfying read, thanks to sublime artwork by Guy Davis. Outside of the legendary Will Eisner, Davis is the best at depicting ordinary folks doing ordinary things and making it compelling. Davis communicates a lot of drama just out of just the characters’ faces and poses. Just great stuff.

Next: It gets even more startling.

  • * * * *

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

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DuckTales rewatch – The Bride Wore Stripes

Rewatching DuckTales! It’s the original enemies-to-lovers tale in episode 90, “The Bride Wore Stripes.”

Here’s what happens: Fed up with living in the run-down hideout, Ma Beagle dreams of a better, high-class life. Elsewhere, Scrooge and the kids are out buying a cake for Mrs. Beakeley’s birthday, with Scrooge being a tightwad about it. By coincidence, Ma Beagle shows up to rob the bakery at that moment. She overhears Scrooge saying that he’s not married, because if there’s a divorce, the wife would get half his fortune. Ma plots a fake wedding scheme, complete with phony photos. A judge falls for it, and Ma Beagle asks for a divorce – and 50 percent of Scrooge’s wealth along with it. In a rage, Scrooge said he’d rather stay married, which gives the judge more evidence to declare them legally married.

Later, Ma Beagle and the Beagle Boys move into the mansion, helping themselves to everything and trashing the place. Ma Beagle even takes over the master bedroom, forcing Scrooge to room with butler Dogsworth. Scrooge’s lawyer says Scrooge needs hard evidence of Ma Beagle’s scheme, adding that Ma Beagle described herself a housewife. Now it’s Scrooge’s turn to make Ma Beagle miserable by making her do all the housework. She outsmarts him by actually doing the work.

Ma Beagle continues to play dutiful housewife, much to Scrooge and company’s frustration. The Beagle Boys also get sick of their mom’s new ways, so they and Scrooge come up with a plan. One night, Scrooge goes swimming in his money and appears to drown in it. The cops are called, and Scrooge is declared dead (!). Ma celebrates, thinking the entire fortune is now hers. Unfortunately for her, the cops arrest her on suspicion of foul play. That’s when she reveals the marriage is fake, and Scrooge reveals he’s still alive. The cops haul Ma Beagle back to jail, and Scrooge this is why he’s a bachelor to the end.

Humbug: In the show’s continuity, it wasn’t that long ago that Scrooge was involved in another fake wedding in “Til Nephews Do Us Part.” The difference is that this time, Scrooge knows it’s a fake wedding. He has to prove the truth to others instead of having it proven to him.

Junior Woodchucks: A turning point in this issue is when Ma Beagle dresses both Scrooge’s nephews and the Beagle Boys in matching Donald Duck-style sailor suits. The humiliation of this forces the boys to leave and go live with Mrs. Beakeley temporarily.

Maid and maiden: For Mrs. Beakeley’s birthday, cheapskate Scrooge buys a moldy old cake, seeds instead of flowers, and an on-sale Halloween card in place of a birthday card. There’s a slapstick gag where the cake hits her in the face, of course.

Foul fowls: The Beagle Boys this time are Big Time, Baggy, and Burger. In addition to the sailor suits, Ma Beagle also dresses them in Scrooge’s nephews’ colors. Big Time is in Huey’s red, Baggy is in Dewey’s blue, and Burger is in Louie’s green.

Down in Duckburg: Scrooge’s female lawyer is unnamed, and she has no entry in the Disney wiki. That’s a safe bet that she’ll never be seen again after this.  

Thoughts on this viewing: Another silly sitcom episode. Although the premise is a fake wedding, most of the episode is the mismatched roommates thing. It’s mostly a series of gags about what if Scrooge’s family and the Beagle family all had to live under one roof. I guess its amusing, but we’ve seen the show be so much more than this.

Next: They called me Mr. Glass.

  • * * * *

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

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Fantastic Friday: Stripped of their powers

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’ve reached the final issue for Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo, a run often considered one of the best in FF history. They take a bow in issue #524, getting to the heart of the friendship between Reed and Ben.

After a cosmic adventure which involved, among other things, switching Johnny and Sue’s powers, Reed attempted to swatch back their powers. Things went haywire, and four of the FF ended up powerless, with four random people gaining the powers. This issue begins with a man running to catch a bus, with his movements being tracked by Reed. The man uses Reed’s stretching powers to grab hold of the bus from down the street. It turns into Speed for a moment as the bus goes out of control, only for Reed, Johnny, and Sue to show up on cool flying motorcycles and save the day.

Reed zaps the guy with a high-tech glove, transferring the power back to him. He says the FF’s bodies are conditioned to hold the cosmic ray powers, but finding where the powers have gone is hard part. He adds that their powers are “hopscotching” from person to person around the city, so those four characters at the end of the last issue no longer have the powers (I was really looking forward to more of the nun from last issue who got Ben’s rocky strength, but alas).

