Fantastic Friday: Gobbledygook

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. I’ve been trying to find the positive in writer Tom DeFalco’s time on the series, but he really lost me in the completely unnecessary issue #290.

While the previous issue ended with a couple of cliffhangers, this one begins as if it’s the start of a new story. Johnny is flying over the city to find the entire sky filled with flame. He is of course reminded that this happened the first time Galactus came to the Earth, as we get a one-page flashback to that story, from Fantastic Four #49-51. Then we cut to an otherworldly jungle, where the FF have discovered a giant sculpture of themselves. The Watcher appears, saying that this is an alternate reality and that the tableau that occurred here is in danger of occurring in their world.

This issue begins with what appears to be a multi-page flashback to the original Galactus story from issues 49-51. Keep reading, though, and it’s revealed that this how the Galactus story played out in an alternate timeline. Cut to the present, where the Watcher has brought the FF to this timeline, which is now a post-apocalyptic jungle. The Watcher says this timeline is the one where he failed.

Back in NYC, we catch up to Johnny, Lyja, and new character Rafael Suarez. Johnny is upset to learn he is not the father of Lyja’s egg (that’s right, Lyja laid a freakin’ egg). Then we get a couple pages of recap, re-telling Lyja’s origin, and everything that’s happened to her, as well as her betraying Paibok the Power-Skrull to save Johnny.

The comic abruptly interrupts Ljya’s flashback to cut to “Elsewhen” where teenage Franklin and barbarian swordswoman Huntara are meeting with Warlord Kargul to investigate the mysterious Dark Raider, who is traveling throughout alternate universes, killing every version of Reed Richards he can find. (Got all that?) Then there’s another flashback explaining that Kargul’s people are the ones who constructed Franklin’s Psi-Lord armor, and who taught Huntara to fight. Along the way, we’re reminded that Huntara is Nathaniel Richards’ daughter, making her Reed’s stepsister. Kargul praises Franklin and Huntara for performing their duties (?) and he says Nathaniel is their true enemy.

Then we go back to the watcher and the FF, where he explains that in this version of the story, he sent Reed into space to collect the Ultimate Nullifer, where in the original story Johnny went to get the Nullifier. The Watcher calls this a mistake for which he has never forgiven himself. Then we cut to NYC where Lyja continues her flashback, explaining how Paibok gave her an implant that gave her laser-blasting powers. It’s then explained that these powers have now transferred to Suarez. (This is stuff the reader already knows.) Lyja says not to think of the egg as an egg, but as an implant instead. Johnny walks out on Lyja, saying “I’m through being burned by you.”

Then the Watcher keeps going with his flashback, explaining that this world’s Reed got distracted by all the alien wonders inside the Watcher’s home, and didn’t return to Earth in time to stop Galactus. Then we go to NYC for a side-story where Black Panther contacts the FF to see how repairs to the building are going, only for an angry Johnny to hang up on him. In Wakanda, Black Panther and one of his advisors talk about a youth named Vibraxas. Black Panther thinks Vibraxas’ powers could be a boon for society, but if he can’t rely on the FF for help, he will have to make other arrangements.

In Elsewhen, Kargul reveals that he’s the one who allowed the Dark Raider access to the multiple timelines, with Kargul’s end game being the destruction of Nathaniel Richards. A fight breaks out, as Franklin and Huntara fight Kargul’s henchmen and escape the castle.

With the Watcher, Sue asks if there is anything they can do to “set things right,” and the Watcher says there is a way, but it is with great risk. He teleports Namor and Ant-Man back to the present, and then teleports Sue and Ben. In NYC, the egg (we’re back to calling it an egg already) starts to hatch, only for Johnny to get teleported away. He, Sue, and Ben all reappear in what appears to be the FF’s original headquarters, just in time to see 1960s-era Galactus on the rooftop, setting up his world-destroying machine.

To be continued!

Fade out: Sue is in full leadership mode, standing up to the Watcher and demanding answers from him.

Clobberin’ time: Ben thinks to himself that he is likely not to survive this adventure, mentally preparing himself to die.

Flame on: After almost warming up (heh) to Lyja in recent issues, Johnny says he’s had enough, and he’s back to full-of-rage mode which how he was during the start of Tom DeFalco’s run on the series.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man spends the entire issue frozen in place so that the Watcher can chat with Sue and Ben.

Four and a half: Kargul’s introduction fills in a lot of gaps as to where Franklin went during all his time-traveling. This is the first we’ve seen of Kargul in Fantastic Four, but he was a minor villain in the Thor Corps series.

The Alicia problem: At least a third of this issue is re-telling Lyja’s history, stuff that readers already knew. Was this to catch new readers up to speed?

Commercial break: So here is an ad for the “Marvelvision” line, made up of Neil Gaiman’s Alice Cooper comic, Ghost Rider spinoff Blaze, the not-an-urban-legend Punisher Meets Archie, the Alex Ross classic Marvels, and Break the Chain, which came packaged with a rap cassette tape. I own all but one of these (I’ll let you guess which one) and none of the actual comics come with any “Marvelvision” branding.

Trivia time: The Black Panther scene is setting up the upcoming spinoff title Fantastic Force, which we’ll get to soon enough.

Fantastic or frightful? Here is an issue that’s nothing but flashbacks and characters explaining things, all about alternate timelines and alternate universes. It just turns into gobbledygook after a while.

Next: Day of the tentacle.


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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 33

Watching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! Our clash with enemies and with old friends, 1:17:02 to 1:22:00 on the Blu-ray.

First things first: Where are we? According to the lore, this location is simply the “snow village” although the wiki capitalizes “Snow” suggesting that this is its proper name. According to The Willow Sourcebook, the Snow village is south of NockMaar base camp, meaning our heroes were traveling north to NockMaar, but have now done a 180, heading away from NockMaar, with Tir Asleen located relatively nearby, to the southwest. Back to the movie, we can see peasants in simple robes walking about in the background, and there are chickens in pens and baskets full of fresh fruit around, meaning that the Snow village is an agriculture/farming community like others we’ve seen in the film, though I am at a loss to figure out how this is possible on a snowy mountaintop.

Finn Raziel flies up onto a rooftop and says “Kael! Kael!” like a parrot. We then cut to an elaborately-designed lookout tower, where a man shouts, “NockMaar soldiers!” The tower appears to have some kind of furnace-type thing with a big rock heated up in it, providing smoke. What is this thing? A signal fire? Something to keep him warm? Is he cooking his lunch on it? Then we see a group of NockMaar approaching on horseback, looking tiny against the huge mountain. It’s hard to tell, but it appears there are only about twelve of them. This is important, because this number remains consistent throughout this scene. In a few minutes, when Kael and Sorsha split up, you can follow the NockMaar soldiers, as six follow him and six stay with her.

Willow is now outside again, and looks around as all the locals panic. There’s a lot of running around as a man shouts, “Hide! Hide the children!” Madmartigan tells the man “We need a place to hide,” and then man says to come with him quickly, followed by the action movie requirement of shouting “Move!” There’s no information in the tie-in lore as to who this character is, or who this actor is. A bunch of actors are listed in the credits under “villager” and he could be any one of them. Then we see the soldiers riding into town, with Kael and Sorsha, now fully armored, leading them.

