[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…!
Previously on Baxter Building: When we last left off — in the same recording session! — the Thing has discovered an all-new reason to feel self-pity, Sue Richards has turned so almost-evil that it’s amazing that no-one seems to have brought in some psychics to check her out, and Johnny Storm has accidentally burned down an entire university. Reed Richards? Still boring, but I think we’d all expect that, let’s be honest. Spoilers: This won’t be the case by the end of the episode.
0:00:00-0:19:52: We go straight into Fantastic Four #376, which opens by stealing from the “seminal classic” Uncanny X-Men storyline “Days of Future Past,” and ends by stealing the it-depends-how-old-you-are potential classic backstory of Cable, because… Tom DeFalco was really into the X-Men at the time…? I have no idea. Also! Jeff comes up with the portmanteau “Nathable,” and I try and defend Franklin Richards for reasons that are genuinely inexplicable to me at time of writing, by calling him “a dick in training.” But class is almost over…!
0:19:53-0:41:31: Is Reed Richards a bad scientist, or Tom DeFalco a bad writer? Fantastic Four #377 will have you ask that question, as well as others like this: Is Huntara a rip-off of Angela? Was Devos supposed to be an alternate Franklin Richards, or perhaps just the enemy of Franklin in the future he was raised in? Did Devos’ original design owe a little bit too much to the action movies that were coming out at the time? And most importantly of all, is Paul Ryan actually on a mission to make this comic book as boring as possible?
0:41:32-0:54:00: There are all manner of things that are unexpected about FF #378, not least of which is seeing the Thing complain that people don’t think of the group as “the world’s greatest fighting team” anymore. Apparently, that was a thing at some point…? But who can dwell on such matters when Johnny’s trial is interrupted by four of the lamest villains of all, and there’s an entire army of cameos including Spider-Man! Daredevil! The Avengers! Sandman but not the Neil Gaiman one but wouldn’t that be amazing! And, fine, sure, Silver Sable. Whatever.
0:54:01-1:01:30: Things aren’t going well for Sharon in Fantastic Four #379, which might come as a relief for Sue and Reed Richards, who are both currently sharing a plot line unintentionally. (This won’t last long, don’t worry.) Meanwhile, Doctor Doom is plotting in the background, and that’s not going to end well. (Note that we’re picking up the pace, as Jeff and I both begin to get appropriately exhausted.)
1:01:31-1:07:03: Speeding towards the end of the episode, we rush through FF #380, in which Doctor Doom and the Thing share a meal and a brief connection — one that Doom’s henchmen don’t notice, strangely — and a random alien force turns into an invincible zombie because, sure, why not. Everything else makes perfect sense by now, after all.
1:07:04-1:14:47: There’s a lot to dislike about Fantastic Four #381 — the generic-looking villain who raises the specter of Don Perlin’s Defenders designs, although he also prompts Jeff’s characterization of him as “Knockoff Darkoth”; the unsubtle-as-hell “Maybe Malice is evil” moment; DeFalco and Ryan’s seeming inability to stage an exciting action scene — but it really might all be redeemed by the last page reveal, which is genuinely kind of wonderful in both humor and shockingness. It also fixes that whole problem about Reed Richards being kind of dull by comparison. Are we… are we ending on a high note…?
1:14:48-1:24:46: I go back to a conversation that appeared as the cold open to Episode 44, and ask Jeff, is there really something to like about these comics? His answer may surprise you (if you’ve not really been paying attention to what he’s been saying earlier in these last two episodes).
1:24:47-end: Finally, we wrap things up by looking ahead to next episode — where we’ll take on #382-388 — and mention, as always, our Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr accounts, not to mention the the Patreon page that makes this whole thing possible. As Alex Chilton once so poignantly sang, thank you, friends.
Previously on Baxter Building: The super-team that defined the 1960s has reached the 1990s, and it’s not necessarily the best combination; Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan are trying to bring Marvel’s First Family up to date, and the results so far have been… mixed. Sue Richards has accepted her dark side, Malice! Johnny Storm is maybe okay with murder as long as he can pretend this he’s killing aren’t really human! Reed Richards is… really dull! Comics!
0:00:00-0:16:25: A surprisingly long cold open sees Jeff and I discuss the consistency of these issues and my overall dislike for them, but Jeff has a more positive view and sees value in their attempt to do something different with the formula, and then I introduce what I thought we were going to be covering this episode, before I ended up chopping it in two. What we’re really covering in this episode is Fantastic Four #s 371-375.
0:16:26-0:33:59: One of the most surprising things we talk about in regards to Fantastic Four #371 is the debt these issues owe Steve Englehart and his run on the title — and how it repays that debt. There’s a lot of debt to be repaid, as we also talk about the influence of X-Men comics on these issues, and the ghost of 1970s comic book feminism on show with regards to Sue Richards, who debuts her infamous 1990s costume here and doesn’t take Kindly to anyone who isn’t an immediate fan. Is it just me, or has Sue gotten… colder…?
0:34:00-0:47:20: So much happens in FF #372, but also, very little actually happens, leading us into a discussion of the way in which the entire comic book feels like subplot this time around. (Also touched upon: How Walt Simonson and, to a lesser extent, John Byrne, handled subplots in their FF runs.) More importantly for everyone, Jeff has a theory about whether or not a fight between the Molecule Man and Aron the Watcher is actually about Jim Shooter, and it’s maybe the highlight of the episode. All this, and me misremembering the name of one of the classic Byrne FF stories! But, hey, we’ll always have Code: Blue! (If you’re wondering who that is, you’re right.)
0:47:21-1:04:22: Technically, Fantastic Four #373 is — as Jeff puts it — “arguably a comic with three different action scenes at once,” and yet somehow it feels overwhelmingly dull despite that. Once again, the pacing — and seeming lack of ability to find focus in one particular plot, instead giving pretty much equal emphasis to all of them — is to blame, but the issue isn’t a complete loss, as Jeff attempts to blow my mind by sharing his working theory about how Tom DeFalco views auteurism and its place in comic books. Worryingly, I pretty much agree with him that he’s onto something. Meanwhile, what is happening with Franklin?
1:04:23-1:17:03: For fans of guest-stars, FF #374 is the motherlode, featuring Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider and the Hulk — that’s right, the so-called “New Fantastic Four” — as well as special guest star and spectral presence Doctor Strange, as they all try and hunt down fugitive from justice Johnny Storm. The end result isn’t something that works out particularly well for Ben Grimm, but really: Does anything work well for Ben? Meanwhile, Jeff coins the term “Frangry,” we talk about metaphorical castration as it related to Benjamin J. Grimm, and the idea of an insincere Image Comics inspiration.
1:17:04-1:36:57: Sure, Fantastic Four #375 is astonishingly underwhelming despite the prismatic cover, and yes, our discussion about Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan working at cross purposes does at least result in Jeff’s alternate (and far superior) reading about what could be happening in the comic, and, okay, I also share the one benefit of story gains from being nonsense, but there’s really one very important thing everyone can learn from this issue, and that’s this: It contains what might be the worst lawyer in comic book history, or at least, the worst legal decision. Who says this isn’t the Mighty Marvel Age of Legal Decisions, effendi?!? Excelsior!
1:36:58-end: I step in as external force to bring this episode to an early end, and in doing so, don’t remind listeners that we have Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr accounts, never mind the Patreon that makes this all so possible. See what you get for waiting for the show notes, even if they are very late for reasons outside my control…? (Really, though; thanks for the wait.)