Previously on Baxter Building: As Jeff and I prepare to finish up the series — the next episode of Baxter Building may be the final one! — we double back in time to take care of the last few Fantastic Four Annuals of the run. Spoilers: These are not comics that people would choose to read otherwise.
0:00:00-0:02:26: We start the episode with Jeff understandably giving me into trouble for getting the issues for this episode wrong when we set up reading plans last episode; I said we’d be doing Annual #s 24 through 27, even though we’d actually covered that one before, back in May. (How time flies…?) As it happens, our shared dislike for the issue actually acts as a great segue into talking about…
0:02:27-0:11:46: …Fantastic Five #1-5. That’s right, you thought we were going to talk about FF Annual #25 straight away? Of course not. Jeff caught up with the 1999 mini-series by Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan after I brought it up on the Wait, What? Tumblr, and much to his surprise, liked it a lot. He (properly) compares the art to Jerry Ordway’s, and we talk about the difference in soap operatic writing when it’s rooted in joy or misery. Who would’ve thought that a follow-up series to a bunch of storylines we didn’t like by a creative team we didn’t like would’ve resulted in something that we did, in fact, like?
0:11:47-0:37:15: Meanwhile, in Fantastic Four Annual #25, we get immediately derailed by a discussion around whether or not Herb Trimpe’s 1990s art style was a parody or simply a very unsuccessful attempt to swipe the Hot Image Style of the season. Also, the Avengers come up with a new slogan that neither Jeff nor I are convinced by, a brief synopsis of the Avengers Annual that ties in with this issue helps us realize that Kang is into some freaky stuff — even if I don’t remember one of the details that Jeff brings up — and whether or not Mark Gruenwald’s reputation is hurt by this comic. (Yes.)
0:37:16-0:57:03: FF Annual #26 brings back one of the more memorable villains created by DeFalco and Ryan — which is to say, Jeff forgot him — and pits him against one of the more interesting, yet entirely forgotten, characters that Tom DeFalco created in connection with the Fantastic Four. Well, I say “pit against,” but one of the many complaints we have about this issue is that it manages to make all three of the protagonists bystanders in a struggle between Dreadface and a random gangster introduced and (spoilers) killed in this issue. But that’s not the only thing wrong here, because Herb Trimpe is doing the art once again. On the plus side, Jeff does dig the back-up feature, because he’s a sucker for Marvel Cosmic Concepts, so it’s not a total loss. And talking about that back-up leads us straight into…
0:57:04-1:16:58: …Fantastic Four Annual #27, which sees Mark Gruenwald return to write an extended — really, over-extended — in-joke about his fictional counterpart feeling dissatisfied with his job at Marvel, no, wait, I mean the Time Variance Authority. It’s staggeringly self-reflective, yet somehow not self-aware, but you’ll be surprised how long a boring comic in which the Fantastic Four are, once again, just bystanders despite their names being on the cover actually can be. Far more successful is the back-up strip, which wins points by being far too ambitious in its own right, and also bringing back the Beyonder when everyone least expected it. (But really, did anyone expect to see the Beyonder again?)
1:16:59-end: These three annuals are so bad that I raise the idea that, maybe, Fantastic Four Annuals are just bad in general, which prompts us to go back and consider when they were last good, and wonder what happened since that point. We also talk about the potential for Baxter Building to finish with episode 50, because we’re going to try to cover #406 through 416 — the end of the series — next episode. And then, we remind everyone to check out the Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and Patreon accounts while you wait for the next Wait, What?; as ever, thanks for listening and reading. We’re sorry for all the Herb Trimpe.
Previously on Baxter Building: Was there ever life before Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan’s Fantastic Four run? By this point, it’s genuinely hard to remember what this comic used to be like, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t involve Reed Richards being dead and his place in the team kind of being taken by Scott Lang, Ant-Man. Or… did it…?
0:00:00-0:12:24: We open with an exceptionally brief cold open — because we’d just recorded the minicast about Stan Lee — before getting into a discussion about whether or not the following comics, which are very, very bad, are better if you fall into a Stockholm Syndrome-esque feeling of apathy about the whole thing. (Spoilers: Jeff is wrong. These are bad comics.)