Cut to a dusty cellar, where the man has led Madmartigan. There are several seconds of Madmartigan looking around in wonder, as if he’d never been in a basement before. I think the idea is supposed to be that he’s wondering why all these other people are down there. There’s a shot of Willow looking around with the same wonder/confusion. A hand grabs Madmartigan’s shoulder, and there we see Airk Thaughbaer, last seen not freeing Madmartigan at the Daikini crossroads.

“I knew you’d get out of that rat trap,” Airk says with a smile. Madmartigan smiles too, but then gets serious, grabbing Airk, spinning him around, and pushing him against a wall. “You left me to die, Airk,” Madmartigan says. Airk gets serious too, saying “I probably saved your life. We were slaughtered and a lost a lot of…” He’s interrupted by someone shushing him. Notice that there’s a man in the shot wearing the exact same bronzed armor as Airk. This is a quick and easy way to establish that these folks in the cellar are Airk’s soldiers. Where Airk has been is mostly left to the audience’s imagination. We know he and his troops lost to the NockMaar army at the River Troon, which is way over on the east side of the map. Now we find them in the northwest, with severely depleted in the northwest, where, although defeated, they’re planning a last-ditch assault on NockMaar Castle.

Upstairs, Sorsha enters the building by kicking the door open, even though it was obviously not locked. I guess she’s just angry. Behind her, a NockMaar soldier (is it Kael?) orders “Tear this place apart. Look everywhere. Find the child.” In the cellar, there’s an interesting camera move, where the camera starts out hiding behind a wooden post, only to move around it to find Willow and the baby. There’s a shot of the wooden floor above Willow creaking as the soldiers move about just above him, and then a shot of a soldier flipping over a small wooden table. This would have to be a show of intimidation, as there’s obviously nothing under the table.

The baby starts crying and, in a very cool shot looking upward through the floor, Sorsha draws her sword. Fin Raziel flies into the building cawing, mimicking the baby’s cries. Willow quiets down the baby and Raziel flies back out again, pursued by a NockMaar soldier wearing a cumbersome-looking metal helmet. He looks around in confusion, making him one of my favorite background extras. Airk and Madmartigan are now by the basement entrance, where a third solider checks the door. There’s another below-the-floor shot looking up at Sorsha, followed by a closeup of Madmartigan, looking up at her in and smiling slightly.

Outside, there’s more commotion as the locals are running around, with a NockMaar solider grabbing one peasant and throwing them to the ground. Kael says, “Tell Sorsha I searched the north end.” A soldier responds, “Yes, general.” Kael leads five or six soldiers away from there by shouting “Haa!” to his horse a few times. In the foreground, we can see one of the village’s buildings has been lit on fire, showing that the NockMaar really mean business.

Back inside, Sorsha does some Sherlock Holmes-ing. She spots an animal-skin rug on the floor, and lifts up to reveal the cellar entrance. Below, Madmartigan and the rest of Airk’s crew immediately back up around a corner from the steps leading into the basement. One of Airk’s men, an older man with white-grey hair, tells Willow “Quiet” as the baby is still fussing. Sorsha slowly walks down into the basement. It says a lot about her that she walks first into danger, rather than sending a henchman in ahead of her. Airk hands Madmartigan a knife — not a sword, notably. There’s yet another cool shot of Sorsha’s sword slowly passing in front of Madmartigan’s face. The sword is serrated along one edge. I’m not sure how that would help in the heat of battle, but it looks cool. Once Madmartigan spots Sorsha’s wrist, he grabs it, spins her around, and puts the knife at her neck. This causes the NockMaar behind Sorsha to back up. Now calling the shots, Madmartigan simply says, “Back! Back!”

Madmartigan and Sorsha head up the stairs, with Willow following right behind. Upstairs, he orders another “Back!” at the NockMaar. Airk addresses Willow, telling him to keep the baby quiet. “She needs to be changed,” Willow says. If the baby is secretly helping out our heroes with magic, why is she jeopardizing everyone by crying at this time? I guess she can only do so much because, obviously, she’s still just a baby.

Madmartigan looks out a window and says, “NockMaar scum.” Sorsha says, “You’ll never defeat us. Give up the baby.” Willow sets the baby down next to a lit fireplace and gets to work changing the baby. (We’re spared the diaper-y details.) Airk asks “What does Bavmorda want with this baby anyway?” Willow says, “She’s a princess. We’re taking her to Tir Asleen.” Airk says, “Tir Asleen? Even if you could find it, peck, she’s right. You’d never get past the NockMaar army.” Airk talks about Tir Asleen as if it is like a mythical Atlantis, but we know from the lore that it is one of the major kingdoms. I suppose he means that Willow specifically can’t find it. Willow says, “There’s an even bigger army at Tir Asleen, if we could just get there.”  Airk hears a woman screaming outside, and he rushes over to the window next to Madmartigan. He says, “I’ve lost more than half my men fighting Bavmorda. Now you and this peck are going to take her on? You always told me you served no one, Madmartigan. Since when are you a crusader?”

There’s a dramatic pause as Madmartigan lets these words sink in. Then Airk says, “He’s not going to help you, peck. He’s a worthless thief.” Airk steps away from Madmartigan (where’s he going?) and Madmartigan says, “I’m not a thief, Airk.” This “thief” talk is odd, because we know from the lore that Madmartigan got in trouble for being a deserter, not a thief. Willow adds, “He’s not a thief,” only to turn to Madmartigan and say, “Are you?” Madmartigan doesn’t answer, his eyes darting around the room, even meeting Sorsha’s angry-yet-scared gaze for a second. Madmartigan and Sorsha stand, his knife still at her neck, and he says, “I serve the Nelwyn, Airk.” Does this line mean he now swears loyalty to all the Nelwyn people, or is he referring to Willow specifically? I believe it to be the latter, seeing as how Airk uses the “peck” insult throughout this exchange, but Madmartigan has now reached the point where he is friends with Willow and is above such insults.

Airk looks incredulous, and he steps up to Madmartigan. Madmartigan asks Airk to come with them, and Airk says they’ll never make it. “Then once again, we say goodbye,” Madmartigan says, with he and Sorsha quickly ducking out of the shot. Airk peers out the window to see two NockMaar soldiers roughing up some of the peasants.

Madmartigan, Sorsha, Willow, and the baby all emerge through the door outside, as the score goes from suspenseful to heroic. They make their way to some nearby horses. Sorsha gets up onto the first one, and, in the moment it takes Madmartigan to mount the horse right behind her, she shouts, “Over here!” There are now three NockMaar roughing up peasants. They hear here and one calls her name. Madmartigan says “Weapons down or she’s dead!” The NockMaar don’t bother trying to negotiate, immediately dropping their swords to the ground.

Willow does a nifty move, grabbing onto part of the building and then swinging onto the back of one of the horses. With a “Hyah! Hyah!” Willow takes off the horse, quick to get out of there. Madmartigan backs the horse up (nice horsemanship there) and then takes around and takes off at a gallop. As soon as he does, the NockMaar pick their swords back up as one of them says, “Get to your horses! After them!” They’re interrupted by Airk and the knights, who burst through the doors and windows of the same building, firing arrows at the NockMaar. Airk fights on of the NockMaar hand-to-hand, elbowing the guy in the face and then stabbing him. The peasants (or are they Airk’s men, but not in armor?) get in on the action beating on more NockMaar. Airk then throws a knife at one, immediately killing him. Then there’s a shot of Willow and Madmartigan’s horses leaving the village and heading off farther into the snowy mountains, followed by a quick shot of Fin Raizel flying off, letting us know she’s following. The score gets more somber as Airk watches the heroes escape.