Nearby, a cop shows up with Johnny’s powers, freaking out because he thinks he’s burning up, and a FedEx driver turns into a Thing. There’s some action as Ben, Johnny and Reed chase these two around the city. Ben hesitates on taking his power back from the FedEx driver, and the power moves on to someone else in the city. Johnny’s guy also loses his power to somewhere else.

Reed and Ben get into a bit of an argument. Ben says Reed has only made two mistakes in his life. First was the spaceflight that gave the FF their powers, and the second was this. Sue defends Reed, saying he has nothing to apologize for. Then they get a message from Johnny saying he’s found someone with Sue’s powers.

Cut to… a strip club?!? A dancer is on stage, invisible, in only a G-string and high heels. (This is a lot steamier than Fantastic Four comics usually get.) Sue tries to take the woman’s powers back, but the power moves on before she gets a chance. Outside, we follow Johnny as he chases his powers as they leap from person to person, including a horse (!), until he finally gets close enough to get his own power back.

Nearby, Sue and the team find an asthmatic woman who is having a panic attack. She needs her inhaler but can’t get it because of the invisible force field around herself. Sue convinces the woman to lower the force field, saying the control of it is all mental. She tells the woman that she’s not a freak or a lab experiment. She says she wants her power back, “So I can feel normal again.” We get a closeup of Reed as she says this, and he’s clearly moved by her words. Sue gets her powers back, and we’re told the woman gets proper medical attention.

Ben asks for a coffee break, and Reed calls him out for not actually trying to get his powers back. Ben takes off in a huff. Reed then admits to Johnny that he gave Ben a bogus gauntlet, adding that the powers can go back into the FF’s bodies, but he didn’t say which bodies. Then Reed looks down and realizes that Ben switched their gauntlets during the argument. Reed, Sue, and Johnny then chase Ben through the city and into the subway.

Ben says that Reed taking Ben’s powers and becoming the monster isn’t heroic, but selfish. Ben argues that Reed wouldn’t be able to work in the lab if he had the Thing’s bulk. He says he and the others are proud to be on the team, and proud to watch Reed’s back while his science makes the world a better place. He says, “You’re you ‘n I’m me and that’s th’ cosmic plan!”

They find a man in the subway with Ben’s Thing body punching a wall.  Ben touches him with the gauntlet and gets his Thing form back. When the others see him, all he says is, “I know.” He helps the man out, and then everyone returns to the new Baxter Building. Little Valeria is so happy to Ben back to normal she gives him a kiss on the cheek.

Then an alarm goes off, signaling trouble coming from the microverse. The heroes pile into the micro-craft, joking about there’s always some crisis to deal with. Reed says working alongside partners is what makes all the difference. He says, “As long as you’re with friends, there’s no limit to the adventure out there.”

Unstable molecule: Reed hands out business cards at the scene of the bus chase, saying the FF will pay for damages. This suggests that the FF’s finances are back on the upswing after the Latveria incident (long story) and everything that went down in the Marvel Knights 4 series (which I promise I will get to).

Fade out: Sue says the first time she ever used her force fields, she was frightened too, unable to touch or pick up anything. Except we’ve never seen this story. When her force fields debuted, it was in Reed’s lab as he was testing them out.

Clobberin’ time: Ben’s attitude these last couple of issues is that being the Thing only he can bear, so that no one else must deal with it instead.

Flame on: Johnny is having just a little too much fun at the strip club, and he’s a little too turned on by the idea of an invisible stripper. Like I said, this is naughtier than Fantastic Four usually gets.

Four and a half: Upon the team’s return to the new Baxter Building, Franklin asks, “What powers did you bring me?” Sue jokingly answers, “The power to be handsome.”

Our gal Val: It seems Valeria is talking more and more. When asked if babysitter Alicia is taking a nap Valeria replies, “Nap!”

Trivia time: In the bonus materials in the trade paperback, Mark Waid states that this arc was originally two separate story arcs. One was about Sue and Johnny switching powers, and one was about Ben becoming Galactus’ new herald and Galactus becoming human. When word came down from Marvel editorial that their time on the series was coming to an end, the two were combined into one storyline.

Oh, and what about Galactus? The trade also states that he was transformed from Galan back into Galactus in another comic almost immediately after this. At least he got to be human for a little while.

This issue remembers that the FF’s “4” symbols on their chests are also their communicators, as they use them while flying around New York.

Fantastic or frightful? This closes the book on Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s time on Fantastic Four. They really nailed it. Far-out sci-fi/fantasy with big action, but also a sense of family dynamics among our heroes. And then the key ingredient – they made it fun. I hope when (if?) the next movie is made, these comics are ones studied closely by the filmmakers.

Next: The real world.

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

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