0:12:25-0:31:31: Fantastic Four #397 opens a four-part storyline that asks the important questions like, “Does anyone actually care about the Watchers?” and “Has their stolen Skrull spaceship always been called the Stealth Hawk?” Along the way, Jeff and I also discuss Lyja’s poor self-esteem, cheap travel tricks for shape changers and whether or not Nathaniel Richards is everyone’s Daddy, not to mention the one thing you really shouldn’t do with deadly technology.
0:31:32-0:46:21: You didn’t know that you’d tuned into this podcast for Jeff’s impression of Tom DeFalco as Beat Poet, but with FF #398, you’ll soon understand. But don’t lose interest after that, because there is an especially lame reveal about Flaming Sue, the start of Jeff’s love affair with Kristoff, and the debut appearance of some Inhumans you’ll almost certainly immediately forget about, as well.
0:46:22-1:05:54: If nothing else, Fantastic Four #399 proves that, when it comes to this series, all roads lead back to the same asteroid floating around the Negative Zone, as well as the fact that, try as it might, this series can’t rid itself of Reed Richards, even if its evil versions called the Dark Raider. Also, there’s more of Margoyle, which is worth the price of entry all by itself. (As well as another reason to adore Kristoff, who has already had it with Scott Lang, just three issues in.)
1:05:55-1:09:05: We take a brief interlude as I summarize what little everyone needs to know about Fantastic Force #7, which crosses over with the current FF storyline and reveals why Sue isn’t dead, while also exposing how stupid the Fantastic Four apparently is.
1:09:06-1:26:24: It’s Fantastic Four #400, the final anniversary issue of the entire run, and one spent with a story that is exhausting in its ridiculousness. It’s the Watchers versus the Celestials, except it’s not; it’s the Fantastic Four and Fantastic Force versus… Aron the Watcher, I guess? And the innards of a Celestial, even though it really shouldn’t be like that? But at least there are random guest appearances, an essay about the history of the series that suggests that no-one actually wanted the job of writing it, and a memorial for Reed Richards. Is this… progress…?
1:26:25-1:27:54: Another aside, as I introduce Jeff to the plot complexities of Fantastic Four: Atlantis Rising #1, the first issue in the crossover that’s going to swallow the book whole for a couple of months. Come for the destruction of the Watcher’s house, stay for… I don’t know, actually. Maybe we should all leave.
1:27:55-1:35:27: Atlantis continues to rise in FF #401, in which Maximus seems to think there’s something more special about the Human Torch than Jeff and I do, and we discuss Nathaniel Richards’ novel approach to theft, especially the theft of tiny little miniaturized cities. Thor’s appalling costume is commented upon as well, and not for the last time.
1:35:28-1:37:02: Fantastic Force #9 continues the storyline, and I once again tell Jeff all he needs to know, as he was smart enough not to track down an issue to read it. (In my defense, at least I didn’t read the Warlock and the Infinity Watch issues that tied in; I’m not that much of a completist.)
1:37:03-1:46:28: What is the most enjoyable thing about Fantastic Four #402? It just might be the fact that Namor really doesn’t take directions to just calm it down a little very well, unless somehow leaping through windows and having fights that aren’t quite as dramatic as Tom DeFalco wishes you thought they were is his version of calming things down. Which is… not impossible, really. Also! Sue Storm without Malice is being written just like she’s still possessed, and the Fantastic Four has the perfect solution for getting rid of the Norse God on the roof of your space ship.
1:46:29-1:47:45: I could exaggerate and pretend that I recapped Fantastic Four: Atlantis Rising #2 to close out the crossover, but I’ll level with you; I mostly just complained about how bad it was. Sorry, all.
1:47:46-1:59:27: Hey, who remembers that whole thing about an archaeologist finding a statue of the Thing from 20 issues or so ago? Tom DeFalco, who tries to bring that storyline to a close for reasons that defy explanation in Fantastic Four #403. But who cares about that when Kristoff and Johnny Storm are flirting with Scott Lang’s daughter, who is of an entirely indeterminate age because Paul Ryan can’t draw anyone between the ages of, say, 5 and 35? Not Jeff and I!