Next: Courtship.


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Fantastic Friday: Kosmos-politan

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re going cosmic in annual #27, travelling throughout the multiverse and wrapping up an ongoing plotline that I don’t think many people were following.

In the first of two stories, we return to the Time Variance Authority, or TVA, last seen during Walt Simonson’s run on the series. This is a cosmic bureaucracy that monitors all alternate timelines and parallel dimensions. (This is comedy/satire Douglas Adams-style stuff.) Mr. Mobius, one of the clerks, is chewed out by his boss because of a missing file. The file in question is the record of the FF’s visit to the TVA, which only Mobius remembers.

In New York, the FF — Sue, Ben, Johnny, and new teammate Ant-Man — are enjoying an afternoon in central park, where they stop an out-of-control taxi. A TVA named Justice Love places the FF under arrest and teleports them to the TVA’s null-zone. What he doesn’t know is that Ant-Man avoided the teleporter by shrinking to tiny size and hitching a ride on Justice Love’s armor.

Mobius’s boss, Mr. Alternity, questions Sue, only for her to escape and make a run for it. Ant-Man helps her escape, while Mobius appears before Johnny and Ben hoping to help them. The problem is that the Cross-time Express, which they used to escape last time, no longer makes stops on Earth. They instead take the Express to Chronopolis, home of time-traveling supervillain Kang.

Sue negotiates with a hologram of Kang (where or when Kang is broadcasting from is left a mystery). She offers him Moebius in exchange for Kang returning the FF to their own time, with Sue arguing that, as a defector from the TVA, Mobius has knowledge Kang can use. Before returning to Earth, Sue asks Kang what he knows about Reed’s death/disappearance. Kang refuses to reveal whether Reed is alive, but he tells Sue that at some point in the future she will find Reed.

Mobius, however, doesn’t stay with Kang. He returns to the TVA and asks that they match Kang’s offer. They do, giving Mobius a promotion, with the added responsibility that he continue to watch over the Fantastic Four.

The second story in the annual is the more interesting one (for me, anyway). It’s been five years in real time that readers have been following (or ignoring) through various annuals the ongoing subplot of Kubik and Kosmos exploring the universe, and this annual finally wraps it up. Kosmos is the being that was created when the Molecule Man and the Beyonder fused into a single being. Kubik is a cosmic cube come to life. He took it upon himself to teach the childlike Cosmos the ways of the creation.

First, godlike beings Eternity, the Living Tribunal, Master Chaos, and Lord Order hold a meeting to discuss the nature of the cosmic cubes. They say they created the cosmic cubes and sent them out into the universe as an experiment. From there, we catch up with the Molecule Man, who is alive again thanks to part of his essence left behind with his girlfriend Volcana. Except that now, Volcana has dumped him, and he’s all alone, wracked with grief. He decides to seek vengeance on the Beyonder.

In space, Kubik and Kosmos are studying the architecture of the “Aldeberous Hegemony.” Kosmos is struck by an energy beam, which re-creates the Beyonder, with his Secret Wars II armor and everything. The Beyonder is teleported away, leaving Kosmos in a ghost-like state. She says her soul is gone, and she only feels emptiness. Kubik says if her soul is not returned soon, Kosmos will cease to exist.

Molecule Man brings the Beyonder to Earth, to his home in Colorado. They fight, with their cosmic powers threatening to rip apart all of time and space. Molecule Man wins the fight, though it’s not clear how, and he severely weakens the Beyonder. Kubik appears with the unconscious Kosmos. Kubik says that Molecule Man’s origins as a mortal make him greater than all the other cosmic beings, that there is a depth to his existence that is more than sheer power.

Kubik pleads for Molecule Man to save Kosmos’ life. Molecule Man can see that Kubik has fallen in love with Kosmos. Molecule Man’s rage subsides, and he returns the Beyonder’s power to Kosmos, saving her. Kosmos and Kubik return to space, and Molecule Man is left to ponder how ripping galaxies apart with a thought is easy when compared to dealing with a broken heart.

Fade out: Sue cements her role as the team’s new leader by negotiating their way out of trouble, rather than fighting their way out.

Clobberin’ time: While most of this issue falls on the “Reed is still alive” argument, Ben is the one who insists that Reed really is dead this time.

Flame on: Johnny says this is the first time he’s gone out in public without being hassled by paparazzi following the destruction he caused at Empire State University several issues back.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man joins the team on their day off in Central Park, and Sue suggests that his daughter Cassie stay with the FF for the summer once she’s off school.

Commercial break: Magnus Robot Fighter was once so big that he could share ad space with Spidey, Batman, and Ghost Rider.

Trivia time: Kosmos won’t return until the Annihilation crossover event of the 2000s, after she is separated from Kubik, acting a lot less childlike and a lot more villainous. Renaming herself Maker, she spends the crossover struggling to keep the Beyonder half of her personality from taking over her mind. Maker later battled Thanos in the hugely confusing Thanos solo series.

Fantastic or Frightful? The FF story ends up being kind of pointless, and making all the TVA agents lookalike clones makes it a confusing read. I really enjoyed the Kosmos story, though. After following these characters for so long throughout all these deeply-buried backup stories, it’s fun to see them in the spotlight.

Next: Who watches he who watches the Watcher?


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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 32

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! This is the silliest, goofiest part of the movie, but what if there’s more to it? 1:14:46-1:17:02 on the Blu-ray.

We find ourselves in a James Bond skiing scene, as the shield/sled goes down a much steeper side of the mountain than we’ve previously seen, including a wide shot, to take in just how huge of a mountain this is. Just as the sledding increases in momentum, though, we cut back to Sorsha’s fallen tent, where the two Brownies finally reappear. Franjean says, “Oh no, where did everybody go?” Rool responds “Maybe it was something we said,” for a cheap laugh. Back to the action, then, as General Kael and more NockMaar pursue the heroes on horseback. Kael is now wearing his skull mask, so we know he means business now.

Farther down the mountain, it’s another shield/sled POV shot, as the sled weaves between a bunch of boulders partially buried in the snow. They go down yet another sleep slope, and both Willow and Madmartigan react to something with fear. We then see that something is a cliff. The shield/sled does a big jump off the cliff, trailing snow behind it. It makes a solid landing and keeps speeding downward. Madmartigan, Willow, and the baby all get closeups of the wind hitting their faces, except that the baby is smiling and laughing, seemingly enjoying the ride. The shield/sled is shown going down two more steep slopes, and then into what appears to be an ice cave, a thin path of snow with shear blue walls on either side. This leads to another cliff, and another big jump.

This time, the sled/shield lands a lot rougher, and Madmartigan falls off the back, only to start immediately tumbling downward on his side. I’m sure a lot first-time viewers already knew (or dreaded) where this was going. There’s another shot of Willow and the baby sledding down yet another steep slope, followed by Madmartigan tumbling down an almost vertical slope.