1:59:28-2:03:41: FF #404 sees the Thing take on lots of other Things, and Sue Storm as a Thing take on both Namor and her feelings, because… oh, who even knows at this point. Meanwhile, Boris, Kristoff’s faithful manservant proves that he can’t do something as simple as say, “Eh, I haven’t seen your kid,” and all hell breaks loose, because why not? That’s just the kind of comic we’re reading by this point.
2:03:42-2:13:36: An exhausted Jeff and I finally arrive at Fantastic Four #405, in which Ben Grimm turns human — again!— and Boris reveals his true colors, if “true colors” actually means, “Tom DeFalco changed his mind at the last minute and even though everyone can tell it’s supposed to be Doctor Doom, it’s not.” Don’t think that I’m not upset about that, either…
2:13:37-end: We careen towards the end of the episode by talking about last-minute rewrites, the sense of exhaustion apparent in everyone by this point, and look forward to what we’re doing next episode, which is… Fantastic Four Annuals #24-27. The end is in sight, dear friends…! But don’t forget our Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter in the meantime, not to mention our Patreon. As always, thank you for listening and reading along, and I promise, our DeFalco/Ryan nightmare is almost over.
As you know, Stan Lee passed this week, and it seemed impossible for us to overlook the event, since Stan had such a huge influence on the American comics market.
Stan was a complicated guy with a complicated legacy so maybe it’s not surprising our feelings about his passing—and how people handled his passing—are similarly complicated. So join us if you want for a quick chat about the long life and amazing career of Stan Lee. It’s only about 37 minutes or so?
Oh, and because we mentioned it in our discussion, I should at the very least link to Tegan O’Neil’s piece on Stan over at The Comics Journal. There are, as you probably know, a lot of pieces about Stan out there this week, but if you enjoy our mumblings, you’ll probably appreciate it as well.
[Not actually the bear bathing image Jeff talks about in the episode, but let’s roll with it]
Previously on Baxter Building: It’s all change with the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine with the issues we’re covering, and not just because there is no way to describe the Fantastic Four era we’re reading as the world’s greatest anything anymore. Reed Richards is dead! Reed and Sue’s son has been kidnapped to a dystopian future, returned with an entirely vague mission and possessed by something that is either an evil part of his mother’s personality or an entirely alien entity, don’t worry we’ll never find out! The Human Torch and his alien wife have had a baby egg! The Thing has half his face melting because he was attacked by Wolverine! How can anyone put up with this level of excitement? Funny story; it’s actually almost unbearably boring.
0:00:00-0:09:24: We open up with a pre-credits conversation that becomes a post-credits conversation about the same thing: How very, very bad Fantastic Four #389-396 actually are. Spoilers: They’re very, very bad.
0:09:25-0:33:21: We open with Fantastic Four #389, a comic that opens with a reminder of how terrible the Watcher actually is — don’t worry, there’ll be many more reminders throughout the next few issues — before introducing a mystery for the FF to explore that they will almost immediately forget. But why should they remember when there’s the Collector’s terrifying new look and the introduction of an exciting new hero to deal with? (Note: Said new hero is not particularly exciting, as he has what Jeff describes as “absolutely no kind of backstory in any form.” He also has an origin that makes no sense, as will be revealed in the very next issue.) Oh, and Sue, Ben, Scott Lang and Namor all end up in a strange new world that… let’s be real, makes very little sense if you think about it too much. Meanwhile, I accidentally sum up this entire run of issues with the phrase, “On the one hand, it kind of makes sense, but on the other, it’s done so poorly.” Well done, me!
0:33:22-0:46:58: In which I describe FF #390 as “a “What? No” issue,” which is perhaps being too kind to something that is, basically, a comic of three different expositionary scenes, all intercut in an unclear manner that manages to rob each thread of backstory of any true narrative tension. To make matters worse, there’s a case to be made — and I half-heartedly make it — that DeFalco and Ryan have actually set up an interesting scenario with this storyline, even if it’s something that they never actually take advantage of, or even really spell it out for themselves and the readers. Seriously, this is an impressively frustrating run for all kinds of reasons.