The geography finally flattens out as Willow arrives at a small village of about only buildings with snow-covered roofs. He’s still moving at high speed, though, on a crash course with one of the larger buildings right in front of him. With a “Whoa!” he sleds right through the front door, and we hear a crashing sound from inside.

Cut to inside, and it’s the aftermath of the crash, in a kitchen-type setting with furniture knocked over, baskets overturned, and fruit all over the floor. (Where are they getting fresh fruit on a snow-topped mountain?) Willow checks to see if the baby is okay, and she is yawning. This usually gets a big laugh from viewers, but, as we’re about to see, I wonder if there’s more to it than that.

Willow steps outside, looks around, and then his eyes widen in shock. He whispers, “Madmartigan,” and then we see Madmartigan has picked up snow while tumbling down the mountain, so now he’s a giant snowball rolling down the mountainside, just like an old-timey cartoon. Willow runs back inside, shutting the door behind him, and then peeks through a window. The snowball continues forward, as one man ducks to the side, making this the first other person we’ve seen in this village. The snowball hits the wall right in front of the open window. The snowball breaks apart, causing snow to fly through the window and fall all over Willow.

While Willow is jokey and lighthearted throughout, this scene feels incongruent because of how deep it goes into an almost Naked Gun level of silliness not seen anywhere else in the movie. What are we to make of this, compared to the rest of the movie? Well, Cherlindrea revealed that the baby Elora Danan is intelligent, and has awareness of her surroundings, and has great magic to her. We see the baby smiling during the shield/sled ride, so is the baby magically controlling the shield/sled? Elora then yawns after the ride, as Madmartigan is inside the snowball. Is it possible that Elora Danan created the snowball to save Madmartigan, and doing so tired her out, hence her yawning? Yes, I know I’m deep (too deep) into fan theory territory here, but this would justify the snowball gag being in the movie, and it keeps Elora Danan present as an active member of the adventuring party.

Madmartigan clumsily frees himself of the snow surrounding him, as a bunch of locals gather around to watch him. Dazed, Madmartigan grabs the sides of his head while stumbling around. He asks “What the hell happened up there?” Willow skips to the middle of the recap by saying, “You started spouting poetry.” He asks, “Poetry,” and Willow starts paraphrasing, “‘I love you, Sorsha. I worship you, Sorsha.’ You almost got us killed.” With that, Willow kicks some snow in Madmartigan’s direction. Madmartigan repeats, “‘I love you, Sorsha?’” and then one of the movie’s most often-quoted lines, “I don’t love her. She kicked me in the face.” He adds, “I hate her.” He then thinks for a moment and says, “Don’t I?” He grabs the sides of his head in confusion again. In previous posts, I’ve argued that Sorsha’s change of heart has more to do than just her being horny for Madmartigan. Now, Madmartigan’s “Don’t I?” suggests his feelings for her might be more than just the Dust of Broken Hearts.

Next: Look who’s back.


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Fantastic Friday: Collect this

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #389 continues a bunch of ongoing subplots, with a surprise revelation or two.

As with the last few issues, this one begins with the Watcher breaking the fourth wall and speaking to the reader. He shows us an ominous spaceship heading for Earth, and then shows a scene from a hospital in New York, where an electrical engineer named Suarez finds the alien implant removed from Lyja during the super-gross birth scene back in issue #386.

Cut to Four Freedoms Plaza, where the FF and special guest star Namor are meeting with a globe-trotting archeologist, Professor Robeson, who has found an ancient sculpture in the jungles of Brazil that looks just like Ben. Rather than mount an expedition right away, Sue is reluctant to investigate, admitting to Robeson that Reed is missing and presumed dead. Then there’s a lot team bickering, where Ben doesn’t like Namor hanging around putting the moves on Sue, while Johnny frets over his and Lyja’s egg (that’s right, Lyja freakin’ laid an egg in issue #286), and new team member Ant-Man has had no luck finding where or when now-teenage Franklin went after stealing the FF’s time sled. Got all that?

We then catch up with Franklin, who appears to be somewhere (somewhen?) in space with the stolen time sled. He meets up with barbarian swordswoman Huntara, and the two catch up, revealing that they have quite the shared history. She chides him for working alongside his time-traveling grandfather, whom Huntara refers to as “Nathaniel the Mad.” Franklin says there’s an even bigger concern than Nathaniel, and that is the Dark Raider. Franklin says the Dark Raider has been traveling throughout various alternate timelines, killing each universe’s version of Reed Richards. Huntara promises to help Franklin, saying she is bound to blood to aid him, and “I am your father’s only sister!”

We cut from that surprise revelation to FF HQ, where Ant-Man says his chronometer has a lock on Franklin’s location. Sue is ready to mount an expedition to find Franklin, but Johnny has had enough of the FF’s recent disastrous adventures, and announces that he and Lyja are staying behind to watch over Lyja’s egg (I still can’t believe Lyja laid an egg).

Suarez the electrical engineer shows up at HQ, asking to see the FF. Then the ominous spaceship from the first scene arrives, knocking out power to the building. Suarez runs off, and the Collector beams down from the spaceship. The Collector is of course a celestial being obsessed with collecting unique items from throughout the universe, and he’s come to collect the egg. He fights Johnny and Lyja, summoning a giant robot for help. Lyja discovers her laser-blasting powers are gone, so she shape-shifts into a giant monster to fight the robot.

The rest of the FF follow’s Franklin’s signal not to outer space, but to a jungle, where they are surrounded by primitive cavemen. The heroes discover a statue of the original four FF among some ruins, and the cavemen attack, saying the FF are the ones who caused “the great destruction.” Ant-Man finds a hidden door inside the sculpture, leading to underground tunnels. Ant-Man and Namor freeze in place, and the Watcher appears. The Watcher tells Sue and Ben that he’s the one who brought them to the jungle, and they indirectly led to the destruction of this world.

Back at HQ, Suarez shows up again, revealing he has laser powers, and helps turn the fight in the heroes’ favor against the Collector. The alien device from the start of the issue is the one Paibok gave to Lyja for her “laserfist” powers, and those powers have now transferred to Suarez. A crack appears on the surface of the egg, and the Collector determines that the egg is a “fake.” He teleports away, saying it is not worth of his collection. Johnny asks Lyja what this means, and it’s time for another big revelation. She says to Johnny, “You are not its father!”

To be continued!

Fade out: Sue reacts with shock when Ben refers to Namor as her “boyfriend,” but she doesn’t exactly deny it, either.

Clobberin’ time: When Reed isn’t around to explain the FF’s time-tripping, Ben thinks about how much he misses Reed, but he doesn’t say this out loud.

Flame on: Johnny refusing to join the rest of the team on their expedition further foreshadows the upcoming team breakup storyline.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man further cements his status a teammate by operating all the time travel tech, finding the hidden passage to the tunnels, and summoning ants to distract the cavemen.

Four and a half: Franklin’s interaction with Huntara completely changes their dynamic, setting up their soon-to-published spinoff comic, Fantastic Force.

The Alicia problem: Lyja spends the issue trying to tell Johnny her big secret, only to keep being interrupted. The question is, why now? Perhaps it’s because she knows the egg is about to hatch.

Commercial break: Oh, Polaris…

Trivia time: This is the first time the Collector has appeared in the pages of Fantastic Four, although he and our heroes briefly crossed paths in the Contest of Champions miniseries. Most of the Collector’s appearances have been in Silver Surfer, with him always hoping to get his hands on a cosmic cube.

Fantastic or frightful? This should be a big issue with a lot of big revelations, but it’s all so cluttered and unfocused. This is supposed to be the next chapter in an going superhero/sci-fi epic, but I’m left wondering why I should care.

Next: Let’s all get molecular.


Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.


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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 31

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow! This is a short scene, but it’s packed with action and fighting, 1:13:45 to 1:14:46 on the Blu-ray.

Picking up where the last scene left off, we see the exterior of Sorsha’s tent as it collapses, with the sounds of NockMaar soldiers grunting and fumbling about inside. There’s a shot of Willow emerging from the folds of the tent, letting us know they’re both okay. Then a sword pops straight up through top of the tent (paging Dr. Freud), tearing it open. Madmartigan, with his shirt wide open, emerges from the tent with a playful jump, swinging the sword around. It’s never explicitly said, but his confident-yet-crazed demeanor means he’s over the effects of the Dust of the Broken Hearts. Throughout the movie, Madmartigan has been the mythic-sounding “swordsman without a sword.” Now, though, he has a sword in hand for the first time, so we can finally see him cut loose.

 Two NockMaar soldiers run out from behind two tents, ready for a fight. Madmartigan does a lot of flashy moves, swinging the sword and then flipping it in midair and catching it again. Madmartigan takes kills the first guy with two slashes of the sword. The second guy appears to die after only one sword strike, except he also somehow goes flying through the air after Madmartigan slices him. A third NockMaar runs up and gets Madmartigan’s sword right in the gut. No flashy stunt work for this one, he just flops down dead.

 Watching this, Willow says “You are great!” with emphasis on the word “are.” Madmartigan smiles, flips the sword around again, and then, for a slapstick laugh, falls on his butt. This is important because it shows that although he can fight, he is still fallible. Having a sword gives him power, but he’s not in god mode.

 Madmartigan says, “Get on that shield!” We don’t see this shield yet, but we see Willow look to the side, so we understand it is nearby. Willow runs over to it, and my question is, which NockMaar left this shield just sitting in the snow, out in the open? For that matter, have we seen NockMaar use shields before this? In this and previous fight scenes, the NockMaar fight strategy has been basic brawling, with them merely drawing swords and charging ahead. Anyway, Willow apparently knows what Madmartigan has in mind, so he dutifully sits on the shield. Madmartigan flips a guy over his shoulder. Does this kill him? The movie makes it seem as though it does. A fifth approaches him, only for Madmartigan to punch him in the face, and then slice the guy’s gut. We’re going to see a lot of fistfight/swordfight combos as the movie progresses.

 Sorsha emerges from a tent. Notice that this isn’t her own collapsed tent, but instead she’s stepping out one that is fully standing. What was she doing in there? Madmartigan runs toward the shield, stops, and calls to Sorsha. The score briefly switches from action to romantic for a few seconds as the two hold each other’s gazes. They don’t say anything, but he does take a step toward her. What exactly is going on in this moment? For Sorsha, seeing Madmartigan in action isn’t just about her thinking he’s hot, but also that he represents a way out of the life of violence and militarism that she’s always known. But what’s going on in Madmartigan’s head? Is this still the Dust of Broken Hearts at work? Or, perhaps, did the dust awaken some truth in how Madmartigan feels, and he’s in this moment realizing it? It’s left to the audience to decide.

 Keeping the action moving, the romance is cut short by General Kael, still not wearing his skull mask, shouting “After them!” A NockMaar soldier on horseback rides across the screen right in front of them, with the assumption that there will be more. Madmartigan sits on the shield behind Willow and the baby, using it as a makeshift sled. All it takes is one push from one of Madmartigan’s hands, and the shield/sled takes off at high speed, Clark Griswold style.

Next: Like a rolling stone.


Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.


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Fantastic Friday: Deja blue

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’re going back to the ‘60s (except not) and the Avengers guest star (except they don’t) in issue #388.

As with the previous issue, this one begins with the Watcher providing a recap of the story so far. This time, though, the Dark Raider is in the Watcher’s home with him. There’s a lot to unpack here. First, we’ve been told that the Dark Raider is an apocalyptic evil that teenage Franklin and his grandfather Nathaniel have come to the present to stop. Second, the Dark Raider is dressed as the Invincible Man. Remember that “Invincible Man” is not a person, but merely a name and costume worn by a variety of characters whenever they need an alternate identity. The Watcher has come to the Dark Raider to ask him to change his plans, to prevent a cataclysm. The Dark Raider refuses, saying it is his destiny.

We then catch up from the last issue’s cliffhanger. After receiving a message from Sue in another timeline saying the FF are doomed, the team — currently Sue, Ben, Johnny, Ant-Man, Lyja, and guest star Namor — used the FF time sled and followed the message to its source. There, in an undefined timeline, they met the classic 1960s FF. There’s a lot of tension in the room and a fight almost breaks out, but Alt-Reed insists that more than meets the eye, and he welcomes the FF as his guests.

Franklin also shows up in this timeline, easily bypassing the ‘60s Baxter Building’s security. Inside, there’s some comedy business with the two Johnnys and the two Bens showing off their powers while Ant-Man watches. Franklin telepathically convinces the Alt-Ben into thinking Ben is a Skrull, and a fight breaks out. Ant-Man shrinks to teeny size and summons all ants in the surrounding area to help.

Ant-Man’s message is picked up by this timeline’s Ant-Man, who is still Hank Pym. He assembles a ‘60s-era Avengers team made up of him, Wasp, Thor, and Iron Man, to investigate. Back at the Baxter Building, Sue fights Alt-Sue, cutting off her oxygen with a force field. Franklin sees this and associates Alt-Sue as being more like the mother he remembers, so he stops the fight. Sue tries to reason with Franklin, saying she can free him from Malice’s psychic influence. It seems like it’s about to work, but then Franklin attacks Sue. Alt-Reed tries to break up their fight, only to be interrupted by Dark Raider teleporting into the room.

After a few pages of Ben, Johnny, and Ant-Man fighting the Alt-FF and Alt-Avengers, we cut back to the Dark Raider. He proves himself a match for our heroes, freezing Alt-Reed so he can’t stretch and shattering Franklin’s psionic armor. The others put aside their differences and team up to fight the Dark Raider. They’re too late, though, because the Dark Raider fires an energy blast that flat-out kills Alt-Reed and Alt-Sue. He says his work is done and he teleports away. While Alt-Johnny is overcome with grief, Franklin wanders off and the rest of the FF return to their own timeline, leaving their counterparts in tragedy. The issue ends with the Watcher saying the time has come for him to act.

Fade out: Sue reaching out to Franklin shows how she’s changed since Malice left her. Rather than furiously denying he’s not her son, she instead tries to help him.

Clobberin’ time: Assuming the FF are from the future, Alt-Ben tries to get stock tips from Ben, only for Ben to warn him to avoid insider trading.

Flame on: Alt-Johnny’s fire burns out during the fight, leaving him powerless. This demonstrates how much more powerful Johnny has become since the FF’s early days.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ant-Man manages to defeat Alt-Ben by having ants crawl all over him, distracting him from the fight. Alt-Hank then wrests mental control of the ants away from “our” Ant-Man, who is Scott Long, revealing Hank to be the more powerful Ant-Man.