0:46:59-1:30:12: I argue to Jeff that we should cover Fantastic Four’s #391 and #392 together because we’ll cover them really quickly, and then… we don’t. In my defense, there’s not that much plot in #391, but we found a lot to talk about, anyway, including the “in-text bitchiness” about the value of Johnny Storm’s stupidity, the debut of Fantastic Force and just how useless they actually are in action, the deaths and immediate backtracking of the rest of the Fantastic Four, the true identity and final fate of the Dark Raider, the immense stupidity of the final fate of Malice, and whether or not Tom DeFalco is trying to make a point about Reed Richards with what he does about the absence of Reed in the book and on the team. Oh, and yeah: The Fantastic Four splits up one more time, too. The highlight of the whole thing is certainly Jeff’s accidental summary of this run of issues: “I don’t know what you’re trying to say here, Tom DeFalco, and I’m sure the answer is nothing.”
1:30:13-1:45:53: FF#393 opens with a back-up strip recap of what’s literally just happened in the book, because… Oh, I don’t even know at this point. But as the series goes from hacking Lee/Kirby to hacking John Byrne — and oddly revisiting ideas from the end of the Steve Englehart run, as Jeff and I get into briefly, discussing whether or not DeFalco is in the same camp as Englehart or just the very opposite — we talk about the major disappointment of the issue: Not letting the Johnny/Lyja storyline die a death, or at least pretend to be dead for at least one fucking issue, for the love of God.
1:45:54-1:55:36: How bad is Fantastic Four #394? Bad enough to get Jeff to declare ”This is what I want from my comics! Just cultural appropriation and goofiness!” But what else could we expect from an issue that seems to be inspired by all the worst elements of the backstory of Wyatt Wingfoot, only with the sheen of the arguably more progressive 1990s? Elsewhere, Jeff tells me about the link between Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Claremont’s X-Men (I played it cool during the recording, but this fucking blew my mind, I have to tell you) and we rewrite the Lyja subplot in a couple of ways that would’ve made more sense and arguably been more entertaining. “In a collection of shitty comics, it’s the shittiest,” I say about this issue, and I stand by my belief.
1:55:37-2:07:TK: Out of nowhere, FF #395 is… pretty good…? I mean, that’s inside the context of, “It’s actually terrible, but we’re grading on a curve here,” but still. It’s an old school Marvel Two-in-Oneissue, basically, but we address that the Mad Thinker is actually a really bad genius who doesn’t understand what “unforeseen” means, and the implication of the new suggestion that Doctor Doom may just be the half-brother of Reed Richards. While Jeff and I kind of love it as a concept, neither of us trust the creative team to pull it off, which only seems just and sensible at this point, let’s be real.
2:07:53-2:30:33: Fantastic Four #396 is “an issue that you kind of immediately forget after you read,” according to me, and I’m not wrong in that. There’s some stuff in there worth reading, nonetheless, including the astonishing and needless return of the Flaming Sue and the far greater return of a very cocky and Steve Englehart-esque Johnny Storm. We also discuss whether or not DeFalco is dedicated to making this book sell even if it goes against his own instincts, and what is missing as a result. Is it heart? Is it spirit? Or simply quality…?
2:30:34-end: Next month, we edge ever closer to the end of the run — and the end of the Baxter Building itself! — with issues #397-405, but before we get there, there’s a Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter and Patreon to go check out. Plus, an all-important programming note that we don’t cover in the show itself: There will not be another Wait, What? or Baxter Building until November, because one of us is out of the country being an international jet-setter. (Patreon supporters, expect some Baxter Bungalow material in the meantime. If I have to suffer through Fantastic Force, I’m not doing it alone…!)
Previously on Baxter Building: I could make reference to just how bad the Tom DeFalco/Paul Ryan run has become by this point — trust me, both Jeff and I will do so many times in the episode ahead — but what everyone really needs to know for the issues ahead are: Franklin Richards was kidnapped into the future by his grandfather Nathan, only to be returned as a telepathic teenager with high-tech armor and a mysterious mission. He’s been followed by someone called Hunter, who is like Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane’s Angela if she were even less interesting, but she has a mission that’s involved here teaming up with Devos, Paibok the Power-Skrull and Klaw, who are like a new Frightful Four with no clear agenda other than screwing with the Fantastic Four. As it turns out, though, they’re out of luck — because Doctor Doom’s just apparently killed Reed Richards in a last-minute suicide move!