Four and a half: I’m having trouble figuring out Franklin’s actions during the fight. First he’s out to get the FF, but then he almost accepts their help. I guess we’ll have to chalk this up to Malice’s evil influence.

Commercial break: Has anyone ever seen Stan Lee’s Home Shopping Club show? I looked, but couldn’t find it on YouTube.

Trivia time: If we’re to assume the alternate timeline is following classic Marvel continuity, this takes place sometime around Avengers #2-3, when the Hulk left the team and the rest were looking for him, but before Captain America showed up in issue #4. That puts the Alt-FF sometime around Fantastic Four issues #22-23, where Sue got her force field powers for the first time.

The Marvel Wiki lists this alternate timeline as Earth-43487, and this story is its only appearance.

Fantastic or frightful? A lot of people on the internet want to interpret this issue as being a commentary on ‘90s comics, with classic ‘60s characters getting violently murdered. Having read ahead a little, I know this is just foreshadowing where this Dark Raider business is headed. Other than that, there’s not much to this issue. Just a lot of goofy fighting with an Avengers appears that amounts to very little.

Next: Raiders of the lost Thing.


Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.


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Willow (1988) rewatch – Part 30

Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freakin’ Willow!  A mind-control potion plus bad poetry equals LOVE, 1:09:47 to 1:13:44 on the Blu-ray.

We last left our heroes locked in a cage in the snowy NockMaar camp. It’s around this point that there are two scripted-but-not-filmed scenes that showed up in the novelization and graphic novel, but not the film. The first has General Kael, while not wearing his skull helmet, walking by our heroes’ cage and recognizing Madmartigan. Madmartigan lies and says he’s not Madmartigan, but is the man who killed Madmartigan. Kael says, “Good. He stole my woman,” and then walks off. The tie-in books and the wiki conveniently ignores this exchange, and who this woman might have been. I feel that this was wisely left out of the movie, as making these types of connections makes the world feel smaller rather than grand.

 The second scripted-but-not-filmed scene has guards escorting Willow out of the cage and into Sorsha’s tent. She can’t stop the baby from crying and coughing, so she asks for his help. Willow fears the baby is sick, saying his son once died of a cough like that. Willow heats up a pot in her tent, filling it with steam, which helps the baby’s breathing. She asks about Madmartigan, and Willow tells her “he says he’s a great swordsman,” to which Sorsha laughs. The graphic novel adds a bit of business during this where Willow secretly uses the pot to also brew a potion to help Fin Raziel change form. The scene ends with Sorsha giving Willow a warning regarding Elora Danen, “Don’t let her die, peck. My mother needs her alive.”

 Back to the movie itself, we continue on after Raziel’s bird transformation, Franjean says “You want out?” and Rool adds, “Easy. We can pick a lock.” The two of them use Franjean’s spear as a lockpick, but start arguing over the right way to do it. Rool says, “No, no, like this,” although I can see no indication of what “this” is. Franjean says, “It’s my spear. Frustrated, Madmartigan says, “Let me do it.” He grabs the spear from Franjean and gets to work on the lock.

 As Madmartigan fiddles with the lock, he adds, “Out of the way, rodents.” This is apparently too much for Franjean, who gets really ticked off. He says, “Get your hand off that,” and then, even angrier, “Leave that alone you stupid fat Daikini.” As he says this, he takes out a small pouch on a string and starts swinging it around. The pouch smacks Madmartigan right in the noise with a glittery gold effect. He says “Ow!” and covers his face.

 Rool laughs, and says this is the Dust of Broken Hearts, although this was clearly an ADR because it doesn’t match actor Kevin Pollack’s mouth. In fiction, we can assume he is projecting his voice through some sort of supernatural means, which the Brownies would have to do to be heard at the same “room volume” as everyone else. They get back to work on the lock while must glowing gold dust floats around Madmartigan’s face.

 Madmartigan transitions from angry to wide-eyed and smiling. By working together, the two Brownies actually succeed in opening the lock. It’s always nice to see the goofy comic relief get a win. Franjean proclaims, “You are free!” Willow puts a hand on Madmartigan’s shoulder and says “Come on Madmartigan, let’s get Elora Danan out of here.” Madmartigan is still dazed, but says, “Yeah, it’ll be fun.”

 There’s a shot of the NockMaar camp with the mountains in the distance. The mountains appear gold/yellow at their peaks, which I believe is the movie’s way of establishing that it’s dawn now. The score goes into “upbeat adventure” tone as Willow and Madmartigan sneak around the camp. Madmartigan follows Willow while still in a daze. Willow stops to ask Madmartigan if he’s all right, and Madmartigan sits in the snow, saying, “Yeah. I feel… good.” Rool again says, “the Dust of Broken Hearts,” in case the audience doesn’t get it. Franjean fiddles with the pouch, suggesting that it’s now empty.

 Willow and Madmartigan do the steal game thing, sneaking from behind one tent to another. Willow peeks through a fold in the tent and says, “There’s Elora right there.” The Brownies chirp “Let me see” and “You always get to see” for a little humor, keeping the tone of this sequence light. Willow states that the baby is “on those furs.” We get a look inside the tent, and the baby is on furs in her basket. She’s just on the floor with a weird-looking chair next to her. The tent appears to have a solid floor, but it’s likely some sort of makeshift tarp placed over the snow. 

 Franjean, still believing himself to be the leader, says “Leave this to us.” Madmartigan ignores him and says to Willow, “Only one of us should go in there. I have experience in this sort of thing. I know what I’m doing.” He’s a little more lucid as he says this, giving the audience some hope that he’ll succeed in rescuing the baby with no ill effects from the Dust of Broken Hearts.

 It’s almost dead silence as Madmartigan sneaks into the tent. Behind him, he passes a rack of swords, all in various shapes and sizes. Are we to assume that these are Sorsha’s personal collection? He slowly approaches the baby, and is about to pick her up. He glances to the side and sees Sorsha, asleep. Sorsha is lit in a romanticized Botticelli painting sort of way, with candles all around her bed. (Fire hazard!) Her battle armor is also right by the bed, so she can suit up for battle first thing in the morning. Madmartigan appears to ignore her at first, only to perk up and look at her a second time. He stands, wide-eyed and jaw opened, completely mesmerized by her. We get some reaction shot of the Brownies, who say “uh-oh” in unison, and Willow, who says “No” and points at the baby.

 Madmartigan leans in close to Sorsha, about to kiss her Sleeping Beauty style, whispering “I love you” to her.” He then notices Willow at the tent entrance, frantically pointing at the baby. He stands, shakes his head as if coming to his senses. We think he’s going to rescue the baby, but then he turns back around and puts his hands over his heart all melodramatically. Willow and Brownies all do a comedic facepalm. As noted earlier, there aren’t any concrete rules as to how the Dust of Broken Hearts works. When it was used on Rool, he immediately fell in love with a cat, it being the first thing he saw. For Madmartigan, he’s in a kind of daze until he sees Sorsha, so the dust affects him so that he falls harder for someone he already has some amount of attraction to?