0:00:00-0:26:31: What I genuinely believed would be a shorter episode than usual gets immediately derailed when Jeff asks if I’d read Fantastic Four #2 — the current series — and what I thought of it, leading into a discussion about the first two issues of the series, Dan Slott’s strengths as a writer, and what Jeff doesn’t like about Brian Michael Bendis’ Superman. Staying on target as ever.
0:26:32-0:42:01: That conversation leads into our talking about the era of FF that we’re now covering, and how (poorly) it stands up compared with the versions of the book that existed when we first encountered it, and the flaws that the DeFalco/Ryan era has. Or, as I put it somewhat unkindly, “It’s progressively getting a worse and worse comic, and by worse, I mean boring.” (I’m not actually wrong, though.)
0:42:02-0:55:26: We finally get to the point of the podcast and talk about Fantastic Four #382, only to pretty quickly regret it, and the many questions it raises: What’s the point of killing off one of your central characters if you immediately move on from the topic? Why is technology modular for easy updating in Castle Doomstadt? Is the Franklin/Huntara material intentionally obtuse? And why should we be bothered about a cliffhanger quite so underwhelming as this one?
0:55:27-1:18:10: Ignoring the nonsense title, FF #383 brings an unexpected conclusion to the plot line about Sue’s powers failing, a wonderful moment of concern from Jeff about other aliens jailed by the Skrulls and some particularly unlikely strategy working out when it comes to following random people running away from trouble. It also provokes us to attempt to make sense of the mythology that’s been built up around Franklin and Huntara, and to say that it’s complicated and not exactly coherent is certainly a polite way of putting it. Could it be possible that… this wasn’t exactly the most well-planned comic? Surely not.
1:18:11-1:23:40: We speed through Fantastic Four #384, which technically has a couple of big reveals in it — Sue really was being corrupted by Malice, which is maybe an alien perhaps possibly — except that they are utterly undercut by poor execution and a creative team that seems categorically unable to actually offer a definitive conclusion to anything. Still, at least Scott Lang has showed up to be the team’s new science guy, which is… maybe something…?
1:23:41-1:52:24: Both FF #s 385 and 386 interrupt the ongoing storylines with a crossover called Starblast, which — judging from these issues — is all about things happening underwater, but looks are apparently deceiving. As we try to get through the issues as quickly as possible — for #385, at least — there are some things that stand out… not least of which is Lyja the Lazerfist finally giving birth to her and Johnny’s child after issues and issues of teasing, which also means an answer to what a Lacaroo is. Don’t worry; it’s exactly as underwhelming as you think it is, if not moreso. Meanwhile, why is everyone creeping on Sue? Her husband died just a few issues ago!
1:52:25-2:19:37: Even the appearance of the Watcher fails to entertain us in Fantastic Four #387. Indeed, Jeff seems to have problems with his appearance altogether, perhaps because of his long-standing suspicion of bald men in togas. While “Nobody Gets Out Alive!” is, in many ways, a set-up issue for what’s to come, there’s a bunch to chew through here, not least of which are Murphy Brown allusions, the gullibility of our heroes, Namor’s desire to get naked and the inherent creepiness of Paul Ryan’s attempts to make Sue Richards sexy. Oh, and a cliffhanger even more underwhelming than that of #382.
2:19:38-2:31:41: There’s no way to get around it; FF #388 is a mess amongst a run of messes, and manages to make the team look both stupid and also uncaring. It’s also the most curiously, the most retro issue in a run that has been astonishingly retro to date, with appearances from the original Avengers and the early Fantastic Four, and a villain who’s stolen his entire look from a previous FF villain without anyone commenting on it, strangely. There’s certainly some kind of aesthetic at play, even if it’s an inexplicable one.
2:32:42-end: We finish by being once again very unkind about what we’ve just read — “These issues are so devoid of inspiration or fun or anything good,” I say, apparently particularly unimpressed — and looking ahead to what we’re covering next month, which is to say, Fantastic Four #389-396. Disaster is awaiting, and not just in the sense of this comic continuing to go downhill! While you wait for the episode, why not check out our Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter or Patreon? You can collect the set, or something similar…!