 Then we go into one of the all-time great comedy tropes: bad poetry. Madmartigan says “Oh Sorsha, wake from this hateful sleep. It deprives me of your beauty. The beauty of your eyes.” Willow has had enough, and runs into the tent to save the baby himself. As Madmartigan leans in closer to Sorsha, she whips out a knife and aims it right at his groin, saying one of the movie’s most memorable lines, “One move, jackass, and you really will be a woman.”

 She immediately stands up. It’s not clear at what point she actually woke, and then waited for Madmartigan to be in position for her to pull out the knife. Madmartigan falls to his knees, keeping the bad poetry going. “You are my sun, my moon, my starlit sky. Without you, I dwell in darkness. I love you.” Sorsha clearly has no idea what to make of this, but maintains the tough act, asking “What are you doing here?” The score goes from comedic to romantic as Madmartigan says, “Your power has enchanted me. I stand helpless against it. Come to me, now. Tonight, let me worship you in my arms.”

 She holds the knife to his neck, conveniently throwing open the front of his shirt as she does so, creating a classic romance novel look. “Get away from me!” she says, only for him to tell her he loves her. She gives him a push and says “Stop saying that!” Then more poetry: “How can I stop the beating of my heart? It pounds like never before.” They move in close to each other, and now she starts playing along, saying “Out of fear,” only for him to answer, “Out of love.” She then says, “I can stop it. I can kill you.” He smiles and says, “Death, next to love, is a trivial thing.” He spots her hand on his chest holding him back, and he says, “Your touch is worth 100,000 deaths.” This is the line that seems to get to her, and they have an almost-kiss.

 That “100,000 deaths” line is interesting, especially how Sorsha visibly reacts to it. We know that Sorsha has been raised to be an expert in warfare and she’s been commanding troops since a young age. Now here we have Madmartigan telling her that, in his eyes, she’s something more than death and killing. If we’re to assume that Sorsha’s eventual change of heart is because of more than Madmartigan’s hunkiness, then this line is the first step of Sorsha seeing herself in a new light.

Why is the kiss only an almost-kiss? Because Kael, without his helmet, bursts into the tent, carrying Willow under one arm. (Is actor Pat Roach actually carrying Warwick Davis around like this, or is it a stunt/special effect?) We hear the baby crying, and I believe we’re supposed to think that Willow has the baby in his arms. Sorsha looks down and sees the baby’s furs empty, realizing what’s up. She cries, “Deceiver!” and attacks Madmartigan. He does an odd move where he falls onto his back while simultaneously kicking the knife out of her hand. Is that really the best way to disarm an opponent? Kael says, “Stop him!” In the next shot, Madmartigan is back on his feet, and he now has a sword in his hand. We don’t see where he got it. I suppose we can assume it’s from that rack of swords seen earlier.  Madmartigan strikes the spoke at the center of the tent, bringing the whole thing down, with the tent walls falling slowly, parachute-like. Then Madmarigan goes in for the kiss, Sorsha doesn’t fight him, seeming into it.

There’s an exterior shot of the tent collapsing, along with the sound of Kael going “Aargh!” in frustration. This also establishes that it’s fully daylight outside, which is where we’ll be going next time.

Next: All swordfights, all the time. 


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Fantastic Friday: No subplot gets out alive

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #387 actually got a small promotional push from Marvel at the time, half-heartedly selling “Nobody Gets Out Alive” as a Fantastic Four-related event comic. As we’re about to see, though, it’s not much of an event.

Gimmie a gimmick: To further half-heartedly promote this issue as a minor event, Marvel produced a variant cover on hard stock paper, in which the flames around Sue’s image were holofoil, creating a shiny effect. You could also buy a regular-priced ordinary cover, where the flames around sue are just plain purple.

We begin with the Watcher inside his home on the moon. For several pages, he ruminates on all the times he’s met the Fantastic Four, and then his recap of events of the last few issues. Cut to Four Freedoms Plaza, where our heroes are chasing an alien bird around the inside of the building for a few pages, in a classic excuse-for-the-characters-to-show-off-their-powers.

After capturing the bird, new teammate Ant-Man sends the bird back to its original timeline, revealing it got loose while he was fixing up the FF’s time sled with Dr. Doom’s matter transference computer the FF swiped from Doom’s castle. All this is because Sue believes Reed didn’t die while fighting Doom, but that he and Doom were merely teleported somewhere. Note that Namor is hanging out during, having just returned from a “small shopping spree” with Sue. So, despite Sue’s protestations about Reed, she and Namor appear attached at the hip.

We then catch up to last issue’s cliffhanger, in which Lyja gave birth not to a baby, but an egg. Said egg is in an incubator inside headquarters. Johnny wants he and Lyja to talk things out, but, when summoned by Ben and Sue, Lyja says her new responsibilities as an alternate fifth (Sixth? Seventh?) member of the FF takes precedent. The reason for Ben and Sue’s call is because Ben saw Dr. Doom in a newspaper, revealing Doom is alive.

Cut to Latveria, where we’re reminded that this Dr. Doom is really Nathaniel Richards in disguise. Using a “thought imagizer,” he contacts now-teenage Franklin telepathically, saying that he’s doing all this prevent an upcoming apocalypse and he still needs Franklin’s help. What Nathaniel apparently doesn’t know is that Franklin is possessed by the Malice psychic entity. Malice says there might be a way for Franklin to reach Reed, even though Franklin believes Reed is dead.

The FF discuss the Dr. Doom revelation, only for a flaming apparition of Sue to appear in the air above them. The apparition, dressed in the classic ‘60s FF uniform, says that the Fantastic Four are dead, and she’s responsible, having led them on their final quest. As the apparition disappears, Franklin shows up inside Reed’s lab to steal the team’s time sled. Before escaping, Franklin conveniently tells Ant-Man that he’s in search of Reed to stop “the dark raider.”

Ant-Man says he made a backup of the time machine’s software, which will allow the team to follow Franklin wherever he’s going. Sue and Ben argue, with him wanting to go to Latveria and investigate Dr. Doom, while Sue argues that they should pursue Franklin. Johnny reminds them that, just minutes ago, they saw an apparition warning them of their own destruction. He says, “Maybe we should quit while we’re ahead,” and he flies away, adding “I’m through risking my neck.”

Johnny and Lyja have another heart-to-heart. Now that he has a baby (of sorts) Johnny now has a fear of death he never had before. Lyja tells him to make up his mind whether he’s going to quit the team. Sue dons her new costume, showing off her tough-girl bare shoulders, just in time for Ben and Johnny to come around and agree to help her search for Franklin, despite the danger.

The FF use the time machine tech to pursue Franklin. With the Watcher watching (natch) the heroes teleport into a familiar looking building. There, they find… Reed! Only he acts like he doesn’t recognize Sue. Then we discover that this is classic Reed from the ‘60s, as classic Sue, Ben, and Johnny show up, ready for a fight with the current FF “imposters.”

To be continued!

Fade out: I like Sue’s new costume. It does the sexy-and-tough thing, but cartoonishly so.

Clobberin’ time: The scars on Ben’s face are much less prominent than they have been, further establishing that they’re healing over time.

Flame on: Johnny’s waffling about facing death and his hesitation to join the mission are more foreshadowing for the team’s upcoming breakup story arc.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Because the apparition only mentioned the original FF, Ant-Man says perhaps he can alter the future timeline simply by being there.

Four and a half: Nathaniel tells Franklin that “my son” will aid him in finding this mysterious Dark Raider and ending the apocalypse. Franklin doesn’t know who this “son” is, since he believes Reed is dead, but he goes along with the Nathaniel’s plan anyway.

The Alicia problem: Lyja is in full-on “warrior woman” mode in this issue. This is a far cry from the loving wife she was during all that time she was disguised as Alicia. I suppose we’re getting more of the “real” her now that she’s no longer disguised.

Commercial break: It’s Venom-mania! Almost every Marvel house ad in this issue features Venom, apparently to promote the miniseries Venom: The Mace, which debuted this month.

Trivia time: Sue’s new uniform wasn’t created in the lab. She bought it on special order from “Helena’s of NYC.” I could find no info as to what this place is. A Google search shows a super-fancy residential building in NYC named Helena’s and a Helena’s tapas place that recently went out of business. In questioning how the Marvel Universe Helena’s had access to unstable molecules, I wonder if this could be the Mystique villainess Helena Carson, a genius scientist and head of the Dermafree cosmetics company, who once got in trouble for using mutants to illegally test harmful cosmetics.

Fantastic or frightful? Although Marvel promoted this issue as a jumping-on point for new or lapsed readers, it’s really just continuing the many ongoing subplots of this era. The result just feels like more wheel-spinning as we readers wonder if any of this is going anywhere.

Next: Deja blue.


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Fantastic Friday: The egg and I

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #386 is part 11 of the 12-part Starblast crossover, a forgotten Namor/Quasar event series. As we’ll soon learn, you don’t need to read the rest of Starblast to get caught up.

Following the events of Namor #48, the FF’s ship, the Stealth Hawk, is buried after an undersea earthquake (a “seaquake” as it’s called in this issue), with Sue, Ben, Namor, Tiger Shark, Stingray, and an alien named Tamara on board. Namor and Tiger Shark swim outside to give the ship a push (no, really) which frees everyone from being buried in rubble. Tamara reminds of the crossover’s overall plot, in which an aquatic alien named Xylym the Formaluauti is using high-tech thrusters to flood the entire Earth, making it a new home for his water-based people.

Cut to a hospital in midtown Manhattan, where Lyja is about to give birth. There’s a lot of cringe-y talk about Skrull birthing procedures, and the Earth doctors having to learn to use a Skrull “birthing device.” After that, Johnny is doing the expectant-father-pacing-nervously-in-the-waiting-room shtick seen in so many old sitcoms. On board the Stealth Hawk, Namor appears to be putting the moves on Sue, until she tells him she believes Reed is not dead, but still alive somehow. Namor backpedals, and says he was merely offering his assistance in her quest to find Reed. In space, we meet Xylym the Formaluauti, who is a one-eyed blob monster. He says flooding the Earth was really a distraction, to prevent the Earth superheroes from learning his real plan. He instructs his henchmen, the space pirates called the Starblasters, to create a giant tidal wave.

At the hospital, Johnny fills in new teammate Ant-Man about how Lyja tricked everyone into thinking she was Alicia for so long. While Triton the Inhuman, who is also there as part of the crossover, comforts Johnny, Ant-Man wonders if all this drama means the FF is going to break up. During a quiet moment on board the Stealth Hawk, Sue contemplates how the FF have been flung from crisis to crisis recently, and she too wonders if the team is going to break up. (This is what’s called foreshadowing.)

The Stealth Hawk comes across Xylym the Formaluauti’s ship rising from the ocean, revealing he was on Earth all this time and not in space. Sue immediately fires missiles onto the other ship, with the others on board criticizing her for acting so rashly. At the hospital, Lyja explains to the doctors again that she’s an alien shape-shifter. She further explains that the Lacaroo medicine the FF brought back from the Skrull throneworld a few issues back will temporarily transform Lyja into a liquid so that the baby can “easily be born.” From there, we get a short scene in Latveria, where Dr. Doom makes a public appearance after having been missing for several weeks. We then learn that this is merely time-traveling Nathanial Richards impersonating Doom. He hopes to locate Franklin, insisting that only Franklin can stop an upcoming cataclysm.

Out in the ocean, the battle is already over, and the Stealth Hawk has Xylym the Formaluauti’s nearly destroyed ship in a tractor beam. Sue, Namor, Stingray and Tamara board the ship, with Ben and Tiger Shark staying behind to maintain the tractor beam. Namor captures Xylym the Formaluauti and brings him back to the Stealth Hawk. Rather than negotiate, Tamara goes ahead and murders Xylym the Formaluauti right there in front of everyone. This has an immediate effect on Sue, as Tamara’s brutality reminds her of the anger and fury she experienced when possessed by Malice. Namor sees this and again puts the moves on Sue, saying she doesn’t need to face the darkness alone. Ben eavesdrops on them, suddenly jealous because he’s a monster, and not as handsome as Namor.

At the hospital, there are (of course) complications with Lyja’s pregnancy. It’s more uncomfortable alien weirdness as Lyja’s body is reduced to a “spongy state” and a glowing gold implant is removed from her body. Sue and Namor arrive at the hospital just in time for the big reveal. Lyja has not birthed a baby. Instead, she has… laid an egg!!!

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed appears in flashback as Triton retells the story of how they first met, and his adventure with the FF in the Negative Zone. This is as close as we get to a eulogy for Reed since his “death.”

Fade out: Even though Sue is supposedly free of Malice’s dark influence, part of it is apparently still with her, as she opens fire on the enemy ship, ending the battle before it begins.

Clobberin’ time: Ben is no longer wearing that metal helmet to protect the sensitive scars on his face, but they are still sensitive. In this issue, the scars are covered with bandages after he got banged up in Namor #48.

Flame on: In addition to worrying about Lyja and the baby, Johnny also takes time to worry about Franklin and Dr. Doom. Basically, he spends the whole issue worrying.

Fantastic fifth wheel: While at the hospital, Ant-Man calls his daughter Cassie to check in on her. We learn he has told her he’s the FF’s newest member, and that she’s thrilled about this.

Four and a half: There are three panels in this issue devoted to now-teenage Franklin, possessed by the psychic Malice entity. All we see are him hiding in a back alley in the city, with an evil smile on his face.

The Alicia problem: Lyja explains to the doctors that Skrulls shape-change via “muscular expansion and contraction.” According to The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition, only some Skrulls use their muscles to shape-change, while other Skrulls have their entire bodies made of unstable molecules, to allow for even greater shape-changing.

Commercial break: If Pogs aren’t nerdy enough for you, there’s always Hero Caps:

Trivia time: The tiny amount of people online still talking about Starblast seem to agree that the Namor half of this Namor/Quasar crossover had nothing to do with anything, and seeing as how it unceremoniously wraps up in this FF tie-in issue, I’m inclined to agree. The real action took place in space, where Quasar led a ton of D-list Marvel to battle a cosmic villain named Skeletron. Quasar’s team included the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, the Soviet Super-Soldiers, and, in a surprise twist, all of Marvel’s ill-fated New Universe characters. The series ended with everybody from the New Universe being brought into the Marvel Universe proper.

Fantastic or frightful? Shrug. All the Tamara vs. Xylym drama is only meaningful to those were following the Namor series at the time. That leaves the Lyja plot, which is just gross and weird.

Next: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.


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